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The ballad of o guerreiro

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Elnor/Hugh mosaic

Starfleet Academy. (2715)

 

‘So tell me again why we have to study this stuff.’

‘It’s culture, isn’t it?’

‘So what? I’m an engineer, not a diplomat.’‘But you’re going out there. Into space, I mean.’

‘Yeah, but an engine’s an engine wherever it is. All this literature and history is driving me mad.’

‘Some day you might be glad of it. And whether you are or not, it’s Starfleet’s history, Starfleet’s culture.’

‘What, a ballad? The kind of thing people sing in bars when they’re drunk?’

‘They do, but they don’t sing the whole thing. The whole thing is the real story.’

‘It’s a jingle.’

‘It’s lyrics. They tell the tale...’

‘...I know, of the cyber captain and the warrior crew. But it was hundreds of years ago. It might not even be true.’

‘It’s come down to us as truth.’

‘And we need to learn all the words?’

‘Just the refrain, and the story the verses tell.’

‘So that we can sing it in the bar?’

‘So that when we sing it in the bar we know what it’s all about. We respect the heroes.’

‘Heroes?’

‘Yes, heroes, and look, get on with it. I need to study and you’re getting on my nerves.’

Silence for a moment then...

‘And for goodness sake stop singing the refrain under your breath. They asked us to learn it, not to annoy our room mates with it.’

‘It means The Warrior. Did you know that?’

‘Yes, I knew that. Now shut up.’

‘And that means the whole ballad is about the warrior crew.’

‘There wouldn’t be a crew if there wasn’t a captain.’

‘I suppose. But the crew’s the real subject...’

‘...so read about it. And be quiet while you do.’

 

***

 

First refrain:

 

So off they went and away they flew,
Cyber captain and warrior crew,
Past planet and moon, past comet and sun,
Laughing at death because they had won.

 

***

 

First verse. (2399)

 

There was a moment.

A moment before he saw him. A moment when he was still heart-whole. Then the universe changed. Hugh was smiling at Jean Luc and just like that Elnor knew nothing would ever be the same again.

Vows of celibacy went spinning off into the void. The Qowat Milat vow had never seemed to be a thing to worry about. He took it, of course, thinking of it as a tool that would aid his search for perfection as a warrior. But tools could become worn, outdated, replaced by newer, shinier instruments. He had always had that at the back of his mind.

This was one of those times. A newer, much shinier concept had replaced celibacy. In future he would act, live and even die for Hugh. For that smile to be directed at him.

Elnor had never thought of himself as particularly highly sexed. He had felt little interest in beings of either gender (or any race) while he was growing up. He had never chafed against the inevitable restraints of living with a household of warrior nuns. He had always considered (when he considered it at all which was rarely) that sex was probably fine for other people and in general necessary if only to populate and repopulate the cosmos. He had never expected to be part of that and of course his current state of mind was no exception.

His feelings for Hugh would never lead directly to repopulating anything, though together they could, he thought, make sure others survived to breed.

Sudden lust. But not, perhaps, just lust. Because how could lust be driven by a smile rather than a body? It wasn’t Hugh’s face that mattered, it was the look in his eyes. Elnor very much wanted that look directed at him.

They found the girl. The woman, rather; Soji Asha, Dahj’s twin, and the object of Picard’s quest. Was he wrong to call a woman an object? Perhaps not since she was a synth. Or perhaps so since she was a person. Anyway, it was the finding that was the object, not the woman who had made the finding such an essential for Jean Luc. So his pledge was partly fulfilled though they had still to get Soji to some kind of safety.

He listened as Hugh, Picard and Soji talked. There was something soothing about knowing his pledge was almost honoured. It was all very well pledging for lost causes but when one of those causes resulted in a find, there was satisfaction there, too.

But they had not finished yet. He could sense Jean Luc’s underlying agitation, his worry for Soji, his love for her, for this woman he had never met but who was in a sense the only surviving daughter of his dearest friend. He could sense most people’s emotions, had trained hard to read faces and body language, to make instant judgements on moods, on intentions, on motives. With Jean Luc the effect was a hundred times greater. He had looked up to the man all his life.

He had resented being abandoned, yes, but he understood. And it had led him to train as a warrior, making his vows to the Qowat Milat. So his early hero worship of the starship captain had resurfaced and with it his ability to do what some would regard as mind reading.

There were problems here on the Borg Cube. Hugh was director of the Borg Reclamation Project, and Soji was drinking in his wisdom on the subject. But behind all the love and hope Elnor could sense the malice of the Romulans. They were his people but he had never liked the ideas of the Tal Shiar. And his pledge was to Soji as much as to Picard.

Picard was walking with Soji now, and Hugh fell behind, welcoming Elnor to the Cube and to his department in particular.

‘I’m sorry I paid so little attention to you,’ he said.

‘Your thoughts were rightly with Picard,’ said Elnor. ‘He’s the reason for my presence after all.’

‘They were,’ said Hugh, ‘but I should have welcomed you more warmly. You’re here to protect and help him, and I appreciate that. You’re Qowat Milat? I thought they were all women.’

‘I’m the only male of the order ever,’ said Elnor and talked for a moment about how Picard had left him in the nuns’ safe keeping when he was orphaned after the Romulan diaspora.

‘Jean Luc spreads himself too thinly at times,’ said Hugh. ‘He helped me find freedom too, and I know countless others owe him their lives. I can tell he loves you; he doesn’t look at you as just a bodyguard but as a close and personal friend.’

‘I hope so.’ Elnor pondered for a moment. ‘I think him as a father figure though he was a rather absentee parent.’ He looked rueful for a moment then smiled. ‘I don’t recall my birth parents,’ he added. He thought, but did not say, that his feelings for Hugh were nothing like his feelings for Jean Luc. But in a sense there was a similarity. He had not spent long in Jean Luc’s company, even as a child, but he had loved fiercely. And here he was, giving his heart again at a moment’s notice.

The nuns would warn him, he knew. They would caution him that only disappointment could follow such a carefree falling in love and abandonment of his vows. But this new commitment, he believed, was also a pledge, and if it was a lost cause, so be it, the pledge was his to make.

***

The Romulans were trickier, cleverer, more malicious than he had dreamed. He should have known. As his kin, their minds should have been open to him. But he had been concentrating on Jean Luc and on Hugh. Not a good excuse when the Romulans might end both in the time it took to take a deep breath.

When Soji was activated and made her way to Jean Luc they were all taken by surprise. Nobody had expected betrayal by Narek but they should have done, Elnor reflected later.

Hugh was competent and acted quickly. They rushed through doors and along passages, Soji holding tight to Picard’s hand, until they reached a chamber where for a moment they could take stock, make decisions, get help.

Hugh encouraged them to beam up to the ship.

‘You must leave,’ he said, and seemed surprised when Elnor added his voice, also advocating rapid departure, but didn’t join the pair waiting for the beam.

‘I’m staying,’ he told them all. ‘When you have Soji on La Sirena my pledge is fulfilled. They have need of me here.’

He sensed, rather than saw, Hugh’s eyebrows rise, and sensed or read Picard’s sudden understanding. He stood back and watched them shimmer and disappear, then turned to Hugh.

‘I meant it,’ he told him. ‘I have renewed my pledge but to you this time. My skills as a warrior are yours against the Tal Shiar.’

Hugh’s lips quirked. ‘So we’re a lost cause?’ he said, and Elnor smiled.

‘Perhaps,’ he said, ‘but you have me now, so that lengthens the odds.’

Silence lengthened, too, as they considered what to do. The Romulans would find them, not doubt about that. Nothing on the Cube was safe from them and Hugh’s reclaimed Borg were least safe of all.

So unsafe that Narissa would casually order them killed, on a whim. There was nothing anyone could do, other than kill Narissa in turn, and that was easier said than done.

‘We can’t save everyone,’ Hugh muttered, then took a deep breath and faced the doors. ‘And if we go out charging anyone in our way, we just bring calamity down faster. Meanwhile...’

‘Meanwhile?’

‘I would get to know you better, Elnor.’ He was tense, his eyes darting at the doors, but his words were soft.

‘You need to know what fighting arts I possess?’

‘That too, of course, but a lot more than that. I think perhaps we are fated to be together, for however short a time.’

He smiled then, and the smile was everything Elnor had wanted, had hoped for. He smiled back, his lips trembling and his heart stuttering.

It seemed he wasn’t the only one for whom the meeting was an explosion of desire.

They talked a little, about Hugh’s project, which was worthy, and about Elnor’s training, which was exacting, but all the time they were looking at each other, quickly, their eyes flickering from their concentration on the door, and their real agendas were not hard to work out. Nobody needed to do any mind reading at all.

‘I am privileged to work with the reclamation team,’ said Hugh. ‘The people the Borg assimilated deserve their freedom. And to date I have been allowed to work unhindered. The Romulans hate them but they have not stopped me.’

‘They prefer to have you work within the system, to see what you are doing,’ said Elnor. ‘And perhaps to gather you all in one place.’

‘And you? You’re Romulan.’

‘But not all Romulans think alike.’ Elnor laughed. He could never quite understand how Humans could insist on their own diversity but find it hard to grasp the same in others.

‘You trained to fight. Who were you expecting to pit yourself against? Not other Romulans, surely?’

‘I trained hard, and I’m accomplished with sword, knife, arrows and hand-to-hand combat. I can shoot all kinds of weapons, too, although some are more familiar than others. If I come across a new one I can usually master it in a matter of minutes.’ He spoke in a matter of fact way, not boasting but merely stating his abilities. ‘As for who: why, anyone who opposed whoever I pledged to. And my pledge is always freely given and given to what seems like a lost but worthwhile cause. The training was psychological and philosophical too, you know.’

‘So the Borg are your current lost cause?’

‘No, you are my current lost cause. The Borg are yours.’ Elnor spoke simply and firmly.

‘We may not have long,’ said Hugh, his smile broader now and yet filled with sadness.

‘Then we should make the most of what time we have,’ said Elnor decisively. Hugh was older, perhaps by a decade at the least, but Elnor had the arrogance and impetuosity of youth to drive him.

His mothers – he had called them all mothers because it was just easier – rang ghostly alarm bells in his head. ‘Beware, child. You are setting the scene for tragedy. Step back.’ He didn’t listen. He hadn’t listened when they’d cautioned him against climbing the fruit trees. Even though he had ended with a twisted ankle and scratched arms the fruit had been sweet and he remembered the juice running down his chin more than he remembered the pain. Besides, they had sent him out with Picard to live, and what was this if not the essence of life?

They ignored the doors for a moment. They were in each other’s arms, gasping with the dizzying recognition that that was where they belonged. They were kissing, tentatively, but with such promise. And then they heard the heavy clang of running footsteps outside the chamber.

‘I told you I was a lost cause,’ whispered Hugh.

‘And I told you I gave my pledge’, Elnor replied.

They kissed again, and this kiss was longer, gentler, full of yearning and regrets and hot passion.

It would have to do, for now. The doors burst open and the Tal Shiar warriors, Narissa at their head, rushed in, curses on their lips for Borg, for xBorg, and for anyone who helped them. For synths, too, and for Soji in particular.

 

***

 

Starfleet Academy (2715)

 

‘So it’s a romance.’

‘Most ballads are, but that’s not all it is.’

‘A sentimental romance.’

‘Not so sentimental. How far have you got?’

‘Where the Tal Shiar come to confront them.’

‘Keep going. There’s tragedy, yes, but then things get better. And we can learn from it.’

‘Engineering?’

‘No, but maybe the diplomacy and spirit of heroism that permit your engineering to function.’

‘I don’t read romances,’

‘It isn’t a romance, it’s a ballad with romance in it.’

‘What else does it have?’

‘Loyalty, life, death, love.’

‘Told you: romance.’

‘Not that kind of love, or not only. Love for all people, everywhere.’

‘So you’ve read it all already?’

‘I’ve heard it in full all my life. My fathers used to sing it.’

‘That’s not fair. You got a head start.’

‘If you don’t keep quiet and let me study I’ll give you a head start out of the door.’

Silence for a moment then...

‘And stop singing the refrain.’

‘But it’s different; just a little bit.’

‘I know.’

 

***

 

Second refrain

 

So off they went and away they flew,
Cyber captain and warrior crew,
Past planet and moon, past comet and sun,
Laughing at death because life was fun.

 

***

 

Second verse (2399)

 

Afterwards, it all seemed a blur and Elnor could not recall the details of the fight. At the time he was just aware that these Tal Shiar with their arrogant beliefs threatened what was his. Threatened Hugh and all the xBorg. Probably those who were still Borg, too. His training kicked in and he fought furiously. He wasn’t able to offer them the choice and it battered against his Qowat Milat training, his sense of what he owed, even to an enemy, even while he realised that there simply wasn’t time and that they weren’t listening.

At first he thought he’d won, but then Narissa, the female warrior with that cruel blank face, seemed to realise what an opportunity she had here, and her knife was pointing at Hugh.

Elnor was unable to stop her. He was too busy extricating himself from a group of Romulans who made him feel dirty by their very existence. And when he’d thrown them off and looked, really looked, there was Hugh, Narissa’s knife in that sweet tender place where his shoulder met his throat. The place Elnor had kissed not so many minutes ago.

Elnor had no idea how he got rid of Narissa but he must have done, because he was kneeling by Hugh and the fighting had stopped.

There was so much blood. Hugh’s blood.

Later he realised that what he thought might be blood on his own face was tears, spilling from his eyes and bathing his cheeks, dripping onto his clothes and the floor.

Hugh was conscious, but fading fast.

He was able to whisper to Elnor, who had to bend close. He hoped to hear some last endearment but instead Hugh gave instructions, crisp and definite. How to activate the queen cell, how to summon Seven of Nine. To the last he was protecting any of his xBorg who could still be protected, and yes, protecting Elnor.

Did he scream? He wasn’t sure, but his throat felt raw and over-used. He held Hugh’s hand and tried to give comfort even while he thought, thinking now as furiously as he had fought.

This was a Borg Cube. And Hugh had an entire department dedicated to mending the broken. Now he was broken too. Surely somehow there would be parts that could be used? If he could find what he needed, Elnor could perform the necessary surgery. It wouldn’t be pretty, but pretty was something for later. It would serve. Besides, Hugh’s face was still as it had been. His smile would not be affected.

But Elnor was a stranger in the Cube and had taken little notice of the maze of passageways except to check each intersection for everyone’s safety. And he might not gain access to Hugh’s department without Hugh or Jean Luc or Soji.

He followed Hugh’s final admonition and summoned the Borg warrior.

Seven was beyond horrified.

‘Hugh? Dead?’ She shouted it at him as if it was his fault and perhaps, he thought, it was. Perhaps he could have fought harder, reached Narissa sooner. It was all perhaps and maybe and the strange blurring of action and time.

‘Yes, but...’ He stumbled through his plan and Seven grasped the details instantly.

He could see why Hugh trusted her to carry out everything needful, though Hugh had been thinking of the xBorg, not of himself. She was competent, and not prone to discussion or time-wasting. After her initial outburst she simply moved on and did what had to be done. Did what he asked her to do.

So while she prepared to save the Borg, Elnor worked with what she found to save Hugh. He had some medical training; it was essential for a warrior who would usually work alone. He hoped it would be enough. How long since Hugh last breathed? How long would life cling on? How long would the brain remain viable? Death seemed instant but he’d been taught it took a little time. How little, or how much, he would soon find out.

Working on Hugh was a desperate undertaking. His hands must not tremble even though this was a man he thought he could love. He must remain calm, remember all he had learnt and practised, put all his energy into the operation.

He thought of his mothers. What would they say? What would they do? Once they had accepted his new emotional involvement they would be supportive. And as he worked their voices echoed in his mind.

Be careful. Slowly. Gently. Don’t rush or you’ll make mistakes. But don’t waste time. He has so little of that. Be alert. Watch all the signs. Don’t miss anything. Listen for his breath. Watch for a tremor, a pulse in his throat.

The chorus, whether real or imagined, sustained him. Eventually he thought he saw that longed-for quiver. He half-heard a faint whisper that could be breath and hoped he was not wrong, that he was not just giving in to hope and creating a wanted picture out of dreams.

Then Seven was watching him.

‘You’ve done it. I wasn’t sure whether you could but you have. Oh, well done, Elnor. And now we should save his Borg, too. Or he might not want the life you have returned to him.’

When he was sure Hugh was stable, if unconscious, he turned to watch Seven. His heart and mind were in turmoil, knowing he had succeeded, but that his pledge to Hugh meant he must help Seven now. Hugh was alive, and that had to be enough for now.

Elnor saw Seven of Nine as she allowed herself to be assimilated into the Borg mind. The Borg on the Cube. The ones Hugh was trying to save. He saw all the horror and glory of her physical restraint and her mental projection. And he saw her despair and fury as the Romulans pre-empted her actions and fed the Borg to space.

***

Hugh was still weak. Seven was still in some kind of shock. Elnor wasn’t sure how he, Elnor, was. He thought he might live, that he must live, for Hugh, but that he might stop breathing at the thought of everything that had happened and was still happening.

Seven came to her senses first, it seemed, and slapped Elnor across the face.

‘No time to worry or hesitate,’ she said. ‘Come back to us, Elnor. Hugh needs you.’

Her words and the slap were enough to bring him back to some kind of normality.

‘Hugh,’ he began. ‘Hugh can’t stay here.’

‘Nor can you,’ she said.

And with that she was all practical again, and found them transport. The Romulans had not guarded their snakeheads, and although they had to hide while Narissa sent Narek on his way in one, there was a helpful side to that, because they saw where the key cards were hanging, knew how to enter one of the little ships.

Seven was carrying Hugh. Elnor had wanted to, but Seven had insisted.

‘It might be the last chance I have to say goodbye,’ she said, and Elnor could not argue except to query whether she would be staying behind.

It seemed she would, but she urged Elnor through the hatch and lifted Hugh gently into the space beside him. She fastened a belt around him.

‘That will have to do. He should come round soon, but meanwhile, we don’t want him flung around when you race out of here. Because you will race, Elnor, and my thoughts will race with you.’

It was hard to thank her for her help. There weren’t enough words and there wasn’t enough time, but he thought she knew, anyway.

As he gunned the engine, he heard Hugh murmuring.

‘Where are we going?’ he asked, and Elnor was unsure what to say.

‘I don’t know,’ he said finally. ‘I have no idea. I just know we’re going away from here, as fast as we can.’

He had no idea whether Hugh even heard him. The man’s head had fallen sideways and his eyes were closed. Elnor flew on.

 

***

 

Starfleet Academy (2715)

 

‘He must have known something about engines. He knew how to fly the thing, anyway.’

‘Not necessarily anything more.’

‘But if they had a problem, he would have to know how to fix it.’

‘Maybe, but sometimes people rely on luck, or fix things in a haphazard fashion.’

‘I think he must have had some engineering training along with all the military stuff.’

‘Think that if it pleases you. We can’t know, one way or another.’

‘Too long ago, I know. And those scout ships were simple things, really. But still...’

‘Does it please you to think of him with engineering skills? Will it help to fix the story in your mind?’

‘Perhaps. For the examination, anyway. And for when we sing.’

‘Good, but maybe you should listen to yourself some time. Your voice may be all right for a drunken session in the bar but for our room...’

‘...we need to make sure we know the refrain.’

‘I already do.’

‘Then you can listen and let me know if I get it right.’

Silence, broken by singing and a sigh.

 

***

 

Third refrain

 

So off they went and away they flew,
Cyber captain and warrior crew,
Past planet and moon, past comet and sun,
Laughing at death while they travelled as one.

 

***

 

Third verse. (2399)

 

Elnor followed Narek. It wasn’t exactly a conscious decision, just something to do. Maybe they’d find a way to kill Narek, and his sister. Maybe he’d be privileged to offer them the choice. And maybe not, but it was some kind of goal.

He was concentrating on the ship. He could fly, of course. The Qowat Milat ranger role meant flying here, there and everywhere in whatever was available. So Elnor had learnt as soon as he was big enough to sit in a pilot’s seat. Patrols had taught him caution and speed as well as the mere mechanics of making something go. All adults, he thought, could fly after a fashion. His fashion was usually better than most. But this was an unfamiliar machine and it took him all his time to keep it on the course he had set. It needed a great deal of manual input and he was used to fliers that did whatever you programmed them to do when you entered them. His mothers had made sure he could take manual control. Of course they had. But he had not often had cause to employ that skill.

So he almost missed Hugh’s question.

‘Have you set a course yet?’

He was startled. It was as if a ghost was taking an interest in their destination. He didn’t count the similar question Hugh had asked when they set off. This sounded as if it was something he’d thought about, something he really wanted to know. As though he was properly conscious, thoroughly alive.

Without thinking, he turned and hugged him in pure gratitude for that aliveness. Then he realised that maybe he should be flying the ship.

‘Oops,’ he said. ‘We almost weren’t going anywhere. But I had to hold you, make sure you were really back with me.’ He concentrated for a moment, correcting their course. ‘We’re following Narek.’ He explained his reasoning, and saw from the corner of his eye that Hugh smiled.

‘Good thinking,’ he said. ‘And you can obviously fly this thing.’

‘Well, yes, but not well. I know so little about these scout ships. Just that they ... dart and jab through space. And hold two people. If we have any problems I will have no ideas.’

‘That’s nothing to worry about. I know these ships. I can fly them and fix them. As soon as I’m feeling a little better I’ll take over.’

Elnor couldn’t hold in his sigh of relief. Then he asked, hesitantly, ‘How do you feel?’

‘Strange. I was in immense pain but it has subsided. And I can’t remember what happened. You must have stopped Narissa, but that doesn’t make sense because I’m injured anyway.’

‘Not just injured, Hugh. Mortally injured. And I’m so sorry I didn’t stop her in time.’

‘Mortally?’ There was a fleeting frown on Hugh’s face, faintly reflected in the screen in front of them.

‘Yes, and we did our best. You told me to summon Seven, so I did, and she helped me. I was glad you were able to tell me how to do that before...’

‘Before I lost consciousness?’

Elnor thought rapidly. He would have to tell Hugh what happened. The truth would be easier in the end than some kind of half lie. One should always attempt absolute candor according to his mothers. Even if, his mind whispered, the listener might be shocked or hurt? Yes, said the echo of his mothers, even then. ‘Before you died,’ he said.

There was a momentary silence then a kind of wheezing and Elnor realised Hugh was laughing, weakly but with genuine humour.

‘So I died, and between you, you and Seven saved me and brought me back to life?’

‘It was a bit more complicated than it sounds, but yes.’

‘And now I feel strange because I’m born again, and probably with some different parts.’

‘Basically, yes.’

Another silence while Hugh took in the enormity of it.

‘Which parts in particular?’

He had better tell him. ‘I’m so sorry. We had to replace your heart and lungs. Those are mechanical now. And your arm on the side where she stabbed your shoulder. We couldn’t save it, so that’s mechanical too. I tried to link up all the nerves. You should be able to use it as if it were flesh and blood. Oh, and there are the smallest of your toes, too. The blood supply was shutting down and...’

‘Elnor, you don’t have to explain or apologise. You performed a miracle and I’m deeply grateful. Just a bit confused for the moment, I think. I’ll soon adjust, I’m sure.’ But he sounded sad and Elnor thought he couldn’t bear him to be sad.

‘We weren’t able to save all the Borg,’ he said. ‘Seven was so angry and we knew you’d be angry too, but she’s with the ones who are left, and you’re here and alive, so I’m counting it a win.’

‘I’ll grieve for them,’ said Hugh, ‘but I didn’t know any of them personally. They were dear to me, almost like children, in fact, but I’ll grieve cleanly, knowing we did our best, and I’ll reserve my anger for Narissa and her Tal Shiar.’

‘I grieve too, for your loss,’ said Elnor. ‘But I think there’s something else making you sad, something about what I did for you, to you.’

‘I’m not human any more.’ He said it flatly, no emotion colouring his tone. ‘If I ever was. Human, that is. Maybe I’m not Borg or xBorg. I seem to be new. Anyway, I’m more mechanical than flesh and blood.’ It was Elnor’s turn to frown. Despite the clear evidence of being Borg, Hugh looked perfectly human to him. The ears, to begin with...

‘So you see,’ Hugh continued, ‘I have no idea whether you will still want me, and if you don’t, then I might wish you had let me die.’

‘Not want you? Whatever would make you think that?’ Elnor was startled. What maggot had got into the brain of his new lover? Some faint reflection of the Tal Shiar prohibition on synthetic life? But Hugh wasn’t synthetic in any case. He had new parts, yes, but only in the way that someone with an amputation might have a replacement arm or leg.

‘I’m not who I was.’ But Elnor had not replaced any part of Hugh’s brain, and was quite sure his personality would not have been affected by the short time in a state of death.

‘You’re still Hugh,’ he assured him. ‘You have some special aids to let you function normally, but that’s all. You’re still a Human or possibly a humanoid, origin unkonwn, just as I’m still a Romulan, even if you might wish otherwise.’ He ended on a querying note. Perhaps Hugh would resent all Romulans now.

‘I don’t wish you anything other than what you are.’ Hugh’s voice was growing stronger by the minute. ‘And if you don’t mind me being somehow mechanised, well, it doesn’t seem to be affecting my mind, or any of my other parts, for that matter.’ He paused for a moment then added, ‘I assume you know many Borg were desexualised. I was fortunate in that regard. Even more fortunate, in my own opinion, now that I’ve met you.’ His words sounded tentative, as though he couldn’t quite believe his fortune.

‘I could hardly mind, since I added the cyber parts myself. And you’re already something quite different from me. Artificially enhanced Hugh, but still Hugh. And I want you very much indeed.’ Elnor could hear Hugh’s insecurity. He would make getting rid of it his next pledge and he certainly wouldn’t give it any choice in the matter. It was that insecurity that was, in Elnor’s opinion, a lost cause.

***

The snakehead was behaving beautifully, simply speeding after Narek. Hugh sat upright and unfastened his seat belt.

‘You don’t have to drive it all the time, you know,’ he said, and reached out to cup Elnor’s face in his hands. Elnor gasped, partly at the feel of the synthetic hand and partly at the feel of his lover’s touch. He was aware, a moment later, that Hugh was fiddling with his seat belt too, so that they were both free of restraint.

The kiss, the first since Hugh’s life was restored, was tentative at first then fierce. And after a moment in which Elnor flailed, wanting to make sure the ship didn’t need attention, they were hugging, holding each other close and drinking in the knowledge that they were both alive.

‘Did you have to alter my face?’

‘No, nothing except what I told you.’

‘I told you I can feel that other parts, important parts, are unaffected.’

They both laughed, awkwardly then deeply.

Hugh flexed his new hand. ‘I feel well, Elnor. You and Seven must have given me strong medication as well as a makeover.’

‘She knew where everything was. I was just the operative.’

‘My beloved operative.’

More kissing, then they agreed that Hugh should probably take over at the helm. They managed to change seats without damaging anything mechanical or flesh on either of them, and Hugh made sure they were on course.

At one point Narek seemed to lose his way. They went round in circles until he homed in on something again. Where was he going? Well, they would soon find out.

***

Coppelius was a surprise. So was the landing and breaking of the Cube. Elnor was glad to be there, fulfilling one last part of his pledge to Picard. He was glad to see off the Romulans. Glad to be there at the end.

The end that wasn’t an end. He sorrowed for Jean Luc then rejoiced at the transformation. His presence here had been, he thought, necessary. Not that he had influenced much, but he had needed to be a part of this culmination of the story.

Now he could turn his entire attention to Hugh.

The others tried to persuade them to stay, of course. There was room on La Sirena, they said. Room in their company. Room in their hearts.

‘What do you want?’ he asked Hugh. ‘If you want to stay, to travel with them, we will.’

‘I want to travel with you,’ came the reply. ‘I know we have to avoid Romulans, or I won’t be answerable for my rage, and I suspect that might not be possible if we stayed with La Sirena. There’s plenty more of the universe to explore.’

So they said goodbye, and left.

 

***

 

Starfleet Academy (2715)

 

‘So the captain was the engineer, the fixer.’

‘Possibly, though we know nothing about any problems they might have had.’

‘He seemed confident.’

‘Indeed, and I’m sure between them they would have tackled anything.’

‘So the story’s over. But I can see more verses.’

‘They couldn’t just leave them there.’

‘I suppose not. They would have ended as a kind of side note to Picard’s tale.’

‘Better a side note to that than no mention in history at all.’

‘But there must have been more because we have the ballad.’

‘And the refrains.’

‘And the refrains, yes. Each so slightly different. I never realised. I’ve been singing them wrong for ages now.’

‘You won’t in future.’

Silence then...

‘But if you could just keep from practising out loud...’

 

***

 

Fourth refrain.

 

So off they went and away they flew,
Cyber captain and warrior crew,
Past planet and moon, past comet and sun,
Laughing at death till life was done.

 

***

 

Fourth verse (2399 – 2498)

 

Soon they were lovers in truth, not merely in longing. They seemed to think as one, and Elnor had never been so happy, even though his happiness was based on tragedy and flight.

‘Where shall we go next?’ He was curious, but not terribly bothered. They had left Coppelius and tried for the opposite direction of Narek’s ship. So far, they had spent a short time on a small planet called Remény, helping to arbitrate a quarrel between rural landowners and rural workers. They had been at least partially successful and at any rate had averted a serious uprising that threatened to emulate what they knew of Earth's French Revolution.

‘We can see where this ship takes us,’ said Hugh, and it appeared he meant just that – let the ship set a course through the universe and watch for planets to come into view. Preferably planets that paid little attention to the affairs of Starfleet or the Romulans.

It wasn’t the snakehead they’d stolen. This one was slightly larger though slightly older. They’d gone through a series of almost bewildering exchanges to end up with something the Romulans were unlikely to hunt down, something that had been scrapped as out-of-date but that still had a lot of life left in it. It had been a forerunner of the snakeheads and was Romulan to its core, but it was legitimate and it was theirs.

‘Our explorer ship,’ Elnor agreed. ‘We should name her.’

‘Her? You gender a ship?’ Hugh sounded surprised.

‘My mothers always did,’ said Elnor. ’Perhaps it’s just a linguistic quirk. Or some kind of tradition. I must have picked it up without thinking.’

‘So what do you want to call her?’ Hugh smiled. ‘You do realise she probably has a name already?’

‘Not a name I want to use,’ said Elnor. ‘It will be a Romulan name, a Tal Shiar one. I don’t even want to know it. If she could choose, she would want a name that reflects us.’

‘I heard some of those farmers call you The Warrior,’ said Hugh. ‘What about that for a name?’

Elnor considered. The Qow Milat had taught him more than flying and fighting. Given the representatives of so many races and cultures in the places they patrolled they needed to be at ease with languages. Of Human languages he spoke fluent English, Spanish, Arabic and French. He could manage in Chinese. He had a working grasp of Portuguese and German. He cycled through names and settled on one that sounded right in one of the Romance languages. They all shared a pattern in his mind, one he liked. ‘I want to call her o guerreiro,’ he said at last, ‘but that’s masculine. Do you think she’d mind?’

‘Well,’ said Hugh, with a face that threatened to break into laughter, ‘you could always break your habit and start calling the ship ’he’ and if you forget, I don’t suppose anyone will hear you except me.’

‘So that’s settled,’ said Elnor. He felt satisfied with his choice. He was a trained warrior, and Hugh was a warrior of a kind, so it seemed appropriate. And anything but Romulan. No links to the Tal Shiar.

‘It should help if we need to get him, her or it mended at any point,’ said Hugh. ‘The Romulans could have put out information seeking their snakehead and its thieves. A name change might just give us the time and space to escape notice. We did steal our first ship, after all and they might just trace what happened to it and to the profit we made.’

‘I don’t think it was exactly theft,’ said Elnor. ‘Call it compensation for your death and my work trying to set things right. Seven should probably have a part share, too.’

‘So long as she never wants to travel with us,’ said Hugh. And indeed there was scant room even for two.

They were, of course, a pair who didn’t mind close quarters. But even so, it was good to land when they could, stretch their limbs, breathe fresh air.

That was how they came to get involved with various flashpoints on multiple planets. They became known, in the farther reaches of space, for their willingness to help, intervene, moderate arguments, prevent explosions.

Eventually they were famous and even the Romulans couldn’t touch them. Too much hung on their word and their opinion.

After that they occasionally helped Starfleet in a kind of freelance capacity and contributed to the downfall of the Tal Shiar. They managed, somehow, to have a following of young and eager warriors from far flung places who answered only to them. A flotilla of small two person ships with names like Anger, Justice, Change and Thrust.

Mercenaries? Not really, because nobody paid them except in honour.

***

They were welcomed on Aramis where they intended to spend some time on rest and recreation for themselves and their cohort of what Hugh had taken to calling ‘the moody groupies’. They weren’t sure what rest and recreation involved for these earnest youngsters, but everybody seemed to welcome the rest part.

It was pure chance that Elnor overheard a conversation in a bar. That led them to a myopic scientist. Well, they had no idea whether he had actual eye problems but he certainly couldn’t see beyond his research. When they’d worked out that he was busily perfecting a virus that would kill not only the people of Aramis but possibly the people of the entire universe, they got the groupies to help isolate and seal off the laboratory. Including its one occupant, the scientist.

‘He’ll die,’ said Elnor.

‘I know,’ said Hugh, ’but better him than everyone.’

‘It’s like one of those philosophical questions. Would you kill one man if you knew that by doing so you could save the lives of another five?’

‘And the answer, in this case, is a resounding yes. It wouldn’t even be enough to close down the lab because he could always repeat the research, or give someone else the idea.’

Elnor wasn’t sure, but he did feel some relief that the universe was safe, and that night he curled close to Hugh, listening to the ticking of his mechanical heart and glorying in the waqy it kept him alive. He would not appreciate him dying in an epidemic of the kind the scientist had promised.

The authorities were able to arrest and deal with the wealthy criminal who had funded the research. They had also funded research on a vaccine and had not intended to release the virus until they and theirs were safely immune. That research was also closed down and stocks of the as yet imperfect virus used for vaccine work were totally destroyed. The vaccine researcher was imprisoned alongside the criminals.

‘Sad for him,’ said Elnor, ’just as it was sad for the one we killed.’

’Sad, but safe,’ said Hugh, and the mechanical arm round his lover’s shoulders tightened in sympathy.

It was just one among all the things they did, and it was almost accidental, but the authorities made it public and of course it affected everyone, everywhere.

***

That was when the songs started.

‘You know they’re making a ballad about us,’ said Hugh.

’I heard a bit of it last night,’ said Elnor. ‘I asked someone what it was called and they said The ballad of o guerreiro. That’s when I realised what it must be about.’

‘Apparently we’re an epic.’ Hugh grinned.

‘I can’t think why. We’ve done plenty to be proud of, and plenty that’s dubious to say the least. But nothing special.’ Elnor suspected he sounded modest, but he didn’t think of it that way. He was always matter of fact except when it came to his Hugh.

‘More than some people dream of, even people in Starfleet for example.’ Hugh grinned again.

‘And we seem to have a name for helping out against the Tal Shiar. I’m glad about that.’ Elnor hated the Tal Shiar. He had never expected to hate; his pledges were to people and lost causes, but did not involve hate. Hate made things harder. But when Narissa stuck her knife into Hugh Elnor suddenly knew hate. It hadn’t dimmed over the years.

‘Tackling the Tal Shiar seemed like a lost cause, but we turned it around,’ said Hugh.

I don’t really think about whether causes are lost any more,’ Elnor admitted. ‘Just whether or not I think the side we have chosen is justified.’

Hugh smiled and kissed him. ‘I hope we’ll be able to carry on with our justified causes for a long time,’ he said.

Elnor kissed him back. ‘It was a lost cause that brought me to you,’ he said. ‘And then your life seemed to be a lost cause. But we both survived. And now, in our small way, we can fight for justice in the universe.’

’And accept the ballad,’ Hugh agreed. ‘As long as they make sure they tell everyone we were a couple, not just a captain and crew.’

’There was a picture of some kind on Madrigal. A sort of mosaic.’ Elnor sounded as if he disapproved.

’I saw it.’ Hugh laughed. ’I didn’t think it was very flattering but I was flattered that they’d thought it worthwhile to try. What do you think?’

But Elnor was too busy showing him exactly how he felt to reply.

 

***

 

Starfleet Academy (2715)

 

‘So it was a romance after all.’

‘They wanted the ballad to focus on the romance, but I think people remembered them for the heroic deeds rather than for their love.’

‘I never thought, singing the refrain, that it was all about love.’

‘I don’t suppose you thought much at all when you were singing the refrain.’

‘Not really. I will now, though.’

‘So you’ve come to terms with studying it.’

‘I suppose so. They were heroes after all, and we need heroes.’

‘I’m glad you admit that.’

‘Even engineers need heroes occasionally.’

‘So I was right to insist you read it all.’

‘Yes. And now I know the correct forms of the refrain.’

‘So long as you stop singing it in here.’

Silence, then quiet singing.

 

***

 

Final refrain

 

Past planet and moon, past comet and sun,
Laughing at death till life was done,
Off they went and away they flew,
Cyber captain and warrior crew.

They laughed with each other till life was gone
And they laughed at death till life was done.

Elnor/Hugh mosaic reversed