Star Trek: Odyssey – The Isle of the Sun Chapter 4

CHAPTER 4

Lucy tromped her way along a narrow path through an overgrown field, an irrepressible skip in her step and a giddy smile glued on her face. She had to step high and hold her voluminous skirts up with both hands to keep their fringes out of the wet grass and mud, but if plodding through a cow pasture in early twentieth-century France was what it took to get out of sickbay, then she was grateful for the opportunity.

The sky was a clear, pale blue, but the air still carried the cool, fresh smell of a recent downpour. The sun had sunk below the caps of the trees that populated the pasture in clusters, and in the East, the sky was darkening to a deep indigo.

Lucy breathed deep and sighed, casting an appreciative gaze at her surroundings. She failed to spot a puddle in the trail in front of her until she stepped in it, splashing drops of muddy water on her boots and her underskirt, and on the pant legs of the man who was picking his way carefully along the path in front of her.

The Doctor tensed the moment he felt the water land on his tailored slacks. He looked down at his legs to assess the damage, then cast a reproachful gaze on Lucy, peering down on her over the rim of his early-twentieth-century spectacles. She clutched her hands behind her back, cast her gaze downward, and offered an abashed shrug by way of apology. Then she spotted the warm glow of a campfire filtering through a copse of trees up ahead, and she thrust her arm out, pointing, and nearly clipping the Doctor’s nose in the process.

“Is that it? Is that where we’re going?”

The Doctor looked where she was pointing, and then he regarded Lucy again with an exasperated expression. “Yes, I expect it is,” he said, “But—”

Lucy took off at a trot, jostling past the Doctor and picking her steps a bit more carefully than before, torn between her excitement to reach their destination, and her desire not to soil her lovely costume. The Doctor, in his period suit, and the two security officers assigned to escort her, still wearing their Starfleet Golds, followed her lead.

She’d never been to a Roma carnival before, and she’d never played this Holodeck program, either, so she didn’t really know what to expect. The Doctor had shown her a catalog of appropriate clothing, however, and the selection had offered some pretty strong hints about the sort of program this was.

“It’s like old-world pirate meets early industrial age farmer,” she’d said, scrolling through the catalog back in the Doctor’s office, twenty minutes earlier. “Are they like… vineyard pirates, or something?”

The Doctor just rolled his eyes in his exaggerated way. “You’re a poor student of history, Ensign Kang. The Roma are a proud people with cultural traditions reaching back two millennia. They survived the black death, the inquisition, and three world wars, in spite of being routinely censured and treated as outcasts by every Earth government until Unification. Now, pick something already, so we can get this excursion started.”

The outfit Lucy settled on looked beautiful in the catalog, but she regretted her choice by the time the last article of clothing came out of the replicator. It had two skirts, both floor-length, and the inner one was made of wool, with a stiff underwire to give it even more volume. The earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and rings together weighed about a half kilo. It also included a corset she suspected was made of plasteel, a silky emerald blouse, and a two-meter-long, scarlet wool scarf.

She dressed in the sickbay ‘fresher. It wasn’t easy to make sense of the complicated undergarments and get the skirts on straight, but Lucy was a smart cookie. She figured it out. At last, she turned to the mirror.

And she stared.

Who is that? She asked herself. She stepped closer to her reflection, leaning over the ‘fresher countertop to get a better look.

She’d seen her reflection a few hours ago. Hell, she’d caught a glimpse of her reflection when she walked into the ‘fresher five minutes ago. But now…

Lucy traced the delicate contours of her face with the tips of her slender fingers. It was her, but it wasn’t. She had Lucy’s features, almost unaltered, but the slight alterations that were there somehow made all the difference. Her lips were just a bit fuller. Her cheeks were just a shade more pronounced, giving her face a little more of a heart shape.

But whereas the geometry of her features was only slightly altered, her complexion was completely transformed. Her normally olive skin was porcelain-pale. Her lips were the same striking scarlet shade as her scarf. Her eyes, normally dark brown, were emerald green, just like her blouse. And if she hadn’t known any better, she’d think she was wearing heavy layers of black eyeshadow and mascara around her eyes. It was as if she’d gone to one of the master beauticians of Betazed to have her makeup done in a way that perfectly matched her outfit.

Lucy left the ‘fresher to find the Doctor, to see what he would make of this latest transformation.

He studied her face for a moment and said, “I see your polychromatic pigments are at it again… and the interstitial tissues in your face have rearranged themselves a bit more, as well.”

Lucy pouted for a moment. “Doctor, I wouldn’t mind it so much if I had any control over it.”

The Doctor’s left eyebrow arched. “You mean to say you find these changes upsetting, ensign?”

“Well of course!” said Lucy. “I mean, it’s pretty annoying not to know what my face is doing, one moment to the next.”

“Annoying, yes,” said the Doctor, “But Ensign, tell me, are you genuinely upset? Frustrated? Angry? How are you feeling?”

Lucy paused to consider. “I’m not angry. I mean it’s not like it’s somebody’s fault. Whoever made the machine that did this to me is probably long dead, and we still don’t really know what they were trying to accomplish. Frustrated? Yeah, I’m a little frustrated. I’d like to return to duty, or at least to be released from sickbay. I’d like my life to get back to normal. I understand why that isn’t an option right now, but yeah, it’s frustrating.”

The Doctor nodded thoughtfully, then turned around and paced across sickbay. Then he turned back to Lucy and said, “Well, if you’re ready to go, you can meet me in Holodeck Two. Chief Vance and Crewman DeVries will accompany you.” He referred to the two security guards currently standing by the sickbay door. Lucy glanced at them for the first time and discovered that while she’d been in the ‘fresher, the guards had changed shift. Owen Vance and Bobby DeVries were standing at attention, but Owen’s eyes were locked on her face, his expression inscrutable. Lucy looked down at herself in her Roma apparel and wondered what he made of her appearance.

The blouse she’d picked was a bit provocative, she had to admit. It had long, flowing sleeves, and a deep neckline that drew attention to the endowments she’d never had before now, propped up to dramatic effect by the corset she wore under the shirt.

Lucy’s gaze returned to Owen’s, and he finally found the presence of mind to break off his staring.

“Is everything clear, Ensign? Crewmen?” said the Doctor.

“Yes, Doctor,” said Lucy. Owen and Bobby nodded as well.

“Right. In that case, Computer, transfer the Emergency Medical Hologram to Holodeck Two.” With that, the Doctor vanished from sickbay, leaving Lucy alone with the security officers.

She approached the door that they were guarding, and it slid open.

“Shall we, boys?”

 


 

Up ahead through the trees, the glow of campfires was becoming clearer. The sun was down, the sky was deepening in shade, and a couple stars were already glittering above the horizon in the East. The cool evening breeze was rich with the smell of smoke and roasting meat, and it carried the occasional burst of distant laughter, a playful shout, a child’s squeal of delight.

Lucy picked up her pace, anxious to see this Roma carnival with her own eyes.

The trail cut through a crop of undergrowth, and on the other side was a shallow pond, home to half a dozen little black ducks and a couple white geese. Across the pond and through another curtain of undergrowth, Lucy could see a row of wagons lined end to end. She followed the trail around the edge of the pond and up a shallow embankment.

She reached the top of the embankment and paused. Laid out in front of her, the Roma carnival more resembled a shanty town on some poverty-stricken backwater planet than it did the extravagant circus she’d been picturing in her head. There were no exotic animals, no elephants or giraffes, just haggard mules and tired-looking ponies, mongrel dogs lurking in the shadows, stray cats roaming the canvas rooftops of the tents and stalls. The people were dressed more or less like the costumes from the Doctor’s catalog, but only the really drab selections, the clothes without color or flair.

That said, the mood of the fair was not nearly as depressing as the setting would suggest. The people in Lucy’s view were chatting amiably, laughing and joking, and in the distance, she could hear a fiddle playing.

The area of the carnival was bounded by a long train of wagons and carriages parked end-to-end on one side, and a long row of canvas tents on the other. Rows of shopping booths striped the gap in between, with plenty of open space inside for more than one bonfire, and what else, Lucy couldn’t know without going inside to explore.

Lucy hiked her skirts again and started towards the closest row of stalls.

“Ensign, wait!”

She hesitated. The Doctor and her escorts had almost slipped her mind completely. Lucy turned around and waved them forward. They weren’t more than five or six meters behind, so she wasn’t sure what the hold up was about.

“Come on, Doctor!” she said, “Isn’t this what we’re here for?”

“Before we head in, Ensign, we need to lay down some ground rules.”

“Ok, but let’s make it quick,” said Lucy. “It’s getting dark, and I doubt the stalls will stay open much longer.”

“We aren’t here to shop, Ensign,” said the Doctor.

“We’re not? To be honest, Doctor, I’m still a little fuzzy on what it is we’re doing here.”

“I told you, it’s part of a behavioral assessment.”

“Right, but what does that mean, really? Isn’t shopping a behavior?”

The Doctor pinched his lips tight for a moment and stared hard at her before saying, “How are you going to buy anything? You didn’t bring any money.”

Lucy rolled her eyes. “Oh, right,” she said. “I always forget about money. Such a bizarre concept.”

“Not in this time period, it wasn’t,” said the Doctor. “Remember, these people don’t have replicators. They have to toil and scrounge to make their way in the world, and in their culture, money is the only reliable way to convert their hard work into the things they need to survive.”

“I understand all that,” said Lucy. “It’s not like I slept through my ‘Economics of Scarcity’ course as a child, you know.”

Then she looked up into the air and called, “Computer!”

“Uh!” the Doctor interjected, “Belay that, Computer. Ensign, that’s cheating.”

Lucy pouted for a moment. “Well, I imagine you brought some money,” she said.

“I brought enough to pay for dinner,” said the Doctor. “As I said, we’re not here to shop.”

Lucy sighed in frustration. “What am I supposed to be doing, then?”

“Why, what every good Starfleet officer does in a strange new environment. Explore! Get to know the locals. Learn about their lives, their hardships, their joys. But! You cannot leave my sight. That means no more running off, understood?”

“Yes, Doctor,” said Lucy. “Can we go in, now?”

The Doctor thought for a moment and said, “You must also follow all of my orders, just as you would a senior officer. Understood?”

At that, Lucy balked a bit. Yes, he was the Chief Medical Officer, but really, he wasn’t actually an officer. There were no pips on his collar, holographic or otherwise. Medical orders were one thing, but command-wise? Lucy cast an uncertain glance at Owen and Bobby.

“Aren’t I the ranking officer here, though?” she said.

A pained look crossed the Doctor’s face for just a split second, and then his expression hardened. “Not while you’re on medical leave, you’re not, Ensign. You’re my patient, and I’m acting with the captain’s authority. And frankly, I’m hurt that I have to keep on reminding the crew that I am not a mere holodeck character to be disregarded and dismissed! I am the Chief Medical Officer on this ship! I honestly expected more from you, Ensign.”

Well, she hadn’t meant it like that… had she? Lucy snapped to attention. “Yes sir, Doctor. Sorry.”

The Doctor regarded her for a moment more, then acknowledged her apology with a nod. “Well then, let’s see what this carnival has to offer, shall we?” With that, he turned and headed towards the shanty fair.

Lucy cast one more glance at Owen and Bobby, embarrassed at being dressed down by the EMH in front of the noncoms. She didn’t dwell on it, though. There was too much to see and do, and who knew when they’d let her out of sickbay again after this?

She followed the Doctor into the fair, only to be waylaid at the first stall she passed.

“Hey there, pretty young miss!” The vendor called out. She was an old woman, her hair snow white and graced with a fine black hat of a peculiar design. “You have such lovely jewelry! But I notice you’ve got no hat or bonnet. Now, I have some lovely, high-quality choices that will match your outfit beautifully. Come, take a look.”

Lucy’s hand went to her head, feeling suddenly insecure. Was this an era in Earth’s history when women were meant to keep their heads covered? Was it a matter of propriety, or of fashion? Either way, Lucy wondered whether she shouldn’t try and fit in.

At her hesitation, the old woman waved her over with a reassuring nod. “Come, come, you’ll like what I have to offer, I promise. And you won’t find a better deal in the whole market, either. Come and see.”

Lucy approached the stall and looked over the assortment of hats, scarves, and bonnets. Whoever had designed this program had clearly paid close attention to detail on the props. Lucy picked up a black hat with a wide, round brim and a swath of green cloth tied around the spade-shaped cap, felt the velvet fabric with her hands, studied the stitching at the seams. The stitchwork was very precise, but not machine-perfect; little irregularities throughout the material told a story of some old world craftsperson lovingly hand sewing the fabric, relying on years or decades of devotion to the art of millinery to get the form just right.

Lucy wondered if she had an impressive computer algorithm to thank for the stitchwork, or if it was the product of a high-fidelity scan of a hat that really existed at some point, back on Earth.

“Yes!” the old lady cried out, “That’s the perfect choice! See how the green matches your blouse and your eyes? It’s as if this hat were made just for you, to go with your lovely outfit. Don’t you think?”

Lucy held the hat to her sleeve and shrugged. “It’s a couple shades lighter, isn’t it?”

“Oh, posh! Try it on, go ahead. Let me find my mirror.”

Suddenly self-conscious, Lucy glanced around and found the Doctor standing a few paces ahead of her, regarding her either with cool anger or clinical dispassion; she couldn’t be sure which. But he didn’t say anything when their eyes met, so she supposed he wasn’t about to drag her off, at least.

To her left, Owen and Bobby stood at parade rest, looking positively bored. Lucy donned the hat over her silky hair, struck a coquettish pose, and asked Owen, “Well, what do you think?”

Owen actually smiled, and seemingly was about to respond before he remembered himself. He cleared his throat and turned his head to the side.

Lucy rolled her eyes and returned her attention to the saleswoman, who was studying Owen as if she’d only now noticed he was there.

“Oh, is that handsome young man your suitor? Such a curious uniform. Is he in the navy?”

“Basically,” said Lucy.

“Ah, I see,” she nodded, then called to Owen, “Young man, now don’t be shy. She’s quite lovely in that hat, isn’t she?”

Lucy leaned forward and addressed the old woman sotto voce. “Don’t bother, trust me. He’s on duty right now, which means he’s no fun at all.”

“Well, that’s too bad. But I’ll tell you what. If you like that hat, it’s yours. Just six Francs.”

It took Lucy a moment to process that last statement. “Six what? Is that money?”

“It’s well worth it, dear. Really, I couldn’t go any lower on that one. Did you notice the stitching?”

Lucy nodded. “Yes, I did. But…” She cast a glance at the Doctor for a moment, knowing she wouldn’t get any help there. “I haven’t got any money on me, I’m afraid.”

“Oh no? Father keeps a tight fist on the purse strings, does he?”

Lucy rolled her eyes. “Something like that. Sorry to waste your time, ma’am.”

She set the hat back on the stall and turned to go, but the woman snatched her wrist before she even made one step.

“Hold on, now,” said the woman, “I think there might be room for us to make a deal.”

Lucy paused and turned back to the saleswoman. “Oh?”

“Oh, yes, yes! Tell me… what do you know about that bracelet you’re wearing?”

Lucy glanced the three bracelets that encircled her left wrist. One was a string of imitation pearls that threaded over her hand and wrist, one was a thin gold chain with a little charm, and the largest one was a simple gold band that closed around the back of her wrist. Lucy took it off and weighed it in her hand, considering.

“I know, based on the weight, that the metal is mostly gold. ” She held it to her ear and rapped against it with the ring on her right hand. “I know from the resonance that it isn’t pressed latinum, though. But, if I recall my history, latinum wasn’t known on Earth until the mid-twenty-second century, whereas gold was quite valuable.” She smiled at the shopkeeper. “In fact, I’d wager it’s worth quite a bit more than six, um…” What was the name of the money again? Lucy had hardly caught the word a moment ago. “You know. Coins.”

The old woman’s eyes shone. “Aye, you’re shrewd, I can see that. Your parents ought to be proud. I’ll tell you what. I’ll throw in a lovely veil to match your hat. And a fine pair of gloves, as well. That seems a fair trade to me, don’t you think?”

Lucy shook her head. “How about, in exchange for the bracelet, you give me the hat, and… say… ten Francs?”

The woman scoffed in disbelief, the avarice in her expression suddenly muted. “Sorry, dear, that’s positively ludicrous.”

Lucy just looked at her for a moment, at a loss. She really had quite a poor sense of what gold was worth to these people, or what a Franc was worth.

Finally, though, the old woman countered, “Four Francs.”

“Eight,” said Lucy, remembering the Ferengi ritual of ‘haggling’ from her cultural studies course at the Academy.

“Five,” said the woman.

“Seven,” said Lucy.

The woman pursed her lips and stared hard into Lucy’s eyes for a moment, then conceded, “Oh, alright. Six Francs, and I hope you realize you’ve left me with almost nothing to show for the deal.”

Lucy beamed. She took the six little silver coins that the woman offered her, put the hat on her head, and did a twirl on the spot. The old woman’s sour expression vanished in the face of Lucy’s unbridled delight. “Oh, get on with you, then. Go bargain some other poor shopkeeper out of house and home, why don’t you?”

With that, Lucy set off towards the fair again, a fresh skip in her step.

“What did I tell you?” the Doctor said when she reached him.

“That I couldn’t ask for money from the computer?” said Lucy.

“That we aren’t here to shop,” he said.

Lucy shrugged. “She reached out to me. Whether I talked to her or not, that’s a behavior. Weren’t you observing my behavior?”

“I was,” said the Doctor, “and I am. And so far, I’ve noticed you have a considerable penchant for wasting time on pointless pursuits.”

“Pointless?” Lucy repeated. “Doctor, I have money now. I don’t know what this program has in store, but it might come in handy. And besides, have you seen this hat?”

“It’s not like you can take it with you,” said the Doctor, “It’s just photons, remember?”

“Sure I can,” said Lucy. Then she called out, “Computer!”

“Ensign, what are you—”

But Lucy talked over him, “Save a copy of this hat to my personal directory, and convert it to a replicator pattern.”

A familiar electronic chime sounded from somewhere a couple meters away, and the impersonal voice of the computer said, “Acknowledged.”

The Doctor was not amused. “Ensign, you aren’t taking this exercise seriously.”

“Yes, I am!” said Lucy. “You told me to be myself. I’m doing that. You told me to interact with the locals, and you took me to a market, Doctor! How else do you expect me to interact with people in a market?”

The Doctor let out a huff of air. “Believe it or not, Ensign, there is more to this program than the merchant stalls. Now, if you’ll cease with these delays, you’ll soon see for yourself.”

“Fine, Doctor,” said Lucy. “I’ll behave.”

The Doctor nodded. “Good. And no more talking to the Computer. It robs the exercise of verisimilitude. You can always revisit the program on your own time if you find any other hats you fancy. Understood?”

“Yes, Doctor,” Lucy intoned.

He cast one more appraising glance over her, then turned and stalked further into the fairgrounds. Lucy picked up her skirts and trotted after him.

The crowd became more dense and difficult to navigate the further into the fairgrounds they ventured, forcing Lucy to dodge and weave around playing children and men too engrossed in conversation to notice her trying to get past them.

“Pardon me! Excuse me,” she kept saying, doing her utmost not to inconvenience the holograms with her passage. The Doctor was a bit more brusque, less averse to brushing shoulders or cutting people off, making Lucy work all the harder to keep up.

The security officers, meanwhile, carried on at a leisurely pace a few meters back, pushing the holograms out of their way without a second thought and ignoring the protests that followed in their wake.

Things opened up once they were past the market stalls. They entered a wide, vaguely circular clearing with a raging bonfire at the center and food stalls around the perimeter. The fairgoers were mostly clustered in small groups, particularly concentrated near the more popular food stalls and around the fire. Lucy found it shocking that the fire pit wasn’t cordoned off in any fashion. A few small children were chasing each other in a loop around the perimeter of the roaring flames, and no adults seemed to be paying them any mind whatsoever.

Lucy kept an eye on the children as she followed the Doctor in a wide circuit around the bonfire, considering what she would do if one of the children slipped and went into the flames. If she went in after them, the Holodeck safety protocols would spare her from serious injuries, although the Doctor had warned her in advance that the protocols had been dialed back to permit some ‘light scrapes and bruises,’ as he’d put it.

She kinda doubted that was true. She doubted the Doctor’s programming would permit him to allow her to come to even slight physical harm. But it was probably important for the test she was taking that she believed there were risks, so she did her best to play along.

So, for the sake of the experiment, she would weigh her actions on the assumption that she would suffer minor burns if she were forced to dive through the bonfire to save a holographic child. Of course, by the time she reached the little one, the child would likely be dead.

Not that the children were really alive in the first place. So they couldn’t really “die” per se, and nor could they feel real pain.

The tallest was a little boy, maybe seven years old, with a soot-smeared cheek and a determined glint in his eye as he charged full-tilt at the second-tallest, a girl perhaps six years old, whose curly brown hair matched his so closely that they were almost certainly siblings. She was screaming and protesting, but occasionally her voice would break with a giggle, and when her older brother briefly stumbled, she actually slowed and looked back until he was almost caught up with her again.

The smallest was a little girl maybe four years old, struggling to catch up with her older siblings, her tiny, bare feet caked in dirt. Her dirty face was streaked with tear tracks, although she didn’t currently seem to be crying.

The thought of that little girl stumbling and falling into the flames, her simulated agony, her simulated skin blistering and searing…

“Hey!” Lucy called out. She broke off of following the Doctor and made her way towards the fire pit. “Hey!” she shouted again, struggling to be heard over the crowd. When she came close enough to the bonfire that the heat of the flames kept sensible adults from approaching any closer, she looked around again for any parents or guardians who might be watching after the children. She saw only gaggles of people standing in little clusters around the fire, carrying on conversations that she had been only slightly successful at interrupting.

“Whose kids are these?” she shouted. “Does anyone know whose kids these are?”

No one paid her much mind. She saw the Doctor watching from the periphery of the crowd, and she wondered briefly if this was part of the test, or if she was getting sidetracked again. She wasn’t particularly concerned either way.

A few onlookers watched with mild curiosity as she crouched low and waited for the children to come around the pit towards her.

As she watched, the smallest girl approached first, with her older siblings coming up quickly behind her, preparing to lap her.

Lucy was careful not to stand in the girl’s direct path, not wanting to risk the girl running into her and falling over, or veering closer to the fire to get around her. She waited until the little girl came within arm’s reach and, with all possible delicacy, she snatched the child up into her arms.

As Lucy stood up, the little girl looked around in confusion for a moment before turning her gaze on Lucy. Lucy watched the child’s soot-caked, cherubic features as they cycled through confusion, non-recognition, and finally, fear.

“Listen, it’s ok,” said Lucy, hoping to put her fear at ease, “You shouldn’t—”

But then the little girl was screaming and babbling in what Lucy thought she recognized as French. She hadn’t come to the Holodeck equipped with a universal translator, and this program was apparently not inclined to do the translating for her.

“Shh! Shh! It’s ok!” said Lucy, but the little girl started kicking and struggling against her grip. Lucy stepped away from the fire, hoping to reach a safe distance before letting the girl go. Her two older siblings had stopped playing chase. They stood at a safe distance and watched as Lucy grappled with their little sister.

Sacre bleu!” Someone cried out from the other side of the fire pit, and then a woman pushed her way through the crowd near the opposite side of the pit. “Release her!” she cried out, her voice shrill, her words heavily inflected by her French accent.

Lucy’s grip went loose, and the little girl squirmed out of her arms and set off running directly towards her mother, skirting dangerously close to the edge of the pit.

Lucy watched in horror as her foot landed on the very rim of the pit, and the dirt gave out under her. The girl stumbled and her lower body fell down the embankment, where the intensity of the heat would be strong enough to slow-roast a side of beef. She stretched her arms out over the ground and clung to the dirt with all her might, and she screamed. The shrill woman who must have been the girl’s mother screamed even louder, and a gasp went up from the crowd around the fire pit.

Lucy acted on instinct, without caution or consideration for the Holodeck safety protocols, or the lack thereof. She ran towards the little girl, to where the very real heat of the holographic fire was overpowering.

Still going full bore, Lucy dove to her knees and grabbed the child around the waist. Lucy’s left leg went over the edge of the pit, forcing Lucy to plant her foot directly in the red-hot coals to stop herself plunging directly into the fire.

Holding the girl firmly with both arms, Lucy leapt up, out of the fire pit.

The girl’s mother ran up immediately and snatched the child out of Lucy’s arms, and then she turned on Lucy, her expression filled with rage as she hurled a constant stream of French-language invectives at her.

A couple bystanders interceded, guiding the distressed mother and her now-wailing, inconsolable daughter away from Lucy, speaking French to the mother and daughter in soft, soothing tones.

Lucy watched them being led away. The little girl was bawling, her bare feet and lower legs bright red with burns Lucy could only hope were minor. The mother was casting hateful, accusatory glances at Lucy at every opportunity. Lucy felt her eyes brimming with tears, and she fought to rein them in.

Someone grabbed Lucy’s arm and steered her away from the crowd. She was momentarily relieved to see it was the Doctor and not some stranger, but then she worried she was in for another lecture. So far, the test didn’t seem to be going well.

The Doctor led her away from the fire and over to one of the food stalls at the edge of the clearing. There were tables clustered in front of the stall, and there were a few oil lamps to illuminate the quickly-fading twilight, but there were no customers around; just a hapless vendor manning the counter in the mouth of the tent. The skewered meat he had on display on the countertop was gathering flies.

The Doctor sat Lucy down at one of the tables, and he took an adjacent chair himself.

“Listen, Doctor…” she began, not sure yet how she would defend her actions.

“Let me see your foot,” said the Doctor.

“My foot?” Lucy echoed. She looked down at her left leg and saw there were holes burned right through her lovely black slipper. “Oh, I rather liked these shoes,” she lamented.

The Doctor regarded her with equal parts strained patience and incredulity as he took a gentle but firm hold on her shin and lifted her foot up for his inspection. He peeled away the burnt remains of her shoe and examined her foot with a critical eye.

On the left side of her foot, where the holes had burned through the shoe, her skin was bright red, with some very realistic looking blisters.

The Doctor actually looked upset by the apparent burns. “I’m sorry, Ensign,” he said in a low voice.

“What for?” said Lucy.

He gestured at her foot. “I shouldn’t have altered the safety parameters,” he said.

A little smile crossed Lucy’s lips. “It’s not real,” she told him, sotto voce.

The Doctor’s eyebrow arched. “Do you not feel anything from this injury, Ensign?” he said.

Lucy shook her head. “Not a thing,” she said. “It’s holographic.”

The Doctor took a deep breath and let it out in a sad sigh. “I’m afraid it’s not,” he said. “Believe me, I know the difference.”

Lucy’s eyebrows shot up. “What? But… I mean…”

“It appears your pain receptors are still not operating normally,” said the Doctor. “I would surmise that, above a certain threshold level, they shut off completely.”

Lucy shook her head. “But even with the safety protocols dialed down, they still should have…”

The Doctor shook his head and picked up her ruined shoe. “The fire was only hot enough to create superficial inflammation,” he said, “and the heat should have dissipated instantaneously, the moment the computer detected stress in your epithelial cells. Unfortunately, it seems the heat was still enough to melt the fabric of your shoe.” He held the shoe up for her to examine. “It’s not holographic, remember?”

Lucy nodded, understanding clearly. The melted material of the shoe would have stuck to the skin of her foot and retained heat even after the fire’s heat had vanished. What’s more, its high specific heat capacity meant it would convey that heat into her foot much more efficiently than the fire alone would have done.

“It’s not the fire that burned you. It was your shoe,” said the Doctor. “Appropriately rigorous safety protocols would have caught it.”

Lucy waved her hand to dismiss the Doctor’s train of thought. “It was my own fault for jumping into the fire,” she said. “You did warn me.”

The Doctor shook his head, not accepting her consolation. “Computer,” he called, “Add one standard-issue sickbay hypospray to the currently running program, and place it in my hand.” He held out his hand, and a holographic hypospray appeared in it. “Now, replicate two milligrams of Hyronalin solution, standard medical concentration for a healthy Human adult, and store the solution in this hypospray.”

Lucy wasn’t aware that the Holodeck’s replicators could create actual medicine. Mostly, they were used to make food and drink, as well as some basic things like loose dirt and airborne particulates; things that photons and force fields had a hard time simulating, but which were cheap and easy to replicate.

Still, she supposed, if a Holodeck could replicate a convincing and nutritionally complete meal, there was no reason it couldn’t replicate certain medicines. She had to hand it to the Doctor for mastering the finer points of Holodeck operations. But if anyone would have that expertise, Lucy supposed it made sense for a holographic doctor.

The Doctor applied the hypospray to Lucy’s burned foot. It was already looking better before he even administered the medicine, but immediately afterward, the skin of her foot lost all redness, and the blisters shrank away as if by magic.

“There,” said Lucy, and she smiled brightly for the Doctor’s benefit, “All better.”

He didn’t look particularly happy, but he offered a grudging nod of acknowledgment. “Computer,” said the Doctor, “Restore safety protocols to default parameters, authorization—”

“Belay that,” Lucy called out. “Doctor, I hope you aren’t failing me already.”

The Doctor rolled his eyes. “It’s not a pass-fail evaluation, Ensign. The assessment will continue. I’m merely correcting an oversight that my carelessness allowed in the first place.”

Lucy shook her head. “I don’t agree, Doctor. I’ll admit, I wasn’t fully convinced that you had the… boldness to actually alter the safety parameters. I was halfway convinced it was a bluff. But I have to say, I’m impressed. Now that I know… I’m going to have to take it much more seriously.”

The Doctor pressed his lips in a thin line and stared at her for a moment. “I had hoped that you would have taken this seriously all along,” he said.

“How can I?” Lucy shrugged. “If I know I can do whatever I want without any harm, it’s bound to affect my judgment, whether I want it to or not.”

The Doctor looked away for a moment and nodded to himself. “Alright, Ensign Kang. If you’ll promise to look after yourself from here on, I’ll leave the parameters as they are.”

Lucy smiled again. “Great. Before we get back to it, though, can I get a new shoe?”

The Doctor’s eyes narrowed. “I’m afraid not, Ensign. Consequences.”

Lucy rolled her eyes, and she grabbed the burnt shoe off of the table where the Doctor had left it. “Fine,” she said, stressing the “F” to convey her displeasure. She pulled the tattered remains of the shoe back over her left foot and rose to her feet. Then, Lucy looked out at the bonfire and scanned the crowd, wondering where the little girl and her angry mother had gone. She spotted them by a covered wagon along the far boundary of the fairgrounds. The little girl was sitting on the ground, bawling, and the mother was facing the other direction, towering over the two older children and scolding them.

“Doctor, is there anything you can do for that little girl?”

The Doctor’s eyebrow arched as he considered the suggestion. “You took a course in field medicine in the Academy, didn’t you?”

Lucy nodded her understanding. She didn’t remember many details from that course, other than how to operate the various tools from a standard Starfleet field medic’s kit. Still, she’d spent half her life studying biochemistry. She was confident she could come up with something. So, she scanned the fairgrounds with her eyes, looking for resources she might be able to put to use.

She formed a plan of action reasonably quickly, and without another word, she set off to carry it out.

First, Lucy paid a visit to the “Oriental” tent, where she negotiated with a purveyor of “exotic” spices for a few grams of turmeric. She handed one of her six coins to the shopkeeper and gave the bottle of turmeric to the Doctor to carry, then she cut across the field to a less-reputable-looking stall with a sign that just said “SPIRITS,” where she ordered a “shot” (about thirty milliliters, she judged) of high-proof whiskey. She paid the barkeep a Franc and got a few smaller coins in exchange.

Lucy handed the small glass of liquor to the Doctor. “Who was it that said shopping was a ‘pointless pursuit,’ again?” she asked the Doctor.

The Doctor just harrumphed, and they moved on.

Next, Lucy stopped by a scraggly little willow tree she spotted growing in the middle of the fairground. She tore away a few thin strips of bark and moved on. Then she delved back into the merchant stalls near the entrance, where she found a merchant at a textile stall packing up his wares. At first, he refused to barter with her, simply insisting, “Shop’s closed. Come back in the morning.” But a little harmless flirting and a jingle of her coin purse changed his tune, and she was able to buy a couple rolls of clean cotton fabric for a Franc.

And so, with her hands and the Doctor’s both full of improvised medical equipment, they made their way back across the fairground, to where the mother was still looking after her wayward brood. Lucy hoped she could convince the mother to put her anger aside and accept some help.

When the woman spotted Lucy coming, she was holding the injured child against her shoulder, rocking her side-to-side. Her other two children stood in the shadow of the covered wagon that Lucy suspected must have belonged to their family. They looked very sullen. Doubtless, their mother had given them a very stern lecture about playing near the fire.

The woman cringed visibly when she recognized Lucy. Lucy did her best to convey her positive intentions in her bearing and her expression.

“Hello,” said Lucy. “I’m Lucy. I wanted to apologize.”

The woman looked away and down for a moment before meeting Lucy’s eyes again. “I am the one who is sorry,” she said. “I wasn’t aware of the situation.”

Lucy nodded. “It’s ok. I’d like to do what I can for your daughter, if it’s alright with you.”

The woman’s expression took on a shade of suspicion. “Are you a nurse?”

Lucy cast a sidelong glance at the Doctor before replying, “Not exactly, but I work with a doctor, and I do have some training.”

The woman pinched her lips, considering, before nodding. She shifted the weight of her little girl against her left hip, freed up her right hand, and extended it to Lucy. “I’m Collette,” she said. “This is Ginger.”

Lucy shook her hand and gave a bright smile, which Collette returned rather weakly. “It’s good to meet you, Collette. Ginger.”

Collette carried the girl over to the wagon, where a soft quilt had been laid out on the tailgate. She eased the girl down onto the quilt. The girl looked like she’d cried herself halfway to sleep, but now she sat on the quilt and rubbed her bleary eyes with the back of her hand.

“Doctor, could you go to that tea stall over there and see if you can trouble them for some boiled water?” said Lucy. She handed the Doctor a Franc. He met her eye and nodded, then turned and walked away.

“He’s a doctor?” said Collette.

Lucy stared back at her for a split second, considering how to respond. “That’s his name.”

Collette looked only slightly less confused as she replied, “Ah.”

Lucy turned and approached the little girl, careful to maintain a friendly bearing.

The little girl looked up at her, and her eyes went wide when recognition dawned.

“Hello Ginger,” said Lucy, and she gestured to herself with one hand. “I’m Lucy.”

The little girl’s eyes darted between Lucy and her mother. She exchanged a few quick words with her mother in French, but Lucy found she was able to follow their conversation surprisingly well.

“I’m scared,” Ginger said.

“It’s ok, baby,” said Collette. “Lucy is a nurse.”

“Really?” said Ginger. She wiped her eye again and looked Lucy up and down critically. “Will I get a candy?”

Lucy smiled. She tried to come up with the French words for what she wanted to say, and she found the words rather easily. “After I finish your treatment,” said Lucy, “If it’s ok with your mother.”

Ginger smiled back, and Lucy set to work. First, she rolled up a small strip of the willow bark into a ball and told Ginger to chew on it. “It’s not sweet like candy, but it will help make the pain go away,” she said.

Ginger studied the bark for just a second before popping it in her mouth. She immediately made a grimace and puckered her lips like she was about to spit it out again.

“Uh!” said Lucy, stopping her with a raised finger, “Don’t spit it out! You have to chew on it like bubble gum, or it won’t work.”

Ginger didn’t look happy, but she nodded mutely and began chewing.

“Good,” said Lucy. “Willow bark contains a natural medicine,” she told the girl, “called acetylsalicylic acid. Isn’t that a funny name?”

Ginger nodded, but without humor.

“Hard to say, too,” said Lucy, “So we just call it Aspirin.”

The Doctor returned with a bowl of hot, clean water.

Merci, Doctor,” said Lucy. She was still thinking in French and didn’t see the need to switch back for the sake of the Doctor, who was programmed in thousands of languages.

The Doctor acknowledged her gratitude with a nod.

“Ginger, this might sting some, but I have to wash your legs off to protect you from germs.” Lucy tore off a square of fabric from one of her linens, dipped it in the bowl of water, and went to work.

She kept talking to Ginger as she worked, distracting her from the pain. “Do you know what germs are?” she asked.

Ginger shook her head. Lucy reminded herself that Ginger was from a time before Federation educational standards, and she pondered on how best to explain the concept to a pre-information age five-year-old.

“Germs are teeny-tiny creatures, smaller than you can see, and they go around and make people sick. They’re what gives people colds, and chicken pox, and—”

Ginger was suddenly smiling, almost laughing.

“What?” said Lucy, confused but delighted to see the girl smile.

“What’s chicken pox?”

Lucy wondered if she’d remembered the wrong farm bird for which this long-extinct disease was named, and then she realized she’d mistranslated the term. In French, it wasn’t named for a farm animal at all.

Varicelle,” Lucy corrected herself. “Chicken pox is just what they called it where I’m from.”

Ginger laughed lightly. “That’s a much funnier name.”

“It is, isn’t it?” said Lucy. She sat back and looked at Ginger’s delicately washed little feet and legs. “All clean!” She was pleased to see that the callouses on the bottoms of her perpetually bare feet had protected them from what otherwise would have been the most serious burns, and that there were only a few small blisters on her legs. They looked to be the marks left by small sparks and embers that landed on her in the fire pit. Other than that, her legs had never actually touched the flames. There was still a lot of inflammation and redness from the heat, though.

“That doesn’t look so bad,” she said. “You’ll be better in no time.”

Next, Lucy tore off another square of linen and dipped it in her glass of whiskey, hoping that the Holodeck would treat the replicated synthehol like ethanol for the sake of the simulation. “Do you know what this is?” she asked.

Ginger nodded. “Uh huh, that’s whiskey.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” she said, confused and worried for the girl. What five-year-old kid knew about whiskey but not germs? “Whiskey contains alcohol,” she said.

Ginger smiled smugly. “I know.”

“You know,” Lucy echoed. “Of course you do. You’re so smart!”

Ginger crossed her arms over her chest in challenge. “Mommy says whiskey is the devil’s drink.”

“Well…” said Lucy, “That’s because it makes you sick if you drink it. But if you just dab it on your boo-boos like this…” She dabbed one of Ginger’s blisters with the alcohol, and the girl went tense at the sudden sting. “…then it can keep you from getting sick.”

“It hurts!” said Ginger.

Lucy nodded. “I know, sweetheart. I’m sorry. You know medicine stings sometimes, doesn’t it?”

Fresh tears were rolling down Ginger’s cheeks, but she nodded solemnly. Lucy proceeded to dab some of the whiskey on each of Ginger’s blisters. “You’re doing good, sweety… almost done… one more… there. That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

Ginger sniffled and started shaking her head, then changed her mind and nodded instead.

Lucy couldn’t help but laugh a little. She stifled it under a sympathetic moan. “Oh, I’m sorry, dear. But the worst is over now, ok? You’ll start feeling better soon. I promise.”

At that, Lucy took one of the rolled up linen strips and dipped it quickly in the water, getting the fabric moist but not saturated. Then she unrolled the fabric on the tailgate of the wagon and stretched it flat.

“Now, I’m going to make you some special bandages,” said Lucy. She took her small jar of turmeric and held it up for the girl. “This is called turmeric. Do you know what that is?”

Ginger shook her head.

“It’s a spice. Like…” Lucy cast about for a spice that might have been common in this geographical area in this time period. “Like ginger! Like your name. People put this in their food to make it taste good.”

“Like candy?” said Ginger.

Lucy shook her head. “No, not like candy, like… vegetables and meat.”

Ginger made a face.

“You don’t like vegetables and meat?”

“Veggies. Yuck!”

Lucy knit her brow in consternation. What healthy child didn’t like any vegetables? What did they even feed children in this era?

“You can’t hate all vegetables,” said Lucy.

She began taking pinches of turmeric and sprinkling it on the moistened linen.

“Can so,” said Ginger.

“What about carrots?”

Ginger shook her head.

“Squashes?”

The girl stuck out her tongue.

“I used to love rutabaga as a girl. You must like rutabaga.”

“Ew, no! What’s a rupabaga?”

When she was done sprinkling the turmeric, Lucy folded the bandage lengthwise over itself and started rubbing the fabric, working the turmeric into the moistened fibers, careful not to touch the inner surface of the fabric with her bare hands.

“It’s… like a cross between a potato and a radish,” said Lucy.

“Yuck!”

“You’ve never even tried it!”

Next, Lucy tore the bandage lengthwise, dividing into two. She started at the end of the little girl’s left foot and began wrapping up along the length of her leg.

“Anyway,” said Lucy, “Turmeric is not only a spice. It’s also a medicine that’s been known to the people way on the far side of the continent for hundreds of years.”

“What’s a compinent?”

“It’s… the land. The land that reaches from the ocean in the West, thousands of kilometers, to the ocean in the East. People who live over there have very different lives than people here have, even though people are basically the same everywhere.”

“What do they look like?”

“Like… lots of different ways. Some look like me. My ancestors are from there.”

“Really?”

“Uh huh.”

“Is that how come you have tum-um… tumminic?”

Lucy laughed. “No. I got this at that stall over there,” she said, waving in the general direction of the “Oriental” stall.

Ginger was quiet for a moment as Lucy finished wrapping one leg and started on the other. Then she whispered, “Is it magic?”

“What, turmeric?”

Ginger nodded.

Lucy shook her head. “Nope. Science. Turmeric has a chemical called ‘curcumin’ that has anti-inflammatory properties.”

Ginger just stared at her.

“That means it can make your legs feel better,” said Lucy. “But it’s because nature is amazing, not because of magic.”

‘Oh. Ok,” said Ginger. That answer had apparently satisfied her curiosity on the subject.

“There you go!” said Lucy, “All done!”

Ginger examined her little legs, splayed out before her, all wrapped up in white bandages.

“What do we say, darling?” Collette asked her daughter.

Ginger thought for a moment, then brightened when she realized she knew the answer. “Je vous remercie!” she said, and then, in an attempt at English, “Sankoo!”

Lucy smiled wide and replied in English, “You’re welcome, Ginger.”

Then Ginger cast a glance at her mother before hesitantly addressing Lucy again. “Candy?”

Lucy looked to Collette for permission.

“Oh, that’s fine,” she said, “You’ve already done more than enough for us.”

Lucy shook her head. “Nonsense. I’d like to do whatever I can for her.”

Then she said to Ginger in French, “Now keep chewing that willow bark until I get back, ok? Then you can spit it out.”

Ginger looked a little worried. She confessed, “I swallowed it.”

“Oh!” Lucy laughed. “That’s ok! It won’t hurt you. I’ll be right back.”

Lucy turned around and walked back into the crowds of the festival, hunting for some sort of confectionery stall.

“I didn’t know you spoke French, Ensign,” said the Doctor.

Lucy stopped in her tracks and looked at the Doctor for a moment. “Neither did I,” she said. “I guess I just sort of… picked it up.”

The Doctor’s eyebrows shot up. “What, just now? Out of the blue?”

Lucy nodded. Looking back, it had been very strange.

The Doctor nodded thoughtfully to himself. “The implant in your brain must act like a universal translator.”

“Well, that’s kind of nifty,” said Lucy.

“Doesn’t it bother you, though, Ensign? This means the implant is interfacing directly with your consciousness and supplementing your cognition without your awareness.”

Lucy shrugged. “So far, it seems harmless.”

The Doctor did not appear comforted. “So far,” he emphasized.

They found a stall selling brickle, and Lucy bought a small piece for Ginger. The girl was supremely pleased when she returned with it.

“Now, you’ll need to change her bandages in an hour or so,” she told Collette. “You don’t want to leave moist fabric on her skin for too long, and the grains of turmeric might start acting like an irritant as the fabric dries out. You can use the rest of that roll of linen I was using, or any clean fabric. Do you have any soap or antiseptic?”

“I have soap, yes,” said Collette.

“Ok,” said Lucy, “You’ll want to wash her legs with clean, soapy water, rinse thoroughly, and dry thoroughly when you change her bandages. Other than that, have her keep her legs elevated tonight, and don’t let her walk around in the morning if you notice her feet swelling. If she develops a fever, take her to a doctor right away.” Lucy glanced over at little Ginger, still sitting on the tailgate with her bandaged legs spread out in front of her, chewing happily on the brickle. “Otherwise, I’m confident she’ll be just fine.”

As Lucy and the Doctor walked away, she wondered privately if the girl would really be just fine. Her family seemed poor even by local standards, her mother seemed ill-equipped to handle the three children, and there was no sign of a second parent or any support from extended family.

Lucy supposed it would be a moot point when the program ended, and Ginger and her family effectively ceased to exist. Lucy had to remind herself that the girl had emerged fully formed from the void less than an hour ago, and her existence was defined by a block of code too simple, shallow, and straightforward to resemble true consciousness, no matter how convincing the illusion was.

Still, it gave Lucy a sort of empty feeling to think about the impending end of the girl’s existence, and so she stopped.

Lucy turned to the Doctor. “So, was that it? The whole test? Or is there more?”

The Doctor cocked an eyebrow. “Technically, the evaluation hasn’t even gotten fully underway, yet.”

“What?” Lucy exclaimed, “You mean all that was just a waste of time?”

The Doctor shrugged. “I wouldn’t say so. I found it very interesting to watch. Very informative. You seized on a background detail in the program that I doubt even the designers had considered very deeply, and you managed to spin it out into an entirely improvised storyline, winning over some of the holo-characters in the process. Who knows? It might factor in the rest of the program.”

“In that case, when does the main event start?”

“Oh, quite soon, I should think,” said the Doctor. “If you’re hungry, you’d better hurry and find some food. Things are just about to heat up.”

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