Delta Vega was the back arse end of nowhere, freezing cold and ... no, freezing cold was it. Even Keenser wore a coat. Keenser didn't mind cold, although damp was another thing; he seemed to regard his two years at SFA-SFO finishing up his warp engineering doctorate as a species of unmitigated hell endured only for the pleasure of making his thesis advisor weep bloody tears of hatred and despair.
"What if you'd been in Portland, then?" said Scotty. "Or Seattle? You'd have just curled up into a little moldy lump and died, you're saying?"
Keenser clicked at him.
"Don't you be talking about me dear old mum like that," said Scotty. "Your mum was so bad at raising kids your grandma had to take over your clutch, and all you buggers do is lay eggs in hot sand!"
Keenser clicked at him again, ending with a spiteful whistle as he scuttled away.
"I don't even want to have eggs with you, wanker!" shouted Scotty. "Where would we put the poor bastards, the still?"
Keenser refused to answer, even though Scotty could see him sulking at the edges of the heater's effect. Scotty sighed. He like a good screaming match as well as the next red-blooded Scot, but Keenser sulked for days. And Scotty has apologized last time. What had it been over? The size of Keenser's oviducts, or similar. Well, never mind, Keenser was still a young lad – lass – being of two hundred or so, and of course was a bit stubborn yet.
Still, it would be a bloody long week. Scotty pulled his PADD closer and looked over his messages glumly. One from Archer, along the lines of 'dear fucking dog torturing bastard, hope you feel every cell of your balls freeze off, here's the latest scuttlebutt re: Enterprise and also the latest rumor about that Jim Kirk bloke and three nubile cadets. Hoping you are as cold and lonely as the empty basket by my bed, J Archer'. Some messages from his bloody stupid year mates, all Monty can you do our formulas up for us, Scott can you fix our warp drive ... Scotty much preferred Archer's letters. He, for one, was not going to 'forget' to credit the poor crazy bastard on the freezing arse end of nowhere, and Scotty respected the way the man could write a coherent letter composed entirely of 'my poor dog' 'you crazy bastard' and profanity. Shame the man wasn't Scottish, although he had gone to the trouble to learn enough Gaelic to curse at Scotty proper-like.
Composing scathing replies to stupid buggers only took a day or two, even with thinking up new equations to torment them and 'accidentally' leaving the important bits off. Writing Archer back only took a little while, since it was mostly denial of wrongdoing, arguing that the dog should have been honored to demonstrate for science, craven begging for any scraps of information about the new ships, and arguing that not even a bloke of Jim Kirk's alleged talents could do that with an Orion, a cadet of indeterminate gender and tentacles and a bloke with a nose like an elephant.
Soon enough he was done with his correspondence, and Keenser was still only a sulking shadow at the other end of the living quarters. Scotty decided he'd might as well do some inventory, as long as he was in Coventry anyway. Mostly the two poor bastards stationed here at Iced Balls Resort did it together, but Scotty and Keenser had given that up as a bad job. Scotty hated the inventory system, but Keenser's grandmum's clutchmate's other egg-partner but one's older parentmate had made it and Keenser wouldn't hear a word against it. How a society based on digging holes in hot sand and telling the eggs good luck before they were buried again could be so clannish boggled Scotty. He couldn't blame Keenser for feeling as he did, so they took it in shifts to do it instead.
The storage areas were heated only enough to ensure a slow death to warm blooded creatures, as opposed to a fast one, and to keep the delicate electronic equipment from having icicles on it. The whole thing reminded Scotty of the huge server farms at Command, and Scotty had often thought a place like this would be idea for a back up server location. Nobody would come here by choice, and no bloody need to cool the rooms here. You had to wear everything but the personal heating systems here. Fortunately it was just warm enough that the worst of the creepy-crawlies didn't come in for a try at your deliciously warm flesh.
Scotty worked for a while, sorting and sometimes scratching his head at what people thought to dump off at the back arse end of nowhere to forget. It was like his grandmum's attic in here.
He surfaced only when it came to him that he'd been hearing a sound like the scittering of tiny feet for a while.
He lifted his head and listened.
There it was again, with a sound of chittering with it.
Scotty reached slowly for his spanner. Most of the beasties on this bloody ice ball could not bear the slightest difference in temperature, as if they too were made of ice and apt to melt, but some of them were as nasty and hardy as the cockroaches they somewhat resembled. One nasty little bugger could spit acid nearly two meters. Fortunately Scotty could throw a spanner and hit his target from up to four meters away. His favorite spanner was all over black acid spots.
One comfort, the little buggers didn't like each other any more than Keenser and Scotty liked them. The thought of a colony of the bastards was enough to give you a turn. The scuttling went past him, over his head. Scotty swallowed.
"Keenser?" he said. "Keenser, mate, is that you?"
The scuttling stopped, but Scotty could just barely make out a high-pitched chittering. Not Keenser, then. Scotty reached slowly for his communicator. The one inviolate rule between him and Keenser was that no matter how much you loathed the other at the moment, when they called for help you bloody well went.
There - a little flickering shadow, followed closely by another. Scotty tracked the movement, calculated the angle, and let his spanner fly with an almighty Gaelic yell calculated to strike fear in the hearts of Klingons and Englishmen.
There were two shrieks of surprise.
"What are you doing!"
"That could have hit us!"
Scotty blinked. The two little shadows zoomed down the side of the wall and the next moment his spanner was moving briskly back toward him, carried by …
"I'm finally gone off then," he said out loud. "I'll have to write Archer and beg for a transfer to the Mad Engineers' Happy Home."
"What are you talking about?" said the chipmunk in the lead. It had a little black nose. The one behind it had a larger, redder one, but that seemed to be the only difference between the two. They even wore identical parkas, black with gold piping and insignia that Scotty couldn't recognize - a large circle with two smaller ones on the upper sides, with a crown between them.
Scotty sat down hard. The floor was cold even through his layers of underwear and insulating gear, and that, if anything convinced him he was actually awake.
"I really am seeing chipmunks, then," he said weakly. Real, Terran chipmunks, like the type he remembered seeing at the Academy scolding people for food.
The chipmunks looked at each other, and then at him. The expressions on their faces said they doubted his intelligence, but were too polite to mention it. "I'm Chip," said Black-nose.
"I'm Dale," said Red-nose.
"We're the Royal Engineers of King Mickey," they finished together, standing on their hind legs proudly.
Scotty reached out his hand, and they hopped in to it and allowed him to lift them closer to his face. Bugger it, if he was going mad he was going to do it proper. And they felt so real, all warm and furry. He could feel the prickles of their tiny claws on his palm. "I'm Montgomery Scott, of Starfleet Engineering," he said. "Pleased to meet you lads. What are you doing here in the icy arse end of nowhere?"
"We're looking for a gummi block," they said.
"Gummi block?" said Scotty warily. "What's that, then?"
The chipmunks gaped at him, looked at each other, and then burst out,
"Wants to know what a gummi block is!"
"Doesn't know –!"
"It's only the best thing to build a ship out of," said the black-nosed one.
"In the whole, wide, world!" finished the red-nosed one indignantly.
Scotty thought about saying he still had no idea what the bugger they were on about, considered the fact he was apparently having a real conversation with two chipmunks in tiny parkas, and decided if he was going to go mad he was going to enjoy himself. "All right," he said. "Who's for a bit of something?"
A few minutes later Scotty had a glass of his precious stash of whiskey, and a bowl of protein nibs. The chipmunks were each supplied with a thimbleful of whiskey and a pile of nibs between them. They were sitting on their hind legs nibbling industriously away at them and chattering the entire time.
"So they're like dilithium, then? These gummi blocks?" said Scotty. "A power source, you're saying?"
"Nooo," said the black-nose. Chip, that was his name. "They're building blocks and they fire things and –"
"– and everything," finished the red-nose. Dale, right. "Ships really run on happy hearts and smiling faces, you know."
Now that was just bloody ridiculous. Everybody knew that ships ran on interdepartmental hatred, coffee, petty feuds and the last raw, bleeding nerve of the Executive Officer.
"You just have to configure them so –" said Chip.
" – you have the best gummi blocks for the job you need and we heard that there was –"
"– an Ice-class one here and the King said, We're not busy right now, boys, you go ahead –"
"– except if we'd heard about the cockroaches we'd've brought Riku," finished Dale, looking annoyed.
"Now look here, mates," said Scotty, wondering who Riku might have been. A really big chipmunk? "Didn't you just say –"
"Oh they're not all the same," said Chip promptly. "There's different types."
"So they're like molecules," said Scotty. "Building blocks."
"Yes, yes," chittered Dale.
"Well, why are you looking for one here?" said Scotty.
"It's a special one," said Dale positively. "His Majesty remembers seeing it. Blizzaga at least."
Scotty opened his mouth, closed it again, and said, "But what does it do?"
"It's a weapon!" said Chip.
"Oh no," said Scotty firmly. "I'm not hallucinating that. Chipmunks, that's brilliant, parkas, fine, drinking whiskey, well, who wouldn't? But when it comes to chipmunks in parkas drinking whiskey and telling me they're looking for a weaponized piece of ice candy ... sorry, mates, I'm for the antidote."
"It's not candy!" shrieked both chipmunks. "It's a gummi block!"
Somehow or another Scotty found himself agreeing to help the little beasties look for their candy. It was a sad thing that a man like him had been reduced to this, but it was the most interesting thing that had happened for months.
The chipmunks rode on his shoulder - Chip had a tiny, brightly colored machine out that made musical beeps every so often, and Dale was looking around alertly, one paw on Scotty's neck to balance himself upright. Scotty had worked out something like a plan to figure out where the gummi might have been. That wasnt quite right. He'd said, "Computer, where's the least recent spot to get inventoried?" and the computer replied, "Sector Delta-Alpha-Tau-Alpha -Three-One-Three-Three-Seven-Three. Warning: Sector is unheated. Personal heating devices strongly recommended."
"Tell me about it," muttered Scotty, but went and got a heater pack anyway.
"Wait," said Chip, "I'm getting a --"
Scotty heard a scraping sound, like something large and multi-legged, and looked up. And up. The giant ice cockroach hissed at him.
"Jesus God motherfucking Christ be with us," he said, and flung his spanner. The cockroach reeled back but the spanner barely made a dent in the thing's exoskeleton.
Chip and Dale pulled out tiny phasers and began firing on it.
"That's not going to work, mates!" howled Scotty, rushing madly for cover. He tried to figure out where they could avoid the thing long enough for Keenser to get there with a flame thrower.
"I see the gummi!" bawled Dale, pointing. Scotty looked back long enough to see a small,glowing block behind the cockroach. Probably the thing had huddled next to it to stay cold enough.
"I like my limbs!" said Scotty. "Better than I like ice candy!" Chip and Dale ignored him, leaping off his shoulders and rushing straight toward the beastie. Scotty swore and pulled his phaser, hoping against hope that the heat would startle the thing long enough to let Chip and Dale get away.
The next instant the thing was screeching in pain, a high unbearable sound, and Scotty's eyes went huge as a slender figure in black sawed the beastie apart like a laser saw through ice. It wasn't a laser saw, he thought absurdly, it was like some sort of knife or sword, but who used those nowadays?
The thing thrashed briefly and the figure in black leaped back, raised a hand and bloody buggering balls of black fire exploded from his hand. If that was a phaser, Scotty hadn't seen it before and even through his fear he wanted to get a bloody good look at it.
The cockroach writhed in pain, shrieked again, and then burst into blue fire, as if the black fire had consumed it from within.
The silence was worse than the screaming. Scotty released a deep breath.
"Sir Riku?" said Chip.
"Sir Riku!" Dale rushed up to their savior, who was dressed in some sort of black hooded leather coat. The person shook the hand holding the blade slightly and it disappeared somewhere.
"What, that's your Riku, then?" said Scotty. "He's not a chipmunk?"
"No," said the figure dryly, pushing his hood off. He was a lad of about Academy age, with hair whiter than an Andorian and a blindfold covering his eyes. Scotty wondered at that, but perhaps his species couldn't handle some part of the light. "That's one thing I've never been accused of, I'm afraid."
"You saved us!" said Dale excitedly.
"You saved the gummi block!" added Chip, even more excited, rushing past Riku. Both the chipmunks rushed over to the glowing block, examining it carefully. "This is almost –"
"– Shiva class, if we get this installed in a gummi ship we could –"
"– probably take out a --"
"You two!" said the lad, exasperated. "You could have gotten yourselves killed! What were you thinking, going by yourselves?"
Chip pokered up. "His Majesty said it was all right! We just wanted –"
"– to find out if there was a gummi block or not –"
"– And we're collecting them for if Sora needs them, so –"
"We were very careful!"
Even with the blindfold on the lad managed a stern glare at them, somehow undercut with affection. "His Majesty didn't expect his engineers to scamper off without so much as a by-his-leave! He's very worried! Her Majesty is very worried! Lady Daisy is extremely worried, and that is not something I ever want to see again! If Lord Donald was around, do you know what he would do to you two?"
The chipmunks looked almost chastened.
The lad sighed and pinched his nose. "Sora deserves you two," he said. "Did you get the gummi? Can I take you back to the castle before Lady Daisy finds a sword or something and goes after you herself? God, why are ducks so terrifying," he added, half to himself.
"Yes, Sir Riku," said the chipmunks, looking subdued.
The lad turned to Scotty and bowed to him. "We apologize for the trouble these two have put you to," he said, and glared at the chipmunks again. "Don't we?"
"We are very sorry," repeated the chipmunks dutifully.
"No, no," said Scotty hastily. "No trouble at all. Most bloody interesting thing that's happened on this buggering rock since - well, never mind that, lads, you just scarper off home, then. It's been brilliant."
"Good bye, Scotty," said Chip.
"Thank you, Scotty," said Dale. "We hope you get your ship soon."
Scotty tried to smile but he knew it came out a bit lopsided. "So do I, lads, so do I." He hesitated and then said, "Look, lads, I know it's a favor but if you happen to see a beagle by the name of Porthos –"
The chipmunks nodded vigorously.
"Up," said Riku to the chipmunks, and they scampered up his body to his shoulders, hopping into his hood.
For a second Scotty thought wildly of asking to go with them, wherever that was – but there was Keenser, and he hadn't gotten a reply from Archer yet and –
Riku spread his hand out, and darkness boiled out in front of him. He turned and looked at Scotty once more. "Hey," he said. "You'll find it."
For some reason, Scotty believed him.