Stardate 76675.4; August 29, 2399
Edited by Peter Bossley
Written by Chris Adamek
Councilor Nicholas O’Connor
Admiral William T. Riker
High Overseer Xi’Yor
Alan Christopher perched uncomfortably on the edge of the chair nearest Sarah Hartman’s desk. In the past, Alan always thought of it as a comfortable, relaxing place to sit and sleep while Sarah babbled incessantly about one superfluous medical procedure or another—but on this dark day, the chair felt as if it were made of stone, for Alan took no comfort in its appealing curves.
Dead to the world, he sat and stared into oblivion, just listening to his steady heartbeat thunder in the cavernous void between his ears.
Sarah sat at her desk, her lifeless eyes simply gazing into the computer screen. Alan didn’t know how long she had been there, but she looked terrible. Her hair was frazzled. There were bags under her eyes, and deep lines creased her weary face. For the first time in his memory, Alan thought that Sarah looked stressed…
He understood the feeling. So twisted and knotted were the nerves in his stomach, Alan wasn’t entirely certain normalcy could be restored. He didn’t eat. He didn’t sleep. He rarely thought—and when he did, those thoughts would invariably turn to Erin Keller…
“I did everything that I could,” Sarah quietly stated, her somber eyes dropping away from the computer terminal. She couldn’t bring herself to look Alan in the eye. “The damage was just too extensive…”
Alan didn’t know what to say. In fact, he barely had the mental capacity to form words in his weary mind. He just sat, his mind’s eye fixed upon the fading memories of Erin Keller. He remembered her angelic smile… her girly little laugh… that quirky sense of humor… and her love of life in general. As far as Erin was concerned, every moment of every day was a gift…
But today was no gift. Every single torturous moment of this dark, insipid day was a living hell—and the day was still young. Alan was not entirely certain he would live to see its conclusion.
Sensing his pain, a glint of sadness crept into Sarah’s pallid face. “I’m sorry.”
Again, Alan found himself at a loss for words. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know what to feel or what to do. He was dazed and confused, lost and alone on a turbulent sea of emotions he knew not how to navigate—but unless he did something, he knew that he would soon find himself on the bottom of that sea, forever mingling with those fools not wise enough to tread the frightful waters.
“Can I see her?” Those were the first words that came to mind. With the memory of Erin’s delicate features already fading, Alan wanted his bleary eyes to fall upon perfection one last time…
Sarah was more than happy to oblige. “Of course,” she said. There was a lingering sadness present in her voice that Alan simply could not comprehend. These things weren’t supposed to happen…
Sarah pushed herself away from the desk and slowly wandered back into the dimly lit sickbay. It was late at night… or was it early in the morning? Alan didn’t really know. Ever since Erin’s… death, time had passed at an utterly surreal pace. It lurched forward. It crawled. Painful eternities passed between each second, mercilessly dragging Alan Christopher into the oblivious depths of despair.
He didn’t want to go.
But he had no choice.
The morgue was a fairly unassuming wall tucked both out of sight and mind in a secluded corner of the sickbay. Alan had stood in its ominous shadow a handful of times—so infrequently that he could recall each and every instance. Brian Keller. Rachael Meyer. Stephanie Kerrigan.
Her hand trembling, Sarah tapped a short sequence of commands into the keypad beside Erin’s stasis chamber. Once the lock was unsealed, she stepped away from the chamber and fell into place at Alan’s side. No words were spoken. She simply touched a caring hand to Alan’s shoulder, and then left him to the unhappy reunion.
The physical contact flipped an emotional switch in the back of Alan’s mind. As the stasis tube slowly pulled away from the wall, Alan suddenly felt a raw lump climb into his throat. Tears welled in his eyes, and the giant knot in his stomach tightened until it finally managed to tug at his heart…
Erin was pale and lifeless. Where once there had been a magical little smile, there now existed a solemn frown. Her ethereal brown eyes were now devoid of their former charms, forever hidden beneath Erin’s delicate eyelids…
And then, of course, there was the giant, bloodstained blade that protruded from Erin’s chest. Alan instantly recognized the sword as a jen’talak, a lethal weapon once wielded by the Elorg to combat their most feared and hated adversaries. But how did it find its way into Erin’s chest?
“I put it there,” said Xi’Yor, malevolence dripping from his every word. The Overseer suddenly stood opposite Alan Christopher, happily gazing upon his handiwork.
A raging fury immediately tore through Alan’s emotional barriers. He clenched his fists, gritted his teeth, lunged toward Xi’Yor and…
…Woke up in bed. It was just a dream. A very bad dream.
The remainder of the night passed without incident, and Alan Christopher awoke the next morning feeling both rested and somewhat unsettled. Erin was still under Sarah Hartman’s care in sickbay and Xi’Yor was indeed aboard the ship… but the pair had yet to cross paths, and if Alan had his way, they never would. Last night’s unsettling nightmare would not come to pass.
After fiddling around in the bathroom for a few minutes, Alan emerged into the living room with far a simpler matter on his mind—breakfast. Though the nightmare dulled his usual morning apatite, Alan nevertheless felt hunger pangs in his stomach. He slowly wandered over to the replicator and ordered a cinnamon Dutch apple bagel for himself, a bowl of cereal for Angela, and two glasses of orange juice.
And just as breakfast materialized in the replicator’s basin, little Angela excitedly scurried into the kitchen. “Daddy!” she happily exclaimed as she climbed into her chair at the breakfast table.
“Hey!” Alan smiled. If ever he needed refuge from a foul mood, he needed to look no further than his daughter. The little girl was an eternal ray of sunshine. “How are you this morning? Did you sleep good?”
She provided a generous nod. “I dreamed about blue giraffes, Daddy! They could fly, so we went to Zarbadan!”
“Zarbadan?” Alan carefully placed Angela’s breakfast on the table, and then went back to the replicator to grab his own. “Where is Zarbadan?”
“It’s a million light years away!” Angela replied. Her bright blue eyes darted downward—and in one quick maneuver, she hopped down from her chair, plucked a wayward sheet of paper from the floor, and returned to the table with a map of the Milky Way in hand.
It was a crude rendition of the galaxy, but the fact it was indeed shaped like a spiral was indication enough of Angela’s intelligence. Highlighted in some far-flung corner of the Delta Quadrant was a bright pink circle that undoubtedly represented the mythical world of Zarbadan. “I drew a kitty, too,” Angela promptly added, flipping the paper over to reveal her rendition of a little gray cat.
Alan grinned. “Wow,” he exclaimed. “I wish I could draw as good as you! Why don’t we hang this by the replicator?”
But Angela shook her head. “I want to give it to Mommy,” she said, a hint of sadness creeping into her voice. It had been a few days since Erin’s accident, and Angela was moderately concerned about her mother.
While he made great efforts to assure the little girl that her Mommy was fine, Alan had thus far kept Angela away from sickbay. But with Erin on the mend, Alan felt that today was the perfect day for a happy reunion. Besides, after that unpleasant nightmare, Alan was also rather eager to meet with Erin. “All right,” he quickly decided, “we’ll go and see Mommy today.”
Erin Keller felt like crap. When she moved, every single muscle in her body cried out in pain. Despite the incredible amounts of medication flowing throughout her body, she still had a slight headache, and her stomach was more than a little bit queasy… But she was alive, which was more than she could say for the shuttlecraft Darwin. Its remains were no doubt buried under a fresh blanket of snow somewhere on the frigid plains of Rebena Te Ra…
And that voyage to Rebena Te Ra had certainly made things interesting. While she couldn’t remember much of anything that happened after the Darwin crashed, Erin learned that during the few hours they actually spent on the icy planet, more than two weeks passed for the rest of the galaxy. She would still have to examine the data, but as far as Erin could tell, all of it would be severely out of date…
Of course, Erin knew that she wasn’t going to examine much of anything until she was a bit closer to a complete recovery—and much to her chagrin, Doctor Hartman seemed to have dozens of tests to run. Erin stopped keeping track after the fourth neurological examination, but she was reasonably certain the Doctor had performed a dozen or so additional tests. It prompted Erin to wonder just how badly she had been injured…
But before she had a chance to wonder too long about her averted fate, Erin heard a faint hiss as the doors slid apart. She wearily glanced away from the patch of ceiling that had held her attention for the past few hours, and was relieved to see Alan and Angela wander into the sickbay—and she smiled, already feeling a little bit better.
“Hey, Pookie!” Erin chirped once Alan and Angela got a little closer. Her voice sounded about as bad as she felt; it was weak and raspy, and though she uttered only two small words, it took a great deal of energy to get them out.
But Alan didn’t seem to notice. Flashing his most charming smile, he carefully shoved aside a lock of stray hair that had wandered onto Erin’s face and said, “Hey, Honey… Look who I brought to see you.”
Just then, Angela’s little blonde head popped up beside the biobed. She must have been standing on something, but Erin couldn’t imagine what it might have been—nor did she really care. She was just glad to see her little girl. “Hey, Angela!”
“Mommy!” she happily exclaimed. “Daddy said you got hurt in an accident!”
Erin nodded. “The shuttle crashed,” she explained, deciding it best to leave the details vague. “But Doctor Hartman says I’m going to be okay.”
“When are you coming home?”
That was quite a good question. Amidst all of the testing, never did Sarah mention an estimated time of departure. “I don’t know,” Erin admitted. She assumed it would be a few more days. “Soon, I hope.”
“We’ll see about that,” Sarah suddenly interjected. She wandered up to the biobed with a tricorder in hand, apparently ready to start the next round of tests.
Hoping for some more concrete answers, Alan’s gaze drifted over to the Doctor. “How is she doing, Sarah?”
“I think she’s going to make a complete recovery,” said the Doctor without any hesitation, “but all of that trauma did some damage to Erin’s kidneys. Both of them are failing. I’ve tried to repair the damage on two separate occasions, but I’m starting to think it’s a lost cause…”
A pang of concern registered in Erin’s mind. She didn’t want to jump to any conclusions, but… kidney failure was certainly something that warranted a bit of concern. “I assume you’re going to replace them?”
Sarah provided an enthusiastic nod. “I’m preparing a set of biosynthetic implants even as we speak. You’ll be back on your feet in five or six days.”
Erin could live with the time away from work. There were a dozen things she could do with five or six days to herself… read a book, play with Angela, study Talyere’s data… she just hoped she didn’t wind up spending all of that time in sickbay.
Obviously relieved that Erin’s prognosis was a good one, Alan expelled a sigh of relief—but as he backed way from the biobed, there was still a considerable weight upon his shoulder. “As much as I’d like to stay and chat, I have a visitor to tend to down in the brig…”
And Erin understood completely. “Xi’Yor?”
“He defected a few days ago,” Alan quietly confirmed. “We met with him in a remote star cluster about a six hours ago. He’s currently spending some quality time in the brig.”
“You’re skeptical?” asked Erin. She certainly was.
Alan almost chuckled. “Skeptical and then some…”
Five minutes later, Alan Christopher strode into the brig. It was only the beginning of the longest day of his life…