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[2008: MAR-APR] Heirloom


James T. Kolk
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It had taken what seemed like a lifetime for the old man to drag himself and his tiny shuttle through the vastness of space to the starship museum at the Astral V Annex. When he arrived, the museum was closed for the night. Reluctantly, he booked a room on the station's habitat section, beamed himself and a change of clothes in, and went to sleep. Just one more day. He'd been alive for far too long, but he still had one thing left to do. Finally, it was within reach. He could get it done tomorrow. And then he could die. Just one more day...

The next morning, he woke up early, his ancient, aching bones robbing him of rest and sleep just as they had for years innumerable. Even so, he found himself touched by an ounce of excitement that he hadn't expected. He would finally be able to—

"Mr. Sloan?"

The voice startled him. He'd been alone in his little personal shuttle for so long. But quickly enough he remembered that voices were often transmitted long distances for more efficient communication.

"Yes?"

"Given your unique history with the craft, we've arranged a private tour for you. If you're ready, we'll begin as soon as you arrive."

"Really? Thank you! I'll--" he coughed, his age getting in the way of his excitement, "I'll be right there, Sloan out!"

He felt like a young man again. He even closed the line like he had back in his Starfleet days. He was ready to leap into action. He felt like he could wrestle a targ! ...until he tried bounding out of his chair and found himself feeling quite dizzy. Then he decided to just take it easy.

--

"Hello, Cmdr. Sloan. My name is Anthony McGovern and I will be your guide. Welcome to the Astral V Annex," the young man said cheerily. "I'd like to apologize for our inability to help you last night. We simply weren't prepared to accommodate you at the time."

Sloan raised a hand to wave off the youth's apology. "Never mind, young man. You're here now. Let's get started."

"And you're sure you don't want to see any of the other craft in our museum?"

"No. Thank you. Just..." Nathaniel Sloan looked out the starport nearby and, for the first time, noted that they had moved the Vissian starship he'd come to see directly in front of the window. He lost his tongue for a moment as he stared at the craft. It was more graceful-looking than he remembered. Of course, the hull wasn't scorched anymore, so that helped. "Just the Lassira."

The youthful guide immediately began to stroll toward the nearby transporter room. "Alright, we'll board her in the aft section and move our way forward."

The man's words were too close to those he'd heard years ago. As he followed Mr. McGovern, he couldn't help but relive that fateful day.

--

Sloan, a Lieutenant JG at the time, had been the Chief of Security on the Miranda class USS Saratoga, NCC-1867, when it responded to the Lassira's distress call. By the time they arrived, the small Vissian craft was badly damaged and her attacker had run off to hide in a nearby nebula. The young, dark-haired Nathaniel Sloan read off what his console was telling him.

"It's a Vissian scout craft. Crew compliment, 20. I'm only reading 5 life signs, minimal power, and their warp core is active but unstable. It could go critical at any time."

The science officer, full Lieutenant Anthony Frankel, added exactly what the captain didn't want to hear: "I'm reading substantial radiation leakage from the core. Transporters won't be able to lock on unless the Vissians move to the aft, away from their core."

"Are their communications intact?" Captain Parisa Samu asked, looking at Nathaniel. He simply shook his head. "Alright, we'll board her in the aft section and move our way forward. Sloan, Matthews; you're with me."

--

The old, humpbacked Commander and his young straight-laced guide materialized in the aft cargo hold, just as the <a name="lnp.">Saratoga's away team had years ago. Instead of the debris and broken, flaring conduit of years ago, the small ship was in perfect condition with reproductions of early-24th Century Vissian cargo containers to give visitors a feel for the time period. As the power automatically turned on to correspond with the arrival of visitors, Sloan could see that a golden carpet had been laid as a pathway to lead from the beam-in point to the door of the hold and beyond. And that doorway was where the Commander most wanted to go.

--

"This way," Ensign Matthews said, pointing toward the half-hidden door on the far end of the cargo hold but looking at his tricorder. Lieutenant Sloan instantly began tossing debris out of their way, barely noticing the constraining nature of the thick maroon uniforms they were all wearing. He was so focused on tossing the heavy metal s[...]s of hull and cargo out of the way that he hardly noticed when his Captain joined him in the effort. A minute or so later, they were prying the unpowered doors apart through brute force. When the doors gave up the fight, they were faced with a wall and a hallway going to either side, but not forward where they wanted to go.

"Which way, Mr. Matthews?" Captain Samu asked.

"There are 3 to the right and 2 to the left. One of the 2 is fading fast."

"Sloan, you take the left. Matthews and I will go right."

"Aye, Sir," the adrenaline-filled Lieutenant said, starting down the hall.

"And Sloan?" The man stopped and turned toward his captain. "I want you back here in 5 minutes."

Sloan nodded and jogged down the hall and around a corner.

--

Despite the older man's resolve to take a direct route to the door, the younger man was the first to the hall. Commander Sloan had lived longer than most humans and his relative speed had suffered as a result.

"We can go either way around. Would you prefer to go—"

"Left."

The forcefulness of the old man's voice startled the 20-year-old tour guide, but he recovered quickly and led the way down the hall.

"Do you have any questions about the ship? Is there any aspect of its operation that you've wondered about since…?"

"Mr. McGovern, I appreciate your desire to be helpful, but… I just want to reminisce."

"As you wish."

A few minutes later the two were standing in the room that years ago it had taken Sloan mere seconds to reach. Though the room was brightly lit and comfortably furnished in the here and now, in Sloan's mind it was still dark, clothes and furnishings strewn about from the battle, deep violet blood pooled on the floor underneath a dead Vissian in one corner.

--

The young Lieutenant leaned over the body immediately, checking the tricorder over and over again while attempting to find a pulse. It was no use. The woman had been dead before the Saratoga even arrived in the area.

Suddenly he heard a clatter in the next room. Leaving the body as reverently as he could under the circumstances, he stood and passed through the next doorway.

--

Slowly and quietly, the old man pried his eyes away from the corner where the body had lain. Turning, he crossed the room and went through the next doorway, which led into a pristine hallway.

--

The young Lieutenant's hand-torch showed him the same thing it'd shown him everywhere on this tub: collapsed ceiling beams and loose conduits and wiring, some still sparking sporadically. In the distance, however, he thought he saw movement. Avoiding the exposed wiring, the dark-haired officer did his best to speed through the hallway. As he neared the next compartment, which looked to be the ship's main engine room, he called out to the person whom he'd seen rush about a couple more times.

"I'm Lieutenant Nathaniel Sloan of the Federation Starship Saratoga. I need to get you out of here before the ship explodes."

As he finished his statement, he stepped fully into the room. The Vissian officer sped from console to console trying to make repairs, barely paying Sloan any mind. He did take the time, however, to protest evacuating.

"No! Lassira's not going to explode! Not if I have anything to do with it!"

Sloan checked his tricorder, and it did seem that the man was making some progress re-stabilizing the core. It also seemed there was another lifesign in the engine room, though it was much weaker than this engineer's.

"Is there someone else in here? If you or they need medical attention—"

"Jossa. She was working on the engine core when we were attacked. She's over there."

Sloan followed the man's momentary gesture to a slumped figure. Nathaniel knew from experience that it was never any use arguing with an engineer, so he left the man to his work and kneeled near the woman called Jossa. She didn't seem to notice his presence. Her eyes seemed to be looking straight through him and she kept muttering, "I'm sorry, Dreylo. I'm so sorry."

"Jossa?" Sloan said. The Vissian woman almost looked at him, so he tried again. "Jossa? I'm going to take you to the aft hold, okay?" She stopped muttering and looked in his eyes, but that was all. "You're going to be all right, but we have to get you out of here, okay?" Finally she nodded, and Sloan lifted her to her feet as carefully as he could, wrapping her arm over his neck for support. As he and Jossa hobbled toward the cluttered hallway, Sloan called to the engineer who'd disappeared on the far side of the core. "Are you coming? Even if you stop the breach, you'll need medical attention; there's radiation all over this place!"

"I'm not leaving till Lassira's safe!"

--

"Crazy engineers," the crook-backed old Commander said under his breath.

"Sir?" The younger man had followed Sloan in silence to the engine room and was surprised to hear him speak.

"I warned him that the radiation could kill him, but he wouldn't listen."

"Who, sir?"

"Oh," the Commander quietly laughed at himself. Of course the young man wouldn't know what he'd been thinking. "The Chief Engineer of this ship, a man called Ressik. I never knew his name till after, but… He stayed on the ship, despite the radiation because he wouldn't leave 'till Lassira was safe.' Treated her like a living being. I never quite got that attached to any of the ships I served on, myself."

The young man chuckled lightly. "You were never an engineer."

The old man laughed, leading to a short coughing fit. They were common enough, and he recovered quickly. "No. No, I wasn't. … Might be why I lived so long."

The young man smiled. "So, did Ressik make it?"

"No. We got him off the ship eventually, but it was too late. The radiation had done too much damage. But I'm sure he'd be glad to know the Lassira's still safe and running."

Young Mr. McGovern nodded thoughtfully and looked around the engine room, trying his best to imagine what it might've been like when Sloan had been here over half a century ago. He loved hearing stories about what it'd been like when people actually lived on the ships he told people about. But so many of them were from eras and species that were long dead that VIP visits like this were almost unheard of. Anthony sighed and looked back at the old man, who was now working his way along the golden-carpeted path toward a doorway on the far side of the softly glowing engine core.

--

As Lieutenant Sloan carried Jossa down the cramped hallway, he became acutely aware of the passage of time. Carrying an injured woman on his shoulder made maneuvering the clutter of metal and crackling wires painfully slow and dangerous. It didn't help that the woman was half-delusional either.

"Dreylo? Is that you?" she'd said more than once. After it was clear that telling her the truth wasn't working, he decided to play along.

"Yes, Jossa. It's me."

"Oh, Dreylo! You must take me back to my office!"

"Why?"

"I have something for you there. Something my mother gave me, and something you must give your child, when you have one."

Now Nathaniel was curious, "Where is it, Mother? I'll go back for it when you're safe."

"It's… it's in my locker, in a secret compartment."

They finally reached the first room Sloan had found, with the dead woman on the floor. He didn't want the woman to suffer any more trauma than she already had, so he used the arm he had around her back to pull her into a hug. He didn't know what the Vissian norms of physical contact were, but he supposed it was unlikely that he could make her too uncomfortable. After all, she thought he was her sun. He didn't have long to wonder if he'd discomfited her, though. She was shorter than him and looked up into his eyes with her own deep-set pair.

"When did you grow so big, Dreylo? Are you my guide?"

"Guide? Yes. I'm here to guide you to safety."

"You're my guide to the Shalzi Shores? How can that be? You are my son. You should follow, not precede."

Nathaniel thought fast while he struggled to keep her back to the dead woman and shuffle the two of them to the other doorway. "My spirit is part of yours. It is linked to those of all of our ancestors. A part of yours led your parents to the Shores."

"Of course! But… Dreylo! You must go back for it!"

"I will. When you are safe."

They were finally there, and it was only a short way to the cargohold, where he could see the Captain and Matthews shepherding practically uninjured Vissians through the doorway. Jossa must've seen them entering, because she immediately tried to jump out of his arms.

"Let me go, my son. I can find my way on my own. You must—"

"I must lead you the whole way, Mother. I swear to you, I will return for it," if this ship doesn't get blown to pieces first, he thought.

--

"What are you looking for, sir?"

The aged human was looking about the room with more focused interest than he'd shown in any of the previous rooms. McGovern reached out and touched the man's arm.

"Sir?"

"A locker. Is there one here?" Quietly, this time more to himself than McGovern, he said, "It has to be here."

"Over there. Why?"The old man didn't respond. Instead he made his way, faster than he'd moved anywhere thus far, to the locker.

"I really shouldn't let you off the path, sir. Everything on this ship is priceless. A piece of history."

As the old man tinkered with the locker, he spoke as carefully as he could, though the excitement he felt was taking it's toll on his rickety old body. "Anthony, my boy. I am a piece of history. When this particular part of history was unfolding, I made a promise to a dying woman, and I intend to keep that promise."

McGovern hesitated before stepping off the path himself, then knelt next to the old man. "What kind of a promise?"

"I promised to return here for a family heirloom that was meant for her son. She died not long after we got her off the Lassira, and the Saratoga was called away on another emergency before I could convince the Captain to let me beam back for it." As he finished explaining, he finally managed to open the locker.

The young tour guide peeked in for just a moment. As he'd expected, it was empty. "I'm sorry, sir, but everything that belonged to the crew was shipped to them or their families when the Lassira first arrived at the Annex."

Commander Sloan reached one of his well-wrinkled hands into the locker and felt every surface while the young man talked. Just about the time he was finishing, the old man smiled. He opened the secret panel. Inside, he found a small box and pulled it out. "They didn't ship this."

McGovern was speechless.

After a brief, but supremely satisfying look inside the box, Sloan closed it again. "Young man, do you have any vacation time coming to you?"

"What? Um… yes. Why?"

"I'm too old to do what needs to be done at this point. Can I trust you to find the descendent of the Lassira engineer named Jossa and give this to them? Personally?"

"Uh… I don't know. I…"

"Consider it a dying man's request."

The young tour guide swallowed hard. He felt deeply honored to have been asked to take part in this man's quest, and he was almost afraid to accept. But at the same time he couldn't say anything but "Of course."

--

It had been easier than he'd expected for McGovern to track down the engineer's family. Her son, Dreylo, and his wife had passed on, as had the progenitor who'd helped them conceive, but their daughter was still alive. She had grown into a young woman, known as Lt. Commander Tralla, a Starfleet Officer. When McGovern caught up with her, she was awaiting the arrival of the Galaxy class USS Destiny, where she would fill the post of Chief Science Officer for the first time in her career. The young man found her in a pub on Starbase 211, staring out at the stars.

"Lt. Commander Tralla?"

She looked up at the young human whom she'd never met. "Yes?"

With a broad smile, he said what he'd rehearsed so many times. "A friend of your grandmother asked me to give you this." He placed the small box on the table and walked away.

THE END

Edited by Lt. Jack Kolk
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