I know you came here expecting fanfic.

You will find you don't recognize the characters and setting, although the latter may feel somehow familiar. That's because this was written and pubbed as a fanzine, as most of my older work was, and like most of that O. W., it is set in my version of the Original Star Trek universe.

I have changed that, for this posting, for two reasons. One, the mental socio-map I drew up about the Klingon Empire was almost nothing like the expansion and background that was officially worked up once Next Gen got going. I'm egocentric enough to like mine better, but I won't bang bumpy foreheads with them about it any longer. Two, it's remotely possible I might one day decide to continue on in this universe, so I might as well start as I mean to (maybe some day) go on.

Other than names, though, I haven't changed anything, although you will see by the rather outdated techno bits that I, like almost everyone else in the world, did not anticipate the coming computer revolution accurately....

DISCLAIMER: Copyright to all original stuff very much claimed by Susan Crites. This story is rated an explicit R in spots and should not be read by the innocent. It also contains homoerotic material and serious angst. Do not take internally.

PROLOGUE

The elevator hatch opened on the deck level assigned to upper ranks' sleeping quarters on the Waeseran starcruiser. A small man stepped out, his movements as precise and controlled as if he were on a drill field. Teiba s'danib double-checked the deck number posted on the corridor wall outside the lift before allowing the doors to close. It jibed with the instructions he had been given by the quartermaster and he turned left down the hall, sticking close to the wall out of caution. A starship's corridors were much broader than those of the scout he'd just transferred from, so foot patterns were probably not as rigidly enforced. But he had enough on his mind without taking the risk of creating a right-to-pass conflict by walking boldly down the center of the hall.

A two-man cabin, they'd told him. Somehow, Teiba had formed the impression that junior officers' quarters were always three- or four-bed rooms, and he felt faintly disoriented to find himself in error. Adding to that nervous feeling was the realization that he had never before, or at least not within his memory, shared sleeping quarters with just one other person. At home, he'd grown up in the boys' loft, and of course there had been standard barracks in school and the service. This could be far better or infinitely worse, depending on the other man. His mind shied away from the horrifying possibilities suggested by memories of enemies who still stalked him in nightmares, and he drew himself up more tightly than before.

He found the room number he'd been looking for. After a hasty glance up and down the corridor for anyone who might see, Teiba stopped to take a breath and prepare himself. If the roster clerk was on the line, Teiba's palmprint would open the door. He bit at his upper lip, hoping. Knocking and asking permission for admittance to his own room would make him appear hesitant, and it was vital to project an air of self-assurance from the first moment. Squaring his shoulders and gritting his teeth, Teiba touched the wallplate and walked in.

The room's other occupant was seated before a desk console, which glowed green with a computer program in operation. He looked up at the sound of the door, showing only mild interest at the intrusion of a stranger. Teiba met his eyes with a show of calm that he seldom truly felt. The other man leaned back in the chair, stretching his back and shoulders one side at a time, yawning as he nodded a greeting.

There was a bed with a bare mattress and folded coverings on one side of the room. Teiba threw his carrybag on it and began a rapid assessment of the other man. 'Bigger than I, of course,' was Teiba's first thought, as he took in the stranger's long legs and wide shoulders. But he lacked the sharp, eager look common to those who fight for sport or pleasure. 'I have a fair chance, if I have to fight him off.'

"I am Ktaserat," the other introduced himself, after it became plain Teiba would not speak first. "Greetings."

"Teiba," he replied, cursing himself for not rehearsing his opening words, thinking out something strong but non-offensive to say which would establish him as one not to be lightly taken on as an opponent.

The silence stretched long and taut before Ktaserat broke it as he sat forward again. "If you want to know something, ask. But we must save our conversation for another time--I have to finish this exercise for my programming class."

Teiba suspected he was being mocked, but the insult was not overt enough to challenge. Ktaserat returned to his work and Teiba opened his carrybag to unpack, keeping his body positioned so that he could surreptitiously observe the other and be ready to fight if attacked.

The good thing about having few personal possessions was that it took little time to pack or unpack them. This starship was running on a markedly different time schedule than the scout he had just left, and to Teiba it was well past normal sleeptime. He quickly made up the bed, then wondered about the other man's morning routine. Perhaps it would be better to shower tonight, rather than risk a conflict in the morning when they would both be hurrying to get ready for duty.

A room with its own bath cubicle was unquestionably a luxury. With the door locked behind him, Teiba shed a large part of his tension along with his uniform. No more rushing to finish washing in a group shower, where he had always felt as though the others were a pack and he their prey. And this shower had no automatic shutoff! Apparently, given time and the inclination, one could stand under the hot water indefinitely.

Stepping reluctantly out onto the cool tile brought Teiba up against another dilemma. In what state should he return to the room? To re-dress, even only in his underthings, would surely seem odd--Teiba had never seen other men show any concern about nudity in the barracks or showers. On the other hand, to risk seeming to give an invitation....

Teiba grimly pulled on his undershirt and shorts. If this Ktaserat questioned it, he would explain he was a desert native and found most rooms chilly. That was admitting to a weakness, but it misdirected attention from a far worse one, his fear of being attacked. Not that anything he did or refrained from doing could deflect the interest of a certain type, those who read in his short stature an inability to fight off any larger man who wanted to do him...someone always tried it, eventually. If Teiba won that battle, word got around and another would decide to try. Some nights Teiba awoke in nauseous panic from a dream in which he had at last given up, too tired of always being first beaten and then raped--dreams where he submitted to evade half the pain, and afterwards could not even find the strength of will to decently kill himself, save himself from a degraded life of mental slavery.

Fighting off a shudder restored all the muscle tension he had lost in the comforting shower. To Teiba's relief, Ktaserat did not even glance up from the keyboard when he re-entered the room and climbed into his new bed.

"I hope you can sleep with the light on," Ktaserat eventually said, sounding half-apologetic. "This is due before I go on duty in the morning."

"I can." Sleeping would pose little problem, even in this unfamiliar place, as late as it seemed to Teiba. In truth, he wondered whether he would wake up on time in the morning. His old ship had had standardized alarms in the sleeping rooms. Well, if this one didn't, he suspected the sound of the stranger moving around would rouse him instantly. Gingerly, Teiba shifted his body and closed his eyes, listening to the irregular tapping of the keys being struck by obviously uncertain fingers.

Quiet but virulent swearing ripped him from sleep an unknown length of time later. "It would give me great pleasure to kick your hairy balls up between your ears," Teiba heard his roommate growl. He lurched up on one elbow, groggy but ready to defend himself.

Ktaserat caught the movement out of the corner of his eye. "Not you," he explained. "The dribbling idiot who wrote this forsaken program." Teiba stared at him with suspicion. "My apologies for waking you. Go back to sleep." Ktaserat tried to laugh. "If I decide to kill myself over this impossible assignment, I promise to choose something quiet." He bent his head back stiffly and rubbed at his eyes, obviously on the brink of exhaustion.

Teiba closed his eyes and lay back down without replying, shrugging the blanket up on one shoulder. He needed his sleep. Tomorrow would be his first full day on this new ship, and a bad impression could last a very long time with some officers. If this stranger was past the stage of doing anything but doggedly continuing to repeat his errors, that wasn't his doing, or his problem.

Papers shuffled, and then the keys began to click again, more slowly than ever. To consider the other side, though...if he offered to aid this person he was now thrown in with, it could give him an advantage. Selling himself by making himself useful in exchange for freedom from harassment was a distasteful idea, but perhaps the wise choice. Cautiously, Teiba sat up. "Want me to take a look at it?"

The other started, then stared, not willing to believe in the miracle of assistance at the last trench from an unexpected quarter. "Are you...good at programming?"

"Yes." Why bother to deny it?

"What do you want for it?" Ktaserat asked dubiously.

"What do you offer?" Teiba responded, and felt a tick of discomfort to hear in his words the echo of his father's voice. How often had Teiba watched him coldly bargain with a hapless traveler, stranded without fuel or water or other necessity at their family's home on the desert crossing route?

"I have half...almost half...a bottle of dkour? Pretty good stuff?" Teiba shook his head. "Or...twenty rads? When we are paid next--I came back from my last leave without any hard money."

"Stolen?"

"I spent it all." The rueful smile looked genuine, though Teiba never trusted looks.

"Twenty will do. Let me look." He climbed out of bed and motioned the other one out of the chair. Ktaserat stood crouched behind him, nearly touching Teiba's shoulder, and Teiba had to clench his jaw to keep from jerking away from the stranger's proximity. "What have you tried so far?"

"Rechecking the data I entered."

"What is the program designed for?"

"It is supposed to compare lab test results, graph them, and recommend the next test. But it will not run."

"Did you check out this console?"

"No." His 'should I have?' wasn't spoken, but hung nervously in the air.

Teiba shrugged, somehow not surprised. "Do you have any other program packs?"

"Yes...my language study." After a quick search, Ktaserat produced it.

Teiba placed it in the machine and set it running. He didn't bother looking at any of the questions, just clicked through enough of them to assure himself that the console was functional. "Did you check for a defect in the pack itself?"

"How could I do that? You cannot open them."

This was almost too much to believe. "Did you sleep through all your programming classes?" Teiba snorted, wondering the next instant if he had gone too far with the insulting remark.

"Only the important ones, apparently," Ktaserat replied, sounding unoffended, perhaps even mildly amused.

"The system on a ship this size surely has a program that will scan for pack defects...." Teiba said, fingers flying nimbly over the board. "Yes, there it goes." The screen danced with colors, then read 'clear'. With a few more strokes, Teiba coaxed several graph displays out before the word 'error' appeared.

"I worry there is some discrepancy in the paper data the instructor gave us to feed in," Ktaserat said, glaring at the stubborn screen.

"No--in that case, the program would run, but you would get the wrong answers."

"Oh."

"Line by line study is the next step." Ktaserat dropped onto his bed, groaning in dismay. Teiba shook his head as he began scanning the bare bones of the program, ticking each new line into existence with one finger, the click-click sounding like a strange heartbeat. "Ha!"

"What?" Ktaserat sat up, looking hopeful.

"This is almost certainly it. A command error at 2130. This reads 'ektat'."

"So?"

"That means break away and search. But since you give no referents it should search for, it cannot comply." Teiba had swiveled the chair so he could face Ktaserat. The other's expression was uncomprehending. "You ordered it to do something it could not do."

"Command privilege, is it not?" murmured Ktaserat. At Teiba's irritated look he added hurriedly, "What should it say?"

"'Ertat', correlate to stats." Mollified by Ktaserat's return to a serious work attitude, Teiba unbent enough to explain. "We were taught this is a weakness in the system that commonly causes errors. Computer abilities expanded so fast when they were being developed that the language designers had trouble keeping up. They sometimes added words that were closer to the earlier ones than was truly efficient."

"Lazy lackbrains," commented Ktaserat feelingly.

"You said this was for a programming class?"

"Yes."

"Your assignment was to load in data and get an answer?" Ktaserat nodded. "This was a test, then. The error is included deliberately, to see who can find it." He would go no further. Ktaserat would see that he was indirectly being accused of cheating. Teiba was suddenly interested in how the stranger would react.

Ktaserat seemed interested in Teiba's reaction, too. "I got it found--that is surely the important part? And...I will remember, about the language, so." He raised both eyebrows. "I am taking the class to learn, not to have tricks played on me."

Teiba nodded acceptance, finding himself more or less in agreement with the other man. He also noted, with wary appreciation, that his roommate had actually sought his approval in the matter, rather than make threats to gain his silence about who had truly done the work.

Ktaserat relaxed and stretched out on the bed in a position more comfortable for talking. "I cannot believe you found it so quickly."

"I only followed regular procedures. Which reminds me--we had best run it, to be sure there was only the one trap." Neither spoke as the displays showed themselves and the program ran to an orderly conclusion.

"That is the correct result," announced Ktaserat in satisfaction. Returning to his earlier comment, he said, "I would not have found the error following any procedures. My brain switched off after the first three tries, I believe."

Uncomfortable at the praise and gratitude being directed towards him, Teiba shifted in the chair. "What watch is it?" he asked, to have something to say.

"Dark-morning," Ktaserat answered, after glancing at his bedside readout.

"On the ship I just left, it would be time to get up now," Teiba commented.

"Then you may have trouble falling back to sleep now. Allow me." Teiba froze for an instant as Ktaserat stood. But the other man walked past him to a wall storage unit and got out the bottle he'd mentioned earlier. "If this does not make you sleepy, at least you will feel more cheerful about lying awake."

Teiba hesitated and Ktaserat took a swallow from the bottle to show honest intention. Supposing it probably wasn't drugged, Teiba accepted it and drank a reasonable amount himself. It wasn't entirely mellow, but not raw enough to take one's eyes out, either. Ktaserat scratched himself and turned away to begin stripping off his uniform. That too seemed a sign of good faith, and Teiba allowed himself one more polite swallow from the bottle.

"What should I give you for surety?" Ktaserat asked as he sat to remove his boots. Teiba frowned a question. "For the twenty. Until I can pay you."

It was an unexpected offer, and Teiba thought a moment before responding, "You will either pay me or not. If you do not, next time you can stay up the whole night. But--" A generous impulse struck, or perhaps he only saw a chance at more manipulation. "Make it ten. It did not take much time."

Ktaserat smiled, a broad, uncomplicated grin that unnerved Teiba in some way. "I thank you. It is good to see you are not greedy. Greedy people are stupid, and I do not get on well with stupid people." He laughed. "Perhaps Personnel has made a mistake and sent me a roommate I will not hate in two days."

"Perhaps it will take as long as three or four," suggested Teiba. It was a weak response, but the best he could do in his surprise. No one he had ever known talked like that, easily joking, to a stranger.

Ktaserat laughed again and headed to the washroom. Teiba took the opportunity to get back in bed, which somehow seemed more comfortable, the room less threatening. Maybe it was only the liquor making him bold enough to feel optimistic. But perhaps this new ship held new luck for him. This was at least a promising start.

My Fanfic PagePart 2