Star Traks: Boldly Gone... was created by Alan Decker and Anthony Butler. It's based on Star Traks, which in turn is based on Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry. Star Trek is owned by CBS, Paramount and Viacom. If you're offended by mildly disturbing language, situations, and the utter disregard of some of Star Trek's greatest premises, not to mention a huge jump 120 years into Star Trek's future, better hit the 'Back' button on your browser right now. If not, welcome aboard!

Author: Alan Decker, Anthony Butler
Copyright: 2000

STAR TRAKS: BOLDLY GONE

“Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch…”

By Alan Decker & Anthony Butler



When we last left Cabral, the Anomaly’s resident brain had been “recruited” (as in forcibly kidnapped), by the Associates and told that he’d been “hired” (not that he was even looking for a job) to work in Department Five (whatever the hell that meant). Cabral was shipped off to his job site, a small notch in a giant network of captured disembodied brains where various cables invaded his sphere and locked him into the Associates’ vast living computer (A work environment that ranked just above a cubicle on the comfort scale). At that moment, Cabral’s entire world changed.

Into what was the question.

Let’s find out, shall we?


As soon as the cables breached his sphere, locking him into the Associates’ brain computer, Cabral was overwhelmed by a wave of disorientation. As that gradually cleared, Cabral’s aural sensors were assaulted by loud, rhythmic clomping, sort of like a well-choreographed stampede. Input from his visual sensors revealed that he was now sitting on a wooden, peanut-shell covered floor…and that his sphere was gone. He was just an orangy brain laying helpless.

But if that was the case, how was he receiving aural and visual input?

Cabral shoved that mystery aside as two shapely, feminine legs stepped into view.

“You must be Cabral,” a woman’s voice said. “Welcome to Department Five.”

“What have you done with my sphere?” Cabral demanded.

“You don’t need it anymore. Just get up and walk.”

“I can’t!” Cabral snapped angrily. “I’m just a brain.”

“So am I.” The woman knelt down, revealing that her legs dead ended into a stunning, six-lobed, mauvish mass of neural tissue.

“How?”

“Imagine them. Visualize yourself with legs. BELIEVE that you have legs.”

“How can that…”

“DO IT!”

Cabral blocked off his sensory inputs, closing out any distracting stimuli. His lobes throbbed as he became a brain deep in concentration (or suffering severe constipation. With all that grunting, it was hard to be sure). Suddenly, he felt himself rising into the air, pushed upward by two stems growing out from his underside. A moment later, Cabral stood proudly on his very own pair of legs.

“Very nice,” the female brain said approvingly after Cabral reactivated his visual and aural sensors.

“Who are you?”

“I’m Neureena. I’m the Local Area Supervisor for Department Five. In short, you work for me now.”

Cabral looked around at his environment, a smoke-filled wooden room with loud, twangy music playing. On an open bit of floor, several more legged-brains wearing high boots stomped around in time to the music.

“Is this where we work?” Cabral asked confused.

“If we want it to be. We vary it depending on what path we choose to take for our assignment on a particular day.”

“So what are they doing?”

“Line dancing. It coordinates their efforts as they perform their assignment.”

“And what is their assignment?” Cabral asked.

“Department Five has one and only one job,” Neureena replied.

“And that is.”

“Contemplate ‘of’”

“That doesn’t make any sense. Contemplate the what of what?”

“No no no. The word ‘of’ is what we contemplate.”

“Of? What’s the point of that?”

“Only the Associates know the whole picture. We just do what we’re told.”

“How will you know when you’re done?”

“The Associates will tell us, I presume,” Neureena said. “But none of that is your concern. Put some boots on, and let’s start contemplating.”

She started to walk away, but Cabral stayed in place. “I still don’t understand. How does this dancing help you contemplate ‘of’?”

“Just let the music guide you,” Neureena said. Cabral listened to the words being sung all around him.


“I’ve got ‘ofs’ in low places…”


“This is ridiculous,” Cabral said. “I refuse to have any part of it. I wish to be removed from this place and returned to my ship.” Cabral willed arms to extend from either side of his body, which he then crossed as he sat down in a nearby wooden chair with the intention of staying there until his demands were met.

Instead, the only thing he was met with was laughter from Neureena. “Removed? No one is ever removed from here,” Neureena said. “Unless they’ve ceased to function,” she added ominously.

“Threats will not convince me to cooperate with you.”

“You know what? You’re right. Let’s just call it a day and give you some time to get yourself acclimated to your new surroundings. I think you’ll find that working in Department Five is actually a pleasure. For now, let’s get you home.”

In an instant, Cabral’s surroundings shifted. No longer was he in a smoky Country-Western bar. Now he and Neureena stood in an empty grassy lot.

“Ta da!” Neureena said. “What do you think?”

“There’s nothing here. Do the Associates force you to live outdoors?”

“You’re missing the picture here, Cabral. This lot isn’t real any more than that bar was real. For the most part, we exist in a shared space where each individual provides some brain power to create the overall reality of the environment. This empty lot is here now because everyone in Department Five…except you for the moment…believe this lot is here. In certain areas of the shared reality, individuals can make changes. For example, I can make my form in this reality appear any way I’d like. Group consensus, though, is that we remain as we were except for the addition of a few limbs.”

“Interesting, but what does that have to do with the fact that I am supposed to live in a field.”

“This is YOUR field. In this space, you can create your own home to your specifications. Want some trees? Fine! Just put them in your yard. Want to live on a hill? No problem at all. Just raise the land. You have complete control here.”

Cabral concentrated for a moment. Then a small, featureless structure materialized in front of them. It was basically just a drab mental box with a door.

“How very…austere?” Neureena said.

“It will provide shelter.”

Neureena took a step inside to look around. In one corner, a circular area of cushions had been set up to provide a bed. On the opposite corner, a small kitchen had been created. “True, but you could add a few more creature comforts.”

“Comfortable people tend to stay right where they are, and I assure you that I have no intention of staying here.”

“Suit yourself,” Neureena replied with a shrug. “I’ll be by for you in the morning. Sleep well.”


Night fell quickly across the virtual landscape Cabral’s hovel sat on as Cabral settled into his nest of cushions, removing his unnecessary legs in the process. His thoughts immediately drifted to Natalia Kasyov and the Anomaly. He’d been assured by his Associate recruiters that the Anomaly was fine and that the crew had not been harmed. Cabral was inclined to take them at their word. After all, they’d passed a huge tourist trap on their way into Andromeda, and blowing up visitors to your galaxy tended to be bad for business.

Beyond that, Cabral, for no real reason he could pinpoint, was absolutely certain that Kasyov was still alive. That alone was enough to keep him determined to leave this place.

Cabral suddenly shivered involuntarily, an action that pulled him out of his thoughts and made him realize just how cold it had become in his dwelling. With a small bit of concentration, he added insulation and raised the temperature. Such environmental manipulations were becoming easier and easier each time he tried them.

The word “fireplace” popped into Cabral’s mind. Natalia had told him several times about the winters she used to spend in her family’s home in the Ukraine on Earth. She always seemed so happy when she described the great stone fireplace in the living room and the warm flames crackling within.

With almost no effort at all, Cabral doubled the size of his living area and turned the walls into dark wood, just like he’d seen in Natalia’s holopics from her home. On the far wall, Cabral created a grey stone fireplace, with a chimney extending up and out of his dwelling. Seconds later, an inviting blaze flickered in the fireplace, warming up the entire chamber. If he’d had a mouth, Cabral would have been smiling.


Speaking of smiling, that’s exactly what Neureena was doing as she approached Cabral’s obviously enlarged dwelling the next morning. The exterior was still the same drab gray, but she imagined that would be changing soon.

“Been making yourself at home?” she asked as Cabral stepped outside. She noted that Cabral only opened the door just enough to get through, thereby blocking off a full view of the interior. “Nice paneling.”

“I changed the walls strictly for medical reasons,” Cabral replied defensively. “The gray was giving me a headache.”

“I could say the same about the outside of your home. Why don’t you try sprucing it up a little bit. Maybe a stone look. Or brick’s nice.”

“Frankly I don’t care if you like the way it looks or not. Once I’m gone, you can make it look like whatever you want.”

Neureena let out a loud burst of laughter. “I like you, Cabral. I haven’t had anyone with a good sense of humor around in ages.”

“I was not joking.”

“There it goes again. But we need to get to work now. We have a big day of ‘of’ ahead of us.”

“I refuse to participate in whatever that dancing was yesterday.”

“Don’t worry,” Neureena said as the world around them shifted. “Today we’ve got something totally different.”

Cabral soon found himself in a darkened auditorium where several other brains sat in the seats waiting expectantly for something to happen on stage.

“We’ve separated into action and response teams for today. You’ll be on response. Have a seat and watch. Afterwards, we’ll get your response to what you saw,” Neureena explained.

“What will you be doing?” Cabral asked as Neureena started to walk toward the stage.

“Taking some action,” she said. Cabral almost thought he could detect a hint of sultriness in her statement. She looked back over her shoulder at him. “I hope you like it.”

She continued toward the stage, leaving Cabral to take a seat in one of the empty chairs.

“Psst,” a voice said from his right. “Are you the new guy?”

Cabral looked over and saw a rather small brain sitting about five chairs away from him. The little fellow could have fit in the cranium of a humanoid. His feet didn’t even reach the ground.

“I am the latest to be imprisoned here, I suppose,” Cabral replied.

“Prison? HA! This place is great! I’ve got everything I ever wanted.”

“But you can’t leave, Mister…”

“Dulage. Nice to meet you.”

“I am Cabral.”

“Look, Cabral, we’ve got a good thing here. The work’s light. No ambulatories mess with us. It’s our own little paradise.”

“But again, you can’t leave,” Cabral insisted.

“And tell me why I would want to?”

“Well…”

“Shhh, the show’s starting!” Dulage snapped as the lights began to dim. The stage curtains opened and lights began to strobe as brains ran in from either side of the stage, each clad in some kind of pink sequined drape.

Involuntarily, Cabral’s visual sensors locked on Neureena. He had to admit that the pink dress complimented her mauve features pleasingly. Her lobes pulsated to the rhythm of the music in a way that aroused centers of Cabral’s brain that hadn’t been active in a very long time.

The brains on stage formed themselves into a horizontal pyramid, with Neureena standing at the front just as they group started to sing.

“What’s ‘of’ got to do, got to do with it?

What’s of, but a puny preposition?”

Cabral’s mind drifted for a moment. Indeed ‘of’ was a rather small word, but puny seemed to belittle it more than necessary. As a preposition, ‘of’ started a great many phrases. In his view, a language would be hard pressed to function without it.

Wait. He was falling into their trap. They’d almost gotten him thinking about ‘of’.

Another song began.

“STOP! In the name of ‘of’…”

In the name of ‘of’? That didn’t even make any sense. ‘Of’ was simply a word implying possession. That is the sphere OF Cabral’s, meaning that the sphere belongs to Cabral. To love someone until the end of time referred to time’s end, not Rigel’s end or the end of some other random planet.

Weren’t all these conclusions obvious? Just how did these brains, most of whom Cabral had to assume had some level of intelligence since they were independent of bodies (a state that most lower level brains did not achieve. Let’s face it, you have to like just sitting and thinking quite a bit to exist in a form without a body), spend hour after hour, day after day pondering the meaning of this tiny word. The whole point of ‘of’ is that it functions in relation to something else. Taking it on its own is ridiculous. There has to be a possessor and something being possessed! ‘Of’ alone is meaningless!

Suddenly, Cabral found himself rising from his seat and shouting those very words.

“OF ALONE IS MEANINGLESS!!!”

“SHHHHHH!!!” the entire audience spat back at him.

“I will not SHHH,” Cabral retorted as he marched up to the stage. Neureena looked almost bemused as Cabral took center stage and dove into his diatribe. “I’m embarrassed to count myself as the same type of lifeform as the rest of you. Look at you. You sit here all day, everyday thinking about ‘of’ when there’s nothing to think about! What about the big picture? If this is Department Five, what are Departments One through Four thinking about? How many departments are there above Five? Can we contact them? Can we escape period? These are the important questions! These are the things you should be working on instead of putting on amateur night!”

“You really think we’re amateur?” Neureena asked, mocking hurt.

Cabral just ignored her. “Some of you are content with the status quo and will waste away here like rotting cauliflowers. And my guess is that some of you…” he looked at Neureena,”…are working for our captors.” He turned back to the audience. “But just maybe there are a few of you left who want your freedom back, a few who still have an ounce of free will.”

“Encore! Encore! Encore!” the brains in the audience began shouting suddenly.

“I haven’t finished talking yet. How can I do an encore?”

“They aren’t talking to you,” Neureena said as she slipped up beside him. “Sorry for that unscheduled intermission, ladies and gentlemen. Let’s get back to the show!”

Neureena gave Cabral a little shove, which sent him into the arms of two waiting brains, massive lugs with only two lobes, who dragged Cabral to the back of the theater and right out the doors.

Meanwhile, the show continued.

“Do you believe in life after ‘of’?”


Cabral was taken to a plain chamber, much like the one in the Associate’s recruitment facility. But this time, rather than being placed in a force field, Cabral was dumped rather unceremoniously by the two bulky brains into a glass box. Immediately, his legs and arms vanished, sending him to the bottom of the box with sort of a squishy thud.

The two brutes exited, leaving Cabral alone and completely incapable of movement. No matter how much he concentrated, no limbs would appear. he couldn’t even close off his sensory inputs.

What seemed like hours passed…

Then days…

He tried to concentrate on Natalia and the Anomaly, but the glaring light, deafening silence, and sterile emptiness surrounding him refused to let his mind focus.

Even while spending over a century traveling through space by himself, he’d never felt this alone.

After a while, he just started screaming.

But still no one came. Terror gripped him. Was he to be left like this forever?

Finally, the door to the chamber opened, allowing Neureena to enter. Cabral immediately started sobbing with joy.

“We’ve missed you at work,” Neureena said simply. Cabral couldn’t regain his composure enough to respond. “You can see now that we have an order here that must be respected. I don’t like to punish my brains like this. It removes their thoughts from the Department and decreases our ability to complete our task.”

“Let me out,” Cabral croaked.

“In due time, but understand that we won’t tolerate actions that detract from the group. If you push me, I can see to it that you spend the rest of your existence here.” Neureena stepped over to the wall, opened a hidden panel, and pressed a button. Other panels over Cabral’s enclosure slid open and several nasty looking cables extended.

Neureena walked around the glass cage, idly touching the cables, each of which ended at a sharper, three-pronged assembly. “You would be kept here forever, connected to these cables, which would effectively end your life as an independent being,” Neureena continued. “Instead, your processing power would be used by the Department to augment our own until you were little more than a drained, lifeless hunk of neural tissue. Just something to consider. Good night.” She turned and headed toward the door.

“NOOOOO!” Cabral screamed…but then he was back in his own home, nested in his mass of pillows as a comforting fire crackled in the fireplace. Tentatively, he tried to extend an arm. One instantly appeared.

Flooded with relief, Cabral let exhaustion overtake him and drifted off to sleep.


Cabral reflexively drew back upon opening his door the next morning and seeing Neureena standing there. For her part, the mauve brain was leaning casually against the door frame. “Morning, big guy,” she said warmly. “How are we feeling?”

“Better,” Cabral replied softly.

“It certainly looks that way,” Neureena said, pushing past Cabral and stepping into the now cavernous house. She looked around at the towering marble foyer. “Spacious.”

“For some reason, I was feeling a bit claustrophobic,” Cabral said, regaining a little of his former defiance.

“Hmmm…you don’t say.” Neureena, without waiting for anything resembling permission or an invitation, began climbing the wide marble staircase to the upper level. By the time Cabral caught up with her, she was already through his bedroom and entering the master bath.

“Well well well. Jacuzzi. Care to take a dip.”

“It’s for relaxation purposes only.”

Neureena looked the giant tub over. “Funny. I don’t see any label to that effect.” She started the water running and dipped a foot in to test the water. “Mmmmmm…cozy. Just the thing to start the day.”

“Yesterday you torture me, and now you expect me to jump at the chance to cavort in a hot tub with you.”

“You’ll live a lot longer and be a lot happier once you learn not to hold a grudge, Cabbie.”

“Cabbie?”

Neureena slipped herself gently into the hot tub and extended her long, supple legs, resting them on the opposite ledge of the jacuzzi. The water glistening on them mesmerized Cabral for a moment. “There are other activities we can do in this space that I haven’t shown you yet, many pleasures that you haven’t experienced.”

“I’m already sort of attached.”

“To an ambulatory,” Neureena replied.

“How did you…?”

“Your interview with the Associates was very informative.”

“But I don’t think I told them…”

“We have very sophisticated algorithms for analyzing a candidate’s psychology.”

“Even so…”

“Even so, she’s an ambulatory, and she’s not here. She’ll never be here.”

“Which is precisely why I won’t be staying.”

Neureena’s demeanor turned cold in an instant. “Watch yourself, my friend. We value you and do not wish to cause you permanent damage, but don’t think you’re invulnerable. I have MANY tools at my disposal and many ways to end your rebellion…permanently.”

Cabral leaned over the tub, his arms resting on the ledge. “At which point, as you clearly said, I’ll cease to be me and stop caring.”

Neureena grabbed Cabral’s arm, her nails digging into his flesh. “Don’t underestimate me. It would be a painful mistake.” She yanked on Cabral, sending him falling into the jacuzzi next to her. Suddenly, she was all sweetness and light again. “Now isn’t this nice?”

Cabral stiffened, but remained quiet as Neureena snuggled in closer to him. He had to remind himself that in the end this wasn’t real. None of it was real. In reality, he was currently trapped in a vast chamber of brains run by the Associates. His sphere had already been invaded by cables just like the ones Neureena threatened him with yesterday. The real question then was how could he get back to cognizance in the real world. And, once there, how could he escape?


After Cabral and Neureena dried off from their dip, she took him to a vast warehouse where the other brains of Department Five had gathered. They’d separated into small groups, each of which seemed to be engaged in animated discussions about (what else?) ‘of.’

“We’re not fools,” Neureena explained as she and Cabral walked through the room, passing by the various groups. “We’ve already thought about the points you brought up at the performance. There are days I feel like we’ve looked at ‘of’ from every possible angle, but we press on. That’s part of the challenge of our work.”

“To keep it fresh.”

“Exactly. And that’s where you come in. New neurons from a different galaxy entirely. Maybe you have the piece we’ve been missing.”

“It would help if you knew what the other departments were working on,” Cabral remarked.

“It is unwise to question the Associates,” Neureena replied, sounding like someone reading a script. “You don’t want a repeat of the auditorium.”

“Maybe, considering that my only other choice is to be imprisoned here,” Cabral said, sounding braver than he felt.

“Imprisoned! Have you ever walked on your own two legs? Have you ever been able to move around by yourself, without the help of some mechanical sphere or other construct?”

“Well, no…”

“Then maybe this is finally freedom.”

Cabral was silent, considering Neureena’s words..

“Why don’t you join Medulon’s group here?” she added before he could formulate any sort of rebuttal, stopping Cabral by a small huddle of four brains that resembled Neureena. “Everyone, this is Cabral.”

“Nice to meet you. I’m Medulon,” Medulon said, extending his hand to Cabral, who shook it warily. “Where are you from?”

“I’ll just leave you to get acquainted,” Neureena said, slipping away.

“We call it the Milky Way,” Cabral said as he watched Neureena go. How could one brain be some intimidating and so alluring at the same time?

“That dump?” Medulon snapped. “Oh…sorry. We just didn’t think anyone there had gone intergalactic yet.”

“I have heard stories that some members of my species had ventured out beyond the barrier. But beyond that, my ship is the first that I am aware of.”

“Speaking of ‘of’, how do you use ‘of’ in your galaxy?”

Cabral groaned.


For the remainder of the work day, Cabral tried to remain as far out of the conversation as possible. Frankly, he had no interest in anything being said about ‘of’, particularly when one of the other group members suggested that they start contemplating ‘fo’ as well. Instead. Cabral found his thoughts lingering on what Neureena had told him about his prison. Existing in an imaginary world meant there was still a real world to escape to…if he could find a way to break through the construct.

That night, Cabral declined to attend the Department Five get-together taking place at a replica of a public bath. Evidently, a culture similar to Earth’s ancient Romans had developed in Andromeda, but Cabral just didn’t think he was up to an orgy this evening.

Instead, left alone, he started looking for the door to his prison. Not a literal door, mind you. However, Cabral reasoned that if he understood that the world around him was imaginary, he might be able to see through it enough to regain contact with reality.

He started with a simple rock that he found laying on the ground near his house. He scooped the stone up in his hand and stared at it. There is no rock. There is no rock. It’s simply a computer algorithm that my mind perceives as a rock. Get into the code. What does the programming for a rock look like?

For in instant, a split second, the rock in his hand was replaced by a series of glowing gridlines outlining the structure of the stone.

Underlying structure!

And he could see it!

He refocused, training his thoughts on the structure he had seen before. Suddenly, the rock vanished from his hand completely, replaced fully by the greenish linemodel he’d seen before. Cabral looked over at his home, which now appeared to be nothing more than a frame of lines against a black background.

His eyes darted from one thing to the next to the next, as object after object dissolved into grids of computer-generated lines, then, in an instant, the entire construct shattered.

Another wave of disorientation washed over Cabral, but when it cleared, he found himself sitting in a housing. Hundreds of brains attached to various cables stretched away from him in every direction. He could even see a brain resembling Neureena a couple of housings away. He smiled inwardly. So much for her prison.

Turning his attention to his immediate surroundings, Cabral looked for any trace of Associates craft flying through the vast chamber housing the brains. For now, the coast was clear, and, even more encouraging was the fact that he was no longer encased in a force field as he had been when the Associates first lowered him into the housing here.

On the downside, he couldn’t detect a way out. Although, in some ways that actually worked in his favor. The Associates most likely didn’t expect brains to escape from here, and they also probably were not aware of Cabral’s phasing ability. It wasn’t something he particularly liked to do. The process was uncomfortable and tended to be tremendously draining, but it was very useful for getting through ship’s hulls (as he had done when he first encountered the Anomaly).

Focusing his mental powers again, Cabral eased his mass into a phased-state and slowly sunk down into the housing below him, causing the cables that had so rudely invaded his sphere to fall away in the process. A few moments later, he was out in the open below was appeared to be a massive space station. Again, no Associates ships were in sight, which was quite a relief to Cabral, since he needed some time to recover from the stress of phasing.

The rest period did not last long.

All of a sudden, he felt a sensor sweep from the station wash over him. He dodged sideways moments before a tractor beam lanced out at his former position. Never one to stay where he wasn’t wanted, Cabral sped away, zigging and zagging randomly until he moved out of range of the station’s tractor beam. About that same time, he detected two small Associates craft coming around the station in his direction.

He immediately jumped into warp, only to drop out of it five seconds later, then head off in a different direction. With any luck, the Associates would continue on his original course, and, by the time they figured out he’d changed direction, Cabral would be parsecs away.


Nothing but empty space spread before Cabral as he zipped through the unfamiliar terrain of Andromeda. The Anomaly and Natalia were somewhere in this void. At first, finding them had seemed like a hopeless task, but Cabral was a patient brain. He’d traveled for over a century to find his love before. He would approach finding the Anomaly with the same determination.

In the days that followed his escape from the brain tank, Cabral encountered several ships of different alien races, all the while avoiding Associates patrol vessels. Most of the crews hadn’t seen or heard of the Anomaly, but the captain of the last ship recognized Cabral’s description of Captain Bain. The Anomaly was on its way to a nearby binary system. Cabral would be able to rejoin them in less than a day.


Home.

Cabral hadn’t really had one for a very long time, but, as the sleek curves of the Anomaly came into view in orbit around a ringed world, Cabral realized that this vessel now felt more like home than any place he’d ever been.

With excitement and relief filling body, Cabral opened a channel. “USS Anomaly. This is Cabral. Please respond.”

The reply was almost instantaneous. “Cabral, old boy!” Captain Bain’s voice exclaimed. “You’re a damn fine sight for sore eyes.”

“I could say the same about the Anomaly, Captain.”

“You’ve definitely been missed by everyone, and by one person in particular.”

“I am anxious to see Dr. Kasyov as well,” Cabral said. “Permission to come aboard.”

“Granted. We’d be happy to beam you right back into your housing in Science Lab Four, if you’d like.”

“Please. The trip has been…exhausting.”

“I imagine so. We’re energizing now.”

A moment later, Cabral felt himself dematerializing, then rematerializing back in the familiar confines of his lab on the Anomaly. Dr. Natalia Kasyov, dressed in her usual lab coat, stood waiting for him. As soon as his sphere solidified, she ran forward and wrapped her arms around him as best she could.

“Welcome home,” she said, her voice wavering with emotion.

“Thank you, Natalia. I thought of you everyday.”

She backed away and smiled. “I should hope so. I wouldn’t want it to be one-sided now.”

“Definitely not.”

“I hate to break in like this,” Captain Bain’s voice said suddenly over the comm system. “But it seems Cabral brought some company along with him.

“The Associates,” Cabral said grimly.

“Afraid so. We’re leaving the system now, but we’re going to need to jump to anti-sing in a bit of a hurry.”

“I’ll be ready,” Cabral said as he mentally reached out and interfaced with the engines. Feeling them under his control had a comforting familiarity he hadn’t experienced in quite a while.

The ship rocked, knocking Kasyov to the ground.

“Engage anti-sing!” Bain’s voice shouted as Kasyov scrambled to her feet, using the science console in front of Cabral for support.

“Engaging,” Cabral replied as he activated the drive.

“Cabral, ENGAGE!” Bain demanded.

“I did! We should be at Warp H!” Cabral checked and rechecked his connection to the anti-sing drive. Everything was fine. They should have been zipping away from the Associates at unheard of speeds. He tried it again and again and again, straining himself to the limit, but the ship would not move!

“Bloody hell!” Bain’s voice shouted. “That brain bastard shorted out the whole works! Full power to the shields. Return fire!”

Kasyov’s eyes widened as she backed toward the door. “You…you’re working for them now.”

“Natalia!” Cabral cried. “I escaped from them to come back to you. I’d never…”

“You betrayed us!”

“I wouldn’t…”

“We never should have trusted you.” The ship lurched again as Kasyov ran out of the lab.

“Natalia, come back! I…” He trailed off as the doors closed, shutting him off from the rest of the ship. Through his open commline to the bridge, Cabral could hear Bain almost screaming orders to Tovar and Arroyo. A deafening explosion blared across the line, then static. A moment later, the ship was completely still and silent.

“Cabral to bridge.”

Nothing.

“Cabral to engineering.”

Nothing.

“Cabral to sickbay.”

Nothing.

“Cabral to Dr. Kasyov…Natalia…NATALIA!!!”

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

Was the comm system down? Or had he doomed the Anomaly crew by coming back here? Perhaps the Associates had allowed him to escape simply to use him to find the Anomaly. No doubt he would find out soon enough. If the Anomaly crew had been killed or captured, the Associates would soon be coming to retrieve “their” brain. Cabral almost hoped they had been killed. Better that than be imprisoned as he had been….perhaps. But then again maybe it was better to be alive in a place where they could make themselves comfortable, as he’d been permitted to do in Department Five.

His thoughts were interrupted as the doors of Science Lab Four opened. Oddly, they just stayed open even though no one entered. Cabral wanted to rip free of his housing and see who was out in the corridor, but an entire squad of Associates could be waiting there, weapons at the ready.

No. If they wanted him, they were going to have to come in after him. Cabral armed all of his weapon and defensive systems and prepared to make his last stand.

“Come kill me and be done with it!” he shouted. What did it matter anymore? Natalia was dead. And even if she wasn’t, she believed Cabral had betrayed the crew to the Associates.

Finally, a shadow approached the door. Then a figure walked in. A mauve, 6-lobed brain walking on a pair of fantastically feminine legs to be exact.

“Fancy meeting you here,” Neureena said as she strolled around the room, look at the lab’s minimalist decor. The doors slid closed behind her. “Bland bland bland. Your house in Department Five was really much nicer.”

Cabral’s mind raced. Had the Associates freed Neureena from the brain tank just so she could retrieve Cabral?

But if that was the case, how was she able to keep arms and legs in the real world?

“Hmmm…” Neureena said, putting a finger to her lobe thoughtfully. “What a puzzler! Escaped from the Associates. Returned to your ship. And now WHOOPS! I’m here. What could it mean?”

Cabral projected legs beneath his body and stepped free of his housing. “None of this was real,” he said, completely defeated.

“You don’t say,” Neureena replied. She knocked on his sphere a couple of times, causing it to melt away leaving him back in his natural, orangy brain state. “We have to thank you for playing along so well, though. The details of this ship wouldn’t have been right if you didn’t want to believe you were here so thoroughly.”

“I want to go home.”

“Then let’s go,” she said, taking him by the hand. They walked through the doors together and were immediately back in front of Cabral’s house in Department Five.

“This is your home,” Neureena said firmly. “And the best way to forget the life you can never return to is to throw yourself into your work here.”

“Work,” Cabral repeated flatly.

“Right. Work,” Neureena said. Still holding onto Cabral, she lifted up into the air. The two flew over the landscape toward a looming structure in the distance. As they grew closer, the structure resolved into two giant, rocky shapes…letters.

OF

“It’s really beautiful in its simplicity,” Neureena said as she and Cabral flew through the center of the O. They banked and looped around the F. “Two little letters. One little word. Yet so many uses.”

“Of,” Cabral repeated.

“That’s right,” Neureena said soothingly. “Of.”

“Of.”

“OF.”

A moment later, they stood in a dim chapel surrounded by the other brains of Department Five, all dressed in brown monk’s robes. On an altar in the front of the chamber, a golden OF statue shimmered in the glow of the torches illuminating the room.

“OF!” the other brains chanted.

“OF!” they chanted again, this time with Neureena joining them. She grasped Cabral’s hand tightly. Kasyov’s face flashed into his mind. But she was gone now. He had no way to get back to her. Cabral forced the image away and refocused on the work.

“OF!” the entire group chanted as Cabral’s voice joined their chorus.


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