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Part of USS Redding: Something Funny Happened on the Way to the Underspace and Bravo Fleet: Labyrinth

Manifold VI: the Bird flew in the Time Eddy

Romulan Bird-of-Prey Koruba, Underspace
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Lieutenant al-Kwaritzmi’s log, fifth day in the Underspace, morning: my personal affairs have been brought, I have hugged a last time Diran, and the Koruba has flown into the boundary of the Underspace, positioning the rear half of the Bird-of-Prey into a highly accelerated time distortion. Dhae and I are the only people in here – everyone else has been moved to the front half. We are to start the repair recrystallization, and then our long watch will begin.

The power system in which the artificial singularity was embedded was, in its way, a wonder of engineering. Romulans weren’t famous for their technical prowess, but any close study at any of their achievements revealed a meticulousness and abstraction that could rival the Vulcans’.

It had taken days to Iskander and the other crew of the Redding to understand what the parts did and what was broken, but now Iskander felt relatively sure. He had taken much of the power system apart, and finally isolated the malfunctioning virtualizer.

It was a single-domained crystal of twenty centimeters by one meter, black and dull to the eye, whose surface was blemished by a couple of dull red scratches: insignificant visually, but enough to render the whole thing useless.

“Demotivator, please” he said.

Dhae picked the tool and passed it. Iskander removed the clamps. “The 5-nm Ark-Levinson.”

In the dark Main Engineering, the human and the Romulan worked side-by-side, silently aside from those brief commands, until the virtualizer was in the crystal growth unit and the ingredients of its epitaxyal growth had been set. Iskander relaxed only when he had double-checked the Argon flux.

“You have worked well, Lieutenant” said Sublieutenant Dhae, observing the monitors. “At least, in my laymen eyes. Are you satisfied?”

“I’m never satisfied before the job is done, but I’ll agree that until now we have met no obstacle, Sublieutenant.”

“How often do you need to check on it?”

“Every couple of hours” replied Iskander. “Have you secured the computer systems?”

Dhae nodded. “You shan’t worry.”

There was every reason to worry. Like a Federation starship, the Romulan Bird-of-Prey had a central computer server. Its functioning relied on every other computer agreeing on what time it was and how fast information could be sent and received: usually a simple ask, but with a time distortion as they were in, the desynchronizations could grow enormously. The worse case was the Lovelace cascade: a gradual descent into digital madness where parts of the ship-wide computing system would become incapable of synchronizing with out-of-time devices, corrupting the code and ultimately shutting down something – or everything. The USS Nestoris, twenty years prior, had exploded when the antimatter containment system had accrued a time-shift of half a second: the Redding‘s warp nacelles had stopped working at the microsecond time-shift, and the Koruba had to survive days of time-shifting.

“I’ll trust you” said Iskander.

Dhae looked perplexed. “Why would you do that?”

Iskander was unsure at his puzzlement. “What choice do I have?”

“Mistrusting me, of course.”

“Would that do me any good? I am forbidden from looking into your computer system too much. I can’t double-check how you have secured the computer. If I worried I couldn’t do anything about it. Should I do it aimlessly?”

“You might. I would. You have no reason to think that my solution will work.”

Iskander raised an eyebrow. “Well, I won’t worry aimlessly, because that’s just going to ruin my mental health. I decide that it’s better to just trust that you are competent enough.”

Dhae mulled those words for a moment in his head. “So that’s why you would trust me? To help your mental health?”

“Sure. Let’s say so. As a Romulan, you probably think that I’m being unforgivably human and naive and exploitable, but trusting you simplifies my life.”

Dhae seemed thoughtful again. “It is naive but also sounds very effective. You have to concentrate on the epitaxyal unit. There is wisdom in trusting me.”

They stood silent, motionless, side by side, looking at the epitaxyal growth machine, for a couple of minutes.

“By the way, why didn’t you want Mir Durbus here assisting you?” asked Iskander. “She’s way better than I am.”

“You have performed more than adequately. I do not think she’d have done better than you,” answered Dhae.

“You haven’t answered my question.”

Dhae stared at him, in a perfect Romulan non-expression, then walked with his secrets away.

___________________________________________________

Lieutenant al-Kwaritzmi’s log, fifth day in the Underspace, evening: it’s been a quiet day in the Koruba’s Main Engineering room. The epitaxyal regrowth is proceeding about as well as planned: we have achieved a quiet rate of 0.61 nm per hour, and the crystalline lattice is perfect. I have adjusted slightly up the Argon flow. I am otherwise forbidden from doing any other sort of engineering task, so Sublieutenant Dhae has kept quite busy with all of those tasks, alone. In the free time, I am reading.

Iskander stood and stretched. The Romulan ship seemed not to be made for comfort, with the exception of the mess hall that was in the other half of the ship; the human had therefore had to create a makeshift sofa in one angle of the engineering room.

Sublieutenant Dhae looked at him across the room: impossible to know what he was doing, but he quickly finished whatever task it was and approached.

“What are you reading, Lieutenant?” he asked. Iskander had told him a couple of hours earlier that he was going to do that.

“Oh? An old classic. I hope that you don’t mind that I do nothing. You have forbidden me from meddling in your systems, but I’m still feeling guilty about that.”

Dhae dismissed the thought with a gesture. “No need to feel guilty, Lieutenant. But this time you haven’t answered my question.”

“It’s an old Earth book called A Hundred Years of Solitude” replied Iskander.

“Isn’t that a bit on the nose due our circumstance?”

Iskander laughed. “At least it’s set in a house, not in a stranded battleship.”

Dhae nodded. “Please come with me, Lieutenant.”

They exited the engineering room and walked along the corridors in silence. Since they were the only two people in the rear end of the ship, many automatic systems had been shut down to spare the power: the lights had been dimmed to the point that Iskander could barely see, and the silence was eerie.

Their destination turned out to be one scientific lab: astrometrics. Its main feature were two large windows, as wide as the room, that gave an amazing view of the Underspace, orange and fiery. The decore was minimal, but – incongruously – a set dinner table had been positioned in the middle of the room, where Iskander would have expected to find stellar projections.

“We can’t go to the mess hall” explained Sublieutenant Dhae, husky. “I thought the view from here would be good enough.”

“It is very thoughtful. It’s going to give a better taste to the emergency ratios.”

Dhae looked at him raising his eyebrows. “What is it with you and emergency ratios?”

Iskander sat at the table. “We can’t go to the mess hall.”

Right on cue, the door opened and a small robot whirred in. Its primary function was probably cleaning or some other menial task, but it had been enhanced with a makeshift tray on which were two dishes loaded with food.

“You’re kidding me” said Iskander.

“I never kid when the topic is food” retorted Sublieutenant Dhae, taking the two plates and setting them on the table. The cleaning robot whirred out of the room. “It’s freshly made.”

Iskander gingerly touched the plate. It was warm. The smell was almost intoxicating, after the long day in engineering.

He ate a big scoop of the blue mush. It was spicy and delicious.

“This was somewhat complicated to organize” was saying Dhae, starting by plucking the tiny green vegetables on the plate. “The cook is going to make food for us non-stop for the whole time we are here. Due to the time distortion, he has to send a robot with a meal every… five minutes maybe? The robot is going to traverse the time distortion and keep us fed.”

The Romulan looked out and sighed. He added: “I’m afraid that, with a new plate every five minutes for one entire day, we are going to see many repeats in the menu. It can’t be avoided.”

Iskander tried too the tiny green vegetables. They were not to his taste. “Of all the things I did not expect of a Romulan scientist, it was to find a foodie.”

The Romulan didn’t say anything.

“A food enthusiast, I mean, Sublieutenant.”

“I did understand. I do not know how to take your words. Is there a contradiction between being Romulan, or a scientist, and enjoying good food, Lieutenant?”

“Sublieutenant,” replied Iskander with a smile, “I didn’t know that being a foodie was a personality trait a Romulan could have. But it is you who keep your culture so secretive – is it my fault that you keep your mysteries?”

Dhae munched for a moment. “I guess you are right. When you are done with your book about being lonely, would you like to read some Romulan literature?”

“So that I may learn more about your culture?”

“Yes, Lieutenant, precisely.”

“I’d rather not learn the fiction” smiled Iskander trying the doughy stick. “But I’d love to read something Romulan. Maybe you’ll want to read something human in return.”

Dhae smiled back, stood and went to a console. Unexpectedly, he opened a compartment and took out a bottle: triangular – well, tetrahedral – thin and filled with a blue liquid.

“At any rate, if we are to spend forty days together,” said Dhae uncorking the bottle, “let’s agree to be on good terms. Have you already tried Romulan ale, Lieutenant?”

“I have not, no. I do not drink much alcohol, but I feel it would be rude to refuse” pondered Iskander, finishing his plate. “I’ll drink at the condition that you stop calling me Lieutenant. Please call me Iskander.”

“Oh” said the Romulan, pouring. “Call me Dhae.”