S.S. Van Gelder
Breathing so lightly that he seemed barely alive, the Master of Onada continued his meditations, his journey through his past...
"What troubles you, Anjin-san?"
Sitting on the wooden floor a couple of meters away, his grandmother could tell that he was having trouble reaching his meditative state this day, some six years after he had arrived at the ancestral homestead.
In that time, Shikiku had taught him the philosophy and martial wisdom that had been passed down from master to disciple - somewhat different than that taught to the students and night tigers - for three thousand years. He had wondered if she was doing this because he was her grandson; she riposted sharply, saying that, undisciplined quarterbreed that he was, he was the only one of the household worth teaching.
Only much later would he understand that to be a Master of Onada, one needed more than strength and courage or even skill. There was an indefinable essence that one possessed - or not. For the first time in three millennia, none born in the household, within the extended Onada clan, contained the necessary quality to become...
...something more than ordinary men.
It started with the breathing. The training continued, with bo staff and wooden boken in place of sword, with the learning of pressure points and nerve clusters and joints and tendons and ligaments and how to cause them to fail; with the art of concealment, even in plain sight...the training continued despite long hours, despite temperatures both high and low, despite fatigue and hunger and pain.
The martial, physical training was only part. There were the lessons of three thousand years of Onada history, the chronicles written by Masters, the exploits of Disciples sent on pilgrimages across the known (and sometimes, unknown) world. There was the story set down by Master Isoroku, who as Disciple journeyed to an island in the north, to meet a boy king who supposed drew a sword from an anvil. Another was the tale of Master Tetsuo, who met a sea captain of great strength, who commanded a ship of pirates and yet was strangely compassionate, who apparently could not die.
At least somewhat credible by comparison was the chronicle of Kenji Onada, who had enlisted in the Japanese Navy during the Second World War, who had flown as a kamikaze pilot. By happenstance, his plane had missed its target and plunged into the sea. Kenji had managed to make his way to a deserted island, and lived with his shame and fear for thirty years, until an American adventurer convinced him that his family would forgive him. Steeling his courage, Kenji had returned home, where his Master had wholeheartedly welcomed him.
Still, the boy had questions about the vocation of the Masters of Onada...
"Our ancestors...they killed people," he began tentatively.
"Yes," his grandmother answered, hardly nettled.
There was barely a pause before her answer. "Because it was necessary. Because the Masters of Onada were the ones with the faith, the heart and the skill to do it correctly." The boy was about to protest, opening his eyes, only to have her silence him with a look of her own. "It is the function of all life to grow, to perpetuate itself, and in the fullness of time, to either surrender itself...or to be taken."
"Is it right to do that, though? I mean, I've read of other disciplines...that don't...you know..." The boy hated sounded hesitant in front of her. She was keeping quiet this time, which just made him feel as if he was just braiding the rope with which to hang himself. "They make a big deal about avoiding conflict, and, well, doing as little harm to others as possible."
The old woman nodded thoughtfully, surprising him a little. "There are those, like the Xiaolin of China, who tread the paths of peace. A worthy vocation...for them.
"The sparrow may fly like the falcon, but he does not hunt. We do not take money for what we do, like the ninja" she nearly spat the word, "nor do we follow the bushido of the samurai,, pledging their lives to politicians." She managed to inject a little disdain there, as well. "The Onada follow a singular path, narrow and even uncertain. We prepare for the coming of the greatest Master...the Destroyer. Even though, Anjin-san, we cannot be sure that he will ever come to be. Yet, we know no other way."
He was not entirely comfortable with that answer, then or years in the future. Still, there was something... "What about us, then? The Masters of Onada...we surrender our lives, as well?"
"Of course, Anjin-san. We no less than others. But when a Master of Onada passes from this life, the pillars of heaven itself should shake with the passing." She smiled with the charm of the girl she had been long ago.
The last part of the training was mental, such as the meditation that they undertook on a daily basis. The ability to look inside one's own mind, she taught him, was invaluable in understanding the world around them. "The universe whispers to itself, Anjin-san, constantly. These musings tell us much, if only we had the ears with which to hear them. Your thoughts must be silent, to hear these whispers."
Sometimes the boy's thoughts were so silent that, at times, he could hear his grandmother's...and, apparently, she could hear his. "You still have questions, boy. Ask, and trouble yourself no more."
"I just don't..." He had to take a deep breath to formulate his troubles coherently. "I'm not sure I can always figure out how to do the right thing all the time. The way you seem to."
"Mmmm....there is an expression in other parts of the world: 'act as if ye have faith, and faith shall be given unto thee.' Courage and fear are mirror images of one another, mostly because they are often based upon illusion.
"But enlightment...ahh, a difficult question. That, I'm not sure I can answer for you, for that entails things you must experience for yourself. You must walk in paths that may come easily to others, but demand great sacrifices from you."
"What sort of paths? What must I do?"
She gave nearly a minute's thought to this question. "You must place your faith in someone, absent of reason. You must give your solemn word to someone of recent acquaintance. And, in the fullness of time, when someone gives you her heart, you must return the gift, without hesitation."
The boy shrugged. "How am I to know when I'm to do all these things?"
Obuchan smiled. "That is for to decide."
And, years later, he would indeed, as yet another misadventure involving his ship and crew came to a head. A young ensign, only months out of the Academy, but possessing the necessary scientific and technical skills to pull the desperate plan that he had devised.
"Captain, I don't...um, not really sure I can do this." Her green eyes seemed moist with anxiety and uncertainty. How young she seemed...and yet there was something that reminded him of Obuchan. If only he could help her tap into that...
"I have faith in you, mi hija," he said, putting what he hoped was a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "Take that faith, and make it your own; you will be able to do anything."
The young redhead gave him a smile that was both charming and sharp. "Yes, sir."
The old man's eyes snapped open, for he felt a slight shift in his perceptions. He breathed deeply, his body at once becoming tensed for action. With supple grace he rose from his meditative position.
He did not need to check the room's monitor to confirm what he already knew. The transport ship had dropped out of warp. They were in orbit above Adigeon Prime.
"Mission log: Stardate 50276.2. Lt. Willow Rosenberg recording.
The Led Zeppelin is continuing onto Adigeon Prime; ETA approximately six hours. Lt. Maclay, Chief Petty Officer Gunn and I have reviewed the general area of Seriffe-sen, the largest metropolitan area on the planet, where we are to concentrate our discreet search for signs of genetic engineering.
In the meantime, I am conducting an inventory of the cargo we are carrying as part of our cover..."
"What the hell is a self-sealing stembolt?"
"It's a stembolt," Tara said as she came back into the cargo area, seeing Willow hold a PADD in one hand and a coding stylus in the other, "which is also, and this is just a wild stab-in-the-dark, self-sealing."
There was something in Tara's tone that made Willow look sharply at her girlfriend and fellow officer, though she couldn't quite identify it. She huffed slightly as she rolled her eyes. "Uh, yeah, kinda got that part. I meant, what do you do with them?"
Tara grinned slightly, as happy memories, wonderful in their rarity, cascaded through her mind. "We used to use them on Norpin, putting together houses and buildings for the colonists. The whole community would get together, fabricating the sides and foundations of the buildings; then we'd put them together using the stembolts. Then we'd have huge suppers, everybody bringing something for the potluck..."
"Sounding wonderfully bucolic," Willow commented absently. She had turned back to her PADD, therefore missing the dark cloud that glided over Tara's face at that moment.
The blonde pursed her lips and said, "Yeah, that's me: Simple Small-Town Girl, Pushing 'Boring' With a Short Stick."
With a bit more force than strictly necessary, Willow set her PADD down on the nearby cargo container. "Oh-kay. Let's get into it."
Tara crossed her arms, her eyes half-lidded, giving her a deceptively sleepy look. "Get into what?"
"Ever since we got on this cockamamie moon-bus, you've been Captain Distant, or failing that, Lt. Commander Snarky McSnark. You gotta problem with me, Tara," she continued, stepping forward in the other's space, "do me the courtesy of, y'know, taking it up with me. I don't wanna read about it two years from now in your personal log."
Tara opened her mouth, then closed it, then stepped back as if to give herself room to organize her thoughts. "Look, I-I know this is going -" She stopped to take a deep breath, then tried to clear her mind of anxieties. Abruptly, some part of her summoned an image of Charles Devereux; she found there an anchor of professional detachment that helped to her to discuss her personal problem.
"That little session you an-and I had, right before we left...I'm a little uncomfortable about it."
Willow blinked, as if not quite sure she heard correctly. "Hold the line there a sec...you said you were fine with it."
"Y-Yeah, I did..."
"So you go from 'It's okay, it was fun' to 'I'm a little uncomfortable'? That's a hell of an evolution there, Tara!"
"I'm just not used to you being that...aggressive." Tara grimaced as she said the last word.
"Aggressive?" Willow mulled the word over for a second. "Well, okay, I suppose, but that's because usually you call the shots."
If Willow had said she was secretly a Romulan agent, she could not have gotten a more flabbergasted expression from Tara. "Wh-wh-what? Me? Are you nuts?"
"Tara, you're the one who tried that whole 'let's sleep apart' thing," Willow countered, then continued through Tara's aborted protest, "and, well, you're the one who decides which, like, stuff to try out, based on that research you used to do, not that I complained, mind you, and you've been, well, out longer-"
"Whoa!" Tara almost shouted, remembering at the last instant to lower her voice; Gunn, naturally, could not be that far out of earshot. "What do you mean, out? As in 'out of the closet'? A rather archaic, and m-may I say, insulting term?"
Willow blinked again, wondering how she got onto the defensive in this exchange. "Uh, yeah, okay, archaic, yes, we used to use that term back in The Day, but insulting, so not intend-"
"It's insulting, Willow, because it implies that I had...have something to hide. I don't. I'm proud of who I am. I don't need to hide my s-sexuality."
Willow couldn't quite keep from uttering a short laugh. "Oh, that is so rich coming from you, Miss We-Can't-Even-Hold-Hands-In-The-Corridor!"
"Th-that's different," Tara countered diffidently, not quite able to meet Willow's gaze. "We're Starfleet officers, Willow; we're expected to behave with a modicum of decorum." She inhaled sharply, summoning up her counselor's detachment, even as she squashed the inner voice that muttered about the unfairness of using her psychological training in a non-therapeutic setting. "I think you don't feel comfortable in a situation unless you're in control, or at least feeling special in some unique way. Isn't this just you feeling like you're not the smartest kid in class anymore?"
"Or maybe it's you worrying that I'm going to be heading back to Boys' Town!" Willow thundered.
Shaken, Tara asked meekly, "Should I be?"
"No." Now it was Willow who couldn't keep her gaze level. "Tara, I-"
"No, Willow, stop. Let's not do this now," Tara cut in. "One of us is going to say something irreparable." She moved closer, not quite into touching distance. "Why don't we put this on hold, okay?"
"Is that an order?" In spite of their shared emotional turmoil, a ghost of a smile and even a slight twinkle in her eye.
One corner of Tara's mouth quirked upward in response. "Just a prescription."
"Captain's Log, supplemental. Having received some new information that might have bearing on our current mission, I have decided to inform First Officer Faraday and Doctor Devereux of these developments."
"Well?" Murdock asked, impatience giving his voice an edge that would slice cheese. Faraday and Devereux barely dared to glance at one another; as Devereux was re-reading (or pretending to) the information on the deskscreen in the ready room, he had an excuse not to look at the captain.
Commander Olivia Faraday chose to ignore the note of pique in her captain's voice. She had a fair knowledge of the shared past between Murdock and the individual who was the subject of the communiqué. She decided, however, to concentrate on those aspects of the missive that dealt with their current mission. "This 'Kaiser Muldoon,' if this is the same individual I read about at the Academy...it does explain why the seemingly sudden increase in the availability of genetic resequencing on Adigeon Prime."
"I think you're right, Number One," Devereux concurred distractedly, still re-reading (or still pretending to). "One thing I don't understand is, if he is one of the lost 'Eugenics Warriors' - or, what was it they called them back in the twenty-first?"
"'Augments'. No, Charlie, those were all accounted for. All of the genetic 'supermen' that escaped in the Botany Bay either died on Ceti Alpha V or in the Reliant. That's verified.
"Muldoon's the product of twenty-third-century genetic engineering," Murdock continued. "Apparently there were some of the Khan Noonian Wannabes -"
Devereux chuckled. "If Willow were here, she'd call them 'Khannabes.'"
Murdock gave him his best sarcastic oh, thank you look, the expression rumored to dry out a martini at twenty meters. "In any case, back in the 1990's, a handful of them evaded capture and went underground. Several generations later, some of their descendants got together and, using the increased knowledge of the human genome gathered over two-and-a-half centuries, created a new-and-improved version...Kaiser Muldoon.
"He was raised in secret, and eventually told of his heritage...although being a genius even by today's standards, he probably figured it out himself. He somehow found out that the Botany Bay had been found, and that Khan and his Merry Men had been revived and deposited on Ceti Alpha V-"
"And look how well that turned out..."
"Twenty-twenty hindsight, Charlie. In any case, he ran across the Admiral," Murdock continued, waving his hand at the deskscreen, "back when he was a records officer. Muldoon thought to coerce him into revealing the location of the planet, which at that time was being kept secret, by kidnapping him and his grandmother. Long story short, Muldoon came in second, got himself shipped off to Tantalus to get a personality adjustment. Apparently, it didn't take."
"So he eventually was released," Faraday continued, "and now he's apparently set up shop on Adigeon Prime, trying to create an entire army of augmented humans."
Murdock nodded impatiently. "And if that were all we had to contend with, that would be one thing. But, Guess Who has decided to crash the party!?"
"I'll admit it is unfortunate that the Admiral decided to..."
"'Unfortunate?' This is not 'unfortunate,' Number One," Murdock countered, not noticing the rather sardonic tone in his voice. "'Unfortunate' is slipping on a banana peel. What this lunatic is doing would be found under the heading of 'disastrous!'"
"Captain..." Faraday began, trying to find the magic middle ground between respectful disagreement and full-on rebuke. "He is just one man, sir. Capable, experienced, certainly, but even so, I don't see how his mere presence on Adigeon Prime is going to escalate matters to a 'disastrous' degree."
Murdock gave her raised eyebrows, his patented what-are-you-kidding-me expression. "Were you asleep the day they taught about his career at the Academy? He is required reading, y'know - right between Harry Mudd and Kodos The Executioner!"
"What I think we need to discuss," Devereux broke in, before Faraday could respond, "is what we do with this information."
Murdock paused in mid-rant. "Uh, 'do with'? How do you mean?"
"I mean...what do we tell Willow?"
Faraday's inhale could not quite be called a gasp, but it was significant nonetheless. "Should we? I mean, Willow's adjusted to being in this time quite nicely, all told, but..." She looked at Devereux with uncharacteristic uncertainty; this was more his area than hers.
"But she is still fragile, if you know where to look," Devereux agreed. "She's still taking her friend Alexander Harris' death fairly hard -"
"Excuse me, sir?"
"Xander. His nickname from childhood was Xander," Murdock elaborated, his manner less agitated than before, but somewhat distracted. "You're right, Charlie. As much as I would love a big happy reunion with those two, now is not the time or place. Given the nature of their mission, I would rather not have Willow...distracted, right now."
Faraday and Devereux looked at one another, then back at the captain. "Agreed, sir," Faraday murmured. Devereux nodded.
"Number One, I want you to handle the initial meeting with the planetary governor. Coordinate everything through Commander Kolrami and Mr. Thelvran. Thank you, both. Dismissed."
Faraday rose and started towards the ready room door. She turned back when she noticed the counselor hadn't moved from his seat. Devereux turned to her, his expression subdued but purposeful. Sensing what he was up to, the first officer exited the ready room.
Murdock inhaled deeply, glanced significantly up at the ceiling, and mentally braced himself. "Now what did I do wrong, Dad?"
Devereux refused to get sidetracked by verbal sallies. "Why does it bother you so much? What he chooses to 'get himself into'?" He waved at the deskscreen, implicating the information Murdock had received not long ago. "Olivia was right: he's a big boy now, and he was when you first met him - how many years ago was that, refresh my memory, please..."
"Don't do that," Murdock muttered. "That depresses me, you know that. Okay, I'm afraid for him, is that what you want to know?"
"It's a start."
"He's very old. A lot older than most people, even in this day and age, hope to ever see." Murdock smiled grimly. "I know, kinda weird, considering my...personal situation. But he's going to shake hands with the Grim Reaper, sooner than later, and messing around with Kaiser Muldoon is just going to make that even sooner."
Murdock stood and crossed to the viewport, which showed stars streaking past at warp speed. "You and Olivia, and DaKar and all the rest of the Usual Suspects...hell, Willow and Tara, too, and don't ask me to explain why...you've all become very close to me. But him..." He turned to face Devereux, his counselor and friend, with the long sorrow of his life. "For a long time, he was the closest thing to family I had."
S.S. Led Zeppelin
Tara shot a sharp glance in Gunn's direction, sitting in the pilot's seat across from her in the Led Zeppelin's cockpit. The dark-skinned chief petty officer was monitoring their course to Adigeon Prime, but he cocked an eyebrow at the blonde counselor.
"Um, I don't know, just some, uh, r-relationship stuff. Y-you know."
"Can't say as I do, telling the God's honest," Gunn replied. "Never been in one."
Tara clicked almost immediately into Counselor Mode. "You've never been in a relationship? Ever?"
Gunn shook his head, then (rather hastily) amended this. "Well, not to say I haven't been with women. I mean, intimate, you know...with women..."
"Gotcha. Just some quick liaisons, you both have your fun."
"Hey, I don't go around breaking women's hearts, okay?" He was a little defensive on this point.
Tara smiled, to show him that he should not take it that way. "Nothing wrong with that. As long as the both of you knew what you were getting out of it - or not getting out of it, as the case may be. It's not like we're living in the twentieth century, y'know."
"But still, there is the pleasure of having someone to come home to," Tara persisted. "There is more than one reason for two wom-for two people..." She was sure that the quick, amused glance he shot at her for her gaffe caught the blush she couldn't entirely suppress. "I mean, what's the old expression...why buy the cow-"
"-when milk is cheap?" Gunn finished with her, smiling a bit. "Yeah, I heard that before. I just can't...." His sentence trailed away with a shrug.
"What can't you do?" Tara pressed, when he didn't go on.
Nearly ten heartbeats went by before he answered. "Back home...I never had anybody, really, 'cept my kid sister. Alanna."
Tara nodded. She recalled, from her perusal of Gunn's personnel file, that he had been born on Turkana IV, a failed Federation colony where the government and civil infrastructure had broken down completely, leaving the colony desiccated and in the control of gangs. As a teenager, Gunn had apparently been at least loosely affiliated with some of these gangs; Tara had the impression that he had done things he was not terribly proud of.
"I was supposed to take care of her," he continued after a brief pause. Tara knew the tremendous effort he took to keep his grief locked away, felt it battering away at his mind like a captive beast. "Our parents were dead, and I was supposed to keep her safe. I couldn't."
"How old were you?" she asked, already knowing the answer, from his file.
"S'not the point!" Gunn snarled back. He closed his eyes, shook his head slightly. Tara saw him start to apologize for the outburst, and, keeping her face set in a professional mask, waved off his pique. "I was supposed to protect her! I messed up. She's dead. End of story." He turned back to the console, jabbing in commands with savage energy.
"You protect people now, don't you?" Tara asked, her eyes boring into him. "But it's...just a job to you. You don't have personal feelings for your shipmates. Not even for Thelvran, who's not only your boss, but someone who considers you a friend." Gunn raised an eyebrow at that, which earned him her patented oh-tell-me-I'm-wrong look that few sentient beings could withstand.
"Look, you made your point," he averred, "but that's not the same thing as..." He paused, then inhaled deeply. "I just don't think I've got room for-"
For better or worse, the helm console beeped for his attention. He turned back to it, entered in a command. Tara turned to the viewport to see the long streams of warp-distorted stars suddenly shorten into dots. A bright point of light resolved itself in the upper left quadrant, followed by a planet Dopperling out of lightspeed and settling in the center of the port. This, obviously, was their destination...
"Adigeon Prime," Tara said, unnecessarily. "I'll get Willow."
Gunn nodded. "Game on," he muttered, though not without a certain relish.
"...so if you postulate a sheaf of non-Euclidean continua that interact on a series of four-dimensional hypersurfaces, you can easily bypass the binomial paradox."
Kaiser Muldoon was fascinated in spite of himself. He stared at the latest series of scribbled calculations, freshly adhered to the walls of the "guest quarters," by the young woman who had been sequestered there for the last few months.
She was eagerly showing her "host" her work, which covered the walls like an exotic fungus, dressed in the same functional jumpsuit she had worn day after day, strands of dark curly hair escaping from the otherwise meticulous knot she tied it back with.
"This is very interesting," Muldoon muttered as he worked his way through the figures. He was impressed with the complexity and elegance of the equations...especially coming from someone whose mind had not been genetically engineered like his own. "How did you get the value for x as y approaches infinity?"
"Oh, that's from Linderman's quantum phasing equations," she replied brightly, cheeks dimpling. "He presented them at the Nelvato III Conference back in '69; got laughed off the stage." Her chuckle stopped in mid-stream as she noticed the new arrival that Muldoon turned to greet.
"I am here, O Mighty King," the blonde muttered with false brightness, wearing a red dress that would be called "slutty" on any of a dozen planets. She held a small PADD in her left hand.
"Good," Muldoon acknowledged, then turned back to his charge. "Would you excuse me for a moment?"
"Sure," the brunette chirped noncommittally, spearing the blonde with a nasty look before turning back to her calculations.
"I want Seraph and Blood William to head up the strike teams," Muldoon began without preamble. "Round up everybody we have on-planet, then wait for my go-signal. We should be able to breach the starship's defenses within a day of their arrival."
"I thought I was heading up the strike teams," the blonde pouted.
"Well, of course, you are in overall charge of the operation, dear," Muldoon consoled smoothly, "but even you can't be everywhere at once, and I may need you down here for some -- how shall I put I put it -- mopping up? Not to mention, I can't have you giving up your 'day job' quite yet. I might need the information that you have access to -- and I need you also to keep certain people in line."
"Oh, fun," she replied flatly. "You know, if Blood William goes up, you know Cilla will tag along."
He sighed. "I expect that. We'll just have to deal. But tell her," he added sternly, "the doll stays home."
The blonde snickered. "Oh, I almost forgot," she said, holding up the PADD, "this came in from Farius Prime. Apparently some guy busted up The Smiling Targ looking for you. Another member of your fan club?"
Muldoon shrugged, took the proferred display device and accessed the information. "I have no idea. Frankly, if the Federation was to come after me, I would expect a lot--" He frowned as he came across a description given to the intruder. The blonde registered a hint of disbelief, and even concern, on her employer's face. After a few seconds, shaking his head as if ridding himself of a momentary fugue, he handed the PADD back. "Well, it appears as if this individual is going to get his wish; Flaxians are so unreliable, you just can't trust them to keep their mouths shut. If he is here, we can keep an eye out for him. Pass it along."
"Right." The blonde assistant exited the room, leaving Muldoon to watch the brunette start another page of calculations. His thoughts took on dark tones, besot with old memories of defeat and disappointment.
"It can't be him," he whispered.