(Copyright) 1997 - 2006 G. Dallman
June 29, 1997 Version 2.0
Revision Date: 05/20/2006



"Wake up Laddie! Ye canna be shaken th' bulkheads all day!"

Howard groaned in his sleep, wondering what James Doohan's ghost was doing in his Dream.

"Come on Laddie, up wi' ye."

"Scotty?" he mumbled dreamily.

"Aye Laddie, and who else might it be?" answered the ebullient voice in a full Scottish brogue.

With another groan, Howard rolled over to face the source of his waking, raising himself onto his right elbow. Slowly, he opened his eyes on a wedge-shaped, otterish face, long twitching whiskers framed a black button nose, only a few inches from his own.

"Who are you?" he almost shouted with a start.

"Teffid's th' name, but ye can call me 'Scotty' if it pleases ye."

Howard squinted through sleep-bleary eyes, "You're a Toccal, aren't you?"

"Aye, that I be, Laddie," replied the creature, its words coming in a rapid-fire stream.

Despite his half-awake condition, Howard couldn't avoid noticing that when the creature spoke its muzzle didn't move and its voice seemed to be coming from the area of its chest.

"Why me?" groaned the Human as he fell back on his pallet to stare up at the pipes traversing the dimly illuminated ceiling. The muted sounds of snoring Dirhal surrounded him.

"Because Laddie, you're th' first Human tha' Sennal eyes ha' ever lit upon."

Howard was becoming mildly irked by the Toccal's irritating affectation of calling him 'Laddie' at every opportunity, though the creature's effervescent humor would have made it impossible for any rational being to stay angry for long.

"If you don't mind, my name is Howard," the Human said, pronouncing his name slowly.

"*##@@*," squawked the Teffid voice. "Ach, damn translator!"

The Mustelid rolled his deep brown eyes back in his head in irritation and removed a small metallic object from a pocket on the front of the bandoleer-like webbing that was his only garment. After poking at a small keypad on the back of the device with a clawed finger, Teffid held it in front of the Human's face.

"Could ye repeat tha'?"

Howard obligingly repeated his name into the proffered device, which promptly parroted it back at him, complete with broad Scottish vowels.

"That's better," beamed the Toccal.

Howard had to admit that, for a non-human, let alone not being Scottish, Teffid had the "Scotty" thing down pretty good. Though in fact, the accent reminded him more of a frenetic version of his grandfather than anyone else. Also, being an engineer, the Toccal's translator intrigued him greatly.

"May I see that?" asked Howard, pointing to the device in Teffid's hand.

"Aye, 'tis just a wee thing I cobbled together from bits an' pieces," said Teffid modestly as he placed the translator in Howard's outstretched hand. "Ye know, I'm an engineer, an' my sire was an engineer before me."

While the Human was examining the small device, Teffid climbed up onto Howard's pallet, resting his back against the Human's knees.

"I was an engineer too, before I got involved with all of this," said Howard, waving vaguely at his surroundings. "What do you do on this ship?"

"I maintain fusion bottles," replied the voice that now came from the device in the Human's hand. "Ye know, I'm th' one tha' changed th' engine in your infernal land vehicle. Ach, I could'na believe the stench it made!"

"Thank you. You did a wonderful job! By the way, how does this work?" asked Howard, returning his attention to the translator in his hand."

Teffid turned slightly to show Howard a small button-like device affixed to the side of his head, just above his right ear. "This is an encephalic transceiver, here. It sends thought patterns tha' I have identified as speech to my wee translator, and th' other way around. I borrowed the translation heuristic from th' T'Roann."

Howard looked at the myriad of metallic pins that pierced the Toccal's scalp, affixing the device firmly to his skull. "Wow! Didn't that hurt?"

"Aye Laddie, it did at first, it did indeed. But I'm over that now and 'tis worth it. Otherwise I could'na talk ta you!"

Though warmed by the implicit compliment, Howard was silent for a moment, considering the best way to ask a question that he had to know the answer to. "Can I ask you a question?"

"Certainly!" grinned Teffid, in a fair imitation of a Human smile.

"Why did you program your translator to speak with a Scottish brogue?"

"Is tha' wha' it 'tis now? I watched one of your video entertainments, a fictional thing 'twas. It featured a starship engineer tha' talked like this. Did I do it right?" Teffid's eyes and translated voice exuded an unspoken need for approbation.

"Oh yes. It sounds very much like 'Scotty'. Though, I really have to admit, you do sound a lot like I remember my grandfather, when I was very young."

"Your grandsire indeed!" enthused the Toccal. "Was he too an engineer?"

"No, he was a physicist at the University of Edinburgh. That's in Scotland."

"Aye, and your sire?" prompted Teffid, warming to the subject.

"He's a physicist too. He owns a company that develops experimental quantum devices."

"Ah, a Priest," breathed the Mustelid.

"No, just a physicist," explained the Human with a smile. "We keep them separate here, Teffid."

"I dunna' understand," mused the Toccal. "He is a physicist ye say, yet he works in th' realm of God?"

"In Human philosophy, physics and religion occupy disparate world views," explained Howard, making a motion like holding two spheres in his hands, moving them farther apart as he spoke.

"How could tha' be?" exclaimed Teffid. "They are one in th' same."

"This is the way it is now. It's a traditional thing. Goes back thousands of years. At one time, ignorance of physical reality was considered a virtue. However, my father says there will come a day when religionists will have to reckon with the broader scope of reality on the quantum level."

"Tha' they'd better, Laddie! They're missing th' only part tha' counts. Th' rest is mere superstition," said Teffid, waving a black clawed hand in a dismissive gesture.

By this time, Howard had been exposed to enough of Heffnss' teachings to know what the Toccal was alluding to, but wanted to hear it from another frame of reference.

"What do you mean?"

"I dunna ken if I should be th' one to be tellen' ye th' facts o' life, Laddie, but this is th' way I see it. First of all, Laddie," Howard winced at yet another shamelessly gratuitous use of the 'L' word. "I find it a wee bit of a stretch that th' entire Universe was created by a Being that chooses to look like a bearded old male Human. Meanen' ye no offense, Laddie, but why would an Infinite Being limit Itself to such a…limited body? Canna' ye see tha' it is th' Universe Itself tha' 'tis th' physical manifestation of God? 'Tis well to know, Laddie, tha' UNITY is th' Second Name of God."

"OK," said the Human. "For the sake of discourse, I'll allow you that point. In which case, where did God come from?"

"Why Laddie," ebulated the Toccal. "It evolved consciousness like everything else. Do ye not think tha' given fourteen and a third billion years It could'na do tha'?"

"Fourteen and a half billion years you say?" mused Howard. "That's about what our scientists figured too."

"Aye, Laddie. It 'tis figured from th' Universal Expansion Constant. Th' Ta-Kee had tha' number down well over one hundred and thirty-five thousand years ago. Th' real figure is fourteen billion, three hundred and thirty-two million, six hundred thousand years. Plus or minus a hundred thousand."

By this time, Howard was well on his way to becoming numb to further 'Laddiefication' and hardly noticed Teffid's affectation any longer. Though, he'd willingly put up with a great deal more that the occasional 'L' word to gain precious insights such as this. At that moment, Howard F. Ripley was the only Human in the Universe that was privy to the true value of Hubble's Constant!

Howard found it extremely easy to talk to the Toccal, thus, they sat and conversed on a wide variety of subjects for most of his sleep period. Perhaps it was the almost too Human affectation that the unassuming Mustelid chose for his translator, which Howard felt probably said a great deal about Teffid's real personality. He never could have conversed with such ease with the imposing and oft times pompous Heffnss, nor even with Aarrl, who, as much as he trusted him, often made him feel uneasy because of his unpredictable Ursine temperament.

Though he'd only seen a few, Howard learned that there were one hundred and twelve of the shy Toccal on board SoulRipper for this journey. Unlike the Dirhal, who served for a single mission before being reassigned, many of the Toccal had hereditary bonds to the ship, their families having served for uncounted generations. At full compliment, there would be almost five hundred Toccal on board, most of those now being on leave for this mission.

Howard asked Teffid about his name, and if there was any relationship other than coincidence between the first syllable of his name and that of the Monastery asteroid, Teff.

"Aye, Laddie, a literal translation of it 'twould be 'Acquired on Teff'. Seems my parents were temporarily assigned to th' Monastery while my mother took engineering courses tha' are only available at tha' fine institution."

With typical Toccal humor, his parents had attached that appellation to him, which Teffid thought, perhaps, explained why the normally irascible Heffnss had developed a unexpected fondness for him. Howard expressed a belief that he found it difficult to believe that the Sasskal had a fondness for anyone but himself.

"Oh Laddie, ye sell him short, ye do," chided the Mustelid. "Ken ye not tha' he cares for ye like but one other? Aye, at first he resented ye because of the way Her Highness thrust ye upon him, an' being what he is, he canna' act any other way."

"I didn't know," muttered the Human, somewhat embarrassed and deeply unsettled by this disclosure. "Uh, who's the…other?"

"Why, 'tis your friend Aarrl!" exclaimed Teffid, looking up into the Humans face.

Sometime during the intervening conversation, Teffid had scooted over to lean against the Human's chest, his short legs hanging over the side of the pallet.

"Huh?" Howard's brain slipped a gear. Recalling the Sasskal's greeting the first time he'd set eyes on him, the Human found this hard to believe.

"Have ye na' seen th' scars about his right eye, Laddie? They are th' Marks of his Vow of Friendship. Heffnss bears the same, though it will gain ye naught to ask. 'Tis a most powerful and private thing an' not to be discussed lightly. Ee'n in telling ye, I transgress greatly."

Howard made a circular motion with one finger around his left eye. "I thought those had to do with…"

"Nay, Laddie," interrupted the Mustelid. "They are two separate Vows. 'Tis a long story, Laddie, but it seems tha' once upon a time, as you Humans are so fond of saying, your Teacher, as skillful as he is, was faring quite badly in a mighty fierce academic debate. Heffnss' opponents ha' already slain Suutka, his mate, an' were about to do th' job on him, when Aarrl picked up her Blade an' just went berserk, he did. Killed three o' them, two Sasskal an' a Gashka. Th' other two Priests suddenly found it necessary to recant their position. It was tha' same Cycle tha' th' T'Roann of Teff administered their Vows."

A puff of displaced air and a low growl caused them both to look up as the aforementioned Sasskal loomed over them. Howard had been about to ask Teffid another question regarding this unique Bond but instantly thought better of it, letting the question die unasked.

"I see my ingenious friend has found a way to circumvent the T'Roann's restrictions on contact with my Student," growled Heffnss.

"Aye, I have indeed. An' 'tis most instructional," answered Teffid, with the 'brogue' setting on his translator seemingly tweaked to maximum.

"Student, what language is it that he speaks?" asked the Priest, staring down at the Toccal with what may have been mock severity.

"It is called 'Scotty', my Teacher. It is a sub-dialect of the English Language," said Howard, daring to try to pull one over on his formidable Teacher.

"And you understand this…'Scotty' language?" rumbled Heffnss.

"Yes, my Teacher. It is the language of my grandsire," muttered Howard through clenched teeth, almost unable to contain his laughter.

"I had not thought you one for such studies, my friend," said the Priest, reaching down to run a clawed finger through the thick black fur on Teffid's shoulder.

"Aye, it adds an extra measure o' interest to th' project," answered the Mustelid, his 'Scotty' setting now back to normal.

"If my Student can be spared, I have an experiment that requires his presence," said Heffnss.

* * * *

After saying farewell to his new friend and showering, Howard stood alone with his Teacher in the Portal Chamber.

"Novice, come stand before me. I would try an experiment," commanded Heffnss.

"Yes, My Teacher," answered Howard in the Traditional form.

As Howard approached Heffnss, the Priest took him by his right arm and turned the Human to face away from him. Howard looked down to see that his arm was completely encircled by the Feline's terrible claws.

With a twist of thought, Heffnss shuffled probability, bringing them both to a state of complete quantum superposition. Time and Existence ceased as he held them in Eternal Possibility.

Without transition, Howard found himself floating, weightless and disembodied in a silent, gray void above an infinite landscape of peaks and valleys extending from Forever, on into Eternity.

"What do you perceive, Novice?" rumbled the disembodied voice of Heffnss.

"Valleys. Countless millions of them, my Teacher. In every direction... They go on forever!" answered Howard, too awed to be frightened, but none-the-less surprised that he could give voice without a body.

"Interesting, my Student," said Heffnss, "what you describe is the same as that which a Sasskal perceives. It is different for a Gashka. They would perceive bright motes floating in a gray fog. A Dirhal would perceive only the fog. Perhaps their minds cannot comprehend nonexistence. It is well that you perceive thus, for it indicates, with no small certainty, that you are indeed a sentient Being."

Howard was too awe-struck to feel insulted. "Teacher, what are they?" he asked.

"Around you are the Valleys of Forever. In reality, they do not exist, for at the moment neither you nor I exist in the physical universe. There remains only the possibility of our existence. What you perceive is how your consciousness interprets the interference patterns generated by the wave-forms of the infinite number of possible outcomes of our superposition."

Within the span of the same Pico-second, Howard was again standing on the deck of the Portal Chamber, the Priest behind him, just as they were a timeless instant before. To an observer, no time had passed and they were never gone.

"Teacher, do you mean to say that the Dirhal may not be sentient Beings, also?"

Heffnss turned the Human so that he could look him full in the eyes. "Novice, know you now, the sentience of the Dirhal is beyond question. For they are Sennal. To question would be the same as doubting the wetness of water. Sentience is a defining characteristic of all the Sennal Races."

Howard bowed slightly, giving the Formal reply, "Teacher, your answer is cherished."

Heffnss looked down at his Student, regarding him with a secret fondness. "It is rumored the T'Roann call Humans the Final Progenitor. At first, I found this greatly disturbing. Aarrl was correct, I allowed my prejudices to override logic. Your participation in this experiment has shown this may true."

* * * *

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