Part of USS Centaur: Episode One: Getting our Footing

Chapter Ten – It was all a Test…

USS Centaur
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(Unfortunately I am going to do my best to condense anything I had planned into one final chapter. It’s not that i don’t know what to do, i completely have it all planned out up until the end but after the FA event, I’ve been eager to get started on the very next mission that takes place right after the event with the Centaur and even though i could just start it anyway, i rather get this mission done and over with. I understand if this mission went on a weird path to some of you and that’s fine, i felt like i may have not told it very well, so it’s just best to get it over with.)

To what was like seconds in the real world of where the away team was currently being held at, to them, in this reality that they were in, it had been a total of thirty five years. The four of them felt old, but they had stayed very well in shape due to the constant training and conflict of the dark forces they had to face over the years. On top of that, both Vakai and Sivol, James Ryker and Ashley Gomez had gotten married and had children, who are now in their mid twenties or so.

Vakai and Sivol had three children. Raynor who is their oldest at age twenty-six. Laya who is twenty-four and then Xander, their youngest at age twenty-two. Ryker and Gomez had two children, George at age twenty-five and Samantha at age twenty-four. All of them were both with their own unique abilities and were all trained when they became of age and now all of them had been fighting alongside their parents and many other soldiers from the kingdom against the dark forces.

Unfortunately, despite all their efforts and with their children and their own abilities, they haven’t quite been able to keep the dark forces from gaining more and more land. Slowly they were consuming the world, the other land masses, continents before this one, were the last to be consumed and the last few weeks they have been keeping the dark forces at bay but they were taking land little by little, getting ever closer to the kingdom.

But what little did everyone know, since George was sixteen, he had been sneaking out to visit an enchanted forest that somehow eluded the dark forces. Even though the large forest itself from appearance to the outside world has been covered and conquered by the dark forces, the moment you find the entrance and step through, it was as if the dark forces had never set foot in it, as if the forest itself was in a whole different dimension. And inside that forest, at the very center, was a large pond with a waterfall that looked a hundred feet tall, completely enveloped in a light fog. George had visited this place often for he had met someone who he has fallen for but has been too afraid to admit his feelings to for he does not wish to ruin the moments that they have together. But now, tonight of all nights, he should have admitted his feelings, as what was about to happen, could be too late.

George stepped out from the treeline to see the waterfall and the pond before him but that was not what his eyes were focused on. They were focused on the beauty of a lady who stood on the largest stepping stone in the center of the pond. He unbuckled his weapons belt and everything he carried, pouches filled with small potion bottles and herbs, as well as his sheathed sword, all fell to the ground before the pond. He then made his way to her, stepping on each separate stone to close the gap. “Cynthia.” He said when he was just a step away.

She turned and smiled at him, “George, my paladin. It is so good to see you again.” She intertwined her fingers with his once he stood before her. “I was hoping for this moment all day.” She spoke softly.

“I too, m’lady. Today I was uncertain that I would make it.” He too spoke softly as he pressed his forehead against hers.

Of course they knew how each other felt, but words were more powerful than action and those few words are the ones that she has been waiting for to come from his lips for years. She looked up into his eyes, “Was it that horrible?”

He shook his head, “I do not wish to speak of it. It’s behind us and all that matters to me right now is spending this moment with you.”

As the warmth filled her heart, her smile grew and she threw her arms around him, embracing him. “Why don’t we just stay here, forever?”

George wrapped his arms around her and held her close. “I was thinking of the same thing. But I must help my parents, my sister, my aunt and uncle and my cousins fight and defend this realm. If I do no, then what kind of man am I?”

She pulled away and looked up into his eyes. “A man who has priorities. A man who knows what he deserves and what he wants in life. A man who chooses not to be alone.”

George sighed as he looked back down into hers. “I am no coward, Cynthia. I will not abandon my family and friends.”

She pursed her lips and shook her head. “You are no coward, George.”

“But he should be.” A voice boomed over them and suddenly a dark hooded figure appeared standing on top of the water near them

George’s eyes grew wide. “You! The witch who commands the army of darkness? Here?!” He reached for his weapon but then remembered he dropped his belt earlier, looking right at it at the edge of the pond.

“My my my…a defenseless Ryker. How quaint.” Said the woman before she looked at Cynthia. “Tell him. Or I will.”

Cynthia took a step back and shook her head. “Don’t do this. Don’t take away the one good thing that I have!”

George frowned, “What is she talking about, Cynthia?”

The woman laughed loudly. “Oh my. You really have played him for a fool, my dear girl.”

“Stop, please!” Cynthia begged.

“Cynthia, explain!” George demanded.

“Oh she would love to but she’s too afraid to tell you the truth, my dear. So let me do the honors.” The woman casted a spell before them and what looked like a circular portal appearing across from the woman was really more of some display showing the past, showing Cynthia surrounded by a dark aura and demons rising up before her. “You see, Sir Ryker. She is the one summoning the dark forces that you and your family have been fighting for over a dozen years.”

George stared hard at Cynthia, “Is what she says is true?”

“George, please.” Cynthia sobbed.

“Is it true?!” George demanded.

“Of course it is true, she just doesn’t have the heart to tell you.” said the woman.

“Mother, stop!” Cynthia yelled at her.

George took a step back. “So all these years, all this time, you were the one attacking us. The one releasing those foul creatures, killing the innocent, corrupting the lands that you’ve conquered.” He shook his head and went across the pond back to his weapon belt, grabbing it before he turned to look at the two women. “Don’t come after me. We will come after you.” His voice twisted with pain and anger. He put his belt on as he walked into the treeline that acted as a gateway that instantly took him out of the forest.

Cynthia fell to her knees as she sobbed into her hands, while the woman knelt down beside her and rubbed her back. “I told you, dear. There is no love for you here, only pain and sorrow. The moment that anyone knew the truth about you, they would come to hate you. You only exist in this world because I gave you life after I saved your crystalline body from being destroyed.”

Cynthia looked up at her, “What?”

She sighed, “Yes, my dear, I think it is time I told you the whole story.” She then explained to Cynthia that she originated from a large crystalline shard that stuck out of a meteorite that had come from the sky and landed into the ground. She explained that she was there, trying to protect the crystalline when the four warriors showed up and immediately attacked, nearly destroying the crystal itself. She explained that if it wasn’t for her, who had casted a spell that sent the life force of the power inside the crystal into her body, to become the child that Cynthia was now, she would have never existed. She would have been dead.

“You see, dear. It is their fault. George’s parents and their friends. They want nothing more than for you to die.” She held back her wicked grin as she watched very closely to Cynthia’s face, looking for any sign, any reaction to the story she had told her.

As Cynthia stood up, so did she, and Cynthia balled up her hands into fists and dug her nails into the palms of her hands. “Then we shall make them pay. They haven’t seen the worst of my creations.”

The woman laughed, “Yes! That’s my girl. Unleash the horde!!”

From then on, the war against the dark forces had become more difficult than they had ever faced before. The goblins they fought suddenly became strong, deadly orcs, while the wargs became hell hounds and trolls became large two horned demons. Days would go by as the war raged on, the amount of land they were losing had increased ten fold, where they once had predicted the loss of the war in matter of months had been reduced to weeks, and they were losing badly. Then, where used to be the enchanted forest, a large castle grew from the ground and now occupies exactly where George and Cynthia used to meet, a castle where gargoyles and wraiths flew from.

When it came to the conclusion that they were going to lose the war sooner than later, the Generals, Vakai, Sivol, James and Ashley decided that the time to strike at the center of this enemy must be now. And so, the four of them and their children set out to reach the castle that had risen from the ground to find the very person who was responsible for it all, the one that George eventually explained to everyone.

“You’ve been going where?!” James shouted.

“And you’ve been seeing this woman for how long?” Ashley asked, less outraged than James was.

“Oooooo…big brother’s in trouble.” Samantha smirked.

“Hush, Sam!” Ashley snapped at her before looking right back at George. “Explain yourself, son.”

“What your mother said, explain yourself. Now!” James growled.

Ashley sighed, “James, be quiet.” She glared at him before looking back at George, waiting. And it wasn’t just his parents and his sister staring at him, Vakai, Sivol and their children, his friends, stared at him as well.

George took a deep breath, then slowly exhaled. “I have been going to the enchanted forest since I was sixteen. The very place where the dark forces’ castle now resides. I wanted to see the forest before it fell to the evil that was spreading across our world, I wanted to see what exactly made it so unique from the others. It took me a while but I managed to navigate the maze and found myself at a large pond with stepping stones from one side of the pond to the other, leading to a large flat top stone in the center. And there was a waterfall, a very very tall waterfall, far beyond the eye could see, even with the light fog that surrounded you. It was amazing, because when you look at the forest from the outside, you don’t see any cliffs or mountains or waterfalls anywhere. And the clearing is quite large, several acres all around, and yet you see no clearing of such kind when you’re outside of the forest. Even if you flew in one of those airships across the sky and looked down at the forest, you would never find the place that I mentioned. It truly was enchanted.”

“And what about this girl…this woman you met?” Ashley asked him.

George shrugged his shoulders and licked his lips. “I didn’t know who she was at the time, all I saw was just that, a woman. First time I saw her, she was upset and afraid. She was upset because she felt like she was alone, that even though she had a mother who cared for her, she felt like she was never truly loved, that all her mother cared about was making her do things that she wanted her to do. I don’t know why I didn’t put any of it together back then, I don’t know why I didn’t see that she was the very person who was creating these monsters. All I saw was an innocent woman who was looking for proof that she was not alone.”

Vakai stepped forward, which kept James and Ashley from saying anything as they were curious as to what he was going to say. He stood there as he stroked his thick black beard with dark grays here and there. “All this time, I have been wondering why we were still here. Why were we still playing this…game…of that being who put us here.”

“Vakai…we didn’t tell them everything for a reason.” Sivol said as she stepped up to his side. “In fear that they may think that none of this is real.” She whispered to him.

Vakai turned his head to look into her eyes. “But none of it is.” He then looked at both James and Ashley, seeing the look in their eyes as well. “Don’t get me wrong, I love our children, more than anything. But you all must remember. That you must understand, we are still in some…fantasy world created by this…these machines that we’re hooked up to. Have either of you wondered why…why are we still here?”

James turned his head to look into Ashley’s eyes before looking back to Vakai. “To be honest, we chose to forget about that…ever since George and Samantha were born…we chose to accept our new lives.”

Vakai sighed, “But you know-”

James raised his hand to stop him. “Yes. We do know, Vakai. We’ve always known. We tried to forget but we couldn’t.” He took a deep breath and then sighed heavily. “So what is it you are thinking?”

“I knew our goal was to stop the dark forces, to save this planet from slavery to evil. But what if there is more to it? What if…we are not the ones who are supposed to stop it? The four of us, originally, but our children?” Vakai asked.

George frowned, “So what? It’s all down to me? And how I choose to deal with Cynthia?”

Vakai shrugged his shoulders, “We don’t have the answers. We never did. We thought…” Vakai’s eyes went wide as the realization finally struck him. “Damn.”

James raised his brows. “What?”

Vakai shook his head, “We need to go. Now. Can you get us into that Castle, George?”

“If it is in the center of the enchanted forest, then hopefully the maze hasn’t been changed. Yes, I believe I can get us inside.”

Vakai nodded his head, “Good. You’ve managed to get there without being seen by the enemy, so we will follow your lead.”

James frowned, “What did you figure out, Vakai?!” Frustration seeped in as he hated being left in the dark.

“You will find out soon enough. But first, we must get there and fight whatever gets in our way.” Vakai told him.

Thus, the group of nine now, made their way towards the enchanted forest, slipping through undetected by following George’s path with each step behind his, making sure as to not alert the enemy to their approach of the Castle. While the Kingdom they swore to protect was under siege, they made their way through the maze of the forest until they came to the large doors of the keep. Unfortunately, they were unable to keep their presence known from the enemy any longer, as the moment they busted through those doors, was the moment they had to fight their way up to the throne room. Vicious demons that stood in their way were cut down by swords, bashed by maces, speared by arrows or blasted by magic until finally they made it to the very room where both the hooded woman and Cynthia stood.

“Do it, Cynthia! Unleash your most powerful creation! Use all that pain and anger to fuel your power!” The woman shouted as Cynthia raised her arms, palms up and above her shoulders, surrounded by the aura of her magic as her eyes glowed bright. And what the group thought that everything they fought up to this room was the worst, was far from it when a massive dragon appeared out of a dark, violet light. The hooded woman laughed was sinister and of joy, “Yes!! Yes, Cynthia! Risen back from the dead, the Dragon King, Bahamut!” The Dragon roared bellowed with life and power.

James stood there with the rest of them, shocked at the creature before them. “Oh hell. This is not good!”

“The hell is that thing?!” One of the children asked.

“If I remember the history of twentieth century Earth, of the games called Final Fantasy, this is one of the most powerful summons, and one of the most deadly of them all. If it powers up its Gigaflare, or whatever Flare it has in this world, we’re going to get vaporized. Nothing can stop it, and I mean nothing!” James told them, before looking at George. “I don’t know what the hell you did to piss her off, George, but you better get over there and make it right or we are all dead!”

George swallowed hard. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Better do more than that!” Ashley yelled at him, “She’s a pissed off woman right now, so you better be ready to sacrifice a lot of your ego and pride to calm her down!”

“And while you’re doing that, we’re going to try to defeat this thing…if it’s even possible.” James said while staring at it.

“How long do we have before it charges up it’s attack?” Vakai asked. And as if to answer his question, the eyes of Bahamut suddenly flashed and it began to growl.

Was now James’ turn to swallow hard. “Not long.” As the group charged to attack the large dragon, George made his way to the steps that led up to the throne where Cynthia stood.

“Cynthia.” George called out to her as he rose up the steps to reach her.

“Go away!” She yelled at him.

“Cynthia, listen.”

“I said. Go AWAY!” She shouted and with a stomp of her foot, a strong force shot out from her that sent him tumbling down to the bottom of the steps.

“You’re going to have to try harder than that, George!” Ashley yelled at him before focusing her attention back at the dragon.

George groaned as he got back to his feet and rubbed his head some before hurrying up the steps, this time not taking it slow at all. As soon as he got to the top, he saw that she was about to do it again, so he rolled just at the right moment to dodge the repulsing force she used before. “Cynthia, please!”

“I got nothing to say to you…you’re just exactly what mother said, someone who wouldn’t understand, who would hate me for who I am!” She raised her arm up at him and a sword suddenly appeared from her violet aura. “Take one more step and I will cut you down.”

“Just listen!” George looked into her eyes. “I was wrong, all right? I made a mistake.”

Suddenly Bahamut’s mouth started to open and a ball of energy began to form. James looked to George, “Work faster, damnit!”

George looked at his father then back at Cynthia. “I shouldn’t have let your mother push us away. It wasn’t her fault or yours that made me upset.”

Cynthia growled at his choice of words and the ball of energy in Bahamut’s mouth grew rapidly. “George, god damnit! You know what you’re supposed to say! Now say it!!” Ashley shouted at him.

“I overreacted, okay!” George admitted to her, and there the ball of energy started to weaken. “I was an idiot. I should have never let your mother’s words affect me like that. Not over the years that we had spent seeing each other, talking to each other, listening to each other’s stories. Listening to each other’s voices.” Cynthia lowered her arm and the sword in her hand disappeared. George then grabbed the buckle of his weapon belt and pulled on it, the strap coming loose and the belt falling to the floor, leaving himself unarmed. “Why should the things your mother said affect the way I had seen you for years? It was foolish, selfish and down right unfair of me to treat you like that.”

“George…” Cynthia spoke as the glow in her eyes faded and Bahamut began to close its mouth as the ball of energy dissipated.

“Don’t listen to him, Cynthia! Attack, girl, attack!!” The woman shouted.

“Don’t listen to her, Cynthia. Remember what I said when we first met? We have the choice to choose our own paths, to choose our own destiny. No one has the right to choose it for us. No one has the right to force us down a path we do not want. And if we want to change our paths, that is our given right, no one else’s. No one has the right to control your life, Cynthia. Only you can choose what you want to do with your life. If you want to live your life as the queen of evil…or choose to free yourself of that burden that your mother has forced onto you, then that is your choice to make, not hers. And not mine.” George licked his lips, “But I do want you to choose to free yourself, because I love you, Cynthia.”

“George!” She crashed into his chest and threw her arms around his waist, hugging him tightly as the dragon before his friends and family suddenly vanished without a trace.

“No!!” The woman shouted. “You can’t do this! I saved you from them, I kept you alive, gave birth to you, and showed you your true self!!”

Vakai stepped towards the woman. “No. You’re wrong.”

The woman turned to face him and hissed, “You!”

Vakai turned and looked at his friends individually, Sivol, James and Ashley, who began to step forward until they stood side by side with him. He then turned and looked right back at her. “It was us who forced you both down this path.”

The woman frowned, confusion washing over her face. “What?”

Vakai took in a deep breath and sighed heavily. “We told our children of where we truly came from. We told them that we’re not of this world. That we are part of an organization that explores the galaxy. An organization that believes in peace, exploration, research…and diplomacy. What we did not tell them, is that we were forced into this world by some entity, some…being that wished to test the four of us. We didn’t understand why, we didn’t care either…we just knew what task we had to do, what task that was given to us and that was to seek out the source of the dark forces and report back to the King.”

Sivol, Ashley and James now began to realize what Vakai had figured out. Sivol licked her lips, “And when we found you…and the crystal, we didn’t think to speak to you first. We didn’t consider the possibility of just talking to you, asking you why you were doing what you were doing.”

Ashley sighed, “And so we attacked you, and the crystal, unprovoked. All we could think about was ending this test that this being gave us, figuring that if we destroyed the crystal, and took care of you, we would have ended all of this and returned to our real lives.”

James shook his head. “That is not what we are, nor is that representing the organization that we belong to. We were not supposed to attack first, but we did, and because of that, we caused all of this. All this pain, suffering and death. You’re not the true enemy here, m’lady. We are.”

Vakai took a step closer to her. “We should have come to you, peacefully, and negotiated with you. We should have asked what you were doing and why. And for that, we are sorry.”

Suddenly the world changed to the cavern full of machinery and equipment in a blink of an eye, and all four of them, Vakai, Sivol, Ashley and James stumbled out of the machines that they were pulled into, the tendrils and connections of sorts that had fastened to them suddenly disappeared.

“What the hell?” Ashley asked and began to look around, confused…disoriented. She then looked at James and Vakai, blinking her eyes for a moment. “Your hair…your beards…they’re…”

Both Vakai and James looked at each other then at Ashley and Sivol, seeing that they appeared younger again. James licked his lips, “Did we…did we pass?” He asked, looking back and forth between Ashley and Vakai.

Suddenly the entire cavern disappeared all around them, nothing but darkness and a light coming from nowhere, nothing that they could find anyway. And then the being appeared before them, who still looked much like the wizard they knew for years…but has it been years?

“Hello my companions!” He said with a big smile and a small chuckle. Before anyone could say anything, he raised his hand. “No, no. It has not really been thirty five years. It has only been fifteen seconds.” He saw the looks on their faces, color draining from them, their eyes wide, their mouths going dry. “I know, I know. It is a lot to take in. And what you people would say… Mind Blown.” He brought his hands to his head and imitated an explosion with his hands moving outward from his head, his hands opening up like the head had exploded and imitating the sound with his mouth. “Now I know what you’re going to ask, so let me save you the trouble.” He cleared his throat.

“You wish to know why I put you through such a vigorous test. Well, the reason for being is rather simple. You see, my species, we’re not as corporeal as you can see. This body I am in is just another imitation.” He then changed shape to the creature they saw for the first time, then changed to a human form that Vakai saw when he was the last to be pulled into that machine, but now they’re thinking that it wasn’t a machine that caused all this. “And your thoughts would be correct. Everything you saw when you first came here was all an illusion. Actually, neither of you has left the ship. The planet that your ship was orbiting, never existed. The forest. The cavern. The machines you saw. None of it. The second you four stepped onto that transporter pad, was the second I entered all of your minds and simply pulled you four into my dimension where everything appears normal to you…but really, the flow of time here is so much quicker than the time in your dimension. Let me put it plainly.” He cleared his throat again.

“The test I had you all experience did last thirty five years, in your minds of course. But in my dimension, it was about fifteen seconds. And when you return to your dimension, only a few seconds have gone by. You will simply appear as if you’re standing there on the transporter pad, with a transporter technician who is getting ready to transport you to the planet, only to find out that the planet…never existed.” He chuckled softly. “Now back to your ‘why’ question. Well you see, my species are rather very curious. While we are non-corporeal, we like to travel around the universe, visiting galaxies here and there, sit back and observe all that goes on. Technically our laws prohibit us from interacting and interfering with races like yourselves but then we decided…we would like to get to know certain Empires and Federations and organizations, see how they fair. See how they are doing, you know? So we came up with this method of just teasing you folks to a mysterious world out of nowhere in space, and just as you’re about to head down to visit it, we tap into your minds and take over. We perfected this method so that we only take mere seconds of your time.”

He took in a deep breath and sighed heavily, “You see, we have seen quite a few groups like yours turn vile and evil and rage wars for mere conquest and enslavement. Some galaxies have fallen to that kind of thing, you know. When I came to this galaxy, I saw this Federation of yours and it made me very curious. So I had to test you, to see just how fair this Federation is. Of course, I could easily read your thoughts and your ship’s database. Of course I learned everything I needed to know just from your ship’s main computer. But I needed to see it for myself. Yes, you four did fail the test at the beginning, by attacking first when it is your ‘Starfleets’ policy to never, ever fire first. So I decided to give you four a second chance, and granted it took a lot longer than I had expected but it was necessary to see if you four would learn from your mistake and you have.” He clasped his hands together and smacked his lips with a smile. “You four are still very young. This whole galaxy is full of such young races. So I knew that you would learn from your mistakes, thus I wasn’t going to just give up on you so easily. Boy, was I glad to see and hear you four telling off that woman of how wrong you were for attacking her.” He chuckled as he shook his head.

“Hm?” He blinked at them before shaking his head again. “No, no, I don’t think you will remember a whole lot of this conversation. You will, however, remember the experience you had. The thirty five years of memories will remain. And I may keep some pieces of this conversation in there as well but I am going to remove a whole lot that I have told you. About my species and what we do. You see, not only do we try to take very little time out of your lives, we also try to remain secretive. Because there are races like the Borg in so many galaxies that we have visited, that we would really prefer that they did not know about us. A precaution as you would say. The Q knows little about us, but even they know better than to provoke the Borg. So we stay clear of them and anyone we test, we erase all mentions about us existing. Just a precaution.” He chuckled.

“Oh. Why that world? That…fantasy, you say James?” He chuckled again. “Because not many of you were thinking of anything fun! Except for James here. Apparently he had been playing some game called…what was it? Final Fantasy Four? Just before his shift started on board the Centaur.” Everyone turned to look at James and James just shrugged with a shy grin. “Ah, don’t blame the lad. He delved into the history of the twentieth century of Earth and found probably one of the best parts of it…or the worst…it really depends on how you would see it I suppose. A lot of people would say that these ‘video games’ were the best things in life. Helped relieve stress from work and let them enjoy something that was very…unrealistic. But others thought that these ‘video games’ were the cause for the bad things in life. There was a lot of turmoil about it in that century, not that it’s important really. Point is, that is what James was thinking about, some fantasy game and so I created this world based off of his fantasy.”

Ashley then looked back at James, her eyes wide and yet looked like they were daggers, stabbing him. James didn’t understand why she looked at him like that. The man chuckled, “Oh don’t be so harsh on him, Ashley. Not everything was a fantasy.” Though he wasn’t going to say what, as that was something they needed to figure out on their own.

“Hm? Why allow you to remember the thirty five years of something that didn’t exist and erase only bits of this conversation? Why not erase everything? But then that wouldn’t be the point of this test if I erased the mistake you made and the realization that you made that mistake. How would you be learning from it if I just snapped my fingers and made it all disappear? No can do, my dear boy, I will not erase that from your minds. Hm? Why disrupt your lives with this? I hardly disrupted anything, to be honest. Look. I understand that being stuck with memories of over thirty years is going to be difficult for you, but from what I can see in the future…the four of you will do just fine. Especially you, Captain.” He grinned and winked at Vakai. “Now I actually have used up all the time I have available. So I must return your minds back to your bodies and be on my way. It was a pleasurable experience, and I will cherish it. So without further ado, I will extract much that I have told you, leave some pieces behind and leave the mystery for you and your crew. Cheerio!”

With that, they were suddenly back in the transporter room on board the Centaur, and the transporter technician who was just about to hit the energize button, just witnessed the planet disappearing from sensors. “The hell. Uh…sirs…it’s gone.”

With only bits of the conversation remaining in their minds, pieces of it being that the planet never even existed in the first place, that they were tested not just them individually but them as an organization, they looked at each other knowing full well that the planet suddenly no longer showing on sensors was going to happen. The four of them stepped off the pad, as Vakai tapped his badge. “Vakai to Captain Carter. Can you meet us in sickbay?”

There was a slight hesitation before Carter responded. “On my way.”

“Why sickbay?” James asked.

Sivol looked at him, “To see if it is true. There is one way to know for certain if we still retained all those memories. Aside from actually remembering what we went through, of course.” Thus, the four of them headed straight for Sickbay, where they either stood by or sat on a bio bed while the CMO, Doctor Summer Pearce examined them.

When Carter arrived, the Doctor turned to face him before putting her medical tricorder away. “I just finished scanning all four of their brains. The hippocampus is literally filled with decades of information, where none have been there before the last time I examined them. And I have examined each one of them last week.”

“Thirty five years to be exact, Doctor.” Vakai told her.

“Thirty five years, four months, two weeks, five days, thirteen hours, twenty four minutes and thirty seconds to be exact…” Sivol corrected before noticing the looks she was getting from everyone and cleared her throat in a sort of apologetic way.

Carter blinked away the surprised look he had on his face, only to fail. “How is that even possible?”

“The USS Enterprise encountered something similar. They found a probe and the Captain was affected and the years he experienced…only twenty five minutes in real time had really passed. It is safe to say that these four experienced the exact same thing.” Pearce explained.

“Same kind of experience but not the same method or encounter.” Vakai told them.

“What do you mean?” Carter asked.

Vakai took in a deep breath, “The planet never existed. Neither did the forest, nor did the cavern. I don’t even think we had an open comm link with the ship. The second we were ready to transport down was the second our minds were…claimed by this being. He…” He frowned and shook his head. “I can’t remember a whole lot that he said…only that he was testing us. And not the four of us individually but us as an organization. I mean, I’m Romulan, Sivol is Vulcan, James and Ashley are human. So he was testing us as members of the Federation.”

James sighed, “And we failed the first time.”

Carter frowned, “Failed?”

Sivol slipped off the bed onto her feet and stood by Vakai’s side, facing the Captain. “We attacked first.”

“I’ll explain everything in your office.” Vakai said, and as he was about to lead the Captain out of sickbay, suddenly every console, every terminal began to display a strange symbol.

“Bridge to Captain! We just lost all control of the ship.” Said Gomo.

Carter stared at the symbol, remembering the day he made Captain…the day he was told about this…the Omega Directive…and how he had believed that this may never happen in his lifetime. Now it was happening. “I am afraid you will have to explain everything to me later, Number One. I have to be in my office, alone.” Then he double tapped his badge, linking to the ship’s intercom. “This is the Captain. Do not concern yourselves about what you see on your screen. It’s…a message from Starfleet. I will deal with it. Carter out.” Without giving Vakai or anyone else a chance to ask ‘what message’, he left Sickbay in a hurry.

James walked over to Vakai’s side. “What message from Starfleet could disable all ship functions?”

Vakai frowned, “I don’t know. But it doesn’t sound good.”

Suddenly, Ashley bumped into James on her way out of Sickbay, her strides quick as if she was in a hurry to get the hell out of there. James went into the corridor, “Ashley wait!”

“Go away, Ryker! Leave me alone!” She shouted behind her and then was gone.

“The hell?” James asked Vakai when Vakai and Sivol joined him in the corridor. “What did I do?”

Vakai shook his head, “I don’t know but I think we have much bigger problems.”

—-

And the Story Continues to Episode Two Phase One: Greed and Desperation!