TeaserShip's Log: 13 April 2641; ASV Aurora. Captain Robert Dale recording. We're en route to the new colony of Adrana in M4P2 to investigate reports of unknown starships operating in the vicinity. Lieutenant Delgado is her usual ecstatic self, as our secondary mission will be to examine artifacts found not far from the main colony site. If indications are correct, there was a civilization on Adrana that died off eons ago.
Speaking of ecstatic occasions, I am being called upon to perform an old ritual for captains. It will, in more than one way, be a first for me.
The Lookout had been altered for the purpose at hand, with tables moved to the sides and the entire place spruced up to look like a wedding chapel which, for the moment, it was. Robert was in dress uniform; it was white where the standard uniform was black, with gold-embroidered epaulets on the shoulders and white gloves. Hell, he could have had a sword if he wanted.
The thought was funny. Wearing a sword on a starship? Talk about anachronism. Then again, he had a security chief who did just that. Yeah, but her sword only becames a blade when she presses a button. It's high tech, not like officer swords.
Robert forced himself to concentrate on the matter at hand. "As captain of the Aurora
it is one of my many obligations to oversee this occasion amongst the crew, and as obligations go it is one that I find the most enjoyable. We are here to honor two of our crewmates, Lieutenant Agara Mayao and Lieutenant Alex Cross, as they give their vows to become husband and...." For a short second he stumbled over the word to come, forcing himself away from the usual that a lifetime of expectations had bred in him. "....husband."
The two men, a purple-skinned blue-spotted Dorei and a tan-skinned Human, smiled politely as they continued to hold hands.
"I think I speak for all of their friends and comrades when I say...."
At the bar, Zack was sitting alone and smiling wide, nursing a glass of root beer. He didn't really know the grooms; his smile was amusement at seeing Robert get through the ceremony despite the very... well, it was peculiar for them given where they grew up and when. Most of the later timeframe universes didn't seem to give as much of a damn. Though it's not just a gay marriage, it's a gay marriage with
aliens, Zack thought. He applauded when the bracelets and rings were exchanged - a lot of Dorei preferred bracelets - because hey, why not? The new husbands certainly looked happy and joyful as they kissed. They looked content, like the entire world - or was it cosmos now? - was their's.
One of Hargert's assistants, Albert, stepped up across the bar. He had a German accent as well, even if not as thick as Hargert's. "Are you sure you don't want any of the celebratory wine? Or another drink? You're off-duty I thought?"
"No," Zack insisted. "I don't know if anyone told you my rules about this, Al, but.... I only occasionally have beer or something like it when Tom and I are hanging out. And I never have more than one."
"You are a... temperate?"
"Alcohol and my family doesn't mix. So I don't even think about it."
Zack turned his head in time to see Julia approach. She was in dress uniform as well, but given how similar it was to normal uniform it did nothing to hide her gorgeous figure. "Lucky you, no dress whites," Julia said.
"Yeah, lucky me." Zack smiled thinly. "So, uh.... how many graves are rolling back home right now? I mean.... alien gay marriage and all."
Julia laughed harshly. "Yeah, I can imagine old Pastor Allen would be tearing Rob's name from the church membership roll. Well, unless he already did it over Duffy."
"There's a fun thought," Zack muttered. Underneath years of scabbed over feelings he could still feel a deep affection for her. She was nothing less than the perfect woman to him.
But he could never have her. Zack knew this. He'd gotten over most of the heartache in the years after high school, knowing there was no hope at all that he would be anything more than her friend.
The reason he didn't have a hope walked up. "I saw that jackass smile," Robert said with mock severity, wagging his finger at Zack. "I was starting to sweat for a moment there. I never thought I'd be marrying anyone
"You did well enough." Julia patted him on the shoulder. "Beth would be proud of you. Of course, when it comes to everyone else.... Can you imagine Pastor Allen's reaction?"
"God, I can. I got caught with his daughter, remember?" Zack forced out a chuckle. "I thought he'd turn the entire county against me."
"Not over that," Julia remarked. She was grinning mischievously. "So, does this give you any ideas? We can't all stay bachelors, can we? Find any ladies to actually settle down with, ladies' man?"
Zack forced himself to smile. "I've never been in a relationship that could go that far." Which was the truth, and about the only thing he could say without going further than he'd want to.
"I guess I can't be surprised. Though I know Clara was..."
"Ahah! No." Zack shook his head. "Not a word about Clara Davis. I'm not going to talk about it. It's done."
Julia giggled while Robert shook his head. "Somewhere in this wide Multiverse there has
to be a potential Missus Carrey," Julia insisted. "You get enough women as it is."
"Yeah." You. It's you.
After sighing and urging his heart to shut up Zack finished his drink. "Well...."
"Bridge to Captain Dale
," Nick Locarno's voice said over the comm. "Sir, we're coming up on Adrana.
"Thank you, Nick," Robert said into his multidevice. "I'll be up shortly. Let Cat know to expect the artifacts soon."
"Hey, I've got nothing better to do right now," Zack murmured, setting aside his empty glass. "I'm going to help Science Girl get things sorted."
"You're not really the science type," Julia pointed out.
"I can still carry things and scan," Zack pointed out. He gave a quick wave. "See ya."
Another shuttle came into the shuttle bay, adjacent to where Zack's own ship the Koenig
was berthed. He watched the Dorei craft land almost perfectly. The rear doors opened and a couple of Dorei, a purple-skinned and blue-spotted man and a dark teal-skinned light purple-spotted woman, emerged. Both were in loose-fitting, all-covering clothes with a variety of colors. Zack, for his part, was often a little weirded out by Dorei color tastes; varieties of green and purple and yellow and blue and teal, sometimes some reds.... and almost no sign of what he thought of as "earthy tones".
Behind them came a remote-controlled anti-grav cargo cart. Everything was boxed in it and marked with Dorei and English, but most looked to be the equivalent of pottery shards; in other words, very boring.
"Put them over here," Caterina said. She was in her usual choice of duty uniform with the knee-length skirt instead of pants and the dark blue of science for her color. She was not quite as enthusiastic as usual, although it was like saying it was only raining moderately instead of pouring. Cat's interests might be mostly in astrography and "space stuff", but ancient races were, well, ancient races. "A quarter of a million years? So that's why there's no sign of their cities and stuff." She opened a box. "A burial mound?"
"No, we think it was an old complex of some sort. They were an intelligent race, it looked to be some kind of bunker," one of the Dorei said.
The conversation continued in the background. As it did Zack took a box and opened it to see what was inside. It looked like a rusted piece of hardware, but it definitely had the appearance of a computer of sorts. "If they had computers, shouldn't we see the ruins of old cities or something?", Zack asked. "I mean, some things would last right?"
"It depends on what they made it out of," Caterina answered from where she was going over the manifest. "I mean, that's enough time for geologic changes to take place. Even metal will errode."
"Huh." Zack turned his attention back to the object.
"Can you put it back? Uh, please, Zack?" Caterina smiled. "I kinda need to document it all."
"Oh, sure. Yeah." Zack moved it back toward the box. A random thought slipped into his head, thinking of earlier. She asks me if I'll ever marry, and she's the only woman I'd ever thinking of taking that step with. And she doesn't even see me as anything more than her slightly perverted skirt-chasing childhood friend.
He breathed in a sigh. The way things are going for me, I'm always going to be alone.Alone
A light appeared on the ancient-looking computer thing. Zack brought it back up from where he'd nearly returned it to its box. Alien characters of some sort flashed across its surface as a hologram, their blue light dancing in his vision.
A sharp pain stabbed him in the head and everything went dark.
"....will take a few days to catalogue everything, of course, but...." Caterina was interrupted by a loud thump and a flash of azure light in her periphery. "Zack, please
stop...." She turned to face him... and found him sprawled out on the floor. "....messing with... Zack!
" She ran over to where he was and knelt down to feel his pulse. Seeing he was alive she turned to the trinket he'd been toying with, now latched onto his forehead. She grabbed it and sparks flew, a painful jolt making her cry out and fall back. She reached her hand over and hit her multi-device. "Delgado to medbay, medical emergency in Shuttle Bay 2! I need help!"
On the floor, Zack twitched slightly.
Zack opened his eyes and rubbed at his head. For a moment he'd forgotten anything except the pain in his head.
But when he moved further, he felt something on his legs. He looked down to see a set of standard sheets, like in his quarters on the Aurora
. The light was dim, but there was light coming around the slide door to the bathroom and shower stall. The room looked rather larger than Zack's though. He sat up, holding his head and realizing that he was mostly unclothed now. Who undressed me? And why didn't they take me to medbay?
As his headache pounded he thought he could hear running water in the background.
After a moment, Zack realized he knew what quarters he was in; the Captain's Quarters
. Why would I be in Rob's room?
He looked around, but he only saw some of his things on one wall. Trophies from high school, pictures from his time in the minors, a baseball mitt and an autographed baseball from the last team he'd been with.... this stuff was supposed to be in his
room. There were a few pictures, but the light in the room was too low and he couldn't make out what was in them.
There was a tone from the nightstand nearby, recognizable as a call from the bridge. Zack reached over with his hand and smacked the key. "Yes?"
Jarod's voice was on the other end. "Captain Carrey?
Zack's eyes flew open at that. "Huh? What?"
There was only a brief pause. "Oh, sorry, Commander. I didn't mean to wake you. I was trying to....
The door to the bathroom opened and a figure stepped out. Zack turned and allowed his jaw to drop....
"I'm here, Jarod," Julia sighed. She was still dripping a little despite the red towel wrapped around her from below the shoulders to her hips. A second towel was wrapped up around her hair. "Is this about that meeting on Adrana?"
"They asked if they could delay it by two hours, there's some sort of issue with their preparations.
Julia nodded. "Fine, tell them that." She looked up at Zack and smiled. Smiled
. He'd been expecting her to scream at him for being there when she came out of the shower. Except it's my room with all of my stuff being... wait, I'm still a Commander.
With a lot of confusion Zack stood up and tried not to gawk. Granted, he'd seen her in far more revealing things than a towel wrapped like that (actually, he'd seen her naked once. Exactly once. It wasn't easy having a party in a house with only two bathrooms. He sometimes could swear he still had the resulting bruise). But here and now it seemed....
"What's up with you?" Julia's expression turned to bemusement. "Didn't sleep well again? After last night I would have thought..."
"Last night....?", he asked groggily.
"Really? You forgot already? Zack Carrey forgot a night like last night?" Julia giggled. Giggled
. And it wasn't her "You have amused me, annoying pervert" giggle, it was a giggle like... like... Like something in my dreams maybe
. She stepped up to him. "Well, you haven't started getting ready yet, at least. And now I have an hour or two to spare...." She winked at him. "Looks like I can get a chance to jog your memory."
"Jog my...." Zack felt like his brain was trying to tell him something, but there was still a sharp pain there that was highly distracting.
"Okay sleepyhead, now I wake you up the hard way."
And then Julia kissed him.She kissed him.
The pain in his head melted
. The sensation of the kiss made him come alive. Deep within him years of fantasy, of desire, of deep need
soared up through him. He returned the kiss with all of the energy of a ravenous hunger finally being sated. Julia's eyes widened, but she didn't fight it.
The kiss lasted forever. Or at least it felt that way until his lungs reminded them they needed air. He broke the kiss and took in a deep breath. Julia did the same, a surprised smile on her face. "You haven't kissed me like that since our first time together," she said happily.
Zack simply stared at her. And then himself. And now, with the pain gone.... he could see things, even in the dim quarters.
His things... and hers
And Jarod had called her Captain Carrey
Julia's right hand came up and took his. He noticed a sensation of something he had never felt before. He looked down and....
There was a gold band on his right ring finger. Another just like it was on Julia's.
"So, Zack, we have a couple of hours we normally don't get. And since you seem to have a lot of trouble remembering last night..." She smiled enthusiastically at him and, with a motion of her hand, let the towel fall off of her. "I can't let my husband go forgetting things like that, can I?"I'm married to Julia
, he thought.
All sorts of things were going through Zack's brain. All sorts of details that were off, not to mention the fact that he could remember that alien device becoming active, the pain in his head and the sudden darkness. But looking into Julia's eyes, seeing her willing smile and with the sweet taste of her kiss still fresh....I'm married to Julia!
He responded by kissing her again, and she returned it. They moved toward the bed and, as they did so, tears appeared in Zack's eyes.
He wasn't going to be alone. Not here. Not with her. And in that moment, that's all he cared about.I'm not alone anymore.
Robert and Julia entered the medbay at almost the same time and made a beeline for the special care ward. Leo was already at the beside, looking over a scanner while Caterina used her own. "What the hell happened?", Robert asked.
"Zack was looking at one of the artifacts when it, I dunno, came alive," Caterina explained. "And then it lit up and he suddenly fell over. Now we can't get it off of his forehead."
"It looks like it's using a sort of biochemical bond," Leo explained. "It's tied to him at a cellular level. His brain activity is through the roof."
"And it's transmitting too. A constant beam transmission, definitely toward the planet." Cat checked her scanner again. "I don't get it. The Dorei scanned everything. It was all... dead, for lack of a better word. I can't figure out how it happened."
Julia looked over into Zack's unconscious face. "So what's it doing to him?"
"I'm not sure," Leo admitted. "Like I said, brain activity through the roof. It's almost like he's awake and experiencing normal reality."
"Maybe whatever this is has him dreaming?"
"No signs of REM or anything associated with a brain that's asleep. He's awake
, it's just that.... his brain is being stimulated by something external."
"Cat, get with Jarod, track where...."
"Bridge to Captain Dale
." Locarno's voice came over the comm. "Sir, we're picking up a distress signal from the Dorei colony on Yamalia. They've been attacked.
Robert breathed in. "Crap. Okay, monitor him, maybe if we're lucky this thing has to be near the planet to work." He tapped his multi-device to open the comm line from his end. "Nick, set a course for Yamalia, Warp 9.6."
"THe reports said the unknown ships in the area were remaining at a distance of several parsecs," Julia said, frowning. "How did an attacker get through our long-range sensors?" She turned to start leaving the room, Robert following.
"Yamalia's a new colony, maybe they weren't given the best." Robert felt a gentle thrum under his feet; the Aurora
had just leapt to warp.
And then an agonized scream came from the special care ward.
Contentment mixed with fatigue filled Zack as he let his head rest comfortably on his pillow. Julia's head was nestled on his left shoulder, a thin sheen of sweat on both of them. "Mmmm... do you remember last night now?", Julia purred.
"Yeah," he lied. Or... was it a lie? He was feeling like he could remember the prior night. They'd had a private meal in their quarters, discussed a little bit of business...
But he'd been alone. And then there was that wedding that Robert had to preside over the next morning, and his going to the shuttle bay and messing with the artifacts Cat was going over. That memory was still there, at the edge of his thoughts, but it felt... slippery. Like it was draining away.
He took a deep breath and used his left arm to pull Julia a little closer. "I could just lay here with you all day," Zack admitted.
"Mmm.... as good as cuddling for an entire day sounds, I'm a starship captain and I've got work to do." She smirked at him. "Or rather, we're both starship captains, but you're the lazy one who spends all of his time hooked up to my ship."
"Well, I need my darling wife to keep me in line, don't I?", Zack chuckled in response.
"You'd better believe it." She gave him a soft kiss on the chin.
The comm went off again. "Duty calls." Julia gave him a deeper kiss and reached over to press the button on the nightstand. "Captain Carrey here."
This time it was Angel. "The colonial governor called and said he'd be ready in half an hour.
"Tell him we'll be there, Angel."
Julia was laying across him now, giving him a very pleasing view of her from the side. She looked back at him and smirked. "You've had this view before."
"And better," Zack said. "This morning, in fact."
"We'll have to do it again sometime." She finished crawling over him and got out of the bed. "And I need another shower. And no
, you can't come in with me, too distract...."
Horrible, savage agony stabbed into Zack's forehead. His spine arched and he screamed.
As Zack's cries filled the ward, Leo took a vial of something and fixed it into his hypospray. With Robert and Julia helping he pressed it against Zack's neck and depressed the trigger. "There, 20ccs of pain-inhibitor, it should..."
Zack kept screaming, thrashing enough that his arm pulled free of Robert's grip and slammed into Leo, knocking him back a bit. An inarticulate growl came from his throat. Leo glanced at the nearby screen. "EEG through the roof!" He looked to the nearest nurse. "Prep cortical stimulators! And find me a neural sedative!"
" Leo looked back to Zack, with Robert trying to hold his arm down again while Julia kept the other locked in place.
"The device is going haywire!", Caterina shouted. "It's... it's the loss of the signal! I think losing that signal to its home world... it's trying to restore it and that's frying Zack's brain!"
"Suggestions?!", Robert shouted.
"We need to go back to Adrana!"
"We can't!" Robert shook his head. "We have to answer that distress signal."
"No, somebody has to," Julia answered. "I'll take the Koenig
. You go back to Adrana and save Zack."
"Are you sure? If you run into something..."
"Would you rather get Zack killed, Rob?!"
Robert swallowed. "No, no I wouldn't," he said, truthfully. He didn't want to have to make that kind of call. He shifted his grip on Zack's arm to touch his multidevice. "Locarno! Belay that last order! Get us back to Adrana, now! Maximum warp!"
"Just do it, I'll explain later!"
Zack screamed again.
Locarno clearly heard it too. "Taking us back, sir
The trip back to orbit was done more quickly, with the Aurora
's warp drives at their maximum safe output. As soon as the ship dropped from warp Zack stopped moving, a cry stopping as it reached its crescendo. Leo checked the biobed sensors. "EEG is returning to the original level. Vitals are returning to normal...."
"The signal is stabilizing the device," Caterina confirmed.
Robert nodded to Julia. She pressed a key on her multidevice. "Commander Andreys to Lieutenant Apley, I need the Koenig
prepped for launch immediately."
Apley's response was immediate. "I'm gathering the crew Commander, we'll be ready to go in ten minutes.
"Good luck," Robert said to her. "And be careful."
"Of course." Julia smiled thinly at him before returning her eyes to the unconscious form of Zack. "Get better, Zack," she said to him softly. She gently hugged him on the shoulders before standing upright again and walking out of the ward.
"I'd better call up the ground teams, find out where this thing was found," Robert added. "Cat, be on standby, I'm sending you and Jarod to deal with it."
"Sure," Caterina answered.
"And make sure to be quick about it," Leo called out, pointing at the EEG. "That didn't cause any damage itself, but Zack's brain can't do this forever. Eventually it's going to giveout."
"Then let's get this done."
Zack flinched as Leo ran his scanner over his head. "I'm not seeing any major problems here," he said. "What can you tell me?"
"One moment there was no pain. The next, I've got a knife in my brain. Made of pure fire too."
"Hrm." Leo touched a couple of controls. "Well, I can't see anything wrong now. Just try to take it easy for a couple of days and let me know if anything changes."
"And Julia wanted me to remind you that you're due on the bridge at 1300 to relieve Angel."
"Yeah yeah...." Zack thought for a moment about this being some kind of fantasy... but why? No, it wasn't was it? This was his life, and he had work to do. Although for some reason he couldn't remember, he wasn't looking forward to seeing Angel.
When Zack arrived on the bridge Adrana was slowly rotating below them. Tom Barnes, Nick Locarno, and Jarod were at their usual stations, but Tactical was manned by some dark purple blue-spotted Dorei. Angel stood up from the command chair and approached him. As she did so his eyes settled on her collar... and on the three gold stripes there. But if she's XO, where's Robert?
He felt like he should know that, but he still wasn't sure what was going on in his head. "So, everything's quiet as usual huh?"
"Yeah. I'll be back in a couple of hours." Angel barely seemed to take notice of him, moving past him toward the turbolift. She gave an order to the lift as it closed.
Zack stared for a moment. She had been so... hostile just now. "I guess Angel's having a bad day," he said aloud.
"Well, yes, because she saw you," Tom pointed out.
Zack looked over at him. "Well, yeah, she's always been a bit surly with me, but..." ....but what? She hates you now. But... why does she hate me?
"Leave it alone, Zack. Remember, you promised to do that when we got our postings," Jarod reminded him... or at least intended to remind, since Zack didn't know what the hell he'd promised.
"Yeah," he said simply, avoiding the subject for the moment. He settled into the command chair.
"I hope you enjoyed your extra hours this morning," Jarod remarked non-chalantly, seeming to smile a bit as he looked back. "You and the Captain."
"Now now, I don't kiss and tell," Zack said, wagging his finger.
"Not since Julia, anyway," Tom guffawed.
"Okay okay. Jealousy is not becoming of you," Zack teased back. "So, eyes on boards, lets do our usual thing. You guys work, I sit here and look like I'm paying attention."
"I'm not sure that'd be much different from when you are paying attention."
, Jarod?" Zack shook his head. It felt good to spar with them, as always. But... why do I feel like they're a bit snarkier than usual?
Julia hadn't been in the Koenig
command chair for quite a while, and being back... under the circumstances it didn't feel right. She could see some of the unease in the others too; Even if he'd only been their commander for half a year at this point, Apley and the others knew
Zack in a way they didn't know her. Magda was the only old face she had on the crew now. She gave Julia a sympathetic look and looked back to her panels.If Apley is ever replaced by a girl, I'll have to tease Zack about having his own harem
, Julia thought with amusement, even if she felt a twist in her gut at the thought of never getting to tease her old friend again. "Status, Mister Apley?"
At first there was no response, but Apley suddenly shifted his head. "Oh, everything is ready, sir."
"All systems are green," Magda added.
"Weapon systems standing by when needed."
"Okay everyone, let's do this by the book. Take us out, Mister Apley. Set course for Yamalia and engage as soon as we're clear."
"Yes Commander." Apley pressed several keys. Under them the Koenig
shifted slightly as she resumed powering herself. All connections to the Aurora
were retracted and the smaller ship began backing out of its berth built into the back of the larger ship. Koenig
's running lights came to life as she moved up and over the saucer section of the Aurora
. "Course set for Yamalia."
"Engage. Lieutenant Navaez, activate the cloak."
At a press of a button, Magda cloaked the ship. Lights shifted to reflect the change in operating status. Moments later the ship jumped to warp.
"Captain, i understand the situation.
" The look on Governor Yalama's blue face, with his purple spot line framing it, showed he really didn't, or at least didn't care about what Robert needed. Even if he was in the confines of his office Robert tried to avoid letting his anger get the better of him here. "But the site in question is restricted. It's an archeological treasure, we can't allow military personnel to go tromping about in it.
"I understand, and I'm not sending such. Lieutenant Delgado is a scientist
first and foremost. Commander Jarod, well, it wouldn't surprise me if he's done archeology professionally." Robert sighed and kneeled forward. "They'll take all necessary precautions."
"Governor, someone is dying right now because of something on that planet," Robert cut in, his patience wearing dangerously thin. "We're not going to harm the site, but we need to find out what this thing is."
"I need some kind of assurance, Captain. Our colony is relying on the funding we're getting from the High University of the Lushan. If I have to tell their archeological department that the site was ruined by Stellar Navy personnel, why, I..... they could pull their support, Captain!
Robert drew in a sigh, trying not to feel aggravated. Going higher would not be the smart thing to do. "What if I sent a swevyra'se
of Gersal with them?", Robert finally asked.
Yalama's face changed to surprise. "You have a connection to them?
"I have one serving on my ship."
Yalama's jaw dropped. "You're serious?! I've never heard of such a thing...
" He became mindful of his less than dignified expression and closed his mouth. "Captain, I will give your officers access if you send this
swevyra'se with the team. I will see them and get their promise to maintain the integrity of the site.
Robert nodded. "I'll send them down immediately." When Yalama disappeared from his screen Robert hit his multidevice comm button. "Dale to Meridina."
After a short period he got a reply. "I am here.
"I'm going to have to send you down with Jarod and Cat, it's the only way to get Governor Yamala's cooperation."
"Very well. I will be ready.
Angel had given Zack the stinkeye when he left the bridge, leaving him to wonder just what the hell had gone on to make her angry with him.
His other thought was, quite simply, Where the hell is Rob?
He felt like he should know.
He returned to the Captain's Cabin to change the sheets and make the bed. As Zack did so he let his thoughts try to make everything in his head ordered. He had memories of getting zapped by a weird thing and now he was married to Julia, Julia was captain of the Aurora
, and Angel was her XO and seemed to hate him now. But... wasn't that how it had always been? Why did he feel like he shouldn't be married to Julia, to his beloved wife, the woman he'd give everything for? And why was he surprised that Robert was missing....
Zack's heart froze as he considered those two facts. Angel was mad at him. Robert was missing. He wasn't here. Something happened.But... why am I surprised? I shouldn't be. Of course something happened. It hurt but... why do I feel like I saw Robert just hours ago?
"Computer?", he asked aloud.
" The feminine voice was its usual dull, lifeless self; Carlton Farmer had personally determined the voice used and based it, like so many other things, on things from Starfleet.
"Computer, please give me the status of Robert Dale."
"There are several individuals of significance with that name. Please specify.
"Robert Allen Dale," Zack said in irritation. "From my home universe. My best friend. That Robert Dale
"Accessing.... Robert Allen Dale. Member of Darglan Facility H1E4 Council. Commanding Officer in Facility Armed Service. Current Status: Deceased.
The words struck Zack with such force that he almost fell into the loveseat, catching himself at the last minute in order to actually sit normally. He took a breath and felt like it hurt. Most of all, he was confused, very confused, that he was so surprised. Dammit, Rob's alive, you just saw him! I know I just saw him today!
"Wha..... what happened?", he forced himself to say.
"Robert Dale is listed as a casualty of the Dalek Incursion.
Zack was silent after that. The Daleks of Universe W8R4, the weird things that looked like peppershakers and which had carved a swath of bloody destruction in the Facility, had nearly killed them all. They'd lost Carlton Farmer, almost lost Angel, and they'd blown up the Kelley
and with it the Facility. And we lost Rob too. But we didn't? I, I could swear we...
Zack closed his eyes. This is how I got married to Julia?
The door slid open and Julia entered. She saw him sitting and the confusion and bewilderment on his face. Her expression shifted to show sympathy. "Is something wrong?"Everything feels wrong and it shouldn't. Robert being dead, our marriage, Angel hating me...
. Aloud his response was, "I was, well, I was thinking about Rob."
Julia nodded. Her eyes lowered. "I do a lot too. Sometimes I can't believe he's gone." She walked over and sat beside him. His remark had clearly cut into her heart in a way he'd never met to.
Zack took her hand and held it with his own. "How was work, honey?", Zack asked, looking to get their minds off the subject.
"Oh, the usual. The Governor and his advisors were being all nice and diplomatic and talking about their ruins and how they need more protection." Julia cuddled up to him. "So... I have a few hours of reports to do and file off for Admiral Maran, but when I'm done I hear Hargert is making some excellent things for tonight."
"A dinner in the Lookout?"
"Why not? We can't always eat in here." Julia smiled at him. "I..... may have let slip to him that you had a bad morning, so he's going to add some oysters to our meal."
Zack chuckled. "Oh wow. Is that a proposition, Mrs. Carrey?"
"I wasn't looking to be subtle," she answered. Her green eyes lit up as she kissed him on the mouth.
And like before, having her lips against his mouth made the confusion go away..
The excavation stretched out around Caterina, Jarod, and Meridina as their shuttle came in to land. "A good thing the Governor has such a high opinion of you," Jarod remarked.
"Many Dorei have an appreciation for my order," Meridina answered. "Even regardless of theological differences."
The shuttle landed and they disembarked. As they came up to an elevator lift they were met by a blue-skinned, teal-spotted Dorei male in a green coat. Alien characters were stitched into it. "Doctor Pagar," Meridina said, nodding respectfully.
," Pagar replied respectfully. "We've gone over the telemetry you provided. We think that one of our newest tunnels leads to the point you seek. Please, follow me."
They went with Pagar onto the lift. Within seconds they were underground and the lift didn't seem to be slowing. "This is pretty far down," Jarod noted.
"At least four yems
," Pagar replied. "I believe that would be about three kilometers for you. And the deepest tunnels seem to have been dug as far down as ten yems, though many were clearly incomplete."
"So what is this place?", Caterina asked. "Was it a home or something?'
"We found remains that hint it was more than just a home," Pagar anaswered. "We think it was a bunker. But we've found no sign of remaining life, so we have to assume the garrison here abandoned the base."
"Or were forced to," Jarod noted.
The lift came to a stop. A hover cart was waiting for them with an assistant at the wheel. "Please, we still have quite a drive to go," Pagar said.
"Are we going to be able to reach the Aurora
this far down?", Meridina asked.
"We have signal boosters," Pagar replied. "They should permit you to maintain a constant channel regardless of any interference."
"That's re-assuring," Jarod mumbled.
A horrified-looking Dorei woman, with teal complexion and purple spotting, was on the Koenig
's main viewer. Her purple eyes were focused intently on them. "We just got full communication back up
," she said. "They spent hours hunting for people through our colony. They were throwing them into cages and dragging them off!
Julia's hands clenched the chair arms. Slavers. Bastards.
"Can you tell us anything about the ship? Why wasn't it picked up on long range sensors? Was it cloaked?"
"No. It... it didn't seem to use warp, there was a sudden Doppler shift and it appeared over our planet. Their first volley hit our subspace transmitter.
"Do you have any indication on its course?"
"No. There was another Doppler shift and they were gone.
" The governor of Yamalia put a hand on the cut on her chin. "They... they took my children, Commander. Please get them back. Please!
"We'll find them," Julia assured her. "Can you tell me anything about the attackers?"
"They were bipedal. No hair, and.....
" The woman disappeared, the screen blipping out.
Magda was examining things on her screen. "it looks like their comm system failed again. Unless we go to Yamalia I can't tell you if they'll be able to get it back up or not."
"If we go to Yamalia they might get away." Julia frowned and hit a key to bring up an astrographical map. Yamalia flashed blue, as did Adrana. "Magda, can you access those reports on ships spotted on long range?"
"Doing so now." Magda entered the relevant commands. Several systems rimward of the Dorei colonies lit up. "There was no activity on long range sensor to indicate warp systems in use."
"Still, it could be anywhere in one of those systems. What did we get on sensors about them?"
"I'm checking..." Magda went over some of the records and reached for her multidevice. "Navaez to Derbely. Karen, I'm relaying readings to your station in Engineering. Can you tell me what you see?"
" There was a pause on the other end. "...okay, what is this from? That subspace pulse is positively humungous.
"It came from one of the nearby systems..... System M4P2-G1SV."
"It's either from some weird kind of pulsar that ripples into subspace or its artificial.
"As good a place as any to check," Julia said. "In the meantime, I want every band of subspace scanned. If they're not using warp drives, maybe their FTL uses a different band."
"Changing course now," Apley confirmed.
"Expanding scan range," Magda added.
Julia nodded and felt the subtle shift of the ship changing course.
The vehicle came to a stop at one end of the excavation. Pagar led the three through a circular-looking door and into a smaller chamber, not quite fifteen feet high. Caterina looked down at her multidevice and brought up a holographic display. "Wow... we've definitely got something powered up down here."
"We've had no such energy sources before," Pagar insisted.
Caterina focused her scans on the center of the chamber. A quarter million years had caused fading of color and such, but being underground had preserved the site. There was the clear indication of computer interfaces, flat slab, and a cylindrical device that now hummed. Blue light flickered within. On the closest side of the device was an empty table of some form. "It looks like the microfusion system they put in it is the main source of power." Caterina tapped buttons, showing different scan results. "This is why it lost contact with the device on Zack. This thing can't communicate over extrasolar distances."
"So how do we turn it off?", Meridina asked.
"I'm not sure. I'm afraid if we mess with it too much it might hurt Zack again." Caterina went up to an old display. "What do we know about this?"
"Almost nothing. The internal parts include data drives and other machinery, but we've never seen anything like it," Pagar replied.
"And you just... found it like this?"
"No, we also found fossilized remains from what we presume to be the natives of Adrana," Pagar explained. "Many of them spread around the chamber. It seems to be the result of an accident of some sort. Several of the remains showed signs of cellular modification before their demise."
"Sounds nasty." Jarod ran a hand over one of the metal surfaces. "Alright, I'll see if I can get something like a control system up. Cat, can you...?"
"I'll handle scans," Cat replied. "Meridina, I'm sorry but I don't think there's anything you can do."
"I understand. This is not my specialty." Having said that, Meridina looked around consciously. This place had a terrible history, she felt. Despair and rage danced at the edge of her senses, never quite strong enough to get her attention but there in some way. "But I will remain nevertheless. I feel as if I will be needed."
After dealing with his duties for the day, Robert returned to the medbay and took a seat beside Zack in the care ward. Leo came in a few minutes later. "How's he doing?", Robert asked.
"He's stable," Leo replied. He shook his head. "I've investigated every possible way to get that thing off of him. But the connection its formed with his brain is just too powerful. If I try anything to remove it, anything, odds are the backlash will kill Zack."
"Is there any hope?", Robert asked quietly.
"There's always hope." Leo put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Cat and Jarod will find out what this thing is. And maybe there's a way to turn it off."
"Yeah." Robert put his face in his left hand. "Leo... do you ever think we were wrong to bring Zack out here?"
"What do you mean?"
"What I mean is.... we all had our reasons to want to use the gifts of the Facility. But Zack didn't care about it. The only reason he's here is because we're here. Our friendship pulled him here with us."
"Yes, true," Leo agreed.
"Maybe he would have been better off staying home," Robert thought aloud. "He wouldn't be laying here dying."
"Think of all the times Zack came through for us, Robert." Leo shook his head. "And..... Robert, let's be honest. His life was just as directionless as your's. This was good for him."
"How can you say that? He had a family..."
"A mean old drunk is not a family," Leo retorted. "We
are his family, Robert. Even if he's not sure what to do out here, that wouldn't change. And we would be a hell of a lot worse off without him."
Robert nodded quietly and looked back to his unconscious friend. "Yeah. We would be."
"You've got other work to do, right? I'll call you if anything changes."
"No, I got it all done. I think it's best that I, uh, stay here." Robert smiled thinly. "Julie and Tom can't be here, so I will be."
"Your choice. I'll have Nasri get a cot." Leo patted him on the shoulder again. "Just remember to get rest."
Robert nodded quietly and sat back in the seat, beginning his vigil over his stricken friend.
The dinner in the Lookout was as good as it ever got. Zack was in a casual long-sleeve button down shirt, blue and red in line patterns, while Julia had gone for a short-sleeved green blouse and matching skirt. It felt good to be out of uniform. Whatever this was - in his head, an alternate timeline of some sort, or a dream - Hargert's cooking was as good as ever, although as it turned out he had not added oysters to the meal, instead insisting on cooked salmon as the main seafood course.
They had made small talk at first, the kind of talk Zack always imagined a married couple would make when they weren't discussing "important business". Then there was silence as the food was served and they focused on eating. Zack used the time to think, to come to terms with, well, everything. This world was wrong but it wasn't. He was remembering so many details now but they seemed..... fake. Like it wasn't what really happened. There was a corner of his head
"You look thoughtful," Julia remarked quietly, having finished a bite of salmon.
"I'm just wondering if I can get Angel to look at me like she used to, as her annoying lecherous friend," Zack remarked.
Julia frowned and lowered her head. "I thought she'd get over it. I mean..."
"She loves him. Loved. Even if they couldn't make it work." Zack took a quick bite. "I just wish I knew why she hated me so much now."
"She blames you," Julia said, her tone indicating she was a little miffed at having to remind him. "I... Zack, please? Another topic? I don't want to talk about Rob."
"Yeah, sorry." Zack took another bite and finished it. He couldn't think of anything else to say for the moment. I know how much it'd hurt if Rob had died back then in the real world. But something doesn't seem right. What is going on here?
Jarod brought his scanner away from the machine, examining his multidevice. "This technology has some familiar mechanics," he said, looking over to where Caterina was examining the flat table. "It reminds me of the Darglan brainwave infusers we had in the Facility. The emitter systems and the data flow going through them is similar."
"So this thing connects to brains and downloads data?' Caterina shook her head. "Wait, no.... it's not just that." She ran her own scanner over the far section of the device, near one of the prods of blue light. "Jarod.... these scans of the datastream... look at this."
Meridina watched passively as Jarod walked over and used his scanner on the device as well. "It's not one way," Jarod said. "This... this connection is a two way
data stream." He and Cat looked at each other with realization.
"So that's why Zack's brain is so active," Cat murmured. "This thing is actively communicating with him on a neurological level!"
"And it's not letting go," Jarod added. "We need to find a way to make it do that. I'm analyzing the device's data systems now, maybe there's a port we can use..." He walked around it, holding out the scanner from his multidevice and looking at the data on the pop-up holo display. As he stepped up to the table and followed his scans, he looked to the table and to the device. His hand reached up and gripped the side of a slight extension. A grunt came from him as his arm tensed and he visibly pulled. There was the sound of protesting metal. Jarod frowned and pulled harder. As he went to bring his second hand up, Meridina stepped up beside him and laid a hand on it. "What are you doing?", Jarod asked.
will suffice and not risk damaging the device," she answered. Meridina focused on it and felt her life force take hold of it, finding the rails within that were rusted and old and locked in place. With effort her power began to force it loose, just enough energy applied to break the eons of immobility and allow the device to come all the way out. It gave way with a metallic shriek and the painful screech of metal forced across metal. The protrusion came all the way out.
Jarod looked from it to the table and back. It fit right over the head of the table, giving maybe ten centimeters of clearance. He ran the scanner over it. "It's an interface," he said. "So someone can lay here and connect to the system."
"Yes." Meridina swallowed and closed her eyes. She'd felt pain on this thing. Like the life that was once here had reached out to her, full of loss and terror and despair..... indeed, hopelessness itself. What happened here?
, she thought to herself. "Could someone interface with it here? Maybe we could find the control."
"Let me get to work on it," Jarod said. "We can see if this part is still capable of working."
Dinner was over and Julia and Zack were heading back to their quarters. His arm was in her's and Zack, for all he was still uncertain, couldn't stop enjoying his life as it was now. Even with Robert gone, everything seemed to be happy for him. Rob would want this
, he assured himself. He'd want me and Julie to be happy. I know him.
As they approached their quarters they found Angel standing outside of them. She barely seemed to acknowledge Zack's presence, focusing her view on Julia. She handed her a tablet. "First long range scans. Cat hasn't found anything yet."
"Okay, thank you," Julia answered.
"Knowing Cat she found plenty, just not alien ships," Zack chuckled.
Angel stared daggers at him. Julia looked at them with concern. "What did I say?", Zack asked. He didn't flinch from Angel's angry look. "Angel, please? This isn't how things should be."
"You're right, they're not," Angel hissed. "Robert should be alive. If anyone should be dead, it should be you
"Angel!", Julia shouted.
"Julia, please. I want this settled," Zack insisted.
"I know what you did, you bastard," Angel growled. "Nobody will believe it from me, but I know
. So go to Hell." She pushed past him and stormed off.
Julia drew in a sigh. "You need to stop trying, Zack. Angel's just.... she's so angry."
"But she's still here."
"Only because of Cat and Leo. And it's only a matter of time before she..." Julia put a hand to her forehead. "Please, Zack. The night is going so well. Please?"
Zack looked at the corridor Angel had departed down. He swallowed and looked back at Julia - at his beautiful, suffering wife - and forced a smile to his face. "For you, of course." He put his arms around her sides and pulled her close. "For you, anything..."
Despite himself, Zack's heart lifted with joy at feeling Julia in his arms and the love she was directing toward him. When she kissed him it made him stop thinking about Robert again. He didn't resist as she pulled him into their quarters.
"Coming out of warp in M4P2-G1SV in five seconds," Apley informed the others.
"Navaez, how is the cloak?", Julia asked.
"Operating within parameters."
"Do we have anything on sensors?"
By this point the ship tremored beneath their feet as its warp fields disengaged and it decelerated to sublight. Magda was looking over her sensors intently. "I'm picking up a really big mass along the outer edge of the system, near the second-largest gas giant. It has an active subspace signature."
"What is it?"
"I'm... not sure. It doesn't appear to be entirely active, it just has an active subspace signature."
"Some kind of device on standby?", April Sherlily proposed from Tactical.
"Keep an eye on it. Anything else?"
"Nothing... wait. I've got a ship near the gas giant, not far from that object. Decently sized."
"Take us in Apley," Julia ordered. "As soon as we're close enough, give me a life sign scan. Let's see if they have any Dorei."
moved in at full impulse, closing the range quickly. The ship was unlike anything Julia had seen. It had no visible warp drive system, being instead a long, fat vessel of brown coloration with visible weapon emplacements on the hull and large ports. "It's some kind of carrier, isn't it?"
"I don't know. I'm reading lots of life signs aboard. Various aliens I've never seen... and some Humans, sir," Magda added.
"Humans?" Julia put a hand on her chin. "We haven't met the local Humans yet. Can you give me anything on the ship's function?"
"It's a carrier or transport of some sort, I can't give you more than that," Magda answered. "Wait... I'm getting a subspace surge nearby. It's fairly slow, about Warp 4 in comparison at best. ETA thirty minutes."
"You said in comparison. So it's not actually at warp?"
"Yes and no, Commander," Magda replied. "Its drive has some warp field effect, yes, but it's not a full warp system like we have. The subspace signature is a side effect of the drive field instead of being part of it like a normal warp field. And the mass is way off for a ship of its size."
"Trajectory, Mister Apley?"
"Examining now." Apley looked over his screens. "Commander, that ship came straight from Yamalia."
"Then it's probably our raider." Julia swallowed. "Code Yellow. Standby for Code Red. I want scans when that ship comes in."
Meridina shifted herself a little on the ancient table, looking right up at the interface she'd pulled out. Caterina stood nearby while Jarod was fussing with his multidevice. "The control surfaces to this thing were smashed, so I have to do the controls remotely," he explained. "Are you sure about this?"
"I am the best choice. You and Caterina must continue to examine the device."
Jarod breathed in a sigh. "Okay. To recap, this will let you enter the datastream the device is sharing with Zack. You'll be experiencing the same thing he is. I'm not sure if you'll be able to do anything inside to break the connection, but see what it does let you do. Cat will be monitoring you while I...." He tapped another button and winced. "....keep trying to find out how this works."
"I am ready."
"Okay. I'm powering the interface now." Jarod tapped a couple of keys on the device.
Meridina quietly whispered a prayer to the Light and waited. Blue light gathered in her vision. "Activating interface.... now," she heard Jarod say.
The blue light became a beam that hit her forehead. Intense pain stabbed into her head and Meridina cried out before everything went black.