A prized possession? Well, now, that depends on what you mean by “prized.”
I do have one item. It’s a Denebian rabbit’s foot. I’d show it to you, except for the vendetta that Starfleet tailors seem to have against pockets. But it’s just as well.
I’ve never seen a Denebian “rabbit.” But, based on one fraction of a limb, I don’t want to, outside of a nightmare.
My own grisly piece of the creature was given to me by a classmate at the Academy named Grace Aubertin. I should mention that I came to the Academy with a bit more life behind me than many other cadets, and Grace was the same. We hit it off immediately. We also shared a love of mischief, though you wouldn’t know it by looking at her.
I’ll say here that a number of the pranks I was known for during those years were not my own, but Grace’s. Though even if I’d been in the mood to admit that then, no one would have believed that Grace was anything other than innocent.
She gave me the gruesome claw just before our cadet cruise on an old Constellation class ship called the Khun Bulom. For good luck, she said.
Three weeks into the cruise, the Bulom dropped out of warp so that the kids at the helm could practice their impulse maneuvers in interstellar space.
Grace had asked me to cover her shift in engineering because she’d had something to do. So that you understand, the last time she told me she’d had something to do, it was reprogramming the cargo transporter so that, when I stepped into the sonic shower, it transported the entire contents of the compost bin in the arboretum into the stall with me. So I hesitated before I answered.
But in the end I said yes, because I could never say anything but yes to Grace. And, in a way, that was a good thing.
The chance of a ship colliding with a microsingularity, especially in interstellar space, is ridiculously small. It’s nearly impossible. But on that day it happened to the Bulom. A singularity ripped through engineering, wrecking the matter-antimatter flow control and locking out the emergency warp core ejection system. We lost control of the reaction. The ship would have exploded in minutes. Not enough time to even get to an escape pod.
And then I remembered a trick I’d learned on an old freighter named the SS Deathstar, though we more affectionately referred to her as the Deathtrap. The old hands on board called this trick “flash freezing.” And here’s what you did: you changed the matter-antimatter ratio to 2:1. In short order, that built up a residue of matter in the intermix chamber, clogging up the injectors—eventually destroying them, but shutting down the reaction just the same.
And that’s just the way it worked on the Bulom. I even earned myself a commendation for saving the ship’s crew.
Well, all of the ship’s crew but one.
On its way to engineering, the singularity passed through a seldom-used corridor. As it happened, Grace was walking through just at that moment. I don’t know why she was there, and I never will. All I do know is that she was killed instantly.
My first thought was to jettison that horrible appendage out the nearest airlock. But I kept it. Why?
It wasn’t because it reminded me of Grace. I didn’t need it for that. And it wasn’t because I thought it was lucky. I don’t.
It was because it reminded me and continues to remind me of the nature of luck. The awful arbitrariness of it. And sometimes the ugliness of it.
There’s an old bit of verse I once read that goes something like this:
your whirling wheel,
well-being is vain
and always fades to nothing
you plague me too;
now through trickery,
I bring my bare back
to you villainy.
You know, I’ve only told this story to one other person. Her name was Mercedes McMary and she was an officer on the first ship I served on out of the Academy.
She called that shriveled paw my “morbid fascination.” She’d always been lucky, she said, and the only charm I needed was her. I was inclined to agree.
She took it and I let her. And I nearly forgot about it. I didn’t see it again until I found it in her quarters after Vega.
But that’s another story.
Let me finish things this way: A toast, to Grace and to Mercy.