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# 14
03-12-2013, 12:13 PM
Tales of Alyosha Strannik
LC #40--Redux (LC #16--Academy Days)

"The Categorical Imperative"

Author's note: The character of Marcus Kane is used with the kind permission of marcusdkane, and his assistance included providing Kane's dialogue in certain places.

"Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person, or the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end."
--Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785, Earth)

Deep Space Nine, early 2373, 1 month prior to the first shots of the Dominion War

My travel bag weighed heavily on me as I made my way to Runabout Pad 3--enough so that I had to risk increasing my telekinetic output to maintain my balance. Contrary to my human appearance, my natural musculature wasn't really that much to speak of, so I almost always made use of some level of telekinetic support. As far as anyone knew, this seemed to be the normal mode of operation for my species.

That said, to hear my fellow cadets talk back when I was at the Academy, these bags were an inconvenience to just about everyone. Just why had Starfleet not seen fit to issue antigrav carriers or at the least, rolling luggage, evaded me--though there was a rumor it was intended to prompt those cadets...or officers...who found themselves in less-than-ideal physical shape to get back into compliance. Right now, after traversing Deep Space Nine's seeming kilometers of corridors with the thing, I was starting to believe it.

Most of my time since graduation had been spent doing anything but the scientific missions I had studied for at Starfleet Academy. Instead, I had spent a year being ferried from docking bay to docking bay, carrying encrypted padds with data too sensitive to fall into Dominion hands--this because for all their power, including a shapeshifting capability far superior to my own, they could not mimic the phase shift that separated me from most species. This meant that I could never successfully be replaced by a Founder. Only killed.

This mission, however, would be different. To my astonishment, Starfleet Intelligence had selected me for a search-and-rescue mission. Who and where--I had not been informed. That would be up to my contact, whom I had been ordered to meet with at the runabout pad.

As I entered the shadowed chamber where the runabout sat, already warmed up for launch, something flickered on its hull. No--more than that...completely covered up. The runabout's name--once the USS Tigris--now said, USS Shenandoah, after the runabout the Endeavour had just delivered to the station.

Definitely an intelligence operative, I thought to myself. This wasn't going to be fun. I steeled myself for yet another set of cold, appraising eyes and stern orders without so much as even a hint of geniality. Perhaps even distaste.

The runabout hatch opened with an initial metallic pop, followed by the hiss of hydraulics. Four pips caught in the meager light. Parade rest, Ensign. This was high-level. I had no doubt now: whoever this was, he was cleared to know my true species.

A closer look showed the captain to be quite young for his rank. And his expression was...well, it wasn't cold, exactly. Inscrutable was a better word for it.

"At rest, Ensign."

Interesting...not just 'at ease,' but 'rest,' I noted.

As I complied, he walked forward, his steps unhurried but filled with intention nonetheless. "Ensign Strannik, I'm Captain Marcus Kane, Starfleet Intelligence." Then he extended his hand.

I froze. Was he serious? The gesture so stunned me that I completely failed to notice the other thing I should have observed about Captain Kane right away.

Kane raised one eyebrow. "Is something the matter, Ensign?" His tone--it wasn't an order, but a gently-voiced request.

"I'm sorry, sir," I said. "It's just..." I didn't stammer...except as an act, it wasn't in me to stutter. Instead, in such moments, I simply found myself momentarily without a voice.

Oh, Lord...should I say this? For a moment I shut my mouth, but the captain nodded for me to go on. "I mean no offense...but I'm not used to most people who know what I am wanting to get that close."

Kane seemed to give that a moment to sink in. "I see," he murmured to himself. Then he proffered his hand again. "'s a pleasure to meet you. As long as it won't cause you any discomfort..."

I shook my head and smiled, though I found it hard to give him the impression of eye contact. Though well aware that a firm grip was the most polite, I kept my handshake light and brief, lest Kane feel trapped in any way.

It was after Captain Kane released my hand and I looked back up when I noticed something distinctly off about his neural activity. It was...intense. Stormlike. I drew a sharp breath. By near-instinct, the eyes of my human image went wide. At least to my perception, it had all the markings of an incipient epileptic seizure. "Sir--are you all right? Do you need to go to Sickbay--I mean, the Infirmary?" I corrected myself, remembering the Cardassian terminology that had stuck even to this day. My hand shot up to my commbadge.

"Belay that!" Kane ordered. Then his demeanor relaxed again, becoming almost...inquisitive. "May I ask what would bring you to that conclusion, Ensign?"

"It's..." How could I phrase this in such a way that the human captain wouldn't get the impression that I'd been eyeballing him for lunch? "Well, I have this sense that...its purpose is to detect neural energy. It's not something I can turn on or off," I hastily explained. "It there. Always. And it's looked--like there's too much activity. Like you're about to have a seizure."

Captain Kane took the revelation quite a bit more in stride than I had been expecting. He nodded thoughtfully, then replied: "You may be detecting a genetic condition of mine. I can assure you, though, it's nothing harmful, and there are people I can contact if there's anything I need. But I do appreciate your kind offer of assistance."

Then he gestured to the runabout's hatch. "If you would..."

I stepped into the runabout, offloading my travel bag as quickly as I could, immediately rebalancing myself so I didn't float off the floor at the release of its substantial weight--the telekinetic equivalent of someone else accidentally picking up an empty drinking glass with the force needed for a full one.

"Please be seated," the captain invited. "Before we launch, I'll need to brief you in on the particulars of the mission." I nodded. "SI has a deep-cover agent in Cardassian territory whose cover is now likely to be blown now that the Dominion is putting its force behind the CIB." The Cardassian Intelligence Bureau, I recalled, the successor to the destroyed Obsidian Order. "The Tigris' flight plan is filed under the name of the Shenandoah, for an extended shakedown cruise. However...the Shenandoah has in fact already had its shakedown. We'll be taking the Tigris into Cardassian territory, to Septimus III.

"The entire inhabited area of the planet is a Cardassian military garrison, and there is heavy sensor shielding in place, even in the wilderness areas they use for survival training. Ship's sensors can't penetrate it without a hard enough scan to be detected, and any tricorder not registered with the Cardassian military to cut through the interference will be useless. We need to get a commbadge to our operative, and we can't risk it being intercepted if we send it by parcel. The Cardassians," he elaborated, "are nothing if not paranoid. And thorough." For just a second, the captain's voice had taken on a hard edge. Then it faded just as quickly as it had come.

"SI believes, based on the last message we received from our operative that she's holed up in the wilderness areas. They think there's a good chance that if we're able to make a stealth landing long enough to let you off on-planet, that neurological energy-detecting sense you have might be enough to pick up human lifesigns without the use of a tricorder, and that your phasing abilities might let you move around undetected until you deliver the commbadge to our operative. At that point, you'd have only to call for transport and I'd beam you back. The Cardassians will detect us then, and we'll have to punch out of the system at high warp. Their defense systems will come online so quickly that a live pilot is required back in the runabout to pull you out, and to react to things as they happen.

"You'll be alone on the surface." Just as when Captain Kane offered his hand...I froze. Up until now, Starfleet had never allowed me on a mission unaccompanied. As a courier, despite being fully pilot-certified, I hadn't been permitted at the helm of a shuttle since graduation, even on short-range missions within Federation territory where no second pilot should have been necessary. "I realize this is asking a lot of you," Kane said, "but you may be the only one standing between her and a Cardassian concentration camp."

Goodness...but his face--no, his entire demeanor--had grown intense at that. I did my best to ignore his alarmingly chaotic neural emanations.

I sat at attention, so to speak. "I'll do my best, sir."

Kane leaned back a bit in his seat...watching me, weighing something. Then he said, "Ensign...time is of the essence and we must launch immediately. But it seems to me like you may have some other concerns you need to discuss with me en route. It concerns me how uneasy you appear to be. I don't refer to the mission; anxiety is natural to most species under the circumstances. There seems to be something more going on here."

I sought to dismiss it as best as I could according to protocol: I had learned very early on that I had very little right to voice my thoughts on such matters. I was what I was...everyone else was what they were...and as far as they were concerned, that was that. "Personal matters, sir. I can assure you I'll be able to put it aside for the mission."

That garnered another lift of the eyebrow--almost Vulcan-like, I noted, from Captain Kane. He left it be for the moment, though, taking the helm and putting the runabout through its departure procedures.

Once we'd cleared Bajor system traffic control, though, he turned his chair towards me and scrutinized me closely. Almost gravely. "Strannik, I say this not as a superior officer, but as a concerned individual. Your reluctance to talk to me about what's going on seems like a strong indicator of the kind of problem serious enough that it needs to be addressed for the sake of your well-being. In just the short time we've been together, I've seen behaviors that, if I'm reading them right--and from your profile I don't have any reason to doubt that I am--suggest someone who's been put under a great deal of pressure. If you don't want to talk about it, I understand. But if this is something I can help you with, then I want to help."

Kane hadn't said, when he referred to my mannerisms, if you were human. Of course I wasn't. And it was true--even something as simple as a smile, in my human form, while nearly universal among humanoids, was an anatomical impossibility in my natural form and therefore an act I had to consciously choose. I had spent years observing human behavior in order to learn how to communicate my thoughts and emotions in a way that truly let me connect with those around me. But Kane hadn't dismissed it as a mere acting job. He'd instead expressed a degree of insight I'd seen from very few outside the scientific environment where I'd first been raised, and where my foster parents had come from. In fact, only Thraz had ever seemed to get it, until now.

That right there set him apart. And then there was the fact that almost never in my Academy studies, or my career thus far, had anyone knowing what I was expressed any sort of interest in helping me.

The sad truth was, I would never have believed the latter fact, however sincere-seeming his tone, without the evidence offered by the former.

Reluctantly, posed as though with eyes down, to give Kane some sort of indication that I wasn't currently using the photoreceptors aimed in his direction, I decided I would speak. "I...think it's best that I start by explaining what happened the month after I got to Starfleet Academy."

Starfleet Academy, 2368, Fall Semester

When I'd first entered the Academy, my official record had me listed as an alien of unknown origin, and as far as anyone had been aware at the time--to include everyone at the St. Petersburg Interphasic Research Institute where I'd spent my first years--that was true. As the only one of my kind that anyone knew of, I was truly an unknown quantity...but the upside of that was that I had only my own record to stand on, and that had sufficed to gain my entrance into the cadet corps.

There'd been some extra care taken in pairing me with a roommate, given my slight telepathic abilities and my unusual method of taking nourishment, which was how I ended up roomed with the Aenar cadet Chirithraz th'Valek. Both of us knew something about relating to the world in different ways to those around us, and we hit it off immediately. Based on what struck me as a well-considered accommodation for both Thraz and me, I'd felt reasonably assured that things were going to go smoothly.

I will never forget that awful moment when Lieutenant Quinn intercepted me just as I was leaving the Starfleet History lecture hall. "Cadet Strannik," the half-Trill nervously ordered, "Commandant Chaxx needs to see you at once in his office. Your instructors have been notified, and you will be excused from class for the rest of the day."

Kakovo chorta? The entire day? What on Earth could the commandant want with me in the first place--and that would take that long to deal with? And what was it that had Quinn so uneasy? That was when I first got that sinking feeling...and I do mean 'sinking,' because when the seriousness of it first hit me, my telekinesis wavered and it felt for a second like someone had turned a nearby graviton generator to 2G.

When we arrived in the commandant's office, the Bolian admiral launched in without preamble, and without dismissing Lieutenant Quinn. "Cadet, you had best sit down." It didn't sound like a request. "Starfleet has been processing the after-action reports from a very disturbing temporal incursion that occurred here in this city, with an origin point on a world in the Marrab sector registered on Starfleet starcharts as Devidia II. A hostile, phase-shifting species traveled back to Earth just before the beginning of the 20th century to prey on human neural energy. Two intruders were identified and when the officers responding to the incident found they could not be reasoned with, they were neutralized. The number of human casualties before that point, and the potential extent of the disruption to the timeline, is unknown at this time.

"What has become clear as we ran the reports against existing records on Earth is that the...Devidians...had more than one incursion site in the city, and clearly intended to take up generational residence on Earth. They likely intended to farm humans on a generational basis for their neural energy. They were making the initial preparations for a long-term occupation of Earth, and during the recent encounter, one of the Devidians revealed technological capabilities...classified ones, mind you...that could prove devastating if unleashed.

"The reason we know this is because when a database search was ordered to determine if the Federation had had any prior encounters with the Devidians, we found an exact match."

I couldn't move. I couldn't speak. All I could do was stare at Commandant Chaxx, because I knew right then what he was about to say. "It was you, Cadet."

That makes me...a Devidian.

"And that means that I--and Starfleet--have a serious problem on our hands. Although they seem to exist out of phase with us, and we are uncertain as to the technology they employ, Devidia II has been placed under quarantine by Starfleet. This means we have one known Devidian outside of the quarantine--and who, according to our records, has taken a life."

Terror shot through me like lightning, from node to node, prepared to supercharge my muscles for one quick burst of action if necessary. What did they plan to do to me? "I didn't know what I was doing--I was only a few weeks old!" I protested. Unlike a human, I had memories going back that far...but I also clearly remembered the inarticulate horror that coursed through me when I realized that what had nourished me had killed the kind woman who had first looked after me. "I would do anything if it meant I could bring her back!"

"That notwithstanding--I must consider the risk to Starfleet, should the...wrong set of circumstances arise. That is why I cannot allow you to continue at the Academy, and I will recommend that--"

"But I'm not like that!" I shot back...for now I had nothing to lose. "I regret my sins! Talk to Cadet th'Valek; he's seen into my mind! He knows what I'm like--he knows I'm not vicious!" This dog has bitten, I thought, remembering how it had been common to treat animals in centuries past. And once it has the taste of blood, it will do it again. It is beyond saving. "I want to talk to my parents--my foster parents! Let me talk to the Azarovs!"

I had been legally emancipated at the age of 14--a court proceeding made necessary by the fact that I had no known homeworld, and therefore no established precedent to turn to, to establish the proper age of majority. Instead, evidence had been presented demonstrating that I had developmentally and cognitively reached adulthood, and it was therefore appropriate for me to begin making decisions as an adult...and in fact inappropriate to hold me back until 18 as it would have been for a human.

But even as an adult--who else could I turn to at a time like this? Who better to vouch for me than the childless couple that had taken me into their home when the staff of the Interphasic Research Center realized that, however homelike they had made my abode over time, however often they'd begun taking me outside to see the sights, a science lab simply wasn't enough. Wasn't right. I had lived under the Azarovs' roof for eight years, never so much as made a threatening move. Wouldn't dare.

Lieutenant Quinn glanced uncomfortably--almost pleadingly--over at the commandant. Whatever it was Chaxx planned to do...if he had even informed Quinn...the younger man was clearly having qualms. I turned my focus to him. Please, Quinn, don't let this happen...!

After a terrible, silent moment, Chaxx yielded. "Very well. Computer, contact..." He thumbed through a report. "Dr. Mikhail K. Azarov or Dr. Na--desh--" There he stumbled several times over the pronunciation, and needless to say, I didn't particularly care to help him. "Nadezhda R. Azarova." He looked over at his aide. "Quinn, give Strannik your padd."

Oh, yes--anything to keep the vicious dog from coming closer.

Still, I gratefully accepted the padd from Lieutenant Quinn, who offered a look of...well, sympathy, it seemed, once his back was to the Bolian commandant.

It didn't take long for my foster father to answer. "Alyoshenka!" A pause. "What's wrong--what's going on?"

"They're trying to kick me out!" I shouted in Russian, not caring if the other officers in the room had bothered to switch on their universal translators. "They said they found out about my species--that we're a bunch of vicious vampires and it's too dangerous to have me around other people! I don't know what they're planning on doing--if it's just kicking me out, or if they're planning to throw me in prison somewhere--"

"We had an inquiry from Starfleet a week ago, but I never imagined it would turn out like this! I will not let anything bad happen to you. I need you to hold on until your mother and I can make it to San Francisco. Until then, you listen to me: you must remember that you are a legal citizen of Earth and the Federation. You had to be registered in order for us to be your legal guardians. We didn't hide anything we knew from the judge. That means they have no right--NO right--to do anything to you on the basis of your species. Do you understand, Alyosha?" I nodded. "Do not let them convince you otherwise. Now put me on with whatever durag of an admiral thinks he can pull a stunt like this with my boy!"

"It's the commandant of the Academy," I said in a near whisper.

"I don't care if he thinks he's the Premier of the Soviet Union! Put me on with him--I am going to tell him that we are coming, whether he likes it or not!"

Slowly, I offered the padd back to Lieutenant Quinn. "Sir, Dr. Azarov would like to speak with Commandant Chaxx," I said as formally as I could.

Please take it, I prayed.

USS Tigris, 2373

"I presume he took it?" Captain Kane asked me.

I nodded. "He did. My foster parents pretty much invited themselves to the commandant's office. I didn't see what happened--I got sent back to barracks after that--but from what they told me later, they both testified on my behalf, and so did several of the other Petersburg IRC scientists. Thraz--th'Valek--did too.

"I was allowed to stay--on a provisional basis. But since then it's been psych profile after psych profile, and you wouldn't believe what they did for my Kobayashi Maru." It was supposedly against regulation to disclose the particulars of one's test, but reasoning that regulation applied only to cadets, I told him; his eyes widened with astonishment. "Frankly, I think the only thing that ended up keeping me from getting expelled was when we made first contact with the Dominion, and they realized I might be useful.

"And I have made myself useful. I've followed orders. I try my best to follow regulations. I have never hurt anyone. But most people who know about me--you'd think I was carrying the plague, the way they act around me! It's plain I'm constantly being watched for signs of...some kind of lapse of control. That I am not given the same liberties given to others of my rank and position. But why do they keep me around when they clearly are afraid of me, except that they can use me?"

I lowered my voice. "I studied to be a my foster parents. I understand that right now, Starfleet doesn't need scientists--not when we might be going to war. I know I can help; that's not what I'm arguing. But after the crisis is over--what happens to me? Will I always be mistrusted? Will I be kicked out of Starfleet because they think the risk of keeping me around now outweighs the benefit?"

Will I have to fear for my freedom again?

"That's not an easy question to answer, Ensign," Kane replied thoughtfully, sitting back from the console and rotating the chair to face me directly. "I've been a Starfleet officer for twenty years now, and there have been times in the past where I have experienced similar issues.

"When you first met me, you noticed an--irregularity--in my neural energies. What do you know about immortals?"

That took me aback. Was he implying that such beings actually existed outside of legend? That he was one? "I have always been taught there was no such thing," I replied--skeptically, but hoping I wouldn't insult the man if there was something I didn't know.

"I presume you have heard about Gregory Rasputin?" Kane inquired. I nodded my assent and also resisted the temptation to correct his pronunciation; I'd learned it wasn't polite to do that to those whose biology did not allow them to pronounce foreign sounds with the ease I could. "The reason Rasputin survived those attempts on his life, is because he was Homo sapiens immortalis: an immortal. A biological offshoot from the rest of humanity, which I suspect you can see more clearly than I can ever describe. Suffice it to say that short of decapitation or an extremely unfortunate transporter accident, I cannot die."

That, again, took me aback: the very idea that there could be immortals. To be nearly forever trapped in a broken universe, with the hope of release into the new creation so severely delayed--could the mind even withstand that without the end result being insanity? Was that what had happened with the Q? If this was true...I could only imagine the torment waiting for this man as his life stretched on without end.

I also considered myself fortunate that the incident in which I had nearly starved to death had also revealed that Devidians weren't immortal. While there was still much uncertainty about my life expectancy, given the phased nature of my biology, there had at least been evidence that I would age and eventually die.

The captain's next words broke me out of my thoughts. "You should recall the Borg attack on the Federation, when that cube was destroyed in orbit by the crew of the Enterprise."

Did I ever. And I knew, too, what most citizens of the Federation had not at the time: that as the cube approached Earth, there had been a secret evacuation called that would comprise of high-ranking Starfleet and civilian officials, as well as those deemed to hold information too critical for the Borg to acquire. My foster parents--and I, by extension--had been on that list due to the nature of the Interphasic Research Center's work, and we had come within centimeters of departure from the Komarov Cosmodrome in St. Petersburg before the all-clear. Given the risk of panic, much like the one experienced when the alien probe made Earth orbit a century before, the media had only alerted the general public after the cube's approach could no longer be denied by civilian telescopes. While understandable, the Azarovs had always made it clear I should never discuss with others the fact that I had been on a priority evacuation list.

It wasn't hard to understand why.

"When that happened," Kane continued, "all the Borg hardware that was removed from Captain Picard was sent to Starfleet Command for analysis. I was given the assignment of investigating all aspects of the technology, how it could be overcome, how it worked, how to protect against it."

"No one ever mentioned any protective measures at the Academy, sir...other than keeping your distance."

"Precisely," Kane replied. "We know that now, because by nature of my biology, I had to be exposed to Borg nanoprobes." You had to be? I thought, horrified. I couldn't help but make my abhorrence of the thought clearly visible, that Starfleet had put him in such a position. "As a physician, Doctor Crusher was incapable of making the infusion herself, nor was Starfleet willing to order one of the other officers to do so, so I had to perform the injection myself.

"For almost an hour, my body attempted to suppress the nanoprobes, but eventually, they adapted, increasing their output and operation to overcome my regenerative ability, and I was taken over. When I came to, Doctor Crusher had been able to neutralize the nanoprobes, and I'm told that if Commander Data had not been able to neutralize me, they would have decapitated me and dismembered my body like something out of some Romanian folklore my mother read to me as a child. But worse than that, I had killed five Starfleet officers in an attempt to establish contact with the Collective."

"I can sort of understand," I cautiously replied. Not assimilation, of course--but I did know very well what it meant to be responsible for another being's death when one was unable to control one's actions. I had simply been too young to comprehend what I was doing. As for Captain Kane, he had been violated, and at Starfleet's behest! "But I can't believe they would have put you in that kind of position in the first place!"

Unspoken was the follow-on: If they did that to you...what if they decided they wanted to do some sort of experiment on me? The St. Petersburg IRC, mercifully, had never engaged in such activities as I grew up. I had been studied, scanned, observed, yes, but generally in ways justified by the need to ensure I could be medically treated if injured or ill. They had begun my education, as well--taught me how to interact with the world that existed in human phase. But I had quickly been named and treated as a sentient being, and I had never been subjected to cruel experiments like the one Captain Kane had just described! The SPIRC's Institutional Review Board had been very strict on the matter. Had Starfleet's IRB fallen asleep on the job? Been enticed to turn a blind eye? How? I knew my indignation had to be showing. How could I keep that in?

"I would not want to think of anyone else ever going through that," Kane replied. "And since then, Starfleet has most certainly kept an eye on me, especially when the Borg most recently attacked the Federation, although between you and me, I think Admiral Hayes only ordered the Endeavour to the Typhon Sector because he thought I would perform some miraculous feat and ensure victory. Instead, the cube disabled the ship almost immediately."

He leaned forward, intent. "I cannot guarantee that things will get easier for you, Ensign, but I can promise that if you ever find yourself unfairly treated, I will do anything in my power to assist you. You may contact me at any time, without the need to request permission from any supervising officer. That is not just an offer, Ensign, it is an order. Should any member of Starfleet Command ever attempt to harass, intimidate, or violate your rights, you are to immediately contact me. Is that understood?"

"Yes, sir." I couldn't help a smile: perhaps, if we survived this mission, things would get easier. At least--I hoped--I wouldn't have to fear the worst anymore, knowing that now inside the closed world of Starfleet, I might have some recourse. "Thank you very much."

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