(Standard Year 2242)

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Noel DelMonde was tired and irritated.

Of course, this was nothing new. In the two and a half months he’d been at Star Fleet Academy, he spent around 90% of his time tired and or irritated – usually both. Were the other 10% of the time not filled with the sublime bliss of working in the finest design labs and most up-to-date engineering facilities in this half of the galaxy, he would have walked out of this brass-plated masochists’ convention long ago.

Plebes weren’t allowed to lock the doors to their quarters. Del walked in without bothering to buzz the chime. The cadet who was about to become his new roommate immediately stood up and snapped to attention.

Instead of thinking “Oh, shit” or “Not fucking again” like a normal person would, this little toy solider immediately started inventorying through the list of bullshit upperclassmen just loved to bust into your room and make you say or do to make sure he was ready to say or do any of it with appropriate gusto. He was a short, baby-faced fellow with big, brown puppy-dog eyes and huge ears.

If Del had been less exhausted, he would have made the kid do some push-ups just for the hell of it. As it was, he settled for saying, “As you were, Cadet.”

As his new roommate screwed up his little teddy bear face and tried to figure out from the host of obvious clues who this newcomer into his living space was, Del noticed that there was something weird about the little fellow’s brain. Listening to him think was like listening to a broadcast over a communicator where the gain was malfunctioning. He was audible but too quiet, very low signal strength.

“I your new roommate,” Del announced, impatiently deciding that it was going to take the little guy the rest of the night to figure that out.

“Ah, yes,” the cadet said with an unbelievably thick accent. He put out his hand. “You must be Noel DelMonde. I am Pavel Chekov.”

Del, who thought touching strangers was a barbaric custom, used having armloads of dufflebag and guitar as an excuse not to shake hands. “Right,” he said, heading wearily for the beds.

“The bottom bunk is…” Chekov began as Del lay down on it.

“Was,” the Cajun corrected, stretching out.

Instead of letting him slip into a few moment of precious slumber like anyone with an ounce of civility would have, the little fellow stomped over and folded his arms.

“Our living situation will be more comfortable if we get along,” he said in his comic opera excuse for an accent.

“Whatever.” Del agreed, already well along the road to unconsciousness.

“Perhaps we should establish some ground rules…” the Russian began with stubborn lack of consideration.

The Cajun opened one eye. “You outrank me?”

Chekov made an annoyed sounding noise. “No, of course not, but….”

“You t'ink you my mama?”


“Then shut th' fuck up,” Del concluded – and very politely under the circumstances he thought – before turning his face to the wall and going promptly to sleep.

And there was evening and there was morning and there was the first day.


“What the hell you doin’?”

“This is mine,” Chekov announced, taking a stat board from Del’s desk.

“You best put that down,” the Cajun warned.

“Get your own,” the Russian returned. “Don’t take my things.”

DelMonde’s mouth fell open in enraged surprise as his roommate pressed the control that would clear the board.

“Why you ignorant motherfucker,” he managed after a moment. He swiftly rose and snatched the device from the Russian’s hands. “You best be hopin’ that not somet'ing important enough fo’ me to hafta beat your ass fo' deletin’, boy.”

Undaunted, his roommate reached for the board again. “As I said, it is mine.”

Del smacked the Russian’s hand away hard. “You need t’back the fuck up ‘fore I rip you a new one, ya snotty li’l bastard,” he growled.

His roommate didn’t move. “Oh, so you wish to fight about it?”

“Oh, it not gonna be a fight,” Del warned. “I jus’ gonna smack the shit out o’ you an’ call it a day.”

The Russian shrugged diffidently. “You can try,” he replied, his eyes narrowing.

Del blinked in surprise. When he was this angry, most people were frightened enough by him that he rarely had to resort to actual violence. “You may not have noticed this, ya dumb fuck, but you only ‘bout three feet tall. I can flick my pinkie an’ knock your ass into next week.”

Chekov squared his shoulders stubbornly. “We will see.”

Reading him, Del found that the Russian’s stubbornness and big mouth had gotten him into any number of fights. He was surprised to find that his very proper roommate even seemed to have a taste for brawling. “You can’t beat me, you stupid li’l jackass,” the Cajun explained.

“Perhaps,” the Russian replied grimly. “But I can hurt you.”

Del could read him weighing his choices of an entire repertoire of nasty, painful blows, and beginning to decide that the Cajun was probably vain enough for a black eye to be the most satisfyingly suitable punishment.

“Gonna go for the cheap shots, non?” Del put his hands on his hips. “Oh, that real nice… I shoulda figured you’d fight like a damn girl.”

The smaller man shrugged. “Girls can be very effective fighters.”

Del thought he caught the flash of a memory. “You been beat up by a girl, ain’t ya?”


Despite his roommate’s outward puzzlement, Del could see the memory becoming more defined. “A big ol’ girl,” he reported. “Wit’ blonde hair in pigtails….”

“This is ridiculous,” the Russian protested, although he was visibly dismayed. “Stop guessing foolish things.”

“Her name was…” Del prompted and then smiled as the answer popped into his opponent’s mind. “Ludmilla Somet'ing-Russian-anova….”

“Who told you this?” Chekov demanded angrily.

“You did, ya dumb fuck.” Del grinned and flicked him on the forehead with his middle finger. “I a telepath.”

“You are a human,” his roommate argued back. “There is no reliably reproducible and statistically significant data to support the hypothesis that practical telepathy can exist in human beings.”

“But there is statistically significant evidence that you a dumbfuck who had his ass beat by a girl,” Del replied.

“This is nonsense,” the Russian scoffed. “Someone must have told you to say that…”

The memory was as clear as a photograph inside his roommate’s head. “Was she really that big?” Del wondered aloud. “Or were you jus’ that li'l?”

“She was two levels ahead of …” Chekov clamped his teeth over the admission a moment too late. “Who told you to say this?”

“Who do I know that you know?” Del countered. “She knocked you down, took your sandwich, an’ then…” A big grin broke over the Cajun’s face. “An’ then she kissed you ‘til you started to cry. Oh, my Lord, this is rich. This jus’ too rich. This jus’ too funny.”

The Russian didn’t seem amused. “If no one told you, you must have read it somewhere…” he fumed.

“Who the fuck gonna write somet'ing like that down?” Del was now laughing so hard he had to sit down. “That what passes fo’ news where you from? Dateline: Moscow. Skinny li’l boy loses both his lunch an’ his heart to….”

“Stop it, now!” Chekov burst out. “Give me back my board immediately or suffer the consequences!”

“Here, take it,” the Cajun said, wiping his eyes. “I not have th’ heart t’ beat up a man who done already been the victim of Big Ludmilla, the Kissin’ Bandit of Kiev…”

And there was evening and there was morning and there was a second day.


When he decided to take the entrance exam for Starfleet Academy, Noel DelMonde had no idea that he was voluntarily running straight into the waiting arms of an army of headshrinkers.

As he walked through the Psi Lab, they all called out to greet him, “Hi, Del!” “How’s it going?” “Del, good to see you!” in the same sort of happy, friendly, possessive way a person would call out to their favorite hound dog when it wandered back up to the house after chasing a rabbit.

Del sighed to himself. These skull-fuckers did think they owned him… And since they were in control of his supply of sapphire, their belief was uncomfortably close to reality. He’d tried to hide the full extent of his abilities from them, but that was made terribly complicated by the fact that A) he didn’t know the full extent of his abilities, (having only recently come to think of them as abilities) and B) they had more time on their hands than he did.

They’d just about worn him down with their infernal, incessant testing – Test upon test, day after day, each one more complicated the last, sometimes even hiding tests inside other tests. As soon as Del got back to getting a normal amount of sleep, he planned to show these brain-humpers who was boss… but that didn’t seem to be likely to happen any time soon. For now, he consoled himself with the thought that he was lulling them into a false sense of security by letting them believe they’d trained him to sit up and bark any time they dangled a sparkling blue treat in front of his nose.

He pressed the buzzer to the office door of the head of the department.

“Come!” the person inside called.

Under normal circumstances, such an exchange would have been more than sufficient to establish that the person in the office was aware of Del’s impending entrance into that room. The cadet steeled himself not to groan or make a face as he stepped inside and came to attention.

“Dr. Braily, sir,” he said, trying to achieve a tone that didn’t suggest that he’d rather have nails poked through his eyes. “You sent fo’ me, sir?”

“Oh, hello, Del,” the professor replied, looking up from his computer as if surprised and pleased to find him there. “Sit down.”

Braily was far too concerned about the fact that Del had briefly hovered on the edge of being in danger of being kicked out of the Academy for a couple of very minor instances of what they called “insubordination” here. The professor was much more concerned about this than Del himself was. Ever since the incidents the good doctor had been on a mission to reform him. In reality what this boiled down to was that if Del could remember to sprinkle a few “sirs” into the beginning and end of the conversation, the two of them could talk like old friends. If he forgot, or refused to, or did so with bad grace, that would unfailingly trigger the launch of a twenty minute lecture on military decorum complete with some very unwelcome speculation on how reducing the amount of sapphire he was currently allowed might improve his “focus’ – whatever the hell that was supposed to be.

“So, you have a new roommate?” the doctor asked, in a fine example of one of those questions they liked to trot out to remind him that they had an eye on and usually a hand in even the most mundane details of his life here.

“Yes, sir.” Del replied as if the fact weren’t completely well-fucking-known to both of them.

“How do you like him?”

The cadet shrugged. “I not.”

This seemed to surprise the doctor. “Why not?”

“He a snotty li’l prick,” Del replied without rancor.

Braily frowned at him disapprovingly.

Del couldn’t read the doctor. Braily said he wasn’t telepathic, but he had the Vulcan mind tricks that they were trying to teach Del down cold. For as long as he could remember, the cadet had wished he could be spared the misery of continually being bombarded with other’s thoughts. However when he’d finally met people who could control that flow, he found it was often inconvenient and downright annoying.

Del finally puzzled out that he was supposed to say, “Begging your pardon, sir” which was apparently what military men said after they cussed.

“I thought you might like him.”

Although Braily could conceal his thoughts, he couldn’t conceal his emotions. Right now, the professor’s puzzled surprise was as obvious as a big question mark hanging over his head.

Del shook his head. “Not really.”

“Actually,” the doctor corrected himself. “What I meant to say was that I thought he would be easy for you to be around.”

The headshrinkers put a lot of value on being very clear about even the most trivial and unimportant things they said. “Not especially.”

Braily tapped his thin lips pensively with a stylus. “Can you read his thoughts?”

Del shrugged. “Such as they are.”

“Exactly what do you mean by that?” the doctor asked, jumping on the statement as eagerly as a hungry frog on a junebug.

“I dunno,” the cadet replied irritably. “He jus’ kinda empty-headed.”

“Funny that you should describe him that way.” Where a normal person would have the decency to explain what they meant, Braily just went on. “So you find Pavel Chekov to be unintelligent?”

“I dunno,” Del repeated. “He not seem t’ t'ink much.”

“Interesting,” the professor commented, then gestured with his stylus. “Go on.”

Del hadn’t intended to say anything else. “He sorta like a dog,” he tried to clarify.

“A dog? Hmmm.” The professor tilted his head to one side. “And what does that mean to you?”

Braily could always knock the shit out of a good metaphor without half trying.

“A dog – mos’ dogs – not sit ‘round an’ worry much ‘bout life an’ all. Mostly they jus’ rest fo’ when they gotta move fast.”

“So it seems to you that Cadet Chekov doesn’t think a great deal? He rests?”

“Seem like,” Del confirmed rapidly losing patience with whatever game this was.

“What about his emotions?”

“What about ‘em?” the cadet repeated uncaringly.

“Can you sense those?”

“He not have none.”

Braily’s bushy eyebrows rose to their limits. “No emotions?”

“No.” Del wondered why this wasn’t obvious to an accomplished cerebellum-sucker like the good doctor.

“None at all?”

“Yeah, he worse than a Vulcan.”

“Interesting.” Braily seemed amused.

“What interestin’ ‘bout that?” Del asked, narrowing his eyes.

“I find Pavel Chekov to be an exceptionally emotional person, given to frequent, uncontrollable affective displays.”

“You mean how he puff out his li’l chipmunk cheeks an’ stomp his li’l feet an’ all?”

The doctor nodded genially. “That sort of thing.”

“Oh, that jus’ a show he put on,” Del dismissed. “He not feel it.”

“So it seems to you that he’s faking emotion?”

“He do a li’l song an’ dance, but stay as calm as mud.”

Braily pressed his index fingers together thoughtfully. “Why do you think he would do that?”

The cadet shrugged. “To get what he want, non?”

“So you find him to be unintelligent and deceptive?”

Del frowned at him suspiciously. “He a robot or somet'ing?”

“Does he seem like a robot to you?” The feeling of amusement from Braily became even stronger.

“No,” the cadet snapped. “That why I askin’.”

“Actually Cadet Chekov is a psi null. Do you know what that is?”

“That pretty damn rare, that what that is,” Del muttered, refusing to dwell on the memory of how he found out how low the odds were for an individual being so profoundly un-gifted.

“He has zero telepathic abilities and rates zero at all of the psi-potentials we can test for. He cannot project or read thought and has no shielding,” Braily went ahead and informed him. “You have been looking at him only through your abilities, Del. I think you’ve badly misjudged him.”

Del frowned at this unwelcome observation. “How he seem to you?”

“Pavel is a very bright young man with particular aptitude for science and mathematics. As conventional wisdom predicts for a psi null, he is not terribly intuitive. However, I have found him to be very proficient at both inductive and deductive reasoning. He does not make the sort of leaps of logic we associate with brilliance, but is very diligent in collecting the data that will enable him to make solid conclusions. He can be overly proud of his grasp of the obvious – which is not at all obvious to him. Pavel is scrupulously honest, the sort of person who cannot hide his true feelings – even when he may wish to.”

“Hmph,” was all Del could say to the description of someone who was not his snotty Russian roommate.

“Give him another chance,” Braily encouraged. “You have completely misinterpreted the lack of cues from his psyche. Remember, Del, a big part of learning to control your gifts is learning how and when not to use them.”

“He as rare a specimen as I am.” Del said, catching a fleeting impression from the doctor’s mind.

“One could say that, “ Braily said as if he didn’t recognize his own thought.

“An’ so now you done put both your prize rats in one cage?”


“When I was a boy, my cousin an’ I sometime used to dig up a couple ant hills then put some of each in a jar an’ watch ‘em fight.”

“And by that you mean?”

“By that I mean that I the black ant and li’l Pavel the red ant,” Del said, refusing to further break down his metaphor.

“And that we are putting the two of you together purposefully for our own amusement despite the fact we realize how different you are?” Braily said, retreating to the safety of the royal scientific “we.”

Del crossed his arms. “Yeah.”

“Oh, no, not at all. We genuinely believe that Pavel will make an ideal roommate for you. As you have already experienced, his thoughts and emotions will not intrude on your and allow you to have a degree of privacy and calm in your quarters.”

“Hmm.” The cadet replied dubiously.

“So,” Braily couldn’t resist adding just a moment latter, his eyes shining as brightly as any boy who ever put an insect under a magnifying glass on a sunny day. “Do the two of you really fight?”


Del was trying to concentrate on memorizing the nine essential properties and characteristics of tachyon field stabilizers, but his mind kept wandering back to the weirdly quiet brain across the small cabin from him. It didn’t seem possible that the stuck-up little Slavic kewpie doll could be anything as exotic as a null. A puffed up dumbfuck, yes, definitely. A psi null, no.

Del forced his eyes back onto the page. After a paragraph, they wandered back to where the little snot-nosed Russian was diligently working through his astrophysics homework. Del hated to let go of his initial impression that his roommate was just sort of stupid. Lord knows, he acted sort of stupid – even despite the fact he was burning through some impressively complicated math at that moment.

The no emotions thing was a puzzle too. Braily was not above misleading a person, but the question he had asked about the little blank-brained creep kept eating away at Del. Why would the Russian pretend to have emotions if he wasn’t really feeling anything?

After a moment, the Cajun realized that his roommate had fastened his round gerbil eyes on him. Del wondered why before realizing that he’d been staring at the kid for several minutes.

“How you doin’?” he asked to be sociable.

The Russian blinked at him, looking for all the world like an annoyed pug dog. “What?"

“How are you?” he over-enunciated. “How you feelin’?”

“It is no concern of yours,” the Russian replied snottily.

“Can’t I be fuckin’ polite, you motherfuckin’ stuck-up prick?”

Chekov shook his head disapprovingly going back to his math. “You are so rude.”

“Fuck off,” Del retorted returning to his tachyon fields.

“So rude,” the Russian repeated, thinking tiny little thoughts that were entirely consistent with what an angry person would think -- although no hint of his annoyance reached Del. Someone that aggravated usually splattered him with emotion. His roommate’s feelings didn’t seem to generate even as much as a dewdrop of sentiment.

“You mad now?” the Cajun asked, puzzled.

Chekov frowned, looking like a pissed off slavic pixie. “Since you cannot be civil, I have no wish to speak with you.”

From his thoughts, Del could read that he was not the Russian’s first roommate. Since the beginning of the term, Chekov had seen three other cadets fail, transfer, or be dropped for earning too many demerits. The Russian seemed to think the experience had given him a good picture of the sort of person who was most likely to succeed at the Academy. By his calculations, he was looking forward to meeting his next cabin-mate by the beginning of next week.

Del, who had already gone through eight roommates in short order, was not impressed. “Stuck-up moron,” he snarled.

Although the Russian pretended not to hear, another set of miniature thoughts that should have been accompanied by a projection of anger bubbled up in his brain.

Speculating that the distance between them might make a difference, Del got up under the pretext of getting a stylus off his desk.

“Cocksucker,” he muttered experimentally when he was within arms length of the Russian.

Chekov snorted like an enraged bull. “What did you call me?” he said from between his teeth, the very picture of fury.

“Hmmm,” Del said to himself. “Not'ing...”

“What?” the Russian repeated, his round teddy bear eyes blazing.

“I jus’ not feel it,” the Cajun said, shaking his head. Deciding to ratchet what Braily would call the affective display up another notch, he searched the Russian’s brain for something appropriate. “Zasranetc.”

The cadet came up from his chair like a jack-in-the-box. “What?!!”

“Still not'ing,” Del concluded, but acknowledged that his pronunciation was probably way off.

Looking at it from an engineering point of view, emotions were like mental oscillations. Although not consciously perceptible to average folks, they were clearly readable to properly equipped and tuned receivers like himself. Chekov seemed to be doing all the right things to generate mental oscillations of affective response, however something was keeping the waves from reaching Del.

The engineer took another step forward. “How many Klingons,” he began slowly and clearly so as not to invalidate his experiment, “did your mother havta blow t’ get you admitted into this place?”

This seemed to do the trick. Color rose in the Russian pale cheeks. His breathing quickened. His mouth was set in a hard, cold line.

Concentrating hard, Del could feel the red hot waves of feeling rise up, emanating out towards him… only to inexplicably fall back in on themselves like matter collapsing into a black hole. It was fascinating. So fascinating, in fact, that he paid no attention to the way the little Russian balled up his skinny fists and aimed a powerful blow at Del’s midsection.

“Oof!” Surprise as much as impact staggered him backwards.

The Russian stood over where he’d toppled to the floor. “Did you feel that?” he asked unsmilingly.

“Fuck,” Del swore, rubbing his stomach. “Why couldn’t you jus’ turned out to be a robot?”


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