Happy Birthday to RainaWrites! This is for her, the one who keeps me sane and provides a lot of positive reinforcement, haha.
Magic To Do
2386, USS Titan
Wesley Crusher jumped, slamming his head into the top of the Jefferies tube he was peering into. He yelped and swallowed a curse before it echoed down the tube and broadcast his colorful vocabulary to half of Deck 11. He backed out slowly and turned around, pressing his hand to the top of his head.
The five-year-old stood in the corridor behind him, grinning. His two front teeth were missing.
Wesley rubbed the growing welt on his head and winced. "Hey, buddy."
The boy held up his toy tool kit proudly. "I'm here for my shift!"
Wesley chuckled and pushed away from the bulkhead. "I didn't know you were on duty today, Ensign." He made a show of checking the duty roster on his PADD.
The boy puffed out his skinny chest. "Yes, sir!"
"Hmm." Wesley frowned, scrolling through an apparently interminably long list. "I don't see you listed here, Mr. Troi-Riker."
Thad's eyes widened in concern. "But – but I asked for today. Special!"
"You don't have anywhere else you need to be?"
Thad shook his head hard, dark hair falling across his forehead.
Thad thrust out his arms in a giant sign of helplessness. "I'm little!"
"Who knows you're here?"
Thad shrugged vaguely and shifted his weight, gazing away down the corridor. "You."
"Hmm." Wesley frowned at the PADD again.
"Please, Wethley! Let me help!" He huffed, anger washing over his face, scrunching up his nose like his fists. "Everyone's only paying attention to the baby!"
There it is.
Thad scowled and Wesley bit back a smile. The boy thrust out his arms again, including the whole deck in his horror, disbelief playing over every feature. "Even Xanny!" he yelled, the weight of momentarily not being the center of his grandmother's universe bearing down on his scrawny shoulders. "Please can I hang out with you?" Thad nearly fell to his knees, the drama inherent in the moment outshining even Lwaxana Troi herself. "Pleeeeeaaaaseeee?!"
The pitch of his whine hit a particularly sharp note and a passing crewman raised his eyebrows. "Alright, alright! Okay! Just stop making that noise. You can help me replace these gel packs."
Thad's eyes lit up and the grin snapped back onto his face. "Really?"
"Of course. Do you have your comm badge?"
"Yes, sir!" Thad retrieved the disc from his pocket and fixed it to his shirt over his heart.
Wesley nodded. "Good." He stepped aside and the entrance to Jefferies tube 25 loomed before Thad, a black gaping maw of adventures to have and problems to solve and, most importantly, no little sisters to tolerate. "Hop in."
The two engineers sat side by side, barely past intersection 4, just far enough away from the corridor for the sounds of life outside faded into a distant din. Wesley felt at peace here, alone, tucked away, and took any excuse to hide in the tubes despite his elevated rank and ability to delegate. He'd been back in Starfleet and on the Titan for a little over six years, but still couldn't escape his notoriety. In the Jefferies tubes, there were no curious looks, no whispers, no questions.
"So … dónde estabas?" Thad asked and Wes smiled. Almost no questions.
"Everywhere. Nowhere. I don't know." Wesley took the appropriate tool out of his tool kit. Thad watched him carefully and did the same. An intricate and precise engineering tool and a bright green hunk of recycled alloy in the approximate same shape. "Have your parents told you anything about the Traveler?"
"Daddy says you were like magic."
Wesley rolled his eyes toward the ceiling. Riker. "Not really. The Traveler was very curious. He wanted to see lots of different realities. Kind of like you. And he had special abilities."
"Dad says my Betazoid skills are 'a dash of magic.'"
Wes removed the wall panel and set it aside. The dead gel packs sat within, shrunken and withered. He turned to look at Thad, who was studying the dark packs intently. "He's right. But the Traveler was so mysterious, your mother couldn't even sense him."
Thad frowned. "Lucky."
Wesley laughed, a sharp escape that bounced through the tube, and Thad grinned in conspiracy. "The Traveler could change the way he looked. Move through space and time just like that." Wesley snapped his fingers and Thad's eyes widened. "He could use all of his knowledge and focus his thoughts to do these things."
Thad nodded seriously. "Magiczny."
Wes studied the boy for a moment. It was simple. "Yeah. Kind of."
"But you came back."
"I think it was the right thing to do." Wesley pulled a locked case into his lap. "It feels different, though. Maybe better. I don't know." He unhooked the latches and paused before lifting the lid. "You know what gel packs are, right?"
"Synthetic cerebral neurons suspended in a gel matrix," Thad recited dutifully. He repeated the phrase in a mechanical voice that sounded mildly like his grandmother. He'd gone through a phase last year during which he needed the computer to read him the ship's manuals to help him fall asleep at night. He wanted to memorize everything so he could help in an emergency. He'd been through every manual at least twice and his father had almost ripped the computer transmitters out of their quarters before his mother replicated him soft earphones he could wear to bed.
Wes smiled. A kindred spirit. "Right. And what do they do?"
"They're a major component of our hybrid computer system. The organic fibers make billions of connections, so Titan's computer can store more information and think faster than older isolinear circuitry. She can solve problems almost like a real brain."
Wes stared at him for a moment. "Uh. Exactly. Excellent."
By the time Wesley returned his focus to the dead gel packs, Thad had them out of the wall and was holding them out to the Lieutenant in tiny, outstretched hands. "Here."
"Thank you, Ensign. Good work."
"I'm not sure yet." Wesley held the dead gel packs gingerly. Though not sentient, they were still, technically, alive, and it filled him with an inexplicable gentle sadness whenever their light went out. "They can get viruses just like humans." He shrugged as he placed them aside. "Or they just get old."
"Yep. But this is the good stuff." Wesley grinned, taking hold of the latches on the case in his lap again, and paused for dramatic effect. "Birth."
Thad leaned in so close that he had to pull his nose back as Wesley lifted the lid of the case. The bright blue light engulfed them, etching shadows across the boy's face and bursting into the tube like a portal to a magical land. It surrounded them in its warmth, a halo of protection and sight. Barely a foot around them, darkness fell again, darker than before. These packs were new, bright, lighter blue than any Thad had ever seen. The neural fibers inside were thin and lithe, waving with purpose, ready to learn. Thad leaned in closer and the packs lit his face, reflecting in his large black eyes. "Babies," he whispered.
Wes handed him one of the new gel packs and took the other himself, setting the empty case aside. Thad held it carefully, a new life, filled with promise. The neural fibers swayed faster, like seaweed, projecting an otherworldly undulation onto the ceiling, the walls, their faces. "Listen," Thad whispered, looking up at the top of the tube, then around them, gazing into the new darkness.
Wesley strained his ears into the silence. The familiar hum of the ship's engines rose to the top of his consciousness, as familiar to him as breathing. "What? It's just –."
"Shh. Like water." Thad cradled the pack in both hands, his little fingers pressing into the softness, neural fibers twisting in response. He thought of his holodeck programs about sailing on the Opal Sea, fishing in the Gulf of Alaska. Almost real.
Wesley looked down at his own gel pack, teeming with life. The hum of Titan's warp core pulsed in his ears, increasing in volume, falling into rhythm with the fibers, like tides, like waves. Like water.
"There's an island," Thad said suddenly. "In the Eastern Sea. Called Yz."
"What?" Wesley looked up at this non-sequitur, but Thad was watching the blue light bend across the wall of the Jeffries tube, flowing and waving in time with the hum of the engines.
"Thousands of years ago, the people of Yz left the Ukelu Empire." Thad followed the shadow of an undulating fiber floating across the wall, invisible boats filled with Yzidu bobbing along astride it. "They went to live on their own island, far away from their family and their friends and their home. They had special abilities. Magic so powerful that they could do almost anything." Thad gripped the gel pack, little fingers manipulating the fibers. They floated away from him, casting shadows up the wall of great fires, bursts of energy, unimaginable power. "But it was too strong, and it caused a disaster that sunk their island to the bottom of the Eastern Sea."
"So, they used their magic to enchant themselves. They changed the way they looked, changed their bodies so they could live underwater." Thad scooted closer to the wall, great shadowy creatures rising from the undulating waves. "They made friends with the Empire of Dolphins and learned from them. They adapted and grew and built a huge kingdom."
"They were different, but better than before." Thad clicked the gel pack into place and sat back on his heels. The blue light disappeared into the wall, pushing them back into shadow. The waves on the walls dissipated and the hum of the engines seemed to fade back beneath them. Wes blinked, seeming to return to himself. The gel pack was gone from his hands, neatly inserted into its proper place in the wall during Thad's story. The boy looked up at him. "I'm glad you came back. So, we could be friends."
"Me, too, buddy. It feels different, though."
"Yeah, I think so." Wes opened his tool kit and began replacing his tools. Thad did the same, his green toys placed with care in the same positions in the case as Wesley's. "I've never heard any stories about this culture. Where are they from?"
Thad grinned, the gap where his missing teeth should be, a black hole. "I made them up." He rolled his eyes upward and exhaled like every exasperated teenager of every species Wesley had ever encountered. "Zadh." He paused for a perfect beat, his face snapping back to normal. "That's Yzidu for 'duh.'"
As the two engineers were putting the wall panel back into place, a knock echoed down the length of the tube. "Ensign? Are you in there?" The voice, muffled by distance, was almost deliriously giddy, but no less commanding. Wesley and Thad peeked around intersection 4. At the end of the tube, backlit by the light from the corridor, a hand braced on each side of the opening and peering into the darkness, was a pair of broad shoulders, four pips glinting as they caught the light.
"Yes, Captain Dad."
"Are you finished your shift? Somebody wants to meet you."
Thad hesitated. "I'll have to check with my commanding officer." He peered up at Wes and gestured for him to disappear back around the corner. "I don't wanna!" he whispered loudly, comically, like an ancient sitcom bit player.
"Why not?" Thad shrugged vaguely, glancing around the Jeffries tube. Wes cocked an eyebrow. "Scared?"
Thad scowled. "No! Maybe." He shrugged again, his scowl melting into nerves and concern as he mentally searched the space between them for the words. "Once I see her, she's really here. It won't be the same anymore. Everything will be … different."
Wesley smiled. "But better?"
Thad's head snapped up, eyes wide, then narrowing suspiciously. "Maybe." Wesley's amusement filled the space, warming it, comforting and calming. Thad felt more at home here than he did in the schoolroom or even in his father's Ready Room. "I hope I'll be a good big brother. Like you."
Wesley grinned and for the moment the Ardani sun warmed the walls. He ruffled Thad's hair. "You'll be the best."
The Captain knocked again on the wall. "All good, Ensign?"
Thad and Wesley peeked around the corner again. "Yes, Captain!" Thad peered at Wes over his shoulder. "Can you handle it from here, Lieutenant?" he asked.
"Of course. Thank you for your assistance, Ensign." Wesley nodded seriously and handed Thad his tool kit. "Couldn't have done it without you."
"You're right." Thad crawled away, the thumping of his kit banging on the grates with each bit of progress.
"Get a move on, Thaddeus!" the Captain's voice boomed down the tube. "Your Xanny's been looking for you."
Wesley heard Thad gasp sharply, with delight. "Xanny?!"
"The one and only. Hey, Wes?"
Wesley peered around the corner once more. "Sir?"
"Deanna wants you to come visit later. I'm pretty sure that's an order."
"Aye, Captain," he replied, all formality, the familiarity in his sharp regulation salute only moderately visible in the gloom.
Riker rolled his eyes and hoisted Thad out of the Jeffries tube, tossing him over his shoulder in one smooth motion.
Thad waved at him as he departed, his plastic engineering kit smacking his father in the back with each step. "Bye, Wethley!"