Despite her initial drowsiness, sleep did not befall Erin Keller very easily in the aftermath of her encounter with Harrison. Not that she let such encounters bother her, and indeed, that was not the cause of her ire. Instead, it was an incident far less easy to explain. The eerie, one-eyed alien that had seemingly peered over her bed frequented itself in her dreams that night, as well, bringing her to the conclusion that the alien was just that—a dream.
Given her past experience, Erin knew she was prone to having wild dreams. Last time, it was a fantasy revolving around Kendall Johnson. Now it was a strange one-eyed alien with four legs watching her sleep. Erin knew she could dream up worse things, but even so, this one bothered her a great deal more than any of her other nightmares.
And so, as she stumbled into the mess hall for her cup of hot chocolate, Erin was immediately under the gun. Standing quietly at the replicator was Rachael Meyer, who apparently had arrived only a few moments before Erin. Rachael took one glance and Erin and immediately sensed something was wrong.
“What is it?” she asked.
Realizing she failed to straighten her hair, Erin made use of her reflection in the replicator’s basin to make herself look presentable as she spoke of her encounter. “It was really weird,” she concluded. “But the thing is, I don’t know if it was real or not. I mean, Harrison had me so flustered, I just went straight to bed.”
Rachael nodded pleasantly. “So I gathered.” She took a sip of her coffee. “Did you check the sensors for intruders last night?”
Satisfied with her hair, Erin pulled back from the replicator. “Hot chocolate,” she ordered before turning back to Rachael. “Nope. Between sleeping and waking up this morning, I haven’t quite found a chance for that…” She plucked her sultry mug of hot chocolate from the replicator basin and in tandem with Rachael, strolled over to their customary table in the center of the room, where Neelar and Bator were already situated.
“I hope the Holy Warlord wasn’t too offended last night,” Erin mused as she took her seat. “I don’t take very kindly to little green men coming at me with an axe. Maybe it’s just me…”
Bator raised an eyebrow. “He was furious to say the least. We had to reset the program.”
Erin grinned. “Well, if you’d have just waited for us to finish, that wouldn’t have happened. Or you could have visited another holodeck. There are four of them…”
Bator shrugged off the sentiment and buried his face into his beverage before Erin noticed he, too was giving her appearance a bit of scrutiny. She looked down to see several dribbles of hot chocolate on the front of her uniform. “Damn it!” she exclaimed. “This is not my day.”
“You should also note that your communicator is crooked by four degrees,” Neelar added quietly.
Erin didn’t want to hear that. She turned to the Bolian and cast him an icy glare. “Thank you, Neelar,” she said, forcing an almost-pleasant tone in her voice.
“She had a rough night,” Rachael explained.
Bator’s eyes flickered. “Again?”
Erin didn’t bother to hide her irritation this time, and simply sighed unpleasantly. “Again,” she confirmed. “But I wasn’t having a wild trip in fantasyland. I was dreaming about you,” she told the Phobian in the most serious voice she could muster.
His eyes rolled slightly, indicating his disbelief of the story. Erin allowed herself a latent smile before delving back into serious mode. “It was actually quite disturbing. Nothing more than an alien watching me sleep, but it gives me the creeps just thinking about it.”
“The creeps, eh?” Bator repeated quizzically.
Erin nodded. “Yeah, the creeps, because I don’t know if it was real or not… it was like, a waking dream,” she said, trying to explain what she had experienced. “Would you mind browsing through the sensor logs for last night to put my mind at ease?”
Bator considered it for a moment. “If you insist.”
“I do,” said Keller. “Because either I’ve got a good imagination, or we’ve got a problem on our hands…”
“Neither one would surprise me,” said Rachael. “Should I clear my calendar now, or wait for Bator to give the word?”
“You’d better clear it just in case,” Erin quipped. “You know how us crazy people are.”
Rachael smiled. “Yes, I do. I work with them every day…”
After a few additional minutes of banter, Erin saw the bottom of her mug and decided the time had come to depart for the conference lounge. And so, a few minutes later, after a short ride in the turbolift, she found herself following Bator and the others into the aforementioned lounge and taking her customary seat as far away from Harrison as possible.
Only a few minutes later, Captain Christopher rose from his chair and leaned on the palms of his hands, placed firmly upon the table top. “Admiral T’Lari has just sent me the status report on the Kilka Sector. The Ividian rift has completely collapsed. They won’t be paying us another visit any time soon. The Elorg also suffered heavy losses, but still have more than enough ships to fortify their rift. The defense perimeter they established a few weeks ago is already back up in place.”
“And,” Harrison interjected, “the verteron radiation appears to have become more widespread. Two Rutanian frigates in sector 15391 were abandoned this morning because of warp drive failures.”
“We are, essentially, in the same tactical state that we were prior to the Ividian invasion,” Talyere noted. “However, the good news is my data indicates the next fleet is not due to arrive until early 2396.”
“So, we’re safe—for now,” Christopher noted.
Erin sighed uneasily upon hearing the news. While she was glad to hear of the lull in the action on the Elorg front, she couldn’t help but concentrate on her own situation. Given her continually worsening feelings about the dream, she made it a point to present her case to the Captain.
“On that note, we have been given a reprieve from our duties in the Kilka Sector,” said Christopher cheerfully. He tapped upon the control pad before his chair and turned to the back wall. A map of the Beta Quadrant suddenly appeared, and honed in on small system in the corner of the screen.
“The Corinth System,” said Drayge upon recognizing the astrometric chart.
Christopher nodded his approval. “The Corinth System,” he repeated. “We’re going to be strolling on over to deposit Captain Brantley and her crew.”
Erin frowned. “There isn’t anything in the Corinth System,” she grimaced, watching Christopher intently as he licked his lips with hesitation.
“There is now,” he said enigmatically.
Erin wished he would continue, but given the cryptic finality of his voice, she knew whatever it was he spoke of, that little snippet was going to be the last she heard of it… until they reached the Corinth System.
“Is there anything else?” Christopher asked. He quickly surveyed the table for an answer, and almost dismissed the meeting before Erin realized this was her opportunity.
“There is one other thing,” she blurted out.
Most everyone was half-way from their chairs when she spoke. They all froze in place and cast their eyes upon her. Erin looked briefly in the direction of each of them before relaying her haunting tale to the others. Harrison was obviously unimpressed, but the Captain seemed to take it quite seriously, as did Lucas.
“Have you checked the sensors?” Christopher inquired.
“I asked Bator to check as soon as he gets a chance.”
Christopher looked to the Phobian and snapped his finger at him and motioning for him to head for the bridge. Bator nodded, and made due haste to retreat from the meeting.
“This sounds an awful lot like the Yelss,” Lucas said once Bator was gone. “Because I find it hard to believe that two one-eyed species of quadrupeds are both travel through the same sectors of Federation space at the same time.”
“Aside from their shadowy figures on the view screen, I never even saw them,” Erin added. “There aren’t any other visual records, are there?”
“No,” said Kendall. “Gul Tanekk confiscated our tricorders and summarily had them vaporized.”
“We’ll keep our eyes peeled for a Yelss ship, then,” Christopher decided. “But proceed to Corinth as if everything was just peachy keen. If the Yelss are out there, we don’t want them to grow too suspicious of us.”
“Agreed,” said Harrison.
Again, Christopher surveyed the conference table for additional remarks. Upon seeing there were none, he clasped his hands together and rose from the table. “Dismissed,” he chirped.
As the others began to depart, Erin slowly rose from her chair and peered out the windows behind her. Enamored by the sight of something other than the Kilka Sector, she sighed, and then turned to Alan. “You don’t think I’m crazy, do you?”
He smiled candidly, and approached her, pushing the haphazardly discarded chairs back under the table as he did so. “Of course not. If I did, Bator wouldn’t be out there checking the sensors, and you would definitely be chatting with Rachael right about now.”
Erin smiled. “At least someone believes me.”
“That’s what I’m here for.” He placed his right arm around her back, and indicated the way to the door with his other. “Come on. Let’s see what’s out there…”
After their brief walk through the conference lounge to the bridge, Erin quickly headed for the tactical station, and made her self at home at Bator’s side. He frowned disapprovingly at her invasion of his space, but remained silent, simply continuing his work.
“Well?” Erin demanded.
Bator’s fingers flew over the controls, and quickly, he pointed to a sensor schematic near the center of his workspace. “I’ve yet to find anything conclusive,” he explained. “But I’m recompiling the data just to be sure.”
Erin’s heart sunk. She patted the Phobian on the shoulder and slowly retreated from his space. “I must have been dreaming,” she surmised.
She hated getting everyone exciting over nothing. Not that it was a commonplace event, in fact, it was the first time in recent memory that she had been the source of such excitement. Despite that fact, Erin almost wished sensors had shown something—because she wasn’t ready to accept the fact that a dream of such magnitude was a figment of her imagination.
Even so, she would accept the fact for now, as duty called. She cast one final look at Bator’s sensor data before retreating to her own workstation nearby. Tempted to run a few sensor scans of her own, Erin’s hands fluttered over the controls. But she trusted Bator, and knew, despite his jokes about her mental state, he wouldn’t falsify sensor data.
But as she glanced at the data before her, Erin quickly realized it wouldn’t hold her attention for long. The Starlight was situated in a region of space practically devoid of anything of interest. Aside from a few nondescript planetary systems, a class-K nebula and a rogue comet, there was little to report.
But the second her fingers touched the controls, a tingle suddenly danced down her spine. She froze, and slowly turned her attention to the monitor beside her. Instead of the astrometric data she was cataloging, the stark, haunting image of a one-eyed Yelss filled the screen. It glared at her constantly, practically drilling a hole in the side of her head.
Unsure of what to do next, Erin quickly turned to Bator. He was immersed in his own data, clearly not paying any attention to the goings on at ops. Deciding she had already bothered him enough, Erin decided Alan would be a better choice to contact.
But maybe not. As she opened her mouth to call out his name, Erin suddenly noticed one of the quadrupeds lurking directly in front of the Captain, who remained totally oblivious to the intruder. The Yelss stared blankly at her, and then as if by magic, it vanished.
She glanced back at her monitor—nothing. Quickly, Erin accessed the sensors and ran a sensor sweep of the bridge. In the agonizing moments that it took the compile the data, she could feel them watching her. What is going on? she demanded in her thoughts…
Finally, the data was compiled—and to Erin’s total dismay, they confirmed her greatest fears. They didn’t show a thing…
After a long, agonizing shift, Erin found herself once more, retreating directly to her quarters. A part of her wanted terribly to visit with Rachael, but what she had seen on the bridge today had scared her beyond the point of allowing herself to believe the counselor could be of any help.
But one question had plagued her more than any other. Were this ‘visions’ real, or simply a figment of her imagination? With each passing hour, Erin came closer to accepting the fact that something might be wrong with her… Her mind was in a constant state of turmoil. The unflappable sensors didn’t even show a stray electron out of place, and the most damning evidence of all—when the Yelss appeared on the bridge, the entire crew seemed oblivious to them.
And so, with her shift finally over, Erin couldn’t wait to get to bed and sleep the entire day from hell into the past—the sooner, the better. Her eyes felt like lead weights, and her entire body ached. And so it was with great relief that she plopped down onto her sofa.
Only when she sat down, it wasn’t on her sofa. Erin quickly blinked herself out of her revelation, and suddenly realized she wasn’t even in her quarters. In fact, it was the furthest place from her quarters she could imagine—the bridge of a starship.
Though it wasn’t the Starlight’s bridge, Erin clearly recognized it as belonging to the Federation by its signature computer layouts and insignia. And while those few features remained, most everything else was far different. Instead of the standard gray, the computer stations were encased in a sleek black. The carpet was gone, replaced by a stark metallic alloy that accented the steely futuristic look.
Suddenly, Erin realized where she was seated. It wasn’t comfortably behind the operations station, or even at one of the science stations. She was seated in the sleek, black command chair in the middle of it all. Given recent events, Erin immediately assumed she was hallucinating—but as she reached for the pips on her neck, she quickly quashed that idea. It was no dream… there were indeed four pips on her uniform. She was a Captain…
“Don’t get used to it,” called out a heavenly voice from the back of the bridge.
Erin quickly rose from the chair to see the incredibly handsome body that voice belonged to. Her heart instantly fluttered at the very sight of him, but she couldn’t produce the words to speak. He was tall, with short, sandy blonde hair and the most perfect set of teeth Erin had ever seen (aside from her own). He was obviously well-built, and walked with a metered gait that seemed to fit that theory well.
As he approached, Erin quickly realized that he, too had Captain’s pips on. He stopped in front of the chair to the right of the one Erin had been sitting in and sat down, indicating with his hand for her to assume her former position.
Brimming with fleeting emotions and an overwhelming sense of curiosity, Erin found herself barely able to comply. But she forced herself to sit and hear his words.
But only moments later, his strong hands around hers and squeezed them tightly. Erin forced back a giggle, and merely closed her eyes. If this was a dream, she didn’t want it to end…. He smiled pleasantly, revealing his shiny white teeth once more before parting his lips to speak. “Welcome to the twenty-ninth century.”
Erin’s jaw dropped in disbelief. She tried to speak, but found herself utterly speechless. As if the Yelss encounters hadn’t been enough, this was more than enough to put her over the edge. But Erin knew she hadn’t gone to sleep yet—it was either a very real hallucination, or else it was simply very real…