Author: Brendan Chris
Matrian Installation 317-B
Around 200 years ago:
“Status on the lockdown?” asked Colonel Myress Abela, Construction Commander for Installation 317. She had just stepped out of a command tower turbolift and into the gleaming turbolift lobby. Her command override could have taken the turbolift into the horizontal shafts connecting the central island towers beneath the Travel Ring, however she was in the mood to walk. The entire installation was being buried, possibly forever, and she might never again have the chance to walk through its hallways. She’d been joined by Sub-Commander Denisal Brekan as she walked towards Tower 3 and its corresponding staircase down into the Travel Ring.
“Sand cover is 100% at a depth of one standard measurement, 80% at two and 55% at three.” Brekan replied, reading from a portable data device.
“That’s easily enough to keep us hidden,” Abela sighed, “And the main chamber?”
“Fully shut down. We’ve finished replacing the atmosphere with preservative gasses. It’s going to take a while before the oxygen dissolved in the lake is fully removed, but the automated systems can handle that after we leave,”
“Good,” Abela nodded. She’d reached one of the six major staircases leading down to the tram level and was almost jogging down the steps, her hand sliding along the smooth, wooden railing. As she reached the lower levels she noticed a pair of technicians activating the high-security locks on the double blast doors leading out of the Travel Ring facility and into one of the Atriums. She turned down a corridor, intent on the nondescript door that would lead down into the high-security levels.
“Colonel, if I may ask, where are you going?” Brekan asked.
“To interrogate our new prisoner, of course,” Abelda replied.
“But…our orders are just to hold him until the Council decides-“
“The council is going to execute the rebels,” Abela waved a hand, “With the death toll from destroying Matronus? They’re simply going to wipe them all out.”
“They why are you talking to this prisoner, this,” Brekan looked at her padd, “Craigan?”
“Because,” Abela said thoughtfully, “There are two sides to any story. And something about the Council’s side is…bothering me.”
She reached the discreet passage into the high-security levels.
An hour later, Abela returned to the Command Center. He mouth was tightly drawn, worry-lines creased her forehead and she moved almost angrily as she mounted the steps to the upper level.
“Learn anything useful?” Brekan asked carefully.
“Useful? Perhaps not,” Abela replied tightly, “Interesting? Most definitely,”
“What did he say?”
“We can discuss that later, on the way out. But before that, we may have to make a change or two to the Council’s plan regarding this place.”
Colonel Myress Abela walked slowly through the empty hallways of Installation 317-B. The lights were dim and the sounds of the air recirculation systems at low power were almost undetectable.
Four long years had passed since the Matrian Council of Mistresses had ordered her to lock down, bury, seal and otherwise hide the huge base that she’d spent the better part of a decade constructing. The order had come immediately after a male terrorist attack had destroyed an orbital city, Matronus. At the time, the speed at which the council had reacted to the devastating attack, along with the convenient coincidence that none of the 300+ member assembly had suffered so much as a scratch, had raised more than a few suspicious in Abela’s mind. Now, after four years of civil war between the female-controlled central government and the pro-male ‘terrorist’ districts, or Male Rebellion as they liked to put it, her suspicious had taken solid root.
Outwardly, she kept her appearance stoic as she disembarked the transit tram she’d unlocked for her uses. Getting into the installation hadn’t been hard; after all it had been shut down with the intent that the government would be able to reactivate it fairly easily. Still, as much as she would have loved to charge up to the command complex and hit the ‘ON’ switch, circumstances had changed. As she stepped across the boarding platform in the Travel Ring and entered the nearest stairway, she had a sudden moment of recollection.
“People can’t live here for any length of time if it looks like a prison!” Swar, one of her male designers had declared loudly (and sassily), “We need a bit of STYLE!” he’d said, unveiling his design for a curving, multilevel stairway with broad windows looking out in to what was expected to be the bustle and activity of the installation’s central travel hub. At the time, she’d rolled her eyes and wondered just who the hell had put a man on the design committee, even if he was one of the genetically advanced men. Now, as the dim lighting shifted over the patterned red wall panels, she had to admit that it looked a hell of a lot nicer than the more utilitarian design they’d kept for the smaller, inner ring stairways.
Coming to the top of the stairway, Abela slowed. She had originally intended to stay strictly to her path, rushing through the lobby of this tower and into the long, column-lined path that would take her to the central tower lobby and the turbolift she needed. But as she turned past from the huge, dark windows looking out into the main chamber her eye had been caught by something…some small glint of light coming from deep in the artificial cavern. She slowly walked towards the window, allowing her hand to come to rest on the railing. Somebody had left a light on, way out near the outer rim from the looks of it. Probably in the seemingly endless rows of living quarters that lined the inner surface of the installation’s ring-shaped outer facilities. Abela’s hands had grown tight on the railing, and her mouth had drawn into a grim line. So much work. So much promise. Such…hope…
And all of it was being wasted.
Turning angrily away, she stalked towards the central tower.
The lab was unchanged.
The moment the central complex of Installation 317-B had been completed, the Matrian Intelligence Assembly had started quietly shunting top-secret, hush-hush programs into what was after all one of the most advanced facilities on the planet. And one of the most carefully hidden. Abela shuddered to think of some of the work that had been done in this lab, with its banks of gene re-sequencers, bio-analysis computers and stasis tubes. Tapping on a control panel, Abela quickly found what she was looking for.
At the far end of the lab a curved door slid open, revealing what looked like a small turbolift shaft. It wasn’t an elevator that came up from the depths however. It was a stasis tube. The tube, its life-support equipment still connected to the facility computer and power supply through the guide tracks, slid across the lab until it came to a rest near the central bio-scanner assembly. Another popped up right behind it and likewise began to maneouver into position in the lab. Than another…and other…
“What the…” Abela frowned. She’d requested one tube, but the computer informed her she was getting thirteen. Stupid thing. The MIA technicians had been complaining for months prior to the lock-down that some of the systems in the lab were a bit touchy, but she’d dismissed them as being ‘whiney cry-babies’. A small note, hand-written by one of those long-departed techs, warned her that the installation’s camouflage fields had been causing problems with the stasis equipment, and that unusual fluctuations in the local energy fields could cause accidental re-vivification. Crumbling the note in one hand, Abela approached the first tube.
“Hello, Craigan,” she said softly to herself, “We need to talk,”
Ninety Years Ago:
Myress Abela grunted slightly as slowly made her way across the lab to Craigan’s stasis tube. She’d dropped the ‘Colonel’ part of her identity decades ago, exchanging it for a new set of wrinkles and a new shade of grey in her hair. The cane she gripped with one hand wasn’t entirely necessary; she kept it more as an insurance policy than anything else. But she couldn’t deny that she’d aged a great deal.
Of course, she was doing pretty good for a woman of one hundred and fourty. Especially considering that the only medical care she’d had access to in the past century was that which she could administer herself. Spending years at a time in stasis had helped, but these past two decades had been impossible to ignore. She’d spent them, for the most part, tucked away in the installation’s cavernous Signal Analysis room. With secure, untraceable connections to the Matrian Defence network, and from there to orbital sensors, communications, records, and etc, she was perfectly positioned to observe every nuance of the collapse of her people’s civilization.
She looked up at Craigan’s face, stiff and unmoving in the stasis tube.
“Goodbye, Craigan,” she croaked, her voice cracked with age and disuse.
The return to Signal Analysis seemed endless, even though she used her command authorization to take the turbolift all the way down into the classified levels. She could have gotten one of the construction bots to assist her, she mused, or even activated one of the domestic bots. But regardless of how well the installation was hidden, she was loath to leave any more sign of her presence than was necessary.
Besides, if what she was about to attempt worked, it wouldn’t matter.
She shuffled thought the security airlock and into the high-ceilinged room. Her gaze flickered over the huge display screens more from habit than anything else. She didn’t need to look closer; she knew what they’d show. The same thing they’d shown for ten years now: Males tearing down damaged buildings, laying foundations for new construction, re-establishing farmland that had been abandoned in favour of the more well-defended cities.
It all looked so peaceful, as if her people really had ended their conflict.
She approached the spidery, cylindrical device that she had smuggled out of one of the cities ten years ago, when they’d first been deployed across the planet. The Council of Mistresses were calling it a ‘Dream Machine’, but in Abela’s mind it was nothing less than demonic mind control. These devices were the main reason why she, and the installation, had remained hidden.
Still, if what she’d learned was correct, this particular Dream Machine might be the key to her future.
Or to her death.
Glancing only briefly at the body in the stasis tube next to the device, Abela started tapping at the control panel.
Over an hour had passed since Craigan’s ill-fated lunge into the Signal Analysis chamber. The Matrian was still sprawled out on the floor where he’d first fallen, a small puddle of drool forming on the floor near his face. Lt. Riven Valtaic had originally taken it for blood until it had pooled over one of the light panels inset in the floor. Captain/Minister of Planetary Defence Christopher Stafford was pacing back and forth nearby, nearly pulling his hair out of his head. Both Lt. Cmdr. Jane Fifebee and Dr. Noel Wowryk were standing nearby, tapping at a tricorder and a medical tricorder respectively.
“I’m not getting any change in his condition,” Wowryk reported, shaking her head, “Whatever’s happening in there, it doesn’t seem to be stressful enough to increase his heart rate or give any other biological signals,”
“Or it just turned him into a vegetable,” Stafford said, “Our only source of information on this place might have just had his brain turned into a Bolian zucchini!”
“I have never sampled zucchini,” Valtaic said, “On what premise do you presume it to be more or less intelligent than any other gourd?”
“It’s an expression, Mr. Valtaic,” Sylvia said, “Another social irrelevancy,”
“I was curious,” Valtaic said, matter-of-fact.
“My uncle claims zucchini was invented in the basement of a crazy Italian,” Stafford mused, gazing into the Signal Analysis room.
“Highly unlikely,” Fifebee sniffed.
Stafford was looking at what few big screens were visible from his vantage point. He could see orbital sensor readouts, a satellite position map and even a very detailed image of the capitol city of J’Taeri District.
“We need to shut that thing down so we can get into that room,” Stafford said, “Look at all the information in there!”
“We can’t shut it down until we’ve gotten Craigan out,” Wowryk said firmly, “And determined the state of…of that,” She gestured at the clone body lying in the stasis tube next to the M-SID.
Stafford pointed at the mummified corpse on the floor.
“I think we know the status, thanks,”
“Not at all,” Fifebee said, “Is it not painfully obvious what she was attempting?”
“Not painfully, no,”
“Craigan told us Abela was becoming very old during their last meetings,” Fifebee said.
“We all do that. It’s called ‘aging’,”
“Obviously, she was attempting to transfer her consciousness into a clone body to prolong her life,” Fifebee said.
Stafford’s eyes widened. Even Valtaic looked surprised.
“Is such a thing possible?” Valtaic asked.
“Several Silverado crewmembers suffered body-swaps due to an accident involving an M-SID on our first mission to Matrian Space,” Fifebee explained, “It is entirely possible. However, I do not believe Colonel Abela was successful,”
“Why not?” Stafford asked.
“First, Craigan received no visits from her in the past century,” Fifebee said, “And second,” she pointed at the mummified corpse.
“Who wouldn’t even bother to dispose of their own corpse,” Stafford finished.
“If she’s dead, the key to activating Haven may have died with her,” Valtaic pointed out.
“Which is why we need to know what’s going on before we shut down the M-SID,” Wowryk said, “As I told you at the beginning of this conversation,”
“So we need somebody to go in, assuming the M-SID is generating a virtual reality, and figure that out,” Stafford said.
“Yes,” Wowryk said. She clipped her tricorder back to her belt, “I’m ready,”
“Ready?” Stafford lifted an eyebrow.
Wowryk started walking towards the M-SID field.
“No, no, NO!” Stafford said, getting in her path, “Bad idea! Very bad idea, Noel!”
“Why?” Wowryk shrugged off his grip, “Aren’t I best suited for this? I have, on two occasions, taken control of the realities these abominations create. I helped most of our crew, including yourself, return to their own bodies. I’m perfect for this,”
“You’re also working with Jural and Laheya to run the rebellion!” Stafford objected.
“They hardly need me at this point,” Wowryk said calmly, “Craigan does,”
“Bith to Stafford,”
Stafford tapped his comm-badge.
“Sir, we just received a coded transmission from Lieutenant Pye,” Bith reported, “He was making a scheduled pickup of Mistress Laheya following a briefing of several rebel leaders.”
“Good for him. Is there anything else?”
“Sir, he says the Hazardous Team showed up and politely requested a lift back to Haven,”
“Great! Granted! Tell him to get those guys back here!”
“He’s already on his way, sir,” Bith reported.
“Perfect. Stafford out,”
He turned to the others.
“Fifebee, Wowryk, keep studying that thing, but keep your distance! Don’t do anything until I get back! Valtaic, you’re with me,”
He turned and started walking briskly towards the stairs to the upper levels.
Wowryk looked back at Craigan, her face filling with concern.
“Don’t worry,” Fifebee said, “We have at least three days before he dies of thirst.”
The words may have been meant in the spirit of comfort, but Wowryk didn’t find them comforting. Not one bit.
Sylvia was still standing quietly in the corridor. Unlike Wowryk and Fifebee, her attention wasn’t focused on the interior of the Signal Analysis room. Instead, she was watching Wowryk very carefully. She saw the look of concern on her face. Saw it slowly shift from concern to determination.
And so, another hour later, Sylvia was completely unsurprised when Wowryk abruptly stepped into the field and collapsed to the floor.
Stafford was met by Queen Anselia as he waited for a tram to the outer rim and the entrance hanger.
“Agent Jural has briefed us on the situation,” she said, “And we have consulted the Council,”
“About that,” Stafford sighed. Here we go. Politics time. “I’m sorry I didn’t bring you down there sooner. It’s a strange situation,”
“We agree,” Anselia said as they boarded the tram. She paused for a moment, “We understand that Craigan was left here to judge us. Not individually, but as a group. He judged the team we have formed, and found it worthy,”
“That about sums it up,” Stafford said, “If he weren’t stuck in a Matrian Dreamland, we could ask him for more details.”
“Do you have a plan to resolve that situation?” Anselia asked.
Stafford was a bit taken aback at the sudden respect Anselia was showing.
“We’re still working on that one,” he said, “But with the rest of our team getting back, I think we’ll figure something out,”
“Good,” Anselia was quiet for a moment.
“The Council has agreed that your team should have strong authority in this matter,” she said finally, “Your crew, Agent Jural, Mistress Laheya. With consultation from myself and King Hektor, of course,”
“That’s…surprisingly generous of them,” Stafford said neutrally.
“As when the Qu’Eh invaded, we find you are the best people for the job. And you have previous experience with our Dream Machines as well.”
Something about hearing those words to describe his crew both filled Stafford with pride, while simultaneously filling him with utter terror. For about the fiftieth time since entering Matrian Space, he wondered how a proper ship like the Enterprise would have handled things.
He dropped the political-politeness crap.
“Why are they suddenly trusting us again?” he demanded, “After all the bickering we’ve had down here, why now?”
“First, Christopher, what you call ‘bickering’, the Council calls ‘negotiation’. Your people have shown great willingness to work with us, dissuading fears that it was power you wanted,”
Anselia paused again, trying to figure out just how to say it.
“You’ve been judged by an Old Matrian,” she said finally, “Remember, Christopher, our people are very concerned with our history. Our ancestors are revered, even though they’ve made some horrible, horrible mistakes. They may have brought our civilization to the brink of ruin, but it was they who built it from the ground up. And one of them, the one chosen to determine who may or may not attempt to activate Haven, has looked at our team and determined us to be worthy. That carries great weight with the Council,”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Stafford said sincerely, “Because, honestly? I don’t think we’re going to have a lot of time for ‘compromise’ in the near future,”
Anselia looked slightly worried.
“Not because we’re unwilling,” Stafford assured her, “But because I think we’re getting close to the end of this situation and time is going to be very short.”
“How can you know this?”
“I don’t know. It’s just a feeling.”
Agent Jural of the Matrian Intelligence Team had lost track of how much time he’d spent in Haven’s entrance hanger, waiting for somebody to return, watching somebody depart or discussing rebel matters. He wondered, not for the first time, why the Old Matrians hadn’t built a nice, comfortable lounge for people to relax in while they waited. Of course, for all he knew the wall behind him could slide down to reveal a fully stocked martini bar, but he tended to doubt that was the case. No, more likely one of the empty rooms in the general area was an incomplete lounge, just waiting for somebody with a flair for entertaining to convert it.
“Maybe I’ll do that after this mess is over,” Jural muttered to himself.
“Do what?” one of the Starfleeters, Pye, asked politely.
“Nothing,” Jural replied, watching one massive hanger door panel swing ponderously outward. In the distance, he could see a small scout ship on a direct course. It quickly grew bigger, slowing as it approached the hanger and easing in for a gentle landing on the lower level.
Down below, Stafford and Anselia were walking out to greet whoever it was. Jural saw Laheya exit behind several Starfleet officers and moved towards the stairs.
“T’Parief!” Stafford called amicably as the green Security Chief stepped out of the small ship, “We saw P’tarek’s ship explode from here! Well done!”
“Aw man!” Simmons jumped out, “I was awesome! Like, BAM! Ka-POW! We totally rock!”
“We have a surprise for you, sir,” T’Parief said calmly.
“You got Jall back?”
“He’ll be out in a moment. But even better!”
Stern stepped forward and handed Stafford several small computer chips.
“What are these?” he asked.
“The command keys to your new submarine missile fleet,” Stern shrugged.
Stafford’s eyes bulged.
“Really. Oh, but one of them is parked off the coast about a thousand miles from here,” Stern said.
“We have a lot to report,” now it was Jeffery that spoke up, “We found us some new allies on top o’ that little gift,”
“Great work, everybody,” Stafford said, shaking his head in amazement. Next to him, Anselia has started saying something about ‘great valour’ and ‘contribution to the Matrian struggle’, but Stafford had stopped paying attention when he saw Jall walking out of the ship.
“Commander Jall,” Stafford said, “I’m honestly glad to see you. I’m glad you’re safe,”
Jall walked up to Stafford, considered him a moment, then grasped him in a big bear-hug.
Stafford’s eyes were now the size of saucers as recoiled in shock. Everybody was staring at Jall.
“What?” he shrugged, “I was in captivity for a month, I was rescued, I really missed you guys. It seemed like the right thing to do,”
Even Ansleia’s jaw had dropped.
“Where can I get a shower?” Jall asked politely.
“I’ll show you,” Lieutenant Yanick said, twirling one finger nervously in her long blond hair as she stepped up next to him. He other hand was resting on her swollen belly, “But I’m not sure you should have done that,”
“Why? Is he going to try to hurt me?” Jall wondered.
“No, I don’t think so. He just might think you’ve fallen in love with him and get all weird about it,” Yanick winced, her other hand coming to her stomach.
“Oh, sweetie, we need to get you checked out,” Jall said. T’Parief, seeing the situation, tapped his comm-badge.
“T’Parief to Wowryk, we have an urgent medical situation in the hanger bay,” he said.
“Is she off on one of those rebel mission things?” Jeffery asked. Next to him, Jural turned away from the discussion he was having with Laheya.
“No, she should be here,” he said.
T’Parief tried again.
This time Sylvia replied.
“Boys,” she said, “We’ve got a problem.”
It was, Stafford reflected, the closest thing he’d had to a proper staff meeting since the Qu’Eh invasion.
They’d commandeered a large round room on the upper level of the Transit Hub and had moved in a table and several chairs. One curved wall was transparent, looking into the cavernous ring of the Hub. Install some replicators in the empty sockets along the one wall, add proper furnishings, some art and the place would be a decent or even upscale conference room, Jall mused. Or a nice coffee shop. It was certainly big enough.
Stafford sat at the head of the table, carefully keeping his distance from Jall. To his left sat Jeffery, T’Parief and Valtaic. To his right was Fifebee, Sylvia and Yanick. Jall sat directly across from him, massaging his right wrist. Only Wowryk was missing.
They’d already brought each other up to speed on recent events, following an enthusiastic reunion. Mostly enthusiastic. Stafford refused to meet Jall’s eyes. Yanick kept massaging her stomach and had remained seated. And of course, Fifebee rarely shows much enthusiasm anyway. Anselia had asked several pointed questions about the tribe of ‘primative’ Matrians Jeffery’s team had found than ran off to brief the Council.
Now, it was time to get to work.
“Situation:” Valtaic said, eager to get things moving, “Craigan and now Dr. Wowryk are trapped in a Matrian Dreamland. Colonel Abela may or may not be present as well.”
“Why hasn’t Dr. Wowryk already come back?” Jall asked, “I mean, she does have a habit of turning into a total queen around these things. Heh heh…”
Stafford rolled his eyes at the lame joke, but was also reminded of why he’d promoted that obnoxious jackass to begin with. He made a really good point.
“Dr. Wowryk has assumed the role of controlling entity in the past, when under the influence of an M-SID,” Fifebee said, “However, I find it likely that Abela has already, at least in part, taken on that role.”
“In part?” Jeffery asked.
“If she had full control, she would have visited Craigan sometime in the past hundred years,” Fifebee said.
“And I’m guessing turning the thing off would be too easy?” Jeffery crossed his arms.
“It would be very dangerous,” Fifebee said, “And is counter-indicated by the operating manual,”
“We have an operating manual?” Stafford looked up from where he’d been rubbing his jaw.
“No. That was simply AI humour,”
“Can we pull them out of the field?” T’Parief asked.
“Again, not a good idea,” Fifebee said, “In addition, I attempted to reach the M-SID itself, to see if I could access its control systems manually. However, the combined interference of the M-SID and Haven’s stealth field destabilized my imaging system.”
“So we’re going in,” Jall shrugged, “We’ve done it before,”
“There’s no rush,” Stafford shot back, “We’ve got a couple days before things start getting really dangerous for them, right?”
“I think…” Yanick gulped, “I think I’m going to need Noel before that…”
T’Parief was out of his chair in a flash as Yanick cried out, clutching her belly. Stafford and Jall were right behind him, demanded to know what was happening. Finally, Sylvia grabbed the two of them by the ears and pulled them away while Fifebee knelt over Yanick.
“Stay out of the way, you two!” Sylvia snapped.
“She’s having a contraction!” Fifebee reported.
“But she’s-“ Stafford started.
“-not pregnant! Jall finished.
“I know! She’s having one anyway!”
Fifebee tapped at her tricorder for another moment.
“It is no use. I don’t have the programming for this. We need Dr. Wowryk!”
“Serves me right for saying things weren’t urgent,” Stafford groaned.
At that moment, his comm-badge beeped.
“Sir!” Pye’s voice came, “We’ve got ships dropping out of warp! Orbital sensors just picked them up!”
“The Federation fleet?”
Pye was quiet for a moment.
“Senousians?” Jall guessed.
“No sir,” Pye said, “They look more like Qu’Eh troop transports to me. Enough to carry, oh I don’t know…maybe a fifty thousand or so troops.”
Stafford and Jall exchanged a glance.
“From bad to worse, huh?” Jall said merrily, clapping Stafford on the shoulder.
Stafford, Jall, Jeffery, Valtaic and T’Parief had gathered outside the Signal Analysis room. In the corridor, Nurse Kerry was setting up some portable bio-sensors. Sylvia and Nurse Veeneman were making Yanick comfortable in her quarters, while Fifebee was confirming Pye’s report on the Qu’Eh reinforcements.
“Our own reinforcements can’t be far,” Stafford was saying, “God knows we’ve been waiting long enough,”
“Can’t imagine what that’s like,” Jall quipped.
“But those extra Qu’Eh troops could mean serious trouble for the Matrian rebels,” Stafford went on, “We need that rebellion keeping the Qu’Eh busy, and off track!”
“Unlocking this place wouldn’t hurt either, would it?” Jall said.
“San, we still don’t know what Haven does,” Stafford shook his head, “We’ve got a cavern the size of a starbase hanger that we can’t access. It could be filled with enough ships and weapons to kick the Qu’Eh into next week, or we might be standing in the Matrian equivalent of Noah’s Ark.”
“With all the animals two-by-two?” Jall wondered.
“Maybe,” Stafford shrugged.
“And while you are debating, Patricia is in great pain,” T’Parief broke in, his voice sounding just a little bit dangerous, “Let’s move!”
“OK, OK,” Stafford held up his hands.
The group of them moved towards the large room and the invisible energy field it contained. Fifebee had managed, at least, to lay a few mats down on the floor. Wowryk and Craigan were now resting comfortably. Five more mats had been laid out just inside the field, waiting for them to step inside and collapse onto them.
“Ah thought we were finished with these things years ago,” Jeffery shook his head.
“Hey, I just finished getting tortured with one a couple of days ago!” Jall shot back.
“I am most curious to experience this technology,” Valtaic shrugged.
“Oops, I almost forgot,” Kerry ran over, then injected Valtaic with something, “That should keep your energy emissions down. Can’t have you accidently disrupting the field with an involuntary energy spike.”
“I just hate it when my ‘energy levels’ ‘spike’ too soon,” Jall smirked, making little air quotes.
“I have not especially missed you,” Valtaic said, matter-of-factly.
“Naw, you love me, and you know it,”
“You invoke many emotions. Love is not one of them.”
“Ah’m ready to be unconscious now,” Jeffery nudged Stafford.
“OK kids, let’s go,” Stafford said.
They took a deep breath, then stepped into the field.
The first thing Jeffery became aware of was the clock.
The thing was huge, easily three meters in diameter. It featured a pair of gleaming, silver hands, behind which was an image of Jeffery’s face. The second hand had been replaced with a big, bushy red moustache, which ticked around in a circle. After staring at it for a moment, Jeffery realized he’d seen it before. No, that wasn’t quite right. He’d seen part of it before.
The other elements of the Matrian Dreamland didn’t so much explode into his consciousness as they slowly seeped in, like water through coffee grinds. A chair was next to him, except for some reason it was upside down. Above the clock was a flickering holographic image of a nude woman, grinning impishly and extending one finger in a ‘come hither’ gesture. Nearby was a trio of control pulpits, their displays active but showing static. Windows above, a railing looking down onto another level, three stairs running down…
He was in Haven’s command complex. Or at least a version of it.
“This is sort of trippy,” Jall said. He was looking up at the ceiling windows. The view was that of packed sand, identical to what was visible through the real command complex windows. As he watched, it slowly morphed in a clear blue sky. Then back to sand. The lower windows were cycling through a series of vistas. They had just changed from looking into an oily blackness to looking into a vast, empty cavern. The floor was covered by a huge lake, stretching at least a mile away from them in all directions and interrupted only by six slender bridges. The ceiling had been craggy rock, but as Stafford turned to look it changed into a metallic dome. Starships faded into view, hundreds of Matrian cruisers, assault ships, scouts and fighters. Then, abruptly, they vanished.
“What the…” Jeffery started.
Land heaved itself out of the lake, the water pouring off it (yet the water level in the remaining pools didn’t seem to rise). Within seconds only a narrow ring-shaped lake was left around the central island. Stasis pods appeared everywhere, from tiny units to units the size of a small house. They could barely make out the shapes of animals in them.
“Noah’s Ark,” Jall murmered.
“It’s all coming from our minds,” T’Parief said, “None of this is real,”
Stafford blinked. Of course he’d known that. They’d all known that. Then why had they been so confused by what they were seeing?
Stafford turned to the clock Jeffery had first seen. It wasn’t just a clock, he realized. It was Haven’s central holo-table with clock hands added in where before there had just been a large, depressed circle.
“I remember the first time I saw this table,” Stafford said slowly, moving away from the windows and towards the table, “I remember thinking it looked a lot like a watch my parents gave me. Just without the crystal and the hands,”
“So why’s me face there with a big, bushy, spinnin’ moustache?” Jeffery wondered.
“I think that’s me,” Jall raised one hand sheepishly, “It reminds me of a clock somebody made at the Academy, in the Human Hideaway lounge,”
“Ohh, ye mean the one of Chief Spinte’s face?” Jeffery nodded, “Ah saw that one!”
“I remember that guy!” Stafford joined in, “He was such a f-“
T’Parief growled, then started stalking down the stairs towards the exit. Outside, the cavern lake was glowing bright orange as dozens of snub-nosed planetary defence disrupters heaved themselves out of the water.
“Lieutenant Yanick is presently suffering,” Valtaic pointed out.
Jall, Stafford and Jeffery at least had the grace to look embarrassed.
They followed T’Parief into the turbolift.
Unlike previous trips, where only darkness had been visible, this time as the lift sunk below the command center they were greeted with a brief view out into the cavern. The disruptor cannons had been replaced with surface-to-space antimatter missile launchers and the lake was no longer glowing.
“So how do we find Wowryk?” Jall asked, “I assume that’s the plan?”
“I thought it would be as easy as just imagining her with us,” Stafford said, “But I’ve been trying that since we got here,”
“We know from earlier encounters that if somebody has sufficient mental power, they can override the wishes of another,” T’Parief said briskly, “Obviously, whoever is in charge doesn’t want us finding her, yet.
“Or Queen Wowryk herself,”
There was a sudden sound, a sort of
SCHUNK-SCHUNK-SCHUNK, then the turbolift car dropped out of a green pipe and plummeted towards a grassy hill several meters below.
Outside the virtual world, in the real Haven command complex, Lieutenant Pye was starting to pace. He wasn’t sure if he’d picked that habit up from the Captain, or if it had always been there, lurking, just waiting for the right amount of stress to bring it out.
Since their rescue from Silverado, the Beta shift had become…well..the Beta shift. They’d spent the bulk of their time up in the command complex, watching the sensors, routing communications, keeping an eye open for any more Qu’Eh ‘Public Service Announcements’ and watching the news for interesting tidbits. It definitely beat being trapped in a disabled starship! Pye was walking back and forth by the holo-table, while Bith and Day were manning the small, portable workstations connected to the small Federation computer core. Stern of course was with the Hazardous Team out in the outer rim, and Quintaine was sitting at the control pulpit Queen Anselia had unlocked. He couldn’t access anything other than the link to the Defence HQ computers, but since that link was their only lifeline to the outside world, it was very carefully monitored.
“H-Hey!” Bith called out, “I’m getting a funny reading from one of the Qu’Eh ships!”
Pye looked up. Sure enough, one of the small icons orbiting the hologram of Matria Prime was blinking.
“What is that?” Pye asked.
“Energy surge,” Bith said, tapping into the orbital sensors, “I think they’re arming weapons!”
“I have a visual,” Quintaine said, bringing up a view from an orbital satellite.
“This can’t be right,” Bith frowned.
As they watched, the Qu’Eh ship opened fire. But it wasn’t a Qu’Eh weapon blast that speared out. Instead, it was a red, Federation-style phaser beam. The beam speared across space and stuck Silverado’s drifting form, cutting deep into one warp nacelle and sending debris flying off into space.
“Federation power readings,” Bith said urgently.
“Uh-oh,” Pye gulped.
“We need to report this,” Day said firmly.
“To who? Most of the senior staff is off in la-la-land!”
The turbolift car plummeted to ground, landing on the back of some sort of bizarre turtle. The creature retracted into its shell, but the impact sent the shell spinning away, crashing into a snarling plant in the process. The plant gave a sort of snivelling cry, then collapsed to the ground. The turbolift car split apart, the pieces bouncing once then disappearing.
“Somebody’s been playing too much Super Mario Brothers on their tricorder,” Stafford said, disapprovingly.
“Hey, this place is boring, and there aren’t any holodecks,” Jeffery said.
The world shifted again. This time, they found themselves facing a furry, white, cartoon mugato.
“BOW BEFORE THE MIGHT OF GENERAL SKUN’KAPE!” it bellowed.
“OK, that’s it!” Stafford cried, “Everybody! STOP IMAGINING STUFF!”
A bucked of water appeared over Stafford’s head. It tipped, drenching him.
“Sorry, that was me,” Jall said sheepishly.
They worked to clear their minds. There was an abrupt blast of squealing, screeching sound as a set of bagpipes appeared.
“Oops,” Jeffery muttered. The bagpipes vanished.
Soon, they were standing on an empty, grassy field.
Valtiac was looking dazed.
“You’ve all experienced this insanity before?” he asked.
“Well, it wasn’t quite as crazy the last time,” Jall said.
Stafford snapped his fingers.
“Yes it was,” he said, “Remember, way back? The very first time?”
“Before Wowryk learned how to control it,” T’Parief nodded. He was still looking around, seeking something against which he could take action, “We all became younger, there was a similar mixing of memories and imagination,”
“I think the reason why Abela’s been in here so long is that she never learned to control it,” Stafford said.
“So how do we find her?”
That’s when the armies showed up.
“This is very disturbing,” Fifebee said to Pye, speaking over the comm channel while Sylvia wiped Yanick’s brow with a damp cloth, “If the Qu’Eh are experimenting with Federation technology salvaged from our ship, they could upgrade their sensors sufficiently to detect Haven,”
“Yeah, not to mention that our reinforcements are in for a nasty surprise,” Pye said.
“Assuming they ever get here,” Fifebee replied, “My estimates had them arriving five days ago,”
“They’re coming, right?” Pye asked.
Fifebee paused briefly as she considered. Being a computer, the pause was mere milliseconds. But still. She knew, as did the rest of the senior staff, that the fleet had been delayed due to a lack of larger ships. She also knew that Jall had sent Noonan a message asking for help, and that if anybody were to help them, it was Noonan.
“They are indeed,” Fifebee replied. She closed the channel.
Sylvia looked at her. Between them, Yanick groaned in pain.
“Chris and San need to know about this,” Sylvia said.
“They seem to have found a bad time to be incommunicado,” Fifebee said crisply.
Sylvia didn’t reply, instead re-wetting the cloth and wiping Yanick’s forehead.
“Ah didn’t imagine this, Ah swear!” Jeffery squeaked. At opposite ends of the grassy field, two armies were massing. The Silverado team were sitting ducks, right in what was no doubt about to be a killing zone.
“T’Parief?” Stafford asked, little doubt in his mind as to who might have dreamed up this particular scenario.
“It’s not me,” T’Parief replied.
“You sure?” Jall asked, “Cuz this really looks like the kind of thing you’d go for,”
“I don’t suppose these are going to be the kind of armies that fling large projectiles in ballistic trajectories, thus missing the middle ground entirely,” Valtaic said glumly.
“No,” T’Parief said, squinting at the rapidly approaching figures, “These look like the kind of armies that get up close and personal with sharp, pointed objects.” He concentrated for a moment, then a large rack of swords, spears and other bladed objects materialized next to him. “This is going to be fun,” he added.
“No slicing and dicing the friendlies this time!” Jall said urgently. The last time he and T’Parief had been involved in a virtual battle, he’d died no less than thirteen times.
“Can’t we just conjure up some phasers and fry them all?” Jeffery asked. He concentrated, then a rack filled with energy weapons appeared.
“That would not be a fair fight,” T’Parief complained.
“Um, guys,” Jall tried to cut in.
“Ah donnae care about fair!” Jeffery shot back, “We need to find Noel, and to do that, we need to live!”
“Oh s**t!” Stafford gulped, following Jall’s gaze. The nearest army was close, and getting closer very quickly.
“What about honour? Do you care the least bit about that?” T’Parief demanded.
“Not when the bad guys are fake!”
“This really isn’t-“ Jall tried again.
“We must practice as we fight,” T’Parief insisted.
The closest army was so close, Stafford could see the whites of their eyes. They were human or Matrian, and appeared to be riding the Matrian equivalent of horses. Both horses and riders wore chainmail armour, and their broad, diamond-shaped swords looked sharp enough to split a hair.
“AHHHH!!!!” Stafford screamed, grabbing a phaser and firing wildly in all directions. Jeffery and Jall dove to the ground while T’Parief grabbed a pair of mek’leths and planted both feet stubbornly into a fighting stance, facing the oncoming troops.
“Shields up,” Valtaic said calmly. Immediately, a dome-shaped bubble of energy sprang up around them. The charging troops veered around it, those that came too close simply bounced off with watery-sounding BOONNGGG. Within seconds, they’d reached their opponents, and the field was filled with the clang of swords and the cries of the wounded.
T’Parief whirled on Valtaic, his blade at the other officer’s throat in the blink of an eye.
Valtaic blinked. T’Parief’s sword immediately morphed into a big, fuzzy, floppy banana.
“This place is very easy to manipulate,” Valtaic commented dryly, “For a well-disciplined mind, that is,”
“That,” T’Parief indicated the shield, “is cheating!”
“You’d prefer to waste time while your mate continues to writhe in pain?” Valtaic asked.
T’Parief narrowed his eyes. Jeffery simply looked pissed off while Stafford nervously cleared his throat and set his phaser carefully back on the rack.
“OK then, now what?” Stafford asked.
“I suggest we speak to the leaders of these armies,” Valtaic said.
“Why? They’re not…” Jall squinted, “Ohhh, I always knew she was a bitch,”
“Huh?” Jeffery wondered.
“There,” Jall pointed.
The army closest to them had white and blue colours on their armour, along with a crest that Jeffery realized was eerily similar to the Starfleet Medical Services branch crest. The other was dressed in red and blue, with a logo none of them recognized. Seated atop one of the horses, screaming orders and slashing her sword, was Dr. Noel Wowryk. As they watched, she spun around, her sword decapitating a nearby enemy. Blood splattered, insane amounts of it, more than the body could have possibly contained. It covered Wowryk instantly.
“Who wants to bet that Craigan’s leading the other side?” Jall said. He was interrupted as Wowryk abruptly let out a shriek. The sound was unreal, amplified beyond the levels of the average human voice, and all the rescue party members immediately clutched their ears.
Abruptly, the scream faded, as did the sounds of battle. Looking around, they now found themselves on the same battlefield, only now they were surrounded by wounded, dying or dead troops.
“Oh, this is just WRONG!” Jall grimaced, pulling his booted foot out of somebody’s intestines. Jeffery was dry heaving, while Stafford was positive he could hear T’Parief’s stomach rumbling.
Before anybody could offer their interpretation of this new series of events, the silence was split with the sound of sirens. From the one direction, the same direction Wowryk’s army had come from, came at least two dozen gleaming white hover-ambulances. From the opposite directions, Matrian Defence Force vehicles. The ambulances stopped first, with none other than Noel Wowryk charging out and beginning triage.
“This one’s too far gone!” she snapped, glancing over the poor imaginary sod that had contributed to Jall’s new foot colouring. “Over here! Serious lacerations, punctured lung, blood loss. Signs of shock!” She moved on to the next wounded (imaginary) soldier while several (imaginary) medics started work.
“Anybody care to start a detailed psycho-analysis?” Jall said.
“I think you meant psych-analysis,” Stafford said.
“No, I’m pretty sure I meant what I said,”
“We don’t have time for this,” T’Parief said firmly. Nearby, Craigan was dressed in an MDF uniform and was walking up and down the rows of wounded, asking questions and jotting down notes on a padd.
“Ok, how about a situational analysis?” Jall offered.
“Somebody has created a scenario designed to keep Wowryk and Craigan busy,” T’Parief said immediately.
“So why didn’t we end up in our own little custom scenarios being kept busy?” Jall asked.
“Maybe Abela doesn’t have enough control over the place,” Jeffery suggested.
“Or maybe we’re already being kept busy enough,” Stafford offered.
T’Parief abruptly stepped out of the shield bubble Valtaic had created. He approached Wowryk.
“Dr. Wowryk, you must come to your senses. Patricia is in serious condition and requires your help,”
“They’re all in serious condition!” Wowryk wailed, “I have to help them all! This is all my fault!”
“They aren’t real!” T’Parief insisted, “Patricia is!”
While he argued, Valtaic spoke up to the others.
“Perhaps if, together, we focused our minds on freeing Dr. Wowryk from outside influence?”
“Worth a try,” Stafford agreed. They began concentrating.
In the meantime, T’Parief had gone into a very dramatic and no doubt entertaining speech about the importance of loyalty, and of honour, and how Wowryk could somehow achieve both if she’d just stop play-acting and do what he said. As Stafford, Valtaic, Jall and Jeffery concentrated, Wowryk’s eyes suddenly cleared. She looked around for a moment.
“I’m in the Matrian virtual reality, aren’t I?” she said.
T’Parief looked smugly back at the rest of the rescue party.
“Don’t,” Stafford said, patting Valtaic on the shoulder before he could say anything, “Let him think he won this one. He’s already pissed enough that he didn’t get to slaughter anybody today,”
“Most wise, sir,” Valtaic agreed.
T’Parief gave another variation on his loyalty and honour speech while the rest of the team stood behind him and concentrated hard on freeing Craigan. Well, they were able to concentrate after Stafford elbowed Jall in the ribs in an effort to stop the other officer from making silly faces at T’Parief’s back.
Finally, they stood together on the empty field.
“I remember arriving,” Wowryk explained, “But everything was…warped. And twisted. I tried to take control of the M-SID, but it didn’t work. Something was blocking me,”
“We can worry about that later,” T’Parief said, “You must see to Yanick, immediately.”
“Yes, of course,” Wowryk nodded, “If the rest of you focus on preventing anybody from interfering with me, I should be able to get enough control to take us out of the M-SID,”
“What, so we can try this all over again tomorrow?” Jall cut in.
“Trish-“ T’Parief started.
“Can wait another half-hour!” Jall said, “If we leave now, we might give Abela or whoever enough time to prepare a bigger trap for us next time!”
“I don’t think Abela’s doing this,” Wowryk said, “At least, not consciously. I sense…confusion.”
“What, now you’re a Betazoid?” Stafford said sceptically.
“It’s a Queen Wowryk thing,” Wowryk waved him off, “Even if I’m not quite there. But if Abela’s controlling this thing, something’s really wrong with her.”
“We knew that,” Stafford shook his head, “Otherwise she would have come out of here a century ago to visit Craigan!”
“Yes,” Craigan agreed quietly.
“Can you take control of the M-SID from her?” Stafford asked.
“I don’t know,” Wowryk said, “But I think we should try.
They gathered around Wowryk in a circle, hands held. It almost looked like a bizarre séance, which in a way it was.
“Focus on me,” Wowryk said, her eyes closed, “I must be free of…of influence. Of interference. I must be pure,”
Jeffery kicked Jall in the shins just as the latter was about to make a cutting remark.
“Whoah,” Craigan gasped, “Do you feel that?”
Power was starting to ripple off Wowryk, almost like heat. The doctor’s face was a study in concentration. The endless field, the bright sun, and the green transport pipe hanging out of what looked like nothing all faded away. In their place was a hazy gray emptiness.
“I feel…yes,” Wowryk said, “Yes, somebody has tried to take control of this Dream Machine. But they were…there was an interruption. A pain.”
They all winced as a jolt of pain suddenly ran down their left arms. (Except T’Parief, his was in his tail.) They all clutched their chests.
“Heart attack,” Wowryk said sadly, “The stress was too much for her. She died.”
“But I thought you sensed-“ Stafford said.
“Grat? Is that you?” a weak, wavery voice asked.
They spun around. A large, well-padded armchair had appeared. Seated in it was an incredibly, incredibly old-looking woman. She had a soft blanket pulled up to her waist, and her white hair was pulled back in a large bun. Around them, the grey blankness had transformed into a small, comfortably appointed Matrian home.
“Grat? I thought you were bringing me tea today,” Colonel Abela said, her lips sucking against her toothless gums, “Who are these people you brought with you?
Craigan had never seen anybody so old…so ancient, in his entire life.
Modern-day Matria wasn’t exactly filled with old people, what between suspended animation and the war. Back in Craigan’s time, before the wars had broke out, the Matrian Empire had developed many successful rejuvenation programs, much like the Federation, and had extended the average life-span considerably. But the woman in front of him, Abela, he reminded himself, looked like she’d died a long time ago, and had just continued aging. Her hands were knarled, the knuckles swollen with arthritis. Her legs were hidden by the blanket covering her, but it couldn’t hide the fact that she was wasted away to almost nothing. Her chest was sunken, her shoulders slumped. Her eyes were dim, and she seemed to be squinting at them, though the copious wrinkles on her face made it hard to tell.
More memories were flooding back to Craigan. Small things, tidbits that didn’t relate to Haven. He remembered how Abela had taken him out of stasis, twenty-five years after he’d been frozen, and treated him to a traditional holiday meal. She’d joked then that he was officially her longest male relationship. He’d remarked that she’d found the perfect way to keep a man around: lock him in a stasis tube. He remembered her showing him holo-images of the Bevin Fire-Swamps, where she’d been posted as an intelligence officer during the Fifth Bevin/Council Conflict. Craigan realized, with a start, that it had been over two hundred years since he’d met her, and that from her perspective they’d met every five or ten years or so. But with his restored memories, he felt like he’d spent only a single month with nothing but her companionship.
The Starfleet officers behind him, except for Stafford and Wowryk, were going over the room carefully. Jall had managed to get his hand caught in a J’Taeri finger-trap that had been sitting on a shelf, prompting Valtaic to rush to his aid, only to become trapped himself.
“This is it,” Wowryk said, “She’s…well, she’s not really in control of the Dreamland. But it seems to be responding to her. Probably because she’s been here for so long,”
“Abela?” Craigan was asking as he knelt next to the old woman, “Can you hear me?”
“Grat?” she blinked, then raised on hand as if sipping a cup of tea, “You used too much sugar again, dear,”
“She looks pretty far gone,” Stafford swallowed.
“She’s dead,” Wowryk shook her head.
“Then how is she still here? I though the M-SIDs only manipulated brainwaves. If her brain isn’t working…” Stafford shrugged.
“She was trying to transfer herself to the other body,” Wowryk said, “Maybe…maybe she’s stuck half-way?”
“Abela, it’s me,” Craigan was saying, “It’s Craigan. I found the people you wanted. Or they found me. Whatever. But it’s time,”
She looked blankly at him. He took her hands gently in his.
“It’s time to wake up,” he said, “It’s time to finish your mission.”
There was a spark of recognition. It wasn’t much, and it vanished almost as quickly as it appeared. But Craigan knew he’d seen something.
“Dr. Wowryk can get us out of here,” he said, “You just have to let her!”
Wowryk cleared her throat.
“Well, I didn’t make any promises…”
“It’s time to go back to Haven,” Craigan said, “To…to Installation 317-B.”
There was another flash from those eyes, one that most of the people in the room missed. Only T’Parief and Craigan noticed it. At the mention of the installation, Craigan was certain he saw a rise in awareness, like somebody starting to awaken from a very deep sleep. T’Parief would have agreed, but he saw something else. Very briefly, so briefly it could have been his imagination. But what T’Parief saw was a flash of a cunning intelligence. And he didn’t like that look one bit.
Wowryk suddenly jolted.
“I have control,” she said simply. She closed her eyes and concentrated.
Stafford found himself sprawled out on a mat on the floor of the Signal Analysis room. Around him, the other members of the rescue team were climbing to their feet. There was a sudden hiss as the stasis tube next to the M-SID cracked open.
“Abela!” Craigan called, running to the tube.
Nurse Kerry charged in the moment it was safe.
“Dr. Wowryk! We need you up in the clinic! Medical emergency!”
“Of course,” Wowryk said quickly, “Situation?”
“Yanick’s in labour!”
“Not pregnant! We know!” Kerry just shrugged helplessly.
They ran out of the room, T’Parief close on their, er, tails.
“Abela!” Craigan said again, standing next to the stasis tube with a hand on the clone body’s shoulder. She was breathing, and her body heat had picked up as soon as the stasis field had shut down, but she was unconscious.
“Ye want Ah should blow this thing up now?” Jeffery asked, pointing to the M-SID.
“One crisis as a time!” Stafford cried out.
After destroying the M-SID and arranging for a stretcher for the clone, the Silverado senior officers gathered outside the clinic.
“It’s only been half an hour,” Stafford was pacing, “No reason to think…I mean, surely nothing is…”
“I still don’t understand what’s going on,” Jall said, “I mean, I know I missed a lot of the last month being in a Qu’Eh brig and all, but how did you all miss the fact that Trish is pregnant??”
“She’s not!” everybody yelled.
“But you said she was nauseous in the mornings,” Jall remarked.
“And she had mood swings,”
“And her tummy got really, really big,”
“Then she starting having contractions. And she went into labour.”
The nods continued.
“So…” Jall made a ‘Well D’UH!’ gesture.
“But she was checked out!” Stafford said, “The f**king Matrian Surgeon General examined her himself! He said she wasn’t pregnant!”
“He was right, mostly.” the doors hissed open and Dr. Wowryk stepped out. Jall tried peeking through the door before Kerry pulled it shut, but all he could see was T’Parief’s back.
“How is she?” Stafford demanded, “If we waited too long…I…I don’t know what I’ll do!”
“She’s going to be fine,” Wowryk said.
There was a collective sigh of relief.
“Could you clarify ‘mostly right’?” Valtaic asked.
“Well,” Wowryk shook her head, “It’s the strangest, most unholy thing I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if it has something to do with Project Triad,”
“The genetics program that created T’Parief,” Jeffery whispered to Valtaic, who nodded appreciatively.
“Or what,” Wowryk went on, “But she…they…are definitely having a baby. No genetic engineering, fertility treatments or anything. I’d say it’s impossible, but it’s happening.”
“But you said she wasn’t pregnant,” Jall frowned, “I mean, I know I’m not an expert on how guys and girls do things with each other, but-“
“She isn’t pregnant. Wasn’t pregnant, I should say,” Wowryk corrected herself.
The door slid open and Kerry poked her head out.
“They’re ready for visitors,” she said. Wowryk nodded.
“She wasn’t pregnant,” Wowryk said again.
Stafford pushed the door fully open as the rest of the Silverado officers rushed in. In one corner of the small clinic, Yanick was lying on a bed while T’Parief stood next to her. Between them, in a carefully padded cart was a wrapped bundle.
“She was getting ready to lay an egg,” Wowryk finished.
Stafford’s eyes rolled back into his head as he fainted to the floor.
As Jeffery, Valtaic, Fifebee and Sylvia gathered around Yanick and T’Parief to offer their somewhat confused congratulations, Wowryk checked on her other two patients. Stafford would be fine as soon as he came to, but she didn’t know what to make of the Abela clone. She’d done her best to direct Abela, or what might have just been Abela’s imprint on the M-SID, into the clone body before taking them all out of the Dreamland. Metaphysical and religious issues aside, Wowryk just couldn’t take the chance that the poor woman’s soul was trapped in that infernal machine. But she was still unconscious, and Wowryk didn’t know what to make of her neuro-scanner readings.
“How you feeling, Doc?” Jall asked softly.
“Shouldn’t you be with the rest over there?” she asked, a bit more sharply than she’d intended.
“Naw, babies…or eggs, in this case, don’t interest me that much,” he said, “I was wondering how you were doing,”
“I’m fine,” she said.
“Really?” Jall asked, “Because, you know, after that little army episode, it doesn’t take Yvonnokoff to tell us that you’re obviously really conflicted about what you’ve been doing lately. And I know a lot of that’s my fault,”
“What I had to do was your fault,” Wowryk said crisply, “Being conflicted isn’t,”
“What I meant was-“
“I’ve already had this conversation with Stafford,” Wowryk cut him off, “And I don’t want to have it again. Just…just get out of my hair!”
Jall stepped back as Wowryk started fussing over Abela’s monitoring equipment.
Next to him, Stafford abruptly sat up in his bed. His eyes were wide and seemed to be fixed at an empty patch of floor. His mouth moved as if he was saying something, but Jall couldn’t make it out.
“We’re all cracking up,” Jall muttered to himself.
Stafford found himself lying on a bed in Haven’s small clinic. He remembered walking in, remembered seeing the egg, then…what?
“That’s just so creepy,” he shuddered, thinking of the egg.
There was a soft sound. Stafford sat straight up in his bed. He looked around briefly, then his gaze locked onto the hazy figure standing in the middle of the room. Nobody else seemed to have noticed it, as he was half aware that the others were going about their business. But he could see the figure standing right there. Human-ish, male, with pale ivory skin and jet black hair. It couldn’t be real, Stafford could see an open case of medical supplies right through the figure’s abdomen, but he recognized the ghostly face.
“Soon,” Commander Matthew Noonan said, “Very soon,”
Stafford looked over at where the Abela clone was stretched out. He turned to the other side and looked at where Yanick and T’Parief were still hovering over their egg. He could almost feel the weight of the Command Tower pressing down above his head, along with the sand or rock that was burying Haven. Haven itself suddenly felt like a massive presence all around him, like he was just a speck of sand in a bowl of water. Beyond that, the cities and people of Matria Prime felt almost connected to him, like a network stretching over the planet’s surface. He could sense the captive Matrian and Senousian crews in orbit, and the presence of the Qu’Eh, spreading themselves like mould growing on an orange. Further yet, he could feel the tiny sparks of the Federation fleet as it finally drew close to its destination.
Abruptly, the ghostly image of Noonan vanished, taking with it the vision or daydream or whatever it was. The sights and sounds of the clinic hit Stafford full force. He noticed Jall standing next to him, looking at him strangely.
“Feeling better?” Jall ask.
Stafford blinked, then shook his head, confused.
“Apparently not,” Jall shrugged, patting him on the shoulder and moving on, “Hey, did anybody bring some bacon to go with that egg?”