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Hafa’uh! Nam’tor du kobat

If he could have moved, there was no doubt in his mind that Mike Smith would still have been stricken into near paralysis. Before him stood one of the most famous, if not most decorated, Starfleet captain that ever sat in the chair, speaking directly to him.
“That was quite a… daring move you did out there,” Kirk began in his strangely halting words, “I have to say, I’m impressed.”
Mike smiled brighter than a supernova.
“Coming from you, that means quite a lot… Captain. I admire you a great deal, sir.”
Dr. McCoy approached the scene from where he had been busying himself, wearing an even sourer face.
“This man,” he grumbled, waggling a deft finger at Kirk, “is not to be admired!”
“Calm down, Bones,” Kirk flashed a charming smile, “A little admiration couldn’t hurt, could it?”
“I don’t know if I have a brace in the sickbay to support your ego, Jim,” McCoy grumbled before turning back to his tools. He continued to monitor Mike’s state, bringing the young man crashing back into reality. Yes, it was true that he’d done something bold and daring, but what price was he paying for it? He was locked into a device that didn’t allow him to move in the slightest, for fear of rupturing his entire circulatory system. In a torrent, all sorts of thoughts crashed into his mind: will I ever be able to move again, then? Will I ever be able to leave this machine? If so, how many years do I have? Was it really worth it?

That last question rung in his mind like a cathedral bell, clanging out over anything and everything. At once, all of his little niggling doubts were cancelled out, and a half remembered Vulcan proverb came to his feverish brain. Was it worth it?
Damn right it was.
“Did I… did we… win?”
“Excuse me?” McCoy replied, a little scandalized. Kirk’s only reply was a light laugh.
“Oh, my,” the Captain shook his head, quoting the young man, ” ‘Did we win?’ My God, I thought I was the only one who thought like that. I suppose, in that manner of thinking… yes, we did… win.”
“Everyone’s okay?”
“Yes,” Kirk replied, “Everyone’s okay.”
“Excuse me.”
Cynthia Harvey finally stepped forward, her short, gray hair bristling.
“I wouldn’t exactly say everyone’s okay, Jim.”
“Well, I was just trying to…”
“Jim Kirk,” she stood proudly, arms akimbo, “All these years, and you still hate to face it… how old are you?”
“Ah, I always loved that about you, Cindie,” Kirk said affably, “You have such… fire.”
Cynthia held up a palm at arm’s length from the Captain
“Don’t even try that line on me again. I’m a married woman.”
Kirk looked a little dejected, something that pleased McCoy to no end.
“I think, what Jim’s trying to tell you in the nicest way possible, it that you’ve done yourself a disservice. In fact, if it weren’t for the quick thinking of your… strange friend over there…” he gestured to Humak, who nodded in a bizarre sort of acknowledgment, “you’d have probably popped like a balloon over Khitomer.”
“What do you mean?” Mike asked, his head swimming a little. Humak stepped forward, arms behind his back as usual, and spoke in his usual.
“It was a risky procedure, but it was the only viable option. I have conferred with several Starfleet medical staff and we reached the conclusion that the procedure I performed only had a 17% chance of success.”
“That’s great, Mack… now will you tell me what the procedure was?”
Of course,” he continued, “It was my thought that educating you in regard to the small probability of success would make you all the more grateful.”
“Uh-huh.”
“Due to the increased pressure on your vessels caused by Warp flight, I quickly surmised that a precisely metered and monitored removal of blood would allow for the smallest possible amount to sustain life functions, but would also theoretically decrease increased surface tension.”
“Basically,” Cynthia leaned over the sickbay bed with a smile, “He kept you running on less than half a tank.”
“And that… worked?” Mike blinked consciously, astonished.
“I wouldn’t go hailing it as a miracle cure,” McCoy noted, checking a syringe, “and son, if you didn’t believe in a God before… now’s as good a  time as any to start.”
“Sounds downright medieval,” Kirk piped up with an odd sense of relish, “I’m almost… sorry I missed it.”
“If it’s any consolation, sir…” Mike said with a sigh, “I missed it, too.”
“You can stop with all that ‘sir’ nonsense, Mr. Smith,” Kirk answered almost immediately, waving a dismissive hand about.
“But…” Mike blinked, again very consciously, “You’re a superior officer… sir.”
“Oh, Haven’t you heard?” Kirk said flippantly, checking on a hangnail that wasn’t there, “you’re no longer Starfleet personnel.”
Even though he could not feel his chest, Mike knew something in there was sinking into a great, black pit. He always knew this would happen, with all the risks he was taking, but even now… he hated the idea. All he ever wanted, and now it was being taken away from him. He might as well be dying.
“Drummed out, I suppose,” he commented bitterly, “will they tear the patch off my shoulder and everything?”
“A-haha,” Kirk gave an odd, airy laugh, “But you see, it’s not like that at all, Mr. Smith.”
Mike focused his eyes on the Captain, resplendent in his red tunic, but it was actually Humak who spoke up first.
“Following the events at the Khitomer Conference, the Catalina pulled out of warp and delivered the message you decoded. The Excelsior, already en route, and the Enterprise, on which we are currently, pursued the other ships involved with the conspiracy, using your cracked code to engineer messages and lay several traps. The codebreaking skill shown is now being evaluated and retooled for use in future Starfleet cryptological and linguistic training for officers.”
“Your mastery of the Klingon language, that… beastly sound, was… particularly remarkable,” Kirk noted, “I could have used some of that schooling when I was on Rura Penthe.”
“We just got away from that frozen rock,” McCoy groaned, “can’t we just never speak of it again?”
Humak waited patiently until McCoy sarcastically gestured for him to continue. The surgeon’s mockery was completely lost on the human Vulcan.
“Unfortunately, due to the several… hundred violations of Starfleet procedure and protocol incurred in your years with CREI, the President has seen fit to discharge you…”
“Figures,” Mike sniffed, “How many people did we save, catching all those conspirators, and they show me the door!”
“Mike…”
His name was a shocking sound to hear, and if he could have turned his neck he would have done so quick enough to snap it clean off. All he could manage was to strain his eyes as far as he could to the left, where his name had been spoken… by Humak. His arms were still behind his back, his posture was still impeccable… but he was smiling.
Can’t you just let me finish my damn report?”
Mike’s jaw fell as far as he could let it. Humak kept on smiling.
“As I was saying,” he began, “You are being discharged… but not dishonorably. You are to be given a full Relief Ceremony as soon as you are able to attend. The President himself is to appear and award you, Mrs. Harvey, and myself with awards and recognition for our efforts to aid Starfleet. Additionally, Mrs. Harvey is being appointed to a ceremonial captaincy position, and I will be admitted into Starfleet in the coming months as a full Lieutenant. You, due to your medical condition, will not be able to continue work in space, but you will be kept on as a special linguistic consultant to Starfleet… with a position identical to Mrs. Harvey.”
It took a moment for those last few words to set in. Mike’s eyes darted around the room, from face to smiling face, all giddy that the news had finally been revealed. Their giddiness soon faded, however, when Mike’s face adopted a more perplexed expression than joyful.
“Do you… do you mean… I…”
“As I said before,” Kirk leaned over Mike’s body and cocked a charming half-smile, “There’s no need to bother with all of that ‘sir’ business.”
“And you and I are going to get fat and old in our retirement, Turtle!Cynthia said happily, “or should I say… Captain Turtle?”
“Commander… I mean, Cynthia… Cindie…”
“Don’t worry about your Mom and Dad either, Turtle. I called ’em both and after they picked themselves up off the floor they’ll be waiting for you in Calgary with a hero’s welcome! They’re even talking a parade, or a statue!”
“Cindie…”
“Maybe me and my fella will get a place up there next to you, and we can be salty old veterans with your old man.”
“Cindie!”
“What, Turtle?”
Mike forced himself to swallow, but it didn’t seem to go anywhere. As a result, his voice cracked a little when he spoke.
“Cindie… all of you… you know that, after all of this… I’ll probably never be an old man.”
There was a great long silence then, when the only sound was the hum of sickbay machinery. Finally, Cynthia said with a heavy tone.
“They’re thinking you might get five years.”
Another stony silence reigned, but again Mike was reminded of that old Vulcan proverb. He’d done good, he’d done something good… and important. People would remember him, Starfleet would always recognize him… as a Captain. As he looked at all the sad faces, two of which he’d never seen in person before today… and he couldn’t stand it. After all he’d wanted and begged for and broken the rules for… finally people were giving him attention… and he hated it.
“Oh, come on!” He finally managed to shout with all his strength, “Sure I may only have five years left on my life… but I got to see the stars, and I rode in starships, and I got to meet and talk with some of the most amazing non-terrestrial… THINGS I’d never have seen if I had been chained to a desk planetside. There’s no point in being sad over all this, because honestly… if I had it to do all over again… I’d still do it. I’d rather take ten good years than a hundred where I felt unfulfilled. And these past couple of years? Well… I’ve done more than I ever thought I could, and I owe a lot of it to all of you.”
He did his best to look around as he kept talking, even as he felt his strength fail him and grow weary.
“You two… you’re legends. Without the stories I heard about you, I never would have been inspired to try this. Humak, I’ve learned more from you than I could in centuries of Vulcan study at any university in the galaxy.”
“And I have learned a lot from you… my friend.”
“And Cynthia… Cindie… you taught me that sometimes, the world isn’t fair, but if you grit your teeth and keep working… it’ll all…”
His eyelids began to droop then, and his speech began to falter.
“Easy now, son,” McCoy cautioned, “don’t get too worked up.”
“How can I not be worked up?” Mike was nearly laughing now, “This is the greatest day of my life!”
He tried to say a few more words, to be inspirational and brave, but his body was still exerting a lot of strength to repair what little vascular integrity he had left. He made a few noises: quiet, mewling things with no real meaning, and eventually settled into a pattern of gentle snores.
“He’s still just a kid,” Cynthia said, putting on a brave face and brushing away a tear.
“Some of us are lucky,” Humak replied, doing much the same, “we never lose the best parts of our childhood.”
As McCoy and Kirk herded them out of the sickbay, the two old shipmates shared a chuckle and began to realize their own ages.
“I swear,” the surgeon said with a wry grin, “I’ve had conversations like this before.”
“Oh?” Kirk replied, “Does that make you the Vulcan, then… or the woman?”
They both continued joking until Cynthia finally silenced them with a glare, and for one brief moment it was as if they were back at the Academy, with a young Cadet Holland glaring at the impetuous Cadet Kirk seated behind her, all those years ago.

*               *                 *

In all fairness, Mike only made it to three years. He kept working beyond his capacities as linguist for Starfleet, and serving as an honored guest at various institutions and conferences. He became a bit of an inspirational figure, giving speeches and sharing his now-famous story all across the world… though he had to travel by boat to avoid any decompression overseas. He became a well-known spokesman for the thousands suffering from Panthrax Fluidra, and applications to the CREI program doubled in the year after his discharge. His school even retired his football jersey, number 11, and it turned out to be one of the last public appearances he made. Mike Smith, Turtle, the Man of a Thousand Languages and the Khitomer Codebreaker died peacefully in his sleep on what they would have called October 3, 2293. In the back yard on his family plot of land outside Calgary there is a simple stone, listing his birth and death under the name Seamus Q. Pyke, but above all of that was carved the name that confirmed for that young man that every last morning, every last instant of his brief life had been worth the trials.
It read, above all:

Captain Michael E. Smith

Spunau bolayalar t’Wehku bolayalar t’Zamu il t’Veh.

Mike had to force his eyes to open. He was awake, and he was alive, but it took almost every ounce of strength he had just to pray his eyelids apart. When he did, he was treated with the bright and surgical light of a Constitution-class starship’s sickbay which seemed to slice straight into his retinas with searing speed. Mike tried to groan in pain, but the best he could manage was a strangled yelp. Finally, his eyes adjusted, and he did his best at taking stock of the surroundings.
“Well, he’s finally coming round.”
Mike shifted his eyes and saw the face of an older man. He was wrinkled, and gray-haired, and something about the lines of his face said that he had done a lot of scowling in his lifetime. Yet when he talked, there was a warmth and kindness in his Southern drawl that immediately put Mike at ease.
“You sure kept all of us waiting,” he remarked sarcastically.
“I think I met the devil,” Mike muttered, still a bit delirious, “and I think he was from Boston.”
“I’d believe that,” the man replied. He pulled off a pair of examination gloves and straightened his brilliant red Starfleet uniform. Mike noted the insignias on the uniform and did the closest thing he could to a gasp of awe.
“Are you…?”
“I’m this ships’ resident Doctor, yes.”
“No, I mean…”
He attempted to raise his head in protest, but found himself unable to move. After a few more short experiments, he found he was almost completely paralyzed from the neck down.
“…Why can’t I move?” he asked, his mouth going dry and panic starting to set in, “is something wrong?”
“No,” the doctor replied, “you’re just fine. You’re coming out of  sensory inhibition therapy. It’s a standard practice when several bones have been broken… or other catastrophic injuries.”
“Did I break any bones?”
“Hardly,” the doctor scoffed, coldly, “although after I heard what you did, I might be liable to break a few of them myself, son.”
Little by little, Mike thought over his past actions. No wonder a doctor would want to give him a beating.
“Sneaking on-board a space station, jumping out of an airlock, and enduring a jump to warp, all while suffering from an acute case of Panthrax Fluidra. Boy, you should just be dead.”
Mike forced his lips into what he hoped was a cocky grin.
“Then why aren’t I?”
The doctor jammed an injector the size of a warp nacelle into his leg. Mike didn’t feel a thing.
Leonard McCoy looked down at Mike, helpless in this state, with an expression that was nothing but serious.
“Because I’m a damn good Doctor, that’s why.”
“You don’t need to tell me that,” Mike replied with a sigh, “My Dad never shut up about you.”
“Oh? And who was your old man, then?”
“Dr. Smith.”
“Very descriptive. Did he have a first name, then?”
“Oh, uh…” Mike actually had to think for a moment. He’d always been “Dad” or “Dr. Smith” to him, “Well, his first name was Ephraim, but he usually just went by Jack.”
“Dr. Ephraim Smith, that should sound familiar,” Dr. McCoy replied. He circled his patient, tapping an instrument about the size of a flashlight from one hand into the other palm, “did he ever serve on the Farragut?
“And the Dauntless, sir. Chief medical on both.”
“Ah, yes. Good young doctor… always had such a sad face, though. Like someone always died.”
“He was one of the cadets who survived the Siege of Calgary, sir.”
“Oh, really?” Dr. McCoy’s face shifted to show a little surprise and shock beyond his normally taciturn features, “well, that explains a lot… and you’re his son, then? My documents say I’ve got a Mr. Seamus Pyke in my care… would you care to explain that?”
“”I’ve got proper ID in my locker back on the Churchill,” Mike replied, “the nice thing about having PF is that your blood is almost impossible to trace.”
“So are you Mike, or are you Seamus?”
“Just Mike, I promise.”
“Mike Smith, son of Calgary survivor and Starfleet medical officer?” McCoy asked, now standing over the young man.
“You got it.”
Dr. McCoy rapped lightly on Mike’s head with the instrument he was carrying.
“Ow!” Mike shouted, more out of reaction than any feeling of pain, ‘What was that for?”
“To make sure you’re still properly anesthetized,” Dr. McCoy gave a small, nasty smile, “and because you deserved it. Son of a Starfleet doctor, pulling that stunt… son, if my rap on the head is all you get, consider yourself lucky! That isn’t half the whipping your father should give you.”
There was a small beeping noise, followed by a female voice that seemed to come out of the ceiling.
“Dr. McCoy?”
“Go ahead,” the grumpy surgeon replied.
“Your patient has visitors. Shall I admit them?”
Dr. McCoy looked back down at Mike.
“You really don’t deserve this,” he turned back to the direction of the voice, “Let them in.”
The door opened with its characteristic sliding noise, and Mike was greeted with a heart-warming sight: Cynthia Harvey, smiling broadly; Humak, at attention as always, and another man in the red Starfleet Uniform Dr. McCoy had been wearing. He was nearing middle age, that much was certain, but still a certain charm and satisfaction hung around his sparkling eyes. He made the room electric with a cock-sure strut that carried him to Mike’s bedside more rapidly than the others. He stuck out his hand with all the gusto in the galaxy, only to laugh nervously and immediately withdraw it. Mr. Smith wouldn’t be shaking any hands anytime soon. Instead, he simply rested his hand on Mike’s shoulder, a gesture Mike couldn’t feel, but appreciated nonetheless. The man tilted his head when he spoke, and odd affectation, but one that seemed to match his status as a man of action and of boundless energy. His lips parted for a moment, pausing before speaking in the most peculiar way, but something about it seemed so very warm, genuine, and human. Finally, with a deep voice that was equal parts bravado and compassion, he uttered:
“Kirk, Enterprise.”

nuqDaq ‘oH puchpa”e’

Mike didn’t know where he was. All was dark, and black… but it wasn’t really frightening. He wasn’t in water, or anti-gravity, as he could still feel his feet firmly on a floor…even if he couldn’t really SEE a floor. His arms and legs felt unnaturally light, though, even for his skinny frame. Who knows, he thought, maybe this is what it feels like when all the blood’s pulled out of you.
He tried to take stock of his surroundings, but it was odd to walk in such a light body. More times than others he tripped and fell… but it didn’t hurt. He had touched a ground, or a floor, or carpet or something, but he just picked himself up and kept walking. After a cursory examination, he realized he was indeed in a small room. There were limits, walls, if you will, but is featureless, it hardly stands to figure.
For the moment, all of the excitement of the past hours had faded from Mike,  and he couldn’t think of why. The Khitomer Conference, the terrorist plot, the Catalina, the warp drive, Humak, Cynthia, Mom, Dad, all of it… why wasn’t it important anymore. For some odd reason, it all seemed so far away and long ago. The warm, velvety surface that was all around him was like a drug. It soothed him, relaxed him, but still… he didn’t want to forget…
It was at that moment that Mike heard a sound. It wasn’t much of a sound, but in this place where there was almost an absence of sound, it was as clear as the shriek of a Anglyvian Avios. The sound continued, a low hum of activity that was almost a godsend in what had become a rather comfortable, but boring place. As Mike continued to listen, he tried to meter his breathing… until he realized he didn’t technically have to breathe. Still the sounds grew, and Mike began to detect distinct sounds. Instead of a low hum, the tone of it went up and down. Rather than being nearly constant, he began to pick up breaks and inflections. As Mike had spent so much time studying languages, he could tell the basic whispers of speech, no matter how unintelligible. Most importantly, though, was that the sound was getting louder.  Eventually, he thought he could make out words, or sentences, but the room suffocated and muffled all, as if he was trying to listen to Humak with a pillow tied around his ears. Mike was busy contemplating how effective such a strategy would be with Humak that it finally took him by complete surprise when he did start recognizing words, close words, loud words.
“I know, I know, I know I’m late. You’d think I’d be better at planning things down here, but I still fall behind. Oh, well, better get ready to do this right.”
Suddenly, the far wall erupted in a small shaft of light, and a slim figure walked through what appeared to be a recently opened door. Though Mike had been able to see himself through some strange sort of bio-luminescence, he had been unable to distinguish or understand any other shape or form up til now, when what looked like a skinny man had just opened a door that, presumably, contained the core of the sun on the other side, for how bright it was.
“Good God!” Mike found himself spitting out the words despite himself, “Could you close that, please?!”
“Oh!” the voice said, clearly now, “Sorry. I guess you’re not used to the light after being in here so long. Sorry about that, too, by the way.”
Once again, the two were left in complete blackness. Mike tried his best to rub spots away that danced in his eyes, blurring his vision. He knew he was talking to another man, or at least another human man by the sound of his voice. Sure, it could have been a Klingon, or an Andorrian, but the accent wasn’t quite right. The way this man spoke was very colloquial, but still far away. He ventured a guess to say the American East Coast due to the his nasal drawl on the words “being in here” with the last word sounding more like “heah.” Mike fumbled around in the darkness, but the blurriness quickly melted away as a warm, golden light began to shine from where the door had so recently pierced his corneas. Blinking heavily, he took stock.
The man was indeed skinny, wearing an old-fashioned Terran suit that was impeccably kept, but hung in the way an off-the-rack model would, not a custom tailored job. He had a black necktie and deep red shirt, which glowed in the golden light that was given off by the simple tallow candle he held in long, deft fingers.
“Mike Smith!” the man said with a genuine smile, “Or, should I say… Seamus Q. Pyke? I’m a big fan of your work, pal, I gotta say. The bit with the spacesuit and the rockets? Simply fantastic. I’m not afraid to say you got more guts than I ever had. You jumped out of that airlock like a man, I was curled up in a ball on a dirty Boston sidewalk.”
His hair was a brassy shade of red, but not bright. It did not have the smooth appeal of auburn or the arresting notes of scarlet. It fell very disappointingly in the middle, which was ironic as he also parted his hair there.
“Yes, sir,” the man continued, walking around Mike as if he were a heifer at market, “Although I don’t much care for your outfit. Is this really what they’re wearing in the future? I was never a fan of purple, and the one-piece look? No, thanks.”
“Um…” Mike spoke finally, his voice seemingly quiet within the infinite black confines, “can I ask a question?”
“No,” the man replied, grinning, “You must ask more than one. Everyone else does.”
“Okay, then…” Mike began feel a little more comfortable, “Where am I?”
“Oh, you are everywhere and nowhere and inbetween where here and there share the air!”
The skinny man made a twiddling motion with his fingers. Mike looked unimpressed.
“No, but seriously,” the man in the suit continued, putting his hands in his pockets, “you’re not technically anywhere.”
“You said this is how we dress in the future,” Mike looked down at the uniform he himself disliked, “Have I traveled in time?”
“Not exactly.”
“Are you going to give a substantial answer to anything I ask?”
“…Maybe.”
“Then who are you, then, keeping all the answers?”
“Ah!” the man in the suit laughed then, “Now that’s a question I can answer! Technically, I’m Satan.”
“Excuse me?”
“Well, more like my title is Satan. It’s a long story. I used to be a person just like you… although without the crippling alien disease… nasty stuff.”
“So should I be asking who were you?”
“Nah,” the man waved the question off, “I’m still me, just with more…stuff.”
He turned and shook Mike’s hand enthusiastically, looking him square in the eye, brown to blue.
“My name’s Steve Waterhouse, Mike, and like I said… I’m a big fan!”

Shiyau thol’es k’thorai ri k’ahm

The walk back to the central console room had never seemed longer. True, he had been up for nearly 36 hours now, feverishly studying nearly every known language in the Federation and beyond, and he had spent a good amount of time running up and down these same corridors despite his deteriorating health. By the time he reached the console, he was winded, and wondering with a little bit of fear whether his throat was being bathed in saliva or blood. Still, he pulled up the controls and got ready to make the Catalina clear for departure.
“You’re all set, Catalina,” he rasped into the communication channel. Cynthia’s friendly voice greeted him, overly cordial to offset the grim proceedings.
“Right-o, Churchill. This is Catalina in final preparations for departure. Waiting your mark for departure, Churchill.”
“Given,” Mike said with a sigh.
“We will commence advancement at one quarter impulse power when the mag-locks release. Communications will be disabled while mag-locks are being desensitized. Over and out.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah…” Mike grumbled, turning off the comm channel. He’d heard it a million times before from a thousand captains… but hearing it from her, and now, made it sting more than ever before. This is it, he thought, this is the time and the place to make something amazing happen and, as usual, he’s left sitting on his butt. He’d grown up on stories of his father making amazing things happen, saving the lives of creatures across the galaxy. He even remembered hearing his mother tell stories of the rationing and sacrifices that happened after the siege, giving her a place in the sun. What does he have? A rusted out space-station, a secondhand uniform, and the uncanny ability to both save the day and erase any evidence that he had.
He began to think back to his years at the church: the Klingon incident with the Catalina, the Mol-Terin and his wife, the multiple secret repairs to the universal translator, and the one peculiar incident of having to escort a score of Orion “diplomats” to a less-than-savory meet-up with a group of wealthy off-world merchants. One wrongly translated word and the merchants would have left with it in their hands, quite literally…  detached from their original location. Still, it was never enough: he was just another hard-luck case of the CREI, another useless appendage to society that they shoved onto a crumbling wreck in space because he couldn’t find a decent job planetside. Mike had hoped, at one point, that after a few years of exemplary work someone higher up would have noticed. He even left enough clues to lead back to him if it ever came to that… but it never did.
Sure, he could have saddled a desk at a Calgary dilithium merchant and made a pretty penny, or just lazed about and collected a Federation stipend, like a writer… but he couldn’t. He wanted to see the stars, he wanted to see the shuttles and the ships and the turbolifts and the transporters and the doors that went whoosh when you approached them. He’d seen his father and an entire generation of amazing men and women save the Earth and more on a regular basis, sometimes with front row seats to the action. All he ever wanted was to be like them… was that too much to ask?
By this point he was nearly lost in self-pity, and barely heard the message barking out over every comm channel simultaneously. There was something deep in his ears that caught it, like a familiar song or phrase waking you from a deep slumber. To anyone else, it would have seemed a horrid mess of nonsense syllables and the garbled syntax of countless languages, but to Mike Smith, the human translator, it had been the same “language” he had been diligently studying, the same code that was nearly second nature to him now, and it was barking out instructions.
“Oh, God…” Mike muttered in horror, his hands trembling, “it’s the fail-safe.”
Something had gone wrong. He didn’t know what, but something had affected the plan for Khitomer and the interplanetary conspiracy had given the order to enact the fail-safe: rather than a calculated assassination of the Federation President, it was the outright extermination of the entire Klingon/Terran peace talks. Something must have gone wrong, someone must have caught on… was it him?
There was no time to think about that, now. The Catalina had to get there, and fast, now. The vessel that had been masquerading as a shipping barge had been ordered to put on all speed to Khitomer to engage in the grisly massacre, and it would  take every ounce of propulsion the CREI vessel had in its nacelles to intercept. A shipper like that could carry a terrifying payload; the Catalina had to reach it.
“Churchill to Catalina, Churchill to Catalina!” Mike heard his voice rising in tone and speeding out of his mouth like a runaway truck, “Catalina, do you copy?”
There was no answer. He tried again, on every channel, slamming his fist on the console in frustration. Blood erupted out from beneath his little finger’s nail, smearing the screen as he continued to try the comm.
“Bastards!” he swore, “They’ve jammed the whole thing!”
There was no time to think about it. The ship was nearly out of dock, now, and with their current instructions they would never make it on time. There would be carnage over Khitomer the likes of which had not been seen in decades… unless he did something about it. There was no time to think about it.
The pressurization of the suit made every last capillary of his body sting and cry out for mercy. In the reflection of the tempered visor Mike now saw that both of his eyes had turned red, but the pressure of the suit had stemmed the bleeding in his hand. If only his mother could see him, it flashed across his mind, he looked a fright. As he slammed the button into place to open the airlock, another thought flashed across his mind, this time in the words of his father.
“One thing about the Federation, Mikey… they’ve got a contingency for everything.”
“Well,” Mike said to himself as he gripped the handle on the spacesuit’s propulsion device and leaped into the void, rocketing himself at the Catalina’s hull, “this is as good a contingency as any.”
Meanwhile, Humak was diligently monitoring the screens on the bridge of the Catalina, and was as thrilled as he would allow himself to be. For the first time since arriving, he was not only able, but encouraged to do the work of three men, and was succeeding. He was halfway through a routine check of asteroid shields when something peculiar cropped up.
“Commander Harvey?”
Cynthia was in the captain’s chair, peering out uneasily at the exit of the spacedock, and the unknown she would no d0ubt be entering. Who knew what kind of frosty reception would await them in the coldness of space.
“Commander?”
“Hm?” she was shaken out of her thoughts, “Yes, Humak?”
“We appear to have a small asteroid approaching our aft cargo bay.”
“We’re still in spacedock, Mack,” Cynthia scoffed, “it’s a glitch.”
“It is not a glitch,” Humak replied immediately, “I have checked and reset the reports four times, each with the same result. Something is coming for us.”
“If that’s Turtle, tell him I haven’t changed my mind. He can’t come.”
“I can’t, Commander.”
“Why not?” Cynthia was starting to get angry.
“All of our channels have been jammed.”
Cynthia stood up then, her eyes going wide as she knew something was wrong.
“Damn,” she hissed, “Humak, open that cargo bay and get him in here!
“Him, Commander?”
“You know who it is.”
“The lack of logic in the situation suggests no other,” Humak said with just a hint of sarcasm. Cynthia bolted out of the door and to the cargo bay, only to be met halfway to the bridge by two of the maintenance men, half carrying and half dragging Mike through the corridor.
“What the hell…?”
“Wants to speak to you, Commander,” one of them said, “wants to go to the bridge.”
“Well, we can’t drop him in a hallway,” Cynthia was trembling with nerves as she saw the tears of blood coming from his barely-conscious eyes, “bring him up, on the double!”
They dumped him in the Captain’s chair in a heap, and Cynthia immediately removed the helmet.
“Oh, God!” She shuddered, noting all the blood inside the helmet, “Turtle, Turtle! Mike! Say something!”
“Commander… I have a report to make…” he said, giving half a laugh before coughing on his own blood.
“Knock off that appropriate garbage!” she hollered, “what on earth made you do that, you damned fool?!”
“They activated… the fail safe…” Mike’s words came in short, dramatic bursts as he swallowed his blood, “communications… jammed. Had to tell you… the ship is on the way…fast… you need to… intercept.”
His head lolled sickeningly to one side as he regarded Humak with red eyes.
“Mr. Engelbretson,” he cocked a weak smile, “ahead Warp Eight.”
“She’ll fly apart!” one of the maintenance crew gasped.
“Shut it!” Cynthia shouted him down, “if we need to go Eight, we’ll go Eight…”
She looked down at Mike then, her body beginning to shiver as she wiped blood from the corner of his mouth.
“but Mike… we can’t. If we go to warp… we can’t.”
“Warp Eight…” he rasped, nearly delirious.
“You’ll bust like a ripe tomato!”
Then, summoning all his strength, Mike placed both his hands on the arms of the captain’s chair. With blood dripping from one hand, he hauled himself up to a standing position, with weakly-red tears running openly down his face and staining the white of the space suit. He pushed away from the captain’s chair and stood on his own, looking out through the on-screen display at the stars. The Catalina was out of the dock now, and ready for warp.
“Do it.”
“But you’ll die!!!
Mike closed his eyes, pushing out a few more tears, and gave one last, shuddering breath and made peace.
Then call me Captain.

“Oh, God…” Mike muttered in horror, his hands trembling, “it’s the fail-safe.”
Something had gone wrong. He didn’t know what, but something had affected the plan for Khitomer and the interplanetary conspiracy had given the order to enact the fail-safe: rather than a calculated assassination of the Federation President, it was the outright extermination of the entire Klingon/Terran peace talks. Something must have gone wrong, someone must have caught on… was it him?

Dvun’uh!

“Are you sure?!”
Mike was up and moving out of the cafeteria in a flash, with Cindie hot on his heels.
“I think so…” Mike shook his head vigorously as he walked, almost losing his balance and bracing against a wall for a moment.
“I think so… it isn’t good, whatever it is… and they’ve got days on us.”
“I’ll get on a comm channel, let Starfleet know.”
“No good there,” Mike grunted, righting himself and continuing on down the hall. The taste of copper in his mouth wasn’t going away.
“I’ve checked most of the channels. Not even the guys planetside know where the meeting is and, if we started talking about it, they’d have reason to throw us in the brig for sure.”
“So secret that the people who should know don’t?” Cynthia slapped a palm to her forehead as the made their way to the console room, “sounds like government work all right.”
“We’ve got to get there before they can… and stop them,” Mike leaned against the wall again as they reached the console room and  Cynthia opened the door.
“I don’t think you’re going anywhere,” she replied, looking him over skeptically.
“Have to,” Mike grunted a reply, “Code’s not completed. I’ll have to fix it on the way.”
“But… you can’t! With your condition–”
I  know about my condition,” he snapped back, “we need to get a ship. Good one. Fast one.”
“And who’s going to fly it, Turtle? You?”
“If I have to.”
“I was going to say ‘I’d like to see that,’ but I think you’re a big enough fool to try.”
They both headed into the console room to find Humak still at his post, dutifully checking communication channels.
“Humak, what on Earth are you still doing here?” Cynthia groaned, exasperated.
“I am not allowed to leave the console unattended without all of the equipment being shut down properly and the door locked.”
“And you couldn’t possibly have shut things down up here?”
“I’m not authorized to do so.”
Fine,” Cynthia grumbled, plopping into her chair, “then can you tell me what ships we have in dock right now? Good ships… fast ships?”
She glanced over to Mike who was still leaning against the door frame, studying a piece of paper through bleary eyes.
“And quickly…please.”
“Of course, Commander,” Humak immediately spun back round and ran a report, “May I ask why you are requesting this report?”
“Do you have to?”
“I can request clarification of any order given me by superior command as part of Protocol–”
“Okay, fine,” Cynthia shook her head in disbelief, “It turns out there is a massive conspiracy to assassinate the Federation President who is currently at a secret meeting in an undisclosed location but, due to the aforementioned conspiracy, the assassins have gained access knowledge of the location through use of a highly sophisticated code. Our Mr. Pyke, also known as Mr. Smith, has cracked the code and now we need a fast ship to intercept the assassins before it’s too late.”
She rattled it all off pitch-perfect, like a rank-and-file Starfleet briefing, even going so far as to straighten her spine and assume a properly professional posture. Once done, she allowed her shoulders to sag a little and looked down at Humak, grinning wolfishly. Humak sat there, as close to dumbfounded as he would allow himself to display, only allowing his eyes to widen and his eyebrows to jump as he sat rooted to his chair.
“Understood.”
The screen behind him made a noise, and they both took a look at the report.
“Well, aren’t you in luck, Turtle,” Cynthia chuckled, turning back to the doorway, “looks like we’ve got one in dock that… Turtle?”
Mike was slumped against the doorway, gently snoring. Cynthia, still laughing a little, made her way over to the young man and gently tapped on his nose.
“Come on, Turtle. You can’t save the Federation if you’re asleep.”
He came to with a start, snorting and nearly falling over.
“Wha-? Oh… shit! How long was I out for? What happened? Did we find a ship? We’ve got to go! We–”
“Everything’s fine, Turtle. Everything’s fine.”
“Tell me that when Khitomer’s safe.”
“All in good time,” Cynthia replied, “the Catalina’s in for a refuel and Captain Ruesch owes us one for that Klingon incident. I’ve sent him a message on the hailing frequency, and he should be getting back to–”
“Ahoy, Churchill! I hear you need a lift?”
Within minutes, the console room had been shut down (according to Starfleet specifications, as Humak insisted) and the three of them were heading down to the dock. Cynthia gave them a briefing
“With the Catalina crew being on shore leave, looks like it’s going to be up to us to get that tub out there. I’ll take the maintenance crew for engineering, and Humak, I’ll need you to navigate.”
“Understood,”
“I ought to hold enough sway with the Federation to get them to pay attention… I hope. We’re technically hijacking this tub; Captain Ruesch might get court-martialed for this, and they might just choose to blow us out of the sky over Khitomer.”
“Cha…charming,” Mike replied, clearly huffing and puffing to keep up with Humak’s easy stride and Cynthia’s shorter, but stronger steps.
“I figure it’s all in the job description,” Cynthia replied with a dangerous looking smile.
“Funny,” Mike gasped, “I don’t remember getting a job description.”
They had finally reached the docking area, where a group of men and women, young and old, all grizzled and smeared with grease, were standing ready. Cynthia nodded to them, and they began to board the Catalina. Cynthia let out a mammoth sigh.
“Can’t believe I’m doing this…” she confided to Mike as Humak began delegating orders, “But I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t. Where did you say they were, last you checked?”
“Last transmission says they’re still good distance out,” Mike said, poring over his notes, they approached the airlock of the Catalina as he continued, “you should be able to catch up without engaging warp, maybe Warp 1. I’ll let you know if I get anything new: I figured I’d set up my studies in the mess hall onboard: big tables, lots of room for–”
His words were cut off as Cynthia boarded the ship and held up a hand. He could go no further.
“Turtle,” her voice was heavy, “someone needs to stay behind and monitor the situation. With your condition, I can’t put you on this ship.”
“I’d be fine! I’d-”
“I can’t!” Cynthia shouted back, worried, forcing tears back into the corners of her eyes, “you’ve got to stay here. We need you here, Mike. Get back to the console and release the mag-locks so we can get on our way. Please…”
Mike himself was trying to hold back tears from the black circles around his eyes, and doing a significantly worse job at it. He nodded curtly, harshly.
“Understood… Commander.”

Bolau tu shom

It was almost eight hours later when Cynthia decided she should finally check up on her Turtle. She found him in the canteen: a large, sad-looking empty room with paint that had begun to peel. Mike was sitting at a table in the back that would usually have held six or eight people, but now held nothing but piles of books, stacks of hand-scribbled papers, and the odd, occasional scroll tied with an officious-looking ribbon. In the middle of it all was Mike Smith, his brown hair a mangled mess hanging limply in front of eyes that sported dark circles, all sitting above a mouth full of gritted teeth and cracked, dry lips. Nearby, a thermos lay empty, forgotten, and hated.
“I should have gotten you more coffee,” Cynthia remarked as she shifted a stack of books to sit down.
Mike didn’t answer.
“Humak’s closing up upstairs, is there anything you’ll need from him?”
No answer. Cynthia waved a hand in front of Mike’s weary face to see if he was actually still conscious. To her surprise, he let out a ghastly, high-pitched moan.
“I can’t do it,” he moaned, “It just… I don’t know where they’re going. I can tell you what each of the languages mean, each of the dialects… it took me all day, but I found the dialects…”
He gestured to some of the ancient-looking scrolls. Cynthia noted, with alarm, a few regal looking seals on them.
“Where the hell did you get those, anyway?”
“There’s always someone willing to sell,” Mike muttered, lost in though, “it’s nothing important: daily correspondence, official memos, whose wife is pregnant, whose dog died, et cetera, et cetera… the perfect way to figure out how people actually talked back then. Useless to a historian, priceless to me… but it doesn’t matter.”
He threw his arms out from him, throwing hands over the entire proceedings with outstretched fingers.
“All of it. Years of collecting, studying, understanding… I never knew anything. Someone knows what’s going on at Khitomer… and they shouldn’t, I know that much… but I don’t know who, or where, or when. Worthless. My entire life, thinking I had some talent, thinking I had some skill, and when it comes down to it… I’m lost. I lose. I can’t do it.”
“Hey,” Cynthia scooped up her thermos, worrying Mike might try to throw it, “you’ll be fine. It’ll be fine…”
“No, it won’t!” he shouted back, “Something’s going to happen, someone’s going to die! Maybe a whole planet, maybe a whole bunch of Starfleet officers! Maybe just one person! But it all comes down to that I can-not do this. For years, I’ve been so proud of myself, talking to aliens without a translator, not once using it. Everyone oohs and ahs, but when it comes right down to it I’m a failure. All I’ve got is my parlor tricks. I did all this studying, and where has it gotten me? I get to be number one on a rusting space station I haven’t left in years, and I only came here because I wanted to DO something, and now that I get the chance…!”
He balled up his fists and shook with impotent rage, gritting his teeth until he began to bleed from his gums.
“Hey, hey!” Cynthia cried out, in a panic, “Watch it! Be careful, with your condition…”
“I don’t care,” Mike’s voice was coming in sobs now, “I just don’t care. Go throw me in the turbolift, go scramble my atoms in the transporter, go kick me out of the airlock, I just don’t give a damn.”
Cynthia’s eyes hardened. In a trice, she shifted to a role she had known well for a good, long time. Her voice became flat, low, and commanding: a voice that demanded respect and was never disappointed. Even her eyes seemed to harden to a steel gray, matching the color of her close-cropped hair.
“Now you listen to me, kid,” she began, “You better shut that mouth of yours and get back to work. You’ve got a job to do, and you said you wouldn’t let me down. Now, I can tolerate a lot of things about you, Turtle. You’re a pretty messed up guy, all told. But there’s one thing I never tolerated in my family and, dammit, I won’t tolerate it with the family I’ve made up here: don’t you lie to me, not ever. If you say you’re going to do something, you do it. You do not lie to me.”
Mike tried to look away, but Cynthia hauled his chair round until they were eye to eye, gray ones to red ones.
“Look at that,” she scoffed, “look at your eyes, all red. Capillaries must be shot. You did that to yourself, kid, and you know it. You’re the only one who can beat you: not this code, not your disease, not the entire Klingon Empire. If you let yourself fail, you’ll fail… but you won’t, because I know you won’t let me down.”
He looked up at her, then, tears flowing clear out of red eyes.
“Besides,” Cynthia gave a little smile, “If you screw this up, I’ll tell your Dad.”
Dad, Mike thought. He’d been up here so long, he tended to forget he had a mother and father somewhere out in Alberta. He had his family up here, the family he created… but there was a whole other family down there, two more people… he couldn’t let them down, too. He came here to make his father proud, to show him that the weak little kid really could accomplish something… and he was going to give up.
No. He couldn’t. Not now.
“Thank you, Commander,” he said quietly, “Thank you… Cynthia.”
“Eh,” she grumbled, “Call me Cindie.”
“Cindie…” he turned the word around in his head a little… “How’s that spelled?”
“C-I-N-D-I-E, why?”
“Names,” Mike chuckled, “old things, leftovers from old languages and dialects. They never make any sense. You have a C that sounds like an S, an I where you could put a Y, and the I-E on the end…”
His voice trailed off as he gazed at the featureless face of a nearby wall, seemingly transfixed. Fearing he’d started an embolism, Cynthia sought to bring him back to reality.
“You okay, Turtle?”
Mike’s face suddenly lit into a smile, a smile as big as the sky in the Calgary plains.
“If you take the linguistic and grammatical rules, and throw them out the window… if you ignore the rules and just…  do it wrong… if you think Old English instead of modern Terran, throw it all out…”
He began rifling through his notes, his smile growing wider and wider all the time.
“You got something, Turtle?” Cynthia said proudly, a smile growing on her middle-aged features.
“I got everything!” Mike proclaimed exhuberantly, “It’s an alliance, if you can believe that, between, uh…”
He scanned a document quickly.
“Vulcans and Klingons, if you can believe that! They’re trying to upset the conference, arguing that there never can be a peace: the Klingons are arguing pride, the Vulcans logic. There’s a ship heading out to Khitomer… now. Left yesterday, looks like, and is traveling on impulse power, making frequent stops, playing the part of a merchant liner. They don’t want to arouse suspicion, but it looks like they’re some kind of fail-safe: if the main plan fails, they… My God…”
“What?”
Mike looked up from a scrap of paper, his face ashen white. In his excitement, he began to taste blood in the back of his throat.
“They torch the whole proceedings.”

lojmIt yIpoSmoH!

“Dammit, Turtle!”
Cynthia had dragged herself out of bed to answer the urgent transmission and was in nothing resembling a good mood.
“You know it’s about 3AM on this side of the planet, right?”
“Commander!” Mike ignored her protests outright, his voice trembling with excitement, “I figured it out!”
“I’m too tired to make jokes about that,” she grumbled, “What did you figure out?”
“You were right,” he admitted, “it wasn’t just meaningless gibberish.”
“Well, I’m just tickled pink.”
“It’s a code, and a helluva one, too,” Mike was nearly breathless with excitement, “It must have taken months, years to put it together, and there must have been close to dozens of people working on it!”
“What makes you say that?” Cynthia found herself asking despite her tired self.
“There’s only one person in this part of the galaxy that would have knowledge of all those languages and dialects.”
“…I suppose that’s you then?”
“Yes,” Mike replied, dead serious.
“How very humble. So, then, a bunch of people got together to make a needlessly complicated coded message… why?”
“Hunh?”
“Why did they do it, Turtle? What was the point? Have you gotten a chance to actually figure out what all these people wanted to say?”
“Oh… uh…not yet.”
“…Why?” Cynthia gritted her teeth.
“Well, some of the dialects that they are using are very tricky. The same word in a different context could mean something completely different, and I don’t even know what kind of context that they are working in. It could be that the context isn’t a typical one at all, but a context specific to this coded message. It could take me hours even to get a rough idea of what they’re trying to say… and that’s if they’re using anything that resembles standard coding or syntax.”
Cynthia heaved a sigh. She wanted nothing more than to return to bed, but she didn’t want to walk blind into an absolute maelstrom later that morning.
“Do we even know who… ‘they’ are?”
“Well, if the language is any kind of giveaway…and it is… it looks like we’re reaching across the board: Klingon, Vulcan, Terran, Romulan… it’s like a cross section of language for several different systems.”
“But you don’t know what it says?”
“I think I got a greeting message in the first bit… I think.”
Cynthia gave a grunt.
“Turtle, do me a favor and call me back when you actually know what the Hell is going on, okay? I don’t need a call every time you get a new syllable, got it? If it turns out to be a commercial for some off-world pool hall, you can save it for when I beam on board. If it’s something that’s going to endanger lives, you can go ahead and call me… but try to keep the perky down to a minimum, okay?”
“Yes, Commander. I’ll get right on it.”
Cynthia crawled back into bed with her husband, an eternally jovial man who seemed the perfect foil to her gruffness.
“If you’re going to be calling young men at 3AM, you could at least be a little more discreet.”
“Oh, shut up, you old fart, and let me sleep.”
At 4AM, she got another call. Rolling over to answer it, she glared at her husband, who was shaking with barely concealed mirth.
“What is it now, Turtle?!”
“Do you know anything about Camp Khitomer?”
“No…” she groaned, rubbing a throbbing temple, “no I don’t. The Khitomer system is a little bunch of dirtballs on the border of the Romulan neutral zone. I can’t imagine what anyone would want out there, unless they’re trying to get killed by Romulans.”
“But I thought we’re allied with the Romulans…”
“…and you can always count on Romulans to be treacherous. Just imagine Humak without a moral compass.”
“Sorry I asked. Well, I’ll take a look and see if I mistranslated. See you at work.”
“Don’t even mention work to me, Turtle. That’s the last place I want to think about right now.”
“Oh. Okay. Guess I’ll talk to you later then.”
“Uh huh.”
She crawled back into bed, praying for a chance to regain unconsciousness.
“I swear,” she sighed, “I have more trouble with those two boys than I ever did with ours.”
“I don’t think you can take either one of those over your knee, Cindie,” her husband smiled.
“I dunno,” she replied, yawning heavily, “They’re a couple of skinny little bastards…”
In far too little time, she was beaming aboard the church, where she was met the moment she stepped off the pad by Mike Smith. He didn’t look as cheerful as he had sounded earlier. By comparison, now he seemed almost grave.
“It took me a while, but I found out about Khitomer. Turns out that’s the secret meeting place for the Terran-Klingon peace accords.”
“Oh shit,” Cynthia swore in a sibilant hiss, “and after everything that happened with that ambassador… this can’t be good. Did you find out anything more about the message?”
“It’s a damned mess,” Mike cried with frustration. The bags under his eyes were showing from very little sleep.
“Go somewhere, get comfortable. Here,” she handed him the usual thermos, “Ge that thing decoded as best you can. I’ll see if I can get anything through to Starfleet, but they’ve probably cut all communication given the sensitive nature of all these proceedings. Just let me know as soon as you know something, you know it. All right?”
Mike took the thermos and nodded smartly.
“I won’t let you down, Commander.”
They both headed opposite ways, and when Cynthia made it to the control room, she saw Humak at his station, as usual. That actually gave her chance for a small smile. As she sat down, she pulled up a hard-line into the communications mainframe and began trying to force a channel any way she knew how. Still Humak plodded on, oblivious, and despite it all, Cynthia enjoyed a little laugh.
“Are you finding something humorous, Commander?” Humak asked, halfway through a superfluous report.
“Just life, Humak,” she responded as she was locked out of an attempt. She leaned back in her chair for a moment, cracked her knuckles expertly, and tried again.
“Just life.”

bIjatlh ‘e’ yImev, p’tahk!

Link SO related. Now, on to the story!

Cynthia Harvey entered the control room to the Churchill Spacedock carrying an old-fashioned vacuum thermos and a rather grumpy expression. Her young subordinate Mike Smith, who went by the name Seamus Pyke, was sitting at his station, dutifully checking away at the day’s opening reports and figures. He spun his chair round to face Cynthia, smiling happily.
“Morning, Commander,” he waved cheerfully, “All’s shipshape about the big, floating tub.”
She fixed him with a glare before she sat down.
“Stop hacking the lock, Turtle,” she grunted, settling into her chair.
“But Commander,” he replied, “How then would I make sure to clock you in early for your shift when you’re running a bit late?”
Cynthia’s face broke for a moment then with a brief smile.
“You just like breaking the rules, kid.”
“And you let me.”
“I’m getting old,” she grunted, adjusting her captain’s chair, “Senile, crazy, you know. Any other commander with half a brain would have shot you out of an airlock years ago.”
“Should have, but didn’t,” Mike kept on grinning, holding out his hand in a beckoning motion, “I hope you haven’t forgotten about our… deal, then?”
Cynthia grunted again and tossed the thermos the few feet to Mike. He caught it happily and immediately unscrewed the top, breathing in heavily as tendrils of steam rose out from the confines. He let out an exhalation that was nearly carnal and seemed to melt into his chair a little.
“You know,” Cynthia’s voice was still low, sarcastic, “You can get coffee at the automat.”
Mike shook his head vigorously that even his short-cropped hair danced about.
“N-n-no, you can’t!” his voice quavered with the movement of his head, “That stuff’s like Romulan Ale, but without all the fun parts!”
“And how would you know about the effects of Romulan Ale?”
“My Dad was a Starfleet Medical Officer,” Mike reclined in the chair with a steaming cup of delicious coffee, “I heard my share of stories.”
“Bull.”
“Okay, so maybe I stole a little of his secret consignment once. I was fifteen, and… oh, don’t look now, but it’s almost time.”
“Time?” Cynthia cocked an eyebrow, “Time for what?”
“It’s almost eight o’clock,” Mike muttered, checking the clock on his console, “Time for the shift to start in three, two, one…”
“Commander.”
They both turned around to see Humak, the human raised by Vulcans, standing at attention in the doorway.
“Right on time,” Mike grinned.
“It would be illogical to be otherwise,” Humak responded, moving quickly to his seat and beginning what little work there was to do on an old, outdated and nearly empty space station. Mike, who preferred to stretch his tasks out during his shift, returned to conversation with Cynthia.
“So, did you see the news this morning?”
“I tend not to turn into the data feeds anymore,” Cynthia quipped, “They tend to just piss me off, usually.”
“Oh, but you should have seen it this morning!” Mike said eagerly, almost giddily, “There’s a transmission that’s been showing up for months now: no one knows where it’s coming from, when it’s going to broadcast, or even what it is! It’s finally starting to get some notice, though, and naturally all of Starfleet’s best exolinguists are trying to figure it out…”
“And I suppose you already know what it says?” Cynthia replied with no shortage of sarcasm. It was good, she’d found, to be frank and unimpressed with Smith’s talents, or he was bound to become nearly insufferable.
“No!” he shouted back with enough force that even Humak took notice, “That’s the best part! Even I don’t know what it means! Isn’t that just incredible?”
“Has there been a transmission of scheduled departures today?” Humak asked Cynthia, who waved him off angrily and instead began probing Mike for information.
“Incredible?”
“Yeah!”
“You don’t know something, for once, and you think it’s incredible?”
“It’s absolutely fascinating! I mean, it could be anything!”
“Has there been a transmission of scheduled departures today?”
“Not now, Humak! Do you realize how damned annoying you can be, Turtle?”
“I’ve got a vague idea…”
“You’re ready to go bananas over something because you don’t know what it’s about. You realize that that scared most people, right?”
“It does?”
“Yes, you moron.”
“Has there been a transmission of scheduled departures today?”
This time, Cynthia chose to simply ignore Humak.
“I just thought,” Mike said with a shrug, “that people would be more interested in something like this than afraid.”
“Most people don’t need much of a reason to be afraid, Turtle,” Cynthia, “Who knows what that transmission could be saying, right?”
“Eh, I wouldn’t worry too much,” Mike waved her off dismissively, “It’s a jumble of dialects, tenses, and even different languages, some of them arcane that they only barely resemble their modern counterparts… if they even have one. Just gibberish, nothing more.”
“Then why broadcast it?”
“Why do Starfleet cadets sometimes pull stupid pranks or wear their uniforms inside out? So someone will notice. It’s just another prank, most likely.”
“You sound so sure.”
“It just doesn’t make enough sense to actually mean anything,” Mike shook his head, “What would be the point of such a message?”
“You’re starting to sound a lot like Humak, Turtle…”
“Has there been a transmission of scheduled departures today?” Humak asked yet again, without a change to inflection or tone. Cynthia ran both hands through her short, gray hair in silent frustration, but Mike could not keep quiet.
“Oh, for crying out loud!” he bellowed, quickly pressing three buttons on the console and displaying a report, “Here, Humak! Here, see?! No departures! Just like yesterday! Just like all this week, due to dangerous solar winds, which you already knew about, so stop asking!”
Silence reigned for a few moments before Humak nodded politely and went back to work. Mike busied himself with quickly disposing of the last of the coffee. Usually, he saved some to stay awake for late night study sessions or catching the odd talk show on a data feed. This night, however, he was asleep unusually early, and dreaming.
He was at a console, but it wasn’t his normal console. It was the console of a new, Constitution-class starship. The captain’s chair was absent, but Humak was in his regular spot alongside him, speaking incessantly in his usual aggravatingly level tone. The words made no sense, though, and it wasn’t until several minutes in that Mike realized what he was saying. It was the coded message, over and over and over again until Mike thought he would lose his mind. Humak was being so annoying… MORE annoying than usual, just saying that mishmash a thousand times over until it lost any meaning it had, until it stopped being words at all, and was just a stream of noises, noises that could actually be not words at all, but…
It was then that Mike shot out of a dead slumber so fast that he bashed his head against the door of the locker, forcing it open and sending him sprawling onto the floor. Almost immediately, he sprang back to his feet, his heart beating madly in his chest and his eyes whipping this way and that. His entire body was a frantic mess from head to toe, but that hardly mattered.
He knew what the message meant.

‘arlogh Qoylu’pu’?

Following a short rehabilitation, Mike found himself back at his normal post, at his normal computer screen, back to his normal job. The Pakled, after being revived by the Vulcans, was sent home in quick order. Thanks to Cynthia’s connections within Starfleet, it was frighteningly easy to reinstate an employee of the spaceport that had been officially dead for quite some time.
“If you know how to get around here,” she had said with a smile, “you can get away with almost anything.”
Mike couldn’t help but wonder if it was one of the things she didn’t get away with that got her stationed at the Churchill. Still, it was shocking how quickly things returned to how they had been before. Humak, with his peculiarities intact, adapted almost seamlessly back into the routine as if nothing had changed. Mike had given up after a week or so of constant needling of the human Vulcan, resigning himself to believe that he’d never get any of the answers he desired.
“The man died and came back,” Mike fumed one day while Humak was on his strictly adhered-to break, “Doesn’t he realize all of the information, all of the knowledge he might have?”
“What kind of information?” Cynthia asked from her raised chair, “Answers to existential questions, vague evidence of an afterlife? No doubt in his mind all of the data would be rendered useless by it being a personal experience, emotionally motivated, and therefore flawed. You’re asking for answers, all he can give you is opinions.”
“But… I want to hear those opinions!”
“He wasn’t raised to have them, Turtle,” Cynthia sighed, “He doesn’t know how to express them, particularly if you have no frame of reference for some kind of scholarly debate.”
“Death is illogical, I suppose,” Mike rolled his eyes, “Or at least, he’d find some way to make it be.”
“He is still human, deep down. And the human mind will do some really strange things to believe what it wants to.”
“Are you speaking from personal experience then, commander?” Mike swiveled his chair around, steepling his fingers and raising one eyebrow in his best impersonation of Humak’s frequent expression.
“That’s for me to know and you to wish you know,” she replied, flicking a bit of her console at him, “now, back to work, Underling.”
Mike spun back around and checked his screen for the umpteenth time
“Work, ha!” he scoffed, “I haven’t had anything to do since I got here this morning.”
“Then you should budget your time better.”
“I finished everything in an hour!” Mike protested.
“Exactly,” Cynthia replied, “you’ve got to better budget your time screwing around so it looks like you have something to do all day.”
“Should you really be saying these things, as my supervisor?”
“Would I have a reason to say them if I hadn’t had to do it myself?”
“Touche.”
Humak returned shortly thereafter, and work resumed in earnest. It seemed like he could always find some sort of work for Mike to do, no matter how arcane and ridiculous. In a way, Mike was thankful for it, as it made the day go faster, and he could retire to one of the leisure decks or libraries. It had been years now and, barring a few exceptions and holiday parties (that Cynthia had insisted be at the spacedock so he could participate) he had spent almost every night alone, wandering the halls of the church and rarely interacting with any of the temporary lodgers or passers-by. It never seemed lonely to him: the big, empty spacedock, the cramped sleeping quarters, the cacophonous sounds of his two echoing footfalls as they traveled down halls that had originally wished to hear hundreds, if not thousands of them… it was never lonely for him, but rather… peaceful. In high school, he had learned a few meditation techniques from his father to control his blood pressure and condition, and he found no better place in the universe to sit quietly and probe the darkest corners of his waking mind than a breathtaking vista dock staring into the serene blackness of space.
Cynthia had given up asking him if he felt lonely about a year in and, he had to admit, it was rather liberating to not feel his father or mother fussing over him every moment. It was particularly his mother who worried overtly about a flare-up or a bleed-out, but his father was always there as well underneath, using his cold, calculated medical knowledge to keep a constant eye on things that seemed so much more unnerving to Mike than his mother’s direct care. He talked to them both once a week, spinning yarn after yarn in regards to his various jobs at a planetside Starfleet base. It had almost become a game, the way he manipulated the databases: for a few months, he was working in a canteen; then a holographic information center; a warehouse and shipping depot and, finally, a commendation from a fictitious Lieutenant had him working as an assistant for an officer that didn’t exist in an office that had never been created. All in all, things seemed to be working out perfectly well.
Too well.
“I still have trouble with this,” Mike complained that afternoon after his break, “I mean, we’re out here in space. We’ve had Klingon encounters, crewman deaths, ancient Vulcan ceremonies taking place in the control room, and we even pulled the entire spacedock out of orbit…”
“Ahem,” Cynthia gave a theatrical cough, “I did that last one, thank you very much.”
Mike paid her no heed.
“But here we are again, doing the same old boring, routine, standard stuff. Is this what it’s usually like out here? One day Klingons; the next, paperwork?”
“Pretty much, yeah,” she replied drily.
“I suppose I wasn’t expecting it to be like this,” Mike grumbled, poking idly at his keyboard.
“That is a fundamental flaw in the presentation of Starfleet to prospective cadets,” Humak chimed in, typing busily away, “it has been my experience with other personnel that the idea of Starfleet presented to them was a much more glamorous ideal than the reality.”
“Oh, really?” Mike turned to Humak, interest piqued, “Tell me more.”
“It is not a new strategy,” Humak responded plainly, “one does not emphasize so-called ‘boring’ aspects of a job when they are attempting to lure in prospective recruits.”
“Sounds logical, eh?”
“Indeed.”
Humak then turned back to his console and his typing. Mike heaved a hefty sigh and pulled up a planet view on the main viewscreen. He heaved another sigh and heard Cynthia shift in her chair behind him.
“I can tell you’re still a kid, Turtle,” she said with a bit of an edge in her voice.
“Excuse me?” Mike turned to her, “I’m almost thirty, thank you very much. Some Starfleet personnel are captaining freighters at my age.”
“Even if you were eligible, Turtle… they wouldn’t give you a ship.”
“Why not?!” Mike was getting defensive.
“Why not? Think about it, Mike: you defy medical advice and risk your own life to get up here, and then proceed to use a linguistic knowledge that puts our software to shame, all the while cracking open the Starfleet confidential program codes on a daily basis and saving our skins on more than a few occasions… and it’s still not enough.”
Mike was silent then, but he could feel his face getting warm.
“What more do you want, kid?” Cynthia was challenging him directly now, “You’ve already done more than anyone ever thought you would in your condition, but you’re still not satisfied. You still complain that you can’t do more when you’ve already done too much, stranding yourself up here in this rust-bucket, probably for the rest of your life. You speak languages most of our Comm officers haven’t even heard of, but you still whine because you have to do paperwork. Hard facts, Turtle: everyone has to do paperwork. Everyone has a job that is a pain, that’s why they call it a job. Sometimes I just don’t get you, kid… when I lived in Idaho, we used to joke that some of the local boys had a chip on their shoulder, that they felt they had something to prove to the whole town, or the state, or the country… but fellas like you, we’d say there was the whole damn potato on their shoulder. You just won’t be happy until the whole damn Federation has you on their mind, will you?”
Mike was obviously embarrassed, feeling childish and silly. Maybe he was ridiculous for wanting something like that, for wanting to achieve that much greatness in his state. Maybe he should have just gotten a desk job, and it was pointless to try to out-do his father, or his classmates, or even the legends of Starfleet itself. But still, there was a little voice, deep down in his core, that just wouldn’t be quiet. He kept repeating three words, over and over until Mike felt them coming out of his mouth. He felt a rush of satisfaction the moment he said them, but almost immediately regretted them and returned to embarrassment… but it seemed to lessen, now. He looked directly into Cynthia’s icy blue eyes and spoke.
“No. I won’t.”

Maj!!

It took a little while for Mike to open his eyes, and when he did he was back to his usual self.
“I feel like crap.”
Humak was standing over him, administering to him. At the first sign of communication, he calmly sent a message to the Commander to come to sick bay. Following that, he simply went back to monitoring Mike’s vital signs.
“Well, hello to you too, Mack.”
He cracked a smile and tried to laugh, but every muscle in his body shrieked in resistance. He’d felt that burn before, too many times to count, but it never got any easier: tiny nanomachines working overtime to repair the damage to his blood vessels and nearly failing to keep every internal fluid from becoming external.
“Oh yeah,” he grimaced, “that takes me back.”
“You should refrain from moving,” Humak noted, running a scan over Mike’s body, “The nano-platelets will work more effectively the less they are disturbed.”
There was a moment of silence while Mike stared at the busily working Humak, his eyes wide in utter disbelief.
“You have got to be kidding me.”
Humak glanced up at him, raising one eyebrow.
“Are you seriously doing this?”
“Doing what?”
“You’re just… puttering around, keeping an eye on me, playing Florence Nightingale? Not going to say anything, not going to mention anything?”
“I am afraid I do not know what you are implying.”
“You don’t…!” Mike sputtered in frustration. He felt it start to burn again and forced himself to calm down.
“Mack… you were inside my head for almost a week. We were basically sharing the same thoughts. Hell, you died and came back to life! Isn’t there anything you want to talk about?!”
“On those subjects?” Mack’s eyebrow shot up again, then fell.
“No.”
“This is like…” Mike wanted to pull at his hair with both hands, but his arms wouldn’t obey him, “this is like the worst kind of ‘morning after’ conversation.”
“It is not morning, it is late afternoon.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“What did you mean?”
“What I meant was that after all we’ve been through in the past couple of days, this lack of… connection makes it feel weird.”
“I do not understand what that has to do with a ‘morning after.’ Can you explain this expression?”
Mike closed his eyes and gave as deep a breath as he could. Usually when Humak would get like this, he could get up and move around or yell or wave his arms about, but incapacitated as he was, it was almost torturous. He was finally granted a reprieve when Cynthia entered the sickbay, grinning broadly and proudly.
“Aw, isn’t that sweet,” she cooed, walking over where Mike lay, “Humak’s playing nurse for you, Turtle… I think I might just cry.”
“Do me a favor and don’t,” Mike grunted, “Did I miss anything good?”
“Other than me flying this entire spacedock like a flea steering a humpback whale? Nah,” she waved at him dismissively, still smiling, “The Vulcans got out of here as soon as everything was back to normal. I think they got a pretty rough reception from the guest of honor here…”
She jerked her thumb in Humak’s direction, and he responded with a simple nod, confirming her suspicions. She gave a little giggle and turned back to Mike.
“I guess even he can only take so much,” she said.
“What about Starfleet?” asked, “What about the lodgers here at the Church? Someone’s bound to lodge a complain, it’s all some of them live for.”
Cynthia cracked a few of her knuckles expertly and sighed.
“You know, you’d be surprised what you can get away with sometimes. I mean, subspace disturbances are known to happen often without any warning, and can greatly alter orbital patterns. I asked the Starfleet Officer in charge of monitoring subspace anomalies and he was able to confirm that something strange did indeed happen.”
“Yeah, tell me another one,” Mike snorted, “Who told you that fish story?”
She reached down and tousled Mike’s hair, and he was helpless to stop it.
“My husband, of course.”
Mike gave a little groan but, like a newborn kitten, could only feebly squirm in place.
“The Dauntless and the Excelsior gave us a gravity tow back to our proper position. I went to the Academy with both of their captains, so it was like a school reunion.”
“You know the captain of the Excelsior?” Mike’s eyes shot open wide, “He’s one of the most decorated pilots ever!”
“Yeah, but as he gets older I think he’s starting to go a little nutty,” Cynthia smiled, “Got a real cute baby daughter though.”
“They’re just regular people to you, aren’t they?” Mike asked, marveling.
“To me, Turtle, everyone’s regular people. Even you two nutcases.”
She gestured to both of them. Humak came closer, and soon all three were gathered round the bed.
“You know, you boys make this job a lot more fun than it oughtta be. Underpaid, understaffed, people complaining at us all day… but you two are just crazy enough to keep things fun. I’m glad to have you both back, and I wanted to say… thanks.”
“Thanks for being crazy?”
“You bet your ass, Turtle.”
She leaned down then and gave him a hug, and a small kiss on the forehead. Mike turned a bright shade of pink in the cheeks as Cynthia headed back to the door… but not before Humak could lean in and repeat her performance on Mike… complete with the kiss. This time, Mike turned a deep shade of scarlet as Humak straightened up, his face still expressionless.
“I also wish to thank you,” he nodded, “for everything you endured for my benefit.”
He glanced behind Humak to see Cynthia literally on the floor, holding her sides in an effort to keep the laughter from exploding out of her mouth. She was able to regain composure in time for Humak to meet her at the door, giving her an awkward half-bow.
“I wish also to express my thanks to you, for all that you have done for me.”
He moved in to hug her, and Cynthia threw up both hands, palms out. Seeing his confusion, she dropped her left arm and instead extended her right in a handshake.
“I’ll be fine with this, Humak.”
“Very well, ” he responded. The two of them shook hands and, after saying goodbyes to Mike, headed back to the bridge. Without anyone to talk to, Mike suddenly felt quite sleepy. In one final act of desperation, he tried to motivated the muscles in his arm to wipe away the awkward kisses on his forehead, but to no avail. Sleep took him before he could even coax a finger.

Sinusitis

There was an immediate shudder throughout the entire station the moment Cynthia disengaged the orbital lock. The entire world seemed to list on its side as the Churchill Spacedock lost its position and began a cataclysmic tumble to Earth at 900 miles an hour. Everything listed to one side, and Cynthia found herself clinging to the control panel like a limpet, struggling with all over strength to find purchase to support her narrow frame. Dials and readouts spun and changed too fast to be observed properly, and it seemed like the very world was made of a crashing cacophony of metal and plastic parts bashing into one another and shattering under the stress. With a cry of desperation, Cynthia threw her hand against the pull of gravity and was able to find her right hand on a knob that she began turning furiously. Eventually, the station seemed to right itself and the crashing ceased, but every wall and support beam of the church howled in pain as the Earth continued to draw it closer, threatening to compromise the structure before it even reached the surface.
“You god-damned rust-bucket,” Cynthia snarled, feverishly working dials and switches, “you’ll do what I tell you to do or so help me I’ll tear what’s left of you apart with my bare hands! COME ON!”
She jammed another lever into place and stole a look at their present position.
Getting close, she thought. She couldn’t help wondering at that moment if all was well up in the console room.
In truth, three of the Vulcans had been knocked unconscious when the station originally lurched, leaving a skeleton crew to help Stirak and T’Lai prepare for the ceremony. With all reverence, Humak’s body had been removed from the tomb in the cargo bay and brought into the console room, laid out on his back on the edge of the main console, which was serving as a makeshift altar. Mike had been laid down on the console as well, in such a way that the top of his head was only inches from the top of Humak’s. He lay there, watching Vulcans scurry about to set up the necessary vessels and artifacts for the performance of fal-tor-pan.
“I gotta say,” Mike muttered, forcing a smile as he felt the pressure build on every blood vessel in his body, “I’m not used to all this fuss over me. Reminds me of when I was a kid, and I’d get a nosebleed. Dad was always worried that’d set off the whole she-bang…”
“We are trying our best to monitor your condition, and to take into consideration any ‘she-bangs’ you may have in the process.”
T’Lai’s beautiful face and solemn expression only made her words funnier. Mike wanted to laugh, but even compressing his body for a chuckle could have burst an artery.
“Be strong, Mikey. Be strong.”
He heard his father’s voice inside his head just like he had through most of his childhood, soft and reassuring. Of course, those words were usually accompanied by a painful injection of coagulant or nano-platelets, which usually colored the situation. This time, instead, Mike was allowed to look into the face of a gorgeous Vulcan priestess.
“I’ll be strong…” Mike murmured, half in and half out of consciousness.
“Please do not speak,” T’Lai cautioned, “Extra vibrations in your current pressurized state are a hazard.”
“There’s just…” he muttered, nearly gone, “Just one more question… I have to ask…”
“If you must,” T’Lai sighed, finishing up her preparations, “though it is highly illogical.”
“There was another…” his voice was nearly a whisper now, “another here, a Pakled… what happened to her?”
Stirak, who had been busy preparing Humak’s body, briskly explained.
“The Pakled was a hindrance to our operation. It simply asked too many questions, and was incapacitated.”
“Ah,” Mike let out a sigh of satisfaction, “with that knowledge, I think I could die happy.”
At that moment, a great shock tilted the station violently, and the Vulcans scrabbled to reset their ceremony, along with the two bodies. Cynthia’s voice came across the communication channel.
“Sorry about that, folks, but the brakes on this thing haven’t been tested. But… here we are, in a newly established orbit above Mana, a mountain exactly 7,272 meters tall. Is everything all right up there?”
“It will be a few moments,” Stirak’s voice came across the line, “the rough approach will allow for a repositioning of sacred vessels.”
“Oh… sorry. Well, I’ll just adjust a few other things down here, put in some half-assed excuse to Starfleet, and I’ll be right–”
She heard the line go dead and knew something must have gone wrong. As soon as she was satisfied with the new orbital hold she bolted to the nearest turbolift to the console room.
“What’s it? What’s wrong?!”
She tried to force her way over to her two workers laid out on the console, but Stirak cut her off firmly.
“It would be unwise to go further. The ceremony has begun, and you should not interfere.”
“But something’s gone wrong, hasn’t it? I’ve known enough of you green-skinned goblins in my time. I know you would only cut off a transmission if something had gone wrong, it’s not in your nature to cut people off. So, tell me… what is wrong?”
Stirak’s face was as flat and inexpressive as always, but Cynthia actually saw his eyes dart into a corner and return again before he responded.
“There are complications.”
One of the Vulcans was working alongside T’Lai as Mike’s vitals had begun to fail during the re-institution of orbital hold. Their work was desperate, a losing effort as it seemed Mike’s blood pressure had reached a critical state.
“A shutdown of systems is imminent,” the aide said in Vulcan, “Our best option would be to institute fal-tor-pan immediately.”
“No,” T’Lai replied, “I do not wish to actively murder. Removing the katra would surely kill the human.”
“The subject is expectorating blood, priestess,” the aide replied, “something must be done lest we lose both subjects.”
“Do you have any suggestions?” T’Lai’s voice was customarily strong, and still without any shred of grief.
“With each passing moment, the viability of fal-tor-pan decreases exponentially.”
“Then we truly have no choice,” T’Lai nodded, leaning down and whispering in the alien language into Mike’s ear as he lay dying.
“I know you are in there, and can hear me. Understand that the strength of your katra could save this man you call friend. I am asking that you put forth the effort to save this man, and in return we can return you to your body.”
There was no response but a jet of blood coming from Mike’s nose. T’Lai seemed to sigh then, and leaned down again.
“Please… my son… it is the wish of both I… and your father… that you return to us… to our family. You were born a human, but raised a Vulcan, so please understand my human begging to bring you back to your Vulcan family. Humak… Jon… come to us.”
She straightened up and turned to the orderly.
“Are the vitals stabilizing?”
“Of course not, the subject…” the Vulcan aide cocked one eyebrow then in a gesture of supreme surprise as he analyzed his equipment.
“This is most illogical.”
“Is the subject returning to proper health?”
“Y-yes, milady,” the aide nodded, “the ceremony can begin when you are ready.”
“Very well.”
After everything that happened, the ceremony proved to work with hardly a problem. Within a few hours, Humak, back in his body, stood in the sickbay of the Church with T’Lai, watching over the recuperating Mike Smith, bandaged heavily and injected with a heavy dose of nano-platelets.
“He will not be awake for some time,” the priestess explained, “he is heavily sedated to allow his blood to return to proper function. Removing the internal bleeding proved most difficult, but not impossible.”
“Understood.”
“He will be able to return to normative work functions in no less than five days.”
“Understood.”
There was a small pause then over the gently breathing bandaged body.
“Your father and I are pleased with your return, Humak.”
“I do not remember either of you being pleased with me before.”
“Your Mr. Smith said some very interesting things to us. I believe we owe may you an apology.”
“I would appreciate an apology from Stirak as well.”
“That will be difficult in obtaining.”
“In that case… mother,” Humak walked over to the door to sickbay, “I appreciate all you have done, but I have to be getting back to work. I have my obligations to a family here that take precedence over the family I was not allowed for most of my life.”
T’Lai stood in the doorway, cocking her head to one side like an inquisitive bird.
“Humak, your behavior is very illogical given the circumstances. You are more a Vulcan than you ever have been, yet you are allowing an emotion to rule you in your expulsion of us.”
Humak stared her down with a hard, angry look, and spoke only two more words before closing the door in the priestess’ face.
“Shit happens.”

qaStaH nuq?

“Surely this can’t be good for you,” Cynthia tried her best to keep up with Mike as he strode, with purpose, into the bowels of the Church, leaving a cadre of baffled Vulcans standing in the console room.
“I mean… won’t knocking the Church around a bit risk setting off your, uh, condition?”
“We’ve been taking that into account,” Mike replied.
We?” Cynthia cocked an eyebrow as Mike pointed a finger to his temple.
“Me and my shadow,” he answered with a smile, “I should be out for the ceremony, which should protect the physical body better than if I was conscious. I’m also willing to bet that there’s a pretty good medic on board with the Vulcans for any complications, or at least pump me full of clotting solution. Finally, there’s really not going to be another time to do this… and I really can’t stand another day with this guy in my head.”
Mike stopped then in the middle of the hallway, seeming to look at the ceiling for a moment.
“And you think this is a picnic for me, Mack?”
Another pause. Another look at the ceiling.
“Let’s just get this over with.”
He then continued walking as if nothing abnormal has happened, and Cynthia again hurried to keep up.
“I take it our friend stopped his pouting?”
“He did indeed,” Mike grunted as they turned a corner, “And he will not shut up.”
Another pause, then.
“Well, you won’t!”

“You’re crossing over from being helpful into being annoying, Mack, I…”
He was cut short when Cynthia grabbed him, one cheek in each hand, and drew him down several inches to her level. Her short, silver hair framed a pair of icy blue eyes that pierced directly into his.
“Turtle… focus. You’ll have plenty of time to argue with that damn Vulcan when this is all over.”
Mike’s brows sunk and his eyes narrowed.
“He’s not a Vulcan.”
“Turtle, given everything that’s happened in the last week, I’m willing to believe anything. Now, with the two of your ridiculous brains working together, you’ve no doubt got this all figured out. But, as you mentioned before, you’ll both be absent for the actual doing. I take it I’ll have to make this happen, huh?”
“Probably.”
“So…” she squeezed his thin cheeks tighter, causing him to wince, “what do I have to do?”
Mike gave as much of a nod as he could in the situation, tears squirting from his eyes as he did so. He led Cynthia down to the main control room, where a myriad of buttons, switches, toggles, and knobs all seemed to run without any need of adjustment, a small miracle in and of itself. For as many ways to manipulate, there were as many colored lights and indicators, all of which were displaying different levels of operation. In a word, it was overwhelming.
“Ugh,” Cynthia groaned, hands on hips as she looked at the mess of technology, “Now I remember why I never come down here. One big, blinking headache.”
“It would not be logical for a commander to be unfamiliar with his or her station.”
“What was that, Turtle?” Cynthia turned to him with a slight smile, seeing him shaking his head violently.
“That’s what I thought. Yeah, I know what most of this junk does… the stuff that matters, anyway. I leave the little piddly things up to the maintenance techs, no point in breaking my head over every little thing.”
“I’m going to assume, then,” Mike asked, rubbing at his temple and screwing his eyes up tight for an instant, “That you know how to to access the orbital hold?”
“Sure I do,” she walked into the blinking, pulsing core and pointed to a series of dangerously red switches, “It’s right here, under the ‘do not ever touch, ever, ever’ section.”
“Bingo,” Mike allowed himself a small smile, “If you pull up that terminal over there, you should be able to determine our current position.”
“57.5805845°E, -37.7749295°S?” Cynthia asked, “that’s more than a little old fashioned.”
“But it works,” Mike replied, walking over to the terminal himself, “come on, Humak, stop sulking and give me the coordinates of the mountain.”
Mike closed his eyes then, and upon opening them Cynthia saw that they were black and featureless like before. Mike’s body reached out to the keyboard and rapidly typed in a series of numbers, letters and symbols. As soon as the task was completed, Mike’s body closed its eyes again and reopened them, again the normal brown.”
“Whoo,” Mike shook his head again, “I don’t know if I can take much more of that.”
“Then you’d better get upstairs,” Cynthia nodded, “Don’t worry, I’ll get us where we need to be.”
“Okay, if you say so,” Mike was still blinking experimentally, “All I can give you is the coordinates, you’ll basically have to let it fall correctly and slam it back into orbit when it’s in the right spot. It’ll be completely on manual control; I don’t think I have to tell you that things could get ugly, Commander. If there’s anyone at Starfleet paying attention, they’ll probably start losing their minds, and I can only imagine that everyone on-board here will think it’s the end of the world.”
“It’ll be fine,” she answered, “Now you get upstairs, and that’s an order.”
“I… I know. I know I have to, I just… I don’t know what to say…”
“I’m putting hundreds of lives in jeopardy for this, Turtle. Millions if we end up crashing into the planet. I’m doing this so I can have my two best workers back, two guys who got the short end of the stick in life and deserve more, as far as I’m concerned. I’m willing to risk all that because you two are my friends. You don’t have to say anything other than ‘thank you,’ Mike.”
“…thank you.”
“That’s more like it,” Cynthia said, now studying the display intently, “Now get up there and get this all sorted out… both of you!”
She heard two men say “yes, Commander,” but both voices came out of the same mouth. After Mike left the room, Cynthia nearly collapsed, letting her forehead smack hard against the thrumming control center. Her breath came in shallow gasps, her fingers trembled as they struggled for purchase amongst the buttons and switches. Could she really do it, she thought, could she really make this happen? Cheat death, save life, prevent disaster on an epic scale? The little Federation brat who had all the answers, and made sure everyone knew it; the one whose mouth got her mothballed to this floating piece of scrap metal… was it really going to all come down to her?
“Commander Harvey,” Stirak’s cold voice came over the channel, “Everything is in place. If you are ready, you may begin.”
Cynthia felt a smile creep into her features despite the fear that seemed to cover her entire proceedings. Little by little, that smile ate away at the fear, melting it away like the first spring thaw.
“Hell yes, I’m ready,” she responded. After a short, awkward pause, Stirak spoke again.
“…I believe it is customary in Terran culture to wish one ‘good luck’ in this situation.”
“Well, sir, with all due respect, I never cared all that much for Terran customs…”
She flipped three red switch covers upward, exposing three even more brilliantly colored red switches.
“And as for the luck… I prefer to make my own.”

Beneteau

“Sorry,” Cynthia replied, shaking her head vigorously, “Sorry… I don’t know what that was.”
“It has been my experience with humans,” the man said as he walked forward, “that they often speak without fully comprehending a situation. However, I believe that your words have a deeper significance.”
He looked past Cynthia to where Mike’s body sat back in the chair, seemingly still asleep.
“Is the katra of Humak inside this human?”
Cynthia’s mouth felt dry, but she managed to get out a “Yes.”
“In that case, we must remove this body and return with it to Vulcan.”
The man waved a hand and, suddenly, the console room was filled with Vulcans dressed in plainer clothes, ready to cart Mike off for Mount Seleya. Cynthia found herself rising up in front of their collected taciturn faces, waving her hands in front of her in a vain attempt to get them to stop.
“Wait! Wait! You can’t do that!” she cried.
The Vulcan held up his hand again, and the servants stopped.
“Why?” his deep voice lacked all emotion.
“Um, well…” Cynthia bit her bottom lip. She knew she’d promised never to tell, but this had to be extenuating circumstances.
“He’s sick. He’s got some problem with his body where, if you put him on a transporter he might just… well… explode.”
The Vulcan cocked one eyebrow and summoned one of his servants. After a quick conversation in Vulcan, the servant left and returned with a standard issue med-scanner. After passing over Mike’s sleeping body a few times, he reported back in Vulcan to the man in charge. Cynthia specifically noticed a heavily accented “Panthrax Fluidra” in the report.
“Yes!” she jabbed her finger forward, feeling more than foolish, “That’s it! Panthrax Fluidra, that’s what he has!”
The Vulcan man looked down on her, his face an impassive, yet judging mask.
“Then he should not be on this space station,” he replied.
“Yeah, we all think so, too, but…” Cynthia shrugged and smiled, “he’s stubborn… for a Canadian.”
All of the Vulcans regarded her oddly, and the one in charge continued his owlish stare.
“What you say is not logical.”
“Sorry,” Cynthia felt her confusion dissipating and her confidence returning. She knocked a few knuckles against her skull and cracked a smile.
“Only human.”
“This creates difficulty,” the Vulcan spoke again, though Cynthia wasn’t sure if she was specifically speaking to him, “The possessor of the katra must be taken to Mount Seleya. It is only at those precise coordinates that the resonance and spiritual energies can be aligned.”
“Sorry, Charlie,” Cynthia kept smiling, “but he can barely take a heavy run down to the commissary without getting a bloody nose.”
“My name is not Charlie. It is Stirak.”
Cynthia regarded him blankly for a second.
“I… I know, it’s just an expression, I…”
She shook her head again.
“Forget it, forget it.”
She walked back to Mike in the chair chuckling softly to herself, muttering bemusedly under her breath.
“Vulcans…”
She attempted to wake Mike up and, after a gentle bit of rousing, he came around, completely baffled.
“What the heck just happened?” He blinked, “My head…”
“You will recover shortly,” a serene voice seemed to flow from behind the massed group of Vulcans. Mike looked out to see the group of alien faces and his face immediately fell.
“This is like a nightmare I had, once. Room full of Vulcans. Always frowning.”
“Please, do not be agitated,” the serene voice sounded out again, and the ranks of the servants parted for a devastatingly beautiful Vulcan woman. She didn’t walk across the floor, but rather sailed on elegant robes, her face a cold and dispassionate mask of perfection. She came to a stop in front of Mike and he immediately began chiding himself for revelling in the beauty of his friend’s mother.
Wait, he thought, how did I know it was Mack’s mother?
Wait, he thought again, did I just call that bothersome fool my friend?
“Be calm,” the mother said, reaching out a cold, delicate hand to touch Mike’s forehead. Aside from the welcome coldness, he felt almost immediately calm,  as if sinking into a comfortable pool of gently flowing water. Humak’s mother turned to his father as Mike’s eyes rolled back into his head.
“He is in here,” the mother said, almost proudly, “but he does not wish to talk.”
“I can’t imagine why,” Cynthia murmured, only to turn a shade of red when the Vulcans, hearing, turned to her.
“What he has done should be considered impossible for the human brain,” Stirak said flatly, “Yet, this is very much real.”
“Kiri-kin-tha said ‘nothing real exists,’ Stirak,” the mother turned to her husband, still endlessly graceful, “We must accept what has happened.”
“Why does he not wish to speak to us?”
“There are many reasons one of his kind may choose,” the mother responded, turning back to face the humans. As soon as she had removed her hand from Mike’s forehead, he had lost the comfortable feeling, and when the mother turned back to them he had stood up from the chair, regarding the Vulcans coldly.
“Listen to you. ‘One of his kind,’ you make it sound like we’re diseased, or something. I know you’re not allowed to feel emotion, but you’ve got to understand how much that hurts.”
The mother opened her mouth to speak, but Stirak spoke first.
“T’Lai, do not. Let the human speak. He may give us answers.”
“Oh,” Mike laughed darkly, “I’ll give you answers, all right. You want to know why he’s playing keep-away inside my brain right now? You want to know why he’s locked himself somewhere inside my head and doesn’t even want to talk to you? You, the people who came here to reunite his soul with his dead body, and he doesn’t even want to speak to you… do you know why?”
“It is obvious that we do not,” Stirak’s face never wavered.
That’s why!” Mike shouted, causing Cynthia to leap back in surprise and a few of the Vulcans to shift in their places, “You spent his whole life treating him like he was nothing, like he was never good enough. He worked so hard for you, to impress you, to prove himself to you, and all you ever told him was that he wasn’t good enough. He wanted so badly to be right for you, be Vulcan for you… it’s probably what killed him. Don’t you realize that you can’t put stress on a kid like that? You can’t ask a kid, a human child to swallow emotions and behave like a Vulcan… it’s just not going to happen. You bent his brain from day one, you took a frightened, lonely child and made it feel even lonlier, just because ‘that’s the way your society has always done it.’ You raised him to be a wholly messed-up human being, and NOT a Vulcan, because of all the pressure you put on him, whether you believe it or not. You want to know why he won’t talk to you?”
Mike took a step forward, not quite eye to eye with Stirak.
“Because deep down, even though he was taught all his life not to, he feels something. He’s always felt something, something aberrant, something improper, something human. He doesn’t like you. He doesn’t like either of you. He gives you the proper respect, he does what he needs to do, but he doesn’t like you. And now, he’s terrified to show you that.”
Satisfied, Mike went back and sat down. Cynthia stood by him and clapped him on the shoulder, but was in utter fear for her livelihood. One of her own had just chewed out a very high ranking member of Vulcan society, in front of his wife, a High Priestess. If he was lucky, he’d get a dishonorable discharge for that stunt. But then, Stirak did something that shocked the assembled so much that a noise actually came from the group of Vulcans, and Cynthia very nearly lost her footing on what had always been solid ground. Stirak’s face, unchanging, moved up and down exactly once in a swift nod.
“I understand.”
In the confusion that followed, T’Lai turned to her husband and spoke to him in Vulcan. Unfortunately, they did not know Mike happened to be fluent, as he called out halfway through their conversation.
“I see you have picked up a few tidbits about humanity in your work, Stirak. I’d give you an A-plus on cultural awareness for that one.”
“Would you shut up!” Cynthia hissed, digging her nails into Mike’s shoulder even deeper. Mike looked up and grinned.
“If they’d been humans, they would have been called in on child abuse charges. They could very well have contributed to Mack’s death, or been the main cause of it. Shut up? Make me!”
When the relative hubbub had died down, Humak’s parents spoke again.
“We are aware that you are incapable of leaving this space station.”
“Bingo,” Mike answered, now feeling fully in control. Stirak looked at him a little strangely and continued.
“This causes an issue for the ritual of fal-tor-pan, which requires the proper presence to complete the ritual.”
“Yeah,” Mike nibbled on a hangnail, “that’s a real tricky one. What exactly is so special about Mount Seleya, anyway?”
“It is the proper altitude,” T’Lai spoke up from behind Mike in a voice that gave him shivers. Cynthia had busied herself by running to the commissary, playing hostess to a small group of Vulcans who mostly declined food and drink.
“Haven’t had a party like this in a while,” she laughed as she said to Mike, “well, a party like this... probably never! And why does the altitude matter?”
Mike recomposed himself as Cynthia turned to T’Lai.
“Resonance and spiritual energies,” Stirak’s deep voice cut through the gentler female voices, “The number present in the altitude essential to Vulcan spirituality: 7,272 of your meters becomes a sacred number in Vulcan topography.”
“Sacred topography?” Cynthia couldn’t help but balk at that, “Ah well, different strokes, isn’t that what they used to say?”
“What who used to say?” T’Lai asked, “did Humak used to say that?”
Mike nearly spit his drink across the room, but was able to contain his laughter and gulp down a mouthful.
“No,” he coughed, grinning, “No, he didn’t… I think it might have been the Lovin’ Spoonful.”
“Who?” T’Lai asked again, “are they priests of Earth?”
“Don’t mind him,” Cynthia said sweetly and offered the priestess another drink, which she declined like all the others, “He’s just a crazy human.”
“Although I’m sure you think that’s an oxymoron,” Mike giggled, “so, anyone have any ideas on how we’ll pull this off?”
The room was silent.
“Well, that’s no good,” Mike furrowed his brow, “You say it has to be 7,272 meters? Exactly?”
“That is the altitude of Mount Seleya,” Stirak replied, “that is the way it has always been.”
“Yeah, but then again I bet you weren’t expecting your sa’awek to have the ability to leave a katra behind, eh?”
There was a pulse through the crowd then, almost electric, when the wordfor “alone” was mentioned.
“Ooh, I bet I wasn’t supposed to mention that, eh?” Mike smiled again, “well, too late now! Let’s get to finding some other way to get this going.”
“There is no other way…” T’Lai began, but Mike gently motioned for her to be quiet.
“You see, that’s the problem with you high-society Vulcans,” Mike began, you’re so balled up in tradition that you actually forget your own culture. You forget that a variation of fal-tor-pan was performed on a human over a century ago, and that was in regard to the katra of your very own Surak, father of Logic. But, I suppose, if it’s tradition, we don’t want to try anything out of the ordinary.”
His sarcasm was completely lost on the assembled Vulcans. Instead, Mike sat down in his chair and quickly pulled up a picture of a mountain.
“That is not Mount Seleya,” Stirak commented.
“No, sir, it is not,” Mike nodded, “That mountain is called Mana, and is exactly 7,272 meters tall. Makes you think God has a sense of humor, don’t it? Anyway, given what little I know about sacred Vulcan topography…”
“You know about Vulcan topography?” Cynthia interjected skeptically.
“The same bits you’ve heard here tonight,” Mike replied with a smile, “Given what we’ve heard here tonight, that mountain ought to have everything you’ll need for a fal tor pan ritual, or at least a close approximation thereof.”
“How can you be sure?” Cynthia asked, squinting at the screen.
“An annoying little bird told me,” Mike replied, tapping the side of his head in a knowing manner, “Now, there’s still the issue of  getting over the top of the mountain in this bucket of bolts, but I think we can fix that.”
“Really?”
“Yeah… all we have to do is drop this thing out of orbit.”

Constitution Class

It only got worse from there. Soon, Mike was hearing a strangely familiar voice in his head nearly all day, every day. It would advise him on proper protocol, remind him to take his breaks at the allotted times, and on a few occasions seem to will itself into control of Mike’s hands, suddenly creating useless notes on the console. His imminent psychotic break, however, seemed a small diversion compared to the current frustration that was Humak’s temporary “replacement.” Berffum was a Pakled: short, stocky, and appearing to be colossally dull.  The simplest of tasks would often need to be explained multiple times, often within the same day. Mike could barely keep his temper after only three days of constant non-sensical prattling, longwinded stories of relatives lightyears away, and always the need to be retrained, reducated, relearned, chirping “tell me! tell me!” at the slightest sign of difficulty or labor.
“How do I process the report for departures? tell me, tell me!”
“What’s that you’re doing over there? Tell me!”
“You’re from Canada? Is it true what they say about those Canadians. Tell me, tell me!”
And so on. By the end of the first week, Cynthia was actively clawing at her armrests as the Pakled waddled off for a break.
“I’d like to tell her something, all right,” she gritted her teeth, “I used to think Humak was bad, but this… at least Humak kept quiet!”
“I was unaware you felt that way, Commander.”
All vitriol left Cynthia’s face immediately, along with most of the color. She stared at Mike as if she’d seen a ghost, her mouth moving weakly, unable to form words. There was no doubt about it: the skinny Canadian had spoken, but the voice, the way it sounded, the tone, the inflection… it was him.
“What?” Mike asked, agitated at the sudden rush of attention, “what are you looking at me like that for?!”
“What did you just say?” she whispered a tense response. Mike’s eyebrows shot up with surprise.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“Yes, you did.”
“Uh,” Mike gave a hard, nasty laugh, “I think I would know if I did.”
“But you did,” Cynthia rubbed at her temple and groaned, “I saw your lips move, and when you talked… you sounded like Hu… like someone else.”
“Well, if I start a-twitchin, you can call me a priest and a rabbi,” he shot back sarcastically.
“Not funny, Mike,” Cynthia glared down at him, “Look, I don’t want to lose another of the crew I’ve got here. I don’t care if I have to bring a doctor, witch doctor, voodoo man or exorcist up here, but I’m not going to go through that again.”
“Oh, would you relax!” Mike sniggered, leaning back into his chair, “Maybe that Pakled is driving me insane.”
“I want to know if you’re sick, Turtle-boy.”
“I’m not sick!” he shot back, spinning his chair around to finally face her, “I’m just… I dunno, I feel a little down lately. It’s understandable, with everything that happened, but don’t go recommending me to a counselor or anything. I’ll be fine. Just gotta take it one step at a time, just like anything else. A little chicken soup, a couple of chocolate bars, some sad music, and I’ll be right as rain.”
He turned back around and spoke with someone else’s voice once more.
“I need to climb the steps of Mount Seleya to become whole again.”
“Okay, that’s enough!”
Cynthia, in a rage, leapt down from her chair and spun Mike’s chair around with lightning speed. She found him not laughing at his wonderful prank, or staring at her with complete confusion, but instead sitting quietly in contemplation, his hands locked in front of him in a traditional Vulcan meditation pose. His eyes were closed, and there was a look of blank serenity on his features, features that usually carried such emotion.
“I must climb the steps of Mount Seleya, 7,272 of your Earth meters, every step a critical one. I must reach the summit, I must be on the peak of that mountain for the resonance to be complete. Do not leave me here, do not confine me here. Climb the steps and revive me.”
“What do you mean…” Cynthia weighed her options before speaking the final word, a word she hoped would not break whatever spell that seemed to have been cast.
“Humak?”
Mike slowly opened his eyes, and Cynthia recoiled at once when she noticed that they were completely black, featureless. Still he continued speaking in a voice that was not his own, and it became clear that whoever this was, he was both here… and not here.
“Why have you waited so long? Why has my body not been retrieved? My body must be taken to the mountain, along with the keeper of the katra. Take me to the mountain, Cynthia, take me to Mount Seleya.”
“I can’t, Humak,” she attempted a stilted conversation, “Not in Turt… in Mike’s body. He couldn’t survive the trip.”
Eyelids lowered over featureless eyes, and the hybrid seemed to pick up his nose, like a bloodhound catching scent.
“The matter must be taken to a member of the Vulcan High Council. I sense the presence of one now, I sense their aura, their katra… you will be joined by exulted Vulcans soon… but I do not wish to speak to them.”
Cynthia looked on with dismay as the blackness started to fade from Mike’s eyes, being replaced by the familiar brown.
“No, no!” Cynthia pleaded, “Dammit, Humak, why do you always have to be so difficult?! Even when you’re dead I want to clock you one. What am I supposed to tell these Vulcan high-muckety-mucks, huh? What do I tell them? How do I get them to believe?”
One of Mike’s hands reached up, then, and touched Cynthia’s temple, the same spot she had been rubbing earlier. In a trice, her mind reverberated with the same three Vulcan words: Shacha, mekina. Shacha, mekino. They bounced around inside her mind over and over again, long after Mike’s hand had gone limp and the body appeared to fall asleep. Just when Cynthia thought she would faint herself from the revelation, the door to the console room opened, and in walked two high-profile Vulcans in ceremonial robes, their finery clashing horridly with the faded, outdated look of the Church.
Cynthia rounded on them and called out immediately:
Shacha, mekina! Shacha, mekino!”
After a long pause, the two Vulcans removed their hoods slowly, exposing the traditional cold, anguar beauty of the race. They were one male, one female, and they regarded Cynthia with something that bordered on  surprise… almost.
“Who are you,” the male said, stepping forward, “That greets us as mother and father?”

S2

Mike wasn’t able to attend any service for Humak. He was watching over the entire control station when Cynthia returned, exchanging her black garb for her usual uniform.
“Did I miss anything?” she asked, trying her best to lighten the mood.
“No.”
Mike’s reply seemed to be made of lead. As Cynthia sat down, he began talking again in a frustrated, bitter voice.
“The Doctors are saying he was some sort of medical wonder. They say that the abnormalities that formed in his brain actually had some effect on him. That’s how he was able to mind meld with you, and the Suss Mahn, and when he put that maintenance guy in the neck pinch… his brain was becoming more and more like an actual Vulcan’s… but that’s what caused it to break.”
“Mike…”
“You know, I’ve dealt with the idea that I could die almost instantly, almost any time. The tiniest thing could make me go up like a warp core and bleed out all over the place. I was always used to the idea of my own death… I’m almost counting on it. No one’s expecting me to reach old age, because of what I got. Most of us don’t even see fifty. I just… I wasn’t expecting to see either of you die. Hell, I wasn’t even expecting to survive the shuttle up here. I hadn’t even met you yet and I’d made up my mind that I’d die after all of you, and now…”
“We don’t get to choose things like that, Mike,” Cynthia placed a thin, calloused hand on his shoulder, “Things like this just happen sometimes, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
“But we could have!” Mike almost vomited the words, his voice was impossibly thick with emotion, “If we just would have done something, instead of sitting by and accepting there was nothing we could do… we should have sent him to a doctor, I should have sent him to a Doctor years ago, when I first met him. I knew he was sick, that there was something wrong in his head… why didn’t I do anything?”
“You know he wouldn’t have gone…”
“I would have drugged him, knocked him out. I would have risked phaser fire had I know this was going to happen!”
Cynthia gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze and, strangely, gave a little laugh.
“What,” Mike asked, more confused than angry.
“He’d never understand us here, crying over him,” she shook her head, “And he’d certainly never understand why you, the one who was always yelling and swearing at him, the one whom he always argued with, would be the one who missed him so much.”
Mike gave a hefty sniffle and forced a smile. Surprisingly, it made him feel better.
“That’s how we get along in my family. You always argue with the ones you love.”
“I thought all you Canucks were so polite.”
“Well, Mom’s family was from New Jersey, originally.”
“Now it all makes sense,” Cynthia gave a little chuckle, and they returned to work. About ten minutes later, Mike brought his head up sharp from what used to be Humak’s console.
“Did you say something, Cynthia?”
“Nope.”
“Weird,” Mike rubbed a finger inside his right ear, “I could have sworn I heard something.”
“Ain’t nobody here but us chickens, Turtle.”
“All right…” Mike returned to working, only to wheel his chair round not five minutes later.
“Okay, now that time I definitely heard someone tell me not to forget to approve the departures list. I know I have to do that, Commander, you don’t have to remind me.”
“I didn’t remind you,” Cynthia leaned forward in her chair, looking a little worried, “I didn’t say anything. You feeling all right, Turtle?”
Mike shook his head violently, as if trying to shake something loose from his hair.
“Sorry. I’m sorry, I just… I could have swore I heard…”
“Do you want to go lie down?” Cynthia offered, “I can handle things here.”
“No, no, I’m fine,” Mike waved both hands in front of his face. his face reddening with agitation, “I’ll be fine, I’m just… I’ll get some water.”
After another hour or two, Mike heard another voice.
It is proper Starfleet protocol to add an official timestamp to that report.
“Oh, like anyone is going to read it!” Mike shot back sarcastically. He spun around, perfectly prepared to engage in a battle of wits with his boss, only to find Cynthia looking down at him, almost frightened.
“Mike…” her voice was shaking ever so slightly, “I didn’t say anything.”
“Oh…” he could feel his cheeks burning bright red.
“I think…” Cynthia got up from her chair and stepped down to Mike’s console, “that it would be a good idea for you to take the rest of the day off. You’ve had a rough week.”
“No, no I’m fine, really, it’s just…”
“Mike?”
“Yeah?” he looked up at the Commander with fear.
“I’m not saying this as the commanding officer. I’m saying this as a friend. Go get some rest.”
Mike didn’t say anything, only nodded and made to leave.
“Take as much time as you need,” Cynthia said as he was leaving, “we’ve got some temporary help coming in tomorrow. Just… take it easy.”
“Uh-huh…”
Mike didn’t really remember much about his stumbling walk to the locker where he usually spent his nights. However, when he went to open the locker door, he hesitated, holding it half opened.
“To sleep in a locker,” he muttered, “is most illogical.”

Oday

It all happened so fast.
Mike was heading to the transporter room, like he did every morning, to meet Humak. If the human Vulcan had decided to take the shuttle, he would walk the extra three hundred yards or so to the docking bay. This morning, however, he arrived to find his friend crumpled in a heap at the base of the transporter pad, unmoving. Mike launched himself forward and bashed both of his knees into the unforgiving metal floor, falling into a position to check on Humak. Mike swore out loud as the pain shot up through his body, but he continued to check the body, just as his father had told him to:
“Always check to see if they respond. If they don’t, check for breathing. Remember, always stay calm. If you stay calm, you got all the time in the world, Mike. If you freak out, they’re dead.”
Mike rolled Humak onto his back. Humak was indeed breathing, but it was shallow breaths, coming fast and with great effort. The entire time, Mike kept checking for some kind of consciousness, constantly calling Humak’s name, pinching his arm, even administering a few panicked slaps to the face. When Mike leaned back down to check the breathing again, a strangely calm voice floated down from above.
“I am awake.”
Mike turned his head around to see Humak with his eyes open, but just barely. His breaths were still shallow and ragged, but he seemed to be showing no signs of pain on his face… as usual.
“What the hell happened to you?”
Mike knew it was a stupid question, but the words tumbled out unhindered.
“I do not know.”
“Jesus, Mack,” Mike could feel the tears threatening to wash over his eyes. He blinked them away time and again, but the hot tears wouldn’t stop. He was losing it, he was freaking out… damn it, why couldn’t he stop crying?
“Are you hurt? Does it hurt?”
“It may very well hurt,” Humak responded, “but I am unfamiliar with these sensations. I fear that I am dying.”
“Damn it, Humak!”
Mike found that, much like an angry parent, he refrained from using his friend’s full name to only the most dire of circumstances.
“Can’t you just tell me what’s wrong?”
“I don’t know.”
“You’ve got to,” Mike was nearly seething now, a mixture of panic and frustration turning the entire situation into a terrible mess.
“You’ve got to feel what’s going on. You’ve got to tell me.”
“I’m afraid there isn’t much time,” Humak’s voice began to falter, and Mike found himself noting, above everything else, that the Vulcan was finally using contractions in his speech.
“For the love of…”
Mike bit his lip, trying in vain to keep from screaming. The pressure he exerted turned his tears red as the capillaries and vessels around his tear ducts began to rupture. Reddened tears dripped down onto Humak’s civilian clothes, staining them little by little.
“Humak, tell me what I can do.”
There was silence there for a while while Humak stared at him, his breath getting more and more distressed. Mike finally lost his temper and shook Humak, angrily and violently.
“Damn it! TELL ME!”
Humak still remained silent as Mike collapsed, dropping his head down onto Humak’s narrow, tear-stained, sobbing openly.
“Tell me what I can do…”
It was then that Mike felt a hand upon his head. He lifted up to see Humak placing his right hand along the left side of Mike’s face, fingers pressing on different parts of his cheek, eye socket, and near his mouth. Humak struggled to clear his gaze and give one last instruction to his friend.
“Remember…”
Mike held the hand close with his own shaking his head furiously.
“No. No, don’t do this. You can’t, Mack, you can’t! You can’t do it! Stop it! You can’t!”
“Remember, Mike…”
“I can’t! You can’t! It won’t work, Mack… Mack! Mack!
Humak’s hand went limp and slid from Mike’s clammy grip. When the emergency teams finally arrived, they could do nothing but call it in. They found Mike leaned over the body of his friend, inconsolable. The official reports would label him the victim of a burst vessel in his brain, brought on by an undiagnosed brain ailment. When questioned about it later, the doctors would claim that the young man never once met with them, and the records within the hospital’s databses had been falsified. The similarities to the brain ailment and to sufferers of Pa’nar Snydrome were said to be uncanny, and just another piece in the strange puzzle of Jon Engelbretsen, the man most knew as Humak.

Crestliner

Humak wasn’t in the next day, either. Or the next. After a full week, Cynthia finally began to worry as much as Mike had from day one.
“This is weird,” she gritted her teeth, surveying a room that was always understaffed, but now seemed so very empty. For some reason, his thin frame and deadpan, frustrating personality amounted to quite a bit in perspective. Without him there, Mike had managed to do his appointed tasks in half the time, without having to take up half of his workday pestering, questioning, and trying his best to crack open Humak’s mind like an eggshell. The work was beginning to slow to a crawl, with both of them finding less and less to make themselves appear busy.
“Damn weird.”
“You’re telling me,” Mike said, searching Humak’s console for something to delete, “I had just finished re-reading some of Surak’s teachings, I was looking forward to a nice discussion.”
“Come on,” Cynthia scoffed, “You guys never have a nice discussion. It usually involves you asking a question, Mack answering, you not being satisfied with the answer, and then Mack asks five hundred qualifying questions until you give up and run out of the room screaming.”
“Oh, I only did that once,” Mike said in a huff, “And I still say the chicken came first.”
“That depends on your definition of a chicken–”
“Don’t you start, too!”
“Sorry,” Cynthia’s eyes fell to the floor, “I was hoping it might liven things up a little.”
Mike rose and stretched until he heard a few satisfactory pops issue from his spine.
“Well,” he grunted, “I guess I’d better file those departure logs.”
He looked ready to walk out of the room, perhaps down the hall into a filing system, but instead immediately sat back down and began typing away at a keypad. After about five minutes, he began to grouse again.
“Guh,” he whined, “This stuff is so boring. Put the file here, put the file there. I don’t know how he could do this the same way, every day… I’m going nuts after a week.”
He finished up a pitiful amount of departures and closed out of the log, heaving a frustrated sigh.
“I miss him,” Cynthia said sadly, simply.
Mike glanced at one little note Humak had made, one he hadn’t had the heart to delete. It read:

Seamus Q. Pyke Mike Smith
Administrative Assistant, CREI Churchill Spacedock
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Communication extension #301

Underneath that was written simply the letter “g.” Cynthia’s informational note also had a “g” written under it. Mike had asked about it when he first moved over to Humak’s desk earlier that week, and Cynthia had given him one of her usual simple answers.
“It means good,” she had said, “As in, a good person. Someone he can talk to.”
Mike was still looking at the note while he thought back to earlier in the week, a time that seemed so long ago, with this week stretching so long now that Humak wasn’t around. He blinked sharply, coming out of his reverie.
“I miss him, too, Cynthia.”
By the next week, Cynthia had still not heard an official word, outside of Humak’s customary “I will not be coming to the spacedock today. I am ill.” message over the coded frequency.  She finally resorted to calling him at home, on a personal connection to find out what was really going on. Mike watched her as she sat bolt upright in her chair, earpiece held firmly in place, her face all seriousness as she listened.
“Uh-huh… uh-huh… Oh, really? Okay. Right. Yeah, sure, we’ll see you, then. Good to hear, y… yes, good to hear. I’m… I’m going to cut the transmission now, I… I know. We’ll take care of it. Yes, yes… okay, I’m going now, Humak…okay? Bye? Bye.”
She clicked off the channel with the press of a button and groaned loudly.
“No sense of how a conversation works, eh?” Mike smiled.
“He just keeps talking…” Cynthia replied, wide eyed with shock.
“Yeah, I tried calling him one night when I was bored,” Mike admitted as one would staying up too late to watch a terrible film, “He ended up going on for about two hours about potatoes.”
“Potatoes?!”
“Potatoes. I put the earpiece down for a while and made dinner. When I came back, he was still talking.”
Cynthia shook with barely concealed mirth. It was like something was beginning to come back into place in the command center, things were beginning to realign, in a way.
“So,” Mike reclined in his chair, “when’s he coming back?”
“Tomorrow, he says,” Cynthia shrugged, “said the doctors couldn’t diagnose the problem, but Humak swears up and down that it was…”
Her voice trailed away as she suddenly became very interested in the off-white wall.
“It was what?” Mike leaned forward, goading her, convinced that this would be something worth hearing.
“It was some dopey name,” Cynthia waved her hand in Mike’s direction like he was an aggravating gnat, “Panner syndrome or something like that.”
“I figured,” Mike said with a hearty laugh, sinking back in his chair, “that headcase probably would convince himself he’s got something like that.”
“He said it only happens to Vulcans,” Cynthia tried to explain, but Mike was still laughing, “Something about when a mind meld goes wrong…”
“I know all about Pa’nar Syndrome,” Mike rolled his eyes, “And there’s no possible way he could have it. Like he said, it only happens to Vulcans. He probably just had the flu or something and wanted to tell himself it was something worse, something… inhuman.”
“He knew you’d say that,” Cynthia replied, “And I knew you would, too. That’s why I didn’t want to tell you.”
“He never changes,” Mike was still smiling, “Never changes. Pa’nar… HA! Cripes, I should tell my Dad about that. He’ll laugh for days!”
“So, that’s a total medical impossibility?”
“And then some,” Mike’s eyebrows shot up to emphasize his point, “His brain would have to be of a completely different composition to even experience Stage 1. As we all know, and to our dear Humak’s dismay, his brain is 100% dirty, silly human. Still, it’s amazing what our brains can come up with when we don’t want to believe something, eh?”
“They sure can,” Cynthia said with a level voice, “Sort of like what our bodies can do when we decide that getting into space is worth living in a closet.”
Mike’s head whipped around and he looked at Cynthia with a mixture of shock, horror, and a tiny bit of indignancy. She just smiled down on him from her raised command post, satisfied in her checkmate move. You’re not so different, her smile seemed to say, you and him. Immensely uncomfortable, Mike whirled back to his station, Humak’s station, and tried to change the subject.
“Sure can’t wait til Mack gets back,” he said a little too loudly, “I’ve got a whole lot of things to talk to him about.”
Unfortunately, he wouldn’t get the chance. Upon beaming aboard the next morning, Humak collapsed upon the transporter pad.

Caribe

“So, what did Daddy say?”
“Shut up.”
In truth, Mr Smith hadn’t really said anything one way or another as to whether his son was the reason he retired from Starfleet, or whether he was looking for an out. It unsettled Mike to think that something as important to him as the disease which had colored his entire life would be seen as nothing more than a bargaining chip. Cynthia had a habit of doing that, of cutting away all of the ancillary, seemingly important but ultimately pointless aspects of life and driving at the very basic idea of every situation. It had probably served her well in her years with Starfleet, where a lack of clarity can often lead to a smothering amount of red tape.
And then… there was Humak. Mike would say he had the most clarity of anyone he’d ever met, if he wasn’t still convinced there was something muddying the entire issue; namely, his humanity. That day, however, Mike had no need to remind Humak of his humanity, as nature did it for him.
“Humak won’t be in today,” Cynthia said casually, “said he’s not feeling well.”
“What?!”
“Apparently he’s sick,” Cynthia shrugged, “doesn’t happen often, I know.”
Mike shook his head and laughed.
“I’ve been working here for, what, years now? This is the first time I’ve seen him take off work. I didn’t even know this place could get along without him, it’s like he’s a load-bearing…weirdo.”
“Just because someone’s usually too stubborn to quit doesn’t mean that they’re important,” Cynthia scoffed, “You should have seen the first captain I served under.”
“I would have liked to, but I’m not sure I would have been able to handle living with dinosaurs.”
She flung a piece of her console at him, calling him an ass. Not surprisingly, the day went on just fine minus one staff member, even though the original charter called for at least five to be on staff at all times. It was a fairly sleepy day but, as Mike had come to know, working at the Church was sometimes the most exciting place when nothing happened. It was usually the anticipation that made things exciting, and the way the staff often had to find ways to make the day go quickly that often yielded the most satisfying results.
“Say,” Mike spun idly in his chair after a few hours, “Now that Humak’s gone, I could always take a look at his console…”
“Go right ahead. After all, you’re technically the First Officer today, with Humak gone.”
Mike shuddered at the idea.
“No, thank you.”
“Aw, why not?” Cynthia grinned, “I think you’d make a terrific substitute for Humak.”
“Don’t even,” Mike slumped into Humak’s chair and immediately began shooing away the myriad of notes that popped up on the screen, “that’s not even funny.”
“Oh, I think it is.”
“I’ll stick to your average grunt work,” Mike muttered, “I can do without the advanced grunt work. You can let Humak do the bowing and scraping, I’m just fine being unnoticed.”
A thought abruptly struck Cynthia, and she decided to run with it.
“Tell me, Turtle, do you know how a standard warp drive works?”
“Um, yeah,” Mike replied sarcastically, “I’m pretty sure you do, too.”
“Just humor me.”
“Well, without getting too technical about it, it’s basically the explosive matter/antimatter combination reaction that generates the power to make warp. ”
“And how do we keep all of that unbelievable power from ripping the universe limb from limb?”
“Some kind of containment field, usually referred to as a warp core. I’ve heard there’s some Romulans who are working with localized singularity warp drives, but…”
“That’s enough, Egghead,” Cynthia smiled, “You don’t have to go for extra credit with me. You see, I think the three of us are kinda like the warp reactor: You and Humak are polar opposites, and you almost blew the entire spacedock to pieces when I wasn’t here to contain you. Without Humak, we’re running without warp power right now, in a manner of speaking.”
“And what exactly does that mean?” Mike cocked an eyebrow, trying to get his head around the metaphor.
“It means that, when you two are together, things can really get explosive, but when I’m here to keep you both under control, we can move faster than light. Get it?”
“I guess,” Mike rolled his eyes and returned to the console, “Seems a little egotistical on your part, though.”
“Maybe you’re rubbing off on me then, Wonderboy.”
A sharp beep shocked them both out of their conversation. On the dull days, a simple communication request could make anyone jump when the odd occurrence came up. Mike took a quick glance at the console and noted:
“Tellarite ship, pretty swanky by the look of it. You want me to hail them?”
“The standard meet & greet… First Officer.”
“Ugh,” Mike groaned and began recording a message to send to the Federation member ship. He’d recorded the message so many times it rolled off the tongue as easily as his name.
“This is Churchill Spacedock hailing Tellarite vessel. Welcome to the Churchill Memorial dock, lounge, and hospitality zone. We hope you will enjoy your stay. Please contact us on this frequency for information regarding docking, beam and shuttle transportation planetside, and… and…”
His voice trailed off as he blinked out of his routine long enough to glance at Humak’s monitor. He stared long and hard at the screen, as if something was wrong.
“You kinda trailed off there, Turtle,” Cynthia leaned forward in her chair, “What’s up?”
“This auto-translate function,” Mike murmured, still watching as the screen transformed his spoken words, “It’s awful.”
“What do you mean? We’ve been using it for years.”
“Then it’s been awful for years,” Mike shot back, unaware of his rudeness, “verb confusion, pronoun trouble, tenses all over the place… do you ever get foreign calls that sound a little… confused after you hail them?”
“I can’t imagine that they all speak Terran as well as we do.”
“You’d be surprised,” Mike rolled his eyes a little, “other planets are putting a lot more into their education systems. They must be reading something that sounds like it was written by an idiot.”
“And pray tell, Wonderboy… why haven’t you mentioned this before?”
“I never used it,” Mike shrugged, “I just translated on the fly as I was recording.”
“You… what?”
“I translated as–”
“No, no,” Cynthia shook her head, “I heard what you were doing. I’m just still wrapping my head around it. You’re like… a freak.”
“Now now,” Mike said with a naughty grin as he fixed the message before transmission, “Is that any way to talk to your First Officer?”

Downeaster

Humak had been quieter than usual after that, and Mike could only assume that he’d had a talk with his Vulcan foster parents about why he was ostracized nearly from birth. Though he was usually someone who didn’t believe in keeping quiet to preserve order, Mike found himself unable to ask Humak about anything that may have happened. Perhaps it wasn’t a desire to preserve order, but rather a desire to keep someone from pain. Maybe even a friend. Sure, Humak was incredibly aggravating with his constant questions and his failure to grasp the most basic of human ideas or foibles, but that aggravation had seemed to transform over the time Mike had spent with him into something resembling a strange kind of charm. He’d tried to keep track of the days he’d spent at the Churchill, but in a place that spent a large amount of time floating in the vast blackness of space, night and day were hard to discern. He kept up with his parents via text, mostly, and the occasional video message made to look like he hadn’t taken his life in his hands and forged outside of Earth’s atmosphere. All those lonely nights had given him plenty of time to concoct a story that both impressesed and placated his parents: he was working in a Starfleet office, but in very classified work, so contacting him at the undisclosed location or trying to find out what he was doing would be ultimately futile. His mother, still terrified for her boy, managed to end almost every communication with some sort of variation on the theme of “if you don’t like it, come home.” His father, a former Starfleet medical officer, knew it wasn’t quite that easy, and spent most of the time just chatting or talking about the old days with his son. In a way, things between them had hardly changed, there was now only a few hundred miles of space between them.
“It is highly illogical for a human being to spend such a protracted time away from one’s family,” Humak said, peering over Mike’s shoulder as he composed a letter home.
“Hey!” Mike replied, quickly shielding the screen with his hand, “A little privacy, please!”
“You made no attempt to hide your non-Starfleet related activities,” Humak raised an eyebrow, “I assumed you wished to be caught.”
“And why would I do that?”
“Perhaps to incite a conversation? I am told that humans often like to discuss their emotions and personal lives with co-workers.”
Mike ran his other hand down his face in disgust, wanting for all the world to throw Humak’s own humanity back into his face, shouting until his rounded ears bled red instead of green… but he knew it was no use.
“I’m fine, Mack,” Mike grunted, “Honest. I don’t want to talk to you about my family. The last thing I would want to do right now… is talk to you about my family.”
“Unless I am mistaken, your father was in Starfleet,” Humak continued
on, unfazed, “A medical officer aboard several vessels with an exemplary patient survival record. I believe I also read that he was awarded for bravery during the siege of Calgary, and…”
“I said I didn’t want to talk about it!” Mike groaned, letting his forehead hit his console with a dull thud.
“You are not talking,” Humak noted, “it is I who is talking to you.”
Mike gave a strangled little scream, muffled by his arm as he burrowed further into the console. When he straightened up, his face was dangerously pink.
“I do not wish to upset you,” Humak continued, “With your condition, such emotional outbursts could prove dangerous.”
“Just… shut up…”
Cynthia, meanwhile, was enjoying one of her favorite pastimes: watching Mike and Humak in their neverending game of conversational chess. Her narrow ribcage shook with barely contained mirth as she watched the two go back and forth.
“You’d better calm down there, Turtle,” she giggled, “We don’t want you popping an eyeball or something.”
“Yeah, then you’d lose your source of entertainment.”
“Hell no, I wouldn’t!” Cynthia laughed even harder, “I’d start batting at that eyeball like it was a cat toy. I bet I could get a full rotation if I hit it hard enough.”
“Has anyone told you you’re a little deranged?”
“I see no choice but to agree,” Humak nodded, “Finding pleasure in such a dangerous activity seems aberrant, and the damage done to the optic nerve would be considerable. I do not see how that would be entertaining.”
“Isn’t it time for your break, Humak?” Cynthia grunted, feeling the air go out of her merriment.
“I have three minutes.”
“Wonderful.”
Cynthia laid back and put one foot up on the arm of her chair.
“Turtle, I’m bored. Let’s talk about your family.”
“But I don’t want to…”
“How about I ask you as your commanding officer?”
“…”
“Well?” she grinned wolfishly, eyes seemingly shooting sparks.
“…what do you want to know…”
“Well, for starters, how they dealt with you and your condition.”
“Not well,” Mike gave a rueful laugh, “Mom was so terrified I’d get hurt she nearly covered me in a force field on my first day of school. Dad blamed himself because he brought the disease home with him, and he quit going into space soon after for that very reason. We didn’t talk about it much, but it was always there, and always a big deal to
Mom and Dad.”
“The 800-pound Klingon in the room, huh?”
“I had to beg my Mom to let me be the kicker on my high school football team,” Mike shook his head, “Dad helped me out by giving a detailed presentation on the safety equipment, and even then he had to come to every game with his full Starfleet issued medical supplies, just in case.”
“If I may interject,” Humak wandered into the conversation, as he often did. For anyone else, it would have been considered incredibly rude.
“A person in your condition should not have been playing a Canadian rules football game. Your mother was right to have concerns. Panthrax Fluidra could have caused dangerous contusions, even with the implementation of proper safety equipment–”
“Humak!”
“Yes, Commander?”
“How long?”
“One and a half minutes.”
“Can’t you leave just a little bit early?”
“I respectfully decline. I can cite regulation if need be.”
“Of course you do,” Cynthia groaned, her head falling along with her shoulders. There was a bit of silence, then, before she spoke again.
“I suppose you want to make up for your father, then,” she said in a conversational tone, even though the words seemed to form a challenge. Mike attempted to deflect.
“Why is everyone suddenly so interested in my family?”
“Because you don’t say anything,” Cynthia responded, “You hear me talk about my husband all the time, and you damn near walked my son through his college linguistics exam.”
“He knew the stuff,” Mike scoffed, “He was just nervous. Nice kid, though… certainly not as nosy as his Mom.”
“Oh, har har,” Cynthia’s voice was thick with sarcasm, “don’t change the subject, kid.”
“And what would that subject be?” Mike’s eyes followed Humak as he made his way out of the control room, completely independent of the conversation that was going on. Whether he had had any stock in what was being said was irrelevant: it was time for his scheduled break, after all.
“Are you doing this because of your Dad?”
“Doing what?” Mike continued to play dumb. Something about the questions she was asking, and the way she was prodding, made him extremely uncomfortable.
“Oh, I don’t know,” the sarcasm had not faded from her voice, “Risking having blood pour out of every one of your orifices just to get into space, sleep in a closet, and waste your talents playing Cardassian Scrabble all day?”
She got up from her chair and walked with no real hurry over to Humak’s console, and booted it up. Mike had seen Humak boot it up before, and was always amazed at the sheer amount of information it seemed to hold. His amazement turned to shock as she began quickly deleting the piles and piles of information that littered the screen.
“What the hell are you doing?” Mike’s voice gave a squeak as he shot up from his chair, heading over just in time to see Cynthia delete one electronic note that said “port=left, star=right.” Mike blinked hard as the note disappeared.
“Did that just say what I think it did?” he asked.
“Yes,” Cynthia’s brow was furrowed with frustration as she went about deleting other unnecessary notes, ranging from a list of five or six communication channel numbers that were used to often it would be impossible to forget them, to a note advising against granting docking access to Klingon raiding parties.
“He actually manages to slow down the entire system with these,”
Cynthia’s hands flew over the console controls as literally dozens of notes flew away, “Notes on everything, every little damn thing, like he’s going to forget them. Tell me, have you ever seen him forget ANYTHING?”
“Other than how to be normal? No.”
You’re one to talk,” she kept on deleting notes, not taking her eyes off the screen, “It’s hardly normal to do what you do.”
Inside his head, Mike was swearing a blue streak, and he knew Cynthia was aware of that. She had, infuriatingly, managed to turn the conversation back on him.
“I bet you’re kinda jealous of your old man,” she finally turned to face him, watching as his face began to grow pink again, “I mean, he gave all of this up, and I bet you’d give anything to be zipping around the stars. Is this your way of impressing him?”
“Please!” Mike spat, stomping back to his chair and sitting down in a huff, “I don’t do this to impress him. If anything, I’m mad at him.”
“Why?”
“Because he quit.”
“In all fairness, he did almost kill his son.”
“I just don’t get it, though,” Mike said, “It’s not like he wasn’t careful. It was an accident, that’s all. No need to give it all up for me.”
“Did it ever occur to you that he wanted to give it up? Maybe for himself?”
Mike looked up from his funk at Cynthia, who was just finishing up deleting another useless note that had cluttered up Humak’s console display. She was looking at him like one would look at a kitten playing with a simple string: a sort of bemused expression that seemed to say “how can he not see it’s just a string?”
“I…”
“I bet you never thought of it that way,” she cut him off, standing up and heading bac to her chair, “You seem to think a lot of stuff is about you, and I don’t blame you. You’ve got a problem that requires a lot of attention, and you’re pretty damn talented. It’s no wonder you’re used to being important, but maybe… maybe you weren’t the most important thing in that situation?”
“Of course I was!” Mike blurted it out before he could stop himself, and instantly hated how petulant it sounded, “I got sick, so Dad stayed home.”
“He wanted to stay home, Mike.”
Cynthia sat back down in her chair, surprising the young man by using his real name.
“I’ve talked to a lot of veterans from Calgary. Folks who lived through the Siege. Those who weren’t trying their damndest to finish up their tours and get home were the ones who only kept with their tours because they had to. People like your Dad, they knew they had to keep serving and doing good, because they’d seen so much bad. I think, when your Dad saw an opportunity to get out, he took it.”
“You never met my Dad,” Mike’s voice was still petulant, but a little darker, “So how would you know?”
“I don’t,” she shrugged, “but I know people.”
Humak came in soon after and, after sitting down at his console, immediately began painstakingly recreated all of his little notes from step one. Something told Mike that this had happened more than once, but he was busy at the moment, too busy to worry about Humak’s quirks… this time.
“Mom…” he wrote a hasty postscript to his message, “Is Dad going to
be home tonight? I think I’ll give him a call…”

Evinrude

“Boy,” Mike said, grinning, as Humak came board the next day, “Did you guys miss some crazy stuff.”

“The official reports have been scant,” Humak noted, sitting down at his console, “were you able to access additional content?”

“You know it,” Mike kept beaming as he put on his uniform, “You see, that’s the problem with putting all the Starfleet terminals on a connected network, anyone who has had a lot of time to work on it… and I do… can easily access all sorts of stuff.”

“The word ‘stuff’ is not appropriate, nor is it proper language. I would ask that you elaborate.”

“You know, my grandma used to make this great sandwich for me and all my cousins, whenever the family would come over. She’d put bologna, and pickles, and mayonnaise, and some other things through a grinder and make it into, like, a spread. It didn’t really spread too easy, though, you just kinda threw it on bread and smashed it. Anyway, to me, there really was no better word for it than just… stuff.”

Humak stared him down, coldly.

“I do not believe this is relevant to the events of the previous evening.”

“I was trying to explain to you the benefits of the word ‘stuff,’ Mack,” he aimed a friendly punch to Humak’s shoulder, but it was not received in a friendly manner, only with continued stares.

“You know, try to get you to loosen up, maybe  widen your areas of perception, open up your mind to some new ideas?”

“It is not that I am not aware of the existence of such a food, nor is it the case that I am unaware of the proclivities of human vernacular. However, I do not find such topics interesting beyond a cursory understanding. To me, the pursuit of a higher knowledge is much more–”

“Logical?” Mike finished zipping up his suit as he finished Humak’s sentence. The human Vulcan turned to him and cocked his head to one side, nodding slightly.

“Precisely.”

“Well,” Mike headed out of the locker room, “Then you would logically expect me to withhold such information before presenting it to my commanding officer, correct?”

“That does indeed seem logical,” Humak followed him, both hands clasped behind his back as he walked, “but it does not explain why you were so interested to tell me you had such information, if only you were to withhold it.”

“Maybe I just like annoying you,” Mike grinned.

“I am afraid that is quite impossible,” Humak replied as the door to the command center whooshed open, “Unlike you, I do not find myself annoyed by adversities.”

“Well,” Mike settled into his chair and began his morning routine, “I’m sorry to play my part, but saying something like that is more than a little annoying, Mack.”

“I do not see why.”

“When you use words like ‘unlike you,’ it gives the impression that you are… how do I say this… that you are saying there is something wrong with me.”

Humak spun his chair round to face Mike.

“By both human and Vulcan standards, there is.”

“Yes, but you don’t say things like that!” Mike slapped both hands against his forehead and dragged them down the full length of his face, “It’s insulting!”

“Insults are illogical,” Humak’s eyebrows lowered, “it only begets more difficulties between lifeforms.”

“I see we’re into business as normal!” Cynthia laughed as she entered, “Turtle, you really should give it up. Humak’s been this way for a lot longer than you’ve been trying to change him.”

“Interesting,” Mack cocked one eyebrow, still looking in Mike’s direction, “You find my personality unacceptable and you wish to change it?”

“Frankly, yeah,” Mike decided to go for it, “You’re really weird.”

“Weird, you say,” he nodded, “Perhaps you would say… inhuman?”

“No,” Mike angrily punched a button, “because you’ll take that as a compliment.”

“Now, now, boys,” Cynthia chuckled, “you can fight at recess. Mr. Turtle, what’s the Marina status?”

“All systems nominal and functional, if outdated,” he added the last bit with a grumble, “we have three scheduled departures: one solar system tour and two warp tests on refurbished vessels.”

“And Mr. Humak,” Cynthia spun her chair round, “Any word on the incoming?”

“None as of yet, Commander,” Humak’s fingers flew over his console, “But it is still early.”

“Yes, it certainly is,” she said with a yawn, “Mr. Turtle, do you have a report on the Starfleet activity from the previous evening?”

“Of course not, Commander,” Mike grinned, “I went home last night and was a good boy. I certainly didn’t reroute one of the info terminals in the lounge to access classified documents. I certainly didn’t cover my tracks and I certainly am not certain that Starfleet is too bound up in their usual red tape to even notice one person’s activity… certainly.”

“Yeah, yeah, hotshot. Just tell me what happened.”

“Well first, I should tell you about a Vulcan custom known as sa’awek. By Vulcan law, there are no orphans. It’s considered, you guessed it, illogical for a child to grow up without the support of parents and a family. When a child is orphaned, they are usually placed within a family almost immediately to avoid any further problems. The really interesting part, however, is that, to make them truly logical members of the family, the patriarch will take on the dead mother as an honorary ‘wife,’ and officially make the orphan part of the family. As soon as this happens, it’s almost completely forgotten. No one mentions the previous family, and the only mention is of the patriarch’s previous wife. As far as everyone is concerned, that orphan is now a half-brother or sister, and to say otherwise is to be found in contempt.”

“You gotta be kidding!” Cynthia said in a voice hoarse with surprise.

“I wish I was,” Mike continued, “the entire idea is that the sanctity of the family has to be preserved. From what I was able to read, and it was really hard to find, by the way, the entire process is stricken from the record almost as soon as it happens. It’s like the previous family never even existed. Apparently, the emotions still run so deep in the Vulcan race that they can’t risk the kind of strife that situation would cause. The stress of such a tragedy could possibly bring a whole lot of trouble around, so they created this, instead.”

“And what the hell does this have to do with sending a starship to that dustball Nimbus III?” Cynthia asked, leaning forward.

“Well, there was one of these orphans, from a princess, no less, that was raised by a Vulcan ambassador. He found out about the sa’awek and, well, he lost it. He was exiled from Vulcan because he chose to embrace his emotions and began touring the galaxy like some kind of guru, helping people find their pain and release it or some kind of spiritual mumbo jumbo. I found a few of his recordings online if you’re curious later, it’s nutty stuff. Anyway, this Vulcan seems to think that God is talking to him, so he captures the ambassadors and makes them bring a starship to Nimbus III. He captures the starship and, with coordinates given to him by “God,” flies the ship to the center of the damn galaxy!”

“That’s impossible!” Cynthia typed up a few equations on her own console, “That would have taken them…”

“Well, you’d be surprised what a being calling itself ‘God’ can do when it gets hold of a starship,” Mike shrugged, “they moved so fast our sensors couldn’t track them. We were barely lucky enough to catch the Klingon Warbird that was basically riding its coattails.”

“And Klingons, too? Good grief.”

“Well, that’s where things get fuzzy. Initial reports said that there were some kind of rock monsters on the planet, but that got rescinded a few hours later. Final report is that a Starfleet captain fired on ‘God’ using the Warbird’s weapons to protect his own captain from being killed by ‘God’ who didn’t take too kindly to doubters.”

“That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard,” Cynthia shook her head slowly, “Are you sure you weren’t drunk or something?”

“I wish I had been. It was pretty damn weird.”

“So this thing had everyone believing it was God?” Cynthia asked.

“And then they blew it up,” Mike laughed, “Kinda makes you think about the whole thing, doesn’t it? All this…”

He waved a hand at the viewscreen showing a few docked vessels and the empty void of space.

“Makes you wonder if there really is something out there.”

“There’s gotta be,” Cynthia lounged back in her chair, a little melancholic, “Or else what’s the damn point.”

She didn’t say it like a question, more like a demand. Mike just shook his head and went back to his work.

“You’d think with everything we’ve been able to accomplish, we’d be able to get some answers,” he sent a few departure permission confirmations to Cynthia’s console with the push of a button, “but maybe that’s all part of the plan.”

“Yeah,” Cynthia moodily approved the permissions with a few taps, “Maybe.”

There was a bit of a pall cast, then. Each of the three in that room knew that, in one way or another, they were not living up to their full potential. All the talk of God had begun to make them feel a little… sheepish, about whether they had made the right choices. Cynthia had chosen the post because she wanted something easy to retire out of. Humak made his choice to adhere to logic and upset the higher ups in Starfleet. Mike made the choice to forgo a more lucrative life planetside to sleep in a lock and try to touch the stars. All of them seemed to be wondering: is this really what I was meant for?

“Well,” Mike tried to lighten things up, “I suppose I have to ask, Mack: what do you think of this ‘God’ business? Do you believe?”

Humak took a moment to finish his work before he responded.

“I follow the traditions of Vulcan,” he said flatly, “we adhere to our principals of logic, but we honor the gods of old to remember our violent pasts.”

“Okay, that’s what you’re supposed to do,” Mike rolled his eyes a little, “but what do you feel?

Humak fixed him with a deep stare, deeper than his usual deadpan expression.

“Why do you wish to know?”

“Because you’re just so damn interesting,” Mike said with a kind smile. Mack turned back to his work and muttered something quickly.

“I question the logic of a God that would kill those eager to spread his gospel to new worlds.”

In the shocked silence that followed, Mike looked to Cynthia, whose jaw was nearly on the floor. He turned back to Humak, still working diligently, almost too diligently.

“Humak,” Mike said slowly, “were you one of the sa’awek?”

Humak punched a few buttons with surprising force.

“I was not afforded that honor.”

Silence reigned then for a good long while as Mike went back to work. He couldn’t even imagine what that must have meant for the young human boy: being told to act like a Vulcan, but at the same time being told that you were not one of them. He was probably the only recognized orphan on the planet if his foster parents ever took him home… what would that have been like, to be constantly reminded, to be constantly held to a different level? Mike couldn’t even fathom it. He had thought his life had been difficult, and no doubt it had… but he had begun to see that perhaps everything Humak did wasn’t just to hold to rules. It might also be done to hold him together.

“I’m sorry,” Mike said as they went to leave for the day.

“There is no need,” Humak said, walking to the transporter.

“I didn’t realize… I didn’t know… did you even know about that?”

Humak stepped onto a transporter pad and looked down at Mike.

“As you said, it was never spoke of. I have questions to ask of my… parents. Good night, Mr. Smith.”

There was the customary flash of light, and he was gone. Mike couldn’t even imagine what would happen. He didn’t want to.

“…good night.”