AN: This chapter turned out to be nearly done, meaning you guys get a really quick update this time, haha! It was actually going to be part of a different story in this series originally, but once Nearest was created, I decided that it fit better here, so this is where it ended up. Enjoy!
They feel like they are being watched all the time on this ship, and it's getting really difficult to not start jumping at shadows. Oh, sure, the beings on board are all wonderful. Always smiling, cheerful, and ready to help with anything. But the feeling of constant observation is making it so that they are beginning to feel paranoid even about the crew - something that makes their antennae wave fretfully.
You're just being dramatic, Soul One says exasperatedly in their head. They are all perfectly lovely beings, there is no reason to be alarmed.
That's what they want you to think, Soul Two argues internally. This ship is creepy, and there's nothing you can do to convince me otherwise. Three agrees with me too. We're being watched, and this ship is crazy - they're all way too intense and way too smart to be normal.
"Hush," Three says aloud, carefully rounding a corner, their antennae doing their best to sense another being nearby to account for the feeling of being watched. "Whether or not that's the case, we're going to act as though nothing's wrong until we can get to the Wirrewii Quadrant and can get dropped off on the nearest station."
Fine, One huffs. Just because you're the strongest and in charge of our body doesn't mean you shouldn't at least ask for our opinion first. I happen to quite like it here. Lieutenant Uhura has offered to teach us some useful phrases in Terran Standard, and the Captain has been most gracious.
Don't even mention the Captain! Two exclaims frantically. He'll hear you, even if he isn't Connected! He'll find a way! You just don't see it because you are being oblivious, One. Three sees it too, that's why we aren't staying. The Captain is the worst of them all!
"Really? I thought that the Commander was worse and that he was being reined in by the Captain." Three sighs in relief as they make it back to their quarters and the door closes behind them, feeling safer in the enclosed space of their room even if the watched feeling doesn't go away entirely.
Three moves their body through their nightly routine, their stress knotting their muscles up. Wincing, they retire to their bed, sleeping fitfully throughout the night as the feeling of being watched comes and goes.
Breakfast the next morning is a tense affair. The Collective's antennae are twitchy and their meal of kilpra tastes more like stone than anything. Still, One demands that Three make them eat it, both for the sake of propriety and for the sake of keeping their body in good condition. Three complies, grudgingly, shoving the food in their mouth despite the taste.
The words make the Collective jolt, their hands nearly dropping their fork as they turn to look up at the two Humans standing beside their table. At the diplomat's clear surprise, the slightly smaller of the two looks a little apologetic.
"Apologies, we did not mean to startle you," he says, a bit of an accent underlying his Standard. "We realized you were eating alone and wanted to ask if we could join you."
"... Alright," the Collective responds after a moment of internal discussion. "You are Lieutenant Sulu and Ensign Chekov, yes? I believe I briefly met you on the Bridge when I first arrived."
"Yeah, that's us!" the other officer comments as they both sit down at the table with their meals. "I'm sorry, I missed the specific way to pronounce your name in the welcome, Diplomat, and I would hate to accidentally offend you."
"I am Diplomat Tricollective Klumzod from the moon Blarhuru, but you may call me Tricollective or Klumzod, as I am aware that your species prefers shorter terms of address" the Collective replies agreeably. "I am en route to a meeting on behalf of Majesty Pentacollective Helrop of our mother planet Ferorg, which will be taking place in a few standard cycles from now. Starfleet was kind enough to lend your ship for the journey."
"Ah, right. I remember the captain mentioning that now," Lieutenant Sulu comments, glancing towards Ensign Chekov. "There was just so much going on with your arrival that I wasn't sure I was remembering the details right. Regardless, we are happy to have you here for the duration of your journey!"
"Yes! How has your stay been? Has the ship been satisfactory?" the younger officer pipes up, eyes curious.
Here, the Collective pauses. Honesty would have them saying no, their trip has been incredibly stressful due to their unending feeling of being observed by someone unseen. However, diplomacy would have them saying yes, it's been a wonderful trip so far with no issues.
Settle for a middle ground then, One internally huffs to Three, who controls their voice.
"It has certainly been an interesting trip," the diplomat concedes. The pair across from them blink as if catching the carefully neutral words they had used. Before either of the ship's officers can respond, though a loud thrum and a slight jolt run through the room.
"Scotty," Sulu groans to Chekov, eyes rolling to the ceiling in exasperation. The diplomat hears none of it though.
Already on edge, the Collective bolts to their feet, running out of the dining area into the adjacent hall, making their way quickly back to their room to hunker down until they get an explanation about the occurrence. Collectives are not meant for direct confrontation - never have been. If something is wrong, Diplomat Tricollective Klumzod will stay safely out of the way, thank you very much.
Another shudder shakes the ship, and this time the lights go out, leaving behind only the red glow of the emergency lighting to illuminate the dark room. There is silence after that, and after long minutes passing of nothing else happening, the diplomat creeps their way to the door of their room.
They listen closely for a moment, and upon hearing no disturbance to the silence, open it. The door hisses open quietly, revealing a hallway as dark and dimly lit as the interior of their room. The Collective contemplates the merits of trying to find an officer to ask what is wrong when a sudden white light at the end of the hallway catches their attention.
There, at the end of the hall, is a silhouetted figure who is making their way towards the diplomat. Above them, the lights are on, and as they move through the hallway the next light in front of them turns on as the one just behind them shuts off. The result is a light that moves in time with the person approaching the Collective despite the sudden shadows, and they shudder as the feeling of being watched suddenly returns with a vengeance.
"Diplomat Tricollective Klumzod!" the figure calls out, and they squint through the light to see the captain walking calmly in their direction as the light moves with him. It is the most terrifying thing the Collective has seen in a while, and even One is now quiet in the wake of Two's panic. "Glad to see you are alright. Our head of engineering was just running a few experiments and accidentally got our lights in the process."
The diplomat has no response for that, and after a moment of silence, the captain continues, now a few paces from them, face both illuminated from the overhead light and cast in a deep red glow from the surrounding emergency lights.
"I apologize for any discomfort this may cause - the lights should be back soon, and the engineer in question has already been reprimanded for his actions," the captain says, looking down at him with too-blue eyes and a smile that the Collective thinks is supposed to be charming but that the red light and shadows make sharp. "If there is anywhere you'd prefer to be, I can take you there, and if not, then feel free to remain where you are."
"We-we'll stay here," the Collective squeaks out. The captain smiles wider, and it's even more terrifying than before, the lights above glinting off his bared teeth.
"Alright, sorry again. This won't happen a second time, so no need to worry about it!" The captain turns to leave, before suddenly remembering something and turning to look at the diplomat over his shoulder. "If you need anything at all in the meantime, feel free to message any of us on the Bridge!"
Three manages to stutter out their agreement as the captain leaves to finish handling the situation before Two's internal screeching finally prompts them all the way back into the room. As they are about to close the door, they hear the captain start to say something, and One's curiosity prompts them to remain a moment longer, peering carefully down the hall.
"Thanks m'lady for the help with the lights," the captain says, seemingly at random. "It really helped. Think you can keep it up until I get back to the Bridge?"
At that, the entire hall lights up normally for a moment, before they go out again with only the light around the captain remaining on. A slightly robotic feminine giggle fills the air, and the Collective nearly jumps out of their skin as the feeling they've been noticing since they arrived on this ship reaches almost unbearable levels.
"Of course, captain!"
Eyes bulging, the diplomat slams their hand down on the button to close the door, rushing back to the most secluded corner of their room to wait out the rest of the blackout - and maybe even the rest of the trip.
Upon returning to the mother planet Ferorg after the meeting (the return journey made through slow, familiar shuttles this time), Majesty Pentacollective Helrop of Ferorg asks Diplomat Tricollective Klumzod about their journey aboard the Enterprise.
The diplomat gives a vague response, before letting the Majesty know that they believe it is their calling to be Blarhuru Representative Tricollective Klumzod instead, or maybe Royal Attendant Tricollective Klumzod, and would it be possible for a career change?