The stars in the sky were simply boiling, exploding balls of gas, spread out over billions of miles. Ensign Keero had never understood his human companions’ desires to ascribe patterns to them. And yet, standing in the dark, looking out of the view port of Deep Space Two, Deck 47, East Wing, Keero noticed these patterns. Most of all, he noticed they were different from what he remembered. This was not unexpected. From the time Keero had awoken two days ago, he had traveled exactly 153 years, three months, two days, twelve minutes, and 36.5 seconds into the future. During all of that time, the stars would shift, ever so slightly, the patterns would change. This was a natural and expected course of events.
This should satisfy him. But Keero looked out at these new stars and felt…uneasy. Like he was barely holding on to the floor, and could go spinning off into space at any time. The feeling was not pleasurable, and he wished to make it stop. But yet, he could not stop staring out into the deep blacks and brilliant lights of the cosmos, wondering. Disorientation was expected in a situation like this – Agent Daniels had explained as much – but he felt more than disoriented. Keero felt like he was drifting.
On his home planet, Keero had often felt small. His people were all giants by human standards, and Keero was no exception, but being seven foot tall matters little when your three sisters stand at eight, eight and a half, and almost nine feet respectively. His people were not by any means unintelligent, but Keero’s brain was like a supercomputer. He had always felt a gulf between himself and those his own age. When he arrived at Starfleet academy, all of that had changed. The other students, to use a human turn of phrase, spoke his language. At last, he had felt he had a place in the universe.
Now, once again, he wasn’t sure.
There was a soft hiss behind him. The doors to the observation deck slid open, filling the room with the artificial light of the hallway. Keero winced, and turned around. Standing in the doorway was a being, about six foot in height, his head buried in a PADD. He was wearing a uniform that Keero knew was the standard for Starfleet officers of this era. The blue stripe across the torso designated the newcomer as being part of the science branch. This science officer – a Lieutenant, by the number of pips on his collar – was not human, as many Starfleet officers were in his time. He was…
No, that wasn’t right. Those forehead ridges…
The Lieutenant looked up from his PADD, noticing that he was not alone for the first time. He smiled. “Greetings, Ensign,” he said, “I am Lieutenant Thox. I apologize, I hadn’t realized this room was taken. I’ve booked it for an observation of the remnants of the Hobus supernova. You are free to join me if you wish.”
His human friends had often described their mind as “racing” to Keero. That made no sense. The mind was a stationary object. When he searched for a solution, he often felt more like it was a computer, searching memory banks and making quick calculations. Racing implied a loss of control, which Keero had never felt.
Until now. The creature before him was a Klingon. One of the beings that had assaulted his ship, killed his Captain. His mind, the rational part, was frantically screaming calculations at him. There was only a .003% chance that this Klingon was even related to someone who took part in that attack. Yes, there was a war in this century between the Federation and the Klingons as well, but he knew of at least 4.5 Klingon members of Starfleet from throughout its modern and recent history. The chances of this Klingon – Thox – being an infiltrator and here to kill him was 122,695 to 1.
All of these thoughts were there, in his mind. But his body was not listening. He reached for where a phaser would be, were he on combat duty. He felt dismay when he found nothing there.
Even buried in his work, Thox had noticed the change in the air. He gave a quizzical look. “Are you all right, Ensign?”
Responses spun in Keero’s find. The calculations had broken down. His supercomputer was spitting error messages into his mind, and he could not move.
After a moment, the look on Lieutenant Thox’s face changed to one of resignation and disappointment. He nodded, almost to himself. “Ah,” he said, “I see. Please, Ensign, use the room as long as you need.”
The doors opened and shut again, and Keero was left alone with a beating heart and a burning face. He gasped for breath, whatever errors had filled his mind before being replaced by a slowly growing sense of shame.
It was three days later when Ensign Keero once again saw the Klingon science officer. Lieutenant Thox was sitting by himself in the mess hall, poking at replicated gagh with a fork. Keero looked around the room, at all of the other open tables where he, too, could sit alone. Then he remembered the friends he had left behind. The ones who had been dead for decades. What would Sylvia have done?
Thox’s eyes darted up – and up - as Keero stood across from him. Silence passed between them for a moment.
“I am unfamiliar with Klingon culture,” Keero finally began, “And therefore unsure whether I should ask if this seat is taken.”
“It is not taken, Ensign. Please, join me.” Thox gestured to the seat, and Keero worked on placing his massive form in it. Most sentients found the sight of him attempting to sit in a seat for humans, especially one with arms, comical. If he agreed with that assessment, Thox did not show it.
“I wish to offer an apology for my behavior the last time we met,” Keero began, “My adjustment to this,” The ensign caught himself. The circumstances of his crew being stranded in this time period were highly confidential. He could not bring them up in casual conversation. “…to this new situation with the Klingon Empire has been less than ideal. But exposing you to my lack of, I believe the humans would call it, “manners,” is entirely unacceptable.”
Thox chuckled. “I myself have had many run-ins with the human concept of manners. They hide what they truly mean in order to make us feel better – I have never had the stomach for it. It’s what draws me to science. Answers are not hidden here.”
“I must admit,” Keero said, “I have never met a Klingon who had an interest in the sciences, of any kind.”
“Have you met many of my kind before?” Thox tilted his head, quizzically.
The smell of ozone and burning flesh. Red lights flashing, alarms blaring. A terrifying woman standing over them, a mek’leth in each hand, dripping blood. Captain Schaefer’s lifeless eyes.
“No,” Keero said, “I have not.”
“Well, if you ever get the chance to travel to Qo’noS’, or another Klingon world, you’ll find many scientists. They do not receive the glory of warriors, but they exist.” Thox said.
“Then why are you not with them?” Keero asked.
“My…temperament never held up to Klingon scrutiny.” Thox said, lifting, examining, and finally dropping a piece of his unmoving gagh. “And then the war broke out, and I was here. I was already invested in becoming a full Starfleet officer, and leaving did not seem…prudent, even if it meant going to war with my own people.” He gave one last, pointless poke at his “gagh”, and then pushed it aside, “But you didn’t sit here to hear my history. How can I ease your mind, Ensign?”
That was a novel question. Keero found himself unsure of how exactly to respond. He calculated thousands of avenues of approach, but none seemed to match the question on his mind. Thox waited, patiently. There was no way to do this delicately, Keero realized. He took a deep breath, and spoke.
“Many of my friends and classmates have died at the hands of your people. My training at the academy was for exploration, and in my case, for healing. It was not for war. And I find myself unsure of how to proceed with the ideals of the Federation while parts of my mind I do not understand are screaming at me to take actions…actions I do not wish to take.”
Thox nodded, and looked away for a moment. Other Starfleet officers in the mess hall were chatting merrily away, the tension of the war far away for them. Their bright voices and quick laughs seemed out of place with the conversation at hand.
“To the Klingon people,” Thox began, “Desires for battle, and for revenge, are sacred things to be cultivated. My people believe you must always act upon your heart and go where it leads you, even and especially into death. The Federation, on the other hand, was founded on the ideals of logic, and empathy, of looking before you leap. As I have spent considerable time now in both worlds, I have some experience with the duality of which you speak. What I have learned is this: there is no ‘right way’ to approach the cosmos, and our journey through it. There is simply the way that feels most honorable to you. Which path do you wish to follow, Ensign? Rage and revenge, or empathy and understanding?”
Keero knew what the Starfleet answer would be. It was their highest ideal to reach out to other civilizations with an open hand. But a new part of his mind, one he did not yet understand, pushed against that conclusion.
“I must be truthful, I do not know.” He finally said.
Thox nodded. “Truth is the first step on the journey, Ensign. Follow it and see where it takes you.”