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Heart of Glory, heart of nothing [Part 4]

July 12, 2012

 

Three days, six Cargo bays and zero beta radiation later, Noriega threw the tri-corder onto the table and slumped down into the chair.
Ten Forward was a little busier than usual. Looking around, he could see a few people he kinda knew and a lot of higher-ranking officers he didn’t.
Ha, there was the damn Klingon, talking to the machine and LaGorge again. He still wasn’t smiling. And who was the other guy with them? He looked familiar…the beard, the slanted head…and he was wearing red, which meant…
Ah, forget it, he thought. Red doesn’t mean much more than any other colour. It just means you’ve been around longer, that’s all.
Noriega studied the tall, red man talking to Worf. Or talking at Worf. Despite his stupid grin, he did look strong…confident…
But what did that mean? He was probably just as limited as all the rest of them. Drawing lines in the sand and…and not stepping into the sea. That’s what it took to get a red costume. Standing still, beaching yourself. Drawing that line and daring yourself to step over it, but not…never doing it.
These people aren’t interesting to me, he thought. What about all those stars?
Before he could lose himself in the window, he heard laughter. It was from the table next to his. He turned and looked. There were three people…two yellow suits…engineers…and the other one, the woman. He knew her from somewhere…where?
It clicked.
Ah, it’s you.
Noriega sat up in his chair and reached for his drink. He was sitting alone and no-one seemed to be paying him any attention. Perfect.
The two engineers were talking about the warp core and how it had been playing up the last few days.
Ensign Jane Dickie sat there, listening, not saying a word.
He watched her closely. The others carried on talking, and laughed from time to time, and she played with her hands.
What else, he wondered.
He watched her for the next hour. It wasn’t clear if she noticed or not, she didn’t look at him or close to him even though he was on the next table, but there was a chance she was aware of him, only she was too shy to make eye contact.
He noticed she picked her drink up and put it down a lot.
She looked down when one of the others looked at her.
When she wasn’t holding her drink, she was touching her face.
Was this what shy people did, he thought. Why? Those other two…what could they possibly do that he couldn’t…?
But she wasn’t him, was she?
No, she wasn’t.
She was Jane Dickie.
Poor, shy Jane Dickie.
Noriega finished his drink and made a plan in his head. When the other two have gone, I’ll talk to her.
He went to the bar and ordered another drink from the woman in the weird hat, returned to his seat and made an amendment to his plan.
Even if those two stay, I’ll talk to her.
*******
Later that evening, in Jane Dickie’s quarters, Ensign Noriega sat down on her couch, holding a cocktail loosely in his hand, looked briefly at the photograph of Jane and what he assumed were her parents on the desk, and then told the shy ensign that he had suffered from shyness when he was a kid.
‘Really? How bad was it…if you don’t mind me asking?’ Jane said, sitting down next to him. She had a cocktail too, her fifth of the night.
‘It was bad. Very bad.’ Noriega shifted closer to her and prepared his next speech. He’d never had any kind of shyness, why would he? But it wasn’t unknowable…he knew he was smart enough to imagine the details. ‘There was a time…two, three years…where I couldn’t go out, I couldn’t meet anyone new…I’m not sure if it was shyness or anxiety…but I know what it felt like…and it wasn’t good.’
Jane took some of her drink and looked at her legs. Noriega took the chance to study her. Not that he really needed to. It was pretty clear what was going on in there. She was thinking…should I tell him, should I not? Come on, Jane. Tell me. Tell me about your pathetic shyness.
‘You know…’ she said, looking up again, ‘I know exactly how you feel.’ She stopped, looked at her drink then continued. ‘I used to have the same problem…I mean, talking to other people…new people…it was really hard for me to…’ She stopped again and smiled, looking down at her legs. ‘It’s not that bad anymore…I’m okay now, but…it was pretty bad…before.’
Noriega looked at her legs too. He shifted closer so his knee was touching hers. She didn’t look up.
This is the moment, he thought. This is how easy it all is.
He put his drink on the floor and put his hand on the top of her thigh. ‘It’s okay, Jane. I’m glad we can talk about this…there aren’t many people I’ve…there’s only one or two people I’ve ever told this to.’
Jane looked up. She put her hand on top of his, slowly. Noriega shivered a little. He could feel her hand was warm, and…she was looking at him…she was looking at him like…
He moved back, kicking his drink onto the carpet.
Jane opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out.
Noriega stood up and looked for the exit. This was not good, he had to get out of there. Her hand…it was too warm…he couldn’t do this, it was no good. No good.
‘Are you okay?’ Jane asked finally.
‘Yeah, I’m…it’s nothing. I was just…’ His mind was blocking him. I’m, I was, it’s…what was he trying to say?
He looked at the door. It didn’t look so far.
‘Eduardo?’
He looked at her. God, she was quite pretty, wasn’t she? And her hand…it wasn’t that warm. It wasn’t unbearably warm. It was a nice kind of warm. She was a nice person. She was very nice. She didn’t…it wasn’t fair for him to…
Noriega took a breath and sat back down. He put his hand back on her leg and looked at her.
‘What is it?’ she asked.
‘You know…I just wanted to tell you something. I wanted you to know…it’s really hard to believe you were ever shy. Really. The way you are on this ship…you’re not a loudmouth or overbearing…and there’s this kind of…confidence to you. A quiet confidence.’
He moved forward and kissed her on the cheek.
‘I like it. And I just wanted you to know that…in case you didn’t already.’
Jane looked down at her legs again.
‘Sorry…’ said Noriega, standing up.
Jane looked up, opened her mouth to speak, but Noriega beat her to it. ‘I better go. Early start tomorrow.’
She smiled, stood up and walked him to the door.
‘Night,’ he said.
She paused, looked at the floor for a few seconds then looked back up.
‘Night.’
*********
The next day, Noriega was returned to active duty.
He was sitting in his quarters, waiting for Worf to beep him and tell him to crawl through some damn Jeffries tube to check some unbroken wiring or something, when the door beeped instead.
His hair was a bit of a mess, but he didn’t care. The Klingon didn’t deserve his best hair.
But it wasn’t Worf. It was Tasha Yar, head of security.
‘Ensign Noriega.’
‘Yes, Sir.’
‘I noticed you’ve been busy in the cargo bays the last few days…’
‘Yes, checking for beta radiation, Sir.’
‘I see.’
She stared at him.
Noriega waited for her to speak. She didn’t. What was this? Was she expecting him to complain about Worf?
Finally she spoke again.
‘I’ve decided that we need you back on active duty. I don’t know if you’re aware, but we’ve recently taken two guests on board.’
‘Okay.’
‘Klingon guests.’
‘Klingons?’
‘Yes. We’re not sure exactly who they are or what they’re doing in the Neutral Zone, so…all security personnel will be on active duty. Noriega, you’ll be with me. Okay?’
‘Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir.’
Tasha Yar smiled. ‘Don’t thank me yet, Ensign. Klingons aren’t exactly the easiest of guests to deal with.’
Noriega smiled back, thinking of Worf.
‘I think I can handle myself.’

*******

Noriega and three other security guys tagged along with Tasha Yar for the rest of the day. Mostly, they were keeping close to the Klingons, even though one of them was injured in sickbay and the other two were just sitting in their quarters with Worf.
It’s not action exactly, thought Noriega, but it’s better than the cargo bays. And there was something else too. Looking at the other security guys, he could sense something…fear perhaps? Or tension at least. And in a small way…even though he knew three Klingons could be dealt with quite easily by the five of them and everyone else on the ship…there was tension for him too. He didn’t know why, but he wanted the Klingons to do something. To attack. Because the one thing he knew for sure about Klingons…real Klingons…was that they fought to kill.
********
An hour later, Tasha told them the injured Klingon was dead.
Noriega felt a little deflated when he heard the news, but the others seemed to feel differently.
But then…for a real Klingon…three versus a whole ship or two versus a whole ship, what was the difference really?
********
Another hour passed and they got the call. It was the Captain. Obviously, he was talking to Tasha, but the rest of them could hear him too.
The two Klingons weren’t what they said they were. They were criminals, renegades…dangerous.
Their orders: Find them and arrest them, take them to a holding cell.
And as the five of them jogged down the corridor to where they knew the Klingons to be, Noriega knew this was it.
There was no way two Klingons would go quietly.
**********
Noriega was wrong.
The Klingons tried to get Worf to help them escape, muttering something about ‘not being one of them’ and ‘following the call of the warrior’, but Noriega knew that wasn’t gonna work. From the little he knew of Worf, there was no way he’d turn his back on his duty.
And he was right.
Tasha moved forward and told the Klingons what was what.
They nodded and Tasha gave Noriega and the others the order. ‘Take them to a holding cell.’
The Klingons didn’t resist. One of them picked up a child and it looked for a moment like he might use it as a shield, but then he put it down again. Then it was back to total passivity, all the way to the cell. Even as they were being ushered in, they didn’t make any moves.
It’s weird, thought Noriega, waiting for some kind of attack. They can’t do anything from inside a cell. Can they?
The force-field went up and the Klingons sat down, captive.
Noriega and another guard stood by the cell and turned their backs on the prisoners. They didn’t talk to each other. There was nothing to say.
Noriega thought of Worf.
Maybe that big, dumb Klingon was right after all. Maybe I do use tricks. Maybe I am cheating in some way…
He didn’t feel too good about these kinds of thoughts. There was always a way to defend himself, of course, but for some reason, after watching that Klingon refuse to use a child as a hostage, and the two of them going quietly, peacefully to the cell…for some reason, he didn’t want to.
*******
After forty-five minutes of standing outside the cell, Noriega got hungry. He looked at the two Klingons, saw they were doing nothing, then nodded at the other guard, said he was just gonna get something to eat and walked off to the nearest replicator.
At the end of the corridor, he ordered some noodles.
They were too hot to eat right away so he carried them back down the corridor, blowing on them as he went.
He thought of Jane. She was nice. She was pathetic. No, she was nice…I wonder what she’s doing tonig-…
There were noises round the corner…
Phaser fire…coming from the cell…
Noriega dropped the noodles, pulled out his phaser and ran to the end of the corridor. The Klingons…he knew it, he knew they couldn’t go quietly.
As he got to the corner, he heard a scream. It was human, he was sure of it. Quickly, he worked it out in his head. The other guy’s down. Two Klingons, both with phasers. The force-field must be down. Plan? Don’t get hit. Stay low. Narrow the angles. Hit the first Klingon, dodge the second then fire. Don’t try and hit both at once.
He turned the corner.
One of the Klingons was standing outside the cell, expecting him. He fired at Noriega, but too high.
Noriega ducked down, shifted his head to the side, aimed and fired.
The Klingon stumbled back, hurt. But it wasn’t enough, he was aiming his phaser again.
Noriega fired a second beam.
The Klingon took it harder this time. He went back a few steps, dazed, but still not down.
Noriega quickly increased the phaser setting and waited for the second Klingon to come out of the cell.
He didn’t come.
The first Klingon, he was aiming at Noriega again…damn, was this guy on stimulants?
Noriega didn’t like it, but he pulled his aim away from the cell and fired a long beam at the other Klingon, hitting him square in the chest.
This time he went down.
But the other one…
Noriega re-adjusted, stood up to full height and aimed at what he now saw was the second Klingon kneeling at the entrance to the cell.
But he knew it was too late.
Something touched his stomach and made it warm…too warm…
Noriega fell back, and as the floor came rushing towards him he knew it was gonna hurt…but then it didn’t, it changed…from floor colour to black and…
*******
Noriega didn’t know why, but the doctor was wearing a blue sleeping bag and the blackness that had taken away the floor was disappearing and being replaced by a room, a room with no pictures or flowers, only the doctor in her blue sleeping bag, and when he looked to the corner of the room he saw the second Klingon kneeling on the floor, holding a cup of coffee and laughing and next to him was a spinning Abraham Lincoln and he just kept on spinning and spinning as if that was the best way to deal with the second Klingon and his cup of coffee and then there was a voice, a voice he knew from somewhere, and he tried to focus on it and when he could hear it more clearly a face appeared next to the doctor who wasn’t wearing a blue sleeping bag anymore, she was wearing a normal costume and when he looked at the corner of the room the second Klingon was gone and so had the spinning Abraham Lincoln and when he looked at the doctor again he could see another Klingon standing next to her, the Klingon he’d scanned for beta radiation with…no, the Klingon who’d made him scan for…yes, the Klingon who didn’t like him much.
Noriega opened his eyes.
‘You’re a very lucky man, Ensign Noriega,’ said the doctor. ‘Another minute or two and it would’ve been too late.’
Noriega craned his head down to look at his stomach. It was covered with a bandage, but there was no blood.
‘My stomach is…okay?’
Doctor Crusher laughed. ‘Yes, you still have a fully functional stomach. Although I wouldn’t recommend eating any banquets over the next few weeks.’
Noriega nodded, trying to remember what banquet meant. There were a lot of gaps, things he didn’t…
‘I don’t get it. I thought I was…’
‘Dead?’ the doctor asked. ‘You nearly were…’
Another medical person came over and pulled the doctor away. Worf stayed where he was, silent.
‘I guess I ran out of tricks…’ said Noriega after a while.
Worf looked at him, not smiling, but not growling either. ‘You did well to survive against two Klingons. Perhaps when you’re better, you can tell me exactly how you did it?’
‘I can tell you now…Sir.’
Noriega coughed. His stomach felt warm again. He waited a few seconds then said what he wanted to say.
‘Guile.’
‘Guile?’
‘That’s what it was, Sir. And…technique, skill…real, honest skill…if you can believe it…’
Noriega tried to laugh, but it hurt too much.
‘Well, Ensign. Perhaps there is hope for you yet.’
The Klingon nodded and turned to leave, but Noriega put out a hand and pulled him back.
‘What is it, Ensign?’
‘The other Klingon…is he…’
‘Dead? Yes.’
Noriega looked down at the floor. He didn’t know why but he felt disappointed. Was that right? The guy who’d shot him in the gut was dead…surely that was a good thing…
‘I shall leave you to rest,’ said Worf, getting fidgety. He didn’t like it when people touched him.
Noriega looked back up, keeping his hand on Worf’s arm.
‘If it’s okay with you, Sir…I’d like to learn more about Klingons…Klingon culture…if you have time?’
Worf didn’t answer straight away. In fact, he looked confused. Why would Noriega want to know more about Klingons?
‘We’ll see, Ensign.’
‘Thank you, Sir.’
Noriega let his arm drop. Worf nodded, turned and walked out of sickbay, leaving the ensign alone on his bed.
Klingons, Noriega thought. That’s the key…

[To be continued and concluded in Part 5]

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