February 2009 Challenge: The Lower Decks. Write a story about non regular crewmembers/characters of an established Trek series or fan fiction series in 3,000 words or less.
Star Trek: USS Shepard, Tennison
Stardate 53340.96, (2130 hours)
Berth 6, Hub 2
Fifteen minutes following the departure of Starfleet warp tug
With the last of the shore supply gear stowed awaiting the eventual return of the little but critically useful vessel, boot heels clicked away on the deck plating with finality. Echoing faintly in the void left at the docking berth, a boisterous voice carried from the direction of the departing boots, “Hey Beecham, we still on for that holosuite tonight?” Any answer was swallowed by the clanging of a manual hatch being swung shut, a finality leaving the docking bay quiet except for the faint hum of air circulators and other far away sounds carried through the structure of the station itself.
After several minutes, one of the few examples of truly advanced technology functioning fully in this somewhat neglected part of the huge starbase activated itself and adjusted the lighting to lower reserve levels to conserve power pending the return of station personnel. In the dim light a single cleaner bot detached itself from its charging nook and began a slow systematic scouring of the decks, not only vacuuming up loose particles but also scrubbing gently with small spinning brushes. Not a complex device, it merely followed a simple programmed algorithm, completely unaware of the other occupants of the compartment.
Twenty-forth century Federation starbases do not have rats, at least not in the literal sense. What scurried, or more correctly trickled out from beneath storage pallets and from small holes unobtrusively etched through bulkheads behind large freestanding machinery, were not rats. At first, numerous indistinct blobs oozed and poured along the deck, but they came together, adding mass and volume as they joined into several larger creatures. After several such mergings, all that remained were two smooth-skinned and distinctly tailless hexapedal beings with rounded lamprey-like mouths at the end of their prehensile necks.
In an oft repeated pattern, the creatures raced ahead of the cleaning bot, darting around one another in an intricate dance as they scrounged along the deck. Occasionally, one would seem to find something and stop briefly, its mouth sucking at the deck before moving on.
A table and a set of benches to allow the docking bay workers occasional efficient breaks on site proved the best feeding spot in the creatures’ small world. Invariably there was food to be found and today was no different. Near the middle of the area under the table was a large, square mound of food with but a single bite from it. They would feed well, possibly well enough to allow them to create another of their kind.
With excitement, the first moved in and began eating without even waiting for the other. Even the thud that followed and the sudden quietness did not deter the creature as it began devouring the sandwich. Only after several seconds when it noticed the faint scraping sounds around it, did it stop eating to examine its surroundings. Attempting to reach the neck of its companions for a reassuring touch, it bumped its head soundly on a clear barrier.
More alarmingly, the barrier extended completely around and over its head. It was trapped. While the one left outside endeavored to find a way in, or even to lift the barrier unsuccessfully, the trapped one broke down into its components and attempted to squeeze them underneath the edge of the barrier. It was no use, the gap was too small.
Resigned, it reassembled and sat disconsolately near the center of the trap, all though of food forgotten. The other sat briefly, unsure of what to do when the sudden sound of footsteps startled them to action. Moving as quickly as it could in the opposite direction, the untrapped creature took shelter in the space between the coils of a power cable that sat nearby.
Whistling as he came, the man in dingy coveralls walked slowly yet purposefully. Strangely, the lights in the compartment had not registered his presence. In reality nothing was amiss, he had merely deactivated the sensory device prior to entering, to avoid startling the creatures prematurely.
Stooping, he picked up the box trap from the deck, creature and all. “Don’t you worry none, little’un. You’ll soon be getting more food than you know what to do with. I just can’t let you keep lurking around here, it’s not safe.” Speaking in a soothing tone, the man carried the creature with him, through a small access hatch into a narrow maintenance corridor that made the already cramped main hallway look spacious.
As he walked, he actually had to stoop in several places to make his way. He was not technically in Starfleet. In fact, he was not technically on the station at all. Technically being a term which here means that no official record of his presence existed in any Starfleet database. It did not mean however that no such record had ever existed, but that is another story, as is how Tennison Richard Jenkins III happened to be on the station in the first place.
It is true that Tennison was a bit of a loner, and tended to keep to himself, but he was more of a fixture on the starbase than anything else. Starfleeters came and went, those assigned to the bowels of the station met him, and frequently ended up asking him questions about how to repair this machine or that, how to get to access panel 243.355.786.458B, etc. If it involved the back corridors, ventilation ducts, maintenance tubes, or in general the less-than-glamorous areas of the station, Tennison was simply the one to seek out.
As he never went anywhere offstation, asked for credits in exchange for his work, or bothered anyone, the slight power drain made by the jury rigged replicator in his cobbled together quarters was ignored. Ignored that is until a certain Vulcan Admiral had been assigned to the station. In his initial establishing himself as head of the station, Admiral Selak had made it a point to increase the efficiency of the station. The .0000000034% drop in the station power grid caused by Tennison’s replicator was deemed unacceptable, and despite efforts at keeping the strange, but ultimately useful man a secret from the admiral, Tennison was discovered.
That would have been the end of it, had not Tennison requested a personal meeting with the Admiral and soundly trounced him at not one but two rounds of Go, an obscure Earth strategy game of Asian origin that the Admiral favored as more esoteric than chess. As no non-Vulcan had beaten him, and only three Vulcans ever had won a match against Selak, Tennison “made a deal.” The two gamed at least weekly, and although he would not admit to keeping score, Selak knew quite precisely that out of two hundred thirty-seven games, he had won exactly four, and had managed to draw twice.
Tennison reached the end of the corridor, the cramped passage opening into a quaint little room, complete with a cot, a small bookshelf and a practically archaic replicator. A storage compartment along one wall completed the sparse décor. Tennison set the clear cage down on a small table, the creature within now remembering its hunger and prodding curiously at the remaining food enclosed with it.
Washing his hands carefully in a small sink, Tennson then opened the twin doors of the storage compartment/closet. Reaching inside, he pulled on something behind his clothing and effortlessly the back panel slid away, revealing a passageway behind. Reacquiring the cage and creature, Tennison stepped through into a place few others had ever seen. Once Tennison stepped through to the other side, the panel slid back into place, leaving the lonely little apartment in quiet.
While careful not to over-utilize station power or material resources, Tennison had nonetheless over time, created quite an inner sanctum for himself. Built on multiple levels, in an out-of the-way area below a major structural juncture alongside the lower hub of the starbase, it was an impressive apartment. Ladders led up and down in the mostly open area, although it contained several rooms. It was decorated with salvaged, yet in their own way tasteful, remnants from ships and cargo that no one else desired, or had abandoned for one reason or another. Obscure sculpture, the occasional painting, even out dated mechanical parts lined the walls and open spaces on the overhead of Tennison’s world.
On more than one occasion he had sacrificed some knick knack or other to revitalize a passing ship, or even the station itself. While not a pack-rat type, he would have been surprised to know that amongst the obscure items he had collected were a few highly prized and quite valuable artifacts from one lost civilization or another. He valued them for their aesthetics alone, carefully selecting replacements for anything he actually used.
The apartment even contained a viewport, salvaged during an upgrade from another part of the station, through which he could view the starscape, ship traffic, and even a distant but beautiful nebula, depending on the station’s rotation.
Into this sanctuary, Tennison brought his new companion. He carefully walked down a narrow stairway that was so steep it bordered on being a vertical ladder. Walking through one of the few doors in his apartment, this one a functional power door that slid open at the touch of a button, he stepped inside and waited for the first door to close before opening an inner door, a twin to the outer one, except that this door contained a clear windowed section.
Sliding smoothly open, the door revealed an area that Tennison relished the most, his garden. In actuality, it was more of a habitat, containing several animals in addition to the lush plant life. The most ingenious thing about the garden, and in fact the rest of Tennison’s secret apartment was that as a whole it used significantly more power than was routed to the little replicator in his ‘front’ room, but the power was so carefully pulled of the station’s grid and in such minute amounts from drastically different systems that the power drain appeared like little more than normal transmission loss.
Walking onto the soil, which was covered by green grass-like groundcover, Tennison set the clear cage down near a large boulder and sat down himself. He did not have long to wait. Less than a minute following his arrival, several small creatures made their way from nearby undergrowth and approached.
Two of them were actually the same type of creature as the one in the cage, but two more were taller and looked like nothing so much as small piles of twigs. Far more intricate than the stick-like insects of Earth origin, these creatures mimicked a much more complex bushy pattern, complete with small green leaves that were actually hard scales.
The twig creatures approached more slowly than the other two, who circled the cage excitedly, but they approached nonetheless. Tennison produced a small morsels from a pocket and tossed them gently at the animals. Eaten quickly and with relish, the morsels of food were expired emergency rations. The animals scarcely seemed to care.
The twig creatures even produced a noise by rubbing a number of their rigid limbs against one another, not unlike a cicada or cricket. Tennison smiled and reaching down, opened the cage. He knew there would be no problem. Grinning as the three newly introduced members of the same species skittered away into the undergrowth, Tennison actually burst out laughing when the two twig creatures took advantage of the situation and began finishing off the food left in the cage by its prior occupant.
There were several automatic feeders scattered throughout the enclosure and Tennison made sure to feed his pets enough so that they would not overgraze on the vegetation. It also meant that if he was busy with some job or other, he did not need to make daily trips to his garden.
Later, after several hours away fixing a waste reclamation diverter, he returned. Looking through the window casually upon arriving, Tennison’s jaw dropped in amazement. In his brief absence the trio of creatures had somehow turned themselves into several dozen.
Moving about the plant filled enclosure, the creatures seemed agitated. Instead of their normal food scrounging movement, their paths along the ground were erratic and seemingly random. At first Tennison thought they had simply outstripped the auto-feeder’s food production, but seeing several of his twig creatures moving unhindered to one of the feeder ports alleviated that fear.
On the verge of entering the garden Tennison paused, watching intently through the windowed inner door. A group of six or seven of the six legged creatures had stopped wandering aimlessly and had gathered in a tight group. Strangely, they seemed to lose cohesion briefly, their shapes becoming indistinct before they abruptly merged together into a larger animal.
As the process was repeated with the other smaller creatures until three of the larger versions eventually replaced the numerous small ones. Looking similar to their prior appearance, there were differences. The six leg-like appendages had morphed slightly into four much longer legs and two manipulators, complete with three fingered hands at the end of each. They now stood almost a meter tall, hands able to reach higher.
More surprisingly, however, Tennison noted that the end of the prehensile neck now contained a distinctly larger head, with an obvious brain cavity and three dark eyes, all above the mouth. The central, smaller eye was set slightly above the other two eyes and below it, Tennison thought he could see nose-like breathing holes.
Suddenly, one of the three creatures darted to the window where Tennison stood, startling him. As it looked up through the glass, it made a gesture, holding one of its three fingered appendages against the glass and leaving it there. Somewhat in shock, Tennison could think of nothing to do except repeat the gesture with his own hand on his side of the glass.
Almost casually, the creature reached slowly and quite deliberately with its other hand towards the door button, pressing it. As the door swished open, Tennison stepped back in a panic. Unsure of what to do, he froze, hands held up and open towards the creature. “Please don’t hurt me,” was all he could say, lamely.
Again, slowly and deliberately, but without obvious malice, the creature raised a single hand towards Tennison, as it had through the glass. It was so much like a handshake, that Tennison touched his own palm to it without thinking. The skin was smoother than he would have imagined, but felt roughly the same temperature as his own skin or a bit higher, although admittedly his hand was at the same time both cold and sweaty from nervousness.
As quickly as it had moved to the window, the creature abruptly left Tennison and approached the others of its kind. Regaining his composure, Tennison quickly closed and locked the inner door to his garden, stepping out and doing the same to the outer door before leaning against it in relief. “What have I done?” he said to himself as he slowed his breathing, calming himself as best as he could.
Any further pondering was cut short by a faint but pervasive chime, alerting him that someone was approaching his outer apartment. Moving quickly, he climbed a ladder and towards his secret closet door back to the outer room.
Behind him, left alone in the garden, the three creatures, in a repetition of the merging activity Tennison had witnessed of the smaller versions, melded together. Working more slowly this time, it took several minutes before a distinct form took shape. Almost two meters tall, the single figure remaining was humanoid, female, and quite naked.
The only characteristics distinguishing her from an Earth human were that she retained three eyes, the third remaining smaller and above the other two. Also were her hands, which still contained three digits. One of them was opposable, a thumb. Her hair, while short, grew in normal human patterns and was light blond, almost white.
Looking around briefly, she walked towards the door, holding one arm over her two completely human-like breasts as she did so. Seeing the access button at the side of the door, she pushed it. It buzzed annoyingly, but the door did not open. Nonplused, she moved off to explore her surroundings.
Ensign Dulak, a newly minted Starfleet officer of uniquely Cardassian origin, opened another storage crate and began unpacking its contents. On his left, two of his fellow officers, one male one female, both Lieutenants, Junior Grade, were also unpacking supplies. Suddenly startled, both Ajal Brak, a non-joined Trill, and Tara, another rarity in Starfleet being a Green Orion female, stepped back from the open crate.
Arjal, clearly the more upset of the two exclaimed, “What the grend is that?” and pointed towards the storage container, maintaining his distance. Lieutenant JG T’Noor, the forth officer in the area and a Vulcan peered into the crate, raising one eyebrow. “I am unfamiliar with that lifeform,” she said as Dulak approached, curious.
Looking into the crate, Dulak’s mild expression quickly turned to one of concern. Inside the crate was a small six legged animal with a prehensile neck, and a round, lamprey-like mouth, a copy of the creature Tennison had captured. “We must destroy it at once!” Tara, a puzzled look on her face asked, “Why, it doesn’t look dangerous? Other than the mouth, it’s kind of cute.” Dulak shook his head, answering, “They are quite harmless in this form, but in greater numbers can merge into things larger and incredibly dangerous.”
Still confused, Tara continued her questioning, “Merge, I don’t understand, there is only one.”
Dulak, not taking his eyes from the animal as it split into its smaller ooze-like parts and moved around inside the crate attempting to hide, answered in a somber tone. “Let me explain…”