Children of the stars.
Valkian lay awake, watching her. Jam Green. Strong nose, heavy mouth and massive jawbones, her face carved in ebony brought to mind a ceremonial Earth-African mask. Same dark beauty, same implacable toughness.
There was a bruise on her chin. This fresh one was a souvenir from last night when, after her eighteenth drink, she had accused the security chief officer of cheating at poker. One insult triggering another, the officers had come to blows. Jam Green was definitely unable to stay out of trouble.
Valkian smiled. He reached for her cheek, hesitated. She was asleep but her hair was not. Valkian was not even certain that the frizzy black strands were actual hair. They flared and crawled around, probing, tasting the intruder’s sweat from the moist sheets. They looked more like little snakes. There were bets among the junior officers concerning their actual nature/purpose. He wasn’t afraid of them, however. They didn’t have teeth, and just a couple of hours ago, they were gently stroking his belly and the inside if his thighs. A far from unpleasant sensation.
He touched one of them. Jam opened her eyes. Glared at him. “Who are you?”
The young man sighed. “You don’t remember anything do you?”
She propped herself on one elbow. The sheets revealed firm breasts and hard nipples. Jam’s big, stunning black eyes dissected her interlocutor. Valkian was nineteen years old. He had a manly beauty, with a square jaw and horizontal eyebrows. Gills flared on each side of his neck, a feature inherited from distant Benzite ancestors. She frowned. “Ensign Valkian… Gale?”
“At least you remember that...”
Jam scrubbed her eyes. Throbbing pain crushed the top of her skull. Through the fog hanging to her eyelids, she discerned walls of red maleoresin. Pieces of walls, in fact… amid 3D posters of Orson Blunt, the greatest jumpball champion of all times, human, not really her type, but incredibly hot in his skin-tight uniform...
Her gaze landed on the workstation at the rear corner of the vast room. The desk was given over to memory cards, holo-vids, dirty clothes, rotting pieces of pizza and jumpball trophies. A first officer's desk. Worthy of the name.
She repelled the linen and jumped to her feet. From the corner of his eye, Valkian managed to steal images of the body clad in long sharp muscles. No time for that last night, but now, he could really see her. It wasn’t true what they said. That she had balls. She was fully female. Beautifully female. She bent over to pick up the glass at her feet. “What happened to us?”
“Romulan ale, I’d say. You insisted the contest should be carried on with, and I quote, the real deal, not some sweet juice for pussies. I suppose you'll be glad to know that you won. Again.”
Jam sketched a grin. A dimple dug her right cheek. Her eyes twinkled. “Of course, I won.” She stretched, walked over to the bathroom. She called out over the noise of the water in the shower. “You better move your ass Ensign, I don't do boyfriends. And make sure you don't forget anything in my quarters. I hate mess.”
Jam offered her face to the water. She combed back her long frizzy strands and twisted them into a single braid. She sighed. Junior officers and their moon eyes. She couldn’t stand them beyond the first night. She brushed the mobile panel of the shower stall and her agenda showed up, along with endless lists of unread messages. She froze. The captain was waiting for her in her ready room.
Gale was still zipping his pants on when Jam stormed out of the bathroom, blotting herself with a tiny towel. She fell on her hands and knees to retrieve her boots from under the bed. She stood up, set to search the junk pile on her desk. She rummaged for several moments, finally set hands on a black crumpled unitard. “That… bitch... I can hear her already, with her… regulations, and her… rules, and her... and... Bitch…”
Valkian stared. “I don’t get it. You obviously can't stand the captain. Why did you agree to become her first officer? I hear the Galadriel was yours to take?”
Jam blinked. “You’re still here?" She pointed a finger at him. “Off my sight. Now. And remember. If you feel like repeating anything, I mean, anything that’s happened in here… Trust me, you won’t be repeating anything, ever again. Do you copy?”
The young man stood up , nodded. “Yes, of course.”
“Sorry what did you say, Ensign?”
Valkian swallowed hard. “Yes! Sir!”
“Get lost!” Jam watched the boy go through the pneumatic doors and scurry down the corridor. The nerve of the little twat!
She dressed up quickly, pinned her combadge on her chest, went through the doors and joined the main hallway, cream upholstered walls and white luminescent arches. The mixture of ale and lotrans essence she had tried last night was mighty. Her head was numb and her thoughts were colored sheeps jumping about. If only she could go back to bed… She massaged her chin. There must be a bruise somewhere under her fingers. Another one.
She stopped before the turbolift but did not step on the platform. Why should she hurry? She knew exactly what the Captain wanted with her. Jam had rather take the stairs. She went through the security doors, started to descend the steps, one by one. Leisurely. She could not help it. Looking for new ways of pissing her superior officer. Now to say that she actually managed to piss her superior officer would have been a bit preposterous. For the "captain" was unswayable, always true to form, cold and mechanical. The "captain" had the personality of a food replicator.
Correction. Laal Soong was a food replicator.
The captain’s restroom was coated in shades of blue: ash blue walls and deep cyan carpeting adorned with the Federation logo. Blue was of course the favorite color of the previous Captain. A robot did not have a favorite color.
Jam grabbed the back of a chair, turned it around and sat astride to face her superior. Laal Soong, stiff and straight in her overstuffed seat, rested both hands on her desk inlayed with a wide touch-sensitive screen. The light coming from beneath concentrated all shadows in her eyes. “Again, Commander, would you please sit properly?”
Jam exhaled loudly but corrected her position.
“Thank you, Commander. There are a number of issues I wish to discuss with you.”
The first officer folded her arms across her chest, ready for yet another session of psycho-crap picked from the Human's behavior for dumb androids. “All ears.” Her right leg started to move up and down.
“I am aware, Commander, that you are not comfortable with my presence aboard this ship, less again with my position. You aced all your exams as a cadet, you have the best record in the Fleet, and the Captain of the USS Caprica praises for you. One would think that you would be able to shove aside bigotry and personal beliefs in order to perform your duty. And yet, even my positronic brain fails to compute how many complaints I receive and convey about you each day. Ever since I came on board, you have been a reliable source of trouble.”
Jam gazed up at the ceiling. It was made of maléopirithium. Her eyes started to follow the complicated grooves of the material. The captain stood up, went around her desk and nodded, furrowing her brow with the slight delay that betrayed her inorganic nature. Jam shook her head. An automaton. Nothing more.
The captain continued in her toneless, impersonal voice. “I understand you are concerned about the safety of the crew. Perhaps you should consider, Commander, that if I were to blow a fuse as you constantly fear... you would be the one to stand between their lives and me. But to do so, you would need to remain alert. I do not believe getting drunk every night or partaking in every fight serves this ambition.”
The young woman raised a dark glare at her superior. “Permission to speak freely?”
“You always do, Commander.”
Jam stood up. “I think you misunderstand. I, am here, because I need a job. And this is the only thing I know how to do.” She pressed her index finger down on the desk. “But you can burn this ship to the ground, the whole crew with it. See if I care. I'm not the one who hired you after your system crashed for no reason. I’m not the one who placed you in a command chair after a year and a half at the Academy. Whatever happens. I wash my hands of it.”
Laal slowly shook her head. She brought to mind an animated statue, a golem of duranium and bioplast. “I understand.” She said. “Your motives are now quite clear. It is not my place to judge them, but since you know how to do your job, I suggest you start doing it, for this is the last time that I warn you. Whether you like it or not, Captain and First Officer are meant to be a team. If you do not behave, measures will be taken."
Jam stretched her lips. How many times had she heard that?
"Captain!" The voice was coming from the captain's combadge. She brushed it. "Yes, mister kajali."
"An urgent call from Admiral Backhall."
"Pipe it through."
The desk's holoprojector lit up and Admiral Eugene Backhall appeared in the Captain's back. Laal turned around. Backhall rested his elbows on his own desk and laced his fingers before his mouth. His holographic face, steely grey eyes, heavy blue bags and cheeks pockmarked with acne scars, loomed closer. "Soong."
"We have lost communication with the USS Success."
"I don't know. And frankly, I'm not sure I want to know. Planet Setlik III just… vanishing… Starbase 96 going silent and now… that. I can't help thinking this is all… related somehow. The Success was not… is. is not… just any ship. It's the second most powerful vessel in the Fleet."
"Were you able to access Memory Alpha?" Laal asked, "Quite possibly, the key to the mystery lies there. The library was attacked for a reason."
"I couldn't agree more. I wish we had an off-line version of it. How did we never think about that? No. It's still locked up. Our best engineers are working day and night to solve the problem, but they seem to have no clue as to what is going on… That's why I… I was wondering. Maybe you could err… help them out? After all, you're a… you're some sort of… computer yourself…"
"I shall do my utmost to assist them in their task, Sir. Did you reach Ambassador cha Sarek yet? His great memory appears to be our only alternative."
Backhall shook his head no. "Unfortunately, Spock cha Sarek now lives deep into Romulan territory. Encrypted messages are systematically destroyed by the government."
"How about sending a clear message? Are not Romulans our allies?"
"I'm afraid, allies… means something… different for Romulans."
"What do you mean?"
Backhall waved off the question. "Nothing. Maybe you're right. I too am starting to think this is the only way… But will you… plug yourself to the extranet? Will you try? I know what I'm asking. If Memory Alpha is sick from a virus…"
"I know. I am willing to take that risk."
Backhall nodded with a faint smile. "I'll keep you apprised. Backhall out."
The captain turned to her first Officer. Jam had lost all color. "Setlik III is… missing? When did that happen?"
Laal cocked her head right. "You see, Commander, what I meant about starting doing your job?"
Jam dashed to her workstation, swept the junk pile off the touch-screen. She turned on the holoprojector, pressed three synergistic keys. A greenish window sprang up, asked for identification. For a second, she thought she had forgotten her former captain's password, but the Cardassian signs quickly came back to her. She kept her finger hovering above the enter key. That fight. That stupid fight. She fisted. She knew Tezarath. He held grudges. What if he had decided to monitor her communications?
She had to make that call, however. She had to… she… Jam pinched her lips to almost pain, sat in her chair as calmly as she could. She was overreacting. Setlik III was in a remote corner of the quadrant, an ill-known place here all sorts of weird things happened all the time. Starbase 96… A bunch of forgotten drunkards and meth-heads… she knew… Most likely someone had passed out on their control panel. Nothing to worry about. Absolutely nothing.
She stared at the holoscreen for a long time, breathing acid. This was silly. Tezarath was not spying on her. He was too lazy even for that. Probably didn't even know how to turn on a computer. She reached out, logged in and initiated the call.
The screen jumped for almost a minute. A minute of sheer panic. Before displaying a young dark-skinned face. "Oh, thank God!" Jam pressed a hand on her mouth.
The boy who would be thirteen in two weeks grinned with all his impeccably white teeth. He bent over his… whatever he called that self-built communication device. “Mom? That’s a hell of a surprise!”
Jam coughed to clear up her voice. “What is this language?"
“Oh please! It’s you saying that?”
Jam couldn't help a smile. "I thought I'd… drop by to say hi. I won't be long, I have reason to think that my security officer might me monitoring my calls. How's it going? How are you doing? You look like you’ve lost weight again. You used to have full cheeks.”
“I needed to lose that weight, Mom, I looked like a hamster. I train a lot. You think you’re good at jumpball? Think again. Next time we play, I’m gonna kick your ass for good.”
"I'm sorry, I…. It's no so often we get to talk. I forgot myself, I didn't mean to upset you."
"Tchai, you have to understand. It's not for me, it's for you. I don’t want to see any more negative comment on your file. Look at me, I mean it. Now, training is one thing. What about studying? I hope you listen to your teachers now.”
He pouted. “Do I have to? They’re not that smart, you know? What grandma taught me when we lived together outshines their bolder theories. They’re but… priests... All they talk about is… gods and miracles. They know nothing about how the Universe actually works.”
“Don’t be so arrogant. The models your grandparents introduced you to are theories as well. There is no such thing in this life as absolute truth.”
The boy stretched his thick lips, nodded. There was a shadow on his upper lip now. He was growing so fast. She could remember a time when they would wrap themselves into a blanket and sneak outside to climb a mountain at night. He would cuddle up with her and point at the sky to inquire about the mysteries of the cosmos.
Jam knew that she was supposed to make the call snappy, but she couldn't let go of him yet. "Tell me my little dak, have you thought about what you wanted for your birthday? Wait. Let me guess. The last release of Ferocious Birds! Unless it is a robot-hawk? Wait, before that it was a laser-bow…”
“I want a spacecraft fitted with transwarp drive.” The boy answered in a smothered voice.
“O-kay… no problem! Hold on a second, I... need to go and cyber-rob a bank.”
“I could come visit you whenever.”
Jam sighed. “I’m afraid this is not how life works.”
The boy shrugged. “I don’t care how life works. If life is broken, all there is to do is fix it. If you can’t buy me a ship… I’ll build it!”
Jam giggled, love swelled in her chest. “Of course. And may I ask… with what hardware? The ash of the desert?”
“If necessary, yes. But I don’t think it will come to that. Marco says there is a black market downtown. Well stocked. And every Sunday, there is a man who works at the drop-off on Selina II. Marco’s cousin.”
Jam scowled. “You know you don’t have a right to leave the Sanctuary, unless you are under the surveillance of your teachers.”
The boy nodded somberly, remained quiet for a moment. “Or you could just come over and kiss me for my birthday. That would do too.”
Jam blinked, swallowed convulsively. “Tchai, I… I'm so sorry… A situation has…"
"Don't sweat it, I don't know why I even bother anymore, I should be used to this by now…"
"Tchai, my everything, I…"
"I just… I don't understand. Other people take their children on ships like yours. I can behave, I wouldn’t be a nuisance. And why won’t you tell them about me? Why won't you tell anyone about me? Is there… something… wrong with me? Are you... ashamed of me?”
Jam reached for the hologram. “No, no! How can you say that? How could you even think that? I’m just… I wanna… I want to keep you safe, is all. There is... no such thing as a ship like the Enterprise… Danger is our every day meal. This is no place for a child.”
“I’m not a child anymore. And it’s not just the ship. You never let me go anywhere. You never invited anyone home when we lived with grandma and grandpa. Why?”
Jam sighed. “You’ll understand, some day. I’ll explain everything. some day. I promise. For now… You’ll just have to trust me. Please? Everything I do, I do for you. Everything. Tell me you know I love you.”
The boy stretched his lips, shook his head.
“Who loves you more than Ashkar loves Nijhkar and Sahvkar?”
Tchai shrugged. “I gotta go. No, wait. I mean… I have to go. Is that good standard enough? Goodbye. Mother."
“Tchaikovski, please, I…"
The beloved face vanished.
LT-gam spread her three pairs of jointed legs to unfurl the thick membranes that stretched between them. The fans of scaly skin caught an air current and she was taken eastward. She sighed in resignation. She could no longer afford to produce electromagnetic fields to control her flight. From now on, she ought to follow the wind, but it was going to take forever to reach her destination.
Suddenly, a howl tore the night. LT-gam froze, twisted her chitinous three-part body to look around. The fog was growing thicker and her compound eyes could not see a thing. Finally, she resolved to bring her legs back alongside her torso and abdomen. She lost speed. Her numerous antennae stood up on her angular skull, twitching painfully in their effort to locate the sound. To no avail. The cry echoed randomly in the atmosphere consisting of methane, sulphuric Freon and swirls of white powder.
Could this be a drogh? Her guts tightened. For a split second, she thought she could see the predator's sinuous body between two clouds of gas. Deadly mandibles clashed near her. She gave her head a rough shake. There was no drogh. The breeding season was not to begin until Ethembor. Droghues knew better than to venture that far North at this time of the year. They could not survive the cold.
As a precaution, she inflated the four mouth-cusps that usually served as lips. They turned into balloons and began to vibrate. Using echolocation, she searched the mist beneath her, then the whole area. There seemed to be no threat within a five hundred meter radius. One by one, her antennae settled down. The cry was dissolving in the wind.
LT-gam spread her wings and resumed her route. This cry came from another animal. More likely, there was no cry. Her mind was making things up. It did when she was running out of energy. And she was running out of energy.
Finding electricity had been her only preoccupation over the past four days. The olfacto-sensors at the tip of her antennae sniffed the air for the smell she had been following since the morning. The field of lurcas was farther than she originally thought, at least half an hour’s flight.
She squinted. Something was shimmering in distance. Plumes of sulphuric Freon taking on pink and green reflections. A storm? In this season? Her mouth-cusps blossomed in a smile, she pirouetted in excitement. At last!
She had better hurry. She ought to find the field prior to the hurricane’s arrival. Lurcas flowers attracted lightning and lightning was what she had been waiting for for ages. Her duhag cells shuddered in joy. Depolarization racing through one’s body was… pure bliss.
It seemed centuries had passed since her last electrocution. Energy could linger in lurcas for decades, but everywhere she went, people had already wallowed in them, selfishly, taking more than they needed. No matter how far she travelled, leftovers were all she could get. Tourists from the capital. A plague. They carried artificial storage batteries and felt compelled to fill them up, even when they had no need for the extra.
LT-gam sighed in resignation. If she managed to be at the right place at the right time, she would be refilled for months, maybe even years.
Her olfacto-sensors caught another smell, strong and pungent. Something moved near her shoulder. A tipa! The minute animal skittered closer, flat, oblong body attached to a tubular, finger-sized head. One could have mistaken it for a leaf without the single eye swimming under the translucent skin, moving from head to rear and back. A pity that eye was almost blind… LT-gam's mouth closed around the prey. That taste…
She flinched. What? Another one? She twisted her neck to catch it. How it twitched on the tongue, and crunched under the teeth... She silently thanked the goddesses for this unexpected meal. Tipas were rare, especially in this sector. Two at a time was an incredible stroke of luck.
She was ready to fly off when she noticed the mass hanging between two gas currents. She froze. A drogh. What else? She sent away a train of ultrasounds. Her antennae stretched out to catch the answer. Her ventricle skipped a beat. Could this be? She flew over. Hundreds. Thousands. Too many to count. Tipas! Tipas everywhere, their bodies so close to one another they brought to mind a huge flag.
LT-gam was engulfed in the flock. Before she could realize what was happening, all light disappeared. LT-gam bolted through the cloud with her mouth wide open. Her six hands mashed the skulls, her three stomachs crushed the bodies, but the little creatures fought back. Their narrow heads could open along its entire length behave like serrated scissors. So they bit gnawed and tore.
LT-gam could not let them. Her antennae began to pulse, travelled by sparks and flashes. Power gathered around her head. Suddenly, the air lit up, torn by a mighty, multidirectional electric shock. The unmanageable preys fried where they stood and their blackened bodies started drifting about. Better.
LT-gam winded among the victims, munching and digesting at the same time. She had no idea what had brought so huge a colony that far from its natural habitat, but she certainly wasn’t complaining. She didn’t come across food every day.
After her hundred-something-th tipa however, she began to feel sick. Her stomach heaved, her vision blurred. Damn… it was… hot! So hot, all of a sudden… She wished she could remove her skin to breathe. Which was an absurdity, even to think, as her skin was what allowed methane to percolate in her blood system. She was used to digestion causing hot flushes, but this!
She gazed around sadly. She could not eat them all. Besides, the storm was coming. It took her a while to find the smell of the lurcas again.
There. White feather-like palms swaying in the wind, bottom side glistening with nectar, top side displaying photo-battery cells. Theoretically, lurcas flowers could recharge on sunlight but with the milky atmosphere hanging around three quarters of the year, they relied mostly on lightning.
No one on Yolia knew where the lurcas rooted. According to an ancient myth, they were extensions of the planet itself but no one had ever been fool enough to verify the assumption for the pressure gradient grew savage near the surface.
LT-gam had overheard tourists discussing Tholia-formation or how giant cybernetic parasites turned entire planets into Tholian-friendly worlds. It seemed the nanogetric acid exuded by the parasites could dissolve anything. Within a few centuries, nothing was left of the planet but a ball of white filaments and spores. The parasites would then grow specific structures to meet the needs of the new inhabitants, usually a set of LT-Tholians edited from the great genetic bank.
Full Tholia-formation was of course meant for barren rocks. At first.
Lt-gam shrugged. She did not care about mutilated or assassinated worlds. She was a Lower-Tholian. That’s to say a nobody, a genetic freak, failed attempt at strengthening a declining race. She had no identity, no past, no future. She did not spend her nights staring at the sky, wondering about the meaning of her existence. Her whole life was about finding food, electricity, shelter and mates… Oh, and entertaining the tourists of course... She did not care where lurcas rooted, or what they were made of. They provided electricity was all she needed to know.
Her single ventricle twisted. Yes, she knew her lesson well. LTs had better know their lesson.
She triggered her duhag cells on and her skin turned to bright orange. When lurcas coiled around their preys, squeezing and oozing glue, they also delivered weak electric shocks. LT-gam and her kind collected the energy and stored it in their duhag cells for further use. Without it, Tholians were unable to build electromagnetic fields to control their flight. Without it, they depended entirely on air currents. Without it, they were altogether vulnerable.
LT-gam flew over to one of the flowers and brushed against it. Nothing happened. She poked at it. repeatedly. It would not react. How was such a thing possible? Lurcas mistook everything for preys. It was not unusual to find flowers choking on an old holo-recorder or on a broken pleasure-toy, as tourists often mistook Yolia for a giant trashcan.
Growing concerned, she reached for another lurca. No response from this one either. No response whatsoever. She wandered aimlessly for a moment, rubbing against every flower in her path. The lurcas seemed… dead. Looking closer, she noticed the flowers had a strange colour to them. They were turning brown. As if… they were… burning? She glanced around. What did this mean? What did all this mean? What was with the weather? With the tipas? And now with the lurcas?
LT-gam flapped her wings to move the air around her. It wasn’t just her digestion at work. It was hot, madly hot. No wonder the lurcas were burning.
Thunder detonated in her back. She whirled around and stared into the distance. The clouds, the dust, the wind, the whole atmosphere was now coalescing in south-east, in some… aberration of weather. The storm was coming. But it was no ordinary storm. She had never seen anything like it, black clouds compressed into world-size steamrollers. No ordinary storm at all.
Good. Maybe she wouldn’t need the lurcas to wrap around her after all. Hopefully, it would be enough to just… stand among them. She started to look for the right spot, the place where she had the best chances of being electrocuted.
This is when the first flash wiped everything out. Her eyes remained sore and useless for several seconds. Eventually, the world came back, but in a slightly different shape. Then it vanished again. And again. The frequency of lightning increased until the land appeared to throb like a huge ventricle. In the mean time, the wind kept grew stronger. Now it came in short, ragged squalls.
Pulled taut, the flowers now moved in a single, giant wave. LT-gam's antennae slapped her face. Even by using the last of her electricity, she was unable to fly straight. Nonetheless, she managed to grip a stem that appeared to be taller and stronger than the others. She clutched on it with all six hands and waited, tossing and capering as if riding a mad fire-bird.
She turned to Nijhkar and Sahvkar, the twin moons, the guardian goddesses of her world. Please, let the light touch me, even if just once, allow the light to… Her mouth-cups slumped. Nijhkar and Sahvkar were nowhere to find.
She long scrutinized the shreds of mist waltzing around. The moons were still there of course. Where else would the light come from? Maybe… maybe the air was growing too thick around the hurricane. This could be the reason. Although… in this season… and at this hour… the moons were supposed to be hanging in the opposite corner of the sky...
In south-west, the pale crescent of the capital was still visible. The superior citizens, the HT as they called themselves, did not care about Yolia. No one would notice if something went wrong. But the HT were right there. LT-gam could reach out and pretend to touch them, those very important people on their very important planet, busy with very important plans to prevent barbaric humanoids from invading their perfect world. Sometimes… sometimes she wondered who the monsters were…
She pushed away the heretic thought. The wind was abating. She frowned. How? The storm was coming and yet… stillness was spreading around. Her skin shrunk in search of methane. It was as though all the gas in the atmosphere had disappeared into the unthinkable… mouth over there. At the same time, the heat was growing heavier and heavier. It was… tangible. LT-gam could feel it, settling on her shoulders, slithering down her nape, sticky and moist… like…
Panic flooded her brains. Her antennae stood on her head, stiffer than corpses. She ought to flee. She ought to flee, now! But… she needed that electrocution. It was a matter of life or death. Electricity was life. Every Tholian knew that. And whatever that thing was, it brought electricity.
She clutched harder on the stem. As they rolled closer, the clouds took on reddish reflections. Something… something inside them. Something. Glowing and throbbing. And growing. A heart. The heart of a wizard, the heart of a dragon, the heart of a demon. This was no hurricane. This was something else. Something that had swallowed the hurricane and usurped its place. Something that now used the dust and the clouds to conceal its true nature. Something that had slaughtered the goddesses and chewed them to the last atom. Something…
Calm down, just… relax… You’ve been there before. This is all a product of your starving mind. Relax. Relax and wait. And all will be well.
Yes, all will be well. LT-gam glanced around. The whole landscape rippled. It seemed the face of the planet itself was coming off. There came another howl. Faint, so faint this time.
LT-gam released the lurca. She turned her back on the storm and on the promise of replenishment. This was energy. But not the kind of energy that brought life. She spread her wings to take off. But of course, it was too late for that. The storm, or whatever had taken the place of the storm, was there. It claimed the lurcas, it claimed the tipas, it claimed the droghues. The air and every speck in it. LT-gam.
She summoned all residue of energy left in her body. She prayed, she begged, she cried out but there was no one to hear her. The goddesses were dead.
She turned around.
She wished she had eyelids.
There was nothing to see, however. Nothing except the red glow. Pulsing. And calling. For her. The glow… so red, so warm… so beautiful, why should she fear it? Such a soothing, friendly light… Why should she flee it? She smiled blissfully, sent over a train of ultrasounds. Her antennae fell around her face like overcooked worms.
This is when she started to howl.
Captain's log, stardate 108160.9
On Stardate 108141.2 Planet Setlik III and its eleven billion twenty thousand inhabitants, fauna and flora, vanished from Setlik II’s monitors and sky.
Twenty-two hours forty minutes later, Starfleet lost contact with Starbase 96. The USS Success assigned to inquire about the communication shut down went missing.
The next solar day, the human colony on Melona III reported the disappearance of the twin planet, Melona IV.
The three cases are so uncanny, we have decided to consider them as connected, until proven otherwise. The first data transmitted by the Success, just before we lost contact, were inconclusive. We do not know how to interpret them.
While awaiting the arrival of more Federation ships on the incidents sites, we attempted to search Memory Alpha for similar events in the past. It turned out the common library of all allied civilizations in the Federation, the repository of hundreds of years of knowledge and history was no longer accessible.
We are thus faced with a threat the nature and extent of which remain unknown. Our ultimate hope is a man who is to arrive aboard the Enterprise in approximately four hours twenty-eight minutes twelve seconds.
Vulcan Ambassador Spock cha Sarek, one of the greatest minds of his time, traveller, explorer, historian, diplomat, scientist, warrior and too many other things to be listed here, might just house in his extraordinary memory the precious information we seek. Or so we hope.
He is two hundred years old.
Jam long surveyed the map of the quadrant, thinking perhaps that she would protect her son by the sheer power of her will. She turned off the holoprojector, stood up and moved away from the workstation. How she refrained from calling him, she did not know.
She drew in a deep, painful breath. She must be careful not to let emotion cloud her judgement. There was no. direct. threat. towards her son. As things were, moving him from Syrynx's moon would have been foolish. Jam's parents had been adamant about it. The desert of Langtar was the only safe place for him. Under no circumstance should he leave it. Ever.
She headed for the wardrobe to pick her jacket, black Orion silk and silver epaulettes, the only concession to protocol she was willing to make today. The duffel buttons gave her a hard time. Electric shocks shot her right wrist with each movement.
Yet another fight. She seemed to collect them. Thankfully, it did not involve Tezarath this time.
She pinned her combadge on and walked out. The section dedicated to senior officers was deserted. No doubt, they were all in cargo bay already, waiting for an old dude who would not arrive before another twenty minutes. Like a two hundred year old would know how to help with anything.
She took the turbolift to the thirty-second floor, stepped on the treadmill that led to the secondary hull. The benches on both sides were covered with nurses in delta shift. Rows of magpies gossiping. They had nothing to do. Medi-bots did their job for them.
Today, though, they were not talking as much. Nurse Hannagh’s face was red and one of her colleagues had an arm around her shoulders. Jam frowned. Could anyone on this ship have relatives on planets as remote as Setlik or Melona? Then Jam remembered that Gretta Hannagh’s husband served on a Starship as well. The Success. Paying attention, she noticed more grim faces. More lips shaking. The galaxy was smaller than it appeared. Her chest tightened.
A bunch of cadets packed up inside a light-car horned to have the first officer clear the path. They drove past her, laughing at the top of their lungs. She blinked in dismay. Teenagers nowadays.
She shuffled to the main turbolift, feeling sick at the idea of sharing it with the students in turmoil. She waited. They parked the car in the middle of the hall and entered the transparent cage.
She took the next platform. “Deck forty-four.” She long massaged her swollen nose. She shrugged. Who would care about her look in such circumstances, anyway?
The platform halted two levels lower. A contingent of new recruits rushed in and she was engulfed in a fashion show. Ensigns had only one type of uniform, a sky blue suit embroidered with Starfleet emblem. As jewels were strictly forbidden, the young people resorted to all sorts of tricks to distinguish themselves from their comrades.
They pomaded their hair, glued it, waved it, ionised it. They shaved their heads, leaving in relief the most extravagant patterns. Some even injected their scalp with alguronic acid to build stomach-churning skull-ptures. Neither boys nor girls skimped on make-up, the use of which had required severe regulations after some had begun to paint their faces in black and white, insulting the memory of the long extinct Cheronees. But today, it seemed all rules had been forgotten.
Holding a curse behind her clenched teeth, Jam stirred to dislodge an elbow from under her ribs. The turbolift was filled with giggles and exclamations. OhmygodOhmygodOhmygod! Ambassador Spock! It’s Ambassador Spock! Pinch me! They say he’s almost a God, they say that when he rose from the dead, an ancient Vulcan entity took possession of his body. No way! I know someone who's… aunt's husband’s… friend… saw him and said his eyes gleam in the dark. By Sheraq! Did you know he was instrumental in the armistice between our ancestors? You think he’s gonna know what’s going on with the planets missing and all? Of course, he’s like… omniscient….
Jam forced in a breath. Her head was spinning from the mix of hair perfumes. Is it true his brain was replaced by a computer when he met the Borg? He met the Borg? Wait, when? It’s nowhere in his biographies and I’ve read them all, even the unofficial ones. He…
Jam reached out to stop the turbolift. She burst out of it, panting hard, turned around to stare at the transparent cage as it took away the cackling poultry. For Jah’s sake!
She walked on and ran into Violette, the Chief Medical Officer. The Captain was right behind her. There was no avoiding them. Jam forced out a smile. "Violette, you are quite a sight. Why did no one tell me it was Halloween?"
Violette Beauregard grinned back, stiffly. Despite the lines carving her temples, the doctor was still very attractive a woman and fashion had no secret for her. Under her blouse, she had traded the medical white-collar uniform for a pencil dress displaying orange flowers. Her copper blonde hair was coiffed in a sophisticated chignon that cleared her face, high cheekbones and long feline eyes. Her every move was a hymn to sensuality, her every word a caress. Only her intense, inquisitive stare let glimpse the sagacity behind her lascivious pout.
"Commander Green, what are you doing here? Shouldn't you be rolling under a table, or… over some junior officer? Beware, captain, I think she was replaced by a clone."
"Very funny, " Jam shrugged. "You see, the real question is what are you doing here? Shouldn't you be in retirement, already?"
"Ladies…" Laal joined them "please, behave. We are receiving a guest of honor today."
The doctor and the first officer narrowed their eyes at each other but kept quiet. All three went down the corridor paved in luminous grating. Embedded displays showed the status of the incoming ship. The arrival was imminent.
They paused at the threshold of the main cargo bay, vast ribbed nave housing innumerable rows of shuttles and escape pods. The space doors had already been replaced by a protective force field and the landing lights flashed spasmodically.
Junior officers and cadets had been authorized to witness the event from the observation deck situated one level higher. They pressed up against the large windows, straining to catch a glimpse of the landing area. On both sides of the main alley, senior officers, counselors, delegates and other VIPs were supposed to form a guard of honor, but they couldn’t stand still or keep quiet.
Laal puffed up, tugged at the bottom of her jacket, off-white silk and golden epaulettes to enhance the dark blue of her ample trousers. She was the Captain. But she was not like them.
"You’ll do great." The doctor murmured, "You don’t need ten centimeters more, you don’t need a callous voice, you don’t need balls between your legs and you certainly don't need hemoglobin. You have it in you to become a leader. I can see it. You must trust yourself and make the best of your own specific features.”
Laal raised both eyebrows. “Something is wrong with my voice?”
Jam let out a loud laugh and circumvented them to join the others.
Violette sighed heavily. “Ma chère, nothing is wrong with your voice, and more importantly, nothing is wrong with you. Nothing. Do you ever wonder why I feel so comfortable around you while I flee all kind of socialization outside work?”
Laal frowned. With her china skin, her blood-red lips and her white curls, she looked liked a very young girl. Or a doll. Obviously, this did not help with leadership.
Violette smiled. “I don't feel I have to constantly check signs of illness from your complexion, or your breath rate. Your being artificial is restful to me. You are different. But we all are on some level, aren't we? You only have to be patient as to bring people to see your idiosyncrasies for what they truly are: opportunities for mutual enrichment. And if they don’t want to see, then it’s your job to make them. You’re the Captain, for Christ's sake! If you don’t act like it, how do you expect your crew to acknowledge you as such? You have a computer under that scalp and your hard drive houses most of Commander Data’s tremendous experience. Trust me, you have everything it takes. Everything.” The doctor checked her own hair-do with both hands. “I still think you should have chosen a dress though. If female captains don’t militate for women's right to be different, who will?"
Laal stared at her CMO for a moment. “I see your point Violette, but technically I am not a female, since I lack internal reproductive organs. Besides, I am already militating for androids’ rights. My father paved the way for me, for all those to come. I must carry on his legacy.”
"I don't see how one prevents the other… Anyway. How old is Ambassador Spock again?"
Both officers moved forward to take their place in the shapeless crowd.
“Two hundred years, three months, eight days…”
“What are the chances for him to actually be helpful? I mean, I know Vulcans live long, but… two hundred is... two hundred…"
“I cannot provide an accurate answer, but taking into account his physiology, his personality and his past, I would evaluate the odds at about 6.45 percent. He is evidently our best chance.”
“That’s… cheering… but why should he come all the way from Romulus to be asked a simple question? A holo-conference would have sufficed to find out what he knows, or… probably doesn’t know."
“The government feared a holo-transmission might be intercepted. As long as we do not know what we are dealing with, we must remain extra cautious. Admiral Backhall says the Romulans have ears everywhere. I suppose this means we know few about Romulan recent technological progress. They could be able to monitor and decipher our most confidential transmissions. What I do not understand is why the government is so suspicious. The Romulans are our allies now. Like the Klingons and the Cardassians, they signed the non-aggression pact at the end of the Dominion war.”
Violette nodded. “I’m surprised Admiral Backhall didn’t mention that. History has taught us that Romulans have their very own definition for… alliance. Besides…"
"Exactly what bothers me!" Jam said, slipping between them. "The Ambassador has spent the last sixteen years on Romulus. With Romulans… Who knows where his loyalty stands by now? Old people do tend to become… manageable, don't they? And why such a fuss about him, anyway? Nothing but a rotting piece of meat, if you ask me.”
“No one does.” Violette growled.
“I wonder if he’s still in his right mind.” Jam went on, “I hear Bendii syndrome is a genetic disorder. Wasn’t Ambassador Sarek going totally nuts in the end?”
Violette glowered at her. “You are undignified. You do not deserve to set eyes on him. You…”
“The ambassador’s ship is approaching.” Laal said.
All faces turned to the gates. After several seconds, the ambassador’s craft appeared indeed, almost undetectable in the starry vastness of the cosmos. Jam peeked at the captain. Only a robot could have spotted the ship so early. How unfortunate such skills were not what made a good leader.
It was beyond her. It was beyond Jam, how Admiral Crusher had come to think of a broken android as an eligible captain for a heavily armed vessel, sustaining over four thousand lives and constantly involved in crucial operations. And now that thing wearing a human mask was going to be at the centre of all operations, making critical decisions regarding the survival of entire peoples, of entire worlds. But what was she thinking? Crusher was known to be among Commander Data's fiercest fans. This was how things worked in Starfleet.
Jam shifted her attention back to the gates. From a distance, the ambassador’s craft brought to mind a bullet of fire, but as it loomed closer, revealing the details of its anatomy, Jam realized it was like nothing she had seen before. It featured a round core surrounded by two rings of red light. The inner one was spherical while the outer was elliptical and off-centered. It seemed each ring could move independently and sustain different wavelengths to closely adjust the ship’s course and speed. Warp rings. Jam whistled. She had no idea such theories had already come to life.
The vessel went through the force field, veered left to join its dedicated parking area. It remained a few moments in a stationary position, hovering over the place defined by the markings. As soon as the lights went steady, it began its descent. The rings aligned horizontally before vanishing and the sparkling globe landed without the slightest air movement.
Jam failed to recognize any of the structures that were usually the prerogative of standard spaceships and yet power and maneuverability had never seemed that intimate. If Romulans were capable of this, the Federation had serious reasons for concern indeed.
A door that did not seem to be there before opened in the hull, revealing the inside of the vehicle. It was darker than a tomb.
Seconds ticked by in thick silence. Then Ambassador cha Sarek appeared.
“He looks like he's dead already!” Jam hissed, "And look at his clothes! What century are they from? His collar, it looks like… a washbasin! Violette, say something! It flies in the face of fashion!”
The doctor’s cheeks blazed up. «Will you shut your stinking hole? And by this I mean your mouth."
The old man, pale face and pale hands, went down the steps that materialized one by one under his feet. Between his long, pointy ears, his face was sharper than a flint. Draped in a stern trinity, black dress, black coat and brown stole embroidered with black mystical symbols, he seemed to come from a place of endless night. Only his eyes, coals glowing in their caverns of bones, seemed yet to belong to the world of the living.
Jam opened her mouth. One venomous glance from the CMO called her to order.
The Ambassador paused halfway, lifted his chin. The light shifted on his features and suddenly, he appeared to grow, to dilate, to expand and to spread above the audience. Jam frowned, briskly shook her head. It was not him, of course, it was his shadow stretching in the crude light provided by the side panels. Still. The effect was striking.
He glided over to the Captain, fluid, as if carried by some supernatural force. He was no longer a vulnerable old man. He was tall and straight, stronger than a xolotl tree. His silver hair sparkled like Hades’ helmet. “Captain Soong, I presume?” His voice was low, deep, mighty.
Laal blinked. “I'm... pleased... I... I mean...” Jam glanced at her. Since when did robots hesitate? And since when did robots use contractions? Laal snapped her heels. “Pleased to meet you, Ambassador Spock. I am Captain Laal Soong of course, and this is my second in command, Jamie Green. Welcome to Enterprise H.”
The Vulcan glared around, tied his hands behind his back. He raised an eyebrow shaped like a lynar wing. Jam was almost certain the program involved general applause at some point, but nobody seemed to remember that part. Seemed to remember anything. Foreheads were blank, eyes were vacant. Somewhere, a tool fell off a technician's hands. The clang bounced and amplified against the concave walls. No one flinched.
“Ambassador, you must be exhausted.” The captain said after a moment. “If you will follow me, I will show you to your…”
“I require no rest Captain. My personal effects are in the vessel. Please see that they are brought to my quarters. I believe the main turbolift is this way? I suggest all senior staff follow me to the briefing room. Time has become a luxury.”
“…We have not heard from the USS Success since transmission ended at 0455. Apparently, the Success found nothing was left of Starbase 96. No debris, no residual radiations, no subspace disturbance. Cardassian vessels are en route to Setlik III and the Melona system. We should receive their first report within approximately three hours twenty-two minutes.”
Laal stopped and placed her hands in her lap. The ambassador squinted at the three-dimensional map hanging above the conference table. He held out a rock-steady hand and grabbed the opalescent canvas to magnify a portion of the image. The lights at the border of the Cardassian Empire filled their vision field. The planets orbiting around them were not visible to human eye, but almost none of the audience members were purely human.
Aside from the android and the Vulcan, four heads of department were gathered around the large oval table. Laal was sitting between the ambassador on her right and her first officer, Jamie Green, on her left.
Commander Green obviously blended several races. A skilful eye could notice a thin Cardassian nuchal crest, tapered Romulan ears, a dark complexion with reddish undertones likely bequeathed by some Terran or Klingon ancestor. And something with her hair.
Sitting right to the ambassador, the tactical officer, Lieutenant Commander Dowro Djima kajali was a Zakdorn, as attested by the thick pouches piling up on his cheeks. In his tangerine face topped with threads of oily black hair, his eyes moved like tiny cameras.
The Zakdorn’s other neighbor, Chief Engineer Teodoro Rayen, was as wide as he was tall. His skull shaved on both sides poured a liquid, pitch-black hair likely inherited from a Native American ancestor. He wore vigorous, axe-carved facial features softened by candid blue eyes. The wrinkles at the root of his nose gave away Bajoran origins.
A little robot was perched on Rayen’s broad shoulder. It was shaped like a spider with a huge eyeball in lieu of body. Its single red iris kept bouncing from one speaker to the other, as if it could understand what was said and what was at stake.
Chief Medical Officer Violette Beauregard appeared to be the only human in the room.
For the first time since the beginning of the meeting, the ambassador's Olympian voice vibrated against the walls. “Computer, draw a line joining Setlik III and Melona II.”
The angle of view shifted and a red line joined together the two sets of locations, along with a third point located in between. Starbase 96.
“Indeed,” Dowro nodded, setting an elbow on the table and tucking his tuberous chin in his palm, “we had noticed as well. There seems to be a path of some sort. The three coordinates are perfectly aligned. Assuming we are confronted with a phenomenon that moves along this trajectory and not with a weapon striking from a remote location, we can calculate its speed between Setlik III and Starbase 96, then between Starbase 96 and Melona II.”
“Did you?” Spock inquired.
“Of course, we did! And the answer to your next question is no. The speeds are not the same. There is a slight but noticeable acceleration, which theoretically rules out a natural subspace occurrence. But sentient entities such as supercrystals, or why not? A cloaked ship, or anything that can purposely manipulate space-time are still valid suspects. In any case, if we are right about the linear path, the next victim should be Carema III. We are therefore on our way to the Carema system.”
Jam bent forward, eyes riveted to the map, face grim.
His eyes still dissecting the map, the ambassador objected, “It would appear Starbase 41 is likely to be endangered as well. And long before Carema III.”
Jam stretched her lips. “No topaline or derylium on Starbase 41, just people.”
The Vulcan's sharp gaze bounced from the first officer to the captain, but Dowro was again the one to offer an explanation. “We don’t know that we’re going to be on time to save Starbase 41. I have to point that, if we extrapolate a theoretical previous itinerary, it appears this… phenomenon must have come across at least three planets in Tholian territory. Obviously, we wouldn’t know if Tholian planets were missing, with Tholians being so perfectly cut off from the outside world, but what we do know, is that Tholian webs are among the most potent weapons in the galaxy. If they couldn’t stop this threat, then it means we are dealing with something extremely powerful. This phenomenon is traveling at great velocities. There is no other Federation vessel in this sector. If we fail to intercept it, we won’t be given a second chance. We need to be ahead of whatever that is, settle down and ambush it. We need to slingshot all our forces to one strategic place. Eleven warships are en route to join us in the Carema system, so we can take advantage of a surprise effect and unleash our full firepower if needed.”
“You are therefore sacrificing Starbase 41.” The Vulcan insisted.
Dowro drew in a deep breath. “Certainly your great, untroubled-by-emotions mind can see the logic in that.”
“Your argumentation is flawless,” The ambassador granted. “Except on one point. Our presence being required some place else does not automatically imply nothing can be done to save those two-hundred eighty-two lives.”
The tactical officer replied between clenched teeth. “Can you possibly conceive that we did not attempt to have the facility evacuated? We requested assistance from countless commercial ships so they would take a side trip.”
“I gather they did not respond favorably.”
“Well, at some point we have to mention planets going missing. I can’t figure why but this is usually enough to deter most captains.”
Laal intervened. “Ambassador, we are currently doing our utmost to ensure that people on Starbase 41 are plucked to safety. Ferengi commercial ships have promised to rescue all personnel in return for two million bricks of gold-pressed latinum. We are yet to collect the money, but as soon as this issue is…”
The Vulcan raised a hand. “You can withdraw this sum from my personal account.”
Dowro flinched. “Sorry, what?”
“You can withdraw this sum from my personal account.” The old man repeated patiently.
Laal objected: “Ambassador, this option is…”
“Captain.” the Vulcan laced his skeletal fingers on the table. “I assure you I mean no disrespect, but I see no fruit in arguing about an issue that is no longer one. May I suggest that we move forward? What of Carema III?”
“There is virtually no population on Carema III.” Dowro explained. “Only the engineers and technicians assigned to the particle fountains and they are fleeing in their evacuation crafts as we speak. The natives deserted long ago, on account of rumors of pernicious eosinophilia caused by the radiations. Ridiculous rumors needless to say.”
“Animals?” the Vulcan inquired.
Dowro lifted an eyebrow. “Animals?”
The ambassador’s eyebrow climbed even higher. Dowro shifted in his seat, repeatedly cleared his throat. “Erm, ahem, yes of course, animals, uh hum, well...”
“All dead.” Jam snapped. “Or dying. Of pernicious eosinophilia.”
Baffled glances circulated. The Zakdorn’s lips disappeared in his blazing face.
Laal spoke. “Again, could we focus on our priorities? Our mission here is to shed light on this mystery. Answers may come from the Cardassian ships that have been dispatched to the stricken areas, but we should not expect too much from them. Their sensors are significantly less sensitive than ours.”
Rayen’s chair squealed when he leant forward. “What if there is nothing moving along this trajectory? What if the aligned coordinates are a coincidence? Or what if they are meant to mislead us? What if the planets have been destroyed by… let’s say… a long-range weapon located light-years away from the targets? We could also imagine that snatch-bombs are being used to move the planets to another timeline. What about cloaking? I hear the Cardassians are working on a new generation of erasers.
Jam shrugged. “Cloak an entire planet? What would they do that for?”
“I don’t know, settle a military outpost, annex those worlds and their tremendous resources, accuse us of preparing an invasion, it wouldn’t be their first try…”
Jam shook her head. “This is bullshit. The Cardassians are our allies now! Plus they lack the resources to begin another war.”
“Or so they say…” Violette huffed, “We all know their words to be sinking sand.”
Jam stood up. Her fists hit the table, causing the virtual galaxy to flicker. “How dare you...”
Laal gazed up at her first officer. “Commander. Please sit down.”
Jam stood straight, crossed her arms, lifted her chin. Laal froze. Her face was tingling as though electricity was running inside the bioplast, which was impossible as bioplast was insulation material. It took her five milliseconds to identify the source of the discomfort. The eyes. Eyes staring at her. No organic captain would allow a first officer to address him or her in such a manner. She stood up in turn.
In the face sheeted with bioplast, not an eyelash, not a pupil moved and yet, shudders ran down all spines when the captain spoke. "I said. Sit. Down."
Jam blinked. Twice. Frowned. That voice… That… tone… After a moment, the first officer sloped in her chair.
Laal sat back and went on with her usual soft voice, “Starbase 41 and Carema III are great issues, but… Computer, extrapolate.” Obeying the captain, the red line stretched across the map. “Magnify.” The bloody wire crossed the Capella system and brushed against Andoria, after which it headed for 40 Eridani. “Many other planets will be threatened and Vulcan is among them.”
The legendary eyebrow once again climbed the old man’s forehead. “I fail to comprehend, Captain, how this is relevant in any fashion. Is this the reason why I was summoned here?”
“No, Ambassador.” Laal replied, “Authorities on Vulcan have already been warned. But you have been abroad for a long time. I thought you would want to know about the threat hanging over your home planet. Obviously, Admiral Backhall has not yet explained to you the reason for your presence here.”
Laal leaned forward, clasped her hands on the edge of the table. “There is something else. Memory Alpha is no longer accessible.” The old man tilted his head sideways and for one brief moment, the audience members thought they were actually dealing with two artificial beings.
Laal continued. “When Melona II was reported missing, our first move was to question Memory Alpha for similar events in the past. We thus discovered that Memory Alpha had been attacked by a malevolent program that is preventing any access to the database and even more disturbingly, is slowly deleting the information stored in it. Starfleet best computer specialists and engineers are already at work. I myself assist them from this very ship, using an isolated system. Nothing we attempted was successful. Or helpful. All we can do is monitor the process. According to the on-site staff, the physical media itself is undamaged. As you may know, redundancies are automatically generated to prevent loss of data out of random files corruption. To this second, less than 0.01 percent of the information has been permanently lost, but with the number of redundancies decreasing, we are facing complete destruction in one hundred sixteen hours. The reason why you are here Ambassador, is your formidable memory and, evidently, your old age.”
The Vulcan frowned, briefly closed his eyes, as if searching his memory. “I dread Captain, I have no reminiscence of analogous events. But then I am only two hundred. I am at a loss as to why the government would select me instead of an Axanar or an El-Aurian. I believe an El-Aurian, Guinean, used to be close friend with Captain Picard. Surely you can contact her?”
Dowro swiveled in his chair. His rattling voice explained. “We did, Ambassador, this was of course our primary choice, but she could not remember any such phenomenon either. What made us reach for your… erm… assistance… well… this might sound irrelevant, but… we were able to determine that the first data erased from MA, I mean, Memory Alpha this is how we call it now, were the official logs of a captain under whom you served for many years. A friend of yours.”
“James Tiberius Kirk.” Spock said.
The Zakdorn nodded quietly. The Vulcan asked “What makes you suspect a link exists between the disappearance of those planets and the attack against Memory Alpha?”
Dowro relaxed in his chair, sighed deeply. “Throughout my long career, I have noticed that apparent coincidences often turned out to be the most reliable tracks.”
“Even so. Why would you need me? Captain Kirk’s first five-year mission is required reading at Starfleet academy.”
Unsettled glances circulated. Violette whispered, “Ambassador, I’m afraid times change, new technologies, new strategies…”
The Vulcan nodded. “I see… How long until we reach the Carema system?”
“A hundred and four hours.” Laal answered.
“Then I shall commence meditating without delay. Reaching the ultimate level of the t’an s'at is the only way for me to retrieve subconscious memories. But before that, there is something I must do. Is it possible to isolate a fully functional computer unit from here?”
“Of course, Ambassador.” Laal drummed on her virtual control panel and the one facing the Vulcan's seat lit up. The old man remained frozen for a while, frowning at the commands.
Dowro leaned over the arm of his chair to draw himself closer. “Of course, things have changed since you were serving.” He brushed the keyboard and a gigantic menu supplanted the map of the quadrant. “Those instruments are foreign to you but if you tell me what you have in mind, I’m certain… I can…”
The ambassador’s fingers rose above the virtual keyboard. And the ballet began. His skilful hands ran and jumped and jittered, spiders caught in a seizure. Rayen gaped when the logo of Memory Alpha sprang before them. Dowro shrank and recessed in his chair, speechless.
An outrageously made-up face materialized before the ambassador. “Memory Alpha is not currently available,” said the archivist on duty, “please try again later.”
“I wish to access the system's configuration.” Spock said.
“I'm afraid it's not possible, Ambassador Spock, MA has been on maintenance...”
“I am aware of the recent events. Please grant me access. I come to serve.”
The archivist frowned, placed an impeccably manicured nail on her temple. After a moment, she shook her golden curls. “I'm sorry, only first class engineers are allowed to log in. Have a nice…”
“In case of force majeure,” Spock insisted, “special permission may be granted to any member of the Federation demonstrating the required skills.”
“Yes, I see which regulation you're referring to, Ambassador. In this case… you may download the appropriate form from our website, Ng42C… or is it… 42K? You should fill them both… Send them over and I’ll submit them to...”
“Forgive me madam. We do not have the time to spare. Those forms are three hundred twenty-one and three hundred eighty-six pages long respectively.”
“That’s why I suggest you begin right away. And don't forget to use a standard font. Also, you should capitalize every...” A sweep of the Vulcan’s hand closed the window. He resumed typing. Passwords were ingested and digested, causing transient menus to scroll faster and faster.
Nothingness. Then cataracts of encrypted data, blue symbols raining on the officer’s faces and in their widening eyes. The Vulcan’s hands slowed down. The numbers set to reorganize into veils. The veils superimposed until the digital fabric swaying over the table was thicker than a carpet in Risa’s Grand Hotel. “This is the best I can do.”
"What did he do?" Jam asked.
“The Ambassador has increased the rate of redundancies multiplications.” Rayen explained while Dowro grew livid. “This should buy us quite some time.”
“A hundred seventy-three hours more.” Spock specified, still typing.
After a moment, a sheet of yellow light appeared above the table. It grew shifting hills and mountain ranges, as if invisible fingers poked at it from underneath. The captain commented. “I see you have isolated the signature of the virus, Ambassador. Does it look familiar?”
“I'm afraid I cannot answer this question at this point, Captain. Where is it from?”
“It would appear it was relayed more than once in the Delta quadrant, but we were unable to determine its origin.”
The ambassador frowned at the mention of so distant and so ill known an area of the galaxy. Jam leant forward: “What about the Borg?”
“What about them?” Violette asked.
“The Delta quadrant used to be the realm of the Borg.” Jam elaborated. “How do we know those… cyberzombies are not assimilating entire… p… planets…”
The Captain's stare had already shushed the first officer when the ambassador stated, “It is not their way.”
Jam raised both palms, “Since you're also an expert in Borg use…”
“I wouldn’t call myself that, but I mindmelted once with Captain Jean-Luc Picard. For minutes that lasted more than an era to us, he and I were one. Among the Borg, Jean-Luc Picard was called Locutus. For he was one of them.”
“I... had no idea.” Jam said, lowering her eyes.
“Captain Picard was abducted and modified to become a Borg.” Violette added, “You should consider revising your classics, Commander Green.”
Against all expectations, Jam did not answer.
The ambassador canted his head to the captain. “May I ask that you save the signal on a key for me?”
Rayen frowned. “A what?”
“A key, is an ancient, no longer used device,” Laal explained, “an isolinear chip designed to store small amounts of information and fitted with a rudimentary reader. I will have a replicator build one and I will save a copy of the signal on it, Ambassador. Will that be satisfactory?”
“Absolutely, Captain. Now I ought to join my quarters and dedicate myself to meditation. There is something you must bear in mind, however.” He stood up, shortly imitated by the captain and the other participants. “Even if the answer does lie in the first five-year mission logs, successfully searching my memory might not be sufficient. For I am not the Spock who served under Captain Kirk.”
Spock cha Sarek opened his eyes. Someone was at the door. Someone who did not dare enter but whose thoughts and emotions, albeit shapeless, flooded his mind made permeable by the assiduous meditation of the last three days.
Meditation on a ship, aboard a vessel mostly filled with humans, he had almost forgotten how challenging that was. The mental voices drifting around… They were… excited, pugnacious or melancholic. They spoke of happiness, of hope and doubt. They conveyed grief, fear, love… all the pernicious feelings that crippled and brought down the undisciplined mind.
The ambassador had laboriously reached the second stage of the t’an s’at but nothing relevant had come back. A sweep of his hand blew off the candles. He rested on the bed to stand up. He closed his eyes, re-opened them almost instantly. He would not remember.
The information he sought was there. The fal-tor-pan had worked beyond his expectations. His personality, the very essence of him had been thoroughly duplicated by his own care and every split second of his previous life was engraved in his mind. What he had not taken into account, however, was the other Spock. The one who had grown on Genesis, alone, with no one to teach him how to coerce the Human in him. The one who had had to deal with a fifty year old man’s entire life dashing over his young, pristine mind.
Vulcan minds were made so. Memories did not go. They did not fade, or morph into half dreams. They remained vivid. And trenchant. The other Spock, the one from Genesis, would have lost his sanity without... a mental safe.
Spock had not noticed right away. Missing or corrupted memories. It had taken him over three months to retrieve the memory of the mind-melt with the Horta. The communion with V’ger… was still fragmented and incomplete. Even after the fal-tor-pan, memories had continued to disappear. Vulcans did not have a sub-conscience. But humans did. The human in Spock had grown stronger from the reunification and now it took tremendous will to subjugate him. The human had built the safe and was watching over it. Spock’s last conversation with Sarek was gone. Amanda’s funeral was a blur. The information stored in the mental safe would not easily be retrieved, if ever.
That's why Spock had attempted to reach his former human colleague, Montgomery Scott. Perhaps he would remember. Where could the retired engineer be, at the time? Montgomery had spent the last decades traveling from system to system, but he never failed to answer his persoc. Spock had left several messages.
The human was almost hundred eleven... what if?
Spock sighed. Every body's turn came. What was the point in grieving? Or in striving to spare lives? Organic beings were flames in a storm. Even if the wind should abate, they must eventually run out of fuel and die. So illogical. This eternal struggle of life against death. All struggle. Illogical.
He smoothed his meditation dress and forced each of his vertebrae back to their rightful place. He painted on his face a neutral but comely expression, according to Vulcans’ criteria. Stern.
Surprise was still lingering on the visitor’s face when the doors parted, revealing in the back light a female figure clad in a black unitard adorned with a cobalt stand-up collar. Laal stammered: “Ambassador, I... Forgive me... my intention was not to disturb you. I know you require tranquility to meditate, but eighty-one hours have passed and we are nearing the Carema system. Any information could be critical.”
The ambassador invited the android to follow him. Laal sat at the edge of a wide sofa covered with black cushions.
The Vulcan had refused to be accommodated in a suite but Violette had insisted to be the one to redecorate the standard cabin. The walls were clad in green velvet and shimmering bronze. Behind the raised bed stood a mosaic of quartz, copper and platinum that depicted the Vulcan IDIC, sparkling arrow tearing a circle of night. Tellarite black ferns fountained on both sides of each door while in every corner of the room, pyro-stones turned Adajni incense into thick columns of emerald smoke. Like the sofa, the workstation, sinuous desk and tall chairs, was made of massive ebony. Laal suspected the ostentatious decoration must greatly displease the Vulcan but that he tolerated it out of graciousness.
“Captain, have we re-established contact with the USS Success yet?”
Laal was startled. Each time the Vulcan spoke, it felt as if the walls were going to crumble. He sat opposite her, as weightless as a shadow.
“Negative, Ambassador. The Cardassian vessels found no trace of it, no debris, no emergency beacon, no black box. It seems to have… vanished.”
“What of the missing planets?”
“Cardassian sensors were unable to read anything from the stricken areas. Their data seem to match the ones we received from the Success. It's as if Setlik III and Melona II never existed.”
“Instruments only register those things they are designed to register. We are evidently missing something. Did they look for changes in the orbits of nearby celestial objects?”
“We expected them to. This would have definitely settled the cloaking question. But I’m afraid their computers are not as sophisticated as ours, this would take time and they clearly stated that they did not intend to linger.”
“Ambassador, forgive my insistence. Were you able to recall anything?”
“I remembered many things, Captain, none of interest for you, unfortunately.”
“I could surprise you.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Laal stiffened a little more. Where did this discrepant reply come from? It was him. Something about him made her... uncomfortable. She had never felt uncomfortable in the presence of anyone from the day she was first turned on. Except with Admiral Haftel. The man who had tried to take her away from her father.
“Ambassador forgive me, I... was entertaining several processes at the same time. What are the odds for useful data to be retrieved through meditation before we reach orbit?”
“Less than one in 8780.67 Captain.”
She cocked her head right. She had never met an organic being capable of answering this sort of question with such accuracy. “Back to square one, as Terrans say. I would nonetheless request you should remain with us until the end of the mission. Your experience and your knowledge are of tremendous value.”
“I came to serve, Captain. May I inquire about your plans?”
“Of course. Although Tholian webs may have been unsuccessfully used to hamper the progress of this phenomenon, we intend to utilize a similar strategy to reveal its position along the trajectory we extrapolated. The method was commonly used in the seventies to expose cloaked Romulan ships.”
The Vulcan nodded. “I've heard of it. It was first used during the Klingon civil war. It consists in using tachyon beams to twine a detection field.”
“That is correct, Ambassador. As you already know, eleven Federation vessels are en route to join us. As soon as they arrive, we will be able to deploy the field. Unlike the Tholian web, however, tachyon grids are harmless. If the phenomenon was to prove a sentient entity, it would in theory suffer no damage and we could try to engage communication.”
Spock narrowed his eyes at the artificial being. She was the first one to mention the possibility of a pacific course of action. She obviously had no idea how such an initiative would displease in high places. He would not ruin her optimism. Events to come would disabuse her soon enough.
The Vulcan laced his hands in his lap. Laal was fitted with a program designed to decipher emotions from the slightest change in an organic being’s visage. Yet, in the chartreuse light seeping from the wall sconces, the Vulcan’s monolithic face remained inscrutable. The captain blinked repeatedly, eventually averted his cat-like gaze. After a moment, the old man asked. “What if Commander Rayen is right? What if we are dealing with a multifocal threat? Or with a remote weapon? Or with an enemy who can fall back into the folds of space-time to hide from our sensors?”
“In all three cases, our strategy will prove unproductive, and we will have to figure another course of action.”
The Vulcan nodded reflectively. “Meanwhile, more worlds will be wiped from the map of the quadrant.”
Laal lowered her eyes as if this last sentence was a reproach directly addressed to her. As if he expected her to come up with the solution and she failed him. After all, this was what computers did. Provide solutions. Why couldn’t she?
“Did you bring me the key, Captain?”
Laal flinched. She bent over the coffee table to hand him the tiny cylindrical device. “Should I notify you when we achieve orbit?”
“Please, do. In the mean time, I shall use all necessary means to obtain the information you seek.”
Laal stared. Somehow, this sounded like a penalty. As if he was about to trade his own soul in exchange for this memory-patch. She thought of inquiring but sensed that it would have been in vain.
“Sir, I will not disturb you any longer.” She stood up. The Vulcan stood up in turn, lowered his chin. Laal answered in kind before heading for the door.
“Captain?” (Laal spun on her heels.) “Would you grant me access to the main holodeck?”
“Certainly, Ambassador. May I inquire as to your purpose there?”
“You have every right to.”
The Vulcan and the android long stared at each other. Laal canted her head once again “Good night, Ambassador.” She went through the sliding doors.
The old man joined the workstation, sat down in one of the desk chairs. The doors slid close but he could still hear the captain’s regular gait as she moved away. There was something unusual about this android.
Spock had briefly met Laal's father. They had exchanged quite stimulating considerations. Commander Data was the most intelligent creature Spock had had the opportunity and delight to meet. Laal was different. Evidently, the same sagacity inhabited her positronic brain, but there was something else... When she was standing before his door, not daring to make herself known, Spock had identified... mental waves. Thoughts?
The Vulcan released a deep breath. None of this was of importance. He unbuttoned the front of his gown and dropped the key in the inside pocket. He did not need to unlock his mental safe. There was another way. A way he did not know whether he was afraid to use it, or had been waiting for an excuse, any excuse to finally resort to it. He pulled out his necklace holding a long, edgy crystal. Within the gem, a keen eye could distinguish arabesques drawn by microcircuits.
The old man twisted his neck to watch through the portholes aligned over the sofa. For some reason, the Enterprise had briefly dropped warp drive and he could glimpse the tail of a comet ignited by the proximity of a star. With its train of ice and iridescent dust, it brought to mind a wandering katra. Spock shifted his attention back to the crystal.
For the umpteenth time, he repeated to himself that innumerable lives were endangered. Despite the vanity inherent in life itself, he was required to do everything in his power to save them. And this was exactly what he would be doing. But he could not deny his true motives. He could not ignore this... glimmer of hope dancing at the end of the tunnel... He could not pretend that all those lives counterbalanced his own personal agenda.
Nobody would know. Should they find out, they would praise his initiative, they would congratulate him, no one would suspect. Vulcans themselves would only see in this deed the rational consequence of an unquestionable necessity. But he, Spock, would know.
And he would be ashamed.
The old man tiptoed outside and closed the front door behind him. Dawn was a ribbon of diluted magenta at the horizon. He stared at it for a moment, waiting for the first rays of the sun. He did not have to wait long. A day on Carema lasted less than sixteen Earth-hours and with little patience, one could almost see the sun move across the sky. When the thick layer of clouds allowed it, that’s to say almost never.
Montgomery Scott inhaled deeply, relishing the freshness of the morning. Later, the atmosphere would turn into a furnace, with suffocating heat rising from the trenches in the ground, but for now, it was just pleasingly crisp. The old man shook his head at the closest particle fountain, three kilometres away. The gigantic transparent shaft was bubbling with liquid derylium. It brought to mind a syringe pumping out the planet’s blood.
He sighed. Such a magnificent place, Carema III used to be. Valleys clad in bright green, rivers running down the rugged terrain and plush mountains stretching across the horizon. There was a time when this landscape bore a striking resemblance with the Scottish Highlands. Save for the wounds in the ground and the needles sucking the planet dry. Now… the grass was brown and kinky, the rivers were threads of muddy water and the mountains stood naked, almost black against the white sky.
His lips stretched under his thick moustache. He couldn’t complain. He had found everything he craved here. Peace. Dry air. And roseberries. The real richness of this used-to-be fertile land. Roseberries were resilient and undemanding. They would be taking advantage of other species’ decline long after Carema III had been turned into a crumpled, useless peel.
Absolute peace, this morning. Not a single grain of dust in the air, not a noise except the hideous rumbling of the fountains. No wind, not even a smell. This reminded him of this moment before a storm, when everything went still and quiet. When animals shrunk inside their wholes, quivering while the land itself held its breath. Peace before hell.
He giggled. There were no storms on Carema. It hardly ever rained anymore. The old man had come to wonder if the clouds were not fake. As for animals, well… maybe this goddamn eosinophilia had eventually finished her job.
He buttoned up his jacket and hurried over to the barn. One had to be careful. Mind every step. Minor cracks could treacherously slip under your feet. That happened when you were lucky. Otherwise, the ground could open in a fault wide enough to swallow you, your house and the whole town with it.
The old man had nothing to fear, however. His exoskeleton was equipped with all kinds of gadgets. Osteoarthritis had long eaten away his knees and his weak muscles wouldn’t have mobilized his bones if the latter had been made out of paper. But with this sophisticated medical armour on, he could jump over any crevice, haul himself out of any pit. He had personally customized the settings. This used to be his job. Fixing and upgrading machines.
He entered the barn, inhaled deeply, smiling. This fragrance was obscenely delightful. He approached the furnace, lowered the heat. The barrel above it uttered sated rumblings as the alcohol steam was forced through the narrow cap arm. Montgomery’s eyes focused on the microbiofilter. The indicator was soft green: the roseberries were top quality.
He checked the temperature of the cryogel inside the wormbox. Outstandingly steady. The system was working even better than expected. All thanks to the verterium cortenide he had used instead of traditional steel to rebuild the coiled length of pipe.
He opened the tap and poured himself a drink. He lifted the glass to catch a sunbeam falling from a breach in the roof. It took on silvery reflections. Same as the Enterprise. Same as his beloved Enterprise. His eyelids misted. What was the point in living so long? He twisted his wrist and the liquid spilled over the floor. What was the point?
He spun around. His dog Spooky was there, tall and black, staring at him with his clever yellow eyes. The Doberman tilted his narrow head sideway, his pointy ears erect. There was a small plastic box in his mouth.
“Ya had to follow me, huh? You stubborn devil, ya! Tellin’ ya, I’m done taking these goddam pills!”
Spooky lifted an eyebrow.
“Not gonna happen, lad! Not taking these bloody drugs! I know better.”
The dog wouldn’t move. His stare was piercing.
“Don’t you look at me like that! You always looked at me like that, like… You could read me thoughts or something. There ain’t nothin’ to read, boy, you take ’em meds if they that good!”
The persoc on his chest rang. The tiny screen displayed an emaciated face framed with a neat white bang and pointy ears. Montgomery frowned. You should eat sometimes, pal, you ain’t no top model... He turned the device off. He did not want to talk to his ex-colleague.
For this was exactly what he did when the Vulcan called. Talk. In a pathetic, ages-lasting monologue. Montgomery was aware of that, but he couldn’t seem to help it. The Vulcan would never complain or try to stop him. The conversation ended eventually. When the human got thirsty enough. But if he was anywhere near water, or more likely, alcohol, then… God!
Montgomery peeked at the old shuttle at the rear end of the barn. It had brought him to every corner of the galaxy. After a few modifications, it had even brushed warp eight. Such a good boy… It wouldn’t even lift off the ground anymore. A well-deserved retirement, some would say. Montgomery would have disagreed. Retirement was death before time.
He wiped sweat from his forehead, checked his watch. Strange. That heat. So early in the morning. He shrugged. Things were getting worse by the day. Soon, the particle fountains would be pumping molten rock. But then this was the other reason why he had chosen this planet. The heat and the resulting drought were a balm for his joints.
He poured himself another drink. A wee bit of happiness in a glass. Spooky was still staring. Disapprovingly. The dog drew back, moaning.
“What now?” the human barked, “Tis bad for health? How come nobody told me? You know what, don’t pee your pants, I ain’t got no liver no more. Or oesophagus. Why don’t you mind your own business for a change? Your white cells count hasn’t been that good lately.”
Montgomery frowned. He happened to become a bit… aggressive when he was drunk. When he was… drunk-er… He had never harmed the poor fellow but… Someday… who knew? He massaged his temple. And people thought Kaelon customs were barbaric. If he had killed himself when he was sixty, at least he would have died with dignity.
He slung away the glass and it shattered against a low beam. Sobs claimed his lungs, his whole body. He squatted easily on his clad-in-steel legs, opened his arms. Spooky ran to him. The old man hugged the dog, crying shamelessly. He whispered, “Eosinophilia is nothing. I have hundreds of other reasons to die, my boy. Hundreds. And the sad thing is none of them seems about ready to make a move. But I must live, right? Who else would take care of you?” He gruffly caressed the dog’s head, kissed him on the nose. “Let’s get back to the house, I’ll take these goddamn pills with water. Bleah!”
He followed the dog outside. A squall slapped him in the face. He gasped. How could it be so hard to pull in a breath when the wind practically forced itself into your lungs? It was like driving a pod with the cockpit open. The air felt… solid.
Montgomery shrugged and shook his head. Spooky ran before his human, frolicking around, tongue hanging loose and tail wagging frenziedly. The old man took off his vest while sloping past the dog. “Come on, let’s race! You won’t let an old goat like me win, will ya!”
Montgomery turned around. The dog was not coming. Spooky stood perfectly still now, ears erect, nostrils flaring. The old man whistled but the dog wouldn’t come. He seemed… hypnotized. He flinched when Montgomery came closer but did not move.
“Oh, come on, boy, you know I’ll let you win anyway…”
The human frowned. The light was shifting around him. Shadows grew, died and resurrected on the swaying grass. Fast. He gazed up to discover that the white sheet above was tearing itself apart. The breaches let in a vertical, citrus sun that felt like acid.
Montgomery squinted. All this was... unusual. Very unusual. He roved sharp eyes around, following the dog’s stare. His highly sophisticated implants could not detect anything out of the ordinary.
Except the heat. Blistering, suffocating despite the wind. The wind actually made it worse, reinforcing the impression that the heat was licking the skin away.
The old man slightly offset the range of the spectrum analyser. Once again, his gaze swept the place, focusing on the hottest area. There.
One might think that they are old enough. One might think that they have seen everything. That fear can never again threaten them. For one has already witnessed the strangest, eeriest things in the world. One can barely remember what fear is. The universe can refresh one’s memory.
Montgomery remained there for a long time, shaking in his armour of steel and focusing on his sphincters. He thought of running. But there was no escaping this. There was no escaping this while remaining on this planet.
He reminded the shuttle. Fighting every step against the brewing storm, Montgomery went back to the barn then ran to the craft and climbed inside. He switched it on. An encouraging rumble rose from under his feet. Lights beaconed on the control panel. All turned red.
Sighing in resignation, the old engineer grabbed a ray-generator and a bag of isolinear circuit jumpers, then crouched to open the hatch that gave access to the maintenance chamber. His soles landed in something tacky, but he did not pay attention.
His shaking palm wiped his face. He could barely breathe. It felt as if all oxygen was removed from his lungs, from the world. He knew this sensation. He had experienced it, back then, in the pattern buffer where he had remained trapped for over seventy-five years. Not being able to breathe, but not dying either. Or... dying endlessly.
He shook the nightmare away. No, this wasn’t the same. He could do something now, try to escape his fate. He was powerless then, a ghost in limbo, but now, he could do something. He roved the light on the circuits. So old. Everything that could be replaced had already been. A dozen times over. He pointed the ray-generator at the injector, blinked repeatedly, his eyes burning from the salt in his sweat. Maybe he could… maybe he could use some of the material he had purchased to upgrade his distillery? That would be a crime, but he didn’t seem to have a choice.
Suddenly, the shuttle rocked. Something crumbled behind him. He swirled around, his artificial heart running in his chest. The gyroscope stabilizer… No big deal. He wouldn’t need it anyway.
A loud crack. Another one. Montgomery peered through the hatch and through the shuttle doors. The roof boards were coming off.
Focus, Scotty, how long until we get out of here?
Captain, I can’t rush her, I’ll need at least another thirty min…
Something moved in the dark. Something fleeting and shy. Montgomery shifted the light beam. Nothing. But he didn’t need to see. He knew what it was. He thoroughly followed the main circuit. There. All the wires had been chewed. Bats. He could smell their urine, now. And he knew what this tacky something under his feet was. Guano. The craft was not going anywhere.
The old man hauled himself out, huffing and puffing loudly. The barn squealed heart-wrenchingly, as the boards were slowly pulled apart. He trotted to the distillery, poured himself another drink of Lady in silver and emptied it in one go. He patted his belly. Best drink ever, the best I’ve had in me life, this I can say. And… another one for the road!
He went outside. Spooky was still there, paws anchored in the ground. His tongue was dripping abundantly. Montgomery sat next to his friend, wrapped an arm around him and set his visual implants on the appropriate channel.
This thing had a certain… beauty to it.
Far off, a fountain was plucked out of the ground and sucked into nothingness. The old man smiled. He held out his glass under the dog’s nose. “Want some? Just a wee drop… No? Aw, you’re missin’ somethin’!” He gulped the liquor down, whispered, “Don’t be afraid, lad. Don’t be afraid.”
He squeezed hard enough to make the dog moan.
Ships of the Fleet: Anthology
The Captain's Revenge
|With only days till blissful retirement, Captian Jim "Red Shirt" Smith must overcome his ship, his crew and a deep space mystery to make it out alive.|
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