Author: Brendan Chris
Craigan stepped out of the elevator and into the hollow, three-level pod that was Haven’s control center. Queen Anselia, King Hektor, Minister Stafford, Mistress Laheya, Agent Jural and a few Starfleet officers Craigan didn’t know were already there.
“We’ve stopped using the replicators, the laundry facilities, the cooking facilities and anything else that wasn’t active when we found the installation,” a cool voice spoke.
“Including you, Fifebee, from the looks of it,” Stafford said.
“Yes,” Fifebee replied, “My holo-relay puts out a distinct energy signature. It had to be shut down,”
“Which is why you’re in the computer?” Anselia blinked.
“I am always in the computer,” Fifebee sniffed.
“She’s quite the roommate,” another voice spoke up as Craigan mounted the first set of stairs. Looking down through the lower windows, he could see a few lights in one of the towers they’d found connected to the command tower.
“We’ve also cut our network traffic to almost nothing,” said one of the other officers, “We are receiving only the same sensor feed as when we first found the facility,”
“So the Qu’Eh aren’t likely to find us,” Stafford finished. As Craigan began climbing towards the third level, the group of people came into view. Stafford was gesturing at the glowing hologram of Matria Prime. Small dots were moving slowly across the surface of the globe, “But they’re sure looking,”
“Nothing from the rescue team?” King Hektor asked.
“Naw, the HT only boarded P’tarek’s ship a little while ago,” Stafford replied, “When they’re done, I’m sure we’ll know it,”
<You will know when the time is right.>
Craigan shook his head. That voice again. It had popped up during the mission to retrieve the captured Silverado crewmen. Was that only earlier today? That didn’t seem possible!
“Craigan,” Anselia said warmly, “We are pleased you came back, instead of joining the assault on P’tarek’s ship,”
“Your Highness,” he bowed slightly.
The Starfleet officers returned to their own business. Craigan made aimless small-talk with the Queen and King for a while, telling them about the school he’d gone to as a child. Ansleia and Hektor had been bombarding him with questions ever since he’d agreed to help the Rebellion, but he still couldn’t quite believe how ignorant they were of their own culture…and they was the leaders!
<I’m afraid, Craigan. I’m afraid this place will be the last trace of our civilization.>
Craigan started. That was one of the most coherent things this ‘voice’ had said to him. It couldn’t be a coincidence that he’d started hearing voices shortly after being revived in Haven. His memories of his old life were a bit clouded; working for a Male Rebellion cell, pushing propaganda out, trying to further their cause. Trying to counter the lies and foolishness of the female-led government. But he was pretty sure that he’d never heard voices before.
Craigan started again. Queen Anselia was staring at him, concerned.
“Are you well? We could have a doctor examine you. Or even Dr. Wowryk. I understand she has started to return her attentions to medicine,”
“No, I’m…I’m OK,”
“She’s coming up anyway,” Stafford butted in, “She needs to talk to Laheya about…something. I think it involves a Qu’Eh comm center,”
Stafford pulled Anselia aside.
“About that,” he said, “Your rebellion is running, your people are fighting back, and the fleet’s gotta be getting closer. Are you sure you still need her involved?”
“We would prefer to keep her involved,” Anselia shook her head, “If not as a symbol for gender cooperation, then as a symbol of the commitment and the firmness of resolve of your people,”
“OK, fine,” Stafford muttered.
At that moment, Dr. Wowryk climbed the steps into the command deck.
“Anything I should know about?” she asked coolly.
“Just…keep up the good work,” Stafford said weakly.
“Fine,” Wowryk replied, “Laheya, Jural…you both know I’m willing to do whatever is necessary to help you and the rebellion. However, my skills as a doctor are needed as well. Should you need me, I can be found in-“
“Captain, we have a problem,” Valtaic said sharply.
Everybody’s attention was suddenly riveted on the dark-skinned alien.
“Have they spotted us?”
“No,” he said, “But the Qu’Eh have opened fire on one of the Matrian cities.”
“WHAT???” The word was like an expletive, coming from all directions.
On the holo-globe, small points of light were moving from one of the Qu’Eh ship icons to a spot on the planet.
“I’m getting something on one of the news networks,” Fifebee said from the computer core, “I am routing it to display screen 2,”
On one of the Federation display screens connected to the core, the image of P’tarek standing in the Matrian council chamber appeared.
“Behold,” the image of P’tarek said, “Your corrective action measures!”
The screen behind him showed images of a city being fired upon from orbit.
“That’s Raleesh,” Layeha said, letting out a breath of relief, “It’s deserted,”
“But they are still destroying one of OUR cities!” Anselia seethed, furious.
“And they will pay,” Layheya vowed, “Rebels! Let’s go plan some counter-strikes!”
“We’ve found Haven, Mr. Chairman!”
Everybody’s attention snapped right back to the screen.
“Dear God,” Stafford cursed. Wowryk smacked him.
But the voice was cut-off before it could report the location. On the holo-globe, one of the ships faded out.
There was silence in the command complex for about three seconds, then chaos. Anselia and Hektor were shouting insistent questions at Stafford, who was shouting at Valtiac, who was calmly stating that he knew nothing. Laheya was cheering, slapping Jural hard enough on the back to knock the smaller man over. Wowryk was crossing herself and Craigan’s eyes were transfixed by the screen.
The image of the burning city was gone from the screen. But it still burned in his mind.
<They finally did it. They finally went too far.>
Craigan shook his head. That voice! It was almost maddeningly familiar. And the city…something about the burning city.
Craigan blacked out.
“That has to have been the Hazardous Team,” Stafford said for about the tenth time.
“Considering that starships rarely just explode for no reason, I’m inclined to agree with you,” Wowryk said, also for about the tenth time, “What I don’t agree with is your insistence on repeating yourself.”
They were in a small infirmary, located not far from the fitness center in the levels above the Transit Hub. Most of the equipment was either offline or unidentifiable, but Wowryk and a couple of Matrian doctors had setup shop anyway. Craigan was lying on a non-functional bio-bed while a portable unit monitored his vitals.
Wowryk tried not to be annoyed that Stafford was hanging around, basically getting in her way. Anselia and Hektor had left to brief the other government members, while Laheya and Jural were preparing coded messages that would start rebel attacks on several Qu’Eh positions. Valtaic, Fifebee and Sylvia were monitoring the Qu’Eh situation and trying to track down some flesh & blood members of the crew to help out. At first, she’d thought he was just bored. Then she caught him looking at her with a grin on his face. For a fraction of a second she thought that maybe he’d joined the legion of lustful men eager for a chance to get in her knickers…then she remembered that he was already in a sinful, carnal relationship with Anselia. That’s when the truth hit home.
He was just happy to have her back. And for some reason, that was really pissing her off.
“Would you go to that crate and get the neuro-scanner, please?” she asked, just to give him something to do and, hopefully, get him out of her hair for a moment.
“Sure thing,” Stafford rummaged around for a moment. He came back with an odd contraption with a glowing emitter tip.
“No that’s the defibr-“
Stafford cursed as the thing shocked his arm badly enough that he slammed it into the side of the crate.
“That shouldn’t be turned on,” Wowryk mused. She was tapping her medical tricorder as she ran it over Craigan. The interference fields in Haven were still causing problems, and her readings were intermittent.
“This?” Stafford asked, holding up a complicated-looking collection of tubes and claws.
“No, that’s for Klingon vasectomies,”
“And you thought to bring one of those along, but not one of the Borg extractor-thingies that Stern was able to use to get rid of the Qu’Eh headsets?”
“I didn’t pack the medical supplies, I was sort of busy.” Wowryk said crisply, “Helping to run a battle. At YOUR insistence,”
“Right,” Stafford rummaged around again. This time, he came up with the helmet-shaped device. He handed it to Wowryk.
“About that, Noel,” he said, hesitating a little, “Are you…angry with me?”
“Angry? Because you pushed me into the First Officer slot and into battle? Or because I was captured by the Qu’Eh because of it?”
“Or perhaps because instead of healing and aiding, I’m spending most of this mission plotting, scheming, and setting into motions plans that result in the deaths of Qu’Eh soldiers as well as Matrian rebels.”
“Yeah,” Stafford said quietly, “All that,”
Wowryk considered for a moment.
“Yes,” she said, her voice shaking slightly with anger. This wasn’t the ordinary, short but explosive bouts of anger Stafford was used to seeing from her. This was something else. Something harsher, something that didn’t promise to fade in an hour or so, “Yes, I’m angry with you.”
“Noel, it was for the-“
“Don’t talk to me about the mission!” she snapped, “I understand the mission, I’m not incompetent! I’ve learned more about strategy and planning in the past month that I ever learned at the Academy! I know perfectly well why you did what you did, even why Jall did what he did!”
“You introduced me to power,” she cut him off again. She fastened the neuro-scanner over Craigan’s head, “Power of life and death over the Matrian ships that were following my orders. And then over Matrian rebels, who are ready to die for their planet on my command.” She shook her head, “That’s a power that people should never have,”
“Senior officers have it all the time,” Stafford said carefully.
“I don’t want to be a starship Captain, or an Admiral,” Wowryk said, “I’m a doctor. My job is to heal.”
“As soon as this is over, you can!”
“Do you think it’s easy to just step away from that kind of power, Captain?” she asked, putting extra stress on the rank, “Do you think I can just decide to leave that all behind?”
Stafford looked around the dimly lit infirmary.
“It looks like you’re giving it a good shot,” he said finally.
“And it’s horrible,” Wowryk shook her head, “It’s like…it’s like fighting an addition. I want to march straight over to Laheya and Jural and demand an update, to demand that they hear my input before they do anything.”
“And that’s why I’m furious with you right now,” she finished quietly.
“I’ll just…go see what’s happening,” Stafford said lamely. He bumped into Jural as he left.
“Noel, we need your help deciding whether to focus on Qu’Eh communications or logistics for the next round of attacks,” he was saying.
Wowryk’s struggle was worse than a drug addiction, Stafford realised as he stepped into the dim corridor. At least, when you were fighting a drug addiction, the drugs rarely came knocking on your door.
It was another day before Craigan regained consciousness.
The Qu’Eh, after sweeping the planet frantically, had eased back their patrols slightly, though still at a higher level than before. Their ships now operated with shields up at all times, preventing any more unwelcome beam-ins. The rescued Silverado crewmen were trickling into the base, and while the Qu’Eh controlled-news network was silent, reports of rebel activity still managed to make it’s way through the cities, towns and villages of Matria Prime.
It was Fifebee who was with Craigan when he reawakened. With the reduction in Qu’Eh activity, her holo-relay had been reactivated. Almost due to meet Valtaic and Sylvia for a tasking, she was just about to leave him in the hands of Lieutenant Yanick when he awoke.
“We didn’t blow up Matronus,” he grumbled, shaking his head slowly.
Fifebee raised an eyebrow.
“You didn’t, your former organization didn’t, or-“
“What did I say?” Craigan blinked, looking confused.
“You claimed that you did not blow up Matronus,” she said, “By which I assume you mean Old Matronus, the orbital habitat which was destroyed over two hundred years ago, triggering the Gender Wars,”
“Right, that,” he sat up, “Well, of course I didn’t. I always already in stasis when it exploded,”
“As we have no way of confirming that, I suggest we move on. How are you feeling?”
<Something happened after you were captured, Craigan. I’m afraid it was something horrible.>
“Somebody told me,” he muttered.
“I see,” Fifebee said flatly, not sure what else to say.
“What happened to me?” he asked.
“You fainted. Dr. Wowryk identified some strange neural activity, but the interference with her equipment prevented her from identifying it.” Fifebee cocked her head, her voice very matter-of-fact, “Have you experienced any unusual symptoms in the past day or two?”
“I’ve been hearing voices.” He braced himself. He was still getting used to dealing with the Starfleeters, and with this artificial one especially. He half expected her to look down her nose and make some sort of demeaning comment.
“That could mean many things,” she said instead, “Please pardon me a moment.”
Within an hour, Craigan found himself surrounded by Starfleeters. Stafford and Wowryk he already know, but they’d been joined by a third: a blond woman with a rounded yet severe-looking face.
“I am Conzelor Yvonnokoff,” she said crisply, “You may call me Vonna,”
“C’mon doc,” Stafford groaned, “You haven’t broadcast a show in at least a month!”
“I haff recorded many shows vhile here. AWN has archives for times such as these. New content vhen ve return! Perheps even a special on effects of isolation.”
“Still. Your office door doesn’t say ‘Counselor Vonna’,” Stafford sighed.
“Jas, but is easier to pronounce,” she said, “I am being helpful to patient, jas?”
“Jas-ever,” Stafford muttered.
“Look, did I do something wrong?” Craigan asked, looking around at them.
“No, Mr. Craigan,” Stafford shook his head, “Not at all. It’s just that…well…there are a lot of reasons for people to hear voices. And with the amount of brain-tampering that’s gone on around this planet, well…”
“You don’t think I’m just crazy?”
“That’s why we have Yvonno…Vonna here,” Stafford replied.
“So, Mr. Craigan, tell me about your mozer. Did you hate her?”
“Oh, THIS is going to be productive,” Wowryk snapped.
Fifebee, Sylvia and Valtaic met in the main lobby of one of the ornate staircases bordering the outer ring of the Transit Hub. Fifebee was towing her holo-relay with one hand. With the immediate crisis calmed for the time-being, they were back to trying to map the huge installation. And hopefully uncover a few more of its secrets.
“Ready?” Valtaic inquired politely.
“We are,” Fifebee replied.
“Exploration time,” Sylvia smiled.
Valtaic took over the relay, and the three of them moved into one of the corridors branching off of the lobby.
“Exploration teams in the outer rim found some time ago that the facility there extends several levels below the transit system,” Valtaic said. He gestured out at one of the short passages that led to the tram platform, “As well, several tram tracks here appear to descend below Hub level. We are certain there are levels below the Hub, but we have yet to find a stairway or lift that would take us there.”
“We’ve already checked all the doors in this section,” Fifebee said, “Unless it’s behind those big double doors in the lobby; the ones you can’t open,”
“Very possible. But as we cannot access that area, the point is moot,”
They pushed open a door that Valtaic had unlocked previously. This time, Fifebee took careful measurements of the room, hoping that once they had a more detailed floor plan, they could identify ‘empty’ spots that might be hidden passageways.
After two more doors and two more rooms, Sylvia spoke up.
“Fifebee, I’ve still got a few scattered memories of when we were merged,” she said.
“Expected,” Fifebee nodded.
“There were several stasis tubes in the laboratory where we found Craigan, yes?”
“The laboratory in the Command Tower, in the center of the island?”
“Actually,” Fifebee said, “The laboratory was off-set slightly. You see, there is a connecting structure of some kind between the-“
“And nobody’s seen, oh, I don’t know…rooms full of stasis pods around the Hub area? Or in the other towers?”
“We have not,” Valtaic confirmed.
“Then where did they come from?”
Fifebee accessed her memory.
“There was an access tube,” Fifebee said, “The stasis units likely came through there,”
“But from where,” Valtaic mused, “As Sylvia has reminded us, we have found no stasis facilities in any of the island towers or in the areas surrounding the Transit Hub,”
“That we have access to,” Fifebee pointed out.
“We could return to the lab and follow the shaft to its source,” Valtaic suggested, “It is easily large enough for your relay,”
“And we could use a rope or hover-boots for your solid form,” Fifebee finished, “Indeed. It is an excellent plan. Let us-“
“Hold on,” Sylvia said. She had looked through a small door and into a storage space, possibly a janitor’s closet, “Fifebee, do you see anything odd about this room?”
Fifebee squinted, her behavioural subroutine interpreting the increased focus her program was giving the visual sensors on the holo-relay.
“Inconclusive,” she finally said, “The interference is too great,”
Valtaic moved forward and put his hands on the wall. There was a flash of energy and he was flung back, across the corridor and against the far wall.
“I think we found what we’re looking for,” he said, matter-of-fact as he picked himself up off the floor,”
“Close eyes, Craigan,” Yvonnokoff was saying gently, “Let mind wander. Vhat do you see?”
“In mind! Not vith eyes!”
“I see…I see….nothing!”
“Valtaic to Stafford,”
Stafford rose, then moved away from the group.
“We have found a hidden passage,” Valtaic said, “It was disguised by an energy field, identical to the one that hid the main body of the installation from the entrance hanger when we first arrived here. We are proceeding into the passage,”
“Be careful,” Stafford said, “Report in every fifteen minutes. Stafford out.”
Behind him, Wowryk gave out a surprised gasp. Stafford spun to see Craigan slumping in his seat.
“He said ‘It takes forever to walk through all these passageways’, then passed out,” Wowryk said. She was checking his vitals by hand. Only once she was convinced he was stable did she pull out her medical tricorder, bringing it as close to him as she could in an effort to get around the interference field.
“Strange activity in the hippocampus,” she said, “Fading rapidly, probably why I missed it before. It looks like…”
“Chris, he’s been mind-wiped!” she exclaimed.
“Who vould do zat?” Yvonnokoff asked.
“Probably whoever hid him here to begin with,” Stafford said, “Doc, can you undo it?”
“Not with the equipment at hand,” Wowryk shook her head, “Maybe not even with access to a full medi-lab. The whole point of a mind-wipe is to get rid of information!”
“It looks like it’s bubbling back up to me!”
Wowryk and Yvonnokoff watched as Craigan started to stir.
“Maybe enough of it will, as you say, bubble up on its own,” Wowryk mused, “But why wipe his mind if he was going to be frozen for centuries?”
“Maybe Valtaic and Fifebee will find something,” Stafford said, “Whoever did this to him is long gone, but if they’ve left anything behind, I bet it’ll be in that hidden area,”
Valtaic led the way down the staircase they’d found. At least, for the first minute he did.
“Here, sweetie,” Sylvia said, pushing past him, “Why don’t you let me keep en eye out? That way, if we trigger a booby-trap, you’re less likely to be killed.”
Valtaic inclined his head. Despite Sylvia’s many, many, MANY social irrelevancies, he had to admit that he approved of the manner in which she often put rational thinking to good use. Perhaps something to do with her being a computer program, which would also explain why he found Fifebee’s company more pleasant than that of many of his other crewmates.
Valtaic frowned. If his two favourite members of the crew were both machines, what did that say about him?
In any event, now was not the time for such thoughts, he quickly realized. The stairway they were in spiralled downward in a tight arc. The combination of stone, brushed metal and fabric that had been used to pattern the walls in the upper levels had been replaced with metal panelling with inset lighting. Several gleaming components in the ceiling appeared to be observation lenses or sensor arrays, with no effort being made to hide their presence. They’d descended at least five levels by his count before the stairway opened into a metal-panelled, utilitarian corridor. They followed the corridor for a short distance, noting the series of sealed doors and side passages.
“This appears to be similar to a maintenance passage, only bigger,” Fifebee noted. Sylvia had approached a computer panel built into a sort of alcove off the main corridor. She started tapping at the buttons.
“Access is very limited,” she said, surprised, “But it’s not completely locked. There are some maintenance logs, some power output reports. Very little. I don’t believe it will help us.”
“What do the logs say?”
Sylvia was about to reply when the terminal abruptly went blank. When it powered back on, it was displaying the same lockout message as the rest of Haven’s computers.
Valtiac’s head spun around.
“Does anybody else here that?”
“A sort of droning hiss, followed by a series of atonal beeps?” Fifebee inquired, “Yes, however that’s due to a minor malfunction in my auditory sub-routine. If you hear the same, you may want to consult Dr-“
“No, I mean the series of metallic taps, almost like a series of metal feet,” Valtaic said calmly.
“And, of course, we only thought to bring one phaser,” Sylvia shook her head as Valtaic pulled out his weapon.
“The place is abandoned!”
“Not quite!” Fifebee exclaimed.
Down the corridor, several mechanisms had come into view. They each stood around Valtaic’s height, with angular, ovoid bodies. Each moved on six spider-like legs. Their six arms were mounted on a ring-shaped track that circled their upper bodies, allowing them to rotate them around to whichever side required them. Their heads were shaped like capsules, with a pair of glowing red eyes and a vocal grill. Several sheets of thin metal, identical to the paneling on the walls, hung from their sides.
“Head back to the stairway,” Valtaic said firmly.
One of the robots raised an arm in his direction. It’s claw-like hand held a barrel-shaped device. A beam of red energy abruptly shot out, passing directly through Sylvia and narrowly missing the holo-relay.
“Wielding beam,” Sylvia said, “They’re construction bots! Probably been here since Haven was built!”
“But why are they still down here?” Fifebee wondered.
“Let us debate that later,” Valtaic said. He fired at one of the bots, disabling it. In unison, the rest brought around one of their extra arms, grasped pieces of sheet metal from their sides and held them up as makeshift shields.
They came around the last turn between them and the stairway, only to find three more bots waiting for them.
“Move the relay behind the bulkhead, NOW!” Valtaic baked.
The instance they’d done so, he jumped towards the robots. They grabbed at him, each of them locking a steely claw onto the compact officer. Before they could do anything further, he pulsed his energy field as hard as he could. There was a shower of sparks as the robots jerked, calling out with a strange yet plaintive series of beeps and electronic tones before dropped to the floor.
“Nicely done,” Fifebee acknowledged.
Unfortunately, the robots hadn’t just been placed behind them for an ambush. They’d had a slightly different goal in mind: The doors leading to the stairway were now gone, wielded over by a series of metal sheets.
“They’ve trapped us!” Sylvia exclaimed.
“They must have sealed it up as soon as we moved out of sight!” Fifebee said.
Valtaic thought quickly.
“Haven was constructed in a repetitive pattern,” he said, “There should be another stairway sixty degrees around,”
“Let’s hope we can get there before another group welds that one up!”
Wowryk and Stafford had stepped out into the corridor while Yvonnokoff continued talking to Craigan. Despite her earlier remarks, Wowryk was remaining civil. Stafford wasn’t quite sure how to handle that particular situation, so instead he called up Valtaic and asked for a status report.
“We are being chased by construction robots,” Valtaic replied back tersely, “We are attempting to escape via an alternate stairwell. Could we speak of this in more detail at a later date?”
“Um, sure. Let us know if you need help. Or a security team, or anything like that,” Stafford said.
“It would be foolish to risk trapping more people down here,” Valtaic said, “We will attempt an alternate escape. If that fails, please have a team with cutting phasers standing by,”
“OK. Stafford out,”
Wowryk raised an eyebrow.
“What? They’re Starfleet officers and they’re being chased by robots. Happens all the time!” Stafford said. He frowned. “Actually, it’s about time something normal like this happened to us. Good for them!”
“Why are there robots in Haven,” Wowryk asked, “Any why are they behaving aggressively? It doesn’t fit with the pattern we’ve come to expect from this place,”
“That’s what happens when you start poking around in places that were supposed to be hidden,” Stafford shook his head, “I wish Sylvia had stayed up here. Maybe she would have had some insight on this whole Craigan thing,”
“Craigan wasn’t hidden,” she said.
“Yes he was,” Stafford shook his head, “Everything but the entrance hanger was hidden behind one of those holographic walls,”
“But it’s like layers,” Wowryk insisted, “The entrance hanger was open to the outside world. Then the next layer, the Transit Hub, the Command Complex, the transit station and Craigan. The next layer is whatever they’ve found underneath the Transit Hub. And beyond that, you have the computer lockouts. It’s the same as the Matrian Rebellion, the way we’ve structured the leadership. Layers.”
Stafford frowned. She was on to something. And he had to admit, he’d been too busy dealing with Hektor, Anselia and the assorted issues of hiding the Matrian government to really think too much about the motives behind Haven. And yet here comes Wowryk, with just as much on her mind, ready to pick things apart.
In his defence, sometimes all it takes is a new perspective.
“You’re saying that whoever setup the security here wanted us to find Craigan if we made it into the Command Tower,” he said.
“But he’s mind-wiped! He can’t tell us anything!”
“Maybe he’s not supposed to,” Wowryk mused.
“Huh? What the hell does that mean!”
“Chris, whoever hid Haven must have had a plan,” Wowryk said, “They hid it for a reason, they hid access to certain areas for a reason, they must have left Craigan out for us to find for a reason. We just have to figure out what that reason is,”
“And hope it doesn’t involve a messy, violent death,”
“I think Valtaic has that covered at the moment,” Wowryk said.
By Fifebee’s estimation, they’d only managed to get about halfway to their goal when they found themselves confronted by another group of bots. Valtaic pulled out his phaser and immediately started firing.
“This doesn’t look good, sweetie!” Sylvia exclaimed.
Valtaic ducked as one of the robots exploded. Another shot back with its construction wielder, burning a streak in the metal paneling behind his head.
“More seem to be coming,” he said, “I cannot hold them off! Nor can I get close enough to attempt another energy pulse!”
“Maybe now would be a good time to take Chris up on his offer of a rescue team,” Sylvia suggested.
“Why don’t you get on that,” Fifebee said, shoving her holo-relay into a cross-corridor and gesturing for them to follow, “In the meantime, I suggest we run!”
They ran, following a straight corridor that appeared to lead directly away from the center of the installation. Before long, they were forced to turn into another curved corridor running tangent to prevent the perusing bots from keeping them in their line of fire. Several of the corridor doors hissed open automatically as they passed by, revealing glimpses into offices, labs, storage rooms and more of what they’d found in the upper levels. Of course, since they were being chased by rampaging robots, they really didn’t have time to check things out.
“We should try to find a transit station,” Valtaic said, “We cannot get the tram to access the lower tracks,”
“But maybe a tram from down here can access the upper tracks!” Fifebee finished. She processed information for a moment. “If we continue moving in a circle, we should cross the track eventually!”
It wasn’t the tracks or a transit station they found first. They’d managed to put a bit of distance between themselves and the robots. They continued moving quickly, but Valtaic holstered his phaser and Fifebee pulled out her tricorder.
“Wait,” she said suddenly, her gaze moving to a set of double doors set into the inner wall of the corridor, “Strange readings,”
“We really don’t have time to explore,” Valtiac said.
“Unless our explorations yield an escape route,”
Valtaic considered. He then stepped towards the doors, which obediently swished open.
“You will want to see this,” he said.
Fifebee and Sylvia crowded in. The space was easily the size of Silverado’s main engineering compartment. A number of display panels adorned the walls, and several fairly standard control panels were visible in different locations. In the center of the room, however, a single Matrian control pulpit faced a large, pulsating crystal column. It almost looked like a collection of giant snowflakes, with bluish, crystalline spikes jutting out in all directions. Energy coursed through the crystals, crackling between the spines and arcing out towards three collection nodes before being challenged into a series of conduits that led into the bulkhead.
“This is not a useful method of escape,” Valtaic said, moving towards what he assumed was an exit in the far wall.
“But…but…this looks like the source of Haven’s interference field!” Fifebee exclaimed, “I need to take measurements! Analyze the crystal growth! Determine why the impact on our equipment isn’t greater at the source!”
“Angry robots on the way, dear,” Sylvia said, patting her arm and pulling her away, “We can come back later!”
“But…but…I want to do science!” Fifebee objected as she was pulled into another corridor.
Craigan wasn’t sure whether or not he was supposed to be scared at the moment. He’d been left alone with this strange human woman. Anselia and Hektor were off debating the political ramifications of the destruction of the Qu’Eh flagship, Jural and Laheya were plotting rebel schemes and Wowryk and Stafford had run off after receiving a call for help.
“Where did Dr. Wowryk go?” he asked, “It sounded urgent,”
“Oh, some of our people are exploring ze lower levels,” Yvonnokoff said, “Found zecret door, I zink. Anyvay, is no concern to us! Ve haff comfy office, you haff comfy couch, and ve are going to have a chat, jas?”
“The lower levels. You mean underneath the Transit Hub?” he asked. Something about that was bothering him. No, more specifically, it was worrying him.
“Ze hub, ze towers, ze island. Vhatever. Is not our problem,”
<Don’t worry about me, Craigan. It’s not your problem,>
He tried latching onto the voice, hoping that it would go on. Something must have shown in his face.
“You heard voice again, jas?” Yvonnokoff asked.
“I…yes,” Craigan shook his head, “It’s like she’s speaking right into my ear, only nobody’s actually there. Sometimes my whole world starts spinning.”
“Zat is because sometimes you pass out, and fall on floor,” Vonna said helpfully, “But ve haff given you medication zat should help. Or cause homicidal episode, ve are still unsure of Matrian bio-chemistry,”
Craigan sighed. How did he come to this? So much of what he remember was a bit hazy, but he could still recall it. He remembered his position in the Male Rebellion, working to spread the agenda of one of Matria Primes smaller regions. He remembered going up to Old Matronus on a mission to retrieve information from a contact close to the Council of Mistresses, a contact that had vital information on something the Council was planning. He remembered being captured, but after that everything was blank. He only remembered waking up in the Haven laboratory, surrounded by strange people. There’d been no sign of…of…
The voice was speaking up more and more often, it seemed. Like a scab that you didn’t really notice until you started picking at it. Then it wouldn’t go away.
“Craigan, I vant to help you. It is vhat I do. Vhy don’t you chust tell me what you are zinking. I can see it in eyes, you are zinking of zings very carefully,”
<See you in a few years, Craigan.>
“I feel like I was expecting somebody to be there when I woke up,” he said slowly, as Vonna jotted notes down on her padd, “Wait, that’s not quite right. I was hoping for somebody to be there. But I was afraid I’d find…”
He trailed off, his eyes widening.
“Vhat vere you afraid of finding??” Vonna demanded.
“All of you,” Craigan said softly.
“You expected us?” Yvonnokoff asked sceptically.
<Craigan, it’s not always going to be just to two of us. You know that.>
“Yes. No. Not you specifically,” he said, massaging his temples, “But I knew somebody was going to find us…me. But it might take a long time,”
<Nobody knows where Installation 317 is anymore, Craigan. I’ve seen to that. But if our people survive, they may find it again.>
“But why did you hide it?” Craigan grunted, frustrated. He ran his hands through his platinum-blond hair.
“Hide vhat? My sandvhich? Because vhen you passed out last, you squished my ozer vun,”
“No! Not you! Her!”
“Her? Voice in head is female? Interesting!”
“I wish I could remember what she was telling me!” he said, exasperated.
Yvonnokoff thought for a moment.
“I haff suggestion!”
Stafford stood at the bottom of the secret staircase Valtaic, Fifebee and Sylvia had unlocked. The entire janitor’s closet had been a hologram. Once deactivated, the stairway was hidden only by a nondescript door. Lieutenant Sage and Lieutenant Day were cutting through the metal panels the construction robots had welded over the door leading into the corridor, while Lieutenant Bith and the Beta-shift security officers waited with weapons drawn.
“I really wish the Hazardous Team was here right about now,” Sage said over the sizzle of the cutting beam, “Any word on them yet?”
“No,” Stafford said, “Orbital sensors picked up a small vessel leaving right before the Qu’Eh flagship blew up. They’ll probably show up on our doorstep after they’ve had a chance to ditch the Qu’Eh hardware and hook up with a rebel cell.” At least, he sure hoped they would.
“Stafford to Valtaic,” he tapped his comm-badge, “How’s it going?”
“We have located the source of Haven’s interference field, and have located what appears to be a top-secret Laundromat,” Valtaic reported, “The pursuing robots appear to have slowed. Fifebee believes they may be concentrating on guarding the inner areas, and are less concerned the further the intruders are from the core of the facility,”
“Interesting thought,” Stafford mused, just as Sage and Day finished the cut. A two-meter square chunk of plating clattered to the floor.
Wait a minute…
“Uh-uh,” Stafford muttered.
At least thirty mechanical bots armed with wielding beams were crammed into the corridor, all of them aiming weapons directly at the newly cut hole.
“Baaaad timing,” Sage groaned.
Realizing they were standing directly between a heavily armed security team and a small robotic army, Stafford, Sage and Day slowly and carefully moved back up the stairs.
“Craigan, zis is Lieutenant Commander Sevkor,” Yvonnokoff said
“Hello,” Craigain said nervously, eyeing Sevkor’s pointed ears, bowl-shaped haircut and angled eyebrows.
<Come on Craigan! You mean you’ve never even left Matria Prime? There’s a whole galaxy out there! If only our people would put more effort into exploring it!”
“Greetings,” replied Sevkor, Silverado’s resident Vulcan, “Has Counsellor Yvonnokoff explained to you what we are about to attempt?”
“She said you can melt my mind,” Craigan swallowed.
“Meld,” Sevkor corrected, his eyes darting briefly towards Yvonnokoff, “The goal is to retrieve information that you have. You are remembering pieces of it, apparently at random. We will attempt to make sense of the…chaos.”
“Nobody vill force you, Craigan,” Yvonnokoff said gently, “Ve’re here to help,”
Craigan was still considering when Stafford burst through the open door.
“We’ve got trouble,” he said, “Valtaic’s team is trapped in the lower levels by a horde of angry construction robots. They’re not attacking us, at least they don’t seem to be. As long as we don’t cross into their territory. But our people can’t get up here, and we can’t get down there without a lot of shooting. Has anything useful come up?”
“Reconciliation,” Craigan replied at once.
“What? How’s that supposed to help us?” Stafford demanded.
But Craigan was shaking his head.
“What did I say?”
“Look, Craigan, we’re in a sticky situation here!” he said, “What’s hidden down there might finally allow us to unlock this place…whatever it is! Even just being able to launch some of the ships we’ve found in the buried hangers could make a big difference once the fleet arrives! If these blanked memories of yours are tied to Haven, we need them!”
Craigan had known as soon as he’d met Queen Anselia and King Hektor that he would once again be offering his services for what he saw as the good of his people. Helping an alien rummage around in his mind wasn’t exactly what he’d expected, but hey. This was a new Matria, after all.
“Melt me,” he said.
“Meld,” Sevkor reminded him patiently.
“You say heccopise, I say hecoppize,”
“I am sure I do not understand,”
“Just meld, already!” Stafford exclaimed.
“And what do you suppose this thing does?” Sylvia asked, indicating a conduit easily as tall as she was. There was a hissing, whooshy sound coming from it, like something was flowing through at a moderate speed.
“Water intake from the lake,” Fifebee mused, “Not helpful.”
They’d tried climbing up a few levels after finding another staircase, but they’d reached the top of the stairs after climbing only a few levels. Based on her internal tracking, Fifebee believed they were underground, right next to the lakeshore. They were still being harassed by the occasional bot, but they seemed more like patrols or sentries as opposed to hunting parties.
“Logically, if we cannot find a way out on this upper level, we should try moving down to the lowest level,” Fifebee said.
“Logically, there shouldn’t be an army of robots guarding an abandoned base,” Valtaic mused.
“Guarding,” Sylvia considered, “That’s exactly the way they’re acting, isn’t it? They’re guarding something,”
“I believe we already expressed that theory,” Valtaic said, leading them back to the staircase and moving quickly downward. There looked to be at least twenty levels before the bottom of the shaft.
“No, you said you thought they were guarding the inner areas of the complex,” Sylvia said, “But why?”
“You frequently concern yourself with the ‘why’ of a situation,” Valtaic observed.
“There must be something of value there,” Fifebee mused, “But robots, at least those of the low intelligence these are displaying, do not value anything,”
“Unless programmed to,” Sylvia said, “So if you were burying a facility the size of Haven, what would you value enough to guard with an undying army?”
“A central control interface,” Fifebee replied at once, “Computer cores. Energy reactors,”
Valtaic was shaking his head.
“Perhaps, but we found plenty of control interfaces in the command tower,” he said, “We simply lack the authorization to activate them,”
“We also found thirteen frozen Old Matrians,” Sylvia said, “In stasis tubes that came from somewhere else in the facility,”
“You suggest there may be more,” Valtaic said.
“Wouldn’t that be something worth guarding? Especially if some of them know how to activate Haven?”
They’d almost reached the lowest level.
“But this doesn’t help us,” Valtaic said, “Even if we were to locate a stasis storage facility, and even if we were to fight our way in, we still would not have a way to deactivate the bots. Unless one of the frozen Matrians could do so,”
They exited the stairwell into another utilitarian corridor panelled in silvery metal. There were no doors in sight, yet.
“I suggest we make our way to the center of the installation, then work our way up from beneath,” Valtaic said.
“Lead the way,”
Craigan was aboard Old Matronus.
He knew exactly where he was, with a clarity that frightened him just a little. He was in section 23-A, on Level 21. It was exactly thirty minutes past noon and twelve children were walking by. (All girls. There were only girls-only schools aboard Matronus.) In exactly thirty-four hours and fourteen minutes, they’d all be dead. Victims of a computer virus that would detonate the orbital habitat’s reactors.
“Isn’t it a shame that our people still can’t agree on how to educate our children?” a nondescript male said, nodding towards the group.
“It is,” Craigan said, using the passphrase he’d been given, “But one day there will be a reconciliation,”
“We can only hope,” the man said. He turned to leave, in the process brushing against Craigan and depositing a data chip in his pocket.
His mission was complete.
He started moving towards Teleportation Central, where he had a pad booked to beam him down to Matria, where he would pass the chip on to another contact, who would pass it on to another. And so on, until it reached the upper leadership of the Male Rebellion.
As he walked through one of the broad, brightly-lit corridors, he noticed a news-cast playing on one screen.
“The District of J’Taeri, in the equatorial region of the Western Continent, announced today it’s intention to separate from the Unified Planetary Government of Matria Prime, citing irreconcilable differences between it’s own regional government and the Council of Mistresses,” the newscaster stated calmly, “Although it was not mentioned specifically in today’s announcement, political analysts cite disagreements over the controversial Bill of Rights currently being debated by the Council. Raleesh and Bevin Districts have expressed their support over the controversial announcement, while the Council of Mistresses calls it ‘blatant disregard for the unity of the Matrian Empire,”
“Your world has a unique history,” Sevkor said. Craigan jumped a little. He didn’t remember the Vulcan being aboard Matronus that day, yet here he was.
“I am merely an image in your mind,” Sevkor said, as if reading his thoughts. Which he was, Craigan realized.
“What do we do now?”
“Now, we attempt to restore the memories you have lost,”
“But this is almost it,” Craigan said, “I barely get halfway to Teleportation Central before-“
Craigan abruptly found himself surrounded by uniformed female guards. One of them held up a display padd, which clearly showed him receiving the data chip from his contact.
“Jacovor Craigan, you’re under arrest for conspiracy and high treason against the Council of Mistresses,”
“But I didn’t do anything!” Craigan exclaimed, Sevkor’s link into his mind recalling the exact words he’d used.
One of the guards had started frisking him and pulled the chip from his pocket.
“The data on this chip is highly classified,” the lead guard said, “Possession by an unauthorized person is a serious crime,”
“And how do you know I’m not authorized?”
“No male would have sufficient clearance,” the guard scoffed.
“Now, that kind of attitude is exactly what the Male Rebellion is fighting against!” Craigan shouted.
“Then you confess to being involved in the Rebellion. Take him away,”
Craigan started struggling. This lasted about ten seconds before the world went black, leaving Sevkor and Craigan standing in an empty, black space.
“The next thing I remembered, I was in the lab, surrounded by your officers,” Craigan said. Even as he spoke, the scene he described wavered into view. Fifebee, Jeffery and T’Parief were rushing around, trying to calm the dozen confused, unmodified Old Matrian men that had also been released from stasis.
“Let us try that again,” Sevkor said, “But this time, focus on the voice,”
“Lt Craigan of the self-proclaimed Male Rebellion, you’ve been accused of conspiracy and high treason,” a crisp, clear female voice spoke, “And with the sabotage of Matronus, and the deaths of countless innocent Matrians,”
“What I can’t figure out,” the voice went on, “Is how you managed to sabotage Matonus, given that you were captured over a day before the explosion. And under surveillance the entire time you were there. Or how it is that you are accused of being one of the saboteurs when the Matrian Intelligence Agency has firmly declared that all the saboteurs were killed in the explosion.”
As the voice spoke, a hazy figure began to take form. She was female, obviously, with aurburn hair and faint lines around her deep blue eyes. Craigan recognized her uniform immediately as belonging to the Old Matrian Defence Force. The rank of Colonel appeared on her arm and her features slowly began to take shape.
“So I suppose what my commanders are really wanting is for me to make you disappear,” she finished.
“I’m Colonel Myress Abela,” the woman said, “I am the construction manager for Installation 317-B,”
“Why am I here?” Craigan didn’t know if he was replaying a previous conversation with the woman, or simply interrogating his memory of her. In the end, it didn’t really matter.
“Something happened after you were stunned, Mr. Craigan. I’m afraid it was something horrible.”
“Matronus has been destroyed. Hundreds of thousands are dead. Maybe over a million. Reports are too chaotic to know for sure.”
Craigan was stunned.
“What does that have to do with me?” he squeaked.
“I told you. You’re here because you’ve been accused of heinous crimes. This facility is the most secure place in the Matrian Empire,”
“But, I didn’t do anything!” Craigan insisted, “When’s my trial? This has to be sorted out!”
“You’re not getting a trial,” Abela replied curtly, “I already told you, my commanders simply want you to disappear.”
Her firm, military demeanour faded, just a little bit.
“And that’s just part of the problem.
Craigan jerked in his seat, pulling away from Sevkor’s fingers and knocking Yvonnokoff’s coffee cup to the floor.
“Ohhh, yvot!” she cursed, “It took fife-teen meenutes to get zat brought here from Horton’s mess hall!”
“What’s wrong?” Stafford demanded.
“Something startled him,” Sevkor said, “Enough to disrupt the meld,”
They gathered around the Matrian as he settled himself back into his seat.
“I was a loose end,” he said slowly, “They knew that somebody had stolen something,”
“The government. The Council of Mistresses,” Craigan said, “Whatever it was, it was really important. But they didn’t know who had it. They just knew that I was supposed to be the courier. So they waited until I had it, then they took it back. But they didn’t want anybody to know that it had ever existed, and putting me to trial would make that public knowledge. They needed me to disappear. That was it.”
“Why not kill you?”
“I think she was supposed to,” Craigan mused.
“Colonel Abela. The woman who was in charge of Haven’s construction,”
“Now we’re getting somewhere!” Stafford said eagerly, “Why didn’t she kill you? What were you carrying?”
“You said Old Matronus was destroyed by a computer virus? Craigan asked.
“I think that’s what I was carrying,” he said, “I…Goddess. If I hadn’t been caught…if I’d destroyed that chip…”
“Sometimes the fate of entire worlds pivot on the actions of a single person,” Stafford sighed, “But this doesn’t help our situation right now,”
“But Abela must have told me more!” Craigan insisted, “I’ve been hearing her voice too often…and most of what she’s been telling me wasn’t in that conversation.”
“Then let us continue,” Sevkor said.
It wasn’t the same conversation. Craigan knew this at once.
He had been concentrating on what had happened next, but instead of the empty black space, he now found himself in the lab where he’d been found. The other twelve Matrians were still in stasis, and Craigan himself was feeling the nausea and tremors that usually accompanied the revivification process.
“Hello, Mr. Craigan,” Abela said. She was standing in front of him. She was still wearing a uniform, but it was slightly different. “How are you feeling?”
“You’ve been frozen for about four years,” Abela said, “I’m afraid the situation hasn’t improved,”
“I’m still supposed to be killed, is that it?” he said bitterly. The sickness at being falsely accused was almost enough to overshadow the hibernation sickness.
“As far as my superiors are concerned, you’re already dead, Mr. Craigan,”
“Won’t the next person to drop by the place find one hell of a surprise,” he said.
“Nobody knows where Installation 317-B is anymore, Craigan. I’ve seen to that.” Abelai said, “But if our people survive, they may find it again.”
“A lot’s happened in the last few years, Craigan,” Abela sighed, “After Matronus was destroyed, the Council of Mistresses declared war against the Male Rebellion. The problem, however, is that the Male Rebellion isn’t another country or planet that can be fought. How do you fight a war against your own people?”
Craigan was still too confused to say anything.
“The Council started restricting male movement, arresting masculinists, taking ridiculous security measures,” Abela shook her head, “Four more Districts have tried to succeed from the Planetary Government. Two of our colony worlds have cut off ties to Matria Prime.”
“The Council deployed troops against the weaker Districts,” Abela said, “And things just started spiralling out of control from there,”
Craigan was speechless.
“Our people are at war, Craigan,” she said, “At war with themselves. I…I had my suspicions, you know. The Council reacted quickly after Matronus was destroyed. Far too quickly. And it just so happened that none of the Council members were aboard our capital city when it was destroyed. I can’t buy that, not two coincidences like that. They knew what was going to happen.”
She gave Craigan a sort of smile.
“It’s why I didn’t kill you years ago,” she said mirthlessly.
The scene abruptly switched, the memories were coming more easily. The lab was the same, only Abela had changed. The lines around her eyes were deeper now, her face was tired. He wasn’t in the stasis pod any longer; now he was seated across a table from her, a cup of Matrian coffee held between his hands.
“It’s been ten years, Craigan. Ten years since Matronus was destroyed. And the war is still going on. They’re calling it the Gender War, did I tell you that? Most of the major cities have started excavating underground shelters. They’re stockpiling stasis tubes, in the event of planetary cataclysm. They’re afraid things are just going to keep escalating.”
She spoke to him of the continuing civil war. The colony planets of the Matrian Empire had either been pulled into the conflict, or had simply cut ties to their homeworld. The Council was calling for an offensive to retake Farnitia, one of the closer colonies, however three of the opposing districts had allied against the Council. According to Matrian Intelligence, a fourth was in negotiations to join as well. They’d already been nicknamed the Coalition of Three, but there were serious concerns that it would be the Coalition of Four, or more, by the end of the year.
“But why are they fighting!?” Craigan cried out, frustrated beyond belief. His people were tearing themselves apart and here he was, stuck in a forgotten freezer.
“Oh, the different Districts have their own reasons,” Abela shook her head, “J’Taeri objects to the rampant discrimination against men that came out of the destruction of Matronus. Raleesh believes that we should build another Matronus, or more, to minimize our impact on the environment. Stupid, isn’t it? And Bevin wants their government run by the new men only, of all things!”
“So why doesn’t the Council negotiate with them???”
“Craigan, if Matronus hadn’t been destroyed, the measures J’Taeri objects to never would have come to pass. Raleesh wouldn’t have to call for a move into orbital habitats, our people were already moving in that direction. Destroying Matronus changed everything, and now everybody is at each other’s throats!”
“But why would the Male Rebellion destroy Matronus?” Craigan demanded, “It’s against all we were standing for! And it’s only made things wore for us!”
“Craigan, don’t you see? I know the Male Rebellion didn’t destroy Matronus,” Abela said sadly, “It was the Council of Mistresses. This is what they wanted. They wanted this war, and framing the rebels for the destruction of Matronus was the perfect way to get it.”
She looked at him almost fondly.
“And if the worst happens, Craigain, the fate of our people is going to be in your hands,”
This time Craigan was screaming when he jolted out of the meld.
Wowryk had returned from her latest rebel meeting and was immediately at his side.
“He’s going into shock!” she declared, grabbing for her med-kit. Craigan abruptly vomited, spewing all over the floor.
“Find something interesting?” Stafford asked Sevkor, watching with concern while Wowryk administered to the Matrian.
“Much of interest, Sevkor reported, “Yet nothing that will aid in our current situation.”
“We don’t have time for this!” Stafford growled, “From their latest report, Valtaic’s team is trying to sneak up on the robots from the lowest levels of the facility, but we need a way to shut them down! Or at least information on what they might be guarding!”
Craigan was climbing back into his seat.
“I believe we’re on the right track,” Sevkor said.
“I think you should take a break before you go on,” Wowryk said, sounding worried, “We don’t know how well Matrian brains respond to mind-melds!”
“No, I have to know what happened,” Craigan insisted.
“I’m just trying to look out for your well-being,” Wowryk said crossing her arms.
“And I thank you. But we must continue.”
Sevkor pressed his fingertips to Craigan’s face.
The conversations were blurring together.
They always started the same, with a blast of cold and a wave of nausea as he awoke from hibernation. They always ended the same, with his last view prior to unconsciousness being Abela’s face.
“The Council reclaimed J’Taeri two months ago, Craigan,”
Five years later.
“J’Jaeri broke free a year ago,”
“Space forces are building. We’re certain than an assault on the colonies is next,”
“Lost contact with one of our bases in the tropics. It looks like they were wiped out by a biological weapon,”
Abela kept getting older. When he’d first met her, she was in her early middle-age. But as the conversations progressed, a few years here, a few years there, she’d aged considerably. Soon there was telltale grey creeping into her auburn hair.
They spoke of current events. Abela did most of the speaking, as Craigan really didn’t have anything new to tell her about.
“I don’t think you realize just how important you’ve become to me, Craigan,” she said once, giving him a kiss on the cheek before the stasis tube closed.
It was over fifty years into the Gender War when he realised that her aging had slowed.
“I have a confession to make, Craigan,” she said after he mentioned that, “I haven’t been part of the Matrian Defence Force for over thirty years, real time.”
“Craigan,” tears were coming to her eyes now, “I know how much hearing about the war upsets you. Can you imagine living through it? Especially when you know that it all started as a foolish power grab? A power grab that included a genocide?” she shook her head, “I couldn’t speak out against the Council, they’d have me silenced instantly. I couldn’t take it anymore, Craigan. Our people, they’ve gone too far. They’ve spent so many decades fighting, bickering.” She looked directly into his eyes. “The Matria I loved and served died when Matronus was destroyed, Craigan. I thought I could bring it back. I thought that by working to end the war quickly I could stop our people from going too far. But they’ve finally done it. They finally went too far. And I’m afraid this place is going to be the last trace of our civilization.”
“I’ve been in stasis, Craigan,” she said, “I’ve set the computer to wake me up every five years or so. Long enough to see what’s happening. Installation 317-B is hooked right into the planetary military network, with an untraceable linkup. Sometimes I take my shuttle to one of the cities, gather some intel. But always back here for another five years. Every time I wake up, I hope that things have changed…that they’re showing some sign of ending this madness.
“But it’s not happening. Not yet.”
“What do you mean, ‘they’ve gone too far’?” Craigan asked, his mouth dry.
“The Council ordered the use of a gravitic mine on J’Taeri,” Abela said, “It was close to a fault line, and triggered tectonic activity that killed millions. J’Taeri retaliated with an antimatter missile strike, but it was defeated by anti-missile defenses. So their allies deployed an old nuclear device, killing a few million more. I keep waiting for this war to end, Craigan, but it just keeps escalating!”
“It’s been sixty years now, Craigan. Two colonies have been evacuated back to the homeworld…”
“…Seventy years now, Craigan. Ties with neighbouring civilizations have been cut for over thirty…”
“Eighty years, Craigan. The population is down to three quarters of what it was when the war started.”
“Ninety years, Craigan.”
“The war ended today, Craigan,” Abela said. She must have been spending more time out of stasis, as she looked like she’d aged a good ten years. Her eyes were dimming, her hair had greyed and the lines around her eyes and mouth were deep.
Craigan felt hope flare in him. From his point of view, only a few days had passed.
“Then, it’s over? We can leave this place?”
Abela shook her head.
“No Craigan,” she said sadly, “The war is over, but something just as bad has happened.”
Voltaic and Fifebee were becoming increasingly frustrated.
They hadn’t seen a construction bot in nearly an hour. They’d made their way close to what Fifebee claimed was the center of the installation, however they’d had to climb up a few levels. There was some sort of energy transfer machinery at the very bottom center of Haven. They couldn’t access the entire thing, but they’d passed through a large, three-level space that contained several heavy energy conduits and what looked like an energy transfer receiver of some kind. Possibly the connection between Haven and some sort of geothermal generating system?
The frustration came in because they couldn’t investigate the equipment or try to determine what it did. The construction bots could renew their assault at any time.
As they moved up, they found another large engineering space. This one had a stacked, cylindrical assembly dead center, surrounded by control pulpits.
“Computer core,” Fifebee exclaimed at once. She was about to step into the room when Valtaic stopped her.
“Alarm grid,” he said, pointing to a barely visible emitter array ringing the door.
“This could be what we’re looking for, Valtaic!”
“Then why are there no bots here now?” he demanded, “Why is their attention focused several levels up?”
“This may have the means to turn them off!” Fifebee insisted, “Even if the panels are locked, we may be able to find the command lines or input buffers we need to bypass the security lockout!”
“Which could take hours!”
“Not if we plug Sylvia directly into the core,”
“Whoah, leave me out of this,” Sylvia said, “Besides, my module is up in the Command Complex. Doing something like that over the holo-relay link would be…unpleasant.”
“We must try,” Fifebee said.
Valtaic closed his eyes briefly. Very well. A decision had to be made, and he was in charge of the team. Perhaps there was an alternative. He carefully moved one hand near the alarm grid and started manipulating his energy field. Perhaps he could short out the alarm.
Fifebee ran for the computer core and started tapping at a panel, only to see the standard lockout message.
“Valtaic, your hand!”
Quickly understanding, he ran his hand over the security sensor on the underside of one of the panels.
“Ohh, there is no way this can be good,” Sylvia sighed.
“Try to bypass the security lockout,” Valtaic ordered, moving towards the door. “I will keep watch for bots,”
Several levels above, Wowryk, Stafford and Yvonnokoff looked up as the dim lighting was supplemented by slowly pulsing red lights and a distant alarm.
“Stafford to Pye,” Stafford tapped his badge, “Um, you guys up in the command complex didn’t do that, did you?”
“No sir, honest!” Pye’s worried voice came back. In the background, Stafford could hear other comm channels opening and panicked voices demanding explanations.
“Ohh, this can’t be good,” Stafford groaned.
“Valtaic to Stafford, “
“Sir, we’ve tripped an alarm of some kind,”
“We can see that,”
“We’ve entered what appears to be a computer core control room. Fifebee is attempting to bypass the lockout, however we anticipate an attack by the construction bots shortly,”
“We’ll try to get you something helpful!” Stafford said, “Maybe if they’re all chasing after you, we can get past them up here!”
“Sir, no. You cannot risk an attack on the upper levels. There are too many civilians.”
In the center of the room, Craigan and Sevkor appeared to be oblivious to the situation.
Appeared to be.
“Why isn’t the end of the war a good thing?” Craigan demanded.
“The war didn’t end because our people came to an agreement,” Abela said, “It ended because one side mastered mind control. Even as we speak, females across the planet are preparing to go into hibernation while the males begin rebuilding from the devastation,”
“What, and after disagreeing for a hundred years, suddenly they all agree this is the best course of action?”
“Of course not,” Abela shook her head, “The Council has perfected a device that can used to influence the minds of anybody within its influence,”
“It is,” Abela agreed.
“So,” Craigain shooked his head, his whole world breaking apart, “What do we do?”
Abela paced for a moment.
“Craigan, I still have certain…access…to classified military documents,” she said “I’ve been able to maintain that over the past hundred years. And I know what the Council wants, more than anything.
“They want consensus,” Abela went on, “The original masterminds of this war are long dead. The original conflict is all but forgotten. This installation? Not even a myth. For the past few decades, the goal of the war has been to unify our people under one common cause. Of course, nobody could agree on that cause, and the war continued. Now they have that,”
“Is that necessarily a bad thing?” Craigan asked, “I mean, at least the war is over, right?”
Abela blew out a breath.
“Their plan right now is that the women will stay in hibernation until the men have finished rebuilding what was destroyed,” she said, “As punishment for their crimes. Ridiculous! The men weren’t responsible for this! At least, not in the way that everybody thinks! And even if that does happen, even if they are successful in homogenizing our people, so to speak, what’s to say that their cause will be just? I don’t know what course they plan to take, but if the path they choose mirrors that of the original council, the one that started this war, then our people will truly have lost their way. And the struggles of the past century will have been for nothing.”
“Then what are we going to do?”
Abela was quiet for several moments.
“Sooner or later, our people will emerge from hibernation,” Abela said, “And one day, they might find this place. I was right, you know. This really is the last trace of our civilization, the one that’s died a slow death over the past century.”
“But…if they’re like the old Council…if things turn out for the worst?”
“Then they can’t have it,” Abela said, “I’d see it destroyed before I let it fall into the wrong hands.”
“You still haven’t even told me what this place is!”
“I know, Craigan. And it’s just as well. You’d have to forget anyway.”
“I’m going to erase your memories, Craigain.”
There was an abrupt shift in the meld. Distantly, Craigan could here sirens, and sense a state of increased urgency. Abela seemed to sense it as well.
“You need to be ready for this moment, Craigan,” she said. This time he wasn’t simply reliving a memory. He didn’t know if he was imagining what she would say, or if he was somehow connected with the woman who had been his only source of contact for over a hundred years, but he could sense that what was happening now was NOT a memory.
“When they find this place, whoever they are, you are going to be one of the first things they find,” Abela said, “And if they even suspect that you know the things you do, you could be in the greatest of danger. And I need you.”
“For what?” Craigan demanded, frustrated and confused.
“Tell me about these people who found you,” Abela said. An image of Wowryk appeared. “Tell me of this one,”
“She helped wake our people,” Craigan replied, “She helped convince them that equality was better then trying to conquer the galaxy,”
“Our people tried that?”
“Apparently. She also helped lead the defence of our planet against a new enemy, the Qu’Eh.”
“And this one?” Queen Anselia appeared. Craigan imagined King Hektor next to her, and was unsurprised when he abruptly appeared.
“The King and Queen of the Matrian Republic,” he said. He shook his head, “I don’t understand!”
“Do you trust them?”
Captain Stafford appeared.
“Another alien,” Abela commented, “They seem to have a lot of hands in our government, don’t they?”
Yanick appeared, then one of the Governors on the Council, followed by Admiral Verithi.
“Why are you DOING this?” he yelled.
“I’m not doing anything,” Abela said softly. She appeared now as she was when he first met her, the colour back in her hair and the youthful vitality back in her features, “You’re doing this. Because deep down, you understand your task,”
“But I don’t know what it is! How can I understand it?”
This time, it was dozens of people that appeared. Stafford and Wowryk, Anselia and Hektor, the Council of Governors & Governesses, Admiral Verithi, though he’d seen her only in news broadcasts. Mistress Laheya, Agent Jural and several of the rebel leaders.
“These are the people with knowledge of Haven,” Abela said, Anselia’s name for the installation coming right from Craigain’s mind, “And these are the people who will control it if they manage to unlock its secrets.”
“But what does this have to do with me?”
Valtaic started as he heard the clattering of metallic feet on the corridor floor.
“Incoming,” he said calmly.
“I have located an authentication node,” Fifebee said, “however, it appears to be encoded with a fractal encryption sequence. It could take time to break it,”
“Minutes? Hours?” Valtaic demanded, pulling out his phaser.
“Months to years,” Sylvia corrected him.
The first bot came into view, firing a beam past Valtaic’s head.
“We don’t have that much time,” he said firmly. He hit the manual door control, sealing it shut just before another beam struck it. They moved to another door, one they had sealed before, only to see a sharp dent appear, as if struck by one of those spidery robotic hands.
“Voltaic to Stafford. Our situation has become somewhat more urgent!’
“What does that mean?” Craigain demanded.
“You’ve remembered so much, Craigan,” Abela said, “More than you were supposed to, really. But if you’d done your job, none of this would have been necessary,”
“My job? What do you mean my job?”
“You know what your task is,” Abela repeated, “It’s why you insisted on joining the aliens on their rescue mission, and why you returned here after you saw what you needed. It’s why you have spent so much time speaking with the new leaders of the Matrian Republic. You’ve already completed it…you just don’t realize it yet. Perhaps it’s my fault, I was very thorough with that mind wipe. You have no idea how much it pained me to do that, by the way,”
“Craigan, Sevkor, we’re having a bit of a crisis here! If we don’t turn those bots off soon, people are going to die!”
“You’ve done so much,” Abela said, shaking her head, “And lost so much. I suppose the least I owe you is a hint,”
She came close to him, close enough that he could smell the pleasant scent of her perfume.
“Craigan, do you trust that these people want only the best for our people? Do you trust that they want to create a Matrian Republic we can both be proud of?”
The crowd of people was still staring at him. Anselia and Hektor, who had pulled their civilization from its stagnant virtual reality and tried to bring it into the galactic community. Verithi, who was concerned only with protecting their world. Stafford and Wowryk, who had started as Matria’s enemies, only to return later to try to help them find their place in the Federation. He remembered Anselia and Stafford talking about the sports competitions held between the Matrians and the Silverado crew, held in the spirit of strengthening ties. He remembered sitting in on Council debates, listening to some of the most idiotic drivel he’d heard in his life. But he remembered the mix of male and female council members, and that they were disagreeing. That seemed most important, for if Abela’s worst fears had been realized, the technology developed by their people would have prevented anybody from disagreeing with the ‘chosen path’.
“Yes,” he said, “I do,”
“Then that’s all we need to know,” Abela smiled.
And the memories came flooding back.
Craigan jumped to his feet so suddenly that Sevklor was knocked flat on his back.
“RECONCILIATION!” Craigan shouted.
“You have succeeded in reconciling my buttocks with this very hard floor quite nicely,” Sevkor said, sounding very annoyed. (Emotion was a common side effect of mind melds with emotional species.)
“Huh?” Stafford asked.
“Listen to me!” Craigain said quickly.
“Stafford to Valtaic!”
“He better have something good to tell us!” Sylvia cried out. She and Fifebee were shielding Valtaic with their holographic bodies. One of the door panels buckled from the mechanical onslaught and they all had to duck a wielding beam.
Valtaic abruptly spoke up.
“Recognize codeword, reconciliation!” he shouted at the bots, “Initiate stand down sequence!”
The words were in slightly mangled Matrian, passed to him through Stafford. But the effect was immediate. The bots lowered their weapons, returned their sheet-metal shields to their previous positions, turned as one and started clattering away.
“Oh thank heavens,” Sylvia exclaimed.
“Come,” Valtaic said, “We are to meet the Captain at the stairway we first discovered.
“She never told me what Haven was,” Craigan was saying to Stafford, Jural and Wowryk as they descended the stairs. “I think she knew, from the very beginning, what she wanted me to do.” They’d opted to limit the initial exploratory team to members with some combat training, just in case.
“But why all the memory wiping?”
“I needed to be unbiased,” Craigan said, “She believed that if I knew I was passing judgement on whoever found this place, it would affect my decision,”
“A hundred years is a long time to sit around waiting to judge somebody,”
“Two hundred,” Craigan corrected him, “but who’s counting?”
They met up with Valtaic’s team. Craigan led them to one of the spoke-like corridors and straight into what had been the heart of robot territory.
“Thank you, by the way,” Sylvia said, patting Craigon on the back, “Fifebee and I would have been fine, even if the relay was lost. But Valtaic would have died a very messy death,”
Valtaic inclined his head.
“What are we looking for, anyway?” Stafford asked, “You know Anselia’s going to demand a full report, as soon as we get back up.”
“I’m not sure,” Craigan said, “But I remember Abela telling me that if I decided whoever found Haven could be trusted, I was to bring them to this place.
“And if not?”
“Then the code word I would have given the robots, discord, would have caused them to storm Haven and kill you all,”
They’d arrived at a very secure-looking pair of doors.
“Signal Analysis,” Fifebee read the door label, “Access restricted,”
“Signal Analysis,” Stafford repeated, “That sounds like an Intelligence operation, doesn’t it?”
“It does,” Fifebee said, tapping at her tricorder.
“And as Minister of Planetary Defence,” Stafford ran his hand over the security reader, “I should have access to that. Assuming the readers down here access the central HQ database the same way the others do.”
The doors hissed open, revealing an airlock-type compartment. A window in one wall looked into an empty security booth.
“Very black-ops,” Sylvia observed uncomfortably as they crowded in. Stafford ran his hand against another panel.
Craigan didn’t know what the Starfleeters expected to find. They’d probably expected to see the big, two level room filled with display screens that made the ones in the Command Complex look like tricorder screens. They probably expected the various analysis consoles, video surveillance feeds and data processing terminals. After all, he was expecting to find all that, what with the place being called Signal Analysis and all.
What he didn’t expect to see was the dried, mummified corpse lying in the middle of the room. From the looks of his companions, he was sure they didn’t expect it either.
“What…” Craigain noticed the corpse was wearing an old, tattered uniform.
“No!” Craigan shouted out. He took two steps into the room, then spun and fell to the floor as the world around him went dark.
“Craigan!” Wowryk exclaimed, watching as he collapsed to the floor. She was about to step out after him when Fifebee pulled her back.
“NO!” Fifebee shouted, uncharacteristically loudly, “STAY BACK!”
“What is it?” Stafford asked urgently.
“That,” Fifebee said, pointing at one side of the room.
“Oh shit,” Stafford said softly.
“You can’t be serious,” Wowryk groaned.
Connected to one wall was a Matrian Spatial Interphase Device. Its lights were blinking, and according to the limited data on Fifebee’s tricorder, it was fully operational.
Right next to it was a stasis tube. In it was a woman none of them recognized, except for from Craigan’s description. Even then, they might not have recognized her, except for her uniform.
It was a complete twin to the rotted one on the floor. Right down to the nametag.
Fifebee, assured now that nobody would be stepping into the bubble-like field around the M-SID, the field that would trap anybody who entered it in a virtual reality from which they may or may not be able to return, resumed tapping at her tricorder.
“This certainly complicates the situation,” she remarked.