Phantom Days: The Illusionist
Phantom Days- The Illusionist - 16
The away team had been fussed over, checked over, fed and watered, and Laine had written their initial report for the captain, all in the sickbay of the Phantom.
An emotional narcosis hung over the surviving members of the away-team. Four troubled souls. Barely a word spoken between them.
Anya was permitted visitation and gone straight to Xander for a solid hug. He didn’t know what to say to her. He tried to recall what their last real conversation had been with the nightmare scenario still strong in his mind. Before either of them found words, Captain Rayner had arrived and asked them to refrain from discussing the mission until he could debrief them.
Their captive was secure in the Dungeon brig, and the hotel they had encountered was not on the surface. The hellish fantasy was over.
Within the hour they were gathered in the Paranormal Research Department on the ship’s basement deck, in the Dungeon’s office at the far end of main PRD. On the left side wall at the modest conference table, which was lit with an inner blue glow, sat the away team. Laine and Clegg sat on one side of the table with Will and Xander on the other. Laine was leaning one elbow coolly on the tabletop, Clegg with her hands locked on its surface looking tense. Willow hugged herself. On the end of the table, sitting between Laine and Willow, a cold black oval stone. The end chair was empty as Rayner propped himself on the office desk on the right side of the room.
“This is what we
know,” the captain apprised them. “Your team vanished on arrival, as did the Klingon fighter shuttle and the Demonoid life-sign reading. We now believe that reading was false. Minutes later, Commander Merran and Lieutenant King appeared on the surface, dead.”
That explained why they just disappeared from the hotel hoax, thought Xander, when King’s phaser was only set to kill.
Laine dropped his eyes at the mention of them. He was still braced for Rayner’s scolding, expecting that scene from his nightmare to come true. Any time now Rayner would take him off the job and run his investigation.
The captain continued, “We beamed their bodies up to discover they were killed by one of our own phasers. Without any means to ascertain the nature of the threat down there, I chose not to risk sending another team. A little over two hours later, your team reappeared briefly, and within seconds you were back.”
“Only two hours?” In his surprise, Laine cast his eyes back to Rayner. “It was days for me.”
“Ditto,” said Xander. “The longest of my life.” Almost the last, too
. That part he did not divulge.
“I guess I had it easy,” Willow said. “Maybe eight or ten hours.”
Kimberly nodded. “For me, also.”
Willow wondered what Kim had experienced. The Clegg that had verbally attacked her wasn’t real, so had she been real at all from the beginning? They hadn’t spoken of it since.
Captain Rayner took note of the discrepancy and said, “I’ve read Laine’s report but I’d like to hear the short version of your
experiences.” He gave an upward nod to Xander. “Harris?”
How could he begin to convey in words the horror of his experience? He didn’t even know how to convey it in his mind. “I’d have a hard time editing it down to the long
version.” He tried to focus on the central theme of his ordeal. “It was like living in a nightmare you can’t get away from. It was real. It was insane, but I thought it was real.” He struggled on; “He got me to thinking I’d been mutated beaming back to the ship. …Into a kind of monster. An…an animal. It was fairly unpleasant. Hurt him. Please.”
Rayner turned that over in his mind a moment and moved on. “Clegg?”
“There was the haunted hotel,” she explained matter-of-factly. “I guess we all saw that. I was with Willow. I thought I was. There were blackouts, noises, and rooms… concrete, soil, decay. And a void. The whole thing… was surreal and very unnerving.” She faltered, a little of that objective tone leaving her voice. “Then…I was taken and held captive in some kind of living shadow. Until Willow freed us.” She conveyed her appreciation to the witch through the warmth of a smile.
“Explain to me how you achieved that,” Rayner said to Willow.
“When I realised it was fake–”
“How did you figure it out exactly?” Laine asked from across the table. “Like Xander said, it felt so real.”
“It was…the fake Kimberly. She… I could just tell she wasn’t our Kim.” Her eyes found Clegg’s briefly. “So I used the crystal in my… in my protection pouch and used its energy to dispel the false reality. It was a simple enough de-glamouring.”
The captain didn’t react to the mention of a pouch, but his forehead creased. “You did what?”
“A psionic displacement wave, sir,” Clegg came in, making it easy on Willow. “That’s my theory.” She fired a knowing wink at Will. The Captain just needed to hear something sciency.
He assumed he wasn’t going to get any more sense out of them than that, so Rayner moved on. “Tell me about the prisoner.”
“He’s not giving us a name,” Laine told him, “so we’ve filed him under the title The Illusionist
“Yeah, I know,” granted Clegg. “It came down to that, Mr Illusion, The Evil Nightmare Warlock, or Unknown Supernatural Entity Number One.”
“Evil Nightmare Warlock,” said Xander. “That was mine. I still say go with that.”
“The Illusionist will be fine,” settled the Captain. “Do we know how
he was able to create such vivid realities?”
“With this.” Kimberly aimed a finger at the black stone sitting unassumingly on the surface of their table. “His illusions were so real, Captain. It made our holodecks look like…like those old 3D glasses.” She turned to Will and Xander, laughing. “With the red and blue lenses.”
Xander laughed back. “Oh, yeah!” How lame were those!
Kim knew a lot about that time in history. Rayner didn’t. He wasn’t getting it. She straightened her face.
The captain regarded the smooth egg-shaped rock. “What do we know about this…object?”
“It’s some kind of mystical gem,” explained Willow. “Maybe one of the lost Wish Stones of Akkad. Or it could just be a polished lump of onyx that’s been infused with mystical energy by a very powerful warlock.”
Clegg added, “The energy levels this thing’s giving off are through the roof, sir. Nothing our regular sensors can read, but on the Demon scale...” She pulled an expressive whoa
Rayner leaned closer to the banal piece of mineral rock. Something dangerous, powerful, and beyond their understanding. “I want it locked away tight until we can get it back to CSR.”
That was the Centre for Supernatural Research where the Paranormal Research Department was based. Willow understood that the CSR was Federation, and the PRD was like the Starfleet tactical wing.
“All right.” Captain Rayner stood up from the desk and went to the doorway. “I’d like to have a word with our guest now.” Concerned as he was that the away-team were emotionally raw and possibly not the best people to face the prisoner, the facts remained. Laine was security chief and he needed him present as part of procedure and, well, for security. Rosenberg was the only one thus far capable of overpowering him in non-physical ways, and Clegg was now the senior PRD officer.
gave this stone its magical properties,” Willow warned them, “then he’s a powerful warlock in his own right, without the need for weapons infused with mystical energy. So…I guess…handle with care.”
“But he didn’t fight back when we caught him,” Laine pointed out.
“I don’t think I’d
wanna fight back with the Lainosaurus hovering over me,” Kimberly joked.
“We’ll bare it in mind,” Rayner noted. “Come with me.”
They went out into main PRD where Mei-Li observed their prisoner on a monitor and the Pink Twins scanned and examined him from the central terminals with Anya.
“What’s this thing giving you?” Rayner asked, approaching the twins.
“So far nothing, Captain,” they answered. “He seems to be Human.”
Human. Somehow Rayner didn’t like that news. What did it mean for his rights and captivity and punishment? “Let’s see what he’s got to say for himself.”
Anya and Xander shared an uneasy look as he followed the others toward the Demon brig.
The brig was a long narrow corridor flanked on both sides by four cells specially calibrated to hold supernatural energies. Any power the Illusionist had should be contained within his stark humble prison cell. As they came upon the single unit aglow with the warning light of a powered force field, they saw the man. Greying brown hair, purple velvet suit, black shirt and rings. He was approaching sixty and looked nothing like a monster. His face, about as Demonic as the face of a child, was placid and kindly, his posture benign and welcoming. He looked like someone’s kind-hearted father, or grandfather.
Looks, considered Captain Rayner, could certainly deceive. “Welcome to the Phantom,” he offered peaceably as the team stopped before the opening of his cell.
“You are the captain?” His voice was as soft and velvety as his suit.
“Yes. And you’re the criminal who murdered two of my crew and subjected four others to mental torture.”
“I killed no one, sir,” came his gracious reply. I merely watch others take their own lives. The old lady was a surprise to me. Who knew your young Lieutenant King was so unstable.” He was so polite it was unnerving.
Kimberly was disgusted. “You get off on driving people to suicide?”
“Everyone needs a hobby, dear.”
Willow felt a well of anger churn in her stomach. Was it because he was a sicko, or was it the way he offended Kim? She didn’t like seeing her face twisted so.
Laine snarled down at the prisoner like a Klingon. “Then you’re a sick old bastard.” Rayner handed him a warning glance.
“Are you a warlock?” asked Will.
“If I were, I’m sure you’d be a lice-ridden marmoset by now.” There was no malice present in his delivery.
That only made Willow’s anger grow. “I’m not nearly as weak as you think I am.”
Rayner’s concern was proving well-founded. The team still bore raw wounds. He needed to keep the conversation polite. The guy was human, and thereby covered under Earth law. “If you’re not a…warlock…then what are you?”
“I think, at this point, I shall exercise my right to remain silent.” Leisurely, he took a seat on the bunk and crossed one leg over the other. He smiled pleasantly.
“This isn’t the 20th century, or whenever you came from,” Clegg bit. “Answer the question.”
“No.” It was a simple, calm response.
Willow really hated his nice-guy attitude. There was little worse than evil masking itself as something not to be feared. A sly conniving wolf in a sheepskin suit – a foe acting the friend.
“How many others escaped with you?” asked the captain.
Willow felt the anger rise up from her stomach and burn her chest.
She looked to the forcefield controls. The halo of light went out.
The Illusionist tensed up.
Willow reached out and invisible hands gripped him by the throat and raised him off the deck. He groped ineffectively at the phantom hands that held him.
Clegg watched Willow’s face as she bent if downward, focusing her energy through her eyes, through the angry brow before them, and toward the helpless old beast.
Willow narrowed her eyes. “Now… you’re going to tell us what we want to know or I might just make you walk yourself out an airlock.” She tightened her grip. “How’s that for suicide karma?”
The old man groaned.
“Stand down.” It was Captain Rayner – stern but restrained.
The Illusionist looked right down his nose at Willow. “And there she is,” he croaked. “The Dark Witch. I doubt you have the strength to–”
She tightened her hold further and he choked.
“Willow.” It was Kimberly.
The old man dropped to his feet and the forcefield returned with a sizzle. Willow relaxed and took a step back, surprised. She looked to Kim, her eyes sorrier than she could ever say.
The Illusionist straightened his suit.
Rather than give her a punishing leer, Kim put a comforting hand on Will’s shoulder.
“She’s trouble this one,” Rayner told their prisoner. “Believe me, I know from first-hand experience. You don’t want her getting any angrier. I can’t control her.”
Willow regarded him. He was using the incident to his advantage.
“I have no knowledge of any others escaping,” the old man sighed.
“Then, tell me, exactly what are you?”
“So that you can fill in your files? To satisfy your morbid curiosity?” He smiled again and smoothed back his hair. “You want to know what I am? I’m a victim
. I was a man, a good man. A normal man. Until a witch destroyed my life. She took everything from me – my sight, my hearing, my voice – and left me in darkness and silence for the remainder of my days.”
“I wonder what you did to deserve that?” mumbled Willow.
“Nothing. She did this to me for no reason. I was left blind, deaf and dumb because a witch wanted to practice on someone real. An experiment, she said. She left me with the Wish Stone and my imagination for company – condemning me to experience the sights and sounds of life only through my own fantasy. Doomed to walk in a dream. Oh, I could be who I was, but only in a false reality – my own inner lie. Being able to see, hear, and talk is an illusion for me. I can no longer experience outside truth. That is what was done to me.”
Willow wasn’t letting his sob story tug her heartstrings anytime soon. “You do more than create your own fantasies.”
“The Wish Stone accessed my own desires to create a world of my imagining, but I learned how to use it to see into the minds of others – to see their dreams and their fears. I found I could make people suffer, just as that witch
made me suffer – pointlessly and without reason. And I enjoyed it.”
“So how did you end up in the Demon realm?” asked Xander.
“Witches. Again. They sent me to that hell when they discovered what I was using my Wish Stone for. They even tried to take it from me but my illusions fooled them just as they fooled you.”
“It still got you time in a Demon prison,” Willow pointed out. “Make that two. And now you take it out on innocent people. You can’t blame others for what happened to you.”
“I don’t,” he said. “Witches did this to me. …I blame you
.” He remained amicable despite the insinuation. In fact, he was smiling politely as he spoke.
So, reflected Captain Rayner, there they had it. A man with a weaponised lump of rock. But just a man in the end.
Clegg was mulling over reflections of her own. “Hold on…” She looked up, deeply nonplussed. “You said the witch made you blind, deaf, and dumb?”
“But you’re standing here talking to us now. You can hear ever word we say. You seem fine.”
“As I said, I am cursed only to experience the world within my own false realities.” He smiled and waited patiently for the penny to drop.
Kimberly’s large eyes grew ever wider. There it is
“Son of a bitch,” she cussed.
Rayner made a curse of his own and gave the air a right jab on the chin.
“What is it?” puzzled Laine. He got what the guy was saying but what was the problem? They had him, and they had his stone.
“He’s not here,” said Clegg. “Are you?”
A knowing smile from the man.
Willow was more than a little perturbed when she asked, “How the hell did you manage it?”
“When you broke through my illusion the first time, I knew I had to do something. It was only a matter of time before you did it again. So, I created the fantasy that you defeated me the second time.”
“Are we still on the planet?” Kim griped.
“No. But I was never here.”
“Where are you?” said Will. She wasn’t hopeful for an answer.
He shared another knowing smile with her. “I’m far enough away to be out of your reach. And, thanks to some of you, I now know how to … ‘mask my impulse engine emissions’. In fact, I should bid you farewell. I’m almost out of range. It was a pleasure bringing you to the brink of suicide. Fear not; our paths shall never cross again, even if they do.”
The group could do little but stand before him with all their inward/outward anger and a pressing sense of failure.
“You’re frustrated,” he said to them finally. “I sympathise.”
“You can keep your sympathy,” seethed Laine. “You tortured us!”
“Don’t blame me.” The Illusionist feigned upset. “They were your
fears. I only brought them out of their secret little places and showed them to you in all their glory. Isn’t that what you’re meant to do? Face your fears? It’s funny,” he said, amused. “Some people might call that therapy.”
They cringed at his twisted view of things.
“You’re no therapist,” Xander reckoned. “You’re a sick, twisted old miser who’ll get his comeuppance soon enough.”
“You all do need therapy,” he said in defence. “Look at you.” He opened his arms to take them all in. “Xander. With so many paranoid fears running loose in your jumbled mind, the hardest task was choosing one.”
Xander’s mouth dropped. How dare he–?
“Willow. So far from home, loveless and afraid of failure. You’re a witch out of her place – no spells, no books. Giles tried to warn you that a little knowledge is worse than none at all. You’re more dangerous to this world than the monsters you hunt.”
She winced and pulled away until she found herself held firm in Kim’s strong little hands.
“And Laine.” He spoke to the group as though the huge powerhouse wasn’t there at all.
Laine’s heart thumped. Please… shut up…
“The giant who can’t even admit to himself the reason he’s out here with your Star Fleet. So scared of rejection that he follows explorers through the galaxy hoping to find some sign of his own peop–”
The cell was empty.
He was gone.
Laine felt a great wave of relief. The others were less thankful. The Illusionist had been fake, but his words were real, and they hurt like arrows.
Captain Rayner was mad as hell for the first few seconds, until disgruntled resignation settled in. Kimberly watched him, hands on hips, glaring at the empty cell. She signalled Laine.
Time to escape.* * *
Out in the main Dungeon the group joined the twins and Mei-Li, checking over the scans they’d taken to see if there was anything that was actually reliable. Kimberly decided to fill their new intel into the Illusionist’s file, but first she needed to check on something in Merran’s… in the office.
Anya took Xander to one side. She gripped his uniform sleeves tight in both hands. “I’m not alright,” she blurted. “I mean… are you
? All right?”
“Yeah.” He touched her cheek softly. “I am now.” She still looked troubled. “But you’re not? Alright?”
She wrapped him in a tight hug. “I didn’t know that I’d ever see you again. I thought I’d lost you.”
He hugged her back. “I thought I’d lost me too.”
Don’t take her for granted, remember.Right
“The worst part of it,” he said, “…I really thought I’d lost you
Clegg darted past and joined the others. From the sound of it, the Wish Stone was gone, just as expected.
“Anya…” Xander drew her away from him and focused his eyes on hers. “If I… If I don’t support you enough, I mean, if I don’t defend you as much as I could, I’m sorry.” She peered up at him with those beautiful eyes and her perfectly delicate lips. She looked so utterly cute when thrown off guard. “Starting right now, I’m always gonna be in your corner. Wearing your colours. Backing team Anya.”
“Or team us
He smiled and nodded. “Right. Team us.” He gently brushed her hair back over her ears and traced the curve of her face. “You’re the number one person in my life from now on.”
“You’ve always been number one to me, Alexander Harris.”
“And that thing with the twins…”
“I know. That was hard on both of us. Though, some areas were harder than others.” She peered down at his crotch for a second. “I know you didn’t want to have sex with them.” Her eyes thinned. “Did you?”
“What? No. No!”
“Then good. Because I’m bored of the not talking and the not kissing and the not–” Inappropriate!
“Me too,” he jumped in.
“–hugging,” she finished. “And… okay…I miss the giving, and the receiving, and the…having,” she teased.
Xander had the goose pimples all of a sudden. “Ya know, I could give you flowers, or chocolates, but they don’t really say anything.” He reached for her hand. “Here… I’m giving you this.” He placed her hand on his chest and covered it with his own. “My heart. It’s my whole
heart. It’s yours. Completely. Unquestionably. Forever. I love you.” He squeezed her hand and touched her face again. “I love you so much.”
Anya’s eyes grew moist as they gazed up at him in elation.
“I never wanna be without you,” he declared. “And, I am so grateful that you’re with me here in this crazy world.”
“Wow. Xander…” She stared longingly into his brown puppies, then pulled her head back with a squint. “What happened to you down there?”
He enveloped her in a loving embrace. “I’ll tell you everything.”
Captain Rayner reappeared from the brig, scanned the room and made for the exit. “Clegg. My office, ten minutes.” He saw Laine hanging around. “Don’t you have a bridge station to man, Commander?”
Laine was staggered. He’d expected to be the one called to his office. “Uh… Aye, sir.” He followed his captain out of the Dungeon.
When the doors met again, Will spun to Kimberly. “Are you in trouble?”
Kim turned away from the door to face her. She looked paler than usual. Her mouth opened slowly.
“One way or another,” she said in the end.* * *
Kimberly Clegg entered the captain’s readyroom and found him behind his desk.
“I take it our magical stone has magically ceased to be?” he surmised.
“Affirmative, sir. Just like the Illusionist, it was never here.”
“Sit down, Lieutenant.”
He looked to his desk computer. “You worked security on Mars colony out of the Academy.”
“That’s correct, sir.”
“And then you served in security on the USS Westminster
.” His eyes crossed to her questioningly. “You requested that?”
“I was trying to be patriotic, Captain.” It sounded silly now.
“Mmm. And you went on to security on the USS Bellwether
. You trained to work at tactical there.”
“I’ve looked over all your evaluations. You excelled, Lieutenant. You were well on your way to becoming a Chief of Security.” He sat back and examined her. “And then you requested the posting here in the PRD.”
“It felt like the right thing for me at the time, Captain.” She was nervous. She worried about where it was all leading.
“I’m not sure that you’re ready for this, Lieutenant, but, with the loss of Commander Merran, I’m going to need you to take charge of your department. Keep things under control down there.”
“I’m just a soldier, sir. I’m no department head.”
“You are now,” he put simply. “Until a replacement can be found.”
“Merran was a full commander, I’m just a lieutenant.”
“You won’t be the first lieutenant to play department head.”
“This isn’t how I wanted to move up the ladder, sir. I haven’t earned it. I’m… I’m not even sure I ever planned to go further than this.”
He paused for a moment. She’d never seen him so congenial. “Look, I understand that you’re new to PRD and that leadership might very well be a new consideration for you. Still, this is how it happens sometimes. Moving forward in your career can mean stepping up when you don’t expect it. Even when you don’t want it.” The corner of his mouth curled up a little. “We’re not going to have an argument about this, are we?”
As nicely as he put it, the question left her with little choice of response. “No, sir.”
“Good.” He stood. “I need a new proposal from your team in the morning. We have monsters loose in our space and I’d like to go home with something to show for it.”
She got up, understanding she was dismissed.
“And Clegg. You should be aware that, at this time, there is no replacement. You’re currently the most senior PRD officer in Starfleet.”…Fantastic* * *
Evening came to the Phantom at last, much to the salvation of some of her crew who’d had a particularly troubling day of it. It was just a few minutes to the end of the shift and the mess hall would soon be welcoming the dinner crowd. For now it was quiet and empty of all but 7 people. Parked at two adjacent tables were Willow, Xander, Anya, Kimberly, Schlatnak, Nog and a security officer named Tom Clark, all of whom had received the same strange request to meet Laine here before shift’s end. They were here but there was no sign of their host.
“So what’s with Lainezilla?” Xander spoke up. “Why the gathering? Did we forget his birthday?”
A few shrugs came his way, but Clegg and Anya had their own theories. What they didn’t know was that they were both having the same one.
“Where is that great big Tyrannosaur?” grumbled Xander. He was on a promise with Anya and this little meeting had been an untimely interruption.
“Maybe he’s working on something,” uttered Willow. “To beef up security. Or… to beef down our lack of success. And…and he needs our input.”
“He is going to resign,” decided Nog. “The big man
has met his match.”
Finally, Laine arrived. He ducked through the door and faltered when he saw them waiting, before pushing himself to join them. He perched his large muscular self on a nearby table. His little group turned in their seats to face him. As well as he usually hid his fear and doubt, on this occasion his confidence could not mask them entirely. He looked so insecure at that moment that Willow felt nervous for him. She wanted to go give him a little rub on the back. He was so big, she figured, that he probably wouldn’t even feel it.
“Thanks for coming, guys,” he said, and let out a long breath. “So… The Illusionist made me realise something… I suppose he made me face my inner
Demons.” Some of them certainly knew the feeling. “I consider you guys among my friends, so… I wanna be honest with you.” He seemed to steel himself for some difficult purpose. “It might not come as a surprise to some of you with the rumours and all, but it’s true. I am
a Chameloid.” He looked at them all with unsteady eyes that betrayed his true vulnerability. “I was born and raised a Chameloid, but this is who I am – the real me. As human as you guys. …Except you, Schlatty. …And you, Nog.” He lowered his head a second then tried again. “I’m a Chameloid, but I don’t think of myself as a shifter, and I don’t want you to either. Even though I can, I don’t morph. Not anymore. It isn’t me. This here is me. I don’t want you to think I’m hiding myself from you at all. Because I’m really showing you myself every day. This is the only me I’m comfortable living with and I don’t want – I don’t need
– to be anything else. I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you from the beginning, but there was this non-disclosure thing with Command and then Captain Rayner had his–”
“Why are there no others?” Nog asked him abruptly.
“Chameloids are considered mythical,” explained the Ferengi. “Other than James T. Kirk, no one on record has ever seen one in the flesh. Where are they? Are they hiding?”
Laine’s fear grew. Did the Ferengi mean ‘hiding’, or did he mean ‘spying’? “I don’t know, Nog. The last time I saw another Chameloid was almost a hundred and twenty years ago, but he was 1900 years old. He’ll be gone now. If Kirk saw one, maybe they are out there somewhere.”
“Nineteen hundred?” Xander repeated. “One thousand…nine hundred?” Laine nodded. Xander stared at him for a long time.
“How old are you, Laine?” Kimberly asked in awe.
He had to think about it. “About 500 I guess.”
“Yowzers.” – From Xander.
From Clegg he got a long whistle.
“Technically, I’m still a teenager,” he admitted.
“That explains a lot,” muttered Anya.
He didn’t get to ask her what that meant before Xander horned in again. “How old do you shifty devils get?
“The oldest I ever heard of was about 2000 years.”
“Where’s your home planet?” asked Kim.
“I don’t know that either. I heard it was destroyed in a supernova, but maybe she’s out there too. She was called Arc. Arc, the living planet.”
“Is this as big as you get?” asked Willow after first putting her hand up.
“Yeah, this is pretty much the limit.”
“Damn,” grumbled Xander. “You don’t even have to work out for the body of Adonis. Lucky son of a gun…”
“How small can you go?” asked Nog.
“Smaller than you, Ferengi,” he replied. “I could probably pass myself off as a 10-year-old girl.” There was an awkward moment’s silence. “Not…that there’s any reason I would
“Right,” agreed Xander, and then, “Unless you just gotta
have that My Little Pony.”
Laine was surprised as he watched them. Willow and Clegg were laughing at Xander and Schlatty was scratching his head at them with his long digits and Nog was…just Nog.
Tom got up and stormed over to him and Laine suddenly felt his body tense up for an attack. The Illusion stormed through his mind again.
“I got a date in ten,” said Clark, and slapped Laine on the back as he left. “See you in the morning, boss.”
Anya whispered something in Xander’s ear, to which his eyes lit up and they excused themselves quickly.
Nog stopped on his way out and leaned in close. “If you ever decide to make use of your ability... I have a few very profitable ideas…”
He shooed the little rascal along.
“I’m gay,” Willow said. She made eye contact first with Kimberly, before dropping her head bashfully and looking up to Laine. “Oh, I…I didn’t just come out,” she explained. “All I’m saying is… we all choose to be who we are, and just hope for acceptance, right?” She smiled at him and got up. “I’m gonna take a shower before dinner,” she said, and left the mess hall.
Kimberly smiled up at him too before pushing herself out of her seat. She came over and put a friendly hand on his shoulder. “You know, you shouldn’t be afraid to be true to your roots sometimes too. It’s part of you. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in that.” She gave him a light pat and headed off. “See you tomorrow, big guy.”
By the time Clegg was out the door, Schlatnak was returning from the replicator with his evening meal of steaming vegetation. He sat, forked up a heap of weedy grass and gave it a blow, looking to his chief. “Difficult, different standing,” he expressed in his ethereal elegant tone. “This day, same days before. Strong mind having. Strong self having. …Laine, Phantom ship… Friends having.”
The big man felt a good decade of tension leave him with a sigh. “Thanks, pal. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Laine turned at the door. “Not much of an appetite today. And there’s something else I need do tonight.”* * *
When Kimberly arrived at their quarters, Willow was already undressed and hanging her uniform in the wall closet. She gave Will the time to finish stripping while she fingered the leaves of her plant on the narrow stand by the door. “What a day,” Kimberly sighed, tearing off her Starfleet jacket.
Willow stretched her eyes wide. “Yeah.” What a day indeed
. She wrapped herself in a bath towel and turned around. “How did it go with Captain Rayner?”
“I got promoted.”
“You did? Really?”
“Really. Very, very really. I’m… I’m the head of PRD.” It was the first time she’d heard herself say it.
“That’s great – not how you got it, but… you’ll be great.”
“Hope so. I just can’t shake this feeling. Like I’m walking on Commander Merran’s grave.”
“Oh, Kim… You can’t let it be about that.” Willow felt for her. She knew exactly what Kimberly was talking about. “I had a teacher who was murdered a few years ago and the principle put me in charge of her classes. She was a friend and I didn’t want to replace her. I couldn’t replace her. She was Jenny Calendar, and I wasn’t. I found out in the end that I didn’t have to replace her. I had to make the class my own, and the best way I could do justice to her memory was by taking the foundations she’d laid and building on them in my own way. I did the best job I could for her.”
Kim gave the plant a goodbye pat and shrugged in a kind of hesitantly agreeable manner.
“Just remember it was the Illusionist that created this situation, not you.”
“Yeah. I know. I know. What a butthole.”
A loud grunt of laughter erupted from Willow, making her blush. “Sorry. It’s been a long time since I heard anyone say butthole.” She made for the shower and stopped in the doorway. “In the meeting earlier – the debriefing – the other debriefing, not this one,” she joked, being undressed and wrapped in a towel, “you never said what happened to you on the mission. I wanted to ask… What did he do to you?” That sounded a bit intrusive. “If…if you want to talk about it.”
“He made my worst fear come true,” she confided. “Made me helpless and trapped – unable to fight back. I don’t know if I told you, but I worked security before PRD. I’m an arse-kicker by nature, and he basically stopped me kicking arse.”
“He gave me a hard time too. Tried to break me down and then threw some twisted home-truths in my face.”
“I know. I saw. He made me watch from the shadows. That was the helpless part I mentioned.”
“You saw? Everything?” Willows ears began to burn. Her cheeks followed.
“Yeah. I…I didn’t know you– …I mean, obviously, I didn’t know you were… until in the mess hall just now… But I didn’t realise you felt that way…about me.”
“Don’t be sorry. If I was gay, I’d be–”
“Don’t. Don’t say that.”
“I was just going to say I’d be lucky to have a girl like you liking me that way.”Okay…okay…
She suddenly felt like she was in another false reality. “Any chance we can pretend you didn’t know about that?”
“I don’t think I can do that,” said Kim. “But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change anything. We’re friends.”Okay…okay… That’s not so bad…
“Come here.” Kimberley opened her arms. She was down to her vest and panties, giving Will a semi-heart attack. “Come on, Willow. Friend hug. You look like you need it. I sure as hell need it.”
Willow gave in and smiled, shuffling over and accepting the warm and platonic comfort of her… sweet-smelling tender embrace. Stop it
Something dropped and hit the carpet.
“Towel…” squeaked a horrified Willow.
“Yeah.” Kim let go and turned away quickly while she gathered up her dignity. “What’s this?” Clegg spotted a small padd on her bunk.
Willow fled into the washroom. “Something for you to read. It’s everything I can remember about the Wiccan Omnibus to the Mother Goddess, with a few new additions that aren’t in the original text. If I have to learn about your world through Klappy the Klingon and friends, I thought it only fair you have homework too.”
“Fair enough. So what’s this new knowledge you have that isn’t in the book?”
“I told you I met her, right? Well, her name’s Eden. Think of her as an angel of God. With a really nice garden.”
Kimberly eyed the first pages and thought about what else she’d seen in the Hotel California. “Willow.”
“For the record, I don’t think you could ever become that evil witch he showed you.”
She reappeared around the doorway. “I did…kind of…go postal on him.”
“I wanted to do the same thing myself. I would have. Doesn’t make us evil. We’re here to fight monsters and he was a monster. You’re not.”* * *
The morgue was right next door to sickbay. It was small. Just enough space to pull the refrigerated capsules out of the wall and walk around them. Only two were occupied, and both were out. Lt Cmdr Laine was standing between them. Merran and King; wrapped in vacuum-sealed glass tubes, never to move or speak or think again. He was there watching them with their eternally closed eyes, arms at their sides, and in their white and grey dress uniforms embroidered with gold.
That was how Captain Rayner found him. He was in his slacks, leaning against the bank of drawers between their caskets and didn’t look up for some time.
“Laine.” Javen stepped into the room and stopped beside Commander Merran’s drawer. She looked peaceful enough. “This isn’t the place to spend your time,” he told the giant security chief. “You’re too close to this–”
“Captain, if you have something you need to say to me I’d like to hear it now rather than later.”
Laine wasn’t looking him in the eye. It was like he was braced for something – something big and painful. Rayner knew what it might be. “I’m familiar with your report. I won’t be stripping you of your position and confining you to the brig today,” he assured him. “Unless you’re planning on running around my ship killing people for real.”
“No.” Laine looked to the bodies. “Two is more than enough for one day.”
“You’re taking credit for their deaths?”
“It was my mission,” he conceded. “My first planet-side mission, after you trusted me despite that…stupid
bar brawl in Frisco.”
Javen leaned against the cold wall. “This is probably the point where I’m supposed to recount to you some anecdote about my first time leading an away-mission. But it took a few before I lost a man. That didn’t make it easier, mind. There were things I could have done differently but it happened the way it happened. You’re going to feel like you didn’t do things right, but it doesn’t mean you did anything wrong.” Their eyes met. “It’s not your fault they died, Laine. If it’s anyone’s fault it’s my own. I chose to let you loose for the first time into a dangerous new situation. Add to that the fact that it was Command that put us both in that situation. We’re all going to have to stumble our way through this operation until we find our monster-hunting feet. Fact is, only one man is to blame for this.” He pointed to the caskets. “And he’s still loose out there.”
Laine rolled his head up to the ceiling, closed his eyes, and sighed.
“If you want to dwell on them,” Javen said of their dead colleagues, “then use what you have up here.” He pointed to his head, and then to the capsules. “Because Merran and King don’t live here anymore.”
Laine shoved himself away from the wall bank and slid the drawers back into storage. But his hands still lingered on the grips.
“I understand you told some of the crew about your true nature.”
“Yeah, I did,” said Laine bluntly. “That Illusionist guy managed to get to me through my one fear – my weakness. He did me a favour in the end because now I’ve been able to deal with it. It’s out in the open and I don’t need to fear it anymore. If people really are my friends, they’ll accept me for who I am. If not, I know they’re not worth calling friends.”
“I appreciate what you went through,” Javen allowed him, “but this is still a violation of your agreement with Starfleet Command.”
“It was never a legal agreement. I’m not even sure if it’s ethical. Besides, I had to. If people can’t accept me for what I am then I can never be close to anyone because they’re accepting me as something I’m not. I may as well be making friends in the holodeck.” He stood up straight, having bolstered his own convictions. “If that creates a tactical disadvantage… I’m sorry, but… there it is.”
“I get it.” The captain pushed off the wall and moved toward the door. “I still think your true status should be kept off your public file.”
“I don’t have any problem with that.”
Captain Rayner nodded, satisfied. “I’m heading for the mess if you don’t have plans. Some of us are having a drink in their honour.”
Sounded like it was worth a double shot or two.* * *
“I like it here,” said Anya, her legs hanging over the gangway. The huge spheres of the impulse reactors throbbed with a red glow while the warp engines pulsed below. Sound and light. Waves of blue and red reflected across the ceiling like an aurora borealis. “The engine sounds alive.”
Thrum, thrum, thrum…
The life-force of the starship USS Phantom.
Xander and Willow were with her on the railed catwalk in the heart of the starboard engine. A quiet place of their own on the small cramped vessel.
Xander sighed. “Did you hear?”
“That we’ve been called back?” said Will.
“On our way back to Earth again,” he hummed, projecting little enthusiasm, “with nothing to show for our troubles.”
“This entire operation was doomed from the start,” insisted Anya. “There are Demons out there that no one here, including us, have ever heard of. Sending a bunch of space marines out here to round them all up was a desperate act of futility that’s only going to end in failure.” She breathed a sough of apathy. “The Phantom’s a joke.”
Willow gave her a black look. She could be such an insensitive b-word. “These are good people – a strong crew. They’ll do the best job that can be done with the tools they have.”
“Yes, but it all comes down to reputation. Give it a year or two and there’ll be jokes about it. …Oh, you’ll never be able to achieve that goal – you’re on a Phantom mission. …Just look at all the effort they put in – in the end they still pulled a Phantom. …Just look at the Titanic.”
Willow hated to admit it, but there was a valid truth in that.
“We managed to stop Baragnos and Electro as a team,” noted Xander. “Maybe if we’d had Giles and the Slayer onboard we could have done a better job.”
The girls ran that scenario through their heads. ‘We’re not sidekicks,’ Willow had said once, ‘We are
the team.’ But if Buffy really could have dealt with things in her usual no muss, no fuss manner, what did that mean for Willow’s little declaration? Hot air? Had she pulled a Phantom?
“No,” Anya decided, “They would have just been under the same illusion as the rest of us.”
That was of some solace to the witch. Buffy, after all, would still have to have something to fight and nothing of that mission had been real.
“Besides,” the former Demon added, “I’m not sure Buffy would fit in with our new gang.”
Xander turned to her in surprise. “Why?”
“She’s right,” Willow agreed, which was quite a step after their recent squabbles.
Xander was double-shocked. “What’s wrong with Buffy?”
“Well, she’s a Slayer,” said Will.
“We’re more into the capturing these days,” Anya pointed out.
Xander drifted away into a sulk, leaning his head between the railings and staring down at the heat shielding and the massive warp coils.
Maybe Buffy and the mission didn’t mesh, but Willow still wished she had been around. Then again, she hadn’t exactly been Miss Happy Pants since getting marooned here. She’d put on a brave face but it wasn’t particularly opaque.
Besides, Buffy was turning Klingon and from the local gossip, the Klingons were hard to get along with. Buffy had already disrespected the Vulcan monks of P’Jem. How would she take to Schlatnak or the Pink Twins? Or Laine? She hoped Buffy wasn’t turning into an alienophobe or something. Buffy might end up with no friends if she went on like that.
The thought of having no friends went through Willow’s mind and then the thought of how that might come about for her.
Becoming a dark witch and going all Vader. That would certainly do it.
It wasn’t like she had no control over herself. She was in charge of her energies. It wasn’t like she could just give up, either. She had to teach Kimberly and the others how to find their inner Wiccan. She had to pass on her…Mr Miyagi!
That was it. Of course. She needed to be Mr Miyagi now. He didn’t have to karate his way through town to teach Daniel-san how to karate his way through town. She could train Kim-san and the gang how to fight evil without having to delve herself. And it might actually be safer if Starfleet didn’t rely too heavily on her supernatural abilities. Just be an advisor like Anya and Xander. Find better ways to work. Was that sensible? Or did it sound stupid?
“Maybe I need to take a step back from the witchcraft,” she found herself saying.
It woke Xander up. “What? Hang up your broomstick?”
“No, just… ease off it for a while. People here are relying on us to deal with the undealable. Throwing us into situations like the away-mission expecting we can handle whatever hell throws at us. Maybe we need to take things more carefully. Think before we leap. And if we can’t invent new magic, what if we focus on new technology?”
Anya wasn’t impressed. “We’re already on track to recreating the whole Initiative disaster.”
Right. Locking the supernatural armies of a Demon realm up and studying them was heavily into the déjà vu. Mess up with half-studied magic and risk becoming something worse than Demon, or screw up the science and risk going the way of Professor Walsh and her boys.
“Everything was so simple back home,” grumbled Willow. “I wish I knew what we’re meant to do here. Does our existence still have purpose? What is it now?”
“If I’m forced to have another philosophical thought this week, my head’s gonna explode,” moaned Xander. “Man, I need a holodeck.”
Will shook her head. Typical guy. Gotta have the latest toy. “You need movie night.”
“Movie night!” he cooed. “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that? It’s been, like, eternity. Galaxies have formed – stars have burned away and made new planetary systems since we last had a movie night.” He rubbed his hands together and eyed her cunningly. “What’ll it be? A Nightmare on Elm Street?” Willow made a snarly face at him. “Probably not the best choice after today… Papillon? …Zulu? …Ben Hur? …Attack of the Killer Tomatoes? No! … Return
of the Killer Tomatoes! A George Clooney classic.”
“What about Titanic?” said Anya “I like that movie. Especially when the pervert drowns near the end. It’s just that last part – when the stupid old lady throws her necklace away. I mean… that thing was worth a fortune
. What a waste.”
“Blade Runner,” Xander realised. “Are we human? Or just replicants?” That was deep and poignant.
“So much for your philosophy boycott,” Willow said, causing Xander to reach for a sudden phantom headache. “I was thinking more along the lines of Bring It On,” she clarified. “Or a Bill and Ted double bill…and Ted.”
Xander’s head popped up and he smiled. “Mindless feel-good fun. Good thinking, Will.” He liked Bill and Ted… but he also liked cheerleaders frolicking in tight crop tops and short skirts…
Willow watched Xander’s mental process as it played out across his face. First was the Mmm
of time travel high jinks and Ziggy Piggy, then came the Ooh
of scantily clad supermodel school girls. He raised his hands and began to wiggle his digits enthusiastically.
Spirit fingers it was, then.* * *
90 light-years from Earth, beyond the Hromi Cluster and the Archanis Sector, a green planet circled a K-class orange dwarf star in a region of red space. The planet, its one supercontinent covered in wild nature and vast mountain ranges, its cities a grid of multilevel promenades and rising stone spear-tips aglow with an orange/red light from below as if built on a foundation of burning lava, was the planet Qo’noS, home of the Klingon people.
In the First City of the Klingon Empire, in a night club built on the highest level of the Kee’el Tower in the Imperial Quarter, surrounded by members of the High Council, generals, commanders and warriors, was a blonde-haired Human girl in a Klingon military uniform, drunk as a skunk and singing along to the songs of old.
Buffy Summers – The Beast Slayer – stood balanced on the central table singing at full throttle, her voice lost among the chorus.
“EJ HUMTAH EJ DECHTAH IW
EJ DOQ SODTAH GHOSPA SQRAL BIQTIQ
E PA JAJ LAW MO JAJ PUS
JAJ QEYLIS MOLAR MIGH HOHCHU QU!”
The drinking song ended and the crowds hushed, save for a few cheers and Buffy’s off-kilter wailing as her own shanty came to a close.
“Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!” She raised her tankard with gusto, slipped in a pool of blood wine, and dropped like a wet rag. She hit the table and finished up on the floor in a puddle of ale.
The silence of the crowd was brief; the laughter was long and raucous.
Before she could make peace with the floor, she picked herself up with help and stumbled into the arms of a female warrior. That is, she looked female to Buffy’s booze-marinated eyeballs.
“Raar!” roared the Slayer 5 minutes later as she again recounted The Fall of Worf at the clawed hands of Baragnos the Mutilator, scourge of Delta Vindi. She was amid a tight huddle of Klingons, some of which had heard the story, some of which were catching it for the first time.
– a giant with claws like swords and the face of a hideous sea monster…” she was slurring as they listened intently. “…and Worf’s sword was cleaved in two!” Her audience gasped in Klingon fashion. “…The beast threw
him to the hard stone wall… But Worf got back on his feet!” They barked with approval. “…A second monster made of pure lightening fired a-a huge
bolt of-of lightening
at Worf and he still
got up to face them!” They growled louder. “…It was then that Baragamos,” she bumbled drunkenly, “took
Worf’s knife and his hand along with it!” They oohd and aahd. “Yet Worf, the…the great warrior Worf!
” she exabelorated, “Defiant of pain and loss of limb, led our people to safety and faced the beast one final time. …And, even as it pierced his chest with three giant claws, and raised him off the ground, Worf delivered one last blow. With his dying breath, he laughed at the beast and said: ‘Your face is like the ass of a targ!’”
The Klingons roared, and applauded, and laughed, and cheered, saluting their goblets of wine and ale to the memory of a great warrior now standing proudly among the mighty champions in Sto'Vo'Kor.
To Ambassador Worf! The killer of giant beasts!
Buffy staggered across to the nearest table and held herself up against it. She squeezed her eyelids to remove some of the blur as a well-built man stood over her. It was Chancellor Martok.
“I believe you are drunk, Slayer,” he chuckled gruffly.
“Yes! I am indeed drunk. Drunky drunk, drunkety drunk, drunk as a punk on junk. Embalmed. Fermented. …Chemically enhanced!” She tried to walk again and failed. “Okay, perhaps chemically reduced would be more accurate.” Heck, she wasn’t even fit to fight Count Drunkula!
“In Klingon, we would say you are struggling with a knife in your back!”
She gave a pig snort and ordered another drink.
“TELL US MORE!” came a nearby cry.
“Yes,” said another. “Tell us again of Worf’s victories against the armies of Gre'thor!” – The Klingon Hell.
A familiar listener piped up, dragging her closer. “Tell them of Worf’s defeat against the…the… what was it? Gor-Rilla? Yes! The giant Gorilla of Epsilon Ursae Six!”
And, so she did. At one point, she’d punched one Klingon in the head when he laughed in her face, squeezed her left butt cheek, and bellowed, “YOU HAVE THE BUTTOCKS OF A BABY MAPLUQ!”
She didn’t know what a Mapluk was, but she knew what a rowdy Klingon sounded like when he hit the floor.
Strength games and more tales of combat followed, along with songs and more drink. It was all good fun and good therapy until she realised she was a public wreck and spent an hour sleeping it off on the floor against the bar.
When she came to, her hair and clothes were a sticky mess and the partying Klingons were mostly in her head.
There were a few stragglers. A pair of old Council members singing a low quiet hymn together. A male taking a female against a corner wall.
She pulled herself up and felt nauseous. A stampede ran over her broiled brain. She was thankful for the nap; it probably saved her from hurling her innards out.
“You fought with Worf.”
She heard the voice and had a memory flash.
Buffy raised Worf’s bat’leth over her head and brought it down to sever his neck, and the end met with his d’k tagh knife as he expertly blocked the strike. He snarled up at her and spat out some Klingon warning…
“What?” She squinted under the glare of a red overhead light and saw a fat middle-aged warrior. He was tall.
“You battled alongside Ambassador Worf.”
“…Yeah.” She rubbed her head.
“Then, perhaps you knew his aid, Gor’agh?”
Her mind was a haze. “Gor’agh…?” It sounded vaguely familiar.
“I have heard that you now possess his bat’leth, and that you have defeated many enemies with his sword.”Oh, God, of course…
“Right.” Her head felt like a demolition site. “Gor’agh.” Incoming! Wrecking ball! “Yeah.”
The Klingon didn’t look particularly pleased with her. “He was son to my brother. In future, when you tell tales of great battles, you may wish to remember the warrior who bequeathed you his family’s Sword of Honour.”
She squirmed under his piercing gaze before he turned about and made his exit.That was a kick in the head
Though, she did have to admit, his complaint was far from unwarranted. She had
forgotten all about Worf’s aid. She whined at the pain of a real kick in the head – from the inside – and shuffled across the club floor. She found her way out onto the quiet torch-lit terrace overlooking the capitol city of the Klingon Homeworld. There, she leaned over the balcony and took in the fresh air and the view of the First City.
The sky was a deep dark green canopy swept by low-hanging grey clouds like lingering cigar smoke. The city, squared off by elevated pathways lined with walls and trees, with a scattering of Aztec towers rising up to points, was bathed from below in an orange glare like the Great Fire of London was raging somewhere down there beneath it all. And, in the distance, barely visible through the cloud cover, a vast mountainscape of snow-tipped peaks. The city could at times be a savage place, but up there, far out of the cities, was the really savage land. The really really
During her time on Kronos, she’d hunted wild targ in the Hamar Mountains and wrestled a sabre bear on Kang’s Summit. She’d done most of the activities Worf was planning on introducing her to. Only, without Worf.
She’d met a great many Klingons so far on their home world, as one might expect, but none of them were like Worf. They were vulgar and combative for the most part, and lacked his inner calm. Worf was a meditative brooding sort, where other Klingons were impetuous and downright insolent. He had a composed, restrained nobility about him; a stillness; a quiet dignity, where other Klingons were as loud, wild and dirty as the targs they hunted. Where Worf would speak, most Klingons had foghorns between their nose and chin.
She massaged her temples and sighed. A wind blew through the city. People sang in the distance, far below. A couple walked the raised promenade and descended into the under-city, more fist-in-face than hand-in-hand. Not quite her idea of romantic, she thought, as she panned across the Imperial Quarter. Paths, buidings and trees. Not a graveyard in sight.What am I doing here…?
“There is already talk among the High Council members,” Martok declared in his distinguishing rasp as he joined her on the terrace, “that none other than Keedera
is composing an opera of epic scale to honour Worf’s life.” He sounded pleased with that.
“He deserves it,” she granted.
“You miss him,” observed the Klingon. “As do I. I took Worf into my House. He was my closest friend. And my brother.” He studied her profile with his one eye. “And what was he to you?”
“He was a mentor. I guess.” That wasn’t just it. He was a hunter, a fighter, a soul that was part ‘human’ (more so than other Klingons), part wild beast (like her – like Angel).
“He was the one thing here that bears any resemblance to home,” She explained. That’s how it felt. When he’d talked to her of hunting beasts in jungle forests and trapping armoured reptiles in the mountains, she could have imagined it as her nightly patrol. Slaying the monsters; unleashing her inner warrior.
It had been a daydream. A fantasy.
She looked out at the view of the alien city and felt suddenly the distance of those 90 light years to Earth, and the 376-year time difference.
“The beauty of Qo’noS never ceases to astound me,” said Martok. “You would be welcome here, Slayer, if you still feel that Worf’s world can provide some substitute for your own.”
She didn’t really have to think about it. “There is one thing you don’t have here,” she uttered wistfully. “It’s weird, but, I miss cemeteries. Actually, It’s not so weird. They centre me. All those tombstones and mausoleums. It’s kind of beautiful and peaceful. That is, until the corpses of the undead come to life and try to drain all my blood out through my neck, of course.”
She even seemed nostalgic about that part, thought Martok. There were no corpses for her on Qo’noS. None that were humanoid, none that were possessed of Demon. “It sounds to me like it is your world that you miss.”
With a guilty blush she dropped her head. “I don’t belong here. I can’t be a warrior all the time. I’m the Slayer, but I’m also Buffy. Sometimes I just…need to be human.”
He understood. She didn’t mean ‘Human’, she meant ‘human’.
“Yes?” It was his aid at the balcony opening.
“I have the head of Starfleet Command on subspace. He wishes to speak with you urgently.”
Martok took leave and Buffy was alone again with the view.
She wasn’t much of a city girl. She liked the simple town life and the occasional quiet moments it allowed when the forces of evil were on a break. She missed standing on the bluff and looking down at her own confined little world of Sunnydale. That was her space, it was what she knew and understood, and could control. Now, as she looked out, she saw an alien world that went on and on and didn’t need her to survive. Beyond it, just more of the same going out into space. There was so much out there – too much – and still, there was nowhere to go. She felt like she was back in L.A. trying to find a new life because she’d lost her old one. She’d been lost and hadn’t known it, just needing to find her way back. Now she was lost and she knew it. Only this time she couldn’t
find her way back. There was no way back. No hope. No life for her. No purpose.
Even the Klingons, who she’d thought were like her, had no purpose here. They were warriors without a war. And when war came, they would only be killing other living souls.
It wasn’t her way. They weren’t her people. She didn’t have a people anymore. She wasn’t even herself, because all she was she could no longer be.
she heard. More blood wine and ale. Just drink and drink and don’t stop. It’ll all go away…
“Slayer,” Martok beckoned on his return. She was kellicams away, still half-drunk. “…Buffy.” She turned to face him, surprised by her own name. “Collect your things. It is time for you to leave.”
She straightened up. Had she said something wrong? Insulted his honour? Then again, he hadn’t said it in that
way. “Had enough of me already?” she asked, half joking, half serious, just to be safe.
“It seems the Federation President has issued a request for your return to Earth.”The President…?
“Me? What did I do?”
“It was not a warrant for your apprehension if that is of any comfort. It just means the difference between you finding your own way there and me making it a priority to get you there as soon as possible.”
“Oh. Which is it?”
“Oh, good. ‘Cos I really don’t know how I would’ve handled that first option.”
“I am sure you would have handled it like a warrior. A human
warrior. Come, you must leave immediately. Alexander will take you.”
The son of Worf appeared at the entrance to the terrace to escort her to his ship.
She was going to Earth. And it was all at the request of… the President of space.
have done something…* * *Onboard the Enterprise-F, 2418 AD:
When the turbolift arrived at the bridge, Crius marched to tactical and Leonid Korotkin took over the conn.
Willow headed straight for her readyroom, passing one overworked android on the way. “I haven’t forgotten you, Data.”
The second Captain Rosenberg was off the bridge, an enraptured Korotkin mailed his big green colleague behind tactical.
Lt Crius puzzled as a dialogue box silently opened on his screen. It was from the pilot. That was awesome. Could you imagine the Enterprise hunting Demons across the Alpha Quadrant? When she comes back, ask her more stuff.
Children. And what was it about Humans? They could never get their minds fully on the job. It was always idle talk and idle thinking with them. When he looked up, Leonid was peering over his shoulder at him from the pit with wide excited eyes, nodding for him to accept his request.
“Do you have something you wish to report, Lieutenant Korotkin?” – It was Cmdr Data.
Crius allowed himself the faintest smile.
“N-no, sir.” Leonid turned back to his post and kept his head down.* * *
There was a message waiting for her on her desk computer to call back Starfleet HQ. She recognised the extension code and sent her call right away. A few seconds later, Admiral Woodburne, head of Starfleet Foreign Relations, appeared at his desk. He was a slender man, very tall and sinewy with age – about 73 years of it. His hair was a grey-silver combed back and thinning.
“Admiral. Good morning,” Willow greeted.
“I’m pleased to see you still in one piece, Captain.”
“Not the best of days for you to face the Tal Shiar.”Retirement day? No, not the best of days…
somewhat inconsiderate of them.”
“And the Romulan situation? Should we be concerned?”
“With this new weapon of theirs… I would say concern is called for. But if the Tal Shiar are up to something, they don’t seem to have the support of whatever remains of the Romulan Empire. Something to keep in mind the next time you manage to make contact.”
“Still… the Tal Shiar…” He ruminated on it a moment. “I think we’re going to have to initiate new security protocols. We can’t allow any of their cloaked Raptors to reach our colonies and outposts.” He stopped himself from blithering on. “Well, we’ll talk more when you get here. Tomorrow, perhaps.”
She nodded. “How are things at your end?”
“Not particularly good, Captain. Our galaxy is falling apart around us.”
She leaned closer to the screen. “There’ve been more incidents?”
“Symptoms seem to be progressing at a frightening rate,” he revealed. “We haven’t been able to keep it quiet any longer. The media are calling it The Great Collapse. We’ve lost another system in sector 006. 70 percent ripped. It’s expanding. Getting awfully close to Andoria. And the Klingons are admitting their space is riddled with similar events of sudden disintegration. It makes no sense – all ultimate fate of the universe
theories upheld that the universe would expand continuously for eternity. And now this phantom dark energy is tearing the atoms of reality apart, leaving vast empty wastelands where planetary systems and interstellar matter once were. Every physical object broken apart in an instant into unbound elementary particles and radiation. There’s no cause for it. It’s incomprehensible.”
His face had grown stricken. She could see by his pallor and change in bearing that this Great Collapse
scared him enormously.
“You haven’t seen any signs?” he asked.
“Not this far out, Admiral.”
That comforted him some and he nodded. “Just take care coming in. There’s no telling where this will happen next.”
Woodburne signed off and Willow relaxed back in her seat.
She should probably be worried too. She knew more than most people about the Big Rip phenomenon that was tearing its way through the Beta Quadrant, and she knew if the populous at large was aware of the full facts there would be panic. Thanks to the media, there might yet be.
For some reason she wasn’t panicking. The incidents were still restricted to the area around the Paulson Nebula. Only small sections of lifeless systems had been effected, and areas of open space out of the main shipping lanes. It wasn’t quite the end of the universe just yet. Someone would find a way to neutralise the phantom dark energy. Just as soon as some genius figured out why it was happening.
Well. Time to relieve Data.* * *
“Lieutenant Korotkin. You’re fidgeting.” She’d been watching him shift about and almost turn around for the best part of an hour and now it was beginning to nettle her. “Are you on a mission to nuisance your captain?”
“No, ma’am,” the pilot replied fervidly as he turned on his stool. “It’s just… I was wondering, Captain. About what you were saying before.”
Willow smiled inside. The boy was hooked. “And what might you be wondering, helmsman?”
His face lit up. “If you didn’t have your Demon books or magic books or whatever, and you couldn’t catch the Demons you were hunting… (the bridge crew were looking at him like he was a mental case) …then how come they aren’t around anymore? The Demons and Vampires? Why didn’t they beat us?”
She breathed out long and hard. The kid could ask a question, all right. The uninitiated bridge staff were watching her carefully for a response, half expecting her to have their pilot carried off to a cushioned cell in a level ten restriction field.
“Why didn’t they beat us?” she repeated, mulling it over. There was no easy answer. But there was a place to begin. “I would have to say it all hinged on our next big mission,” she told him. “Our voyage home.” His face was already glued to hers like a drooling spaz. “I suppose you’d like to hear about that too?”
“Oh yeah,” he answered. “Yes, ma’am.”
She was aware of the greater audience this time but it didn’t bother her. Now that Korotkin and Crius were past the initial wow factor, it might be fun to surprise some other unsuspecting youngsters.
In Crusher’s place at ops was Michelle Zuniga, a thirty-something brunette, short hair, well-built. Enough to make Willow jealous, what with the old saggy lumps and bumps she was dragging around with her these days. At science and engineering were Mark Bronwyn and a young Vulcan by the name of T’Lau who actually was as young as she looked. There were other folk about the room co-ordinating their departments’ work from the bridge – Ludvigsen from stellar cartography, Toda with astrophysics and Colbeck who was in charge of the cleaning crew. Not a one of them was old enough to remember any of what she was talking about.
“All right then, Lieutenant.” She crossed her legs and settled into the arm of her command chair. “But I’m going to have to take you back 417 years. To a very different world…”
I know ‘exabelorate’ isn’t a word, but Buffy was very drunk and, in her attempt to exaggerate AND elaborate, I thought she might exabelorate.