Thursday, February 27, 2014

Project Unity: Season 2

Chapter 17


Freya pinched the bridge of her nose as Captain Hunt abruptly left the room. "He's ready to die then?" Azael asked, cocking his head to the side curiously.

"So it would seem," Freya said, "please excuse me." 

He was waiting by the lift doors when she finally caught up to him. "Don't start Doctor," he said, holding up his hand to stop her the moment she stepped up beside him.

"I think I will actually," Freya said, pushing into the lift as soon as the doors opened. "You will die from this Robert."

"I'm aware of the risks Doctor," he slid in beside her and turned away to activate the car. "You've made them quite clear," he said.


"No, I really don't think I have! This isn't some peaceful slipping away in your sleep kind of death Robert!" When he still didn't look at her, she grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled until he relented and, disgruntled, turned to look at her. "The hallucinations? They'll become worse. Until you can't discern them from reality. They'll torture you – you're seeing dead loved ones right? Do you really want to walk around with ghosts all the time?"

Though he didn't respond, Freya could see a glimmer of hope in his eyes.

"Oh Robert," she whispered. "It's not her, it's not them – they're memories only." When he seemed undaunted by her words, she pressed on. "And the tumor will eat at them. Until you'll see them but not know who they are. You'll see me or any of the crew and not know anyone for a moment or two. You'll be incapable of doing your job."

Captain Hunt shrugged, "maybe I don't need to do my job anymore Doctor. Maybe it's time I retire and let someone else have that chair."


"Is that what this is? Is that why you're being so stubborn about treatment? You want to retire?!" The lift doors slid open on the ground floor. Though he tried to lose her with long strides, Freya kept at his heels, prepared to continue her fight. "You want to retire? Fine! Do it! But you don't have to DIE in order to do it. This hospital..."

Robert stopped abruptly and swirled toward her. "This hospital will do what? MAY be able to fix me? MAY be able to pull the thing out? And what if they can't Doctor? What if I die anyway?"


"You have to at least TRY! I will NOT let you sacrifice yourself to something that there was even the smallest chance of fixing!"

"It's not your call Doctor," he said, a visage of calm returning to his face as he pivoted around to resume his march toward the Landing Pad.


Freya remained behind, watching his strong frame cross the colony streets. "Actually it is. I can declare you unfit for duty. I can give you your retirement – no death required." She waited for the words to sink in and for him to weigh his options. After a moment he turned back and their eyes locked. A vehicle whizzed between them, the driver glancing her way. "It's not an easy death Robert," she said slowly. "Please don't choose it."


Robert lingered on his side of the street a minute longer before crossing back toward her. "What would happen? Beyond the hallucinations?"

"The tumor will grow. It will shed your memories until you can't remember anything or anyone. It will eat away at your ability to speak or read. People will speak to you but you won't understand some of what they say. Eventually the connections that tell your hands to grasp a fork or your legs to move forward will be compromised. Your body will start to fail, slowly at first, until you're bed bound. Trapped in body you can't control anymore. It will take a long time for it to stop telling your heart to pump blood though. Or for your lungs to take in oxygen."


"How long?" Captain Hunt asked with an almost imperceptible quiver.

"Six to nine months probably, maybe more, maybe less" Freya whispered. 

Hunt chuckled, "that's not very precise. I would have expected more." Freya merely shrugged and chewed on her lower lip to stem the pregnancy hormones threatening to overpower her. "I'll consider it. Okay?"


With no other arguments to make, Freya nodded and allowed him to leave without acting as his shadow all the way to the Landing Pad. Azael, who had been waiting discreetly in the shadows, materialized beside her after Hunt had disappeared around the corner. "Make the call," Freya said, crossing her arms across her chest and squeezing tightly. "Please?"

"Of course, I'll arrange what I can. So he's willing to go?"

"He's going to go," Freya said with more confidence then she felt. "He's going to go and he's going to be fine," she repeated, mostly for herself.


------

With his head full of the doctor's dire warnings, Robert didn't even recognize the blonde woman waiting nervously by the shuttle. His pilot, Ensign Franklin, glanced over at the blonde repeatedly while waiting on her passenger. "Oh Captain Hunt!" The blonde had spotted him first and bounced forward, seemingly tripped on her own two feet and land in his outstretched arms. "Sorry," she said, grimacing as she stood and tugged at her uniform tunic.


"Darcy? Right?" Hunt asked, looking over her uniform. "You're a scientist on the Quuvarii ship..."

"Yes! Aryn Darcy. I'm so glad you remember! We've haven't met since that dinner on your ship weeks ago and I've been meaning to talk to you..." She spoke in a rush, taking only a second to breathe.

"You have? Well I'm on my way back to Unity just now..." Hunt furrowed his brow as he realized she'd been waiting for him. "How did you know I would be taking this particular shuttle?"

"Oh, well I – as I said, I'd been meaning to speak with you, and I asked your pilot there," she pointed toward Franklin, who was watching the whole exchange with curiosity, "how often you came to the surface."

"And she told you?" Hunt asked incredulously. Nearby, Franklin shook her head and covered her mouth to disguise a grin.


"Well no, of course not, but..." Aryn wrung her hands as she stammered over the words. "I..."

Hunt waved off the forthcoming explanation, already eager to move past it, "it's not important Ms. Darcy. You said you wanted to see me? I really do need to get back to Unity but if you contact the ship, we can set up a time..."

"Do you mind very much if I come up with you? To Unity?" Certain he would say no after her obvious attempt at stalking him, she pressed on quickly, "I need to check on the status of some of the science lab overhauls anyway and we could talk in the shuttle pod?"

"Alright, if there's room?" He looked toward Ensign Franklin expectantly and received an affirmative nod so he held out his arm. "After you Ms. Darcy."

------


"What's this all about Commander?" Ben O'Neill asked, glancing at the doors to the hologrid once more. He'd been dragged here a couple times to experience the Paradiso simulation but had little use for the technology usually. 

"You're on a short list Chief. To be the new Chief of Security," Meng offered as he flipped a disc over his knuckles.

"A short list huh?" O'Neill asked.

Meng nodded, "yep. But before we can pick someone there are a few training simulations you need run through." He slipped the disc into the control panel and typed in a few commands. The panel lit green and then the doors hissed open. "Assuming you're interested in the job anyway," Meng offered as he motioned into the room.


In truth, Ben wasn't sure he WAS interested. Commander Bonwick's reign over the department had left it tainted and in shambles. "Can I pick my own team?"

Meng shrugged, "we can talk about that. After the sims." Ben nodded in agreement and stepped into the empty grid. "The computer will record everything so the Captain can review it later. The first situation will begin after the doors close and they will run back to back. If you need to stop for any reason, you'll have to restart the situation you're on at the time."

"Understood," Ben said with a curt nod.


"Good luck Chief," Meng said before pressing his thumb to the seal the doors behind him.

Trapped inside the grid, Ben began to contemplate making a hasty retreat before the simulator had a chance to activate. Twenty-five years below decks hadn't prepared him for this moment. He rubbed the scar on the palm, a habit he'd developed years before, and lingered by the doors. A couple words, that's all it would take to get away and stop this wretched spiral. He could go back, back down below decks.

"For what?" he asked aloud, pressing the scar harder. "There's no point going back there."

"Please restate inquiry," the computer's voice cracked over the speakers.

"Not talking to you," Ben muttered. "Just activate the damn simulation already." With one final dig into  his palm, Ben steadied himself and watched the pixels come to life before him. 

------


"So you're beginning training tomorrow? That seems rather quick!" Vii'ala said. She knelt down to scratch through the dirt for a second before straightening back up with a broad grin on her face. 

"What? Why are you grinning?" Ash asked, leaning forward to attempt to sneak a peak at her hand.  Vii'ala held out her open palm triumphantly, presenting him with a tiny glowing crystal of some sort. Ash furrowed his brow, "no offense but, look around, we're surrounded by those things – and they're a lot bigger." He swept his arms out wide as if to present her with the entire quarry.

Vii'ala chuckled. "Yes but this one is a baby – it can grow and be nurtured. And it's small enough to be  aboard a ship. Once a Nixa crystal grows, it can't just be sliced apart. It kills it, and all the energy it possesses."

"So will this thing," Ash poked at the infant rock in her hand, "grow as big as those?" 


Vii'ala shrugged, "under certain circumstance, yes. But the Nixa adapt to their environment. It grows based on that. So if it is kept in a science lab, for example, it will only grow so large. But it will still put off as much energy as one of the larger ones."

"How do you know so much about these things? I thought you were a botanist," Ash said with a chuckle.

"The Nixa crystals brought this colony to the attention of everyone in the sector Ash. It's because of them that the colony became such a major port."

"So, in short, everyone knows about these crystals," Ash asked with a grin. "Except us."

"Only because you're not from here," she said, laying a hand on his arm in a reassuring, yet awkward gesture. "If you stay long enough..."


Ash just shrugged. "I'm at the mercy of the ship."

"You don't have to be though, right? I mean you could stay if you wanted? Or leave?"

"Yes, I could. People have left before – Captain Hunt's daughter actually, she left. Others too," he said, fiddling with the crystal in his palm as he recalled the Sons of Liberty talk of separation. "But it's rare. We're..." he trailed off, the right word evading him.

"You're a crew. A family," she supplied. It wasn't the word he'd have chosen but he nodded. "It's not uncommon on deep space vessels to form a strong bond, even with a large group. It is a shame though; my work is just about done. I'll be returning home soon."


"And where is home for you? Not here I assume," Ash held out the crystal to her.

She curled his fingers back over it gently and smiled, "keep it. Or give it to your science officer. As for home, that's Nejuo of course."

Ash's brow furrowed with confusion for a moment before nodding, "right. The Quuvarii home world. Of course."

"It's a beautiful place Ash, you should visit sometime. Unity, it will be in the sector for awhile yet I imagine? You could take a little vacation?"

"I don't think I can take vacation from a job I just started," he said with a chuckle. "But maybe another time. We tend to take our time through populated sectors – trading, making allies, gathering resources for the next stretch of dead space."

"Your travels must be fascinating! So many places, so many people!"

"You'd be surprised. You know it's been over fifteen years since the last major landing party? Sure small groups go to the surface now and then but the civilians? Not so often – as you can imagine it's a bit of a chore to transport such a large population from ship to surface when the shuttle pods only hold five to six people. This is actually the first time I've left the ship," Ash said.


"Really? The first time ever?" Vii'ala asked, hers eyes wide. "I can't imagine that at all. As children we took school trips to other planets in our system. And I travel all over the sector now. I just can't imagine to have traveled so far and yet not leave your ship!"

"Well we haven't been in a densely populated area of space like this since before I was born. There's a lot of nothing beyond this sector – in case you haven't noticed," Ash said with a laugh. "I appreciate the quarry tour but I should probably head back to the Landing Pad and catch a shuttle," he added, glancing up into the dark sky. "I have to get up early and start flight training after all."

------


Freya paced the corridor, trying to will herself to active the door chime. When Captain Hunt hadn't responded her persistent messages since the day before, she'd resolved to pressure an answer out of him. But once she'd boarded Unity and been unable to find him, her resolve had faltered and she'd wandered aimlessly for a bit. 

Right to his door.

As soon as she'd realized what she'd done, she ran down the corridor only to feel like a fool. She turned back, took two steps forward and spun around again in frustration. With a deep breath, she turned again and forced herself forward until her hand hovered over the keypad. Without letting herself think too much about it, she pressed the button and took a half step back. 


Too late to run now.

"I need your help," she said, without preamble, as the door slid open. "It's about..." her voice caught as she looked past Meng to see Captain Hunt sitting on the couch. "...him." 

"Doctor," Captain Hunt said, getting to his feet. He picked up a coffee cup he'd obviously been using and handed it to his host. "I should go. I'll see you in the morning Doctor?"

"You will?" Freya asked, confusion etched across her face.


"We're leaving aren't we? Doctor Azael sent me all the information regarding the hospital. We need to leave immediately if we're going to make it there before my appointment." Robert nodded to Meng, "thank you for the talk Commander, the ship is yours."

"I told you once before, I'm not interested," Meng said with an easy smile.

Captain Hunt chuckled, "perhaps not but someone has to do it." Freya stepped back, still bewildered, as he passed her with a quick nod. He paused in the corridor and looked back at them. "Try not to let Commander Katou irritate you too much."

"Would you like to come in?" Meng asked, after several moments of silence.


Freya turned back toward him, her eyes wide as if she were surprised to see him. "I... wait, what just happened?"

"You got what you wanted Freya. He's ready to fight now," Meng said, stepping back and motioning her into his quarters. 

Without thought, she obliged and then jumped as the door finally hissed shut behind her. "So he told you?" she asked, still staring at the door. "About his condition?"

"He did. Said I should know – in case..." Meng trailed off. 


"In case he dies," Freya concluded. Meng nodded and turned toward the synthesizer. "Would you like something to drink?"

Freya shook her head, "no thank you." As everything finally sunk in, she took a moment to survey his sparse new quarters. "I like what you've done with the place," she teased. 

"Haven't had a chance to decorate – wasn't sure what to do with it all actually," he said. "They're smaller than the last place but I think I like that, more my speed."


"Is this what all the officer quarters look like? Or just senior officers?"

"You know I'm not really sure," he said with a smirk. "I believe most of them have been assigned by now – haven't you stopped by yours?" When she shook her head he shrugged. "Of course you haven't. Why would you?"

"What's that supposed to mean?" Freya asked, sensing he was picking a fight.


He lifted his hands in surrender, "nothing like that. I know you've been busy at the hospital is all. We seem to miss each other whenever you're on board..."

Freya didn't want to admit that this had been intentional. She'd spent as little time as possible on the ship to avoid an awkward encounter with him. "Yeah," she said somewhat lamely as the anger she'd been holding on to began to dissolve.

"Freya," he said slowly. "This hospital. As I understand it, it's a two week trip there? And another two weeks back?" 

She nodded, "it would be a little faster by the ship but the shuttle pods are slower of course."


"Of course," Meng said, nodding. He stepped closer to her and hesitated only a moment before reaching for her hands. Without thinking, she let him take them and closed the small gap between them. "Just be careful? I'd like you back..." he said softly.

"I'll be back," she whispered. 

End Chapter 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Project Unity: Season 2

Chapter 16


Aryn slid her arm under the pillow slowly while watching her companion for any signs of movement. The wide, uncovered hotel window let in the soothing light of the colony at night and cast Hoshimi in its glow. Though she didn't stir, Aryn was transfixed by the unruly strand of hair that lay across Hoshimi's face. She reached out to brush it aside, knowing how much it would bother Hoshimi in her waking moments. As her fingers grazed her lover's skin and Hoshimi let out a long sigh, Aryn was sure she had betrayed herself. But she merely rolled onto her back, away from Aryn, and her breathing rhythm remained unchanged.


After another minute, Aryn slid her feet out from under the heavy blanket and slowly sat up. The shift of weight went unnoticed by Hoshimi, and Aryn silently praised the hotel for their quality mattresses. She rooted around in the dark for a few minutes before finding the discarded robe. She couldn't help but run her hands over the soft material as she pulled it over her shoulders. With one more glance toward her sleeping beauty, Aryn padded across the floor toward the desk.



The shine of the terminal monitor seemed blinding to her in the near darkness of the room but, to her relief, it went unnoticed. The minutes it took for the automatic connection to be made to Unity seemed unending; Aryn chewed nervously on her fingernails and glanced toward the bed several times. Finally the now familiar emblem of the famous ship filled the screen.

It took her only two tries to break through Hoshimi's locks, a testament to how well Aryn had come to know her perhaps. But once she'd succeeded, Aryn hesitated, her hand hovering over the desired files anxiously. Steeling her resolve, Aryn closed her eyes and pressed down. She had to know; she had to know who she'd been sharing a bed with.


Across the room, Hoshimi Katou rolled over once more in her sleep, reaching silently for her missing lover.

------

"Want one?" Robert held the chilled bottle out toward Meng. When it was refused, he shrugged and settled into the chair behind the desk, popping the top for himself. "It's called beer - or a facsimile of it at any rate - one of the staffers on the surface introduced me to it at some party." Inwardly, Robert groaned thinking of all the parties and functions he had been subjected to over the past few weeks. He looked forward to the day Unity's very existence became less of an oddity and more of a reality to these people.

 

Meng nodded absently, his attention on the pile of data pads in front of him. "I think this one has potential..." he said, sliding a pad across toward Robert. "He's neither a rebel nor one of Bonwick's lackeys. A neutral party."

Robert glanced over the pad and shook his head. "He's a trainee. He doesn’t have the experience." He tossed the pad on top of the growing reject pile.

"Well everyone with experience has alliances. You told me to find someone neutral, this is him," Meng persisted, grabbing the pad back from the pile and holding out again. "I don't like it any more than you do but we need a new Security chief, we need a whole new security department. Besides, he's been working as a chief below decks for nearly two decades. Half the trainees are a direct result of his influence. He may not have officer experience but he can lead."

Robert shrugged, sipping on the beer slowly. "If you think he's your man, I'll take your word on it."
"You will?" Meng asked, raising an eyebrow in surprise. "I'll have to put him through a few simulations..."




"Put him through all the training simulations, and then do them again with new parameters," Robert suggested, getting to his feet to pace his tiny new office. The bridge area was one of the first areas to fall under the knife of the space dock crew. As such, it was also the first area to be nearly finished. His office was less than half the size of his old one - a minor annoyance - but far more accessible to the bridge. Tucked behind it was a bedroom. It was meant to be a temporary space but Robert could see himself forgoing traditional quarters in favor of the little bedroom attached to his little office. He was becoming quite the minimalist the longer his stuff was packed away in crates, buried in a cargo bay with everyone else's belongings. “Ben O’Neill’s a good man, a damn good chief – but I want to be sure before we hand over ship security.”


"I'll have to shut down Paradiso..." Meng hedged, tracking the captain's movement casually. "That won't go over well." The program had been running nearly full time since they docked and served as a distraction for bored, off-duty crew around the clock.


"There's an entire planet a single shuttle ride away. What is so appealing about this program?"


"I take it you've never been then?" Meng asked, a bemused smile on his face. Robert shook his head. "It's incredible work - you'd have to see it to believe it."





"Is Lieutenant Kawolski's matrix still part of the program?"


Meng shook his head, "no. She's been saved to the computer but was removed from Paradiso itself." Robert seemed to accept this as he returned to his seat behind the desk. "I do have another suggestion Captain," Meng said after a long silence between the two of them. "A tactical one..."


------

Despite the cold metal floor beneath him, the overgrown plant life of the arboretum made Ash feel toasty and comfortable. Back when he'd been a porter in the galley, Chef sent him to the hydroponics bay once a week to collect various herbs and vegetables. Armed only with Chef's vague descriptions, Ash had been left with his own intelligence to bring back the correct items. He'd grown to love the trips; it always felt like he was going on a mission to another world when he stepped through those doors.



Of course this wasn't his arboretum anymore. The whole place had been made over and rebuilt. Plants had been delicately transferred to the new location and a dozen new alien plants dangled from the planters. Ash stared up at them from his spot on the ground, studying the shape of their leaves or the color of their buds. For a moment he considered plucking a few of mushrooms and taking them to Chef as an offering. But an offering of what exactly? Ash shook his head slowly, dismissing the silly idea as quickly as it had come. Though it had been less than a year since he'd been that young porter, it seemed like a lifetime had passed.
The hiss of the doors sliding open jarred him from his thoughts. Ash jumped to his feet, immediately on the defensive – a holdover from his days in the rebellion.


"Oh! I didn't realize anyone was here," she said, tucking a stray hair behind her pointed ear anxiously.


Ash blinked twice, then looked toward the door before turning back to her. "Where's your escort?" It came out far more accusatory than he'd meant and he started to stammer out an apology as she began to laugh. "Sorry, that sounded..." he shrugged, relaxing slightly as her soft chuckle eased over him. He glanced back toward the door, still expecting someone to come rushing after her. No one from the surface or the space dock was allowed to move about the ship unaccompanied.



"I suspect he's lost interest in me," she said with a shrug. "Every day I come straight here to tend the plants and I always have the same guard. Pleasant enough fellow but not very interested in botany I'm afraid." Her black hair was pulled back into a loose ponytail and more than one strand had come free, tumbling across her face with each swish of her head. Unlike his pale, baby blue skin, hers was the darker cobalt he'd seen on the other pure Quuvarii. "I'm Vii'ala by the way," she said holding out her hand, palm side up. Ash raised his eyebrows but made no move to return the gesture as he had no idea what he was supposed to do. "It's a Quuvarii greeting, akin to the human shaking of hands. You're supposed to place your finger tips against mine."



Though unsure, Ash did as instructed and Vii'ala smiled, then dropped her hand. "My name is Ash," he said finally. She nodded and then turned to pull something from her bag. Instinctively, Ash tracked her movements as she moved from plant to plant taking readings. Occasionally she stopped to add water or nutrients to a specimen before moving on. Once she set to her work, she barely seemed to notice him watching her. "Did you bring these aboard?" he asked, motioning toward a few of the more unusual species he'd noticed.




Vii'ala smiled and nodded, "yes. Do you like them?"


"I don't know what they are," Ash confessed.


"That's alright; I didn't recognize half of the plants you all had in here when I first got here. Your ship has obviously been far beyond explored Quuvarii space," she said as she bent to pluck a small fruit from one bush. She held it out to him, "it's called a Tuva fruit. Try it."



Ash popped the fruited into his mouth and instantly regretted it. His mouth and eyes puckered as the sour core hit his throat. Across from him, Vii'ala was trying hard not to laugh out loud. "It's sour..." he squeaked, through pursed lips.


"I'm sorry! I should have warned you," she said, still biting back a giggle. "In a couple weeks, they'll be the sweetest thing you've ever tasted. And if you leave them and wait a few more weeks, they grow spicy - like peppers."


"All that flavor in one fruit?" Ash asked, still trying to erase the sourness from his mouth. "Is that possible?"


Vii'ala nodded, "it's quite an amazing little fruit. Can be nearly any flavor you want - once you perfect the harvest times. That's why I marked them all with dates, so you'll know exactly how old a particular plant is and what flavor to expect."



"Good thinking," Ash said with a chuckle. They lapsed into a comfortable silence and, after a moment, Vii'ala returned to her work. "I should probably let you get back to your work," he said, though she was already hard at work. "I'll see if your escort is out in the corridor," he said, moving toward the door.


"Oh please don't," she said, stopping him in his tracks. "As I said, he's dreadfully dull. You seem far more interesting. And at least you're interested in botany - you were even here voluntarily." Suddenly her eyes lit up, as if she'd struck on a brilliant thought. "Are you a botanist? I thought your crew didn't have one but if you are; it would be far better to work together then wouldn't it?"


When she'd finally stopped talking, Ash felt bad disappointing her. "No, I'm not a botanist at all. I was just here...thinking," he said, with a sad little shrug.


"Oh," she said, her face falling. "Shame. Well what do you do then Ash?"



Ash frowned, unsure exactly how to answer that question. "A bit of everything?"
"Is that an answer or a question?" she asked with a grin. She set her tools aside and settled onto the metal floor, patting the spot beside her invitingly.


Ash looked toward the doors again before sitting down beside her. For a moment they just stared at each other; she was clearly waiting for his answer still. "Up until seven or eight months ago I was a porter in the galley. I was tracked to apprentice with Chef - that's how I came to appreciate the hydroponics bay."


"What changed? Didn't you want to be a chef?"


Ash shook his head, "no I never wanted to be a chef actually."


"Then why take the job?" she asked, her brow furrowed in confusion.


"I didn't take it. It was my track - my assignment." He could tell she didn't understand exactly but he wasn't prepared to break down the social injustices that had led to the rebellion. "Anyway, a position came available that seemed better for me. I guess you could say I was a field medic," he said, still skirting the whole truth.



"Ah! So now you're in medicine. Well that makes sense. Many of these plants have medicinal qualities to them. Are you training to be a doctor then?"


Ash shook his head again. "No. I did the job to fill a need at the time but I don't think it's for me. I've also done some minor engineering and tactical work here and there."


"A little of everything," Vii'ala said with an understanding smile. "You're a jack of all trades then. What trade are you in now then? Wait, let me guess, you're a scientist now," she teased.


Ash chuckled and shrugged. "I'm sort of between jobs at the moment. Hence the time to lounge around in the hydroponics bay doing nothing while everyone else is working."


"Well what do you want to do? Surely you have a passion for something?" Ash shrugged again but her words triggered something. As if she could tell she had lost his attention, Vii'ala stood up and returned to her work, glancing occasionally back at Ash with a sly grin. For his part, Ash was oblivious.


------



"Do you ever sleep?" Though it was meant as a reprimand, Doctor Tierran Azael's voice was light and Freya could see the corners of his mouth turning up. He held out a steaming cup, which she took gratefully before turning back toward the computer screen. "What are you reading now?" He leaned over her shoulder, skimming the words on the screen for a few moments before turning away with a chuckle. "Is that the technical manual for the neural scanner?"



"I don't think I'll be able to remember everything I've learned here," Freya said, barely taking her eyes from the screen to sip her coffee. "Your technology is...overwhelming compared to our own. And so much of it is being installed on our ship – I'll be lost!"

"Ha! You? Not remember something? Impossible." Doctor Azael laughed as he approached Julian's bed, slipping the chart into his hand. "Any change for our patient?"


Freya's smile fell as she turned her attention toward him. She shook her head, "no, nothing."



"Don't despair Doctor, this treatment could take several weeks to yield results," he said, tucking the chart away again after a cursory glance.

"If it yields results," Freya said. "He's been in a coma for six weeks. His body isn't deteriorating but I know he wouldn't want to live like this," she said, motioning toward the tubes and wires. Tierran turned toward her, his hand outstretched as if to comfort her but she pulled away. "Is the neural scanner available today?" she asked before he could respond to her moment of doubt.

"Yes?" the doctor replied, scratching his head. "But we just scanned him yesterday. There's no reason to do another one so soon."


"It's not for Mr. Ice. I have another patient I need to corral. He's been evading me but I mean to force his hand today," she started packing her things into the bag and threw it over her shoulder. "I'll be back in a few hours. Comm me if..." she trailed off, her eyes skimming over Julian's ever still frame. "Well, you know the drill." Without another word, she left.

The shuttle flight from the surface to Unity had become routine for Freya over the intervening weeks. No one, save perhaps the pilots themselves, had made the trip more often than she had. At first the hour it took had seemed dull and left her with far too much free time to think but, in the last few days she had resolved to spend the time more productively. Now, before every trip, she downloaded more technical manuals, historical records
or scientific data from the Ne'Vha mainframe to her data pad to study. "What is it this time Doc?" Lieutenant Franklin glanced over at her, a teasing grin on her face.


Of all the shuttle pilots making the transport runs, Ashlee Franklin was the most bearable company for Freya. "Tech manuals on the new medical equipment being installed," she said with a pitiful smile.

Ashlee groaned but said no more, leaving Freya to her reading for most of the trip. As they neared the docking facility, Freya set the data pad aside and leaned forward to watch their final approach. Every day swarms of worker drones and pods pulled at Unity's outer structure. Though the changes were small from Freya's perspective, having seen them in motion so often, the entire ship was being transformed. "She's a thing of beauty isn't she?" Ashlee said, following Freya's gaze. "Lots of changes, inside and out though. She'll take some getting used to I suspect."


Freya merely nodded, gripping the strap of her bag a little tighter as the thrusters kicked on to control their landing. Dozens of trips and this part still made her a little queasy. 'Queasier than normal anyway,' she thought, her hand straying toward her abdomen. She glanced down and wondered, not for the first time, if she'd ever feel joy regarding the pregnancy. The tell-tale hiss of the door opening jarred her from her thoughts. "Thanks for the ride Lieutenant," she said, getting to her feet.

"No problem Doc. Though I have to ask, have you taken ANY leave?"

Freya barely heard her, having stopped in her tracks as she stepped out of the pod and saw him across the bay. He was speaking to a crowd of a dozen or so people, mostly civilian, and hadn't seen her yet. She lingered a moment too long and his eyes found her. Though she couldn't make out all the words of his speech, she knew he had paused when he saw her. He recovered quickly, focusing his attention back on the crowd, and Freya turned away, taking a few steadying breaths. "What's all that about?" she asked, trying to sound casual and disinterested as she motioned toward the crowd.


"Commander Asada proposed making a dedicated fighter unit. No more dual service as bridge and fighter pilots. A good plan but there's some complaining - plus we don't have enough people..." Though she continued to detail the pros and cons of Meng's plan, Freya tuned her out, taking another chance to look his way. They'd barely seen each other in the last month. Having both a surface hospital and a ship medical ward to staff had made avoiding him easy. Now, however, she longed to walk up to him, tell him she'd been completely foolish and drag him back to his quarters, or hers, or the nearest empty lift. With great reluctance, she tore her eyes away from him and excused herself. She had a patient to retrieve. Meng would have to wait.


Across the bay, Meng watched Freya slip through the doors from the corner of his eye as he finished up his recruitment speech. Around him, chairs scraped along the metal decking as people got to their feet. A handful of them turned his way, demanding his attention with questions while the rest began to file out of the bay. Lingering at the back, he spotted a familiar face. Turning the questioners over to someone else, Meng excused himself and made his way over to Ash. “Hey kid,” he said, a small smile tugging at his lips, “haven’t seen you much.”

Been trying to keep busy – which is surprisingly difficult to do when you don’t have a job to do,” Ash said.

Well if you need work, I’m sure I can find something for you to do. I need a dozen new security personnel. Engineering is always short handed – I think you have some skill there. I’m sure the doctors could put you to work too. You learned from the best after all…” Meng trailed off, his mind wandering toward Freya once more.

All good choices, but not really what I’m looking for Commander,” Ash said, running his hand through his hair nervously. “I understand you’re looking for pilots?”



Though startled by the request, Meng merely nodded. “We are indeed.”

------


"And as you all know, the slave rebellion on board Ne'Vha is ultimately what led to the ship's crash here," Aryn motioned to towering crash sight behind her. Though the children had lived on the planet all their lives, and no doubt passed the structure constantly, many of their mouths hung open in aww. "Can anyone tell me what other changes came about after the crash?"

One eager little boy's hand shot up while most of the children looked toward their feet. With a chuckle, Aryn nodded toward him. "The Quuvarii slave practice came to the attention of all the neighboring systems. The Bromiri were the first to impose trade sanctions."


"Very good," Aryn praised. "After the Bromiri, other species imposed their own sanctions until the practice of enslaving other species ended. By then of course, the founders of our own would be colony had made peace with each other and were living in harmony – human and Quuvarii alike. Our ancestors initiated major changes though, something of which we can all be proud. Now, if you'll all follow LIL, she'll lead you all into the ship for the rest of the tour." Aryn waved to the children as they passed, waiting patiently for the chance to drop her smile.


"So is this how you pass your time when your ship is docked?" Hoshimi asked, having lingered back from the rest of the tour group.

Aryn shrugged, "I volunteer when I can to give the others a break. The ship is considered a historical landmark but is maintained primarily by donations and volunteers." She stopped talking long enough to accept a light embrace – the only public acknowledgment of their relationship she'd received. "I'm glad to see you," she whispered.

Hoshimi nodded, "can you get away for lunch?"


Aryn checked the time and then nodded. "Yes. In fact..." she trailed off, gnawing nervously on her lower lip for a moment. Katou waited expectantly for her to finish but Aryn was distracted now, focused across the street somewhere. After a minute of silence, Aryn turned back and smiled broadly. "In fact, that would be perfect. I know just the place." She grabbed Hoshimi's hand and jogged quickly across the street, dodging two transports expertly.

When they finally stopped, Katou was nearly breathless. "What was all that?" she asked with a laugh. "Did you have to pull my arm out of socket? We could have taken a transport or even just walked like normal people."

Though she was scolding her, Aryn knew it was playful. Without a word, she continued into the small bistro and chose a table in the back corner, well away from the other tables. "This place is the best on the colony, I can never pass up a chance to come here."


Katou glanced around the dining room and noted only one other occupied table at what ought to be the height of lunch. Though Aryn may have seen her critical eye, she offered no other explanation and simply pushed a menu over toward her companion. "So what's good here?" Hoshimi asked, picking up the menu but not reading the offerings.


Aryn didn't respond, again distracted by the contours of her lower lip. Suddenly, as if reaching a decision, she reached across the table and snatched the menu away, pushing it aside with her own. "I need to make a confession – but I hope you'll understand." When Katou didn't immediately respond, she nodded once and sucked in a deep breath. "I know. I know about the rebellion your ship and how the Quuvarii and the others were treated. I hacked in and read your personal logs and I shouldn't have! I shouldn't have, I know. But I had to know... I had to know..." She trailed off and searched her lover's face anxiously.


Though Katou's face was blank, she tilted her head slightly before responding. "Had to know what?"

"You have to understand Hoshimi," Aryn reached for Katou's hand but she'd pulled it away at the last moment. "The arrival of Unity – it gave us hope. Hope we didn't have before and I didn't want to let that grow without knowing."

"Knowing what?" Katou asked again, folding her hands carefully in her lap.

"If you'd welcome us," Aryn replied, raising her hand to motion someone over. Two other people seemed to materialize beside the table. Both appeared to be human, or at least more human than anything else. "Until you showed up, I could count the number of pure humans left just on my two hands. We're a dying species and...and we don't want to stay here and continue to die off. Since I don't imagine you all are planning to settle here, we'd like to join you on Unity."

Katou raised an eyebrow, "but this is your home? From what I've seen everyone is perfectly happy here?"

"We're content, nothing more." Katou had nearly forgotten about the pair of hovering observers until one of them spoke. "There are nine of us – I know at least six are that are prepared to leave with your ship. If you'll take us."


"Why are you asking me?" Katou asked, turning back toward Aryn. "You should be addressing this request to Captain Hunt – I have no power to give you all quarters or positions."

"I know that, I just... I know you Hoshimi," she said, lowering her voice to a whisper. "And you know the Captain better than I – as one of his officers if you make our request..."

Katou nodded, blinking away the sting in her eyes. "So this was all an act to get close to me? If I'd rejected you would one of you have befriended someone else. Flirted with them to beg passage?" She pushed away from the table, ignoring Aryn's protests. "You should address your request to Captain Hunt – he's a good man and will consider it with all due respect."

"Hoshimi wait!" Aryn scrambled after her, grabbing her arm. "I know where Old Earth is...I know how to get there," she whispered, glancing back toward her companions. "Can you imagine? Going home? It's where we belong Hoshimi!" She had tears in her eyes, threatening to spill at any moment.


Katou jerked her arm out of Aryn's grasp and glanced back at the others briefly. "Captain Hunt is your best avenue. Good day."

------

"I can't believe I let you talk me into this Doctor," Captain Hunt grumbled as Freya fussed with the devices she was sticking to his head.


"Robert, you promised me you'd report for a full scan over a month ago. I foolishly believed you but now I'm done. So respectfully sir? Sit down and shut up," she said with a smile.

"I could demote you for that," he teased. "Come on, let's get this over with so no one misses me."

Finally content with the placement of each node, Freya stepped back and took up her position behind the controls of the neural scanner. She looked over them quickly and recalled the tech manual she'd read twice before initializing the scan. Though she'd witnessed a half dozen scans of Julian's brain, Doctor Azael had always been at the controls. "This is going to take several minutes Robert, I suggest you just relax and try not to worry about anything."


Though he grunted in response, he remained still in the scanner as the glow grew brighter and the beeps became irritatingly insistent. "There it is," Tierran said, having come up behind her in near silence. He smiled at her surprise and pointed to the image on the screen.

Though Freya wanted to protest and throw him out, she was engrossed with the image of Hunt's brain. "Damn," she said, pinching the bridge of her nose.

"Mm hmm," Tierran said, "undefined edges and based on the location..."

"Surgery isn't a valid option," Freya said, finishing his thought. "I'm not that good."


"I know someone who might be," Tierran said. Before she could become excited he shook his head, "it's not me."

"Then who is it?" Captain Hunt called from his seat at the now silent scanner.

"Oh Captain!" Freya moved the hood of scanner up and started removing the nodes carefully now that the scan had finished. "This is Doctor Tierran Azael. Doctor this is Captain Robert Hunt."

"So Doctor? Who is it that you think might be good enough to remove my fuzzy tumor?" Hunt asked, motioning casually toward his head. "If he's around, maybe we can scrounge him up and get this thing out today."


"Oh he's not here Captain. There's a hospital a few sectors away that specializes in difficult cases," he said, frowning.

"Where is it? Do you really think they could do it? What's the success rate?" Freya was off and running, peppering him with questions faster then he could answer, assuming he knew the answers. "How long would it take us to get there?"

"It doesn't matter," Captain Hunt said, standing up and tugging at his uniform. "I'm not going."

End Chapter