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Heart of Glory, heart of nothing [Part 5 of 5]

July 21, 2012


The next few months passed slowly for Noriega.
The first month was recovery.
No duties, no combat.
He couldn’t overuse his legs so all he did was sit in his quarters and by the window in Ten Forward.
Sometimes there would be news.
Geordi taking command of the battle bridge.
Tasha being killed.
Alien slugs trying to take over the Federation.
The Romulans coming back.
The last one he heard from Worf.
They were sitting by the window in Ten Forward, the blue alien at the bar, Guinan polishing a glass behind it, the funny-looking chessboard on the table in front of them.
‘They were on the view-screen?’ asked Noriega, stretching his legs out slowly, bringing them back then stretching them out again.
‘Yes, Ensign.’
‘What did they say?’
Worf looked out the window instead of replying. Something not good then, thought Noriega.
‘Come on, Sir. I need some excitement in my life.’
Worf turned back, his forehead showing lines. Or more lines than usual…was he annoyed?
‘They said they were back…’
‘…and they were ready to protect their interests in the Neutral Zone…’
Worf stopped, picked up his drink, looked at the surface of it then put it back down.
‘They said I was a dog.’
‘You think it is funny, Ensign?’
Noriega shook his head. ‘I think…Sir…the next Romulan you see is definitely going to remember it.’
Worf smirked and took some more of his drink.
‘I hope so,’ he said, finally.
Most of the time, there was no news. Everything was normal. The crew walked around and talked about technical problems and theory, not danger or adventure.
People focused on improving themselves.
Helping each other.

These were the slow times.
Noriega had done what he said he’d do.
Since he’d been shot, he’d learned all he could about the Klingons.
As he couldn’t walk very well, he spent most of his time in front of a screen, learning facts and history.
Whatever he found out, he’d take to Worf.
The two of them had talked a lot since the shooting.
Noriega didn’t know if the Klingon liked him or not…but he did know he no longer thought he was a machine.
A few weeks after Tasha died, Worf became the head of ship security.
Noriega bought him some blood wine as a celebration. Well, he replicated some blood wine. It was the best he could do without any traders on board.
They drank in Worf’s quarters, alone.
Noriega knew the Klingon pretty well, and he knew he didn’t like to operate in crowds.
Noriega felt the same.
Ever since the shooting, he’d distanced himself from others.
There was nothing for him in hearing theory, he’d decided. And beyond theory, what else could they say?
Jane Dickie tried to see him a few times.
She even came to his quarters once, holding a bottle of wine.
He let her come in, they drank the wine, they kissed, but he didn’t take it any further.
She asked if he was okay.
He said he was fine.
There was much more to say, but he wouldn’t say it to her.
Her thing was anxiety.
His was boredom.
Not the same.
Noriega poured a fifth glass of blood wine for Worf and asked him if he knew the guy who’d been killed by that weird face thing in the nebula.
Worf said no.
‘Everyone in Ten Forward was talking about him…they said it was such a pointless way to die. One minute he was sitting at the console, the next…he was dead.’
‘It was not the death of a warrior.’
Noriega nodded.
‘They’re not warriors, are they?’
‘No. They are not.’
They drank some more blood wine and talked about Klingons again. Worf told him some things he didn’t know.
Klingons are happy when another Klingon dies.
Klingon ships are brutal.
Klingons commanders who show signs of cowardice are killed by their first officers.
‘Do you think it’d be possible for a human to ever serve on a Klingon ship?’
‘Why not?’
‘Humans have a…different outlook from Klingons.’
‘I don’t.’
Worf looked at him but didn’t answer.
When Noriega’s legs could function again, he returned to active duty.
This time Worf didn’t send him to cargo bays. He didn’t order him to scan for beta radiation. He didn’t keep him away from combat training.
Instead, he was given more responsibility.
More opportunity for action.
The two of them would often practise on the holodeck.
Worf designed some combat programs then Noriega checked the details and made them harder.
‘Better if we sweat a little,’ he said, pressing buttons on the wall panel.
The Klingon didn’t complain.
They fought against holo-monsters.
When that wasn’t enough, they fought against Klingons.
There was a famous battle from Klingon history where the commander and his second died fighting impossible odds.
The two of them played it out, fighting and killing and chopping until it was their turn to fall.
When they fell, the Klingons disappeared and reality came back.
There was no blood, no marks.
No dead Klingons.
No proof it had ever happened.
Sometimes, when Worf was busy on the bridge, Noriega would fight the holo-Klingons alone.
It was still good.
He’d made his own bat’ leth during his recovery.
It wasn’t as good or as old as Worf’s, but it was better than wielding a hologram.
It sliced and blocked like other bat’leths.
It wore blood the same.
But there was no history on it.
There were one thousand and twenty seven crew members on board the Enterprise.
Noriega figured he’d probably seen most of them since he’d been there.
He’d probably talked to a lot of them too.
Some were funny.
Others were smart.
None were interesting.
He sat in Ten Forward, in his usual seat, listening in on the conversation between the engineer and the botanist on the next table.
They were talking about Riker, the first officer.
He’s crazy, they said. Crazy for volunteering to go on board a Klingon ship to serve as first officer.
Wait, what?
Noriega went to Worf’s quarters and asked him why he hadn’t told him.
‘It was decided before I became aware of it,’ said Worf, polishing his Bat’leth.
‘I have to go…’
‘It is too late. Commander Riker is going.’
‘Riker? He won’t last five minutes…’
Worf put his bat’leth down and stood up.
‘The Commander is stronger than you think.’
‘I doubt it.’ Noriega looked at the floor then back up again. ‘Look, Worf…you have to get me on that ship. It’s…I have to go on that ship. Please.’
Worf shook his head. ‘It is not my decision.’
‘Talk to the Captain, tell him I’m the right guy…’
‘I will not, Ensign.’
Noriega stared at the Klingon for a moment then left.
Worf returned to his bat’ leth and picked up the cloth. Noriega was wrong about Riker, he knew that.
A Klingon ship should have a Klingon first officer…not a human.
The next few months were Klingon-less.
Noriega performed his duties as usual, went to Ten Forward as usual, and even spent the night with Jane Dickie.
But it wasn’t enough.
Every morning he would read the general reports from the Captain, looking out for mentions of Klingons or birds of prey or Romulans even.
For months, there had been nothing.
The Klingons were allies.
The Romulans were silent.
Even the Ferengi were keeping their distance.
What was wrong with this damn quadrant?
He sat in his quarters and drank blood wine alone. He lifted up his uniform and ran his finger over the scar. He cut lines into his arm with his bat’ leth.
It wasn’t enough.
He woke up in Jane Dickie’s quarters.
She was asleep on the other side of the bed.
Noriega went back over the previous night. He’d come looking for her, they’d drank blood wine, talked about what kind of future they could have together.
Yes, he’d really talked about that.
He’d decided that he kinda liked her.
And maybe if he focused on her or something like her then all the other stuff would go away.
She woke up and ran her hand up his leg.
‘Hey,’ she said, smiling like a human.
There was no shyness anymore.
Where had that gone?
Noriega took her hand and kissed it. He told her there was a poker night in Riker’s quarters and that they’d both been invited.
‘I don’t know…’ she said. ‘What if they’re really good at poker? What if I’m not?’
There it is, thought Noriega.
‘It’s okay. They’re friendly.’
He kissed her again and she kissed him back. Then she asked him if it was a really good idea for her to go or not…
Noriega looked at her and thought…this woman…is a coward.
‘It’s fine,’ he said.
Noriega stood on the holodeck and looked at the Klingons around him.
They weren’t real, but they sure were angry.
They wanted to kill him.
Rip him to pieces.
Eat his heart.
He lowered his bat’ leth and watched them step forward.
There were fifteen…twenty of them.
Eyes like devils.
Teeth like wolves.
Okay, he thought.
The Klingons growled and raised their weapons.
Worf bent down and picked up the bat ‘leth next to the body. He examined both sides. There was no blood on it.
Why would there be?
The enemies were holograms.
And there wasn’t much blood on the floor. Only the Ensign’s. The rest of it was just black squares and yellow lines, the same as any other holo-deck.
Worf turned. It was the Captain flanked by Doctor Crusher and two medical guys. They rushed in and tended to the body, checking for vitals or whatever it was they did.
A few seconds later, the doctor confirmed it.
Picard nodded to her then pulled Worf to the side, lowering his voice but still keeping it stern.
‘What the hell happened here, Lieutenant?’
Worf looked at Noriega and the cuts on his body.
‘I don’t know, Sir.’
‘Not good enough. I have a dead ensign who…according to the computer records turned the safety settings off during a battle simulation. It makes no sense.’
‘No, Sir.’
‘What I need to know is…was this done by the ensign or…was it someone else?’
‘I will investigate, Sir.’
‘Thoroughly, Mr Worf. I need an answer quickly.’
‘Yes, Captain.’
Worf sat beside the table with the funny-looking chessboard, alone.
Guinan came over and tried to talk to him, but he gave short replies and she soon left. She was persistent, but she wasn’t obtuse.
Worf played with his glass, turning it round and round.
He had finished his investigation into Noriega’s death.
There was no sabotage.
The Ensign had made the order himself.
Suicide, effectively.
Worf stared out the window, hoping for a Romulan warbird to decloak and fire on them. Or a Talerian cruiser. Or even the Klingons.
But it didn’t happen.
Worf looked at the stars instead.
It was strange, he thought.
There wasn’t even a note.
He’d checked Noriega’s quarters and there was nothing. No note or sign or explanation.
And what about Ensign Dickie?
Noriega had talked of bringing her to the poker game. They were seeing each other. That was something…wasn’t it?
Worf remembered something Noriega had said to him a few weeks ago.
I’m bored, Worf.
That was it. That’s all he’d said.
I’m bored.
Worf’s badge made a beeping noise.
‘Worf here.’
‘We’re waiting for you, Mr Worf.’ It was Riker. ‘You didn’t forget, did you?’
Poker night. Damn, he had forgotten.
‘No, Sir.’
‘We can give you a map to my quarters if you’re a bit lost…’
‘On my way,’ said Worf, ignoring Riker’s attempt at humour.
He stood up, looking out the window one last time, searching for that bit of green that would give him something to shoot at.
There was nothing.
Not even the fucking Ferengi.
Worf left the table and walked straight out of Ten Forward, ignoring everyone. As he made his way to Riker’s quarters, he thought ahead to the poker game and what cards he might get.
It isn’t battle, he thought. But it’s enough.

                                                     THE END

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