Alan Christopher was tired.
Though he almost always had some sort of problem to deal with, Christopher was hard-pressed to find a time when sleeping was among those myriad quagmires. In fact, he had long considered sleeping to be among his best skills—able to do it in a moment’s notice without so much as a second of hesitation. But in recent nights, Christopher found himself lying awake in bed beside Erin Keller, staring into the dark abyss that was their quarters.
At first, Christopher could ignore his body’s cries for sleep. As a Ka’Tulan, he didn’t need a full eight hours of rest each night—in fact, he could get along just fine with four or five hours. But as the days dragged on, Christopher’s energy reserves had begun to dwindle, and as he sat at the head of the table in the conference lounge, it was finally evident that he was reaching the end of the line. Tonight, he would have to sleep—one way or another.
But before he could even think about sleeping, Christopher had to get through yet another day in the exotic globular cluster known simply as GSC-2374-E. And that day started with the daily staff meeting.
“The hull breaches on decks five, ten and eleven have nearly been repaired,” said Lieutenant Bator as the meeting began.
Christopher nodded attentively. Though any hull breach concerned him, the one on deck five was of particular interest, simply because the Mandroth had drilled into the hull to gain access to the Starlight. “Have your security teams found anything on deck five?”
The Phobian shook his head. “No,” he stated. “It would appear the Mandroth retreated before they were able to board us.”
That was perhaps the first piece of good news Christopher had heard in days. With memories of last year’s Garidian incident still fresh in his mind, Christopher knew the last thing he wanted was to hunt down some manic aliens on his own starship. It was bad enough to be invaded near Federation territory; Christopher couldn’t begin to imagine what would happen if the ship was to fall 80,000 light-years from home.
“Shields have been restored to eighty-four percent,” Bator promptly continued. “By my estimate, they should be back up to full strength by the end of the day.”
Though Christopher thought the analysis reasonable, he could see Matthew Harrison shifting uncomfortably in his seat. Clearly, the commander wanted the shields back at their full capacity a bit sooner; Matthew had been opposed to joining with General Kron’s fleet from the beginning, and once he saw Garidians in the mix, he immediately expected an attack. Christopher, however, saw no such dangers, and decided to disregard Harrison’s concerns yet again.
“The engineering outlook isn’t nearly as bright,” Jayla Trinn reported a moment later—and everything about the young Trill seemed to support her statement. Black soot smudged her face in several places; her hair was a bit of a mess, and her communicator was terribly crooked. She must have been up all night, Christopher surmised.
And then he chuckled faintly. At least he wasn’t the only one… “Can we at least maintain warp?” he asked.
She nodded. “Yes. The warp engines are almost fully functional. But the transwarp manifold has been completely destroyed—and we’re fresh out of transwarp coils, so it doesn’t really matter if I can repair the manifold or not.”
“Unless we have a run-in with the Borg,” Erin Keller quipped.
“Well,” said Christopher lightly, “I’m not too keen about stealing transwarp coils from the Borg.”
“I am doubtful we will even have a rendezvous with the Collective,” Harrison added, though his tone was rather serious—as usual. And with that part of the conversation done and over with, Harrison quickly moved on to the next piece of business. “…What do we know of the whereabouts of Commander Tompkins?”
Bator’s stoic face immediately turned grim. “We have searched the Starlight several times,” he said. “Commander Tompkins is not on board.”
Jayla Trinn expelled a weary sigh. “The last time I saw him, he had just been clobbered by part of a bulkhead in main engineering. We were under attack at the time, and it took me at least thirty seconds to reach him. But by the time I got there, he was gone. I thought he might have headed up to sickbay—but with the ship falling apart all around us, I didn’t really have time to think about it.”
“Well if he did set out for sickbay,” Sarah Hartman promptly continued, “he never made it there.”
“I am in the process of reviewing the sensor logs,” said Bator, “but so far, I have been unable to discern anything out of the ordinary.”
Christopher expelled a weary sigh. “So in the meantime, we can only begin to wonder where the heck he is. Lovely…” He paused for a long moment—and nearly considered cutting the meeting short—before moving ahead to the final thing on the agenda. “According to our Garidian friends, no Federation starship has survived in this region of space for more than a couple of weeks. Apparently, our ideals are not compatible with… anything that goes on around here. It’s pretty much every man for himself.”
“Though the Garidians are far from trustworthy,” Harrison quickly interjected. “It is possible they had the other Federation starships destroyed, and their crews executed.”
Suddenly, Christopher wished that he had indeed ended the meeting when he had his chance… because things were about to get ugly. “Well, I have invited delegates from several vessels—including the Garidians—to come and visit the Starlight. Hopefully we can solidify our relationship, and remove any distrust between us…”
Harrison frowned. “The last time the Garidians visited the ship, it was nearly destroyed,” he stated. “I do not believe this to be a wise course of action.”
Christopher clenched his teeth. “And I do not believe this is up for discussion,” he said. “We need allies—and save General Kron—the Garidians are the only ones who have bothered to talk with us. If they prove themselves untrustworthy, we will toss them out the nearest airlock. But until that time comes… We are to treat them as allies. Am I clear?”
Harrison forced a smile to his face. “Crystal.”
“Lucas.” The voice was dejected—a totally ethereal entity that seemed to dance around Tompkins’ mind with relative ease. “Lucas Tompkins.”
It was not a voice that Tompkins recognized. It was a voice without gender, without definition. It was just there, in his mind, haunting him. He tried to open his eyes to stare down the mysterious speaker behind this voice, but he could not. His eyes disobeyed every last command he willed them to complete, much like every other muscle in his body.
“Lucas Tompkins,” said the voice again. “My name is Setzer Umari. Can you hear me?”
Suddenly, as if by divine intervention, Tompkins could feel his lips begin to part. A few precious words danced through his chaotic mind, and moments later, he could hear himself speak them—and he sounded like hell. “Yes,” he rasped. “I hear you.”
“Good,” said the voice. Its soothing quality was almost enough to make Tompkins forget about the thousands of other questions brewing in the back of his mind.
“Where… am I?” Tompkins heard himself ask a moment later. It was not the question he had hoped to ask, but it was better than nothing.
“You are here,” the voice enigmatically assured him.
“And where is here?”
Setzer Umari produced a faint chuckle. “So many questions,” s/he mused. “You need your rest, Lucas Tompkins. The road ahead is long and arduous.”
With his senses gradually coming back to him, Tompkins was quickly growing tired of Setzer Umari’s little game. He no longer desired those enigmatic, soothing responses. He wanted answers—and he wanted them now. “I am well rested,” he assured his companion. “Now answer my questions.”
“I cannot do that,” said Setzer Umari—and the voice suddenly grew stern, it’s ethereal qualities quickly falling by the wayside.
And on that note, Tompkins no longer felt soothed by his mysterious companion. Tired of playing games, he gathered his thoughts and forced his mind into focus. He commanded his hands to move—and they complied. He commanded his toes to wiggle—and they complied. He commanded his eyes to open—and he suddenly stared at the face of the enemy…