After lunch, Porthos dragged Hoshi from the Mess Hall and through the corridors, with Jon ambling behind them. Hoshi reconsidered her initial impression of the little dog; Porthos had more strength than anyone gave him credit for. She'd be lucky if she didn't need her shoulder repaired after this. The beagle stopped in front of a door on B Deck, Junior Officers' Quarters. She looked at the nameplate over the door bell: Hoshi Sato, Ens. This must be her room.
She gazed at the touchpad and wondered how to open the door, but her hand again came up and tapped in a code. The door slid open and Porthos shot inside like a cannon. Hoshi hurried in after him just before the doors shut. Soft lighting gave the cabin a warm, homey look. A set of curtains hung over the window (curtains, in space?) and pictures adorned the walls. She reached out and touched a scroll with bold characters written in black ink.Chinese: Ai. Love. Her fingers traced the lines again as she thought, How did I know that? Then she traced another character. Japanese. Ki. The spirit of all living things, known in Chinese as Chi, translated in English as Spirit.
The bed was littered with datapads and old-fashioned books. Porthos sniffed the strange objects, but then he obediently sat on the pillow and laid his head down on it. Out of curiosity, she picked up one of the pads. Unfamiliar graphics popped up on the screen. Hoshi used the buttons to scroll and advance through the article, but nothing seemed familiar. Most of the other pads held similar information, cross-indexed and referenced with each other. Obviously, she'd been doing research before the incident...before...
She frowned and put the pad down. Another memory stirred deep within. Translations. She had been doing translations from one language to another. That was her function here, to find meaning so others could understand. Hoshi narrowed her eyes at the neatly arranged columns on the screen. On one side was one kind of script, on the other was a completely different alphabet.
What if these are equivalents to each other? What if there is a way to speak to them and have it converted into something they could understand? Her hands shook with excitement. Was it possible? Could she do it? Or, more precisely, could she remember how to do it?
Carefully, she put the pad down on the bed and went to investigate the rest of the room. Her clothing hung neatly in the closet; she saw blue jumpsuits similar to what Jon, Trip, and the others wore. The ones that weren't jumpsuits varied in color and length. Apparently, she appreciated a wide range of color. To her surprise, she found a box of---chocolate---hidden in the top drawer of the bureau. Obviously, she enjoyed the food highly for her to hide it away from prying eyes.
She methodically went through the drawers, the photos, the books. It was odd; this was her life, but to her, it was as if she was looking at the life of a stranger. None of the items jolted her memory. She tried to recall when was the last time she wore this garment, or where she had acquired this souvenir. Yet it was all a blank. It brought her a pang of sadness. Would she ever regain her memories?
Then she made the mistake of looking up into the mirror on the bureau.
A strangled shriek caught within her throat. Is that me? But...but...do I look like that? That's not possible! I can't look like that! She rubbed her eyes with her free hand, but the image stared back at her. Her almond shaped eyes registered shock and horror as she touched her face. In the main room, Porthos started howling at the top of his lungs.
“Hoshi?” She snapped her head around as Jon stepped into her doorway. At the look on her face, he immediately grasped her arm. “What is it? What's wrong?”
She looked again and shook her head wildly. “I don't look like that! I don't know who it is! Please tell me this is a nightmare and I'm going to wake up!”
“Hoshi, that's your reflection.” Jon sounded confused.
Of course; her features were similar to the others on this ship. This was her body, her hair, her eyes, her lips. She should have expected it. With an effort, she calmed her breathing and her heartbeat. Jon still looked concerned, so she managed a weak smile. It certainly didn't reassure him at all.
“Sir, I called Phlox; he's on his way.” Malcolm stuck his head in, his blue-gray eyes mirroring his concern. “Is Hoshi all right? What happened?”
“She saw something in the mirror,” Jon replied. “All I could see was her own reflection, but something frightened her.”
Malcolm raised his eyebrows, then put a hand on her shoulder and asked, “Hoshi, what did you see?”
“Me,” she replied as she opened her eyes. His touch steadied and calmed her; why did this man have such an effect on her? Automatically, she put his hand atop his and pointed at herself with the fingers of her free hand, “I saw me, but it isn't me.” It sounded schizophrenic; perhaps she was going mad.
Malcolm glanced questioningly at Jon, but the captain seemed equally at a loss. Hoshi felt the frustration rising again, but then she remembered the pads on her bed, the translations. If there was any way to make herself understood..She ran back into the main room, grabbed one of the active datapads from the bed and fiddled with the controls. A green light indicated that it was ready to record audio input. Then she spoke directly into it.
“I don't know what's happened to me, Malcolm. All I know is that this is Hoshi Sato's body, but my mind isn't quite sure it's really hers. Ever since I woke up, bits and pieces are coming back to me, but I still feel wrong. Like I don't belong here, but I know I should. I can't remember, I can't tell you anything, and it's frustrating to me.”
Her fingers worked the pad's controls as if they'd done it since the beginning of time. She definitely had no conscious knowledge of its more complicated workings. The pad beeped in time with her entries and characters scrolled across the screen. Malcolm's face brightened as he realized what she was doing.
“Hoshi's trying to translate her own speech,” he said. “If it matches something within the UT's database or Enterprise's records---”
“Then we can identify what it is and possibly understand what she's trying to tell us,” Jon finished. He gazed at her as she concentrated on the pad; she saw his expression of awe and approval. He raised his eyebrows as if another idea had occurred to him. “You know who'd be a big help to her? T'Pol. Remember when we were swallowed up by that lifeform in the cargo bay our first year---”
Malcolm winced; the captain Rostov, Trip and two others had nearly perished, but Hoshi had managed to talk to it in its own language and convince it to let them go, if Enterprise returned it to its homeworld. He and Hoshi had been at odds on how to settle the situation. In the end, Hoshi's solution had freed the prisoners without any lasting bodily harm. She'd been right, and Malcolm was both humbled and impressed by her steadfastness.
“You're right, sir. Let's see if Hoshi's willing to let her help.”
Hoshi listened to their conversation with only part of her attention, for she watched as the computer ran the unfamiliar words through some linguistic algorithms---algorithms, she recalled now, that she had written herself. Working on this translation galvanized her; she no longer felt helpless, for the first time since she'd woken up in Sickbay and spoken a language no one else knew. If she could crack this code...
She was so involved in the process that she jumped when she saw Phlox next to her with a scanner in hand. She saw the corner of Malcolm's mouth twitch in humor and his eyes lit up with the smile that wasn't visible on his lips.
“Her blood pressure and heart rate have gone up significantly, Captain, and I'm reading some strange activity from her cerebral cortex. I suggest we bring her back to Sickbay.”
“Have T'Pol meet us there. Hoshi's trying to translate her own speech and match it with what we have in the database. If she's successful, we might be able to find out what's happened to her.”
Hoshi heard T'Pol's name and recognized it, but the rest of the conversation wasn't significant to her. She found herself gazing at Malcolm's expression and thought, He's glad that I'm doing something useful, something that matters to me. I guess I've been morose since this all started. He encouraged her without words, and she only nodded at him.
“Hoshi, if you'd follow me, please,” said Phlox.
She sighed and looked at the other pads on the bed. Malcolm seemed to anticipate her thoughts and said, “I'll bring them, Hoshi.” He gathered them up with a minimum amount of fuss. Hoshi noticed that he wasted no movement at all, like a dancer or an athlete. For some reason, she felt her face grow hot and she gripped the edge of the pad she was holding.
Hoshi followed Phlox, thinking, What is going on? Why am I feeling this way?
“The language she is speaking is not in the database,” T'Pol said, as she surveyed the results of Hoshi's search. “The syntax is also not similar to any language that we currently know.”
“Then how are we going to figure it out?” Malcolm asked, with a shade of impatience. “If nothing matches it in the database---”
“Then we need to acquire enough of a sample for analysis. If Ensign Sato has regained her skill set, then she could use them to find familiar patterns within the speech..” T'Pol turned to Hoshi and gave her a nod. “I have confidence in the ensign's abilities.”
The Vulcan's tone was as dry as ever, but Hoshi heard a note of respect within it. T'Pol inclined her head towards the nearby computer; Hoshi nodded assent. T'Pol went to it and set up the programs.
A voice interrupted, “Tucker to the Cap'n.”
Jon crossed over to the speaker in the wall. “Archer.”
“Cap'n, we've completed the analysis of the shuttlepod that Hoshi was in. I think you and Malcolm should get down here.”
He and Malcolm exchanged looks, then Jon replied, “On our way, Trip. Archer out.” Jon glanced at T'Pol and told her, “Keep me informed on your progress.”
Hoshi looked up as the three men headed for the Sickbay doors. Malcolm gave her a look that said, I'll be back as soon as I can. Then he was gone. She felt an odd pang of loss, but dismissed it as she regarded her pad again. Porthos leaped onto the biobed next to her and settled in as if he expected to be there for some time. She smiled at him; he was affectionate and loyal. Little wonder that Jon had brought him.
Phlox kept a close eye on her vital signs. Although they weren't at dangerous levels, her blood pressure and heart rate were both higher than he'd liked. A hypospray of medicine had evened out the readings, but his worry was plain to see. Hoshi felt another bout of lightheadedness, and there was a tingling feeling in her fingers, but she chalked it up to excitement at finally doing something to help her situation.
But she couldn't stop the nagging worry that she needed to solve this mystery before it was too late.
“M'rashee ta alem ka. Sian'le da Hah-shee Sah-toh ne. Afil de'phe nima ka'alenju wa.”
The computer chattered for several seconds, then the words slowly scrolled across the screen. “To Him/her/it (pre-prepositional phrase?) greetings may be. Body Hah-shee Sah-to (verb 'to be' implied, first-person possession implied?) Give him/her/it pleasure here (verb 'to be' implied).”
Hoshi frowned; there was too many holes, too much missing. It was too optimistic to believe there would be a perfect one-to-one correspondence between her language and the “regular” language spoken here. Yet, she felt a twinge of irritation at not getting it to the point where it would be easily understood. She and T'Pol sat in the medical ward, painstakingly analyzing and reconstructing her words, bit by bit. They tried addressing things in context, noting every repeated word and phrase, making assumptions and acting on those assumptions. T'Pol had also used mathematical formulas and equations in her work.
“We used mathematics to translate an unknown language in the early years of this ship's mission. You found the correlation and we based our analysis on it,” T'Pol explained. Hoshi gave her a baffled look; the Vulcan sighed and amended, “We have used this algorithm before.”
Hoshi only nodded; she understood that T'Pol had found another avenue to pursue. It was only logical that they try as many ways as possible. For some reason, the thought made her mouth twitch upward in humor. How eminently logical...
Her thoughts began to wander yet again; she'd lost track of how many times it had happened within the past twenty minutes. Each time, she was able to refocus on the work in front of her. This time, it was different, it was as if she was floating free of her body, as if she flew upon the wind...
“Doctor!” T'Pol called sharply. “Her bioreadings are unstable!” The Vulcan's voice echoed as if it was in a huge cavern, almost overwhelmed by the terrified howls of Porthos. Hoshi wanted to reach out and reassure the dog, but she didn't have any physical hands at all. It was a strange, disorienting sensation, the feeling of not knowing where you were, but the place was so familiar to her...
I felt this way when I woke up in the shuttle, she realized. This sense of disorientation, as if I was here and not here. What does it mean? Why am I feeling this way now?
Her surroundings were a blur, but she thought she recognized the narrow corridors of the ship, the lights set into the wall, other people in uniform. She was moving, or more precisely, her consciousness was moving, for she knew her body was still in the medical ward with T'Pol, Phlox, and Porthos. She “turned” her head to see Jon walking at her side. His mouth moved, but she didn't hear the words.
Where am I? Then she saw a set of doors in front of her and knew they led to Shuttle Bay One. So, Jon was heading to the shuttle bay, and somehow, she had come along for the ride with...Malcolm? How did I manage to do that? She could feel his presence, strong yet steady, but there was an upswell of fear and concern underneath. It sounded like a lava flow about to explode out of a volcano, but a cold wind cooled its surface and kept the panic at bay. That wind seemed to change pitch as she listened; Malcolm was skilled at doing this, but she knew that it cost him a tremendous effort to maintain it.
He is a protector. He is responsible for everyone aboard this ship. He cannot afford to let the tempest loose, not now. Malcolm's control wasn't pitch-perfect, for she heard the small variances within it, but it was enough to suffice for now. She instinctively felt that one swift and unexpected jolt could destroy that balance and let the furor loose.
Then the doors to the shuttle bay opened and she saw Trip and Travis examining the wreck of the shuttlepod. She heard the wind scale up in pitch, but then it held steady. Then her point-of-view changed and suddenly she was seeing things through Malcolm's eyes, but he seemed unaware of her presence. Hoshi held herself as still as possible, so that she didn't tip that precious balance.
“What have you found?” Jon asked, his voice hard and formal.
“Check this out, Cap'n.” Trip handed him a datapad. “Some kinda electrical blast hit the shuttlepod and blew out almost every critical system, including life support. The oxygen tanks had been torn apart and atmosphere was leakin' like a rusty sieve. Helm control, navigation, communications were fried to a crisp. That was includin' the new communications relay that Hoshi was testin' on the pod.”
Jon's face darkened as the implications became clear. “In other words, Hoshi shouldn't have survived through that accident.”
“It was a damn miracle that she lived at all, Cap'n, considerin' the damage we're seein'. We were lucky that we were monitorin' her as closely as we were at the time and got to her as quickly as we did.”
Hoshi felt Malcolm flinch internally at his news. I could have died. I should have died, but I didn't, she thought. How did I survive that?
“Was she fired upon?” Malcolm asked. “Was it some sort of weapon?”
“Hard to tell, but it looks like everythin' happened in the space of a few seconds. It could've been, but it could be she hit somethin' we didn't detect on sensors.”
“Look at this,” Travis spoke up. He pointed at a schematic on the pad. “Rostov scanned the metal fragments in the hull and came up with this. It's some type of unknown metal that bonded to the shuttlepod and strengthened its hull integrity. Whatever it is could have saved Hoshi's life by preserving the air long enough for us to get to her.”
“Where did it come from?” Malcolm asked. “It looks similar to titanium, but the chemical composition's all wrong. I've never seen anything like this before.”
“Neither have I, and I've seen ships made out of weirder stuff than this.” Travis shook his head in confusion. “This alloy is mixed all throughout the shuttlepod, from the walls to the helm controls. If we can figure out what it is and how it acts, we might be able to use it in other ways.”
Trip's mouth turned up in a smirk. “T'Pol's gonna have a field day with this.”
“Forward the information to her, Trip. Right now, she's helping Hoshi translate whatever language Hoshi's speaking. If they can crack the code, then we might be able to find out exactly what's going on with her.” Jon nodded. “Good job, you two. Malcolm, I want you to run another analysis on this alloy. If it is something we can use for defending the ship, every little bit helps out here.”
“Aye, sir.” Malcolm sounded relieved that at least he was doing something to help. Hoshi felt his inner equilibrium become steadier, more melodic and even stronger than before. She felt a surge of pride for him and the way he conducted himself. Her instincts had been correct; he was a calm professional, and kept his emotions in check, but it didn't mean he lacked them. Quite an enigma, this man.
“Keep me informed, gentlemen.”
The three of them chorused, “Aye, sir,” as Jon strode out of the cargo bay. Trip motioned to Malcolm and said, “Here, lemme show you somethin'...”
Malcolm moved to the remains of the shuttlepod---little more than a shell, now---and Hoshi saw its condition through his eyes. She shuddered along with him as she surveyed the ruined control panels, the webbed cracks through the viewport, and the visible holes in the walls. Trip had been right; sheshouldn't have survived through this, but she did.
It had something to do with the unknown metal alloy that had bonded to the shuttle. Another memory stirred within her:
“Shuttlepod One to Enterprise. I'm getting a positive signal from the test buoy. It looks like the new comm array's working perfectly, Captain.”
“Good work, Hoshi. How long do you need to finish your tests?”
“Five more minutes should do it.”
“All right, signal the Deck Landing Officer when you're ready.”
“Yes, sir. Shuttlepod One, out.” Hoshi began cycling through the available frequencies, and concentrated on the resonances that confirmed a successful test run. When they all turned out positive, she sighed in satisfaction. Yes, she was competent enough for a solo mission, even if it wasn't even a few thousand kilometers away from the ship. She hoped that it would go a long way to convincing Malcolm that she could take care of herself.
A shrill alarm jolted her from her thoughts. A second later, the instrument panel in front of her exploded in a hail of fire and sparks and knocked her back in her seat. Only the restraining straps kept her from being thrown onto the floor. She felt the searing heat on her face and hands as she tried to protect her eyes. She turned her head and stifled a scream of fear.
The walls of the shuttlepod were glowing with crackles of blue electricity skimming its surfaces, popping like a fireworks display for Chinese New Year. The roar didn't quite overwhelm the hiss of escaping air. She must have struck a cloaked mine or collided with a space artifact, but why hadn't she detect it?
Then pain hit her, as pressure exploded up her throat and her body trembled in its wake. Suddenly, the agony just stopped, as if someone had thrown a switch. Am I dying? Thoughts of regret brought tears to her eyes. She would never see Jon, Trip, or Travis ever again; never speak Denobulan with Phlox or feed his menagerie, never practice her Vulcan with T'Pol, never walk Porthos and slip him a piece of cheese, never eat another piece of chocolate...
Never tell Malcolm she loved him...
Sh was floating now, above her body. Then she wondered what Heaven looked like. Was it peaceful, like Nirvana? A feasting hall, like Valhalla, or Sto-vo-kor? Talking in Klingon in the afterlife would be interesting...
A gentle touch brought her back to the present. Wait, there was someone else here with her. A Guardian Angel? No, not quite...the presence filled her with warmth and light, but instead of flying, she felt a steady, downward tug back into her body. Part of her struggled against the force, but the visitor said,
Yes, you. You have so much more to do. Together, we will be together, and neither of us will be lonely ever again...Every cell in her body was filled with that light, then slowly it faded to black, along with the memories. Forget now. Forget all that ails you, forget all that holds you back...
No...Panic, fear, determination, as she struggled to hold on to her unique consciousness, her unique soul that was Hoshi. The presence eased itself between her mental shields, like a ghost through a solid wall, and there it stayed...
Hoshi's body jerked, then collapsed back onto the biobed. Malcolm was ripped away from her and she slammed back into physical consciousness as if propelled by a rubber band. The piercing whine of the overhead monitors scaled upward; her mouth moved in that odd language, screaming for help, for an ending, anything.
“We're losing her!” shouted a woman's voice.
“One more time, Liz! Step away...clear!”
Another jolt of energy arched her body and pummeled her back onto the bed. “Nh'haina se lhutai! Bharsi se rhuuutanai!”
“What's she saying?” Liz demanded.
“I don't know,” Phlox answered. “Sub-Commander?”
“The translation matrix is incomplete, Doctor. All I am getting is gibberish.”
A new voice broke into the conversation: “Archer to Sickbay. We're bringing Malcolm; he collapsed in the Shuttle Bay.”
Phlox's voice was tight with tension. “It is probably connected with Hoshi's condition, Captain. She's coded twice; we're struggling to stabilize her right now.”
“We're on our way. Archer, out.”
Malcolm and I...we're connected in some way. And if she died, she might take him with her. So, she reached for the thin filament that still existed between the two of them, and with tears in her eyes, snapped the connection just as she heard the flat tone of the machines above her.
And again, like before, she floated free and without pain, but this time, there was no bright light. A milky darkness surrounded her, then all at once, her horizon expanded: a reddish-golden field under a purple sky, with green mountains in the distance. A group of children played some kind of tag between the stalks of grain while she watched with interest.
“Hello there. Would you like to play with us? We need one more person for the next round. Sh'anal has to go home to help her mother with the baby, so you could take her place. That is, if you want.”
Hoshi marveled at the joy within that chiming voice. It reminded her of temple bells on a holiday. The sound reverberated through her spirit and bolstered her mood as well. How is that possible? She turned to see another child with curly flame-orange hair standing behind her, bouncing on her bare feet and grinning from ear to ear. The girl's large aqua eyes were surrounded by a thin ridge that gave contour to the blindingly snow-white skin.
“We'll go easy on you,” the girl said with a chuckle. “Not everyone knows the rules. You have to figure them out as you go.”
Well, I don't have anything else to do, Hoshi thought. She managed a trembling smile. “Okay.”
“Wonderful!” Her companion turned and called out to her friends. Hoshi barely heard what she had said because she realized something crucial.
She had understood every word the girl had uttered. Every word.