This story takes place after "Generations" but before "First Contact."
"It figures it would rain on the day we get border security."
"It's just a late spring shower, it'll end soon."
Miguel pulled his cloak tighter about himself, "Just cut the cards."
With a smirk, Alejandro deftly cut the deck in his hand and shuffled the cards between them, finally laying the remaining cards to the side on the floor where they sat. "You can start."
"Right," Miguel said, sitting up and peering over the rail of the guard post to the grassy hills beyond. It truly was a miserable day, an overcast sky that bleached the world of color and the drizzling rain that got them wet despite the roof over the suspended platform and heavy clothes. The two had been assigned one of the guard posts on the outskirts of their land, placed on a sloping hill overlooking the edge of the plains. It was a good location, the hill ensured an acceptable vantage point without building the platform too high, thus making it an obvious target to their enemies. The only disadvantage were the copses of trees and low bushes that sprung up between the slopes of the low hills, obscuring their view in spots. It also made Miguel a little nervous to be so far from home. He picked up his cards and sorted his hand.
"I haven't seen you much as of late," Alejandro began, laying down a few cards, "been spending your time with Gladys, yeah?"
"Sorry? Only thing you should be sorry 'bout is if you don't hurry up and marry her. I wanna be a best man at some point in my life, and neither of us is getting any younger."
"Marriage? That's kinda a big step…Oh, Borg Queen's balls!" Miguel cursed, tossing his cards down as Alejandro presented him with a winning hand.
His companion laughed and began re-shuffling. "You suck at this game. And I hardly consider it a big step when you've been dating for years and she practically lives at your place."
"Well, I had been pondering asking a certain best friend of mine who specializes in jewelry on making me a ring for a specific purpose…"
Alejandro blinked and then beamed, his hands momentarily stilling. "I'd be honored."
"Alright!" Miguel reached out and clapped his friend on the shoulder before claiming his new hand. "I gotta say though, hardly fair to be bitching at me about age and marriage when you don't even have a kid yet."
His friend remained quiet, the only sound that of the steady rain. Miguel looked up at Alejandro, who was staring outward at the grey sky, his mouth tight.
"Alejandro? What's wrong?"
With a sigh, Alejandro's eyes returned to his cards, though they were no longer part of his primary focus. "I put in my request for reproduction rights and lab access last week," he said softly.
Miguel put down his cards, the game forgotten. "What? Why didn't you tell me?"
Alejandro was slow in answering. "I didn't want to get your hopes up. Or mine."
"What are you talking about? The Council can't deny you…"
"Pitslag!" Alejandro spat, "They don't have to deny me, just take their damn time signing the paperwork. Wily put in his request five months ago and he still hasn't heard anything!"
"Look, I know the waiting can be difficult but that's just the way it is." Miguel stopped and went over his words in his mind, wincing when he realized how trite they were. "You guys must get sick of hearing that all the time."
Alejandro shrugged. "It doesn't matter, it's true."
"Doesn't make it any better." There was nothing more to say on the subject, so Miguel returned to the issue to which he did have something to say, "Alejandro, you and I have been friends for…"
"And you don't trust me enough to tell me when you're trying to have a kid? You think I won't be happy for you?"
"I know you would."
"So what the hell?" Miguel swung his legs around until he was sitting beside Alejandro and dropped his arm over his friend's shoulders. "You're gonna be a father, Alejandro, and I'm gonna spoil the shit out of your kid. I'm gonna marry Gladys, and you're gonna be my best man. 'Cause that's what we do, kaday-kaday?"
Alejandro's mouth twitched into a smile. "Kadayo," he agreed.
"Good," Miguel said, standing in a fluid movement and stretching his arms over his head, sighing in pleasure when his back popped. Great, they'd barely begun their shift and already he was stiffening up from the wet and cold. He stopped, arms half descended, when a flash in the hills caught the corner of his eye.
"What the…? Alejandro, I need your eyes."
Alejandro stood and leaned on the rail, peering outward. "Where?"
"Right there, by those trees. I thought I saw a light."
"Like a lantern? I don't see anything."
"No, it was kind of blue, lasted only a second." Miguel turned and grabbed their rifles, leaning against the rail, and passed one to Alejandro. "Are there any expeditions out today?"
"None that I know of… I see them. There's a small group out there. I wonder what they're doing?"
"Any of your kind among them?" Miguel asked, handing a pack of ammunition to Alejandro, who loaded his rifle without moving his eyes from the small group moving amongst the trees.
"No, but they are humanoid. Four of them."
"Spots and lizards, who the hell would go outside our borders in this weather unplanned, and without a Brethren for protection!"
"Crazy people. Kids. C'mon, let's go chase them home," Alejandro said, slinging his rifle onto his back and kicking the rope ladder off the platform. He ignored it and stepped off, dropping to the ground easily. Only after a quick scan of his surroundings did he take hold of the ladder to steady it as Miguel began his descent.
Miguel grunted in annoyance as his boots sloshed into the soggy grass; he really hated getting his feet wet. Alejandro pat him on the shoulder in some form of comfort and they marched down the hillside, rifles held ready in their hands and hoods pulled over their heads. They walked beside each other, occasionally turning and scanning their surroundings. Chessack did not attack often during the warmer months, but they were notorious for taking advantage of bad weather when visibility was poor. Miguel squinted as the wind picked up and blew water in his eyes, forcing him to pull his hood down lower over his face. When they reached the trees at the bottom on the hill they changed tactics, bounding past each other until they had reached the relative safety of the high ground. At the crest of the low hill, they dropped into the grass, Miguel sitting, rifle at the ready, scanning the trees behind them while Alejandro crawled forward on his belly to relocate the wayward group. Miguel was so intent on his watch that he started when Alejandro dropped his hand on his shoulder.
"Miguel," he hissed, "they are not ours."
"What?" Miguel turned and crawled forward beside Alejandro, "What's that supposed to mean?"
Alejandro pointed a finger to a copse of trees at the bottom of the slope where a small group emerged, moving slowly as though looking around. "Look at the way they move together, and that one in the middle is clearly in charge. See how the others react to him? Miguel," he whispered, voice trembling slightly in wonder, "that's an away team."
It took Miguel a second to speak again, his mouth suddenly gone dry. "How…? No one's ever come here…who are they?"
"Look closely at their uniforms, the use of primary colors. And on the left breast, an insignia…I can't make it out from here but I am fairly certain of what it is."
"Starfleet." Miguel nearly dropped his rifle.
"Oh my god…They found us…the Federation found us…"
Alejandro smiled and inhaled a shaky breath, his hand moving quickly to wipe away tears that Miguel pretended not to see.
Regaining his composure, Alejandro got to his feet. "C'mon, let's go greet them."
Miguel blanched, "What?"
"It's Starfleet, Miguel, I'm certain they've got tricorders or something like that down there and if so they already know we're here. Why hide? Come on man," he dropped his hand onto his friend's shoulder, his face imploring, "the day we all dreamed of has finally come, and it's you and I that are lucky enough to be standing here. Let's go make first contact."
Miguel couldn't argue with that. Alejandro pulled him to his feet and the two began to descend the slope in plain view, waiting to be noticed.
"Have you alerted the Council about this?" Miguel asked, realizing that this was an event too monumental for just the two of them alone to manage.
"Already done," Alejandro said, "they're sending others, they should be here soon."
The away team saw them coming when they were still a good distance off, and while two of them moved their hands towards their phasers cautiously, they made no other movement. Miguel gave a big smile and waved while Alejandro called out a boisterous "Hallo!" The away team visibly relaxed and moved forward to meet the duo.
Suddenly Miguel began to sweat and shiver all at once. What would he say? This would be the most important event in their history since the Founding and what would he say? He wasn't the only one who had fantasized about this day as a child, but now it was here and even those childish and pretentious speeches he'd made up fled his mind, leaving a gap of anxiety. What could he say that would justly represent even a fraction of their people? And then the moment came; they were close enough to easily converse over the rain, and he had to say something.
"Didn't expect you in this weather," he blurted casually. It took all of Miguel's willpower not to bury his face in his hands and run right there, but he forced the smile to stay on his face, even when Alejandro elbowed him in the ribs.
The leader of the away team, a tall man in a uniform of command red (though for all Miguel and Alejandro knew, the color designations could have shifted), stepped forward and extended his hand. If Miguel's greeting had thrown him any, he didn't show it.
"I'm Commander Hayes of the Starship Columbia," he barely bat an eye as Miguel ignored the proffered hand and reached for the left, shaking it firmly, "I take that to mean we were actually expected?"
"Miguel Ortega, and yes, we knew Starfleet would come for us someday. We never gave up hope."
"We've waited a very long time," Alejandro said, offering his hand, "Welcome."
The commander smiled and reached for Alejandro's hand, then hesitated at the sight of the yellow pallor of his skin.
A lieutenant in blue, who began scanning with her tricorder, suddenly looked up, her eyes wide. "Watch out, Sir! It's an android!"
Hayes took a slow step back.
Confused, Alejandro drew back his hood so that the away team could see him. The grey light made his golden features wan and colorless. "Yes, I'm a Soong-type, descendant of-"
The whine of a phaser and a beam of energy striking him in the chest cut him off, sending him backwards into the mud with a flurry of sparks. One of the officers who had been smiling mere seconds before had drawn his phaser and shot without precedence, near panic written on his features.
Miguel fired. Years of training, constantly on guard against attacks, had him moving the moment the phaser went off, his rifle in hand and aiming before Alejandro hit the ground. Blood splattered from the offending officer, arching artistically and then mingling with the rain as a crude, round bullet passed through his shoulder.
Miguel ran to his fallen friend, vaguely registering the screams of the away team and the shouting into their commlinks, of the flickering blue light that took them away as quickly as they had come. And then all sound save the rain vanished, and that was more deafening than the shot from his rifle. Miguel was panting.
"Shit!" the android gasped, his back arching and his fingers curling inward like deformed claws. Miguel dropped to his knees beside him, unsure what to do.
"Please tell me that was stun…" he begged, pulling aside the charred cloth of Alejandro's shirt to inspect the injured site. He got his answer when a deep, jagged hole came into view, exposing blackened and sparking innards. "Oh no…"
"It was very effective," Alejandro ground out between his teeth. He was losing control of his systems, his head began to jerk as he lost connection with his motor control and it went haywire.
"You'll be fine," Miguel began to chant, trying to keep water out of the hole in Alejandro's chest and keep him still, "the others will be here soon, they'll fix you right up!"
"I can't…systems failure immin…immin…"
"Shut up! You'll be fine! We'll both be sitting in the pub by this time next week, laughing about this. A stupid phaser isn't going to take you down. C'mon, tell me what I can do!"
"Nothing," Alejandro sighed as he managed to wrest enough control to decrease the spasms that wracked his body, but only just. "It's alright…I'm uploading my…memories…"
A spear of ice plunged into Miguel. Androids only uploaded memories to the Commune as last resort to preserve something of themselves when there was an absolute certainty of no survival.
"No. No, that's not good enough. I can't access the Commune, I can't follow you there!" he yelled, grasping his friend's shoulders and shaking to no effect, "Damnit, Alejandro, you don't even have a kid, you're the end of your line!"
Alejandro barely registered he was moving at all, and he was only processing every other word Miguel said. He had to hurry up. "Hey, Miguel?"
"Yeah?" Was that a sniffle Alejandro heard?
"I've enjoyed every minute."
"'Cept this one, obviously."
Miguel managed a weak smile.
He wanted to joke, to laugh, anything to make it a little easier on Miguel. Or himself. But he couldn't, because there was nothing funny about this. As far as his systems were concerned, his head had been detached from his body, but he knew it hadn't, his body was just no longer accessible. He was cut off from his main power source, and every pathway to the backup at the base of his skull was fried. That phaser weapon, whatever it was, was destroying him. Oh god, he had no power, every backup he had was coming back error. His connection to the Commune was faltering, dying with his power. Please no I'm not done I have more memories I'm not done I'm not done…
"I don't want to die."
It was like a physical blow, those last words sobbed by his doomed friend. Miguel trembled as he watched the android's face smooth out of all emotion, rainwater catching in his open eyes and trailing down his cheek as false tears.
"Alejandro…" he tried, praying his friend was still in there, could still hear him. Miguel yelled his name then, shaking the lifeless body. In a panic he reached underneath Alejandro and grasped at the off switch, toggling it frantically in hopes of some response. After long moments of nothing, Miguel shut Alejandro's eyes and slumped over his body, crying.
Twenty-five years. He'd barely been a boy when his mother placed him in the arms of a newly made android and told him, "This is your new friend, Miguel. Take care of him." Take care of him, he'd thought in disbelief, when he's so much bigger than me? Twenty-five years, gone in an instant, and he didn't know why.
"What the hell," he choked, "this wasn't supposed to happen."
Miguel stood, slowly, stepping away from the dead android and turning accusing eyes to the sky where he knew, somewhere, a Federation ship hovered above their world.
"Why?" he screamed upward, "You were supposed to save us!"
But no one had an answer for him. Not the Federation, not Alejandro, and not those who arrived to help him carry his friend home.