August/September Challenge: Alternate Universes
Winner: Gold Grizzly
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING WESLEY
“You must let go of your guilt, Wesley”.
Ensign Wesley Crusher sullenly regarded the visitor to his quarters on the USS Intrepid.
“Why do you care what I do? Don’t you have more important places to be? You’re meant to be a Traveller, remember?”
The alien gave his by now familiar enigmatic smile.
“Wesley, I have been to places you can barely imagine, seen life forms of a variety that your Starfleet can never show you, but I have seldom encountered anyone with your talents. It is worth a great deal of my time to ensure that your gifts are not squandered, but your current path leads that way”.
“Don’t you get it? Everyone I’ve ever been close to is dead or lost. If I’d been there then it might never have happened”!
“You don’t know that. It isn’t your place to say what would or should have been. All you can change are the present and the future”.
“Fine, then! Let’s change the future! With your abilities, we can find my mother; she might still be alive, needing our help!”
“No. Her path has taken her away from you. Only time will tell whether it leads back to you again. We cannot interfere in such matters. Come away with me, and you shall be taught to understand why”. Wesley merely shook his head. The Traveller regarded him with a resigned sadness in his eyes.
“Very well. I am unable to reach you, so I shall take my leave of you. If you ever change your mind, then you will know how to contact me. Until we meet again, Wesley”.
The young man barely glanced up as his mysterious visitor vanished. As so often was the case during his off duty hours, his thoughts were turned towards the past. Somewhere along the line, something had gone seriously wrong. He just wasn’t sure of exactly when.
Dr. Beverly Crusher glanced around her quarters on the Enterprise, wanting to ensure that she not forgotten anything. The familiar rooms seemed completely empty, as they should be; the bag slung loosely over one shoulder contained the last of her possessions to be transferred off ship.
As always when she examined them closely, the quarters slightly unsettled her. They were, in theory, identical to her quarters on the original saucer section, but there were subtle differences which few but she could ever notice. She had lived in this place for over a year, but it had never felt like home. Her home had been destroyed long ago.
Perhaps she should have shipped out on another vessel straight away, but she and Geordi had agreed that they should both remain, to keep alive the spirit of their own crew on this new vessel. Losing Geordi had only strengthened her resolve. When the new ship was completed, she was ready and waiting to reclaim her place.
But almost from the first day, she had clashed with the new captain. She found Jellico rigid and inflexible, more concerned with the rulebook than with the spirit of what Starfleet stood for. After a string of bitter arguments, in which she invariably found little support from her shipmates, his brutal handling of the community of Native American descendants on Dorvan V had pushed her too far, and she had taken her objections to Starfleet Command … only to find that he had beaten her to it.
She was to be reassigned, and a new doctor would take her place. Jellico was severing the last major link to the past, to the crew who had set out to explore the galaxy seven years ago.
Shaking her head sharply, she strode from her quarters without a backward glance. Negative an experience as this had been, perhaps it might yet work out for the best for her. She had already had one bit of good news: the Captain of a new vessel had expressed an interest in recruiting her into her crew. She had been afraid that only the more tedious jobs would be available to her given the manner in which she was leaving the Enterprise, but this would be a true ship of exploration, with the most up to date technology available.
It was time to leave the past behind ... and the USS Voyager might be just the place to do that.
Crusher surveyed the bleak landscape of Tarchannen III, hoping that her eyes would succeed where her Tricorder had failed. But there was no sign of La Forge, nor anything to indicate that intelligent life had ever bloomed on this obscure planet.
If only she had paid more attention the last time she had spoken to him! He had called by her temporary residence on Earth a month ago, to tell her that he was taking a break from overseeing the construction of the new Enterprise. An old friend of his, Susanna Leitjen, had contacted him with some wild theories about the recent disappearances of some old shipmates of theirs, and the two of them were taking a small ship to investigate.
Geordi had seemed unconcerned by the whole thing at the time, but in retrospect he had been edgy, and not quite himself. She should have insisted on coming along as well; perhaps, with her medical expertise, she might have done something about … whatever it was that had happened.
When La Forge and Leitjen had failed to check in, she had managed to get passage on the Hood, which was sent to investigate. They had arrived to find an empty ship in orbit, and two discarded uniforms on the planet. No humans. There were log entries and medical records indicating that both officers were experiencing some unusual medical symptoms, but that was all they had to go on.
She looked at the empty yellow and black garments in her hands. Perhaps, in time, the mystery of what had happened to their owner would be solved. But she knew in her heart that her friend would not be coming back.
Commander Data (temporarily holding the rank of Captain) was, as ever, dispassionate as he regarded the Borg cube in orbit around Earth. On the main view screen, the Enterprise’s phasers and photon torpedoes could be seen bombarding the intruding vessel. It was a futile attempt, but he had felt compelled to try; it was, after all, the human thing to do.
The time for such indulgences had now passed, however. The Enterprise had sustained heavy damage already; if he delayed any further, they might not be able to make the necessary sacrifice. He addressed the Conn officer.
“Mr. Jackson, lay in a collision course with the Borg vessel”.
He had no sooner spoken the words than a particularly savage strike from the enemy vessel rocked the ship. The Conn station exploded in a shower of sparks, and the operator was flung from his seat.
“Re-routing Navigation controls through this station!” barked a deep voice from behind him. “Collision course laid in, Sir”.
Data turned to see Worf regarding him with the joyous intensity found only in a Klingon about to die in heroic combat against a superior force. His own expression was unreadable, but many thoughts passed through his mind in that instant.
He thought of Captain Picard, aboard that vessel somewhere, and pulling the strings as the Borg Locutus. He thought of Geordi and Dr. Crusher, evacuted by escape pod along with other non-essential personnel. Ironically, the injuries La Forge had sustained during their previous abortive attack on the Borg would now save his life, as he would surely have remained on the Enterprise if fit to serve. Perhaps his friend would now have a long and happy life.
He recalled his own actions since Captain Picard’s abduction. Would a human officer have found a better way to stop the Borg? He would never know.
He replayed every significant experience he had had since his activation 30 years ago; every lesson learned, every triumph achieved and every defeat suffered.
To those watching him, he did not seem to pause at all before giving his final order.
“If you were human, I might think that you were somewhat preoccupied, Mr. Data”.
“I believe that that assessment would be accurate, Captain”. The new first officer touched the third full pip on his collar. “This celebration is in my honour, but I do not believe it to be deserved. My promotion would never have occurred if I had performed my duties adequately”.
“Commander, the loss of the Will and Deanna was a tragedy all of us were helpless to prevent. What do you think the Commander would say to you in this situation?”
“I believe that he would offer his congratulations, sir”.
“And he would also tell you that he believes, as I do, that there is no one on this ship better qualified than you to do the job of first officer”. Picard’s expression spoke volumes of the sincerity of his words. But still, Data was plainly quite troubled.
“I appreciate the confidence in me, Captain, and I do not doubt that Commander Riker would approve. However, the fact remains that there might have been no lives lost aboard DaiMon Tog’s vessel if we had arrived there sooner. My failure to recognise the code used in the Commander’s signal straight away cost us precious hours, and may have made the difference between life and death for our friends”.
Picard shook his head ruefully. He had been over and over this himself as well, of course. It was difficult to accept that the absurd little Ferengi had cost him two such outstanding officers – and friends, yes. But they all had to accept the situation, and move on.
“Data, I wish I could say for certain that it didn’t make a difference, and put your mind at rest. But it is not our privilege to know such things. I’ve lost many friends in my years in Starfleet, and perhaps I could have saved them, if I had played my cards a little differently; but the important thing is that I performed my duties to the best of my abilities … and so did you. You made every effort to decode that signal, and we did get there in time to save one life, at least. After all, if not for you, would we ever have understood the message at all? I can think of no one aboard with more skill at such matters”.
“I can’t get it”.
Wesley was engrossed in his own Dynamic Relationships test, but still could spare a thought for his friend, who seemed to be finding it a real struggle.
“Don’t fight it, Mordock. Just relax into it and let it come automatically … you can do it”. Wesley tapped a few more of his controls; just a few more seconds and he would be there …
“No... it is going too fast”! Mordock seemed to be on the verge of giving up.
Wesley felt sympathetic towards the Benzite: perhaps if he took a glance at his screen he could offer some crucial piece of advice to help him out. There weren’t any rules against it. True, it might hurt his own chances, but wasn’t it worth it to help a friend?
But then he remembered that he had resolved to take a less idealistic approach to life. Much as he liked the Benzite, if he couldn’t do this test without help then maybe he didn’t belong in Starfleet. At least, not at Wesley’s own expense.
“Keep at it”, he said without turning around. A few seconds later, the pattern on his own screen aligned. He had passed the test. T’Shanik also finished before the time ran out, but Oliana and Mordock both failed the test.
Wesley felt slightly ashamed as he watched the Benzite’s shoulders slump in defeat, but that didn’t detract much from his excitement when Lieutenant Chang returned to the room, and gave him his warm congratulations for posting the second best time ever recorded for the test. If he could just make it through the Psych test in one piece, then that place in the Academy would surely be going to him. He was within touching distance of his dream.
Wesley sat alone in Ten Forward, and gazed thoughtfully out of the window. A month had passed since his close call on the planet of the Edo, and he had bounced back quickly from the fright of nearly losing his life on his first experience with Away Team duty.
His mind kept returning to the events of the mission, however. The entire ship had been placed in jeopardy because of him … and not for the first time. Was he doing something wrong? Did he really have what it took to make it in Starfleet?
He was so caught up with his thoughts that he hardly noticed Commander Riker approaching his table until the First Officer was settling into the chair opposite him.
“Is something on your mind, Mr. Crusher? You seem a little preoccupied lately”. Wesley outlined his concerns.
“Can you give me your honest opinion, sir? Am I cut out for this life”?
“My honest opinion? Yes, but you’ve got a lot to learn.” Riker smiled to take the sting out of his words. “You’re a smart kid, Wes; but you are
still a kid just the same. You’re full of confidence about who you are and what you can do, but that attitude can lead to careless mistakes. I think that you need a little less idealism and a little more realism”.
“Yes … not just about yourself, but about the galaxy you live in. On the Edo planet, you said: ‘I’m with Starfleet: we don’t lie’. The reality is, you’re going to face situations where lying, or cheating, or hurting someone is necessary for the greater good, and it would be naïve to imagine otherwise”.
Wesley’s expression was pensive. Riker felt saddened at having to shatter the boy’s innocence, but it was necessary if he was going to make it in the career he had chosen. He rose to his feet.
“Don’t take this too hard. You’ve done better these past few months than most children your age could ever dream of. But Starfleet is for adults: if you really want to make the grade, then you’ve got to leave your childish notions behind”.
He walked away, taking a glance at Wes’ face before striding through the doors. Most fifteen year olds would have let advice like that slide right off them, but the boy’s thoughtful expression showed that he was taking it all in.
Riker smiled. He was sure that his words would make a difference.