Reichard held his cup out to Kirk, receiving a warm-up of his own coffee. "How could I forget him? He bunked with me. He was a weird one, but likable enoughand kind of fun."
Kirk extended the pot to Indri and Chekov, silently offering them more coffee, too. Both men declined. Kirk suspended the coffee back over the fire. "I only caught the tail end of his shenanigans. Why dont you take your turn at tale-spinning, Ken?"
"Well, he descended on Engineering for a little while, so if Indri doesnt mind filling in a couple of details?"
Indri nodded, gravely. "I believe I can do that, Ken. I trust that it will be obvious when my input is needed?"
"Bank on it, Indri! Lets see, as I recall it, we were heading through what we thought was thoroughly familiar territory..."September 2nd 2288 Captain James T. Kirk stared at the forward screen, contentedly watching the stars slowly crawl off the edge. The Enterprise was on its way to Starbase 137 for inspection, repair and re-supply after an uneventful mission, and he was looking forward to a couple days worth of down time, possibly even a couple of sessions in a larger gym than the Enterprise afforded. One of the problems with command, he had discovered, had been a loss of time and opportunity for such physical pursuits. Kirk was beginning to feel like it was showing, and resented it.
Kirks train of thought was interrupted by Uhuras voice. "Captain, I think I have a distress call coming in."
"You think? Youre not sure? Now thats unusual." Kirk was somewhat surprised about the doubt, and his voice showed it.
"I agree; your doubt concerning the nature of the call is most unusual. Perhaps," Spock suggested, "If you put the incoming signal overhead we could assist in resolving the uncertainty."
Uhura complied. The bridge was filled with a voice, pleading in an almost whining tone. "Aw, cmon, guys, please dont go way and leave me here, Im dying of boredom here all alone. I wont take up much room, honest. Ya just gotta get me outta here. Be good sports an rescue me from here, puh-leeze. I promise to be good, I really do..."
"Enough, Uhura, enough!" Kirk groaned. "Much as I hate to admit it, that obnoxious whining sounds like a bona-fide distress call to me. I just dont know if the caller is in distress, or is causing it."
Everyone on the bridge, but Spock chuckled. "It is quite possible, Captain, that both propositions are accurate," the Vulcan suggested, inadvertently adding to the laughter.
"Good point, Spock. Do you have the source triangulated?"
"Of course, Captain. It appears to be the wreckage of a modest interstellar freighter, on the surface of a small, airless planet."
"Then transfer the coordinates to Mister Reichard. Helmsman, take us there. Estimated time to arrival?"
Reichard studied the coordinates briefly. "At rescue speeds, not more than ten minutes, Captain."
"Good enough. Mister Reichard, you have the conn. Spock, lets go to the transporter deck and meet this individual."
Kirk and Spock stepped off the turbolift, onto the transporter deck. "Do you have the coordinates of the individual were rescuing, Scotty?"
"Indeed I do, Captain. Ready to transport, on your command."
The chief engineer complied, and an unkempt individual appeared on the transporter deck. Tall and thin, with long, shaggy hair not at all controlled by the headband he was wearing, the individual they had brought on board was sloppily dressed, the hems at the bottom of his blue jeans having been worn ragged, and the tie-dyed T-shirt he was wearing was clearly in need of laundering. He looked around the transporter deck. "Woh, man, like far out! This place has good vibrations." He gestured with his right hand, index and middle fingers extended and spread, forming a V. "Peace, Brothers!"
Spocks eyebrow elevated. He extended his hand in the Vulcan salute. "Peace, Brother. Whats the handle?"
Kirk and Scott were wide-eyed with surprise at the Vulcans sudden change of dialect.
The individual reached into the travel-worn knapsack at his feet, pulling out an object about the size of his hand, and perhaps half again as thick. "My handle... Hmmm... Now, thats a problem..." He touched it on one side, then began twiddling his fingers above one end. "Lessee... Ah, here. Yes, thatll do. Call me Gandalf."
Captain Kirks face registered surprise. "You were named after a character in a mid-twentieth century fantasy?"
"Not exactly. Like, Gandalf was also in the Eldar Edda, around the twelfth century or before. Means Magic Elf, I think. But its not exactly my real handle. Thats a bit longer; youd need, oh, nearly an hour to say that, even if you could remember it all, which you probably couldnt, anyhoo. Like, major conversation stopper, yknow? Gandalf fits me fine, man, and is way easier. Its cool with me, if its cool with you."
"Gandalf it is, then," Kirk replied. "Captain Spock will show you to your quarters."
Gandalf scratched his ribs. "Groovy. I could dig a clean pad. A shower and some fresh threads would not break my heart. One little request, man. Did the solo bit in that wreck for one looonng time, and after a while, it got to be one major drag. Any chance you could arrange that I crash in a pad with a roomie? I could really dig some company, ya hip?"
Kirk looked at Spock. "Is there any such cabin available, Spock?"
"Lieutenant Reichard is currently the only individual in a double occupancy cabin, without a roommate. If he is willing, he would be the logical candidate."
"Good enough." Kirk stepped over to the wall communicator. "Bridge. Lieutenant Reichard?"
"Reichard here, Captain."
"The individual we have rescued prefers accommodations with a roommate. Would you be willing to oblige?"
"As long as he realizes that I have to get enough sleep to be able to perform my duties, there should be no problem, sir."
"Thank you, Lieutenant. Kirk out." The captain turned to Scott. "How long before you have the door ready to recognize Gandalf, Scotty?"
The chief engineer smiled. "It should be ready before he gets there, Captain."
"Excellent." Kirk turned to Spock. "If you would show him to his cabin, Spock?"
The Vulcan nodded. "Of course, Captain." He moved to the turbolift. "If you would join me, Gandalf?" The hitchhiker grinned happily, preceding Spock into the turbolift. As the door slid shut, Spock turned to face his companion. "According to the data from the scan, the ferry was wrecked several decades ago. I am most amazed that you were able to survive long enough to be rescued."
"Shrewd deduction, Sherlock! Like, what youre trying to say, behind all the smoke and mirrors, is that you dont figure I could have been there since it wrecked, do I read the vibes right?"
"There is a significant incongruity between your apparent age and state of health, in contrast to the age and severity of damage visible in the wreck." The turbolift reached its destination, and the door slid open. Both beings stepped out. "I must confess some curiosity about the apparent disparities, not the least of them being that this is the first time you have sent a distress signal, despite there having been significant traffic through this area over just the last year."
"Jeeves, you are good, did you know that? See, after the last couple of ships I hitched a ride on, I, like, needed somewhere to crash and meditate, yknow? Had to hang out where I could hang loose and handle a couple of hang-ups. Spotted the wreck, conned the last captain into letting me get it cozy enough to last a while, and let me doss there a while. You hip?"
Spock nodded. "I believe that I am quite hip." He led the way to one of the doors near the turbolift. "This is the cabin that you will share with Lieutenant Reichard."
Gandalf stepped up to the indicated door, watching it slide aside as he came in range. "Far out, Spocko! Like, how soon does this Reichard finish his gig on the bridge and slide back to his pad?"
"His shift of duty on the bridge does not end for another three point eight hours. I believe it is his custom to eat his evening meal before returning to his quarters, which will add approximately another forty minutes."
"Groovy. That gives me a good four and a half hours to get comfortable. See you later, alligator!"
Spocks eyebrow lifted again. "After while, crocodile."
Off duty, Reichard made his way back to his cabin, unsure what to expect. Despite reasonable effort, all that he was able to pry out of Kirk and Spock was the certainty that his new roommate was a bit of an anachronism, a bit eccentric, and certain to be improved by visiting the shower. Although none of the remarks alarmed him, they didnt tell him much about what to expect. He supposed that he was ready for about anything as he stepped toward his door. It slid open.
The interior of the cabin had changed dramatically. The walls were covered with posters, glowing in almost surreal colors as they interacted with a hidden ultraviolet light source. What areas of the wall were free of posters were adorned with psychedelic colors and designs. On top of all the rest, there was a multicolored light source, producing shapes that danced around the walls, floor and ceiling, their color and intensity varying and pulsating with the beat of the deafening music that filled the cabin. In the center of the room, Gandalf sat, his legs crossed, his hands on his knees, his back straight, but his body swaying to the music. Clearly, he was completely caught up in the sound and scenery that surrounded him.
Reichard entered and tried to make himself heard. As loud as the music was, he was utterly unsuccessful. After several attempts, at increasing volume, he stepped in front of his new roommate. Since Gandalfs eyes were closed, presumably in ecstatic enjoyment of the music, Reichard reached forward and shook the mans shoulder.
Gandalfs eyes popped open, and a look of embarrassed astonishment covered his face. He waved his hand over the nearly featureless, palm sized object in his lap. Both the music and the scenery disappeared, the cabin returning to its usual status. "Hey, sorry, Kenny boy. Like, I wasnt expecting you for a while. Hope I didnt freak you with the display. You been a bad boy on the bridge, get your naughty little self sent to your room without your supper?"
Reichard shook his head, quietly amused by Gandalfs remarks. Eccentric, he certainly was, but pleasantly so. "Not at all, Gandalf; I just decided that Id see if youd like a companion for supper. After being on the wreck, and wanting a roomie, it seemed to be a good bet."
"Right on, brother! You are a man after my own heart. I could really dig it."
Reichard walked to the food dispenser. "Anything particular appeal?"
"I am dying for pizza and pop, bro, absolutely dying. What odds you giving me that gadget can do that for us?"
"Guaranteed, man, guaranteed. All we need to do is tell it what we want. What kind of pop, and how do you like your pizza?"
The vagabond stood up, clutching his little gadget. "Willing to take a chance on my cooking?"
"Just no anchovies, okay?"
"No problem there," Gandalf grinned. "Dont like em myself. Lessee..."
Reichard moved aside, letting his new companion operate the food dispenser and taking the time to study him. Although he had clearly showered, and his long hair was up in a ponytail, he was still in the same worn jeans, tie-dyed T-shirt, and sandals. At least, Reichard thought to himself, the clothes look freshly laundered. The being was thin, but looked wiry, and was unaccountably facile with the food dispenser. He almost looked and sounded like an escapee of one of the mid-twentieth century Hippie. Before the thought lead anywhere further, it was interrupted by a savory aroma from the dispenser.
"Soup is on, man!" Gandalf plopped on the floor, laying a large pizza in front of himself, stationing several canisters to one side. "Hug a hunk of rug and dig in."
Reichard didnt wait for a second invitation. Opening one of the canisters, he settled down and grabbed a slice of pizza.
"Hey, Kenny, noticed you have a passel of stringed instruments hanging in your pad," Gandalf mumbled around a mouthful of pizza. "They just decorations or you play?"
Reichard swallowed before answering. "I suppose its a matter of opinion whether I play them, or play with them." He took another bite and chewed it contemplatively. "Mind you, I can play the music correctly enough, but somehow the results arent exactly what youd call beautiful. The technical skills are all there, but something is still missing. Make sense?"
"Of course not. Havent heard you play." He took another swallow from his beverage. "Whats your bag?" Reichards puzzlement showed clearly. "Sorry, let me rephrase that. What is your preferred musical genre?"
"Classical guitar, mostly; some late twentieth century jazz and rock. Tried banjo, never amounted to much. The otherswell, I play with them, sometimes, but theyre mostly a combination of decoration and wishful thinking."
Putting his slice of pizza down, Gandalf looked Reichard in the eye. "Um, look, Kenny boy, we have us one major communication gap, here. My question was a veiled invitation to whip one of those sets of strings off the wall and make it sing. Ditch the victuals and make melody, man."
Somewhat surprised but also a touch pleased by the request, Reichard took a guitar down. After a moment or two of tuning, he began to play from memory. Apparently entranced, Gandalf watched Reichard playing. As Reichard finished the piece, Gandalf shook his head.
"Just exactly what was that?"
Reichard scratched his head. "A classical piece Grandpa taught me; I forget the name and composer."
"Oh, I can give you that; I recognized it: Für Elise by Ludwig van Beethoven, although the musical motif has been used elsewhere, too. Thats not what I meant, man. I mean, what did you think you were doing?"
"Playing it, I suppose."
Gandalf held his head, weaving from side to side in apparent agony. "You are just not getting it. Look, you handle that thing like a mechanic handling a wrench. You grab it, you pluck the strings like you were solving some sort of engineering problem or other, and you expect to get something other than mechanical, music-box noise. You have something against that poor thing?"
Somewhat nettled by the reception his performance received, Reichard offered the guitar to his room mate turned music critic. "Since you seem to know the piece, you want to show me how?"
Almost tenderly, Gandalf accepted the guitar, turning it over in his hands and caressing its wood and its strings. "This is one beautiful guitar, Kenny boy. Old, too, Id guess. Your dads?"
"Grandfathers, actually, although I think Grandpa got it from his dad," Reichard responded, his voice a little softer. "Its a bit of a family heirloom, now, but go ahead and play it. Maybe you can do more justice to it than I have."
"Ill try." Gandalfs fingers moved over the strings again, plucking them gently. He tightened one, and played them again. His eyes drifted closed, and he sat, motionless, for a moment or two. Gently, almost lovingly, he bent forward a little and began to play.
Reichard knew that the notes were the same ones that he had played only moments before, but this time, there was something more, a wealth, a depth, a richness that he never realized they possessed. More than just reaching through his ears to his mind, the sound of the guitar entered his heart and sang in his very soul. As the sound of the last chord died, Reichard almost felt as though a friend had left forever. He stared in amazement. "That was... it was magnificent."
"If you say so; Im not exactly a good judge of such things. Here," Gandalf extended the guitar to Reichard. "Take it back, and now that you know what I was getting at, try again."
There was almost a sense of fear and reverence in Reichard as he reclaimed the guitar, wondering if any of the magic that seemed to have been it a moment before might still lurk within it. He settled the instrument in his lap and touched the strings. Before he could make any sound, he was interrupted.
"No, no, no, not that way! Caress it, man; hold it like it was your lover, try to know it like it was your friend. Become one with it, and let it join you as you become one with the music, so that all three of you can sing with a single voice."
"Youre not making any sense. Youre crazy, did you know that?"
"So? Like thats not news. Look, sometimes crazy helps." For a moment, Gandalf looked like he was lost in thought. "Do you remember your grandpa, Ken?"
"Of course! Especially when Dad had to be away for long periods of time, he was almost always at my side. He had time to do all sorts of things with me, including trying to teach me to play the guitar." A wistful look took over Reichards face. "I wish Id taken more time to let him teach me. He was good, really good."
"Did he ever pick you up and carry you? Like, maybe when it was bedtime and you were too sleepy to go to bed by yourself?"
"I remember a couple times, yeah, when I was little."
"Then hold that guitar of his like he held you, Ken. And touch the strings like he used to touch your hair. Play Für Elise for him, to him, with him. See what it does."
For the first time in years, Reichard looked at the guitar, remembering how his grandfathers hands had moved on the strings, fingering along the frets and plucking the strings. Unbidden, the memory of his Grandfather carrying him up to bed came to mind: the feel of those arms, old but still strong, and the feel of the calluses on his fingertips as they gently, firmly and protectively gripped his nearly limp form. He could almost feel the warmth of the sheets and blankets as Grandpa tucked him in. As the memory faded, he suddenly realized the room was filled with music, almost familiar yet somehow strange, flowing from the strings under his fingers. It almost seemed to him that he was a spectator, that his hands had taken a life of their own, and were playing without him. The final chord of Für Elise faded.
"Far out, Kenny, I knew you had it in you. Wanna hear it? I took the liberty of recording, if you do." Gandalf lifted his box.
"No need," he responded. "I heard enough. It was almost like Grandpa was playing it."
"Pity you dont have another guitar, man. What you need, Kenny boy, is to spend an hour or so jammin with me."
"Do you do banjo?" Reichard asked, removing his banjo from where he had it hanging. "Since wed be jamming, I dont suppose it matters if we both do guitars or not."
"You take the banjo, see if you can make it sing with me and the guitar." Gandalf reached for the instrument. Reichard handed him the guitar, and settled down with the banjo. Timidly, Reichard touched the strings, then boldly began to finger them. Gandalf nodded. "Good, good. Now, follow my lead." The hitchhikers fingers began to fly on the guitar, improvising the elements of a tune.
Magically, or so it seemed to Reichard, he began to interweave harmony and counterpoint around the melody from the guitar. For a while, he watched in amazement as his fingers played. Finally, his eyes closed, shutting the last vestige of distraction out and allowing him to lose himself in the music. They seemed to have scarcely started when Gandalf put the guitar down.
"Kenny boy, you have to be awake and alert in the morning. Iffn you dont get yourself some beauty sleep, youre gonna ugly the bridge crew to death. Therell be plenty of time to jam later."
Looking at the chronometer on his desk, Reichard realized that it was after midnight. Somewhere along the line, he and his companion had finished the pizza and pop, and hed pulled most of the instruments down and played them. "I had no idea wed been playing that long; the time sure flew."
"Yeah, well, your fingers flew pretty fast on those strings once you hung up your hang-ups. Now, go do whatever you need to do to be ready to sack out for the night. Ill clean up."
Without quarrel, Reichard obeyed.
It seemed like only a few moments after his head hit the pillow when Reichard snapped awake from dreams about flooding rivers, leaking faucets and roaring waterfalls, his bladder loudly demanding relief. How many cans of pop did I guzzle last night? When he thought about it, there had been several, consumed as they switched from one instrument to the next. Too many. He looked at the wall chronometer: quarter to five. Just as he was about to flip the lights on, he remembered he had a temporary roommate. Leaving the lights off, he made his way to the lavatory. On his way back to his bunk, he stepped on something unexpected on the floor and his feet folded under him, sending him sprawling noisily. Almost instantly, the cabin lights snapped on, and Gandalf was kneeling next to him.
"Hey, you all right, Kenny? That was one nasty landing. Man, I hope you pilot this bird better than you pilot your feet."
"I can usually see where Im going when Im piloting the Enterprise, Gandalf." Reichard tried to stand up, unsuccessfully. "And Ive got an ankle thats definitely not functioning up to par."
Gandalf looked at Reichards left ankle. "Whoa, major bummer, Kenny boy. I was thinking about teaching you ballet tonight, but according to this ankle, thats just not in the picture. Its already swelling up something ugly. Let me help you up, man. You need to pay a visit to your ships healer."
With some difficulty, Reichard managed to get his arm around Gandalfs shoulders, and tried to hop on his right ankle. The attempt was less than successful. "I guess I did in the right ankle, too."
"You are one wounded puppy, Kenny boy." With surprising ease, Gandalf scooped Reichard up. "Lets get your sorry carcass down to the ships leaches before you give me a hernia." He carried Reichards pajamaed form to the turbolift.
Moments later, the twosome arrived in Sickbay. A tall, spare, blonde individual in Medical uniform with Physicians Assistants insignia greeted them. "Harrison Davids, Physicians Assistant, at your service, Gentlebeings. You can call me Hardav; most everyone else does." He consulted the mediscanner, a brief look of confusion registering on his face.
Hardav shook his head, as if clearing it before proceeding. "Good going, Reichard. Sprained your right ankle, and fractured your left fibula." Hardav turned to Gandalf. "How about putting him on that biomonitor bed over there, friend, so I can fix him up?" He pointed as he spoke; Gandalf complied. As he did, Reichards left foot snagged the side of the monitor bed.
"Hey, be careful with that foot, will you?" Reichard yelped. "That hurt."
Hardav stood his mediscanner at the foot of the biomonitor and used his freed hands to gently disentangle Reichards foot, much to Reichards and Gandalfs relief. Picking his mediscanner up again, he looked at it briefly. "Doesnt look like any further harm done. Well just set things straight, here." Hardav wheeled the orthopedic operative field over Reichards wounded ankles, the other two groaning over the pun. As he worked, Hardav kept talking. "Howd you do this to yourself, twinkletoes? Last I recall, youre normally dead asleep around this time of the morning."
Reichard hooked a thumb at Gandalf. "Tripped over his knapsack hustling back to bed from the can."
"Figures." The Physicians Assistant removed the field. "Youre as good as it gets, Ken. Take it easy on the feet for a couple days, will you? Youll be mobile, but itll be a couple of days before youre ready for much more than walking." Davids looked up at Gandalf. "Thanks for helping him down here. I take it youre the person we rescued?"
"Thatd be me, and youre quite welcome; it was the least I could do, since it was my knapsack he tripped over."
"Would your kind, generous and contrite spirit extend far enough to help him back to his cabin? He needs to keep off that left foot for another hour or so. The tissue regenerates in moments, but bone, well, it takes a little longer to get up to strength."
Gandalf nodded. "May I assume that he will be considered fit for duty when he needs to be on the bridge?"
"Look," Reichard gibed, "there was doubt about my fitness for duty before I did in my ankle."
"I am not going to touch that. His ankles will not bar him from fitness for duty, anyhow." Hardav was trying to maintain a professional demeanor, but not finding it easy. "Back to your cabin and get dressed properly."
Reichard sat up, gingerly putting weight on his right ankle. "Can do, Hardav. Gandalf, if I could borrow your shoulder? This time, I think I can move without being carried."
Without saying anything, the hitchhiker draped Reichards arm over his shoulder, and began assisting him to the turbolift. Just before the lift door opened, Gandalf turned to face Hardav again. Hardav seemed to be pouring over a record in his scanner. "Hey, Hardavthanks, man. Appreciate your fixin up my jammin buddy, here."
Davids looked up. "All part of the job. Glad to be of service." The turbolift door slid open. "Now, be off with you, before that turbolift abandons you." Obediently, the pair made their was into the turbolift. Hardav went back to staring at the mediscanner, obviously puzzled and troubled.
When Spock arrived, shortly before the end of Hardavs shift, he found the physicians assistant still hunched over the mediscanner. Fascinated to see a Human in concentration deep enough to shut out his surroundings, Spock quietly moved to where he could be seen easily. Hardav remained oblivious. Finally, the Vulcan cleared his throat. In response, Hardav jumped to an upright posture, obviously embarrassed.
"Captain Spock, sir! Please pardon my not having noticed your arrival. I hope I find you well."
"I believe that you do, Mister Davids, although I wish to be reassured of my status; I find that I cannot register the mental signature of the individual we recently brought on board, which is most unusual. However, I find myself even more curious as to the nature of the problem that captured your attention so thoroughly that you failed to notice my arrival."
Hardav lifted his mediscanner. "Im embarrassed to admit that it is an apparent malfunction in my mediscanner, and the same fellow seems to be involved. Ive been wracking my brain to figure out whats wrong." There was no mistaking Hardavs consternation.
The Vulcan extended his hand, his meaning clear. Almost sheepishly, the Human surrendered his machine. "Its cued to show you the scan that worries me, Captain. Im confident that youll see what concerns me."
Triggering the replay, Spock watched it unemotionally. "Remarkable, Mister Davids. You should have Captain Scott should confirm my conclusion, but I believe that the mediscanner is not malfunctioning at all. The anomaly you have observed fits well with my observation that Gandalf displays no perceptible mental signature."
"Mental signature? Im not sure I track that one. Mind explaining?"
"It is difficult to explain to a non-telepath. As a byproduct of its brains function an organism, especially a sentient one, produces a perceptible mental signature. This signature is quite unique: I am able to recognize Captain Kirk, Doctor McCoy, and Captain Scott, for instance, and often deduce their emotional status. The hitchhiker fails to show any mental signature at all. It is most peculiar, but it fits well with what I saw on your mediscanner."
As Spock spoke, Doctor McCoy and Doctor MBenga stepped out of the turbolift. Both men registered surprise, but McCoy was the first to speak. "Youre not due for your annual physical for months, yet, Spock! Whats bothering you enough that youre visiting Sickbay?"
The Vulcan shot Hardav a glance that made it clear that their recent conversation needed to stay confidential. "My annual physical is not scheduled for another four point three months, to be precise. Mister Davids has dealt with my concerns adequately. Since I am due on the bridge in six point three minutes, I need to be going." Spock stepped into the turbolift the two physicians had just exited.
As the turbolift door closed, McCoy and MBenga turned to Davids. He shrugged. "Look, all I did was show him a problem Ive observed in my mediscanner, okay? I dont get it either. Listen, Ive got to see if Captain Scott can enlighten me on whats going wrong with this fool thing."
"Skedaddle to Engineering, then, Hardav," McCoy responded, obviously not satisfied with the answer but realizing he wouldnt get anything more. Hardav disappeared into the turbolift as well. McCoy turned to face MBenga. "Can you make any sense out of that last conversation, Ben?"
"Considering that it was between and about Captain Logic and the King of Crazy, should I expect to?"
"Good point. Lets get to work."
Captain Montgomery Scott was at the readout in his office, studying the status of the Enterprise and planning the days activities when his concentration was interrupted by an almost deferential knock at his open office door. Looking up from his labors, he saw Hardav standing in the door, clutching a mediscanner. "Top o the morning, lad, though I suppose tis evening to you. What can I do for you?"
The physicians assistant stepped into the chief engineers office. "I was just curious, sir, if your skills might have been retained by a member of the crew to, ah, assist in a bit of humor at my expense?"
"I cant claim that they have, and before you ask, Im not pulling any fast ones on you, either, not that you wouldnt deserve it if I did. No doubt youve a reason for askin?" The tone of Scotts voice and his expression made it clear that he expected an answer.
Davids extended the mediscanner. "The record that concerns me is ready to view. If you would run through it?"
The Scotsman watched the mediscanner record as Gandalf carried Reichard out of the turbolift to the biomonitor bed. Davids terminated the display. "Did anything catch your eye, Captain?"
"The main thing that caught my attention was the obvious fact that you use the mediscanner to watch the turbolift doors, and that youve rigged it to record. No doubt it warns you of approaching problems."
"Exactly. It gives me a jump start on handling whatevers coming."
"Youd have made a fine engineer, laddie," Scott interrupted. "Despite wearing a Medical uniform, you think like one."
"Ill assume thats intended as a compliment." Bowing slightly, Hardav continued, "As I was saying, I record everything, too, so I can review it later, just in case. Let me show you the sequence again, very slowly. Watch for Gandalf closely as the turbolift door opens, and when Reichards foot catches."
The record had hardly begun when Scott froze it on a single frame. Behind the half-open turbolift door, Reichard was clearly visible in the scan, apparently floating unsupported. Scott advanced one frame at a time. Once the turbolift door opened widely enough to expose where Gandalfs face should have been, the scanner registered his presence. Hardav forwarded to Reichards foot catching. For just a frame or two, Gandalf was fuzzy, then suddenly sharp again.
Scott looked Hardav squarely in the eye. "If this is a prank youre trying to pull on me, laddie..."
"On my word of honor, Captain, it is not. Honest. Visually, he was there the whole time, but at the scanning frequencies..."
Shaking his head gravely, Scott sighed. "A pity; I was going to compliment the genius you were showing getting it done this well. Look, theres no way yon machine could register one being and miss the other, outside of a remarkably ingenious prank. Which it doesnt seem to be."
"But then... I mean..." The comment died unfinished.
"Aye. Exactly. Our wee hitchhiker forgot to show up on the scanner for an instant. That only proves he isnt exactly what he appears tbe. Youll have to get used to that on the Enterprise. Its not like youre altogether what you appear tbe, you know."
"This is different."
"Aye, Hardav, it is, very different. But its not me that you need to talk to. Captain Spock would be more to the point."
"He saw it just before I arrived here; he seemed relieved. He made comment about it explaining Gandalf lacking a perceptible mental signature."
"Captain Spockll be on it, then, Hardav. Ill be watching, too, and Ive no doubt that youll not drop it, either. For now, all we can do is watch. And think."
For a moment, Hardav seemed lost in thought. "Theres one other thing I can do that neither of you will be able to do for hours."
"Im going to sleep on it."
The Scotsman grinned broadly, slapping the physicians assistant on the back.. "A good plan, Hardav. Let me know if you dream up any answers."
Reichard finished his shift on the bridge, and made his way back to his cabin, feeling much better than he had at the start of the day. His right ankle felt completely normal, and there was only a minor residual ache in his left ankle to remind him of the injury earlier in the day. He was eager to sit down with Gandalf again, to spend more time playing his guitar with the fellow, learning what he could. He stepped out of the turbolift, and into the cabin.
Rather than finding his temporary roommate, he found a note stuck to the wall:
Grinning inwardly, and curious as to what the hitch hiker might be up to, Reichard slung his guitar over his shoulder, grabbed his banjo and a handful of other, somewhat more portable instruments, and returned to the turbolift. As the turbolift door opened near the forward observation deck, he could hear laughter, and squeals of glee coming from it. Even more intrigued, he hurried to see what was going on.
To his surprise, he found one end of the recreation area filled with crewmembers standing around tubs of brightly colored fluids, sticking what appeared to be wadded up clothing into them. Before he could react, Gandalf called out to him.
"Hey, Kenny! Come on over. Were having lessons in tie dying, here, and creating the new Federation fashion rage. Unload and give it a try."
Obediently, Reichard divested himself of the load of instruments and made his way over to Gandalf. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Uhura dipping part of what might have been a white evening dress for a tree stump into one of the pots of colored fluid. Gandalf reached down and tossed Reichard a white tee shirt. "This one should fit you properly, at least for tie died clothing. Watch me, kiddo!"
Gandalf grabbed another tee and began knotting and rubber banding it into a bizarre masse of protrusions. He walked over to a container of a bright red liquid and dipped one of the protrusions in it. Grinning, Reichard did much the same, selecting a medium blue. "I get the picture," Reichard announced, looking at the finished product that Lieutenant Jaeger was hanging up to dry. "Where Ive got it knotted, gathered, or whatnot, the dye can only penetrate the outermost layers, leaving the wild patterns. I take it the ladies here chivvied you into the demonstration?"
"Among others. Some of the gentlemen wanted to try it on for size too. Dunno if it was because they liked the appearance," Gandalf started staring at the ceiling, trying to look innocent, "Or if it was because they like the folks that first liked the appearance." He ducked a thrown wad of cloth. "Either way, a good time is being had by all. Hey, Uhura! Dont forget to dip that thing in the mordant solution over there, or the colors will run like a scared rabbit the first time you try to wash that thing."
She smiled broadly. "Oh, dont worry, Ill get to the mordant eventually. I think Im going to knot it a second time, and superimpose a second set of dye patterns on top of the first."
Nodding, Gandalf turned back to his roommate. "Were going to have one bee-YOO-tiful jam session here in a bit, too. Uhura brought her Celtic harp, Jaeger brought her flute, and most everyone else brought something they can play. Well clean up and get some grub going here in a few minutes." He undid all the knots and rubber bands on the shirt hed been working on. "You think Captain Kirk will like it? I was thinking Id give it to him."
Reichard threw his head back and laughed, deeply and cheerfully. It was patently obvious that Gandalf was crazy, but it was the kind of crazy that the galaxy needed more of. "If you can put Captains Bars on it, hell probably love it. But dont bet on his wearing it on the bridgeyou know how captains are about being in uniform."
Jaeger leaned over. "Oh, pooh on uniforms. I just may wear it on the bridge anyhow!"
"Just warn me when you decide to, honey," Uhura chimed in. "I want to have my seat belt fastened. Spock would come as close to hitting the roof as a Vulcan can."
"Now, that Id like to see," Nurse Webb added. "But only from a respectful distance. Like about a parsec or three." She giggled. "What do you think, Nyota? Will I look okay in this?" She held a tee shirt to herself.
"Better than Carpenter would!"
"Enough, kids!" Gandalf shouted. "You guys clean up, and Ill get the food dispenser to rustle us all up some grub. Any requests?"
"How about some Hippie Commune type grub?" Carpenter suggested. "Or at least something thats contemporary with that period. Think you can whip it up?"
"Can I? You just watch me, buster!" Gandalf moved to the food dispensers on one wall, and began working furiously. "Just remember, folks, Carpenter asked for it!"
It only took a few minutes for the area to be cleared, and the tables filled with granola, pizza, canned beverages, and assorted other goodies.
It was Reichards turn to chime in. "Okay, gang, looks like its music time. I claim the guitar. The rest of you fend for yourselves!"
Gandalf picked up the banjo, and fingered the strings for a moment. "Lets get going! But someone watch Reichard. Ive had enough of Kenny overdoing the pop and breaking things."
Rather than respond, Reichard started playing his guitar. Gandalf joined in, almost anticipating what Reichard would play next. Uhura picked up her harp, and quickly, the others joined in as well. Within minutes, the recreation area was full of wild music, heartfelt laughter and outrageous fun.
The day in Engineering had come to what Scott felt was a successful close. He returned to his office to find Indri pouring a clear, mellow brown liquid into glasses. Indri looked up. "Single malt Scotch, Captain. It seemed to be the appropriate accompaniment for out evenings activities."
"As long as we sip it slowly," Scott concurred. "Although scaling up the dilithium casing for the matter-antimatter reaction chamber seems to drive us both to distraction." Out of a drawer, he produced an engineering padd. "Ive had a thought or two that Id like to have you look over. With this approach, the number of possible arrangements is immense."
Indri took the proffered padd, running his eye down the equations. "Immense, indeed, but still finite, and in comparison to the total number of possible ones, still very, very small. The design would certainly work, if we could shape the dilithium with sufficient precision, but as I read the equations, to maintain field stability will require positioning individual atoms in relationship to each other with a precision between one and two orders of magnitude greater than is currently possible. Only one or two out of ten thousand castings would work."
Quietly, Scott meditatively sipped at his glass. "Thats been the trouble with every design weve come up with, Indri, lad. The machining precision it needs is not yet possible, and may never be. At least were a wee bit closer. Last time it was only one in forty something million."
"It has been the trouble with every design anyone has..." There was a knock at the door. Indri turned to face the door of the office. "How may I help you, stranger?"
"I was hoping that you could tell me where I could find someone, a fellow called Indri. Reichard said Id find him somewhere in Engineering, and might be able to chivvy him into teaching me a bit about playing the sitar." From behind himself, he produced the instrument. "I was even able to coax a couple of Manufacturing cadets into helping me produce one."
"I am the individual you seek, and I would guess you must be Gandalf," Indri responded.
"Thats me. Hey, it looks like Im interrupting some sort of serious activity. Serious, well, thats just not my bag. Though from what I overhead at the door, it sounds like youre tackling everything tail end forward."
Scott looked at Indri. Seeing no sign of comprehension on his face, he turned to Gandalf. "Im not sure Im following ye, laddie. Indri an I have been wrangling over the design for several months. If you think youve some new ideas, I suspect wed both like thear them."
"Well, you were both observing that you couldnt get your casting precise enough to hold some field or other you wanted to anchor in it. Did I get that right?"
"Aye, laddie. Thats it in a nutshell."
Indri was clearly lost in thought. "Backwards... Hmmmm...." Lifting the padd, Indri ran a handful of computations. He handed the padd to the Scotsman. "What do you think of this?"
As first slowly, then with increasing interest and speed, Scott began working with Indris offering. "Cast it around the field, aye. Let the field anchor the dilithium being cast around it. Look, here, Indri: if we adjust the field like this itll even make internal adjustments to force the dilithium to conform to one of a handful of optimum configurations."
Excitedly, Indri looked at the padd. "And look: the scale is essentially irrelevant. A millimeter or several meters across, it will still work. At least, in theory. This shows some real possibilities."
"Man, that does look simple. I bet I could cast that with my little Swiss Army knife." In their excitement, both men had forgotten that the hitchhiker was still present, and had failed to notice he had moved to where he could see the padd. Gandalf produced his ever-present palm-sized box, putting it on the table near the padd. "If, of course, youve got some dilithium?"
"I believe we have about a kilo of fragments," Indri offered, "But theres more to it than just melting and shaping it. Theres some important issues in how quickly it is cooled, and in the electromagnetic field flux as it is cast and cooled."
Gandalf twiddled his fingers over one end of his little box. His curiosity getting the better of him, Scott demanded, "Are you making magical passes over your wee box, or what?"
"Oh, sorry, it does look a bit strange, doesnt it? Its a field effect trick that works as a keyboard. Lets see..." He fumbled for a few minutes. Suddenly, the air above the box showed a ghostly image of a keyboard and a readout. "Really nice, man. No moving parts to wear out, and no screen burn-in or anything. Now, Indri, you were saying there were some fancy things that we needed to program into my version of a jack-knife. Can you guys talk your gizmo into telling my widget whats needed?"
"Have you used it to connect into any of the other open data lines on board?"
Gandalf faced Scott, wearing a lopsided grin. "Natch, man. How do you think I convinced your manufacturing tools to make me a sitar? I mean, I looked really, really hard to find sitars on the menu, but I never found them anywhere."
"Good point, laddie." Scott began working with the padd. "Indri, if youll get the dilithium, Ill set up the rest of the equations and descriptions hell need, and get transferrin them. Im interested tsee how hes going to manage all this with nothing more than yon wee box."
Indri disappeared, returning with a container filled with shattered bits of crystal. "There may be some contamination of the material. I dont suppose you mind?"
As Indri spoke, the processes and relationships Scott was transmitting flowed across the ghost screen in front of the hitchhiker. "Nah, no real hassle. Ill just add a step or two to guarantee adequate purity; figured Id have to, anyhow." Several minutes passed as the information was digested. Gandalf nodded, and began working with the semi-visible keyboard in front of him. An off-white platform appeared in the air before him. "Groovy. Dump your stuff on my little work bench, brother, and lets see how much weve got."
Indri obeyed, tapping the canister to be sure every last particle was released. A moment later, the pile of splinters, shards and fragments coalesced into a sphere, floating in the air. A tiny pellet dropped from the larger whole. "Not bad, guys. Less than two grams of impurity in about a thousand fifteen grams of purified metal." Gandalf played the keyboard a moment or two longer. "Like, no offense, guys, but you might want to back off a little bit. Might be some stray radiationinfrared through ultraviolet, mostlyand Id hate to have either of you get hurt. Might never get my sitar lessons, right?"
The two men obligingly stepped back. Gandalf, satisfied that they were at a safe distance, hit a single key and stepped back himself. "Programmed in a thirty second delay. Im not into getting a sunburn, either."
After a wait that seemed far longer than it really was, things began happening rapidly. The silvery gray of the metallic dilithium began shifting. As it moved, it slowly transformed through translucent to transparent. For an instant, a brilliantly white ball formed in the center, to be obscured briefly as the inner surface turned silver gray then clear again. Ignoring the brackets and fittings on the outside, the resulting, almost spherical object was barely over nine centimeters in diameter.
Gandalf handed it to Scott. "Far out, man. It worked like I intended. Any way you can plug it in and see if it works?"
"Easily enough," the chief engineer responded. "Is there any way I could convince you to share the secret of how you did all that? Your wee trick looks remarkably useful to me."
"Its nothing you couldnt have worked out yourself, if you had looked at things from the right angle, man. Its, like, all in your perspective." For a moment, Gandalf fingered his keyboard. As he finished, the ghostly keyboard and readout vanished. "Youve got it all in your little padd, where you can study it to your hearts content. After, of course, youve tested it out. Indri, how about an introduction to the sitar?"
Indri looked up from Scotts padd. "Indeed. But if you learn as quickly there as you seem to have here, I shall soon be learning from you."
"Dont bet the farm on it, man. Lets go."
As the two men left, the Scotsman was already setting the reaction chamber up for testing, a gleam of ecstasy in his eyes.
Kirk settled himself into his chair, beginning what he anticipated and hoped would be a quiet, if not downright boring shift. He expected to be docking at Starbase 137 in just over six hours. As punctual as always, Spock stepped out of the turbolift and silently took his place at the science console. After a few moments of silence, Kirk turned to Reichard. "What do you think of your temporary roommate, Reichard?"
"I think hes a load of fun, Captain, even if he is a bit on the squirrelly side. You ought to hear him play the guitar. Hes some kind of musician. Taught me a handful of tricks I never even knew existed."
The Vulcan turned to face the captain. "He also fails to show a mental signature, Captain, which is remarkable. He also briefly failed to register on a mediscanner."
While the Vulcan was speaking, Captain Scott entered the bridge. "Aye, and he did wonders down in engineering last night. He managed to put together a sitar without usin any of the ships tools and materials, and the Galileo is running on a matter-antimatter reaction chamber barely bigger than my fist that he helped us build, and its not showin any signs of strain. The mans incredible."
"Not really, my good engineer." The whole bridge crew turned to face the hitchhiker, surprised at his sudden presence. "It is you, and your remarkable comrades that are really incredible. Both with you, and Indri and Reichard, all I did was help you see things from a new and better vantagepoint. Your own, innate genius filled in the rest. What I am, is in trouble. Major, massive, big, fat, ugly trouble. How fast can you guys ditch me on a planet or something?"
"Lieutenant Reichard?" The tone in Kirks voice made it clear a swift reply was expected.
"Eighteen hours, Captain, and its an airless planet. Wed have to set up a surface habitat. Unless the Starbase would doat maximum warp, it would only take a bit over an hour."
"Wont do. I need to be somewhere that no one else is around. And eighteen hours wont do, either. How fast at maximum warp?"
Spock interrupted the interchange. "Captain, a small but remarkably fast vessel is approaching."
"Whoa, bummer, like major bad news. The answer to my question is: too long. Sorry, guys, but it looks like I am about to get busted, and unfortunately you are all gonna get busted with me. Like, hey, sorry about this."
Before anyone could react, the forward screen suddenly erupted into the face of what was clearly a uniformed official. Overhead, his voice boomed, "Captain Kirk, the individual you rescued from the uninhabited planet is a fugitive. I must ask you to turn him over to me immediately."
Kirk turned to Uhura. "Can you turn that down? Im not deaf, yet, and Id rather not end up that way."
"Oh, leave her alone, Kirk. Shes got no control over it." Gandalf stepped in front of the Captain. "Well, if it isnt Deputy Barney Fife! Whats new in Mayberry, Barney? And how is my favorite meddler and killjoy today? Still got the bullet in your pocket rather than in your gun?"
As Gandalf spoke, the face on the forward screen morphed into a pigs. Framed by the official appearing helmet and uniform, the face looked ludicrous.
The official on the screen ignored Gandalf completely, continuing at a more tolerable level. "Please forgive the childish pranks this, this..."
"Person?" Gandalf suggested, hopefully.
"Misfit has certainly perpetrated at your expense. Once you have transferred him to my custody, I will be more than willing to make reparation for any harm you have experienced."
"Gandalf has been no problem at all. Weve actually enjoyed his visit," Kirk responded. "As it stands, I am not at liberty to release him to you or anyone else until I deliver him to those to whom I am answerable. Youll have to negotiate with them. Im sure you understand."
"Ol Barney doesnt understand. As far as hes concerned, hes not answerable to anyone. Level with em, Barney."
The pig-face snapped back to being Human, and turned to Gandalf. "My name is no more Barney than yours is Gandalf. If you wish to address me, I suggest you use my proper name."
"The whole hour long length of it? Come off it, Barney! Neither of us has all day." Gandalf turned to Kirk. "Captain, what the fascist pig on your screen is neglecting to tell you is that there is no one else for him to answer to, other than me, at least of our own kind. And I think its obvious that he isnt inclined to be answerable to anyone outside of our kind. Am I right, oh Evil Twin Brother?"
Turning back to the captain, the man on the screen resumed negotiations. "Kirk, I appeal to you, as one civilized, disciplined, law-abiding..."
"Mentally constipated," Gandalf added, interrupting.
"...logical being to another: rid yourself of this troublesome individual."
While his twin spoke, Gandalf began humming, slowly increasing the volume. The tune was simple and lively, but sweet, with the occasional unexpected turn. Everyone but Spock started tapping their feet in time with it, and even the Vulcan clearly found the tune pleasing.
Obviously, the individual Gandalf had called Barney failed to share their opinion. "Stuff a sock in it, you obnoxious little anarchist," he demanded. A sock suddenly appeared out of nowhere, and tried to force itself into Gandalfs mouth, only to be snatched aside. "Since these fools wont let you go, they can just come along and watch."
The forward screen blanked abruptly. "Captain, there appears to be a malfunction in astrogation," Jaeger announced. "Im failing to register any Federation navigational beacons, or any of the quasars used for fixed point references."
Silence held sway on the bridge for several moments. It was Kirk that broke the silence. "I think an explanation is in order, Gandalf."
"Particularly, I would be interested in an explanation concerning how you managed to arrive on the bridge," Spock added. "You were not on the turbolift with Captain Scott, and there has no turbolift activity subsequent to his arrival."
"Would you believe I just took a shortcut?" Gandalfs face clearly expressed the hope that he would.
"I had deduced that you had done the equivalent, Gandalf," the Vulcan replied. "My question was concerning the nature of the shortcut."
"Yeah, I knew what you meant." The hitchhiker sighed. "I would have preferred to have avoided the explanations. Look, Im not exactly what I seem, okay?"
"Wed sort of figured that one out on our own," Kirk chimed in.
"Indeed," Spock continued. "Your lack of a perceptible mental signature, and your being present visually but for a brief moment not observable on Mister Davids mediscanner were very suggestive. You still have not answered my question."
"Okay, okay, Sherlock. I arrived via quantum tunneling."
Spocks eyebrow raised, coming as close to registering a combination of astonishment and disbelief as a Vulcan could. "Quantum tunneling only occurs with subatomic particles, over distances in the sub-nanometer range. The probability of a macroscopic object experiencing quantum tunneling, or a particle tunneling more than a few nanometers, is infinitesimal."
"Infinitesimal, but not zero, Spock. It can happen over distances of millions of light years, with objects as large as a starship, you know. Like, the probabilities are arbitrarily close to zero, but theyre still there."
The Vulcan slightly tilted his head to one side, disbelief clearly written on his face. "I do not find that claim credible."
"Thats one great, big pity, because youve done it, you know." Gandalf walked toward the forward viewscreen. "Lets bump this up to maximum magnification, could we?"
"Its obviously malfunctioning, Gandalf; I suppose your twin Barney did something to it, and jiggered astrogation at the same time," Scott opined.
"Humor me. Maximum magnification, could we please, hmm?" The blank viewscreen suddenly was filled with a faint tracery of deep red, fuzzy lines, which looked almost as though the screen were looking at a cluster of giant, luminescent soap bubbles, drawn in small dots. Gandalf moved to the screen, studying it for a moment before pointing out a tiny, dim dot in one of the lines. "See that? Its the supercluster of galaxies of which the galaxy your Federation is in makes up a tiny part. And before you start hunting for familiar spectral lines to estimate distances, Spock, dont bother: what youre seeing is gamma radiation, gravitationally red-shifted to deep red. Barney seems to have moved us way far out of Dodge, man. Heavy, man; it means he has a major attitude."
"If you say so. Id still like an explanation as to exactly who and you are, and whats going on with you, your twin, whatever his name is, and the Enterprise. Preferably now." The tone of Kirks voice made it clear that he was not interested in any further delaying tactics.
"Since you insist. Ages ago, there were quintillions of us, spread over almost an entire galaxy. Even compared to you, we were an immensely advanced civilization. Oh, we didnt quite know everything, and we hadnt quite gone everywhere, but wed reached the point where we knew that we knew enough, and that there wasnt much of anywhere that we hadnt been that was likely to be of any real interest." Gandalf shrugged. "I guess you might say that as a race we got bored; maybe it would be more accurate to say that we realized that we had to do something or we would become stagnant and die off. After a couple of generations of debate, we decided that we needed to find a new playground, so to speak: we decided to write our personalities, our identities on the universe at the quantum level, to see what life there was like."
"Tis quantum foam down there, laddie, utter chaos," Scott burred, interrupting, disbelief clearly written on his face. "Ye cant write your soul on that."
"Spare me, please! Look, you write your thoughts on chaos all the time, and think nothing of it. Surely youre aware that gas is, at a macroscopic level at least, particles moving chaotically, and that sound is still imposed on it." Gandalf shook his head. "Poor analogy, but its as good as your language can handle. Believe me, we managed. And its not like were the only ones going down that road, either, you know. Seems to me youve met the Metrons and the Organians, frinstance. Barney and I, were just way farther down the road than they are. Anyhoo, we discovered that if we worked in groups, we could have major effects on the macroscopic world wed abandoned. The bigger the group, the more we could control. Unfortunately, there was an effect we hadnt counted on, and hadnt expected. As we worked together, we fused into a single group identity, rather than dozens of individual identities collaborating." The hitchhiker fell silent for a moment, staring at the floor, almost as if remembering.
Spock interrupted the beings reverie. "Then would I be accurate in deducing that you and Barney are the final fusion products of your whole race?"
"Precisely, good Vulcan. And were he and I to collaborate, we would control the status of the universe."
"Youre trying to tell us that youre God?" Kirk demanded.
The hitchhiker turned to face Kirk. "Dont be ridiculous. I just play with the universe God created; unlike Him, Im still dependent on it. And misguided as my twin is, hes not really the devil." He shrugged. "We just dont get along. When he finds me, we fight. Unfortunately."
"And youre a lover, not a fighter, right?" Reichard suggested.
"Close enough, Kenny boy, close enough. He really, really doesnt like me on the loose."
"You tell a good tale, Gandalf," Kirk responded, "But Im not convinced. Show me some concrete evidence."
The hitchhiker sighed. "In all honesty, I guess I dont blame you. I probably wouldnt believe my story either." There was a moments pause. "Lieutenant Reichard, please shoot me with your phaser."
"Im afraid I cant oblige, even if I wanted to. Im not in the habit of carrying a phaser on the bridge, Gandalf," Reichard responded. "Sorry."
"Check. Youll find a phaser on your belt. I brought it myself."
Reichard reached, and to his surprise found a phaser.
"If it makes you feel better, set it to stun," the hitchhiker continued. "Fire it at me, please?"
Carefully, Reichard set the phaser to stun, took aim, and fired. Rather than a beam connecting the phaser to the hitch hikers chest, however, the phasers output formed half meter tall, rounded script letters spelling "ZAP!" in brilliant, fluctuating neon colors. The bridge was filled with an almost deafening silence.
Ultimately, Gandalf broke it. "Kenny boy, if you dont take your thumb off the trigger, that toy of yours is going to overheat and burn your hand." Reichard released the pressure on the contact, allowing the phaser to fall. Before it hit the floor, the phaser disappeared.
"I have returned the phaser to the armory, Captain. It will require recharging." As Gandalf spoke, the letters slowly faded. "Do you consider that adequate proof?"
Kirk looked at Spock. Spock nodded. Kirk faced the hitchhiker. "Its as good as I guess I could ask. But why do you bother hitching rides? You could go anywhere you wanted, faster and with less trouble."
Gandalf shrugged. "Among other things, Id be denied the pleasure of the company of fun folks like you. More important, if Im not traveling via a quantum tunneling effect, its harder for my twin to find me and pick a fight. Doing the tunneling thing, I leave major, very visible tracks." He nodded to himself for a moment. "And before you ask, no, were not going to fight at the quantum level. If we did, there wouldnt be much left but the quantum level. The whole battle will be here, macroscopically, using motifs drawn from your civilization, since youre close. While there were still quintillions of us, we bound ourselves to a set of rules for combat, so to speak. I guess my evil twin is hunting up a suitable, dead star system for us to use."
"I would be most interested," Spock interjected, "in understanding the combat we are about to witness."
"By which you mean you want to know your chances of survival. About one in three, I suppose; maybe more, maybe less. Barney and I will remodel an airless planet, each in different ways suggested by whatever of your preferences appeals to us. The one whose remodeling ends up taking over the planet wins."
Shaking his head, Kirk looked the hitchhiker squarely in the face. "This is ridiculous. If cooperating would enable you to control the universe, why do you two fight?"
"I suppose it boils down to his hating my style of music. And he really hates it; ol grouchy says it drives him crazy. Personally, I think hes crazy anyhow, but.."
Before Gandalf could continue, a G2 star suddenly appeared near the Enterprise with its retinue of planets, including an airless planet about the size of the Earth. "Looks like the combat arena is ready," Gandalf opined. A small structure appeared out of nowhere, sitting on the floor in the middle of the bridge. "This will let you see the progress of the combat more clearly. It will also broadcast anything that you say down at the quantum level, so you can cheer me on. Of course, Barney will hear it, too, but that probably wont matter to you."
For a moment, Gandalf cocked his head to one side. "Hey, sorry, gotta go. Barney calls. Hopefully, Ill see you guys later. If, of course, there is a later." With that, he vanished.
As soon as Gandalf disappeared from the bridge, an image of the planet popped into existence above the structure the hitchhiker had brought to the bridge. Fascinated, they watched as two, brilliantly bright points of light appeared on the surface, touched and separated. For an instant, nothing further happened, then the surface exploded into action. Initially, it almost seemed the two were cooperating: mountain ranges rose, oceans erupted out of the lowest valleys, and an atmosphere outgassed. As that reached completion, and weather patterns formed, different activities began happening. In the area around one of the bright points, the stone began breaking into powder then turning into soil, out of which trees, grasses and flowers sprang. In the area around the other, the stone began planing down, and geysers of molten metal streamed out, forming beams and sheets that, along with blocks of stone, began forming buildings and roads. As the growing wilds and the growing city grew toward each other, the wild area began to teem with creatures of all sorts, and the rivers, streams and lakes with fish.
The areas met. Climbing vines began to grow up the sides of the buildings, and tree roots began to buckle and crack the paving. At the same time, droves of machines poured out of the buildings, leveling the lush forests and meadows, cutting the trees into lumber. Vines wrapped around the earth moving machinery, puncturing tires when possible, jamming treads or engines if needed.
More machines poured forth, engines protected from the vines invasion, and treads shielded. Out of the woods, hordes of insects flew at the machinery, clogging the air intakes with their payload of detritus.
Swiftly, the interplay of assault and counter-assault escalated. It was Uhura that finally broke the silence. "Is it just me, or is the light in the wild area dimming?"
"I believe you are correct, Uhura," Spock agreed. "Given the difference between the two styles, I conjecture that it corresponds to Gandalf, our hitchhiker."
"Under the circumstances," Kirk added, "I guess that means hes losing. Im open to suggestions."
"According to the Prime Directive, Captain," Spock observed, "I believe we are required to stay neutral."
"That only applies to technologically less advanced races," Uhura responded, "So I cant believe it applies here."
"I agree, Uhura, which leaves us in need of suggestions."
"Well," Reichard suggested, "The one thing were pretty sure of is that Gandalfs evil twin doesnt like Gandalfs kind of music. Gandalf made a point of mentioning that. What do you all think?"
Uhura smiled, then her alto voice broke into song in Swahili, one that had a wild, almost frightening but exciting rhythm.
Spock nodded. "I agree with Uhura: music might irritate Gandalfs adversary just enough to tip the scales. I believe this would be an appropriate time to get my harp, and..."
The turbolift door slid aside, revealing Indri, standing behind a loaded cart. "My apologies for not arriving sooner. It took longer to get these found or built than I had hoped." Indri handed Uhura a harp. "Particularly this, Captain Scott." Indri held up a set of bagpipes. As the bridge crew descended on the cart, Indri snatched a sitar for himself. As Uhura and Spock tuned their harps, and Scott inflated his pipes, Indri tossed a small metal object to Kirk. "Captain, I believe youll appreciate this."
Kirk caught it, turning it over in his hands. "A mouth organ! I havent seen on in years." He put it in his mouth, twanging the metal in its center.
Reichard joined the captain, followed closely by Spock, Uhura and all the rest. Indris sitar suddenly began a complex, rapidly changing melody; the rest harmonized as best they could. As Indri slowed his pace, Reichard exploded into a free-form guitar riff.
"Look!" Uhura exclaimed. "The point is brightening." Most of the crew turned to the projected globe. There was no mistaking the fact that Gandalfs point was brightening considerably. Scott started playing a haunting Highland aire. When the Scotsman was finishing, Spock took the lead with a harp melody that was wild and, to everyones surprise, almost passionate and sensuous.
As the bridge crew maintained their jam session, it became clear that the once lifeless planet was rapidly filling with exuberant life, overwhelming the stern and severe sterility of the city and its machinery. In moments, there was nothing left of the city other than a single, large building. Suddenly, Gandalf was on the bridge, tambourine in hand, joining in with the rest.
"You guys are soooooooo good!" Gandalf announced, happily. "Barneyll be out for ages and ages and ages."
Kirk put his mouth organ down. "Then hes defeated?"
Gandalf shook his head, suddenly very serious. "No, Captain. I wouldnt want that. I stopped just short of total victory, and put him to sleep, so to speak. Hes shut up in the last remaining building. Itll be a century or more before he wakes up, perhaps another century or two more before he breaks out. Thatll give me loads of time to disappear and cover my tracks. If Im really clever, it might just be most of a millennium before I have to go through this again."
"I fail to comprehend," Spock said, "Why you choose not to defeat him once and for all."
Gandalf rubbed his chin for a moment. "Look, let me oversimplify a bit. Hes all order. Im basically chaos. Now, youve got to have some order. But on the other hand, things would get so boring without a little chaos once in a while." Spock looked like he was about to offer debate, but the hitchhiker held out his hand. "Dont even say it, Spock. A totally ordered universe would be sterile and dead. Life, art, beauty, music, all of it exists in the narrow band where order and chaos appear to overlap. Trust me, here, Sherlock. On this one, I know."
The hitchhiker turned to face Reichard. As he did so, the forward screen suddenly showed familiar stars. "Kenny boy, were exactly when and where we were when ol Barney snatched us out to the heart of nowhere. Id bet that your captain here would love it if you got us back to Starbase 137." He faced Kirk, a mock serious expression on his face, and performing a mock salute. "Captain, request permission for pizza and soda all round. My treat."
Reichard grinned, logging in the course.
"Sounds good to me, Gandalf," Kirk responded. "Reichard, Starbase 137 at half warp. And pizza and pop all round."October 22nd 2288 "Anyhow, thats as much as I can recall," Reichard finished. "After we dropped him off at Starbase, he seems to have disappeared."
"Its a pity we didnt manage to talk Gandalf out of that little supercomputer of his," Kirk sighed. "Just think of the advances we could have made."
Indri and Reichard looked at each other for a moment. Reichard reached into a pocket, drawing out the featureless box Gandalf had used, handing it to Kirk. The captain turned it over in his hands, surprised by the smoothness of its surface, and by its unexpected lightness.
"It is totally hollow, just a thin shell of trititanium with a layer of transparent aluminum over it." The voice was Indris. "Ken brought it to Scotty and me as soon as he found it. Its fake."
Kirk handed it back to Reichard, saying nothing.
"How can you be sure its the real thing, Ken?" Chekov demanded.
"I just know, Pavel," Reichard replied. "Shortly after we turned him over to the folk at Starbase 137, but just before he went missing, I found Gandalfs backpack and the sitar hed made, sitting in a corner of my cabin. The box was in it. I keep it, mostly to remember him, and to remind myself of what he helped me learn about my music. Somehow, Ive never quite forgotten what he taught me about playing my guitar."
"A pity," Kirk opined, "That you didnt think to bring your guitar, Ken. It could have been fun. We could do a few old campfire songs."
Reaching outside the circle of the firelight, Indri produced a guitar. "I anticipated the potential need." He handed the guitar to Reichard, offering Chekov a balalaika, and producing a sitar for himself. "And for you, Captain...." He produced a mouth organ.
Kirk laughed. "I should have guessed."
"Da!" Chekov chortled. "Good choice, Indri! He cant play it and sing at same time."
Rather than respond to the gibe, Kirk settled the instrument in his mouth and began to play. The others joined in, improvising as they played.
As the moon rose above the horizon, the air was filled with music. The four men became so wrapped up in their playing that none of them noticed the tall, thin, shabbily dressed figure that coalesced from the shadows, his long hair flying wildly as he danced to their music.
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