by Chris Hugh
At 1200 hours, Ensign Mwangi stood staring at the purple uniforms he'd just pulled out of the ship's Exothermic Dihydrous Oxide Ventilator.
Security officer Lieutenant Leslie happened by, as he so often did. He tsked sympathetically. "You put one red garment in the wash with whites, and the next thing you know, the whole load is pink. Or in your case, it turned your blue shirts purple. It's no big deal." Leslie chuckled a little, then paused. A devious look flashed across his clean cut, masculine face. "Here you go," he said and slapped a single unmarked button on the grey bulkhead. A panel immediately opened, revealing a stack of shirts in Mwangi's size. Lt. Leslie gave Mwangi a sidelong glance and slowly started to walk away.
"But, but these are red shirts," Mwangi said.
Leslie halted and raised his eyebrows. "So they are, how do you like that?" He slapped Mwangi on the arm. "Welcome to the team, buddy. We've had a lot of, uh, attrition in Security, so I'm glad to have you onboard."
* * *
At 1500 hours, Ensign Mwangi stumbled out of the ship's chapel and went into the cafeteria. Lt. Sulu was there with his shirt off, gleaming with sweat, his practice sword resting against his knee. With a group of other happy crewmembers, he was listening to Lt. Uhura sing a song that beautifully explored the twin themes of long-distance relationships and astronomy. Mwangi pressed a single, unmarked button on the grey bulkhead and grabbed the bottle of whiskey as soon as the panel opened. He turned from the cheerful crowd and spotted a small knot of dejected men. They were clean cut and fit, but their vacant eyes seemed to stare at a future already lost.
Mwangi sat down with his new colleagues.
"I guess there's no hope," he said by way of greeting.
"None at all," Lt. Gomez said. The other two men shook their heads. "There used to be twenty of us, now there's only…" he started counting on his fingers, then squeezed his eyes shut and hung his head.
Ensign Ricky took a slug from Mwangi's bottle, then pressed it into Gomez's hand. Ensign Waters put his arm around Gomez's shoulder and gave it a brief squeeze.
"It's not as bad as all that," Ricky said, turning to Mwangi. Waters nodded and tried to keep his lower lip from trembling as Ricky continued. "We've got a lot of guys left. There's us and, let's see, Ensign Rizzo--"
Gomez had the bottle tipped to his mouth, but he made an uh-uh noise and eyeballed Ricky. He swallowed and put the bottle down as Waters silently looked away. "Dikironium cloud beast sucked out all Rizzo's red corpuscles."
Ricky looked a little shame faced. "Well, we've got Mallory--"
"Stumbled over an exploding lava rock," Gomez said and took another drink.
Ricky looked down at his hands, then brightened. "Kaplan--"
"Struck by lightning on Gamma Trianguli VI."
Ricky's shoulders slumped. "Carlisle--"
"Killed by Nomad."
A shuddering breath. "Farmer--"
"Nomad." Nomad had a high body count.
Silent tears. "Brooks--"
Gomez put the bottle to his mouth. "Nnnno-mmaaaa," he repeated.
"Tingstad and Holmes-"
"Nnnno-mmaaaa nnnn Nnnno-mmaaaa--"
Ricky slapped the bottle out of his hand and stood up, his red eyes now blazing with anger. Gomez rose at the same time, menacing, a deadly butter knife in his hand. Waters shook himself, then stood with sudden authority. "We can't turn on each other," he cried. "That's how Dehner, Kelso and Mitchell died." He pointed at Gomez. "For all you know, that could be the very knife Tormalen killed himself with."
Gomez looked down at the knife, then at Ricky, his face stricken. Ricky gently took the knife and laid it on the table. Then the men hugged, sobbing.
* * *
By that time, Mwangi was already back in his cabin. He stood at his dresser, looking pensively at the Voodoo doll his old grandmother had given him and swearing musically in Swahili.
* * *
At 1600 hours Lt. Uhura's cool, competent voice sounded over the ship's speakers. Mwangi had landing party duty. His handsome face took on a look of steely resolve and the muscles in his broad, square jaw tightened. He laid down the voodoo talisman gently, but with the air of a man putting away childish things. He felt ashamed of having spent three hours in the chapel being spiritually advised by the ship's witchdoctor. "I am a modern Star Fleet officer," he said aloud. "I have left my African past behind. I am a man of space now." He thought of the great woman who had given the Gu talisman to him. He thought about his rebelliousness growing up, his rejection of his family's traditions, his joining Star Fleet. He was a proud man and regretted none of his decisions. He regretted only that he would never see his family again. "I love you, grandmother," he said softly as the ship's speakers made an "oo-ee-oo" hurry-up noise. "I have lived as a man of the Federation. I will die as one." His voice dropped to a whisper. "I must go now."
* * *
At 1615 hours, Mwangi ran into his room, grabbed the Voodoo doll, and made a candle illumination sacrifice, a seed and plant sacrifice and a food sacrifice.
He, Ricky and Gomez, along with Captain Kirk, Spock and Dr. McCoy, had beamed down to the planet surface. Since they were on a new planet with unknown dangers, they had followed standard Star Fleet procedure by each exploring in separate directions. Ensign Ricky noticed that a strange flower was tracking his movements, so he acted by the book and leaned over to sniff it. He died with twenty harmless-looking poisonous stamen projectiles lodged in his face. At apparently the same time, Gomez was walking backward through a dark looming doorway and fell down the vestiges of an ancient civilization's elevator shaft.
To hell with being a Federation man, Mwangi thought; it was time to get back to his roots. He said a prayer to his recent ancestor, the Great Mother with the PhD in history who was in charge of Federation Archives. He said another prayer to the Great Father who ran the multinational threat management corporation, slapped the Gu talisman across his thighs to give him strength, and got to work. He started by researching all security personnel deaths so he would know what to be on the lookout for.
* * *
Three weeks later, at 1500 hours, Mwangi was called to the transporter room. He squared his shoulders, rolled his neck and reported that he was on his way. He grabbed his gear and went to the transporter room.
As usual, the ship's most vital crewmembers were going to leave the ship and explore unknown dangers. Dr. McCoy and Spock waited along with Lt. Leslie. Only Captain Kirk had not yet arrived.
Lt. Leslie came over and put his hand on Mwangi's shoulder. "You're my number one man now, Mwangi," he said reassuringly, looking with curiosity at Mwangi's attire. "Just follow the example of the brave men who came before you and you'll be okay."
Mwangi stared at Leslie's hand until he removed it. Mwangi looked him in the eye. "I'm your only man left," Mwangi said. "And meaning no respect to the dead, but I don't plan to follow their example. I mean to survive."
Lt. Leslie took a deep breath and narrowed his eyes. "If you care about your career--" he started.
Mwangi interrupted him. "At the moment, I care about my survival. And we're going to do things very differently from now on."
Leslie's stared angrily at Mwangi. Mwangi stared back as Leslie swept his gaze up and down Mwangi's form, his lip curling in disgust. He opened his mouth to give Mwangi a dressing down, but stopped as Captain Kirk swept into the room.
"Gentlemen," the captain said, addressing the landing party and clapping his hands together meaningfully. Since this was an entirely new planet and because many crewmembers had already been lost, an in-depth briefing as well as a plan upon reaching the planet, together with contingency plans, was absolutely essential. Captain Kirk hopped jauntily onto the platform. "Let's go," he said.
Mwangi pulled on his heavy flak jacket and helmet and shouldered his bag of gear. He checked his weapon, his backup weapon, his communication device and backup and his Gu talisman. After personally checking that the Enterprise was in fact in orbit around a planet, and that the landing party would therefore not be beamed into empty space, he took his place on the platform.
At 1530 hours, five men beamed down.
* * *
At 1600 hours, four men beamed up.
The trip had been unique. When Dr. McCoy had suddenly felt frightened for no apparent reason, Mwangi countermanded standard Star Fleet policy. Instead of pooh-poohing the doctor's concerns, calling him illogical and everyone reassuring each other there was nothing to worry about, Mwangi had investigated and uncovered sun-fearing, nerve-eating pizza monsters that flew through the air and landed on people's backs, torturing them until they died long lingering anguished deaths in pain that could not, inexplicably, be tempered by 23rd-century painkillers. Inevitably, one landed on Mwangi's back, but his flak jacket protected him.
After the pizza threat had been eliminated, Mwangi's helmet came into service when an eight-foot-tall man with very large teeth and dressed in a hairy loincloth hit him over the head with a styrofoam club.
Once the man was stunned with a phaser, Captain Kirk ordered Mwangi and Leslie to explore a dark, foreboding fortress. Mwangi risked an insubordination charge by refusing to split up and explore half the fortress alone while Leslie explored the other half. It took some doing, and required a short, rousing speech from Captain Kirk, but Mwangi was able to familiarize Leslie with the concept of working in a "team" where someone is assigned to keep a lookout so the "team" is not attacked unawares. After that, the two cleared the fortress without incident.
Mwangi's repeated requests for backup were ignored, but he still managed to save everyone at least once. His agricultural procedures prevented Mr. Spock from getting a face full of pollen that would have unsealed his emotions and made him maudlin. An excellent forward pass of a salt shaker to Dr. McCoy kept him from dying at the hands of a shapeshifting salt beast. Mwangi's grappling hook retrieved Leslie after he fell down a crevasse, and a quiet word saved Captain Kirk from contracting a venereal disease.
Unfortunately, Mwangi could not prevent Lt. Leslie from climbing a tree and eating a poisonous acid pear at the end of the expedition, but Lt. Leslie's ultimate sacrifice was not in vain; Mwangi was promoted to Security Chief in his place. He instituted new methods and procedures, mandated body armor, and issued all his people a newfangled device called a "flashlight." He kept his Gu talisman with him at all times, for luck, for inspiration, and for spiritual insurance. And most importantly, he personally dyed all the red uniforms purple. Pin It Now!
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