Heart of Glory, heart of nothing - Part 1

Starring: Worf and Ensign Noriega [the guy from TNG episode 'Heart of Glory' who ducked left and shot a Klingon - As he never said anything, I've made up his name and personality from scratch].

Ten Forward was deserted.

Noriega had only been on board a week, but this was ridiculous. It was half eight, most crew members were off-duty and the only person in there was that blue guy.

But he's been in here the last five days in a row, thought Noriega. And he never says anything, just sits at the bar, staring at the top of his drink. What are they called...Thelarians? Bolians? Did they all sit at bars and not say anything?

Five minutes passed. Slowly.

Noriega leaned back in his chair and stared out the window. He looked for the star closest to Earth but couldn't find it. The ship must've been facing the wrong way. Or maybe they were too far.

He shook his head and laughed. Astro-physics wasn't his strongest point. It wasn't even a point. He knew where Earth was and all the major planets in the Alpha Quadrant and that was about it. That was why he ended up in security. Well, that, and his...what was it they called it? His 'calmness under extreme pressure.' What a phrase. First time he'd heard it, he'd looked it up. Bad idea. 'People who can display calmness under extreme pressure,' it said, 'often turn out to be sociopaths.'

Him, a sociopath? No, it wasn't true. It couldn't be. He wasn't the most emotional guy in the quadrant, but he wasn't a machine either. Was he?

Noriega took some of his drink and checked the room one more time for someone to talk to. Still no-one. Damn. He really didn't want to think back on how he'd ended up in security, but what choice did he have?

Whoosh.

The doors slid apart and the Klingon walked in. He was with the machine and the guy from the engineering. He didn't know their names...man, he had to think hard to remember the Captain's name...but he knew they were high up. And the Klingon, he was second in command of security. Which meant...

Noriega stood up and walked over to the table with the funny-looking chessboard on it. The machine was setting up the pieces even though it looked like neither the Klingon nor the engineer guy wanted to play.

'Sir, may I...?' Noriega said to the Klingon, already pulling out a chair.

The Klingon didn't look at him, he looked at the engineer. Noriega realised pulling the chair out may have been a mistake, but it was too late to change it now.

'I mean, there were some things I wanted to ask you...about security.'

The Klingon nodded. Noriega let go of the seat and sat down, sitting up straight to try and make a better second impression.

'What is it you wish to know, Ensign?'

'Noriega, Sir.'

The Klingon stared at the engineer again. Was he angry?

'I just transferred over from the Intrepid last week. I guess I haven't had a chance to make much of an impression yet.'

The engineer smiled, the Klingon didn't.

'You are making an impression now, Ensign.'

Noriega didn't know whether to smile or not. Was that a joke? Was the Klingon joking? It was impossible to tell, the guy looked so damn serious. And how am I supposed to know anyway? I've never met a Klingon before. This guy is the only one in Starfleet.

'Listen, Sir. I was wondering...' said Noriega, leaning forward, trying to match the Klingon's sternness, 'it says on my schedule that combat training starts tomorrow, and it says that you're the one leading it...'

'That is correct.'

'...and I wanted to know...I mean, I was curious...when you demo the routines, would it be possible for me to be your opponent?'

The Engineer didn't smile this time, he breathed out deep and then laughed. But not a funny laugh, more like a 'there's trouble ahead, call sickbay' laugh.

'You wish to fight against me?' asked the Klingon.

'Yes, Sir. I believe...or I've been told anyway, that hand to hand combat is one of my strongest areas. In fact, at the academy I went the whole four years undefeated.'

The Klingon looked at the table then back at Noriega.

'The academy is for children, Ensign. I think you'll find me a more challenging opponent.'

'Exactly, that's what I'm hoping. I've never fought a Klingon before, and I figured, if you're gonna test yourself, if you wanna know, truly, how good you are, what level you're at then...fight a Klingon. And you're the first Klingon I've ever met, Sir.' Noriega paused and stared at the face in front of him. Okay, he looked mad as hell, but maybe that was the way all Klingons looked. Best to keep talking. 'It's really exciting, Sir. Honestly, I've been looking forward to combat training all week, ever since I got on board.'

'What is your name again, Ensign?' the Klingon asked.

'Noriega, Sir.'

'Perhaps, Ensign Noriega, after facing a real Klingon, you won't be so eager to meet a second.'

'Oh no, Sir, not at all. Even if you break every bone in my body and put me in sickbay for a month, I'll still be back. No doubt at all.'

The Klingon half-smiled. Or he had something in his teeth. Noriega wasn't sure which.

Someone's badge made a noise. It was the Klingon's. He tapped it and said, 'Worf, here.' Ah, Worf, that was his name. He knew it ended in 'orf', but couldn't remember the first letter.

'Lieutenant, we need you on the bridge.'

'On my way, Captain.'

Worf stood up and tucked his chair back in. Wow, the guy was tall, that was for sure. He must've been something like six-four, six-five, as tall as a Vulcan, but about a thousand times broader. He looked down on Noriega and smirked.

'I look forward to tomorrow, Ensign.'

'Me too, Sir.'

The Klingon smirked, checked his chair was far enough under the table then left.

Noriega looked at the other two, the machine and the engineer, and grinned. He didn't have much in common with engineering types, but he could get on with them okay. And maybe he wasn't so great at astro-physics, but he could handle strategy or computer stuff. It's not like he was dumb.

'You know, Noriega...' the engineer said, leaning back in his chair, 'I'm not sure if you're brave or just amazingly stupid.'

Noriega leaned back, copying the engineer's pose. 'Sir?'

'The last security guy who riled Worf like that...let's just say, he wasn't so quick to volunteer a second time.'

'Ha, maybe not, Sir. But I like to think I've got a chance.'

'Maybe...if Worf ties his hands behind his back...'

The machine, who had been watching quietly for at least the last two minutes, spoke up. Noriega almost jumped out of his seat when its mouth opened.

'Geordi, that is highly unlikely. The correct procedure in combat training does not permit either of the combatants to perform such handicaps, even if there is consent from both participants.'

'Yeah, thanks, Data.'

Noriega smiled, stared at the machine called Data, and said again 'I think I've got a chance'. But really, he was already thinking about something else. Klingons were strong, sure, and worthy opponents. But what about machines? Now, there was a challenge.

Combat training was over pretty quickly the next day.

Worf walked onto the holodeck, wearing what Noriega assumed was a kind of traditional Klingon fighting costume, and gave a little speech to the ten or so security guys gathered there.

The speech itself was fairly dull. Noriega listened to half of it then drifted off, wondering where the ship was gonna go next, how many people would be in Ten Forward that night, whether or not he'd made the right call accepting the Enterprise...

'...there is a volunteer, I believe, who wishes to demonstrate his skills to the group. Ensign Noriega, are you ready?'

Noriega heard his name and snapped back to the scene in front of him.

'Yes, Sir. Ready.'

Worf beckoned him forward onto the training mat and the two men faced each other, about two feet between them. The Klingon had about five inches on him, which gave him better reach, but he's all muscle and no agility, thought Noriega. If I move fast, pull a few tricks, I should be okay.

But then...what was it that instructor said back in the academy? Never underestimate your opponent. Never commit on the first attack.

'Okay, Ensign. Attack me.'

'Sir.'

Noriega looked at the Klingon, both his arms in close, ready to block. A cautious strategy. But...

Never underestimate your opponent. The words played in Noriega's head.

Ah, why not?

Noriega decided on his move. He stepped forward quickly, putting weight on his right leg and...

'Arggghhh!'

Noriega reached down and put his hand on his right knee. His face looked like it was being squeezed by a giant pair of tweezers.

Worf shook his head and dropped his arms to his side. He stepped forward, bending his head a little to inspect the damage.

'Ensign, if you cannot move effectively then perhaps...'

He didn't get to finish the sentence. A palm hit him in the shoulder then another, in the face. His legs flew upwards and, suddenly, somehow, he was looking at the holodeck ceiling.

Worf raised his head fast and saw his attacker staring at him, standing as straight as a pillar. Noriega wasn't smiling exactly, but there was definitely a smirk.

'You have a remarkable rate of recovery, Ensign,' said Worf, standing up quickly and resuming his position. 'But that...trick...will only work once.'

'It's okay, Sir. I have others.'

Worf moved his arms and did some kind of Klingon preparation action that Noriega had never seen before. So this was how Klingons got ready to fight...

'Attack me, Ensign. And this time, try to fight with some honour.'

'I'll try my best, Sir.'

Noriega moved forward a second time, this time reaching his opponent. As expected, the Klingon fought cautious.

Okay, thought Noriega, I'll do the steering then.

Noriega jabbed a left at Worf's upper ribs and the Klingon blocked, trying to get a hold of Noriega's arm or hand as he did so, but...no, the Ensign was too fast. He pulled back and threw his right at Worf's neck. Blocked again. Then another left at the upper ribs, only this time he cut it short and brought his arm back before the Klingon could block.

Noriega looked at the Klingon's right shoulder then made his move. His real move. He swung his right fist past the left side of Worf's face and stopped parallel, close enough so the Klingon could see it. Then the clincher. He opened the fist and showed his palm.

The Klingon looked at it as if it were a swinging pocket watch.

Noriega threw his left at the Klingon's other side and slapped him in the face before he even knew it was there.

Worf blinked twice, confused. What was this Ensig-

Stepping closer, Noriega jabbed the side of his palm into Worf's neck. Then, fast as light, he ducked low and swept the Klingon down onto the mat.

Five seconds later, still struggling to breathe, Worf was back on his feet.

'Again!' He shouted. Or growled. It was hard to tell.

'Okay, Sir,' replied Noriega, stepping back this time as the Klingon charged forward.

The fight resumed.

Worf was moving so fast it was impossible to swing a punch, so Noriega took two steps back then ducked forward and to the side. Just as he thought, the Klingon was trying to grab him and wrestle, but Noriega knew the way out of that one.

With one punch, he took out the Klingon's right leg then grabbed the mat and pulled it forward.

Worf lost his footing and went down again, half of him landing on hard, wooden floor. This time he didn't get back up.

'Are you okay, Sir?' Noriega asked, coming closer and offering his hand.

Worf held his leg for an extra second then, quick as a targ, he grabbed Noriega's hand and tried to drag him down.

Noriega thought he might try this. When a guy loses it, he'll try anything.

Without any sign of panic on his face, the Ensign resisted Worf's pull, took his superior's wrist, twisted it and threw it away from him.

Then he took two steps back and straightened himself as if the fight had yet to begin.

'Would you like to go again, Sir?'

The next few days, Worf told everyone the same thing.

'This Ensign...he fights without honour.'

'He fights as if we are in a prison.'

'He's fast, but he is not a good fighter.'

'He has a small head, I don't trust him.'

Everyone had a turn to listen. Geordi, Data, Guinan... he even cornered Wesley Crusher outside engineering and told him how it wasn't honourable to fight in such a way.

When he met Riker on the phaser range, he told him too.

'You see, Commander, it is impossible to fight someone who has no honour.'

'Come on, Worf. It sounds like a bar brawl situation to me.'

'What?'

'A bar brawl. Anything goes, no rules...you know?'

'Sir, this was combat training, not a Naussican brawl.'

Riker fired a shot and hit. Worf fired and missed.

'I understand, Lieutenant. But don't you think there might be a bigger problem here?'

'Bigger problem?'

'Sure. That you got beat by an Ensign.'

Worf growled, fired and missed again.

'I did not get beat. He used unfair tactics and I was simply...unprepared.'

Riker fired and hit, fired and hit, fired and missed. He shrugged and dropped the phaser to his side, giving his full attention to Worf.

'Did I ever tell you about that boxing tournament at the academy?'

'No.'

'No? Well, take a seat, Lieutenant.' Riker fired another shot, missing. 'Every spring they had a boxing tournament, quite a big event actually. Some of the admirals even came to watch and...you must've known about it, right?'

'Klingons do not box.'

'Ah. Of course. Well, anyway, it was my second year there and...this tournament, it was only supposed to be open to third and fourth year students, but somehow I got in. It was amazing, Worf. The first three rounds, three knockouts, all those admirals clapping, the crowd chanting 'Riker, Riker'. I thought my name was already on the trophy.'

'Did you win?'

Riker laughed, stopped and then laughed again.

'My fourth opponent...it was this third year engineering student, half my size, gloves too big for his hands. He didn't...ha, he had absolutely no idea what he was doing...no real technique, no moves...I almost felt sorry for the poor kid.' Riker laughed again, stroking his cheek. 'So...the bell rings, and this poor kid...he comes out swinging like a windmill. Hits me clean on the temple, knocks me out, fight over. When I come round I still don't know what happened...I just remember these swinging arms and thinking, which way do I go?'

'And you think this is relevant to me?'

'I don't know about that, Lieutenant.' Riker paused, stroking his temple. 'It's just a story.'

Worf shook his head, fired and hit.

'No...this is different. Very different.'

'Is it?'

'Yes. This Ensign...there's something about him. Something suspicious.'

'Or maybe he really is very good at combat. It does happen.'

'No.' Worf fired and hit, fired and hit, fired and hit. 'Whatever it is, whatever secret he is hiding...I will find it.'

At the next two combat training sessions, Worf didn't fight Noriega.

Instead, he paired him against every other guy in there. The plan was to see if it really was luck or if this man could do it against anyone.

The session played out. Two hours of combat, thirty minutes longer than scheduled. When it was done, Worf knew one thing.

It wasn't luck.

The Ensign had won every fight.

And worse, he'd used all new tricks.

Worf sat in his quarters, cleaning his Bat'leth.

It didn't make sense to him. This Ensign...he couldn't be this good.

But it wasn't skill, he told himself [and the bat 'leth]. It was a trick. It was deviousness. It was some kind of cheating he didn't know about.

Wait...

He put the bat' leth down on the table.

That's it.

It's not skill or luck. It's psychological cheating.

Worf asked Data if it were possible for an Ensign on a starship to use some kind of drug or stimulant to enhance his reflexes or strategic thinking.

'It is possible for a human to improve his or her reflexes by a percentage of 21% if the correct combination of stimulants is injected. Why do you ask?

'Ensign Noriega is using drugs to fight.'

'I see.'

'Do you not agree?'

'It is impossible to state with any certainty as I have no access to the Ensign's medical or psychological files.'

'I can state it with perfect certainty. It's the only possible explanation.'

'That is incorrect. There are seven other plausible ways in which the Ensign could have overcome you in combat. Would you like me to list them?'

Worf didn't answer.

'One, the Ensign has superior combat skills. Two, the Ensign has a broader knowledge of other combat methods. Three, the Ensign...'

'No,' shouted Worf, drawing the attention of nearby crew members.

Data stopped.

'It is drugs, I'm sure of it,' said Worf, lowering his tone.

'That was number seven on my list,' replied Data.

Worf went to sickbay and asked Dr. Crusher if Ensign Noriega had been prescribed any medication since he'd come on board.

Crusher said no.

'Are you sure?'

Crusher said yes.

'Damn.'

Crusher said he could've got them from Troi as she was also authorised to prescribe drugs and shit.

'Aha!'

Worf cornered Troi in a turbolift and asked her the same thing he'd asked Crusher.

'Worf, I can't discuss my patients, you know that.'

'But...I only want to know if he's taking stimulants...'

Troi breathed out melodramatically. If Worf had been less riled up, he probably would've called her on it, but he wasn't, he was extremely riled up, so he asked her the same question again.

'Worf, can I ask you a question?'

'Yes.'

'Is this because Ensign Noriega beat you at combat?'

'What? No. That is ridiculous.'

'Is it?'

'He didn't beat me, he cheated. He...there was no honour in the way he fought. He fights using tricks and misdirection.'

'But even after you knew this, he still won...isn't that right?'

'No. It's...he had new tricks every time.' Worf formed a fist and thought about hitting the turbolift wall, but reined himself in. 'How can I fight a man who uses deception as a strategy?'

'I think you know the answer to that.'

'I do?'

'Yes.'

'Perhaps you would be kind enough to spell it out for me?'

'Okay, Worf. The way to beat this Ensign is clearly to use the same tactics against him.'

'But that would be...' Worf briefly remembered his attempt to feign injury and drag Noriega to the floor. '...dishonourable.'

'Come on, Worf. Isn't there some part of you that admires his methods?'

Worf did a face he knew well. Offended.

'There is not.'

'Really? Not even a little part...'

'No.'

After returning to his quarters and staring at all the Klingon weapons on the wall for a few hours, Worf decided that the only way to deal with this whole thing was to re-assert his authority.

This Ensign may be adept at combat, he thought, but he's still an Ensign. And he still has to take orders from his superiors.

From me.

For the next weeks, time passed very, very slowly for Ensign Noriega.

Worf banned him from attending combat training and from taking part in security drills. In fact, any duty that involved action of any kind was denied him.

Instead, he was told to check the ship's database. There was nothing specific wrong with it, not that he could see anyway, but there might be. Those were Worf's exact words. There might be security risks we have not detected.

But there weren't. Clearly there weren't. If there were...if there was even the slightest suspicion of a security risk, they wouldn't have a simple Ensign checking it on his own.

Ah well, thought Noriega. As I'm here...

Noriega hadn't put this on his Starfleet application, but he was actually pretty good with computers. Not technical stuff, or theoretical stuff, but he was a decent hacker. And as he was alone in one of the terminal rooms, with the ship's database in front of him...

The performance reports came up on the screen. He scanned through, thinking of picking out the senior officers, but then talked himself down, figuring it'd take too long to hack into them. No, it would have to be the other Ensigns.

The problem was...they weren't very interesting. All Ensigns were the same, too controlled, too methodical, none of them taking any kind of risk or showing any weakness.

He clicked through twenty...thirty reports before he came to something a little bit different.

'Ah, the exception,' he muttered to himself.

Ensign Dickie, Jane

Has performed adequately, but tends to hide behind others. According to most senior crew members, she is systematically shy - the problem is she won't speak up whenever there's more than one other crew member around.

Suggestions - the root of the problem, according to Counsellor Troi, is a self-erected division of public and private arenas. She will occasionally talk to other ensigns in Ten Forward, but once on duty, among senior officers, she reverts to her public, shy persona. Therefore, it is possible that socialising with higher ranking officers in Ten Forward will help to cure her.

Noriega shook his head. Shy people...he just didn't get them. Why shit yourself, it's just other people. It's not like they're any better than you.

Then he counter-thought. That's my view, but what about this...Jane Dickie? What's going on in her head clearly isn't the same thing going on in mine. Is it?

It was hard for Noriega to reason it out. The only person he knew was himself. And the only thing he knew about other people were their weaknesses.

He kept thinking it over. And he had plenty of time to do it. No-one was coming in to check on him and there was the whole database still to do.

And when that was done, there was more. The cargo bays. For some reason, Worf the merciless wanted him to check them for beta radiation or something. He wasn't sure why he was the one who had to do it. Surely if beta radiation was involved they'd want it done immediately, not...whenever it was he'd finish this damn database.

Damn that Klingon, thought Noriega. He's only doing it because I beat him. How petty is that?

He clicked onto the next performance report, skimmed through it and yawned.

Well, just wait till I shed this rank, Klingon...then we'll see.

Worf still wasn't happy. Or focused.

'Lieutenant?'

Worf blinked and realised the rest of the Bridge crew was staring at him. Well, the four in front of him anyway.

'Yes, Captain.'

'Can you launch the probe, Mr. Worf?'

'Probe?'

'Yes, the probe we're sending into the nebula.'

Worf looked at the console below him and saw his finger hovering over the button that launched probes. Ah, the probe...

'Yes, Sir.' Worf pressed the button. On the view-screen, the probe flew away from the ship towards the huge green cloud about 100,000 kilometres ahead of them. 'Sorry, Sir. I don't know what happened.'

Picard looked at Riker then back at Worf. 'Perhaps you should go to sickbay?'

'No, Sir. I'm fine.'

'Then you were daydreaming, Lieutenant?'

'No, I was...' Worf stopped. The Captain was right, he had been daydreaming. 'It won't happen again, Captain.'

'I hope not.'

The Captain returned to his seat and continued staring aimlessly at the nebula. Riker and the others did the same.

That damn Ensign, thought Worf. What is he doing to me?

'Worf, are you okay?'

It was another voice, a softer one. Tasha.

'I'm fine.'

'What were you dreaming about?' she asked, smirking. She was pretty casual for a superior officer.

'Combat,' replied Worf, not really thinking about his answer.

Tasha laughed. 'How to beat that new Ensign?'

'What? No.' Worf studied her, looking for the words written on her face that would show him who had told her. Empty. No words there. 'Who told you about that?'

'Worf, I read the reports...it's no disgrace, he's beaten everyone. I even called the academy and they confirmed it. He's the best they've ever seen. Almost like a machine.' She paused, looking forward. 'You know, maybe he could even take Data...what do you think?'

Worf frowned, thought about growling too, but didn't. It wasn't professional to growl on the bridge. That kind of thing had to be saved for the holodeck.

'He is arrogant...and he fights without honour.'

'Yeah, I heard that too. But still...'

Tasha drifted back to one of the consoles at the back of the bridge and Worf looked at the view-screen. The nebula was still there, floating like space smoke with no job.

A machine, thought Worf, his eyes lost in the nebula. Almost like a machine...

Worf cornered Counsellor Troi again, this time in a Jeffries tube. He didn't stop to wonder what she was doing there, he just wanted her to do one thing for him.

'No, Worf. That's unethical.' Troi crawled away from him, heading towards the nearest exit. 'I won't do it.'

Worf crawled after her, following her out of the exit and down one of the long ladders that no-one ever climbed down.

'Counsellor, you don't understand. It's the only way to prove it.'

'Prove what? That he's a machine?'

'Exactly.'

'Worf...I think it might be a good idea if you came to see me this week. It's been a while since your last review.'

'Me? Counsellor, I am not the one who needs to be seen.'

'Aren't you?' Troi stared at Worf. She'd never really noticed before, but Worf's eyebrows were super-pointy at the tips. 'You're the one who seems to think Ensign Noriega is a machine...simply because he's adept at combat.'

'But...he's not adept, he's cheating!' Worf shouted. They were off the ladder and in the corridor near holodeck three, and one or two of the crew were watching. Worf shrugged. Had they never heard a raised voice before?

'Listen, Worf. I'm not going to do the test on Ensign Noriega. And I really think you should come and see me as soon as possible.'

Worf turned to walk away, but Troi called him back.

'If you don't want to see me, there is another way.'

'What's that?'

'Talk to him, Worf. Ask him about his background, his past...get to know him and then maybe...'

Worf nodded before she could finish, and walked off. It was probably a little rude, but it didn't matter, he'd understood what she was saying.

Talk to him, Worf.

Yes, talk to him. Question him. Expose him.

End of Part one