Quicksand, Part I

Quicksand

Part I

Sivath had to keep his unease in check. The problem with telepaths, though, was that they could usually tell you were doing it. It wasn’t enough for Sivath to avoid thinking the wrong kinds of thoughts; he had to avoid thinking about not thinking the wrong thing.

“Deck seven,” he announced with his habitual exaggerated precision. He stepped out of the turbolift and into the corridor. “Main engineering. Warp core. Main deflector. Torpedo launchers. Tractor beam emitters. Junior crew quarters.” He strode forward with purpose; the only emotion he allowed himself was a mild impatience to finish this tour and return to real work.

“All on deck seven?” asked Nim, Heisenberg’s new chief of security. “How convenient.” It was clear from her tone what she meant.

“Having reviewed your service record, I judge you to be a resilient and adaptable Starfleet officer,” Sivath replied. “I am certain that you will adapt to serving aboard such a small vessel.”

“I’ve never known a Vulcan to use sarcasm,” Nim observed.

Sivath suppressed his chagrin. He had long ago mastered his demeanor, but it took conscious effort to police his thoughts so carefully. He had argued against having a Betazoid security officer on board, but the captain had dismissed his concerns. “I said what I meant, Lieutenant. To do otherwise would be illogical.” Time to change the subject. “This is main engineering. Lieutenant Commander Dayr is Heisenberg’s chief engineer. If I may offer a piece of advice, you will not ingratiate yourself to him by insulting this ship.”

Sivath paused outside the entrance to engineering. Nim did not appear chastened. Her hard eyes searched Sivath’s face. “Noted, Commander,” was all she said.

=/\=

That night, Sivath’s dreams were troubled. He was back in the study hall, drilling on the principles of IDIC. The instructors prowled the aisles like ter’aks, sniffing the air for weakness or sloth. He focused all his attention on the desk before him, fixated on it as though it could replace the world around him. He devoted his entire mind to lessons and tests and prayed that the instructors who might be probing his mind at any moment would be satisfied with what they found there and pass him over, turning their predatory gaze toward some other unfortunate wretch for one more day.

Sivath slept restlessly. He didn’t notice the soft green glow that shone from his closet. It pulsed three times: on, off, on, off, on, off. A few minutes later the pattern repeated. Then one more a few minutes after that.

Then it was gone.

=/\=

The following day, Sivath was in the captain’s ready room. Heisenberg was too small a ship for there to be dedicated conference room, but Captain Bao was a man who liked to hear his officers’ counsel, so four months prior he had replaced his desk for a meeting table that filled most of the room. After the senior staff had edged their way to their seats, the captain began his briefing.

“First things first,” said Bao, “I want to welcome Lieutenant Vera Nim to the table. If any of you haven’t already met her, Vera is joining us as our new chief of security and will handle tactical duties on the bridge. Let’s give her a warm Heisenberg welcome.”

There was a chorus of half-hearted murmurs from around the table. Sivath was somewhat heartened to know he was not alone in his reservations about this Betazoid. He willed this feeling away, however.

“Vera, any words to share?” The captain liked to encourage a casual, collegial atmosphere with the senior staff. So far it hadn’t caught on.

Nim straightened, looking somewhat uncomfortable about being put on the spot. Sivath resisted the impulse to relish this. “I’m . . . honored to come aboard. The Heisenberg has a fine reputation.” Just Heisenberg, Sivath’s treacherous mind corrected before he could stop himself. He also doubted sincerely that this ship or its crew had any reputation whatsoever. Nim continued, “I know that I have a lot to prove here. You’ve been without a chief of security for almost six months and you’ve been getting along just fine. But it can be dangerous out there in the dark, and I’m here to make sure that if danger does find us, we’re ready to deal with it.” She seemed to be building a rhythm. Emboldened, she pressed on. “I also know that some of you aren’t wild about having a Betazoid chief of security. And yes, I know this because you’ve been thinking it. You might not like that I can read your minds, but trust me when I say it’s usually a lot worse for me than it is for you. We’re all going to have to get used to it. That’s the beginning and end of what I have to say on that subject.” Nim folded her hands on the table with finality.

“Hm. Thank you, Vera.” The captain had clearly been looking for something a bit more collegial. “Speaking of danger in the dark: to business. Starfleet is sending us to the Japori Sector. We have reports over the past month of several merchant ships bound for or departing from Japori II which never reached their destinations. In all likelihood it’s pirates, but Starfleet already sent a patrol ship through the sector looking for trouble and came up dry. Their hope is that Heisenberg’s advanced sensors will find something they didn’t, whether that happens to be a hidden pirate base or some uncharted stellar hazard. The greater than normal risk of hostile encounters is the reason we have Vera here as our sword and shield. I for one feel safer already.”

Polite chuckles rippled around the table.

“So that’s that,” Bao continued. “Loh’at, please send Helm a course for the Japori Sector and prepare a patrol route that gives us good coverage of all the lost ships’ last known trajectories. Vera, you’ll have a few days to inspect Heisenberg’s armaments and do any fine-tuning you like before we see any action. If you need anything, anything to facilitate battle readiness, talk to Sivath. He knows where all the bodies are hidden here.”

“If there were any bodies hidden aboard Heisenberg,” Sivath said humorlessly, “I would certainly have disintegrated them before Lieutenant Nim came aboard.”

Everybody but Nim laughed.

Bao cleared his throat. “You’ll have to excuse the first officer, Vera,” he hedged. “The Vulcan sense of humor takes some getting used to.”

“I’ve never known a Vulcan to have a sense of humor,” Nim said curiously.

“Like I said, it takes some getting used to. Dismissed, everyone.”

Nim’s eyes bored into Sivath. He resolutely cleared his mind as he rose from his seat and squeezed out of the room with as much dignity as possible.

=/\=

After overseeing the preparations for the voyage to Japori, Sivath retired to his quarters on deck two. Although he was entitled by rank to one of the larger suites on deck one, Sivath lived a spartan existence and didn’t need the extra room, so he had voluntarily taken a downgrade. This had the not-entirely-unintentional side effect of endearing him to the crew.

Sivath had intended to try to sleep; his rest the night before had been uneasy and his duty shift didn’t start for another three hours. But when he entered his quarters, thoughts of sleep were driven away by the sight of a soft green light pulsing from the closet.

Sivath approached curiously. The pulsing stopped when he had crossed half the distance. Reaching the closet, he pushed the sliding compartment door open the rest of the way and inspected the interior. A few uniforms hung within, a spare pair of shoes sat on the floor. Sivath judged from the angle of the shadows cast that the light must have come from somewhere near the ceiling. Up on a shelf within the closet sat a pair of storage containers Sivath used to hold personal effects which he suspected he ought to get rid of. Stretching to reach, Sivath took these boxes down, one after the other, setting them on the floor outside the closet. He knelt beside them. One box had a label which read “Mementos”. The other, “Electronics”. Sivath started emptying the box of electronics first, one isolinear chip, PADD casing or phaser adapter at a time.

Halfway through the electronics, the pulsing glow returned, brighter now. But it was coming from the other container.

A cold dread settled into the pit of Sivath’s stomach. He knew now what the source would be. Pushing the unsealed lid aside, a warm green glow pushed out, pulsing on and off. There, sitting atop the contents of the box, was a small ceramic idol covered in molecule-thick gold leaf and latinum filigree. It was a bust of the Blessed Exchequer, the bookkeeper of the Ferengi afterlife. Through a kharah’s smile, needlepoint teeth glowed bright green at him. In a moment the glow faded, and the teeth were the same cheap gold color as the rest of the idol.

With deliberate care, Sivath lifted the bust from its seat in the box and held it in his hands. It had been given to him by his–Sivath stopped, reined in his thoughts before they led him astray, not knowing who might be spying. Given to him by his . . . parents. He had not seen it glow in a very, very long time.

It was a struggle to clear his mind. Sivath’s emotions were a tempest he could barely control. He needed to think, but he didn’t dare think in specifics.

So much time had passed. What had been true then was not true any longer. What was true now had been only affectation then. Thirty years ago seemed like another life.

Sivath decided that it was. He tipped the idol, turning it over in his hands. Peeling the felt away from the base, he unscrewed the small hatch concealed there. The Blessed Exchequer’s teeth started to pulse again. Turning the idol upright again, he caught the slim tube that slipped from the compartment within. The light faded from the bust, now flashing from the cylinder Sivath held in his hand. Absently, he set the idol aside on the small coffee table an arm’s length away.

The cylinder was perhaps ten centimeters long and two in diameter. Bands at each end pulsed green light. Only with considerable willpower did Sivath avoid thinking about what it was, what it meant. After a moment the final pulse had faded and the object went dark.

Sivath knew he must destroy it. A phaser blast could do it, but would trigger an alarm. The replicator could disintegrate it, but its pattern buffer would store a backup for a month in case he changed his mind. He needed to render it inert before he could risk that.

He picked through the electronics arrayed around the storage container he had been digging through, locating an old tricorder and a hyperspanner. Using the spanner, Sivath removed the cylinder’s casing and that of the tricorder. A newer model wouldn’t have worked; one quirk of the old twenty-fourth century tricks was that the battery pack was unregulated, so if you connected it to another power source and had the tricorder execute a high-intensity scan, the resulting feedback loop . . .

A soft sizzle and a thin wisp of smoke told Sivath that both the cylinder and the tricorder were fried.

Sivath disconnected the ruined devices and rose to his feet. In two steps he was standing before the replicator, holding the cylinder in his hand. He felt a sense of gravity in this moment; it was a severance, long overdue. Perhaps now, finally, he could–

The door chimed. Sivath hastily dropped the cylinder onto the replicator’s tray and hissed a command to disintegrate it. The replicator complied.

Loh’at was waiting outside his door. She slipped past him and started shucking her uniform as soon as the door closed behind her, as was her custom. In many respects she was an exceptional Klingon, but on matters of sexuality Loh’at was, at heart, a traditionalist. “Strip,” she commanded.

“Now is not an ideal–” Sivath started to say, but Loh’at shoved him toward the bedroom, advancing after him with bared teeth.

Pushing and pulling, a tangle of arms and legs, seeking mouths and nipping teeth, Sivath and Loh’at tumbled into bed. “Why is a Ferengi statue staring at me?” she asked matter-of-factly while working at his belt.

“Oh,” Sivath said, remembering that he had been interrupted before he could repack it. “It was a gift from my parents.”

Loh’at flung the belt aside. “Were your parents Ferengi?”

“Yes,” Sivath answered.

If Loh’at thought it was strange for a Vulcan to have Ferengi parents, she did not say so. In all likelihood she wasn’t really listening.

=/\=

Later, Sivath lay beside Loh’at. He thought she was dozing. He himself was thinking that it was probably time to shower and dress for his shift.

Loh’at was not dozing. “Noticed that redshirt making eyes at you in the meeting,” she said. Sivath knew her well enough to pay no attention to her confrontational tone. Loh’at liked to pick fights, though usually that came before.

“I believe you have misinterpreted her intentions,” he said.

“Why?” she teased. “Handsome, ambitious man in uniform. Rich brown eyes, sandy skin. Close enough to command to be respectable, but still free to get a little dangerous. You heard the way she was talking about danger in there. And you came up an engineer–know how to work with your hands . . .”

“It is out of the question,” Sivath asserted.

“Aww. I hope you let her down gently.” Loh’at yawned. She would often prod him to pursue sexual liaisons with other women, or speculate about their amenability, in what seemed to Sivath a deliberately affected posture of nonchalance.

“You are not troubled by the presence of a Betazoid serving as security officer aboard this ship?”

“Why would I be? Got nothing to hide.”

“It is a matter of principle,” he said. “The role of shipboard security forces, absent any external threat such as a hostile boarding party, is to police the behavior of the ship’s crew complement. To police behavior, not thought.”

“Nobody told her to police thought. She never said she intended to. You’re just being racist.” She mimicked his voice to say, “So illogical.”

“I am speaking out of concern for crew cohesion,” Sivath said defensively. “The belief that one’s thoughts are being spied upon will undoubtedly have a deleterious effect on morale.” Sivath fell silent, and Loh’at didn’t respond. He wondered if she was actually asleep now. He said, probably to himself, “People need their secrets.”

Continued in Part II

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