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Part of USS Challenger: Mortal Temples

Mortal Temples – 5

USS Cernan NCC-92421/1
July 2401
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Henry stepped to one side and ushered Evin inside. The guest quarters they’d set him up with were nowhere near as luxurious as those on the Challenger. Only a Starbase could come close to matching the levels of luxury found on the mighty Odyssey-class starships, but they’d provide him with a private space to continue his recovery.

“There’s a replicator,” Henry said, watching Evin intently as he moved around the room, “which can produce food and a small ensuite bathroom with a sonic shower.”

He couldn’t explain why, but Henry felt drawn to Evin like he’d never been to anyone except Dujan. At first, he’d found Evin charming, but the longer he spent in his company, the harder it was to deny his attraction to the mysterious stranger. It was like Evin had relit a fire within him, one he thought had been forever extinguished months ago. But that fire was tempered by guilt gnawing at him. Evin turned and caught Henry staring at him, not for the first time. Henry blushed as he looked quickly away.

“Thank you, Henry,” Evin said. Henry finally looked up to meet Evin’s gaze again, looking into his emerald green eyes. “I’ll be quite comfortable here. These accommodations are palatial compared to my ship.”

“If you think this is good,” Henry said with a smile, “you should see my quarters on the Challenger.” It took Henry’s brain a moment to register what he’d said, and he instantly began stammering. “I…I mean…I…what I meant to say was…”

Evin’s eyes sparkled with amusement as he watched Henry frantically trying to walk back what he’d said. “I know what you meant, Henry,” Evin said softly. “I would very much like to visit the Challenger sometime, but for now, my priority is repairing my ship.”

“I want you to spend the rest of the day taking it easy,” Henry replied, relieved their conversation had moved to safer ground. “I’ll give you a check-up first thing in the morning, and if I’m satisfied with your progress, you can begin your repairs.” He paused. “You seem eager to be on your way.”

Evin smiled at Henry. “I’m eager to put this incident behind me, though I must admit,” he paused. It’s been nice to be among people again, even if for a short time.”

“How long have you worked as a courier?”

“A few years,” Evin replied.

Evin liked to keep his answers vague. Was it that he didn’t trust the strangers who had rescued him? Or was the reason darker than that? Did he have something to hide?

“That sounds very lonely,” Henry commented softly.

Evin nodded slowly. “It can be, but I seldom have time to dwell on such things.” Evin silently studied Henry. It felt like his very soul was under a microscope. “I think loneliness is something we have in common.”

“What are you talking about?” Henry replied with a mirthless chuckle. “I’m not lonely. I’m surrounded by people.”

Evin looked at Henry with a sympathetic smile. “That is often when we are most alone.” After a moment, he asked, “Who did you lose?”

“How do you know I lost someone?” Henry asked, his forehead furrowed in confusion. “I don’t recall seeing signs of telepathic abilities on your medical scans.”

Evin’s soft smile fanned the flames burning in Henry’s soul. “It doesn’t take extrasensory perception to see your loss, your loneliness. It’s there in your eyes. You wear it like a cloak. Who were they?”

“My husband,” Henry replied, his voice barely above a whisper. “Dujan. He died on an away mission last year.”

Herny’s gaze drifted to his feet, and he could not meet Evin’s eyes, even though he could feel them watching him. “No wound cuts so deep as the loss of a lover.”

“You sound like you’re talking from experience,” Henry commented.

Evin didn’t say anything for a moment. “My wife, Ada, was killed eight years ago during the last days of the Dominion occupation of my world.” He took a deep breath and exhaled loudly. “I thought I would never love again.”

“But you did?” Henry asked. Intellectually, he knew it was possible to move on from his husband’s death; both Doctor Luro and Captain Rosetti were widowed and found love again in each other, but for some reason, hearing Evin say it was different, it felt more believable.

Henry looked up to find Evin nodding slowly. “I did. It took me completely by surprise. I’d spent years convinced that I would never love anyone the way I loved Ada.” A fond smile slowly crept across Evin’s lips.  “I fought it at first. I told myself I was betraying her by looking at someone else. But Jarrod,” Evin’s smile grew, “he was patient with me. He gave me space when I needed it, challenged me and eventually, I realised that Ada wouldn’t have wanted me to be alone.” He paused and fixed Henry with a piercing look. “I don’t think your husband would want you to be alone.”

“I don’t think he would either.”

Before Henry knew what was happening, they were rushing towards each other, their lips crashing together in a frantic dance of passion. Little thought was involved; he was acting purely on instinct. His hands quickly found Evin’s hips and pulled their bodies tightly together.

It was impossible to tell how much time had passed, but when a moan escaped from Evin’s throat, Henry’s brain forced a restart, and reality came crashing back, pouring cold water over the fire of their passion. He opened his eyes and suddenly pushed Evin back. “I’m sorry,” Henry said, his breathing heavy and uneven. “I shouldn’t have done that.”

“You don’t have to apologise,” Evin reassured him. “We were both willing participants.”

Henry leaned against the wall as he tried to steady his breathing. “I shouldn’t have done that.” He repeated as if Evin’s words had washed over him without registering. He could feel the heat racing up his neck and across his face as a toxic cocktail of guilt, regret, and shame quickly consumed him. Something about Evin had stripped away his defences, and he now desperately tried to restore them.

“I didn’t mean to upset you,” Evin said sadly. The hurt in his voice was apparent, and Henry hated that he was the cause of it.

Henry’s mind was racing, and suddenly, he felt claustrophobic. “I can’t do this.” He muttered as he stumbled out into the corridors. Henry’s heart thundered in his chest so hard that he thought it would leave him his bruised ribs.

After Henry rounded a corner, he stopped and braced himself against the bulkhead while taking slow, deep breaths. He knew he was hovering on the edge of a full-blown panic attack, and he needed to regain control. 

“Henry, are you okay?” Her voice was Henry’s first awareness of Commander Taro’s presence. She moved to his side, rubbing his back with a reassuring hand. 

Henry’s muscles tensed at her touch, and he straightened his back, pushing off the bulkhead. “I’m fine.”

“You didn’t look-”

“I said I’m fine,” Henry snapped. He left Taro looking nonplussed as he walked quickly away from the Cernan’s First Officer.

A few minutes later, Taro Niya stepped into the Cernan’s cramped Ready Room, joining Captain Carerra and Lieutenant Commander Nybor. “Sorry I’m late. I got held up.” She didn’t feel it necessary to go into detail about her encounter with Doctor Young, and it was unlikely that Carerra would ask for specifics.

Niya wanted to follow after Henry to make sure he was alright, but he’d brushed her off quite firmly, and she wasn’t going to push him yet. She would give him a few hours to cool down before checking on him. Parking her concerns for the moment, she quickly tuned into what Nybor was saying.

“…wasn’t just a distress buoy. It contained copies of mission reports and crew logs.”

Niya glanced at Carerra. “Didn’t Evin tell us he was attacked by pirates?” When Carerra nodded, Niya asked, “What kind of pirates keep mission reports or logs?”

“They weren’t pirates,” Nybor replied. “The crashed ship belonged to the Antallan military.”

“Antallan,” Niya repeated. “Isn’t Captain Rix negotiating with the Antallans right now?”

Carerra nodded slowly. “We’re due to rendezvous with the Challenger at Antalla V.”

“Do we know why the Antallans attacked Evin?” Niya asked as she leaned against the Captain’s desk.

“From what we’ve managed to ascertain from the logs,” Nybor began, “they were hunting a man variously referred to as ‘the target’ and ‘the traitor’. Their task was to apprehend this individual and return him to Antalla V.”

“And you think Evin was their target?” Carerra asked.

Nybor nodded. “Two hours before they crashed, their communications logs show they sent a message that was only three words, ‘we’ve found him’, along with their sensor records of Evin’s ship.”

“So why were the Antallans hunting him?” Niya asked. “And why did Evin tell us that pirates attacked him.”

Niya watched Carerra for a few silent seconds before the Captain answered, “Let’s ask him.”