The Odysseus was not very large, only eight decks in height, but that was still a considerable hike via Jefferies tubes and turbolift shafts in dim lighting. Either between the ship’s power grid being stretched across timelines, or the damage the ship had taken from plugging the Scar in the first place, most systems were out or on the lowest power. Corridors were cast into jagged shadows of erratic emergency lighting or the shuddering illumination of a malfunctioning display panel, doors needed cranking open, and Kharth knew they were lucky to have life support.
She slipped out of the next hatch first, phaser in-hand, sweeping the corridor for possible threat even though they had yet to encounter anything. ‘Clear,’ she said after a heartbeat.
Cortez slid from the Jefferies tube like a professional swimmer emerging from water, and Kharth reasoned the Chief Engineer spent half her life in these things. ‘What did you expect?’
‘I don’t know. Call me paranoid as we move through shadowy corridors with no sign of life.’
‘You’re paranoid.’ Cortez straightened. ‘Or optimistic? Don’t think these are problems so simple we can shoot ‘em.’
Kharth still advanced like she was sweeping hostile territory. ‘Something’s happened to the rest of the crew. You think it’s so simple that everyone else has just been trapped in their own time bubble?’
‘That’s not simple. Maybe only ten seconds have passed down here, so they didn’t get around to achieving anything. Or temporal displacement meant the ship’s systems acted oddly; I’m not even sure how the ship’s still functioning with that going on. Or -’
Cortez winced. ‘It’s hypothetical. But I guess they could have been stuck down here for, like, a hundred years and died.’
Kharth’s lips thinned. ‘I thought you were supposed to be the cheerful one, Isa.’
‘I’m sorry! I’m just remembering the last time we were in a situation like this, except it was alternate realities instead of time, but still, we were on a ship stuck in an anomaly. Or, on two different ships stuck in an anomaly.’
‘And I was stuck with Thawn, who’s sounding like a positively shiny alternative to your doom-mongering.’
‘Hey, don’t go too far.’ Cortez sighed. ‘Sorry. I’m a bit on edge myself. I know you’ve got more reason to be -’
‘I’m fine,’ said Kharth, and used the turn of a junction, checking all corners were clear, as an excuse to pretend she wasn’t hesitating. ‘We’re doing something. That’s all I need. What the hell are you stressed about?’
‘It’s very silly.’ There was a beat of silence. ‘Commander Aquila is very tall, don’t you think?’
Kharth took a moment to glare at a bulkhead, even if part of her much preferred to deal with this than the crisis ahead. ‘Tall. Blonde. Pretty. Smart. Yeah, she’s the whole package; Valance should sweep her off her feet and forget about you the moment we’re done -’
‘I said it was silly!’
‘That doesn’t give you a pass to be a complete idiot, Isa.’ Kharth gave a low groan. She was the last person to talk about this. ‘You can’t compete with history. Don’t try. Make your own. Valance is not-so-secretly very proud of and impressed by how you’ve come aboard this ship and in four seconds figured out things Aquila and Tegan didn’t sort in four months.’
‘You’re right,’ said Cortez. ‘This isn’t the time for this.’ But there was a moment’s silence as they tromped on down the dim corridor, until she said, ‘Where the hell did you come up with that “compete with history” wisdom?’
‘Romulans are a very spiritual people,’ Kharth prevaricated. When Dav had left to be Joined, she’d spent a long time reading. She had not been the first person to see a relationship transformed by it, by someone they cared about suddenly embracing centuries and lifetimes of experiences, memories. But all those lessons had turned out to be for nothing.
‘You read it on a fortune cookie, didn’t you,’ Cortez grumbled.
‘I don’t -’
Then there was a thump from around the next corner, the sound of thudding footsteps going the opposite direction, and the unmistakable sound of a door’s manual crank. In a heartbeat, Kharth had gone flush against the bulkhead, back to the turn, phaser raised.
Cortez, still in the middle of the corridor, watched with an unimpressed gaze. ‘That’s someone running away, Saeihr. Brandishing a phaser won’t help.’ She wandered past the security chief, sticking her head around the corner. ‘Hullo! We’re the rescue party, it’s okay!’
Seething, Kharth followed her into the now-empty corridor. ‘Oh no, she got shot, how terrible…’
‘Let’s check the doors, come on.’
While there were a series of office doors lining the corridor, only several could have been used, the hatches beside them exposing the hand-cranks. Kharth went to one, Cortez another, and Kharth looked at her with an arch expression. ‘Keep your phaser ready; we have no idea what we’re dealing with.’
‘Sure, sure, I’ll shoot people I’m here to rescue, check your own damn door.’
It didn’t take much for them to crank their respective doors open, but Kharth waited a beat until Cortez stuck her head inside hers, calling out to identify herself, before she examined her own room. The office was completely dark until the dim thread of light spilled from the gloomy corridor, and she did not call out. Instead, the flick of a thumb brought on the light on her phaser and, safe in the cover of the doorway, she swept it through the room.
Dimmed replicator, dead display, chair, desk, silhouette, plant-
‘Hell’s teeth,’ Kharth swore as the light landed on the figure flush against the wall. ‘What’re you – Dav?’
His hands had been lifted against the light, but that wasn’t the only reason she’d struggled to recognise him. His uniform was torn and worn, but most striking of all was the long hair and shaggy beard framing sunken features. He lowered his hands as she did her torch, and she could see those intense eyes locking onto her.
But Davir Airex did not look surprised, and said, ‘Oh, you’re back,’ in a rasping voice.
Kharth did not loosen her grip on her phaser. ‘Isa,’ she called urgently, before returning her gaze to Airex. ‘Dav, what the hell is going on?’
Airex gave a low, detached chuckle, and she realised that much as he was looking at her, he was also looking through her. ‘That’s not going to work.’ He nodded down at the phaser. ‘Are you going to use that this time?’
Cortez appeared at Kharth’s shoulder, and Kharth heard her muttered oath. ‘Well, that ain’t good. Airex, how long have you been here?’
‘I think we’ve got a while longer to go,’ said Airex, but his voice remained light, as if he was talking to himself more than them.
‘And why might I shoot you?’ asked Kharth, lowering her phaser even more.
His expression sank. ‘Because it is my fault. I don’t have any excuses. I deserve it all.’
‘It’s not your fault,’ said Cortez, ‘that the Odysseus got stuck like this. I mean, you’ve saved a lot of lives down on Whixby -’
‘That’s not what he’s talking about,’ said Kharth in a quiet voice, and holstered her phaser. ‘Dav. You know we’re real, right?’
‘Oh, shit,’ Cortez swore under her breath again. ‘He’s really been here a while, huh.’
‘You said I’m here again,’ Kharth said to Airex softly, and took a slow step forward. ‘What happened last time, Dav? What normally happens?’
He tensed as she approached but didn’t bolt, taut like a horse that might flee if she made just the wrong move. His brow furrowed. ‘I know I became the monster. I became a monster to you.’ He stepped back, hands coming up to his temples, spurred to agitation. ‘That’s why I left, Cara Sai, that’s why I had to go, you were too close on Teros, and I couldn’t – I don’t want you to look at me like that again…’
For a split second, Kharth considered teasing this out, following his train of thought. Davir Hargan had promised he’d come back to her, only to emerge a different man and leave without so much as an explanation. But if Davir Airex had been stuck alone in the dark for who knew how long, there was no telling what demons had begun to pray on his mind. She knew the long-term effects of isolation, the hallucinations brought on by a lack of stimulation, a lack of any outside contact.
‘Yes,’ she said at last, slinking closer. ‘I’m mad at you because you turned into an asshole and left me. But Cortez and I are here from Endeavour, and we’ve come to rescue you. Dav -’ She stopped just within arm’s reach and hesitated, looking into his wide, bewildered eyes. She needed to reach him, but more importantly, she needed to bring him back. ‘Commander Airex, report.’ She reached out to put a firm hand to his elbow, felt him coil like a spring for a heartbeat – and then his vision cleared, his eyes locking on her.
Davir Airex drew a sharp breath. ‘Lieutenant Kharth. You’re -’
Cortez cleared her throat. ‘Yeah, maybe I should have jumped in sooner – why would you hallucinate me?’
Airex blinked, hard, focus returning to his vision at last. ‘What’s going on?’
‘The ship’s been temporally displaced, Commander,’ said Cortez. ‘That’s why we look bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and you, I guess, have been wandering the corridors for… do I want to guess how long?’
‘I… theorised something like that.’ He rubbed his temples, moving now to rest against the desk. He was like a puppet whose strings had been cut as reality flooded back before him, seemingly weak all of a sudden. ‘We were heading for Main Engineering, but everything was… was it just our perception of time, first?’ Again his voice went detached, but Kharth knew this tone; he was thinking out loud rather than going away inside. ‘We got separated; corridors were turning in on themselves, looping, we couldn’t get anywhere, we couldn’t find each other…’
Kharth looked at Cortez, who winced. ‘Bending of space as much as time?’ the engineer hazarded. ‘I don’t have the data and we’re really moving out of my field.’
‘We were on our way to Main Engineering and looking for you,’ Kharth said to Airex. ‘Isa thinks she can free the Odysseus and close the rift.’ That was a generous interpretation, but he didn’t look like he needed new complexities.
‘How long?’ Airex said, lifting his head. ‘How long has the ship been missing?’
She winced. ‘Less than a week.’ She watched his expression creak, and again brought a hand to his elbow. ‘We should get you out of here, back to the bridge. Aquila’s there, Valance is there…’
‘Karana.’ He closed his eyes, screwing them tight. ‘Gods, I thought I’d give anything to get out, but everything I was running away from is still waiting for me, isn’t it?’
Even now, furious at him and broken by him and bewildered by him, her heart pinched at the wave of anguish on his face. Her hand moved to his upper arm, touch gentler. ‘Dav, we are going to get you off this ship, rescue this crew, and anything else, anything else, comes later. Okay?’
His eyes snapped open to lock on her, and he spoke with a rising panic. ‘I told myself I’d apologise and explain. That if I ever got out of here, I’d make it right. But I can’t, Sae -’
‘Later.’ She forced strength into her voice. If she’d been alone in the dark for countless aeons with nothing but her guilt for company, the light at the end of the tunnel might feel like an oncoming train for her, too. ‘We’ll escort you back.’
‘No,’ he said at last, but sounded stronger now. ‘I know the way, you have a mission.’
‘The way is clear, now,’ Cortez said gently. ‘Hatch 3-B can take a direct route to the bridge. No more temporal disconnect.’
He followed as she led him to the doorway, pliant now, exhausted. They’d moved to corridors as much as possible to make their progress quick, but now Cortez led them to the nearest Jefferies tube for a slower, but less-complicated route back. Kharth waited until they were back in the corridor before she asked her next question, wanting him moving, returning to normalcy before she pushed his mind back.
Airex’s expression darkened, like a memory coming plunging from far back. ‘We got turned around and separated,’ he said slowly, staring for a heartbeat at nothing, and he paused with a hand atop the tube access. ‘I saw him years – some time later. He didn’t have – doesn’t have – I’ve centuries of memories to keep focus, to not lose myself, but he didn’t… was that him?’
Kharth exchanged a cautious glance with Cortez, who’d cracked the Jefferies tube open for him, then tilted her head at the confused jumble of words. ‘Keep it simple, Dav. What happened?’
‘That was real. Wasn’t it,’ Airex mumbled to himself, before his eyes snapped up to meet hers, widening. ‘He killed Lieutenant Kimathi.’
Then a phaser blast from the darkness took Cortez in the gut.
She dropped like a stone and Kharth turned, poised on the balls of her feet. A shadow loomed down the corridor, already opening fire again, and she barely had time to put a shoulder to Airex and half-shove him down into the Jefferies tube. ‘Go.’
Blocking and pushing slowed her down, and the second phaser shot glanced off her hip. It was set to stun, at least, but even a grazing shot was enough to knock her from her feet. Kharth tried to catch herself as she fell, thudding to the deck, and she heard thumping footsteps approaching. So she did the only thing she could do: reached out, and slammed the Jefferies tube hatch shut on Airex, sealing him inside.
A strong hand grabbed her by the shoulder and dragged her upright to come face-to-face with the weary, bearded, bedraggled features of Lieutenant Commander Robert Templeton, XO of the USS Odysseus, and a man she’d once called a friend. His eyes were wilder, less-focused than even Airex’s had been, and it was like he was barely seeing her.
But the phaser pistol rammed into her gut was real enough. ‘Time to end this,’ Templeton growled.