In the Neighborhood
DISCLAIMER: I don’t own the characters and earn no profit in writing this.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The last line is ripped off from the show, but it tickled me and fit well here. If you have any comments or preferences, please don’t be shy. RandR.
Lt. Malcolm Reed was having a very bad day. He wasn’t sure at what point he’d lost his communicator. It might have been while he was escaping the anti-government demonstration turned riot he had been caught up in. It might have been when a group of angry locals, highly xenophobic it seemed, had chased him for five blocks. It might have been while he was crawling through the underbrush in the overgrown lot. Regardless, without it, he couldn’t call for an emergency transport. T’Nerul was rapidly becoming one of his least favorite planets.
The other members of the landing party had been similarly scattered during the initial confusion, and he hoped that they had been able to call for emergency transport. He still knew where the shuttle pod was, but the knowledge wouldn’t do him much good if he led his rather determined pursuers there. Hence, his current strategy. He was leading them on a roundabout chase, hoping to lose them, or at least gain a decent lead, before arriving back at the landing site. So far it wasn’t working.
Down another alley, sprint across the square, into the burned-out building and out the back. Blending in was not an option. T’Nerul was hot. Even had it not been the mid-summer in the city he found himself in, the planet never got cold enough to make cloaks, hooded coats or other potentially identity concealing clothing practical. The natives’ three legs and yellow skin didn’t help either.
Not everyone was after him, of course. It was a big city, and the riot had been a relatively isolated event. Many of the people he passed had just looked at him curiously as he ran by. Thank God for apathy
, Malcolm thought, as he entered a store and ducked out the back, even as the shouts of his pursuers grew louder again. The shopkeeper had watched his arrival and departure with nothing more than a raised brow ridge.
Still they were getting closer. Malcolm wasn’t sure why they were pursuing him so ardently. Usually, rioters, regardless of species, were creatures of opportunity, not given to prolonged chases. This group was distressingly focused. Two near misses later, he scaled a high fence and ducked into an alley with no outlet, barely 30 seconds ahead of his pursuers. Only one door presented itself and it was both locked and very solid. The buildings were too high to scale and offered nothing resembling fire escapes, so he took refuge behind what passed locally for a rubbish bin and hoped his pursuers wouldn’t check the alley. Vain hope
, he allowed, but he had nothing better. He knew they had seen him go over the fence and could hear them following.
“Psst! Psst!” Turning quickly toward the previously locked door, he saw a rather pretty blonde girl, human by all appearances, motioning him inside. A second later, another human, an older man, leaned out with a quizzical expression.
“You spring a leak?” he asked in a loud voice, causing both Malcolm and the blonde to wince. He glanced up at the sound of raised voices, and looked toward the mouth of the alley. “Well don’t just hang about. Get in here.” Malcolm didn’t need any urging. His rescuers stepped back and allowed him inside before shutting and relocking the door. “I see you got caught up in the demonstration,” the man noted, taking in Malcolm’s rather ragged appearance. “T’Nerul is normally a friendly enough place, but during silly season the people get a bit off.”
“Silly season?” Malcolm repeated, not at all sure he’d heard right.
“Their version, anyway. The T’Ner are choosing new leadership. That’s how they go about it.” The stranger offered no further explanation and the blonde only shrugged. No help there. “We’ll get you back to your ship as soon as we finish our errand here.”
“You’re jus’ full of questions, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am. I’m grateful for your help, but I’d like to at least know who you are, and what you’re doing here.” The stranger didn’t answer; instead going back to the machine he had apparently been tinkering with before Malcolm arrived. It was large enough to fill half of the good-sized room and was like nothing he’d seen before. Its form offered no clue as to its function.
“I’m Rose,” the girl spoke up. “Don’t mind him, he’s just very busy right now. Probably tryin’ to keep the planet from blowin’ up or some such.”
“Don’ be so melodramatic,” her companion snapped, not turning from the panel he had pried open and all but crawled inside. “It’s just this city that is at risk.”
“That would be comfortin’,” she allowed, “but this is ground zero, innit?”
“Have it sorted in a mo’,” he said, not turning to look at her. “These Iconian spatial disruptors are touchy at the best of times, and this one isn’t workin’ proper at all.” He paused in his fiddling to consider. “Which is actually a good thing, all told.”
“Spatial disruptor?” Reed latched onto that. Weapons, he understood.
“A weapon,” the man confirmed. “Advanced beyond anything the Earth of your time knows. Far beyond these people, certainly. They probably found an old Iconian outpost. Fortunately, it has to build up a charge ‘fore it can fire, but the T’Ner haven’t been givin’ it a chance. They’re draining off the power fast as the core can build it up.”
“Draining it?” Reed moved around the device. There were power leads running to the device that were clearly not part of the original design. It looked as if holes had been cut in the outer casing to accommodate them. “For what?”
“Oh, lotsa things,” the muffled reply came from ground level. Malcolm rounded the far side to see a pair of legs sticking out from under the device. “Heating bath water, runnin’ the lights, brewin’ morning tea.”
“They’re using it li’ a giant battry?” Rose sounded as thunderstruck as Reed felt. “Tha’s got to be the stupides-”
“Most brilliant idea I’ve heard in a long time!” her companion interrupted as he wiggled out and stood up. “First time this thing was ever
used for anything constructive. Genius, really. Pity that the local troubles are causing the power consumption to drop so dramatically, or they might have gone on indefinitely like this.”
“Powering their city with a weapon’s power core?” Reed demanded, still dazed at the idea. “It’s a wonder they didn’t blow themselves up just rigging this!”
“Yes, well, fate protects fools and children. How do you think Humanity has made it so far?” He grabbed the power leads and yanked them out of the machine. “That’s that.” He turned to Reed. “Time to get you back to your ship.”
Twenty minutes later, Reed was on board the Enterprise
, still a bit dazed by the trip. “Too bad ‘bout your shuttle-pod,” Rose said, “but at least everyone got out okay.”
Reed nodded. “Thanks for the lift. Your ship is amazing.”
“Thank you,” the man whose name he still hadn’t learned beamed at him.
“Exactly how did you come by it, though? Humans don’t have this kind of technology. Not in this time.” His eyes narrowed. “Are you part of the temporal cold war?”
“Us? No. I stay well clear o’ that lot. Always messin’ about with things they don’t understand. Oh, and I never said I was human.” He turned back toward his vessel, which had simply materialized in a corridor aboard Enterprise
“If you’re not human,” Reed challenged as Rose and her friend went back inside, “why do you have a northern accent?”
The man was inside, and seemed intent on ignoring him, but Rose gave him a sympathetic look before stepping in after her friend. “Lots of planets have a north.”