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.