"These are incredibly well preserved," Kirk says, handling a comic book more gently than he would an infant. (McCoy has always known there was something wrong with that boy, and times like this only prove it.) He looks to their host for permission before cracking it open and devouring whatever story lies inside voraciously. She walks off to show Spock another part of the facility. Not noticing her absence, Kirk marvels, "I'm holding it and I still can't believe that it's real - this series was being published right before the Eugenics Wars started."
The Eugenics Wars? "I thought just about everything made during that time period was lost in the aftermath." McCoy pulls out his tricorder and surreptitiously scans the comic for trace amounts of radiation. The results make his jaw drop. "Kirk, I hate to break it to you, but that's no antique."
"What are you talking about, Bones?" Kirk flips back to the cover and squints at it. "Sure, there's no date of publication that proves it's from that time period, but it's a comic book! I saw one by the same artist in a museum once. There's no way this isn't hundreds of years old."
"And yet my scans show it's less than fifty."
Kirk grabs the tricorder out of McCoy's hands, reading the results for himself. "How is that possible?"
"How is what possible?" They start; the dark-skinned man with gently curling hair who appeared out of nowhere puts on a politely apologetic smile. "I'm sorry if I startled you, but I heard from Claire that we had guests, and I was curious. You're the first new people I've seen since... oh, how old is Nathan Junior's youngest now, twenty?"
McCoy and Kirk exchange glances. "That's a long time to go without meeting someone new," McCoy says slowly.
The stranger laughs self-consciously. "Well, we're a fairly isolated group, understandably. And it's not like I can go wandering about, the way I am."
"The way..." Kirk stops asking the question when the stranger walks straight through him. "You're a hologram?"
It bows. "Mohinder Suresh, at your service."
"Your programmer must've been something special," Jim says, admiring it. "I was totally fooled." McCoy nods, agreeing.
Its brow furrows in a remarkable facsimile of confusion. "I'm sorry?"
"You look, move, and talk more like a real person than any holoprogram I've ever seen."
Its confusion clears. "Ah. Well, that would probably be because I am more like a real person than any holoprogram you've seen. There was a 'real' Mohinder Suresh, once, and his memories and personality were digitized, and eventually used as the basis for me."
"Spock would love this," McCoy mutters to Kirk, who smirks and nods.
"But I'm nothing special," the hologram says. "You should talk to Micah, or Hana - they've got all their original data. I'm based on a copy of a reformatted version of what they brought from Earth. Comparatively, I hardly resemble the original at all."
"Now, Mohinder," a new voice calls from the doorway, "we've talked about this. That impulse to put yourself down, while consistent with your human personality, makes no sense logically." McCoy hesitates to face the newcomer, though he doesn't know why. Something about the voice is...
"And as a hologram, I must think logically," the hologram says dryly.
"Bones." Kirk tugs at his arm. "Bones, you gotta - "
McCoy turns, reluctantly obedient, and gapes.
The newcomer, this stranger wearing a familiar face, stands there and laughs lightly. "I just think you're more likely to now than you were as a human, that's all," he says to the hologram. He turns his attention briefly to Kirk and McCoy. "I take it these are the guests you were so excited to meet?"
"Yes. I - ah, never got their names. Once they learned I was holographic they were less inclined to speak to me, instead preferring to speak about me." The hologram goes still for a moment - not just still, the image becomes completely static - but then it's back again, blinking and grinning. "Claire's just been by yours, Gabriel. She and Peter got a real kick out of meeting the other one, she wants you to meet him too." From the look on its face, the hologram knows why - and odds are good its the same reason McCoy's temporarily lost the ability to speak.
"Really?" Curious, the man - Gabriel - turns to face the doorway, just as their host and Spock walk in. They recoil from each other at first, startled. Spock leans one way just as Gabriel moves the opposite, and together they make for a bizarre near-mirror image. If Spock's skin was a little redder, his ears and eyebrows more rounded... if he looked more human, to put it bluntly, he would look exactly like this man.
"Fascinating," they say at the same time, and McCoy lets out a strangled groan.