"I finished the bartender's matrix," Bowers said, sliding a data pad across the table. Liam scooped it up and skimmed the contents before nodding in approval. "That leaves what? A half dozen more regular characters?"
Liam nodded, "the grid can generate the extras and tourists – it's just these that Andy had outlined."
"Have you deleted her hologram yet?" Bowers asked anxiously.
Liam shook his head, "I can't. It may have been what she wanted but... it just feels wrong ya know? Besides the Doc forbade me from doing it. I have her stored for now. I guess it will be up to her what happens."
Bowers nodded and then glanced over toward the bar. They'd been waiting for almost half an hour for their drinks, though the place wasn't that crowded. When one of the employees passed by he reached out the stop him. "Hey, we ordered drinks awhile ago – what's the deal?"
The young server looked nervously toward the bar. "Um...I..." The bar owner had seen the exchange and started stalking toward the table. "You guys should probably go..." he hissed quickly before scurrying away.
"You'll show Ms. Darcy to the science labs Commander?" Meng asked, stepping off the transporter unit before turning to the pair of scientists. "As much as the two of you discussed specimens over the last couple days, I imagine she's eager to see them."
"Of course Commander," Katou said, nodding curtly. In truth, Aryn Darcy had probably, unknowingly, kept Cammander Katou from coming back to Unity in shackles. She'd likely never forgive Captain Hunt for sending her with Meng Asada on this diplomatic mission. She secretly suspected he'd done it on purpose; probably hoping the three days aboard the Quuvarii vessel would give them a chance to bond as officers. He was just lucky they were both coming back alive.
"Good," Meng said. He smiled at Ms. Darcy, "I hope you enjoy your stay as much as we enjoyed ours ma'am. Now, if you'll excuse me, I should check in with the captain." He was several paces ahead of them when he let the smile slip away. Meng ran his fingers through his hair, trying to grab hold of his usual calm before he continued on toward the bridge. The last three days had strained even his abilities, due almost entirely to Commander Katou's presence.
"I told ya, your kind is't welcome h're!" Two young men came tumbling out of the bar, with the owner close at their heels. He was wielding a broken bottle in one hand and had several patrons closing in ranks behind him. "Don't much care for the ne' order of things, ye won't be served h're!"
Meng glanced at the pair, each nursing a few cuts and a blossoming bruise. He recognized the taller as one of his men – one of the Sons that is – and suspected the other was, at the least, embryiotic given the bar owner's ire. "Is there a problem here?" Meng asked, stepping between the broken end of the bottle and the two men. He turned his attention toward the bar and straightened his shoulders. Even the most disgruntled person on board had come to accept his ascendance to first officer, even if they didn't like it.
The bar keeper bristled slightly, the bottle wavering in his shaky hand for a moment. "Won't be no problem once they go on," he said, dropping his hands to his sides. Behind him, the patrons from the bar, mostly of the former upper classes, started falling back toward their tables and stools.
"Do you have a legitimate complaint with these men? As the acting head of security, I'd be happy to take a statement if there's been an altercation here," Meng said, raising his eyebrows. The man grumbled under his breath but shook his head. "So you have no reason to throw these men out of the establishment?"
"I got a right to refuse to serve whoeva' I want!" He raised the bottle again, his agitation returning as a small crowd of onlookers began to grow on the deck.
"Perhaps, but you don't have a right to threaten people with bodily harm," Meng said, with a quick thrash he managed to knock the bottle harmlessly to the ground and pulled the man's arm up behind his back. "You going to apologize to these men like a civil gentleman or am I going to have to take you in for assault and disturbing the peace?"
The bar owner grunted as he tried to pull away from Meng. When he had no luck, he muttered a few garbled words under his breath. Meng pulled harder on his arm, "sorry, okay? Sorry!"
"Either of you want to press charges?" Meng asked, looking over his shoulder toward the wounded pair. Though the younger one looked like he might for a moment, they both ultimately shook their heads. "Eh, shame," Meng said as he released the man from his grip. "Consider this a warning, you won't get another one. You want to be a bigoted jerk, you do it without causing a scene." He turned his back on the man, "come on you two. You better get to the medical ward and get those cuts seen to," he said, glancing around at the crowd. Whether they saw his gaze or realized the show was over, all but Commander Katou and Ms. Darcy fell away. Without prompting they moved toward the pair to help them to their feet.
Meanwhile, in the medical center, Freya rubbed her eyes again discretely. Dr. Hapsberg had been watching her all afternoon, waiting for Freya to succumb to her exhaustion no doubt. For days she'd gone home tired and came back to work exhausted, having been unable to sleep. And Hapsberg seemed to know that. She'd tried, three times now, to suggest Freya go home and get some rest but Freya was stubborn. When the doors slid open, Freya's droopy eyes snapped open and she jumped to her feet. "Commanders. What happened?" she said, pointing them toward the beds.
Doctor Hapsberg joined them and helped settle the two new patients in. She was already taking inventory of their wounds, mostly cuts and bruises, while Commander Asada gave them a brief overview of what he'd witnessed on the deck. Ms. Darcy interjected a few comments here and there, still breathless from the whole encounter. "I'm glad you're back Commander Asada," Hapsberg said, glancing briefly at Freya. "I think I can handle these two easy enough. Would you please take Doctor Ryan home sir? She's two hours past the end of her shift now and, I think, running on fumes." She glanced toward Katou and Darcy then lowered her voice, "she hasn't been sleeping the last few days I think." Meng didn't miss her meaning, and just in case he did, she added a quick wink to Freya's annoyance.
"I'm fine thanks," Freya said, busying herself with one of the patients. Meng knew better than to believe that lie. He took hold of Freya's arm and started gently pulling her away. "Seriously, I'm fine. I'll leave as soon as these two are checked out."
"No, you'll leave now Doctor. Please don't make me make it an order," Hapsberg said, her eyes pleading with Freya. "You're dog-tired, get some sleep."
'If only it were so simple,' Freya thought to herself. With a sigh of resignation, she nodded and allowed Meng to drag her away from the beds. "Let me just grab something," she said, yanking her arm free from his grasp. He nodded and stepped over to join the pair of scientists who'd been watching the scene unfold from the sidelines. Freya bent over the front desk drawer and shuffled around the contents until she pulled out a data pad and a small med case. She glanced over toward Meng quickly then popped open the case. She ran her thumb over the vial once before closing the cover and slipping the whole case into her uniform pocket. "Okay," she said, holding up the data pad. "I'm ready."
"You're not taking work home are you?" Meng asked, raising his eyebrows.
"Of course not," she said with a faint smile. Though Meng was unconvinced, he nodded and put his arm around her waist. She tried to squirm free, feeling Katou's eyes on her, but he held fast.
Meng smiled at the scientists, "if you'll both excuse us. Commander Katou, I'll let the Captain know our report will be slightly delayed – could you take this time to get Ms. Darcy settled in guest quarters?" Katou nodded, the picture of respectful obedience to most. Freya, however, could see the annoyance in her eyes at having to take orders from Meng.
"These aren't my quarters," Freya protested as the door slid open to Meng's new, more spacious, quarters. Freya had been here once before but still recoiled as she glanced around the front room. The space was sparser, void of the trinkets and knickknacks that Julian had acquired over the years, but the floor plan was identical. Meng even had the same standard issue furniture tucked into all the same spaces. Freya pulled away from him, back toward the door, "I have to get sleep Meng – I'm going home."
"Freya wait," Meng said, reaching out for her and grabbing her wrist. "Stay here, I'm sure my bed is more comfortable than that tiny bunk you've claimed. It's certainly more spacious." She was still pulling away, inching toward the door. "I've missed you Freya," he added softly. "Can you say you haven't missed me?" He ran his fingers along her cheek.
As he leaned in for a kiss, she turned her head away from his touch. "I'm glad you're back but I have to go," she whispered.
Anger and annoyance flashed in his eyes as he whirled away from her. "Fine," he said shortly. "Ya know, you could stop pushing me away Freya. You blame yourself for all those deaths and I get that but I want to be there for you. I want to help."
"I don't blame myself," Freya said quietly. 'I blame you,' she thought angrily to herself.
"Then what is it Freya? Why are you being like this?"
"Like what?!" she snapped. She gritted her teeth and flexed her fingers as she tried to regain her emotions. "I'm just so exhausted. Transitioning back to normal life after... well everything is difficult. There's a lot of anger and I have three critical patients still so you'll just have to get over it if I want to sleep."
"Is that why you haven't been sleeping the last few days?" Meng asked, stepping closer to her. He reached out and brushed her cheek with his thumb. When she pulled away again, he threw up his hands and stalked away. "Fine. Just go," he said with resignation. He dropped onto the couch with a huff. Freya lingered, chewing on her bottom lip anxiously. "What are you waiting for? You said you had to go. So go."
She took a step toward the door and then hesitated. The sensor detected her presence and the door slid open but she didn't leave. "Damn it," she muttered under her breath. She took a deep breath before spinning around.
To her surprise, Meng had taken her moment of inattention to slip up behind her silently. When she nearly collided with him, she let out a squeak in surprise making the corner of his mouth pull up. "I thought you were leaving," he said, his voice low and seductive.
"So did I," Freya whispered, raising her head to meet his eyes. They were blazing again but the anger had been replaced with lust. "I..." She trailed off, unable to come up with the words to express her feelings. Not that she'd been able to pinpoint her feelings as of late.
Taking her silence as an invitation, Meng slid one hand behind her neck before leaning in for a kiss. This time, she didn't resist his advance. Her body responded with eagerness to his touch. "So you'll stay?" he asked, his lips moving lightly across her skin as he spoken. She nodded, then wrapped her arms around his neck and let him pull her further into his quarters.
She waited until he was sound asleep before crawling out of the bed. Though she'd been expecting it, the bedroom still brought back a wave of painful memories she couldn't begin to explain to Meng. So, like so many other things lately, she bottled it up and then waited for the opportune moment to make her escape. She felt the now familiar sickness settle in her gut as she left his quarters.
Standing in front of her own door, her hand hovered over the key pad. What was waiting for her inside though? A half emptied crate that haunted her? A bunk which offered her no respite, no matter how tired she felt? She spun around and leaned back against the door. Every bit of her body felt fatigued really, but sleep would not come. And when it finally did, her mind was riddled with memories that morphed into nightmares.
The weight of the med case she'd slipped into her pocket reminded her she had one more job to do, and she was late. "Crap," she muttered, pulling the case out and examining the contents once more. A single vial, a single dose. She snapped the case closed and shoved it back into her pocket. She pushed off the wall and dragged herself back toward the lifts.
Freya pressed the key pad trigger twice. Down the hall and just around the corner, she knew Meng was probably asleep and blissfully unaware of escape. Though she couldn't stand his quarters, part of her longed to crawl back into his bed and feel his warmth and comforting presence. Thankfully, she wasn't left to think on any of it for long before the door slid open in front of her. "Sorry I'm late," she said, glancing back down the hall briefly before stepping into the quarters.
"It's fine doctor," Captain Hunt said, motioning her in. As he was expecting her, a medical kit sat on the coffee table. "I know Commander Asada returned from his mission today. May have only been a few days but I imagine you were both eager to see each other?"
"Yeah," Freya said, with little enthusiasm. "Shall we?" she asked, pointing toward the couch. She waited until Captain Hunt had settled on the couch and then perched on the edge of the coffee table. She pulled the case from her pocket and started prepping the injection with a hypo from his med kit. "I have to say again, you really need to come to the medical ward so we can get an idea of what we're actually dealing with Robert."
"You know I can't do that right now," he said, smiling at her use of his first name. "The crew is in far too delicate a place and if certain parties suspected a weakness on my part..." he trailed off.
Freya shook her head, "a tumor is not a weakness. And it can be treated – but the longer you wait for a proper diagnosis and treatment, the bigger the problem will become." She held up the hypo and Hunt started rolling up his sleeve. "You remember everything I said? This medicine won't fix anything – it will only treat the symptoms. And it's a band-aid at best."
"I understand Freya," he said. With a nod, Freya pressed the device to his skin and pressed down. "I promise not to put it off any longer than absolutely necessary."
"You already have put it off too long Robert. Secrets have a way of coming out, whether you want them to or not," she said as she returned everything to their respective cases.
"And what of your secret?" Captain Hunt asked, raising his eyebrows. "Did you tell him yet?"
"No," Freya said, looking down at her hands. "He told me he loved me and I just...I froze. I think I mumbled something and then ran away when he fell asleep."
"Secrets have a way of coming out Freya," Hunt said, parroting her words. He put his hand over hers and gave it a light squeeze. "You should tell him both secrets."
"Both? What both?" Freya asked, startled.
"That you love him of course," Hunt said, causing Freya to pull her hands away quickly. "And that you're pregnant."