Erin Keller was ready for a break. After working seventeen consecutive days, her nerves were beginning to fray, her muscles ache, and her mind wander. Long ago, the days had become an endless chain of monotony, punctuated by blissfully uneventful evenings that seemed to last no longer than the blink of an eye. But gradually, even the sacrosanct line between day and night blurred…
…and as Erin’s heavy eyelids began to fall uncontrollably, she knew it was time to call it a night. Or day. Or whatever it was.
For seventeen days, Erin had been going over the mountain of data collected during the Starlight’s brief, but chaotic visit to the Yaraka Sector. They still knew very little about Illidan or the ancient Iconian artifact he allegedly sought, and the longer she stared at the data, the less she seemed to glean from it. She wasn’t getting anywhere, and based upon Kendall’s analysis, neither was he—or anyone else in the science lab, for that matter. For the time being, Illidan’s secrets would remain his own.
More than ready to proclaim defeat, Erin set aside her padd and melted into her chair—gradually sinking downward until she was in danger of falling to the floor. She held herself there for a long moment and contently stared into oblivion. It was definitely relaxing, but… certainly not the most comfortable position to assume. When the muscles in her neck began to ache, Erin slowly pulled herself to an upright position. She regarded her padd for a brief moment before catching a glimpse of motion across the table.
“Give up?” asked Alan Christopher, his pleasant voice the diametric opposite of Erin’s mood. He stood at the opposite side of the sleek circular table in their quarters, hands resting on the back of a grayish chair.
Erin shook her head. Giving up was never an option. “I’m just taking a much-deserved break,” she playfully corrected. “Unlike some people, I actually do work around here!”
That was more than enough to get Alan riled. “I do plenty of work aboard this fine starship!” he protested. “I am the pillar of Starfleet, as a matter of fact. Without me, the entire organization would collapse and galaxy’s descent into chaos would only hasten.”
Erin giggled. “Alan,” she said lightly, “if you were any more dense, light would bend around you.”
He arched a curious brow. “You think I’m delusional?”
“The thought has crossed my mind on occasion,” admitted Erin, though she neglected to mention the frequency of those occasions.
“Hmpf.” Shaking his head in disbelief, Alan wandered over to the replicator, presumably to grab some sort of evening snack. “Hot chocolate,” he said. “Two mugs.”
Moments later, Alan returned to the table with two steaming mugs. Erin happily accepted one of them and then suggested they retreat to a more comfortable setting. The living room was the obvious choice, and within moments, the two sat beside each other on the sofa nursing their respective mugs.
“I had a weird dream last night,” said Alan into his mug.
“Oh?” asked Erin. Given Alan’s overactive imagination, she braced herself for some incredibly outlandish tale.
Alan nodded agreeably. “Yeah,” he said evenly. “I dreamed that I was going to defrag the Starlight’s computer core.”
She waited a moment for the story to continue, but when it didn’t, Erin found herself sorely disappointed. “That’s it?” she asked.
He nodded. “That’s it.” He took a sip of his hot chocolate. “Do you think it’s prophetic? Maybe that temporal stuff had some lasting effects?”
“It’s no prophecy,” Erin quickly assured him. The last thing Alan needed was to think he was clairvoyant. “The computer automatically rearranges files so that fragmentation is virtually a nonentity. The few files that are fragmented…”
A pathetic mew suddenly echoed from the bedroom. Cleo’s dainty call nearly brought a smile to Erin’s face, but the subsequent groans and growls associated with the dreaded hairball neutralized any smile that Erin might have mustered. In the darkness of the bedroom, the little cat horked and growled a few moments longer before finally growing silent.
Feeling a pang of concern in her heart, Erin carefully set her mug of hot chocolate on the coffee table and made her way to the bedroom. “Computer,” she quietly called from the threshold, “lights.”
Warm, ambient light slowly washed away the ghastly dark, revealing everything Erin expected to see in the confines of her bedroom—but with two major exceptions: the bloody hairball, and the tiny, trembling cat curled up on the floor beside it…