Shortly after Too Much, Too Soon
-=Holodeck One: USS Serendipity=-
The party aboard the Sera was beginning to wind down.
People had spent a memorable evening interacting not only with the holographic residents endemic to the program in progress, but also some of the greatest minds in history, reproduced in photonic form for their enlightenment and amusement.
The crew had been inducted as official members of The Adventurer's Club. They had learned the club salute and sang, mostly on key, the official club song. They had even, several of them, been brave enough to try a Kungaloosh; the Adventurer's Club's signature alcoholic beverage.
The Balderdash Cup had ended awhile ago and the next show was already underway in The Library. Though Dabin Reece was at first distraught over his loss of the trophy and the title, all the praise he received for his work on constructing the program and arranging the party seemed to be helping to bolster his sagging ego.
Zanh Liis had watched from the back of the room as most of those present chose to go take in the last show, She now stood in the all but deserted Grand Salon, just taking in the atmosphere.
By all accounts, it had been a fantastic night.
Full of laughter and surprises for everyone. She had very much enjoyed watching her crew, her friends, celebrate.
This was the sort of night that came around only too rarely in the life of those serving in Starfleet. The kind of night when exceptional memories were made.
The kind of memories you wanted to keep for a lifetime.
Liis happily shook her head with wonder as she regarded the book of matches and cocktail napkin that she held in her hand. She'd been given them by one of the show's performers during the last show; offered as supposed proof of the existence of the lost continent of Atlantis.
Dashing Club member and famous aviator Hathaway Browne had descended dramatically from the ceiling, sliding quickly down the tall Library ladder; stunning the crowd and prepared to give an accounting of his greatest adventure to those judging who should win the Balderdash Cup.
Browne claimed, at the end of the complicated tale of a journey fraught with dangers, to have visited Atlantis, and brought back proof as evidence- a cocktail napkin and matchbook which bore the stamp of the Atlantis Bar and Grill upon them.
"Nice touch, Reece," Zanh grinned again, patting the Trill on the back as he sauntered past. "Designing the program so the props they give away were actually replicated and we get to keep them. Well done."
"Yeah, well you know me." Reece sighed, his lips turned downward still into a slight moue at the sight of Ledbetter across the room. Ashton polished the cup with the cuff of his sleeve just to be sure it was shining brightly as he continued his bragging to Beulah the holographic French maid about his victory. "Attention to detail is part of my charm."
"Speaking of charming." Zanh gestured now to a large wing back chair in the corner, where February Grace, despite the noise of the revelry around her, had fallen soundly asleep.
"Awww. Will you look at that? Poor 'lil Bru. Pregnancy will do that to you, I remember it well," Dabin sighed wistfully. "Makes you so tired it knocks you flat. I should take her home."
Reece looked around him now, realizing for the first time all night, Zanh did not have a towering Irishman tightly attached to her arm. "Speaking of our respective spouses, where did Lucky Charm go?"
"Keiran said he had an incoming message he had to take. He'll be right back... and..." Liis' eyes widened. "What the hell did you just call him?"
Before Reece could explain himself, her head snapped toward the arch as she heard it open watched Keiran stride through it.
His expression immediately told her that something was wrong.
He had been so relaxed, smiling and laughing all night long. Just content, it seemed to follow her from room to room as she made the rounds among the crew. Now something was troubling him, and she had to find out what it was.
Before she could approach him, the doors to The Library opened and all the people began to spill out.
The show had ended, and the crowd was ushered back into The Main Salon. Some headed for the arch, others back to the bar for one more round before calling it a night.
Liis watched as Keiran, on the other side of the assembly and with his path to her suddenly cut off, very slowly raised his hand, silently begging her attention.
Her mind flashed back to another night, another party on the holodeck, and another glance across a crowded space. Another instance in which he had asked for her to find a way to speak to him without arousing the notice of the rest of those present.
"Reece, do me a favor. Take Bru home but stay up a little while longer. I have a feeling I may need to talk to you again soon."
"You're the boss." Dabin moved over and dropped to a knee beside Bru as she stirred from her sleep, hearing all the voices. "C'mon Bru." He said affectionately, taking her hand. "Let's get you tucked in."
TC Blane emerged from The Library alongside Landry Steele, Paxton Briggs and Zander and Samthia Blakeslee. The couple said quick goodnights and finally managed to make their exit.
Looking up, Blane happened to catch the look that passed between Zanh and O'Sullivan in the instant before Keiran turned and quickly exited the holodeck, and Zanh did her best to follow casually a moment later.
TC knew the look in her eyes, and he knew the manner of her step.
Immediately, he excused himself from the group of his comrades and went back to quarters.
To put his uniform back on.
Keiran was waiting for Liis when she reached her ready room.
Again, she felt the strongest sensation of deja vu in this moment. Only this time, she knew exactly what every look he gave her meant as he stood before her.
Every look, that was, except the one he was wearing now.
"What is it?" Her worst fear formed upon her lips in a whispered question. "Carrick?"
"No, is not. Gem Lassiter just called."
"She's still angry?"
"No. Is...Captain," Keiran stammered.
"Keiran, don't do that." Liis' hair stood on end as she felt a shiver run down the length of her spine. "When you call me Captain, it frightens me."
"Can't help it. Am frightened." For him to admit to such fear, something must be horribly wrong.
"Just tell me."
"The Zenith entered an area of space experiencing extreme distortions, and hasn't been seen or heard from since."
Liis said nothing. She did not move, she did not blink.
"Gem has sent orders." Keiran continued. "Was so distraught she asked me to give them to you myself." He paused, hesitating for an instant. "She wants us to go after them."
Liis exhaled sharply as she considered this.
"One thing more. We're only to tell the members of crew who absolutely have to know what we're lookin' for until we find it, and we're to observe subspace silence except to communicate with Lassiter or Admiral Galloway for the time bein'. There is a fear that if the word gets out that the new flagship has gone off the radar..."
"Starfleet's image is at stake." Liis concluded regretfully- and correctly. "It's more important to them than swarming the area with every available ship they have to find that crew, because they want to keep it quiet more than they care about actually finding our people." Liis knew that this must be driving Lassiter absolutely mad. She grabbed the sailor's spyglass from her desk and opened and closed it nervously as she asked the question she dreaded. "How many souls reported aboard?"
"Eight hundred," Keiran whispered gravely, "...and seventy-two, Captain."
Liis very slowly set the glass back down. She drew a deep breath.
It was time to get to work.
"All right. Staff meeting in ten minutes. First order of business is for me to get the Sera> released from space dock, bring the Alchemy in and get us underway." As Zanh thought about her chief flight controller still being off duty for medical reasons, she pondered her options when it came to pilots. Then, another thought occurred to her. "Does Gira know?"
"Don' believe so. She'd likely have come to me straight away."
"That's what I thought. I don't want her at the helm for this, even if I have to fly the ship out of dock myself."
"Understood, I'll make sure Salvek and Blane know she's off limits."
Liis moved closer to him and looked up and into his face. His bright blue eyes, usually as clear and calm as the summer sky were swirling now, like a storm upon the sea. "Do you want me to tell her, or would you rather do it?"
"The Admiral didn'-"
"We have to tell her, Keiran. Sooner or later."
Keiran nodded slowly. "I'd like to be the one, then. But I think we should wait until we're closer to knowin' exactly what we're goin' into."
"Use your discretion."
Keiran hoped that was a conversation that he might yet be spared from having. "What about the last of the internal repairs?"
"Will have to be done en route by Dengar and his people. They can handle it." Liis paced back and forth, twisting the chain of her earring. "I'm just surprised Lassiter doesn't want the Alchemy to go ahead of us. It can get there a lot faster."
"She won't risk the prototype."
"Not even if it could save her own son?"
"No." Keiran droned, knowing full well the way Gem's mind worked. "Not even for Nicholas."
"Well, call her back and ask her one last time, just in case. Though I do see her point. Even if it did get there sooner, any distortion capable of taking a ship the size of the Zen would..."
Zanh stopped, not wanting to think of the potential damage such powerful forces would do to the Serendipity, either.
"Salvek, Blane, Reece. With Zander gone, I'll ask you to step in and lead Sera's security team, if you're willing."
"'Course, am willin'. Whatever ya need me ta do, I'll always do."
"Thank you." She drew in a long breath and released it before continuing.
"Dengar, Tryst, Hartcort, you and I. See if Briggs will take the bridge in the interim. That ought to do for a start. And do me a favor, tell Blakeslee if he wants to stay behind on Earth, he's to quietly take his family and disembark immediately. Apologize to him on my behalf for the rush, Can't be helped."
"I'll handle it. Main conference room in ten minutes. We'll be waitin' for you, Captain."
Liis paused to think for a moment as he moved swiftly toward the door.
He looked back.
"You're still the best partner I've ever had."
A small, melancholy smile barely turned up the corner of his lip. "We always did work well together, didn' we?"
"Yes. We make a hell of a team," she added, barely breathing the words. "I'm so glad you're here. For more reasons than one."
His expression told her that he was as well, and then, he was gone.
She pulled the pack of Atlantis Bar and Grill matches from her pocket and considered them again- thinking them highly ironic now.
"Maybe that's where the Zenith has gone." She whispered to the empty room. "They're just visiting Atlantis."
She took off her jacket and unwound the silk scarf from around her neck, tossing both aside. She brought the computer to life and hailed the dock master on duty.
"This is Captain Zanh Liis O'Sullivan of the Serendipity," She informed him soberly, the instant he came into view on her screen. "And you have got to let us go."
On Earth far below, Gemini Lassiter stared blankly out the windows of her office, lost in thought.
Thirty two years.
Thirty two years, six months, and eleven days.
That's how long it had been.
How long since she'd taken total leave of her senses, acted on impulse and lived- not so much to regret it as to remember it, every moment she'd lived since.
It was so unlike her to do anything like that. But then, she hadn't strayed from the path alone.
She'd had an enthusiastic tour guide.
The span seemed a lot longer to her given the years of non-linear time she'd lived.
Jump after Jump.
Mission after mission.
Day after goddamned day.
As soon as the danger to the Zenith had been verified- all hails unanswered and the ship vanished from scanners without any explanation at all, her mind commenced a full out assault.
It assailed her with every memory she had of the son she'd brought into the world some thirty nine weeks after she'd abandoned all reason. She was too tired to try to count down the days since to the one now that she had no idea where that son was.
Nicholas is missing.
The son that he had no idea existed, because not only was he never meant to know, the son was never meant to exist.
This is the price I must pay, Gemini Lassiter cursed herself, For having tried to keep just a piece of you. Just one small part, for myself.
Folding her arms down atop her desk, she rested her head down upon them.
She did not cry. Crying was something that Gemini Lassiter simply never did.
Crying showed weakness, and if there was anything that she'd learned by this age it was that you could not afford to show your weaknesses to anyone. If you had to bite your tongue until it bled or dig your fingernails into your skin to the point of puncture to keep control of the emotionless mask on your face, then that was what you did.
The older she got, however, the more she had to admit that it was getting more difficult to keep that mask from slipping.
Recently she'd become far too careless.
The worst example of this loss of control, allowing herself to be taken off her guard in a moment of panic. In that instant she'd shown far more of her internal Hell than she ever had meant to, to a virtual stranger.
Upon reflection she decided that it was probably best that the man who had witnessed the momentary lapse was a stranger.
So much better than if he'd been someone who knew her well.
Not many people could claim that they knew her well, and that was exactly the way she liked it.
She could count on perhaps the fingers of one hand those in her lifetime who had done so, and at least two of them were now dead.
She had lived her life as the embodiment of the Kipling quote 'He travels the fastest who travels alone' and never had a problem with it. If you keep moving, no one can see you.
If you keep moving, no one can touch you.
If you keep moving, no one can get close to you.
Allowing no one to get close to her was the cost of the bargain she'd made with herself as part of the justification. The self-imposed sentence she carried out in silence as penance for allowing herself to keep the gift she'd been so unintentionally given.
One gift, to remember him by.
Trouble was, that gift had gotten closer to her heart than any other being she'd ever encountered and now that gift-- her heart, her pride and her joy, had quite simply vanished.
Without his brilliance, she felt certain that her internal universe would go dark; collapsing in upon itself.
Unless Nicholas was found, she would never know sunlight again.
//// Admiral Gemini Lassiter
Director of The Alchemy Project