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Part of USS Endeavour: Certain Dark Things

Certain Dark Things – 5

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February 2400
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Like liquid gold, the sunlight streamed through the tall windows and into the auditorium. Valance walked the aisle between the rows upon rows of staggered seating, peoples and aliens from all over gathered in this audience tumbling down to the central stage. The speaker at the main podium was a wizened Trill woman, jabbing with her finger as she spoke, but her words were muffled, like the light was too thick for her voice to pierce it.

She could see her target, Obrent Airex, sat near the front of the audience. He was wiry and middle-aged, his features sharp and pointy, eyes dark and intent. As he listened, she saw him tap fingers along the edge of his desk, more rhythmically than anxiously. The habit had been picked up by Davir, she thought; it physically anchored him in his discussion, environment, and helped him focus.

But as she listened, she saw him clench and unclench that hand, saw his eyes dart about the room. She hesitated, watching him, checking where he was looking – to the windows beyond which sprawled Trill’s sunlit lakes, to the rest of the crowd of delegates here for nothing more than a diplomatic conference, to the doors –

Which were thrown open at all sides for two groups of four figures to rush in toting phaser rifles, and then she could hear the voices and sounds around her, because it was all screaming. There were shouts from the gunmen, hollers for people to stay in their seat, a couple of bursts of phaser fire.

The first gunman had been armed and armoured and masked as she might expect someone to be two centuries ago, toting a rifle of the early twenty-third century. But the second looked like a Klingon from the mid-century war, the third a Romulan in a uniform a hundred years too late, the fourth a Nausicaan dressed like the fringe scavengers and muscle Valance had seen on border worlds throughout her career; all swarming in together, like it was natural for them to act as one.

If Obrent thought them an odd invasion, he did not show it – he simply bolted. She was too far away, had spent too long watching him from a distance, and though she surged forward through what had become a crowd on the cusp of panic, she was too slow. A gunman levelled a phaser at him. A shot sounded.

Then she was jerking upright on the biobed in Starbase Bravo’s Infirmary, gasping for breath, alerts blaring from the nearby equipment. ‘What – what happened?’ Adrenaline surged so bitterly she could taste it, her hearts thudding like she’d run a marathon.

Pharan was already up from his own biobed, devices still stuck to his forehead, but he stood beside Airex’s bed and thudded commands into the bed’s systems. ‘That did not work,’ he mused.

Carraway stood in the doorway, and folded his arms. ‘What happened?’

‘I was in a memory. I think.’ Valance swung her arms over the side of the bed and rubbed her temples. ‘Obrent was at some conference, I think on Trill, it must have been an academic gathering knowing his background, and armed gunmen burst in. He was shot.’

Carraway frowned and pulled out his PADD, tapping at commands. ‘That’s probably the Ardienne Summit of 2235; it was racked with attacks from dissidents protesting the border changes of the era.’ He tilted his head as he read. ‘Yes, there was a hostage crisis. Nobody was badly hurt and the offenders were talked down. Obrent was there. There’s no indication he was shot.’

Valance shook her head. ‘The attackers, they weren’t just dissidents – there were Klingons, a Romulan when there shouldn’t have been…’

‘This might be Obrent’s memory, but it’s coloured by Airex’s feelings,’ Pharan reminded her. ‘It’s not too surprising what you see will be impacted by the emotions and memories of other lives. Remember that this is is about Airex feeling under threat. Obrent Airex was an academic and a diplomat; this was probably the most dangerous situation of his whole life.’

‘What am I supposed to do; stop him from getting shot?’

‘More or less. This will be a step-by-step process, but our first stage necessitates calming Airex down, making it realise it’s not in any more danger. I expect you may encounter various memories of violence, and it will be your responsibility to, at the least, make it clear to Airex that none of this is the end. Once Airex is listening, we can try something more.’

‘Try,’ said Carraway, ‘to stay close to Airex in the memories. Be a reassuring presence.’

‘I never met Obrent.’

‘You’ve already seen the other lives change these memories; they’re imperfect recollection. Airex knows you.’

‘However.’ Pharan clasped his hands together with a wince. ‘There are only so many times you can enter Airex’s memories and thoughts and be ejected. It’s a stressful experience for both of you. There’s precious little opportunity here for trial-and-error. You’re going to have to act fast, not wait for things to go wrong and then check historical records out here.’

Valance drew a deep breath, nodded, and looked at Carraway. ‘Anything more I should know about in his history?’

Carraway shrugged. ‘This was probably Obrent’s biggest danger. Isady lived a quiet life. Tabain was in Starfleet and in the Federation-Klingon War, but at least that’s an environment you’re familiar with. I’ve been checking records, but I’m sorry, Karana; you know him better than me.’

He was never that forthcoming about his past. But there was no time to quibble about this; if she couldn’t do it, nobody could. Valance lay back down on the biobed. ‘I’m ready. Let’s go again.’

Pharan moved between the biobeds again, and it was like it was before; just like going to sleep, Starbase Bravo fading from her awareness, the consciousness of Airex rising to fill it. Rising with pillars of golden sunlight.

In the peaceful auditorium with the muffled voice of the distant speaker, this time she wasted no time sliding into the seat next to Obrent Airex. ‘In a moment,’ said Valance, her voice dropping, ‘something’s going to happen.’

Obrent stiffened and looked at her. This was a construction, she understood truly for the first time, because his expression was not like it might have been if this were real life and she were a stranger slipping up to say this. ‘I know,’ said Obrent, then frowned. ‘I know you.’

‘Not yet,’ said Valance, and the doors burst open. Phaser fire and screams filled the air, and she had to reach out to grab his arm. ‘But you will. Trust me. Stay put, and wait, and this will all be fine. Trust me.’

Obrent sank back down, but the rest of the auditorium became muffled as his attention narrowed on her, like the situation was warped solely by his focus. ‘I do,’ said the reedy Obrent, somewhat confused. ‘But it’s going to get a lot harder from here.’

‘Harder to trust me?’

He shook his head, and the golden pillars of sunlight tumbled away with the auditorium walls, with the gunmen, with the panicked crowds, with all of Obrent Airex and his life. ‘You just can’t stop it.’

The words echoed down into the darkness with her, and it was like she was falling through the dust of Airex’s dreams and memories, tumbling through nothingness. Then came light, but the next shining pillars rising were not of glorious sunlight, but the streaming emergency lighting strips of a Starfleet ship in a disaster.

She spun and landed on a deck amid thudding footsteps, raised voice which held that same muffled quality. When she pushed herself upright, it was to see the corridors of a ship embroiled in chaos, the navy uniforms with metal trim situating her in memories of a century and a half ago. Tabain Airex, Joined Trill, Starfleet officer, future captain. In the middle of, if she was any judge, the Federation-Klingon War.

Valance hauled herself to her feet and stepped out of the way of rushing officers. There was a distant thump and she steadied herself at the shudder of weapons fire impacting the hull. If last time was any indication, she didn’t have the luxury of taking in her surroundings. She had to find Tabain and protect him.

Because this was a memory, he wasn’t far, and she realised the urgency as she looked down the corridor. This wasn’t rushing to stations, this was evacuating a section ahead of sealing it. There he was twenty metres away, Lieutenant Commander Tabain Airex. Where Dav was tall and wiry and Obrent had been small and sharp, Tabain was broad-shouldered and barrel-chested, ushering officers out of danger past the last bulkhead, and Valance rushed with the others to come to a halt beside him.

‘You’ve got maybe another fifteen seconds,’ she estimated, looking down the line of crew hurrying to safety – too many? Beside her, one officer ran past in the uniform of the 2250s; the next, in the maroons of the later century.

‘You’re right,’ rumbled Tabain, and looked at her with more certainty than Obrent had. ‘I know this works. That’s not the problem.’

Ten seconds, five seconds, four, three – one last officer slipped past the bulkhead and he hammered the controls, the emergency blast doors sliding down to seal off the section. For a heartbeat the corridor was that of the old Endeavour, and an officer beside Valance wore the uniform of the 2390s.

Tabain turned towards the crowd with some trepidation, and though she saw him brace as if to speak, he instead glanced at her, memory sliding against imagination shifting against her presence. He looked at the bulkhead, and when she did, one panel was from this era, another from the modern day, and a shiver of something ran up her spine. ‘This part’s the problem.’

Then the power conduit next to him overloaded.

To Valance it was like energy washed over her, light sparkling across her chest. There should have been sparks and surges, more screams and subsiding, but it was like she’d snapped her fingers and they were in the aftermath, rushed through the experience by Tabain’s agonised, fractured memories.

He was on the deck below her, stirring weakly, charred and wounded. But though she did not know everything of Airex, she knew one thing for sure, and knelt beside him to pull him against her. ‘It’s alright,’ Valance said, emotion croaking her voice. ‘You don’t die here.’ Tabain would live to the end of the century, she knew that much. ‘This hurts. It’ll pass.’ It was the oddest comfort she’d ever given, the strangest reassurance.

Tabain’s weak hand came up to curl in her uniform jacket. ‘That’s not the problem,’ he croaked again. ‘Stop him.’

Valance glanced up and around. Stragglers were helping the wounded, the dim lighting and Tabain’s shattered recollection gave her only silhouettes. In one blink, she was on the bridge of Endeavour, this near-death experience blending with Davir’s stabbing by the D’Ghor, then back again, and still she saw nobody to stop.

‘No,’ Tabain managed. ‘Him. I don’t fear death. I fear what comes after.’

Valance swallowed and grasped his hand. ‘I’m here. Whatever it is that happens.’

Tabain gave a weak shake of the head – then slumped back into unconsciousness. This time her surroundings didn’t turn to dust but shattered, bulkheads and metal creaking and falling away –

– then rising back up around her. Before they had been battle-scarred and scored, but now she stood in a ring of light, everything within it white, bright, sterile, and for a heartbeat she thought she’d woken back up in the Infirmary on Starbase Bravo. But it was not the same; this was an operating theatre, with its shining light focusing down on her, and she was on her feet beside doctors gathered around an elderly Trill woman on a biobed.

Isady Airex opened her eyes and looked at Valance. For a moment she had been serene; anaesthetised, perhaps at peace with whatever was happening. Now those eyes widened and her mouth formed a silent scream as she stared through the throng of doctors at Valance.

This wasn’t real. Valance pushed past her instincts to shoulder through the doctors, further into the ring of light. On the periphery were shadows, now, the corners of this operating theatre shrouded from sight or awareness or both. Valance fumbled to grab Isady’s hand, feeling the worn skin, and remembered that Airex’s third host had been very old when she passed, peaceful after the long and fulfilling life that gave her successors their knowledge of the stars.

‘Stop this,’ Isady whimpered.

Valance knew she was not a very warm or reassuring person. Words felt thick on her tongue as she clasped this old woman’s hand and murmured, ‘It’s alright. You can rest. There’s nothing to be afraid of. You know you carry on after this.’

Tears formed at the edge of Isady’s eyes. ‘Not in a way that matters.’

‘You’re a part of Airex, and Airex carries on. Dav remembers you, remembers all you knew, remembers all you loved.’ He’d been on that bridge on the Odysseus, untethered from his sense of time and reality, and the anchors he’d reached for had been past loved ones, Isady’s children and husbands among them. ‘And – and I’m here with you.’

‘I know you are. You always are.’ Isady swallowed. In the distance beeped the medical devices monitoring her, sustaining her through the surgery the doctors had barely stopped, flowing around Valance as if she were no obstacle. ‘You can’t stop this.’

Valance worked her jaw. ‘Stop what?’

The light in the operating theatre grew, the ring expanding, and the hairs on the back of Valance’s neck pricked up as Isady looked beyond her. She turned to see a second biobed with a second figure lying there, a young Trill male with his eyes shut. She recognised him, too; had seen him in the files before coming here, though he’d been older in every picture she’d seen.

Lerin.

A sob escaped Isady’s throat. ‘You can’t stop him.’

Valance shook her head. ‘Why are you afraid…’ But as she tightened her grip on Isady, she found she was holding nothing, dust running through her hand. The old woman, the doctors around her, the biobed, were all crumbling as Obrent had, but the theatre did not. The stark lights remained, the shining metal deck remained, and as Valance turned again, the other biobed remained.

Lerin Airex sat up and looked at her. His pictures had made him seem like a mild-mannered researcher, a little stout, eyes a little pinched, smile a little self-conscious. Now those pale eyes were cold, and as he got to his feet, his average height seemed taller. The dark corners of the operating theatre bent in around him, and the shadow stretching out loomed longer than was possible.

He tilted his head at Valance and tutted. ‘No,’ said Lerin, the softness of his voice its own threat she could neither comprehend nor quantify. ‘No, I don’t think you come any further than this.’

The metal walls of the operating theatre came slamming down in on her, crushing and containing, but this time as Valance strained against the restraints, the worlds, the choking fear of Airex’s she could smell, they did not crumble away.

And as she heard the distant whispers and weeping of the first three hosts of Airex in the shadows of her prison, this time, she did not wake up.

Comments

  • That was enjoyable to read to say the least. How you moved from one memory/experience to another without it confusing where Valance was most enjoyable. I feel like there's more to Airex's past that will not only test Dav as the host but Valance as his friend. Do I sense a revelation coming on? Plus I am sensing a softer approach to Valance here. A side we're starting to see more and more of her. I like that!

    May 1, 2022
  • Ooof, just wow. Really enjoyed this! As MJ said, scene transitions were natural and never felt disorientating but carried that nice dream-like feel to them as the bleed one to the next. The mix of anachronistic details in each as well lends to the disjointed nature of the mind in turmoil as well. Loving the dive into Airex as it’s own entity but also the hosts as well. And why is it always the mild-mannered ones? Is Lirex the villain, an over protective host or just…super secretive? Guess we’ll find out!

    May 1, 2022