“The Sacrifice of Innocents”

Stardate 74334.3; May 02, 2397

 

Episode 57

 

 

 

 

Prologue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sleep.

 

            It was something that Captain Alan Christopher had longed for more of during the Elorg War—and now that the war had ended, he found himself with the time to get that sleep. And he had also found it to be a two-edged sword indeed.

 

            On the one hand, it was something so wonderfully pleasant to spend the night doing, finally regaining the rest he had lost. It almost felt like heaven the moment he’d lain himself down on his own bed again.

 

On the other hand, however, he found his sleep to be haunted, on occasion, by nightmares. Unfortunately, waking up was not enough to make them simply go away, because these nightmares were all too real. He saw images of Xi’Yor’s evil visage, and images of the men and women who had died during the war.

 

            He was relieved they didn’t torment his sleep every night. Otherwise, he feared he would get very little of it.

 

            With a sigh, Alan awoke, glanced at the chronometer beside his bed, and reveled in having the luxury to roll over and pointedly ignore the time displayed on the unit. Granted, it was only a momentary pleasure, but it was a pleasure nonetheless.

 

But in the process of rolling over, he noticed that the other side of the bed was not only empty, but cold. And on the floor, there was only one pair of boots, leading him to realize that Erin was already up and about.

 

            Rolling back over, he slid the covers aside, feeling the conditioned air aboard the Starlight prickling at his bare skin. Sitting up, he remained on the edge of the bed for a moment while his brain sorted itself out, then stood up and plodded into the sonic shower.

 

            Several minutes later, he stepped out. Even without true water, the sonic shower still felt good and left him feeling clean. Not that he encountered much dirt on the sterile starship he resided upon, but that was beside the point.

 

            The mere possibility of a dull, boring day was enough to make him giddy, and he practically skipped to the closet from which he pulled the uniform he would wear that day.        A couple of minutes later, he emerged from his quarters and headed toward the crew lounge for breakfast. Anyone who was looking closely would certainly note the spring in his step, the faint smile tugging at the corner of his mouth, and the sparkle in his vibrant turquoise eyes.

 

            It was, he decided, an excellent day to be alive.

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

 

 

            Commander Erin Kellar felt happy.  And it wasn’t just because the steaming mug of hot chocolate before her was real—but that was certainly a major factor in her good mood.  It was simply one of those magical mornings when she found herself getting up on the right side of bed, and everything seemed to be going her way.

 

            She sat alone at her table in the center of the crew lounge, enjoying the hot chocolate and the silence—the latter of which would vanish when her friends started to arrive.

 

            But the hot chocolate… The delightful, delightful hot chocolate… Before they’d headed into deep space again, Erin had had the presence of mind to acquire real hot chocolate mix from her friends on Earth who had grinned, sent it to her, and shaken their heads. Erin had a small love for chocolate, in the same way that space was tinted slightly black.        Granted, her supply would last perhaps a month, at best, but it would be a month of terribly wonderful mornings.

 

            Through the large sliding doors, Alan walked, waving cheerfully to a couple of crewmembers who waved back and wondered why he was waving in the first place. Judging from the bounce in his step, he was in one of those peculiar moods of his that led to bizarre conversations, strange remarks, and just general insanity. In other words, status quo.

 

            He approached the replicator and ordered a beverage that was almost, but not entirely unlike coffee, then approached Erin’s table.

 

            “Good morning to you, and your kin.” Alan stated matter-of-factly.

 

            Erin paused before she took a sip and said, “What?” in a distinctly puzzled tone.

 

            Alan opened his mouth, but Erin held up a silencing hand, and said, “Never mind, I doubt I want to know,” and finished taking her sip.

 

            “I slept in,” Alan stated proudly after a moment of silence had passed and the morning had almost returned to normal.

 

            Erin glanced at the chronometer on the wall near the replicator and rolled her eyes, “Five minutes. Wow.”

 

            Alan took a drink, made a face, took another drink, and said, “It is still technically sleeping in.”

 

            Erin sighed and said, “Of course, little buddy,” with the type of smile that suggested she not only doubted his sanity, but flatly disbelieved in its existence.

 

            Alan suddenly set his drink down and leaned closer, his nose twitching. Before Erin could ask what exactly he thought he was doing, Alan asked, “What are you drinking?”

 

            “…Hot chocolate,” Erin said hesitantly, “just like I do every morning.”

 

            “It smells different,” he declared.

 

            Erin smiled happily and returned, “Because it’s not that replicated shit.”

 

            “Were I not so amazed at your humor,” Alan stated, “I would inform you to watch your language.”

 

            “It’s real. And there’s nothing wrong with my language!” Erin insisted.

 

            Real hot chocolate?” Alan’s eyebrows bobbed up, then drifted back down, “Where are you keeping it hidden? Under your station? In our quarters?”

 

            “I’m not telling you.”

 

            “It’s in our quarters, isn’t it? Under the bed? In the sonic shower? Where is it?”

 

            “I’m not telling you!” Erin argued firmly.

 

            “Why ever not, dearest Erin?” Alan oozed with irritatingly fake charm.

 

            “Because you would take it,” Erin said, “And because it’s mine.”

 

            “But what about enlightened self-interest?” he pleaded pitifully.

 

            “Trust me, little buddy.” Erin smiled innocently at him. “This is entirely self-interest.”

 

            Alan sighed, sullenly took a drink from his own beverage, then said, “Well, today promises to be a wonderfully dull, delightfully boring day. And that means I have nothing better to do than find your hot chocolate stash.”

 

            “Just you wait,” Erin declared, poking a finger firmly in his chest. “Something will pop up to occupy you!”

 

 

 

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