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Jim Ausfahl

 September 13th 2293

Captain Montgomery Scott reflected on the fact that Edinburgh had changed. About the only thing that was the way he remembered it was Edinburgh castle, once the home of the kings and queens of Scotland, now a museum for several centuries. The engineer looked up at the edifice, almost as if it was able to read his mind and speak words of comfort to him. From behind, a voice that sounded almost, but not completely, familiar seemed to have read his mind.

"It’s a good thing that she’s still standin’, isn’t it, Monty? Gives a man a sense of perspective, knowin’ that that castle hasn’t changed since the time of the Stuarts, if not longer."

Scott turned, surprised to hear a nickname he’d not been called in decades. Before him stood a familiar, if older, face. "Angus McTavish! What’re ye doin’ down here, lad? Who’s mindin’ the mercantile?"

McTavish smiled. "It’s good t’see you remember me. I’ve not seen ye since just after the Grand Dame died. Colin, my eldest son, is watchin’ things for me. Anymore, lad, he runs the store; I just cover the times the boy needs to be away for somethin’. As for what I’m doin, I’m taking my ease. Retired, so to speak, though I don’t think I’ll ever quit completely. Like you and engineerin’, I guess. I don’t doubt you’ve a tale or two you could spin. I’ve heard a thing or two about what you’ve been doing, mind."

Somehow, having Angus McTavish show up made Scotty feel unexpectedly warm and joyful, in a way that he hadn’t in years. "Well, now, I’m not sure that you’d not have a few tales to tell too, ones that would warm the heart of an old fool that’s wandered the stars protectin’ the peace of good folk like the McTavish family, without stoppin’ by to check in on the old country." He checked his watch. "Seems to me that we could get us some fish and chips at a pub, and a mug or two of brew and trade stories. It’ll be my treat, man."

"Aye, well, I’ve rarely turned down a free meal, and no mistake about it. I know where we can get fish and chips done right, and they’ve a fine brew of their own. It’s a bit out of the way, but worth the effort; it’s a restored pub in the old town. Just to visit it is worth the walk."

"Lead on, Angus. It’ll be good for me t’sit and gab." Scotty’s face made his hunger for news from home clear.

Nodding, Angus led the way. True to his word, he led the engineer through a maze of streets and walkways to an entrance that seemed almost nondescript. Once inside, there was no mistaking that the early 20th century pub had been brought back to its original glory. Both men ordered, ate, drank and swapped stories; time fled swiftly, as joyful times always seem to do.

Scott upended his tankard, draining it dry. "It’s been grand, Angus, just grand; I can’t recall when I’ve had a better time, or a better meal, and for an old space salt like me, that’s saying something. But I’ll warrant that you’ve lodgings to return to, and I’ve certainly the same, and morning’ll be calling on us too early. What say we find somewhere to meet tomorrow, and run the old sights in Edinburgh?"

"There’s nothin’ I’d like to do more, Monty, but I’ve got to run to London in the morning, to pick up a few things for the mercantile. I’ll be four or five days there before I get back."

Scott was crestfallen. "A pity, that. I don’t doubt that you’ll be snooping around corners, lookin’ for bargain buys on things you’ll be selling. For that, I’d just be in the way and a distraction you don’t need, otherwise I’d offer to join you."

"If that weren’t the way of it, laddie, I’d have asked you to come along. Still, I’ve a message for you that’s been waiting for years. Just after the Grand Dame died, years ago, a fellow bought her house, lock stock and barrel. No one wanted much from it, other than a keepsake or two, and the fellow offered good money for the place and everything in it. He’s been there off and on, until the last year or so, havin’ retired and moved in. It’s almost as if the Grand Dame were back. Anyhow, when he moved in full time, he let it be known that if you were ever in the area, you had an open invitation to come by and visit, and that I should encourage you t’drop in. Colin’ll take care of you, I’m sure."

For the first time in years, Aileen Scott’s face leapt into view in Scotty’s memory. It had been too long, he realized. Maybe the emptiness he felt in himself was the longing for his home soil; if nothing else, the thought of visiting Granny’s place sounded warm and comforting. "It sounds like a fair enough offer; I’ll take him up on it. It’ll be good to touch the old sod, even if it has changed."

"You can take a man out of the Highlands, Montgomery Scott, but you can’t take the Highlands out of the man; the Highlands will call you home, even if you only come home on the low road."

"The low road?" Puzzlement was written on his face.

"Aye, the low road, when your spirit returns here after you’ve died, man. Surely you’ve not forgotten?"

"Slipped my mind, Angus; I guess it comes of one beer too many. Good to see you, Angus. I’ll give Colin your greetings."

"Do that. Sleep well, old friend."


Though he didn’t rise with the dawn, Scott rose shortly after it, settled his tab and made his way to Altnaharra, the village near what had once been his grandmother’s dwelling. Getting off the ground transport felt like stepping back into his youth. The town’s inn, though clearly repaired and maintained using modern materials since he’d last seen it, seemed to be unchanged from the late Jacobite era. The sign over McTavish’s Mercantile still looked faded, but had clearly had a new layer of pigment applied. It was clear, suddenly, that a significant proportion of the village’s rustic nature was being carefully maintained.

The engineer made his way into the Crofter’s Inn, planning to get lodgings for the night before going visiting. Though the decor was clearly ancient, there was a very modern retinal scanner by the desk. The proprietor came bustling out from a door nearby. "How can I help you, sir?’

"Lodgings for the night, lad. I’ll be here a day or two on personal business."

"Excellent, excellent. I’ll not deny that it’s the slow season; ‘twill be a month or more before the tourists arrive." The man reached over the counter. "Ian Douglas. You’d be?"

"Montgomery Scott."

"Ah, then you’ll not need lodgings here. The Old Man’s left it be known that you’ll be staying with him. Now just you get yourself over there, and tell him that I’ll be hoping for both of you to be down here for supper—on my tab, too—here at the inn. You’ll let him know, will you not?" It was clear Douglas wanted them both there, for reasons that weren’t clear.

"I’ll pass the message on, if I can. What about my bags?"

"Oh, don’t worry; I’ll get them over to the croft for you, one way or another." Douglas winked. "We have our little ways, you understand. The Old Man’s seen to that."

Curiosity piqued, Scott nodded his thanks and made his way to the path leading to what had been home to him during the latter years of his childhood. Memories flooded his mind as he made his way along the three kilometers to the croft, finally rounding the last bend and seeing the homestead. To his surprise, the door to the croft was open, but there was no one in it. Nostalgia almost overwhelmed the man. Tentatively, he entered the house, looking around. It had hardly changed, as far as he could tell. Through the arched door across the room, he could still see the old propane stove that his grandmother had insisted on keeping, despite the presence of more modern, more efficient cooking tools.

Scott took another step, then a third, taking himself near to the middle of the sitting room. Even the books on the shelves seemed to be as they had always been, only a few newer volumes announcing that there was a new owner. The engineer shook his head in amazement. From behind him, there came a familiar voice, with an accent that was thoroughly out of place.

"Looks like I’ve done a creditable job keeping things as they were. I was concerned about that."

Scotty did a quick about face, turning to see the source of the voice. "Professor Dim!"

"One and the same. I figured the Midwest accent would clue you in. Welcome home, old friend." Dimitrius Aiglekdos unfolded himself from the chair he’d been half hiding in, wrapping his one-time protégé in a bear hug. "Good to see you, Scotty. You’ve done me proud, and if she were here, Aileen would have been proud of your career too."

"Aye, I suppose she would have." He returned the hug. "What say I brew us a cuppa, Dim?"

"What say. I’d have offered to brew it myself, but I’m terrible at it. I’m glad I brought that sensor desk with me." Aiglekdos chuckled to himself. "I’m a far better engineer than I am a cook, you know. I get supper over at the Crofter’s Inn more often than I should." He patted his somewhat rotund belly. "And I don’t walk it as often as I ought; Ian Douglas has let me set up a transporter connection between the inn and here. Just don’t squeal on me—the other folk in town might want in on the action, and I’m not into expending the power for that."

The Starfleet engineer chuckled. "Aye, and I guess that explains Ian Douglas’ comment about my bags. He made it clear we were invited to his table at his expense."

"It explains the bags, yes; they beat you here, slowpoke." It was Aiglekdos’ turn to smile. "And I’m not surprised he wants us there for supper. When I’m there, a good number of villagers arrive, buying a beverage or two and a few things to munch on while I spin tales or consult on fixing problems with this or that household implement. You’d better be ready to spin a few tales, or you’ll disappoint a lot of folk; the fixit part is instinct for you, I’m sure. As for your lodgings, I’ve added a small wing into the mountain, which is where I keep my office, but you’ll get your old room. Your granny, bless her heart, spun stories about you once in a while."

Scotty moved toward the small kitchen, looking somewhat scandalized. "I hope you’ve not taken them as absolute truth, Professor. She was known to exaggerate once in a while—at least where I was involved."

"Oh, go make tea. We’ll trade stories once it’s brewed, including the stories she told on you."


By the time the two men got back to the croft—transported, this time, rather than walking—both had enjoyed more food and fun than most nights ever know, and they were glad to crawl into bed, sleeping until long after sunrise. Scott found himself awakened by the whistle of a teapot shrilly announcing that the water it held was up to temperature. Its whistling stopped abruptly, to be replaced by Dim’s voice. "You better get out here in a hurry, Scott, or breakfast might be all gone. Even if it’s not, you don’t hurry, you’re going to eat cold porridge. Up and at ‘em, Scotty!"

Despite the cheery tone in the professor’s voice, the engineer decided not to take any chances, hurrying out to the table. It was laden with an assortment of viands, many his favorites: hot muffins, cold fruits, steaming pancakes and sizzling sausages, forming an aroma that was almost as satisfying as eating was. Aiglekdos had already set himself to the task of filling his belly; without a word, Scott did likewise. It was some time before either spoke. Finally, Scotty pushed himself back from the table. "You spread a fine feed for breakfast, Doctor Aiglekdos; this was a fine feed indeed. I’d no idea you were such an excellent chef."

"I’m not, trust me! This all represents my having tuned the nutrition dispenser to my exacting standards. Simple engineering, man, simple engineering." Aiglekdos pushed himself back from the table. "Well, that, and an excuse to have a real man’s breakfast, for once. I usually don’t chow down this heavily, either. Under the circumstances, though, I figured you’d probably need a good breakfast."

There was no mistaking the Scotsman’s surprise. "How d’you figure that, Dim?"

"Don’t be silly. You’ve been hustling your kilted bustle all over the Federation for decades, then suddenly, for the first time since your nephew died, you show up here." The retired professor stared at the croft’s ceiling. "If this isn’t a major case of nostalgia, then I don’t know what is. The way I see it, you need to go visit your thinking place again, and stare at the Highlands."

"How did you find it, Dim?"

"Your thinking place? I didn’t. Aileen mentioned it. She never found it, never bothered even looking for it, but she knew it was there. The woman may have been an engineer, but she was familiar with Earth’s literature and she understood young boys well. You’d disappear for an hour, or maybe half a day, especially when you were struggling with something or when you were feeling down, then you’d come back rejuvenated."

Aiglekdos’ face turned back to his guest; he tapped his finger on the table emphasizing what he was saying. "Somewhere out there, you had a hideout where you’d go and think. You need to go back there, Scotty. Now, guard the victuals while I get something for you to take along." Without even waiting for permission, he disappeared out a doorway, returning with a metal box about the size of his hand. He extended it to his guest. "Aileen knew you’d be back on my doorstep, one day, filled with inner questions that you hadn’t faced since before she shipped you off to Starfleet Academy’s Engineering Department. She told me to be sure I gave this to you, or she’d haunt me."

"She didn’t believe in ghosts."

"Nor do I, Montgomery Scott, but this is Aileen Scott we’re talking about. If your granny said she’d find a way to do it, then I figure she’ll find a way to haunt me." Both men laughed. "More seriously, she had no idea I’d buy the croft, but she knew I’d be seeing you again. Do you recognize it?"

Gently, almost reverently, Scotty examined what he’d been given. There was no doubt about its being an old electronic hypertext; equally, there was no doubt that it had been read often. Despite the casing being trititanium, there were signs of wear. He looked up at his host. "It’s Granny’s Bible, isn’t it?’

"It is. There have to be nine, maybe ten different translations stored in it, including one in Scots Gaelic." Aigkekdos tilted his head to one side, pensively. "She knew that book as well as anyone I’ve ever met. The only thing about you that ever grieved the woman was your evident lack of interest in things of the spirit—other, that is, than distilled spirits. I’ve got a copy of everything in there, including the notes she logged on the passages that really meant a great deal to her."

The retired professor looked at the table top for a minute, before going on. "I guess what I’m saying is that it’s as close as I can get to letting you talk to her again as I can manage. She never went to your thinking spot, you know. Taking that with you is as close as you can come to taking her there with you. You’re a man that needs to do some deep thinking, about more than just engineering, Montgomery Scott; I can read it in your eyes."

From out of nowhere, it seemed, Aiglekdos produced a box lunch. "You might as well take this with you, too. I don’t expect to see you before supper time, though you’re certainly welcome back whenever you like. For now, git." He stood, starting to clear the table. "I’ve got dishes to clear, and you have thinking to do. I’m thinking you’ve lots of thinking you need to do."

Feeling more like a little boy banished from the supper table than like an adult visiting the old homestead, Scotty accepted the offered lunch and, slipping the electronic hypertext into a pocket, made his way to the door. "You’d have made a good psychologist, Dim, if you’d not been so busy being such a great engineer. Maybe that’s what I need after all, a chance to visit my boyhood thinking spot."

"That’s just a good start, and you know it. Go think. Supper is at six. Be here or go hungry."

Scotty knew better than to believe the harsh words; the smile on Aiglekdos’ face gave them away. Following a path he had all but forgotten, the Starfleet engineer made his way out the door and into the heather growing on the humble Scots mountains.

Reaching his old thinking place took hardly ten minutes. Nestled in a small, flat area on the side of one of the modest mountains of the Scots highlands, the view was magnificent from his thinking place; the engineer remembered carefully choosing it because of the uplifting vista. Below, at some distance, still lay the River Mudale, flowing as it had, he was sure, for centuries; before him was the still, silent beauty of the other mountains, serenely contemplating the passage of time that they had ignored for millennia.

Out of curiosity more than nostalgia, Scotty peeped into the shallow grotto in the side of the mountain. To his delight, as well as his surprise, he found the old stainless steel box he’d stashed there, inside which he’d hid his boyhood treasures. With one foot, he swept aside the small collection of detritus that the winds had deposited over the year, finding the flat-topped stone that he’d used for a chair. Planting himself on it, he thumbed the gears on the simple lock, setting the four of them to the old combination and opening the lid. One by one, he removed the contents: a few medals he’d won at games in school; a handful of faded photographs of people whose names he no longer recalled; and a small electronic comic book, its power cell long since dead.

Gently, he restored the contents to their original place, saving the comic book. Deftly, Scotty opened the casing of the tricorder that almost lived on his belt, connecting the power output of the dilithium cell to the electronic comic. On the dusty screen, the characters acted out their roles, as they had done when he was eleven, spouting the same dialogue they always had. Though pleasant to recall, it scarcely lifted the Scotsman’s spirits. Disconnecting the mechanism, he restored it to the stainless steel box, closing and locking it. Out of habit, he returned it to the small cleft in the side of the grotto where he’d always hidden it, well aware of the fact that he would probably never return to look at it. Satisfied, he turned his eyes to the view outside his old hide-away.

The sun was moving toward mid morning. Unlike most of the more southern parts of the Isles, this area had remained almost unpopulated. Before him Scott could see the lush green of the grass that covered most of the hills, the grey-brown of an occasional outcropping of lichen-covered stone and the yellow of heather in bloom being the main interruption of the quiet greensward. Off in the distance, a flock of sheep were grazing near an old, stone croft, not far from the Mudale. Long ago, Scotty recalled, it had been inhabited by the McDougals; by now, of course, the owners he had known had certainly passed away, leaving the place to children or grandchildren, or perhaps a new owner. Slowly, the sheep moved from place to place and the sun moved toward its zenith, then past it.

As he ate the contents of the boxed lunch, the engineer let his mind drift back to his childhood, and the grandmother that had taken care of him during the last years of it. She’d been an incredible influence, he realized. To his young mind, it seemed that there was never a problem in engineering that she couldn’t solve, or more likely, trigger him to solve. Without his being aware of it, a smile played across his face. How many Sunday mornings had he hidden here, evading her insistence that he accompany her to the small church she attended? More than he could count that was for sure, probably as many times as she’d chided him for his behavior. What had she called it? Heathen behavior, that was what she’d called it. She’d never preached, well at least not very often, but Aiglekdos had been right. Aileen had tried hard to make a good Scots Presbyterian out of him, but somehow Scotty had never had much time for it.

He reached into his pocket, retrieving the hypertext he’d been given. Odd, that, now that he thought of it: he’d turned his back on his granny’s faith, without ever having looked at the book she’d used as her touchstone. Taking the gently worn hypertext in hand, he triggered it into life, letting it open itself to whatever passage it had been opened to last. Rather than being a passage from the Bible, it was some of his granny’s notes. Almost hungrily, hoping to reconnect with the woman that had very nearly raised him, he began to read, quickly shifting from her notes to the passages she spoke about.

Before long, it seemed that she was there with him, repeating what she’d said so many times when he was growing up, but this time, all her comments about sin and its inevitable punishment made sense. Even the remarks about the trials and suffering being designed for his own good by the loving hand of the God she worshiped made sense, this time for the first time. Too many times, Scotty had seen cadets suffer for their own stupidity; often, he had engineered that suffering himself, knowing that suffering enough under his protective hand would make them into starship engineers that could take anything the Klingons, Tholians, Romulans or anyone else could throw at them.

Flashes of memories flooded his mind, memories of times when only a hair’s breadth had separated him from certain death, and of times when he’d found strength and endurance just when he thought he had nothing left and found a way to make a repair and rescue the crew of the Enterprise, feeling like his hands were moving without his guiding them. Even Indri had been on Aileen’s side, Scotty realized: his remarks had seemed offhand, but they had made their mark. Things suddenly fell into place, all at once.

Slowly, his joints stiff from sitting in one position for too long, he dropped to his knees. Clutching his hands before himself, Scotty did what he hadn’t done since he’d quit doing it at his bedside when his parents had died: he prayed. How long he knelt, he was not sure; all he knew for certain was that there was little left of the setting sun but small fingers of light painting the sky in a palette of reds and oranges.

The engineer frowned, looking at the path leading back. It was dark enough that it would be a challenge to negotiate, especially considering some of the steep drop-offs on one side. Sliding the now-precious hypertext into his pocket, he began to gently pick his way along the path. Making his peace with God had been a good thing; before he stood in God’s presence, however, he at least wanted to thank Aiglekdos for giving him his granny’s electronic Bible and sending him out to think.

From a distance, the engineer heard a voice, unsure as to who it was or what it was saying. Moments later, from a shorter distance, he heard it again. "Blast your absurd hide, Montgomery Scott, I don’t care how long you’ve been in space, you can’t see in the dark. For pity’s sake, at least make some noise, you hard-headed Scotsman."

The beam of a hand held light illuminated the side of the mountain. "Dim! I’m over here, lad!"

"Thanks a lot. You’ve obviously forgotten every scrap of acoustics anyone ever taught you. Are you under the delusion that I can tell the direction of your voice in this echo-trap? Unless you relish feeling your way home with your oversized feet you’re going to have to do better than that."

Rather than being annoyed, Scotty was amused by Aiglekdos’ attitude. "I’m off to your left, Dim, and around the bend a bit."

"Dead right you’re around the bend, staying out until it’s dark." As he spoke, Aiglekdos stepped into view. "There you are! I’m glad to see you haven’t fallen off the side of some sheep trail and broken something or other."

"Och, man, I grew up in these hills. I know better than that. Come on, let’s get back to the croft and get some supper."

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