August 2010 Challenge: TDY (Temporary Duty)
THE VENTUS ROSE-FLOWER
Spock stared at Captain Kirk with a look that Kirk faintly recognized to be something as near to disbelief as a Vulcan could get. “Captain, I beg your pardon,” Spock said, with a barely audible stutter, that only someone as close to him as Kirk was would have heard. “Starfleet ordered me to what?”
Kirk gave him a wry smile. “It’s not like you to need to be told twice, Mister Spock,” he admonished. Spock did not look amused, so Kirk continued. “Starfleet Command has ordered you to take charge of a young boy. His name is Ventus, and he is our shot at making peaceful contact with the Valeriins, and establishing some sort of relationship. We—or at least, another Starship—located the boy in an alien shuttlecraft. It was badly damaged, as if someone had attacked it. The boy was the only one to be rescued that was still alive.”
Spock shook his head. “Captain, the Valeriins have shown no signs of any technological activity pertaining to space travel. It seems doubtful that they would have managed to create some sort of shuttlecraft.”
Kirk shrugged. “Starfleet is looking into the matter, and so far, it does appear that space travel efforts have been mobilized.”
“What’s this I hear about Spock being in the ‘big brother program’?”
Kirk and Spock both turned to see McCoy standing off to the side. Kirk looked at him dubiously, having not heard him approach them in the corridor. “How much did you hear?”
“Pretty near all of it. But of all people to watch that boy…” McCoy shook his head. “Spock isn’t quite the caretaker type, I’d think.”
“And you are, Doctor?” Spock replied.
McCoy scowled at him. “I happen to have had a daughter of my own, thank you very much, Mister Spock. And considering I’m a doctor, I’m pretty sure I’d make a damn fine caretaker.”
“Calm down, Bones,” Kirk grinned.
McCoy turned to him. “And about what I heard… Why would the Valeriins send a boy
out in an experimental shuttlecraft with a team of scientists?”
“In Valeriin society, the children are the most valuable citizens, and the highest respected. With age, the respect for the person dies out, as does their power within society. It would be logical for the Valeriins to have sent a child with the experiment, Doctor.”
McCoy shook his head and muttered something along the lines of “foolish”.
“A more appropriate question would be, ‘how did the Valeriins skip to such a more advanced state of space travel development so quickly?’.”
“That is why we need Ventus. Since the children are so highly valued, the Valeriins will want him back. But until that time, someone must look after him until we can return him. Since we are the ones who will return him, when the time comes, we must take care of him—or, Spock specifically must. Your exact orders and guidelines are already waiting in your quarters.”
* * *
Ventus stepped off of the transporter pad, marveling at the room around him. His society may have entered their space travel phase, but they still had nothing as sophisticated as the Federation. He was average height for a boy who, by Terran standards, appeared to be about fourteen. He was lean, with wiry muscle. He had sharply blonde hair swept upwards, and pale blue eyes that seemed oddly intelligent. He wore a black, form-fitted short-sleeved shirt adorned with the a Starfleet crest that bore no ornament of field. Whether that was the only shirt available at the time, or at least by Starfleet that would fit a child, or if it served some other purpose Spock did not know. His slightly flared pants were a lighter shade, though not by much being a dark grey, and his shoes were slightly clompy, as if they had tried to accommodate him by creating a shoe similar to his original pair, but they had been slightly too large. On his left arm was some sort of extra sleeve, wrapped around it, and his arm hung slightly limp, as if it was somehow injured. Whatever the case, Spock noticed that he looked very similar to a human.
Most likely because he had had slightly more pressing matters to attend to, while Spock had read much of what was known about the Valeriins—who were hands-off because of the Prime Directive—he had neglected to look into exactly what their appearance was. Ventus was so human-looking, it was almost surprising. The only difference was his skin was naturally a little paler, his features a little more chiseled and clear-cut, and when he finally spoke, he clearly defined his vowel sounds, if not dragging them out a bit too long, and the vowel sounds were a tad more forced and high-pitched.
“Ah… em… Hello, Mister, em, Spock, yes?” He asked, his Anglish a tad awkward. But that he knew any at all was a surprise to Spock.
“Yes, I am he. And you are Ventus, I presume.” At the boy’s nod, Spock continued. “I must admit, I was a little taken aback by your at least minimal mastery of our language. How long have you been with us?”
Ventus tilted his head slightly, the equivalent of a shrug. “Oiuh
—,” the word sounded much like a sigh—, “Nearly a year.”
Spock blinked in a small display of disbelief. “I beg your pardon. A year? How many days?”
Ventus repeated the gesture of tilting his head. “Neh… Maybe thirty,” he finally replied.
“That would be nearly a month.”
Ventus shook his head. “Sure, as you say. This is a Starship, then?”
Spock nodded. “Yes. Would you like a tour?”
Ventus looked at Spock curiously.
“Would you like me to show you around the ship,” Spock repeated.
Ventus nodded then. “Yes, yes. Sure.” As Spock motioned for him to follow out of the transporter room, Ventus added, “I cannot believe how… amazing all of this technology is. It’s like nothing on Valerii.” Then he turned his icy blue eyes onto Spock and gave a small smile. “But we hope to catch up with you. Don’t think we haven’t seen your Starships before, orbiting our planet. You may not see them, but our telescopes have a far range.”
Spock looked over his shoulder curiously at the boy as they walked down the corridor. “We have never detected the use of any such devices. However, Valerii is very rich with forests and mountains where such devices could easily be hidden.” He watched Ventus walk, and his left arm swung almost lifelessly at his side. But he made not mention of it.
He made the tour brief, showing him the engine room, where Scotty eyed him with a mixture of surprise and nervousness at a kid being on his engineering deck; then the mess hall, the rec room, sickbay—where McCoy made a snarky comment about Spock’s babysitting abilities—and made a final stop at the bridge.
While at first Ventus had seemed awkward and withdrawn, even throughout the tour Spock had noticed him growing a little more comfortable in the alien environment. As they exited the turbolift onto the bridge, Ventus shook his head and said, “I’ve been with this Starfleet a year, and have not seen anything like this before.”
Kirk, who had been lounging in the captain’s chair, briefly without any paperwork or any other duties to attend to at the moment while on shift, glanced back at them in surprise. “Hello, Spock, Ventus—you’re telling me you’ve been here for a year and this is the first I’ve heard of you?”
Spock folded his hands behind his back. “A month, Captain.”
Ventus cocked an eyebrow at Spock. “A year. Thirty days is a year,” he insisted.
“Explain,” Kirk interrupted, before Spock could again persist that thirty days was a month.
Ventus shrugged. “It just is. The same reason sixty seconds is a minute,” he made a face. “How should I know why?”
“How old are you, Ventus?”
“One hundred sixty-eight,” Ventus said matter-of-factly, giving him a curious look.
“Fourteen years of age,” Spock added.
Ventus glared at Spock but didn’t correct him, obviously tired of doing so, and realizing it would be a fruitless effort. Kirk grinned.
“Well, then, Ventus, have you ever played a game of 3D chess?” Kirk asked.
“Captain, you are on duty,” Spock admonished.
“I am the captain, on-duty while we do minor patrols—filler missions, waiting for further orders. I think Starfleet can spare me for an hour, Spock,” Kirk replied, sweeping out of his chair and guiding he and Ventus back into the turbolift, and then calling over his shoulder, “Mister Sulu, you have the bridge.”
The rec room had its usual small clusters of off-duty and relaxing officers and crewman talking, playing holo-displayed tactical games, playing music, or otherwise enjoying their time off. “Spock, you can ref,” Kirk said wryly as he sat Ventus down at one side of the layered chess board. The Vulcan gave him a condescending look, but did not remind Kirk that there were no referees in chess, as he clearly looked like he wanted to.
Ventus stared at him curiously. “Is this near the same as checkers?” he asked, confused.
“In a way,” Kirk answered. “So you’ve got checkers on Valerii?” He quickly reviewed the rules before Ventus replied.
Ventus made the same shrug-like gesture of inclining his head. “Yes, but it’s usually played with the adults, to entertain them.” He made the first move, as the captain had shown him.
Nodding, Kirk moved one of his pawns. “Why only with the adults?”
“The game isn’t fun enough to just play. But it’s enough for them,” Ventus replied as he moved a pawn down a level.
“Because they aren’t capable of much other kinds of hands-on entertainment. By that age, they’ve lost all their life. They just go to the factories, do the menial tasks, build what’s needed, record what’s happened. Monotonous things, while we keep an eye on them.”
Kirk moved his rook to another level, and out of harm’s way. “Aren’t capable? In most societies, it’s the other way around. The adults are in charge, while the kids are taught, and kept from being too mischievous.” He waited until Ventus had made his move, then took the boy’s knight. “Why would things be different there?”
“Again, you ask the same type of question: the kind I can’t answer. I haven’t been around that
long.” Ventus took Kirk’s queen. “You should’ve kept your rook there,” Ventus added.
As Kirk moved another piece, Spock said, from where he was observing from a benched slope protruding from the sloping walls of the chess pit, “That would explain why you were on the experimental shuttlecraft.”
Kirk furrowed his brow. “Check? Feh. Well, I guess that does explain a bit. But still: why?” He took the intruding knight, and then suddenly noticed that more of Ventus’ pieces were missing then there should have been, meaning the boy had triggered them to reappear on a timer, a surprise, cascade assault.
Spock watched carefully as Ventus moved another piece, gazing at his hand that shook ever-so-slightly, and was a little awkwardly placed, as if he was not accustomed to using his right hand. But he made no mention. Instead, he said, “Perhaps the Valeriins are a product of the Preservers.”
“Now that—,” Kirk paused and scowled as, after he moved his king, Ventus’ pieces suddenly timed in, performing a kamikaze attack on any enemy piece that was already in its place, and putting his king in an uncomfortable position, “—would make sense, Mister Spock.”
“The Preservers do often seem to have a hand in such things. While we have not yet seen any evidence of any Preserver technology, that does not mean there is not any on Valerii.” Spock shook his head as Kirk moved his last remaining rook into a perilous location.
Kirk frowned. “Are you sure… that you haven’t played this before?”
“Captain, we have many times before ascertained that chess, even the regular kind, is not your game,” Spock replied, standing up.
Shrugging, Kirk did as well, with Ventus following. “Yes, I believe you put it as—”
“ ‘Your maverick techniques and chaotic movements might prove useful elsewhere, but in a game of tact, precision, patience, and foresight, it is not nearly an ideal tactic’,” McCoy said from behind. “I believe that was it.”
Kirk scowled playfully at him. “What is this? You have a habit of sneaking up on me all of a sudden.”
“Not at all,” McCoy shrugged. “But I must say, this must be an all-time low. Beaten by a kid.” McCoy shook his head in false shame.
“Regardless of the captain’s chess-playing abilities, Ventus is now required to retire to his quarters.”
Kirk and McCoy both looked at Spock curiously. “Now? Isn’t it a little early?”
Spock raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps. However, my orders were strict: that he be retired by 1600 hours.”
Ventus looked away, obviously not going to give an explanation, and when Kirk gave Spock and inquisitive look, he shook his head—he did not know why, either. “Fine,” Kirk gave an exaggerated sighed. He offered Ventus an friendly smile. “I suppose we’ll see you tomorrow, then.”
* * *
Ventus’ quarters were not very large, though he did not require a whole lot of accommodations. The room was plain and simple: a single bed along the far wall, some shelves, a table, a small closet, and a bathroom through a doorway in the wall adjacent to the bed.
“Clothes have already been provided in the closet,” Spock said, gestured to the closet.
Ventus nodded, but didn’t make a move towards it. “Thank you, Spock. You may go,” Ventus suggested, not rudely, but making it clear that he wanted to be alone.
“Very well. I have already shown you my quarters. If you need anything, you may come see me, or ask a crewman for myself, the captain, or Doctor McCoy,” Spock said, turning to leave.
He turned back to look at the boy.
* * *
After an hour of private meditation while still off-duty, Spock found the captain and McCoy still in the rec room, discussing something. As he approached, they looked up.
“Doctor McCoy, I require that you come with me to our guest’s quarters,” Spock said, without preamble.
Kirk looked perplexed, and a little alarmed. “Why? What’s happened, Spock?”
“Nothing has happened, Captain,” Spock assured. “I was ordered that a trusted doctor is to do a hands-off physical assessment every evening.”
“But why, Spock?” Kirk shook his head. “I’m asking a lot of ‘why’ questions about this boy.”
McCoy looked over at Spock. “Hands-off? And every evening? Is he infected with some disease?”
“I do not know Doctor,” Spock sighed. “It is what was commanded.”
Grumbling and complaining about Starfleet’s lack of information when giving commands, McCoy walked back to Ventus’ quarters with Spock. When they arrived, Spock pressed the buzzer next to the door.
After a minute, and sounds like someone was hurriedly doing something, he heard Ventus call, “Come in!”
Spock stepped forward, and the door opened to admit him and the doctor. As the door whispered closed behind them, Ventus emerged from the bathroom. He had changed into more casual nightwear. But Spock noticed that he still had the sleeve wrapped about his left arm.
Walking over to the table, McCoy set a small medkit upon it and opened it. “Alright, boy. It wasn’t my idea, but come over here for a moment.”
Ventus did not seem bothered by it at all, however, as McCoy reviewed his health with various hands-off tests, as he had been advised.
“Your heart beat is a little erratic. I’m not sure exactly what that’s about, and I’m not confident enough that our medication wouldn’t have any ill effects on you to give you something for it,” McCoy finally said. “You also seem to have severe nerve damage to your left arm. Could you remove your—”
“No.” Ventus turned away.
“What?” McCoy demanded. “Your life may depend on it if you have some terminal disease that’s destroying your nervous system! Dammit, boy!”
“Doctor, please, hands-off.”
McCoy scowled at Spock. “Fine, but when he dies, don’t come crying to me,” he growled, storming out of the room.
Ventus stiffened at that. But Spock could tell it wasn’t because he was shocked at the news that he could die. It was obvious that that wasn’t the case. It seemed more like the boy was alarmed that McCoy had known he might die, no matter how offhand that statement had been.
“Ventus, if there is—”
“No. It’s nothing. Please go,” Ventus said abruptly, turning completely away from him.
Spock obliged, leaving him alone in his quarters. He found McCoy skulking about the turbolift, waiting and prowling like a predator.
“Spock, you’d better damn well tell me what’s wrong with that boy!” McCoy demanded viciously, whirling around to face Spock as soon as he was within earshot. “I’m not going to have you let some boy die because Starfleet gave you orders.”
“Doctor,” he said calmly, severely contrasting McCoy’s rage. “If I knew, and it may save his life, I might tell you, depending on the circumstances. However, I have no idea what is wrong with him. It is possible Starfleet Command figured it out, or that Ventus told them, but I was never informed by either.”
That seemed to calm McCoy down, if only a little.
“And regardless, it could very well be nothing at all. The orders may have been hands-off because such is the custom of the Valeriins, or perhaps there is fear that he may bring into the Federation diseases native only to Valerii.”
“His nervous system is decaying, Spock,” McCoy insisted. “I saw it with my own eyes.”
They both turned suddenly as the turbolift doors whooshed open behind them, and Captain Kirk emerged.
“It is nothing, Captain, I assure you.”
Spock looked at McCoy, but he was grudgingly silent.
* * *
For the next two days, Ventus refused to leave his quarters, as well as rejected McCoy’s at a medical assessment. Despite his orders, at the captain’s request that they let the boy adjust at his own pace, Spock had let him alone. But it had reached a point where he had begun speculating about whether or not McCoy had been correct. It was indeed possible that he would not allow anyone to see him because his condition—whatever it may be—was deteriorating.
Finally, nearly twenty minutes after the boy’s curfew that second day, Spock let himself in, using his clearance to open the guest quarters. Ventus was sitting upon his bed, staring out into the blankness of the otherspace outside of his window. In addition to his casual nightwear, he wore a scarf over his neck. But by the warmth of the room, it was obvious to Spock that the garment was not to keep warm—he was hiding something.
“I didn’t give permission for you to enter,” Ventus said, his bland tone implying that he didn’t really care either way, if Spock answered or not.
“You have not left your quarters for two days,” Spock observed.
“So? I don’t have to leave.”
Spock sighed. “No. No, you do not,” he said, folding his hands behind his back. “But it may be conducive for you to interact with the crew and socialize with other beings.”
“What does it matter,” Ventus muttered softly under his breath, Spock barely catching it. Ventus swung his legs over the edge of the bed and stood. He walked into the bathroom and closed the door.
Spock waited for twenty minutes. When it became clear that Ventus was not coming back out until he had left, he exited his quarters.
* * *