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Heart of Glory, heart of nothing [Part 3]

July 2, 2012


The ship’s library was surprisingly full considering the whole ship was one big library.
But the ship’s library was electronic, this one was real…with real books and real paper and…it was just real. Some people liked that.
The librarian sat behind his desk, stamping some books. He sometimes wondered why he was doing such a pointless job, but then he countered, telling himself this pointless job allowed someone like him to travel in Space and discover new planets and new races and-…
An ensign came to his desk and dropped Moby Dick on the pile. The librarian picked it up, ignored the cartoon whale on the cover, and looked at the inside page.
‘Err…Ensign. This book has only been out for two days…’
The Ensign was already walking away. He heard the librarian, turned and said back ‘yeah, I know’ as if that answered something.
‘You mean you’ve finished it already?’
‘Yeah, sure. Good read, I liked it.’ The Ensign smiled, turned and headed out of the library.
The librarian put Moby Dick back on the desk and looked at the other crew members at the tables. Most of them were studying science or engineering…or worse, just talking to each other. None of them were reading a classic. What a waste of skin and brain, he thought. Uncultured cavemen…
He stamped the next book in the pile and the next and the next.
Well, maybe not all of them. The Captain took out a lot of classics. He seemed like an intelligent man. But still…there was something strange about it all. The librarian had noticed something about the Captain; he liked to tell others about the books he’d read, but only if they hadn’t read them. That time he’d told the Captain how he’d studied classic Literature at the Penn Academy…ever since then, the Captain had said nothing about any of the books he returned. Before that, he couldn’t shut him up, but afterwards…nothing. Not a word.
But then…that time in Ten Forward, he’d overheard him telling the Vulcan ambassador about the themes of Manhattan Transfer…yet as soon as he’d turned round and noticed him, he’d ceased talking.
What did it all mean? The Captain was a bullshitter?
Another book landed on the desk in front of him. The librarian knew who was standing in front of him before looking up. It was simple. The only crew member who treated books like that was the Klingon.
The librarian looked up and saw he was right.
‘Take out or return?’
‘Take out,’ said the Klingon.
The librarian smiled and picked up the book. Let me guess, something about killing. He looked at the cover.
‘This…’ He looked back up at the Klingon, who was glaring right back. ‘This is what you want?’
‘Okay, just checking.’
The librarian picked up his stamp, smiled at the cover showing the human brain inside the head of a robot, and turned to the inside cover. Ah, this book had never been taken out. He stamped the return date on the page and handed the book back to the Klingon.
‘There you go.’
The Klingon nodded and left.
‘Happy learning,’ the librarian said to his back.
No response.
‘Klingons…’ mumbled the librarian. ‘Do they even have a word for library?’
Noriega stood in Cargo Bay Four, holding a tri-corder. He was scanning the whole room for beta radiation, as ordered. He’d already done the first three cargo bays and it’d taken him two days. Man, he was bored.
But orders were orders and ensigns were still ensigns.
The tri-corder beeped and Noriega looked at the reading. Area analysis complete: 0% beta radiation. Ha, of course it was zero. Even that engineer…LaGorge…he’d laughed at him when he walked into Cargo Bay Three the day before. ‘Beta radiation…in here? Are you serious?’ That’s what he’d said. ‘Yes, Sir. I’ve been ordered to check all cargo bays…’
‘Ordered by who?’
‘Lieutenant Worf.’
‘Worf told you to do this?’ LaGorge laughed again and then let out a kind of whistle sound. ‘And here I was thinking he had no sense of humour…’
‘I’m confused, Sir,’ Noriega had said, not really confused. He knew this was all a con. ‘Why would Worf order me to check for beta radiation if there isn’t any?’
‘Well…that’s something you’ll have to ask him.’ LaGorge had turned to go, but turned back again. ‘Just ask nicely, okay?’
Then he’d gone, leaving Noriega alone in that damn cargo bay. These damn cargo bays. There was no real difference, they were all designed the same. No pictures, no colour…no soul.
He pointed the tri-corder at another area of the cargo bay and started the scan. To kill time, he’d invented little games. In fact, he’d invented his first little game after ten minutes in the first cargo bay.
Somewhere in this cargo bay, there was an intruder. He’d caused havoc on the rest of the ship and now he was cornered in here. And only Noriega could beat him. The rest of the crew? On the first day, they were all alive, but now, half of them were dead. Noriega couldn’t save them all, nor did he try. It’s not like they would try to save him. No, better to let them die and have this game mean something. If everyone lived, it was never that serious. If most of them died, it was the end of days if he failed. And it was more realistic for them to die anyway. Would someone like ensign Jane Dickie really be able to stop this intruder? Impossible. She was limited…even more limited than the rest of them. Yes, it was more realistic if she were killed. And that way there would be meaning. Or sadness. Actually, he didn’t feel that sad. But that was because it was only an invention. If it were real, he’d be sad. Not that he really cared for any of them…why should he? He’d only known them a few weeks, and it’s not like they’d done anything to fascinate him or attach him to them in any way. They were just like the academy guys…just fodder, really. Deep down they probably knew it too.
Yeah, it was definitely better if most of them were dead…in the game…
The tricorder made another beeping noise. Noriega snapped out of his thoughts and looked at the analysis.
‘0% beta radiation. What a f***ing surprise!’
He threw the tri-corder across the cargo bay and watched it land near the doors just as they slid open.
It was Worf, holding a book.
Noriega looked at the tri-corder on the floor and thought of an excuse.
‘What are you doing, Ensign?’
‘I dropped my tri-corder, Sir.’
‘I see.’ Worf bent down and picked up the tri-corder. He looked at the screen without expression.
‘0% beta radiation, Sir.’
‘I can see that, Ensign.’
‘All the cargo bays so far have had the same reading and I’m fairly sure the other cargo bays are also the same.’
Worf walked over to Noriega, smiled like a man about to torture someone and handed him the tri-corder. ‘We will not know for certain until you have checked all of them.’
Noriega thought about taking the tri-corder and shoving it in the Klingon’s face. That would feel pretty damn good. Wouldn’t it? He thought it would, but even now, thinking about it, some of the imagined satisfaction had already gone.
‘Sir, may I speak freely?’
Worf waited a moment, studying the ensign’s face, before saying ‘yes.’
‘Why are you making me do this?’
‘It is procedure, Ensign.’
‘It’s redundant, a waste of time and energy. We both know that. There’s no beta radiation, and there’s no good reason for me not to do active duty.’
‘Is this not active, Ensign?’
‘I mean active active duty. Security drills, combat training…these are the things I’m good at and you know it.’
Worf looked at his book and nodded. ‘Yes, you are right.’
‘So…can I return to active duty?’
Noriega formed a fist with his hand, dug his nails into his palm, but didn’t draw blood. His action was strange to him. Even doing it, he felt distant from it. Why am I doing this? he wondered, unclenching and returning his hand to normal.
‘However, you may take a break, Ensign. There are some questions I wish to ask you.’
‘Like a test, Sir?’
‘Yes, Ensign. Like a test.’
Noriega glanced at the book in Worf’s hands, trying to see the words on the page. No good, he was shielding them. But he could see the cover. A human brain inside a robot’s head. What the…
‘…if you answer well, perhaps we can skip the radiation scans for the rest of the cargo bays.’
‘Skip them? All of them?’
‘Okay, Sir. What are the questions?’
Worf ignored him and started reading from the book. ‘Reaction time is a factor in this, Ensign, so please pay attention. Now, answer as quickly as you can.’ 
‘Deck 10, ensign quarters 122.’
‘That’s my room.’
‘Where I live.
‘Do you like your room, Ensign?’
‘Yeah, sure I guess– the bed’s a little small, but, yeah, it’s not bad. Is that part of the test?’ 
Worf turned the page and skimmed before speaking again. Noriega waited, staring at the cover and reading the title. The Koight-Vampf Test. What was that, he thought? I’ve heard of that somewhere before…
‘You’re on a starship, walking along the corridor when all of the sudden…’ Worf started, looking at Noriega’s face again.
‘Is this the test now?’
‘Yes. You’re on a starship walking along the corridor when all of the sudden you look down…’
‘Which one?’
‘Which starship?’
‘It doesn’t make any difference which starship, Ensign, it’s completely hypothetical.’
‘But why am I there?
‘Maybe you’re on duty, maybe you want to be alone, who knows? You look down and you see a Bajoran, Ensign, she’s crawling towards you…’
‘Bajoran, what’s that?’
‘A Bajoran…from the planet Bajor…near Cardassia. Do you know Cardassia, Ensign?
‘Of course.’
‘I’ve never seen a Bajoran — But I understand what you mean. I know Bajor. It’s just I’ve never heard anyone say ‘Bajoran’ before. It sounds different to Bajor. I guess it just didn’t click…’
Worf continued…
‘You reach down, you flip the Bajoran woman over on her back.’
‘What…I flip her on her back?’
‘The Bajoran woman lays on her back, her belly baking in the hot sun beating her legs, trying to turn herself over but she can’t, not without your help, but you’re not helping.’
‘Sir, I don’t get it. Why doesn’t she just stand up?’
Worf re-read the page quickly and then turned over to the next one. Something wasn’t right. These questions…they were bizarre.
‘Forget it, Ensign. We’ll skip forward to…’ Worf flicked ahead a few pages and found a new question. ‘Okay…describe in single words, only the good things that come in to your mind about…your mother.’
‘My mother?’
‘Yes, Ensign.’
‘What do you wanna know?’
‘Whatever comes into your mind.’
‘My mother…’ Noriega tried to think of something, looking around the cargo bay for ideas. Nothing came.
‘Quickly, Ensign.’
‘Okay, Sir. Okay…I’ll tell you about my mother…if that’s what you really want…’
Someone’s badge made a noise. Noriega didn’t bother looking, he knew it wasn’t his. Who would be calling him, an ensign?
Worf touched his badge and answered.
‘Lieutenant, we’ll need you on the bridge soon. We’re an hour away from the Neutral Zone.’
‘Aye, Captain. With your permission, I’d like to finish my current duty first.’
‘Very well, Mr Worf. You have twenty minutes.’
‘Thank you, Captain. Worf out.’
Worf looked at the ensign and then went back to the book. Noriega watched him. More questions? What was this all about?
‘Excuse me, Sir, will there be many more questions?’
Worf stopped on a new page and looked up, smiling.
‘Just one more, Ensign.’
‘And then I can stop scanning the cargo bays?’
Worf started reading from the book again.
‘You are engaged in combat. Both you and your opponent are evenly matched. The fight progresses until your opponent gets an injury. His right knee is hurt. Do you target the injury and finish him off or do you stop the fight?’
‘You want me to answer fast?’
‘Okay…is it a training fight or a real one?’
‘It’s irrelevant.’
‘I don’t think so, Sir. If it’s a real fight…if the opponent is trying to kill me or take me captive then I’d finish him off. If it’s training, I wouldn’t.’
Worf closed the book and stared at Noriega. His face looked like a volcano…a volcano that was desperately trying to put a lid on itself.
‘You would finish off an injured opponent…’
‘Yes, Sir.’
‘That is the tactic of a Romulan.’
‘Is it?’
‘Where is the honour in killing someone who cannot fight back?’
‘With all due respect, Sir, and I know I don’t always show that, but…this injury might not be genuine. The guy could just be faking it so when I get close or turn my back, he’s on me. There’s no way to know for sure. That’s why I asked if it was for real…different rules, you see.’
‘Not everyone fights the way you do…not Klingons, not Starfleet officers…only…’
Noriega couldn’t help himself. He laughed. This Klingon was delusional. But he was also looking like a volcano again.
‘I don’t see what is so funny, Ensign.’
‘Everything.’ Noriega stopped laughing, coughed and tried to do his best ‘policeman face’. ‘Can I ask you a question…Sir?’
Worf glared at Noriega, but didn’t say no.
‘What is combat if not a series of tricks?’
‘Invalid, Ensign. True combat, between true warriors, has no tricks.’
‘Okay, so when you fake a jab or lower your guard to invite an attack just where you want it…that’s not a trick?’
‘No. That is…it is technique. Guile.’
‘Guile…that’s a good word. That’s exactly how I’d describe my style of combat.’
‘You do not use guile. You…’
‘The only difference is my guile has a broader range than yours. And frankly, Sir, if you go into a real combat situation and you don’t have any more guile than the other guy…’
‘There should always be honour in combat. Only a Romulan would argue otherwise.’ Worf looked at Noriega for a few seconds, examining him for some Romulan aspect perhaps. ‘Tell me, Ensign. Have you ever been in a real combat situation?’
Noriega took a moment even though he knew the answer was no.
‘No. But that’s…’
‘Yet you speak as if you are a veteran.’
‘Not really…’
‘You do not know what true guile is. There are rules of combat that must be followed and you laugh at them. You talk of real combat, yet you use your tricks even in training.’
‘I have to. It’s practice.’
‘Yes. Romulan practice.’
Noriega paused. This wasn’t going well. And what was this Klingon’s obsession with Romulans? Did they eat his parents or something?
‘Sir, in my experience…if your opponent has a weakness, you target it. Is that not true?’
‘Yes, but only if that weakness is a lack of skill or technique. You do not target injuries.’
‘I disagree. There are all kinds of weaknesses. Combat is a game of wits, not just strength…’
‘A game?’ Worf almost growled.
‘Your weakness, for example…is your respect for the rules. Your honour, as you call it. Once I knew this, I knew I could beat you. I mean, technically, you’re a match for me, but psychologically, you’re weak…’
Worf’s eyes nearly exploded. He took a step forward, checked himself and stepped back again.
‘Okay, that was the wrong word…Sir, if I can explain further, I think this…’
Worf pushed the tri-corder back into Noriega’s hands. The ensign had no choice but to take it.
‘Continue with your scanning, Ensign.’
Worf turned and walked to the doors.
‘But Sir, you said…’
Worf stopped and turned. ‘When you’ve finished here, you will proceed to Cargo Bay Five and begin a new scan there.’
Noriega thought about saying ‘but sir’ one more time, but knew it would do no good. Why had he argued so hard? All he had to do was agree with Worf and everything would’ve been fine.
‘I’ll expect a detailed report at the end of your shift, Ensign.’
‘Yes, Sir…’ Noriega muttered.

[To be continued…]

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