by Michael Blakeney and Gem Lassiter
…continued from The Death-Trap…
…continued from The Death-Trap…
Michael had a split second in which to make a decision. His hand was already out of his pocket so he could either reach back for the transponder, for his phaser or he could reach for his shoulder and choose to fight a potentially armed assailant barehanded. Any choice of combat was washed away however as he heard there were now multiple footfalls coming from behind him.
“I’d suggest you raise your hands,” said a menacing voice, “and slowly turn around.”
Michael had no choice but to comply and as he turned to find three phaser like weapons locked onto his position he realized the decision that had been forced upon him was the right one. He’d not heard them materialize, but he knew stealth transport was well within certain species’ abilities; or at least would be soon enough.
The faces which greeted him were human, but he didn’t believe for a second that humans were those to whom they truly belonged. The three of them may have been fakes but he didn’t doubt their weapons were quite real.
“He has a communications device. It is the same one that Artoon’s files were sent to.” Said the shortest of the ‘men’, who’d had his hand on Michael’s shoulder; having now taken the chance to use a scanner in his left hand while still keeping his weapon in his right.
“I guess that must make you Ms. Lassiter.” The one in the middle, apparently their leader, declared. “I must say your beauty was somewhat exaggerated.”
No, it wasn’t, Michael thought to himself as he defiantly informed them, “You’ll have to deal with me, lads. Gem had other plans.” He was glad if for nothing else at this moment that he had kept her safely out of the way.
“Pity. It would have been much more convenient to have killed you both at the same time.” Their leader decided.
As Michael looked into his eyes he knew that the man was entirely intent on hunting Gem down, and that it wouldn’t bother him a bit to do so.
“I can assure you Gem doesn’t know anything, Faltoni.” Michael calmly insisted, receiving a raised eyebrow for the final term he used.
Now they knew he knew what they were and first their leader and then the other two in turn deactivated devices in the necks just as Artoon had done, revealing within them aliens just like the ambassador but each older and with features much harsher. Unfortunately, for all their appearances changed, the three weapons changed into nothing different.
Calmly and with a malicious grin the leader indicated the control panel and the shortest one began to operate it; none of them responding to Michael’s assertion. The short one had put his weapon down but Michael was well aware he still had two of them locked squarely upon him.
“What? Don’t you believe me?” Michael incredulously protested as if he’d been offended, hoping to get them talking, while inside he questioned just how long it’d take to get his hands down to his weapon. Again no one answered.
Soon the short one had finished what he was doing and returned to stand beside the others, weapon once again in hand and raised in Michael’s direction.
“Yes, I believe you.” The leader said finally and though Michael felt a sense of relief because he could tell the leader was being honest, all calm washed away as he noticed the leader’s smile and heard the creak of the doors above him as they shuddered and began slowly to move. It was a truly sickening sound; one indicative of just how impossible it’d be to open them if they did close completely.
“We have good news, my friends.” The leader announced, as they all aimed their weapons at their favorite part of his body. “The knowledge dies with him!”
They were all lined up and just about to fire. At that time, Michael felt a strange vibration and then Gem materialized behind the aliens. Of all things she could be holding Michael had never expected to see a miniature shovel.
Michael had never been quite so happy to see anyone as he was to see Gem right now. Evidently it wasn’t difficult for her to realize what was happening as that shovel was quickly swinging in the direction of the head of the alien leader.
The leader was flattened to the ground. The others turned instinctively around to stop Gem, and Michael didn’t waste a second. His hand flew down to his phaser and in two movements of his wrist the remaining aliens were on the ground also. It was only then that the door above them finished locking.
Despite all the differences in their personalities, Gem and Michael both had the exact same response in comment to this realization, a response both short and very profane.
In an instant Michael’s mood was drastically altered, and not to one of fear as one might expect under the circumstances. He was angry; angry at Gem. Just seconds earlier he’d been happy to see her and even grateful that she’d saved his life. Now he was near furious that she'd refused to stay where he'd put her and now likely had only postponed both their deaths.
If she'd just for once in her efficient, self-reliant life allowed someone else to decide what was best for her, perhaps he'd have been the only one to die today.
He mentally and physically shook himself, realizing what he was considering.
Wait just a damned minute, he thought in disgust. What am I thinking? What am I doing?
How was it possible that he could even consider dying himself the best possible outcome of any situation? How had he ever gotten to the point where, even for an instant, the tiniest fraction of a split second of conscious thought, someone else's life meant more to him than his own?
This was not what he did. He found a nice, simple, easily dismissible girl, he saved their lives and then he lived to reap the rewards. Well, here it seemed he’d failed on every damn front. Dismissible? He couldn’t even stop himself from watching her as she discarded the shovel and rushed over to the controls.
Her hands moved quickly around, employing the most efficient combination of reason and random guessing to see if there was anyway she could override the order to close the doors. Her repeated attempts at the exact same controls betrayed a powerful desire not to accept that this was one instant when all her knowledge of technology wouldn’t be enough.
Michael’s knew already that her attempts would be useless, he already knew those controls were locked out. His eyes began darting quickly around the space they occupied once again, searching for any other way out, yet still they kept returning to her. How could she so control his thoughts even now? The answers were maddeningly elusive.
"What the hell are you doing here?" He groaned, his frustration with himself and the situation directed straight at her.
Gem completely ignored his words and instead filled in the conversation with ones she felt much more appropriate without even looking up from the controls.
"Thank you for saving my life, Gem," Her voice was lowered in exaggeration and imitated his accent, before she switched it back to her normal speaking voice to 'answer' him. "You're quite welcome, Agent Blakeney. As annoying as you are, I couldn't let them kill you. After all, we’ve still got to bring the truth to light."
"They may succeed in killing us off yet." Michael growled, in no mood now for games. "There is a very limited supply of oxygen in a place like this."
Gem clearly knew this already and showed no sign of her concern. It was amazing how calm she could be and how quickly she’d adapted to the changed situation, efficiently searching for a solution. It was as if this was all completely natural to her, like them facing danger together again was just how things should be. Briefly he questioned if there wasn’t some truth to that.
Michael made himself stop thinking about it, never realizing that Gem was considering it herself.
He began to study the large metal doors blocking the tunnels. He knew that even with his phaser that it wouldn't have the power to get through that much metal quickly enough to do the job. He looked at the weapons that the aliens had dropped as they'd fallen but didn’t believe they’d be any better.
“Damn." Gem muttered to herself, but loud enough for anyone to hear, as she had to accept she couldn’t get access. “There’s some sort of security lockout.”
Immediately she moved down the mental list to the next possibility. If she couldn’t open the doors from here then she’d have to contact someone somewhere who could. Her hand automatically reached for her comm device but of course Michael still had it.
Michael read what she was thinking and answered while looking up at the doors above.
“I read up on the history before I came here. There were traces of baryon radiation found here. They weren’t significant levels but still in the interest of safety those doors are designed not to be penetrated. Not by radiation, not by phasers and certainly not by comm signals.”
Gem didn’t even blink at the news, not allowing herself anytime for a response to his irritated tone right now.
“Then we need to get that code.” She answered, immediately moving down to the next list item.
A groan from behind them told them exactly where she could go to get it. Neither wasted anytime moving over to the aliens’ leader who now drifted in and out of consciousness.
Before Gem had even started considering how to approach him Michael was knelt down, softly shaking him by the shoulders.
The alien didn’t respond and Michael shook him harder.
The alien groaned a little more, but still said nothing.
“Perhaps we can get the answers from the others.” Gem suggested, surveying the two who’d not come in contact with her shovel.
“Highly unlikely. They’re dead.” Michael bluntly informed her, not even looking up as he released his grip on the alien.
Gem’s expression immediately turned to shock and then just as quickly to accusation, wondering if she did know anything about him. “You mean you didn’t stun them?!”
Michael ignored her tone and her insinuation that he would choose to kill them if he had another choice.
“This species can’t be stunned.” He explained with just a little regret. “Even on the lowest setting a phaser can kill them.” He indicated the shovel. “They don’t handle head wounds particularly well either.”
The look on Michael’s face as he said the last part was enough to tell Gem what he never needed to say; that the leader was dying now too. At that moment Gem didn’t know how to feel, so she reminder herself there was no time for feeling.
“Is there something we can do for him?” Gem softly asked, putting aside for the moment every thought and indeed feeling she had about Michael Blakeney and about her life. “I saw a medical kit over…”
“No.” Michael answered, cutting her off. “Nothing we do now would save him. We have maybe a couple of minutes left before he falls fully unconscious. Once he does we won’t wake him up again.” Michael shook his head, realizing that it wasn’t likely he’d be getting any answer from him anyway “Even now, I don’t know if he can understand us.”
A smile creeping onto the alien’s lips told them that he could. His eyes opened just a little.
“You are trapped here.” The alien wheezed out, joy in his tone.
Instantly Gem had knelt down beside Michael and joined him leaning over the alien.
“What’s the code?” she demanded with futility.
“You’ll never know.” The alien answered with a smug cough, his eyes closing once more. “Those doors will never be opened again. You’ll die here, as will everything you know. Your treaty negotiations will never be saved and…”
He had to stop to cough in pain again before he continued weakly. “You’ll never end this war and never advance your technology. When our people meet you will not harm us…”
The alien yelped slightly in pain. He was fading out of consciousness again, possibly for the last time. Though fully aware there was nothing he could threaten or offer to get the code now, Michael still shook him, stirring him again. A smile remained on the alien’s face.
“Our mission…a success.” The alien spluttered, slowly fading and getting quieter. “My team. We, all three…die in glory…in…”
The alien stopped speaking, his head falling elegantly to the side. Then, as the smile at last faded from his face they knew he was gone; as was any chance of them getting the code to get out of here.
Neither spoke as the realization sank in that they really were trapped here, slowly running out of air. Gem had reached the end of her mental list of ideas and suddenly felt very lost, and more frightened than she was willing to show. Michael, too, felt very much lost at the moment.
Gem reminded herself that she didn’t know what was going to happen yet. She decided to at least be as prepared as she could for whatever it was that did before she thought any more about their possible deaths.
She retrieved the alien’s weapon. Naturally, desiring to understand how it worked she began to adjust what she believed to be the power level,
Though he had been distantly absorbed in thought seconds before, Michael was quickly awoken from it by seeing what Gem was doing. He gasped and grabbed the weapon from her hand. "Don't TOUCH that! Do you have any idea what you might've..."
"I'm trying to help!" Gem declared, shocked by his reaction.
"Well do us a favor, love." He raised a finger and held it up toward her nose. "Don't."
He suddenly had possession of all of the alien weapons, and though Gem wanted to believe at this point for more reasons than one that he'd never harm her of his own volition, the truth was she still had no idea who he really was, and his cover was growing thinner and thinner by the minute.
"Hey," she slowly backed a step up from him and away from the alien. "Why don't you give me one of those, at least. We should both be armed if any more of them show up unexpectedly."
“No more will, at least not any with him." Michael explained, hiding that it was worry which made him want to protect her rather than having a reason to keep the weapon. “Their leader said all three of them died with glory.”
“That doesn’t mean a thing.” Gem replied, rejecting his suggestion by offering a counterexample. “Braylan was one of them but their leader didn’t mention him.”
“He wasn’t one of them.” Michael answered soberly. “He was a patsy. He was just a kid they decided to sacrifice. He was only here because they posed as government officials and made him believe he was working for his people.”
It was obvious from one look at her that Gem wanted to know the full story, but Michael didn’t know how much he could say, or if it’d even matter.
"We don't have time for this." He added, dismissing the subject.
At that moment, Gem started to feel panic rising up from within her. Suddenly it became very obvious that she was trapped here with a man she barely knew, a man who had such power over her that she’d let him hoard every weapon, and who even now refused to tell her anymore than he had to. That panic quickly turned to anger as she questioned why he would be so calm right now.
"What do we have time for? For you to shoot me to leave as much oxygen for yourself as possible until your friends arrive to pick you up?"
Michael wasn’t annoyed that she was angry, he certainly understood why she was and he was smart enough to know that even if she’d had no reason to be then where they were was reason enough.
"Believe me, at this point I wish someone else was going to come to get us." He replied sadly as he began to walk around the mine making a futile attempt to find a way out that had been overlooked. Gem didn’t follow, instead preferring to save her energy. It was growing continually darker as the power cells in the artificial lanterns that the aliens had brought in with them started to fade, so it wasn’t like it was getting easier to see a way out. "You are the only one I've been working with, Gem. That's the truth."
"The truth." She shook her head as she leaned against the wall. "Is anything you've told me the truth?"
Michael began to ask himself that same question, realizing now that he felt guilty about Gem being trapped here and just how unusual that was. With such doubt in who he was he didn’t really know what was the truth anymore. So he couldn’t answer Gem.
"Do me another favor." He asked, quietly and sincerely. "Look over there a moment, and don't look back until I tell you to."
"What the hell are you-"
"Just do it!" Michael barked, losing his cool as he so rarely did because he knew that he needed to act quickly if he were to save her. "I don't have time to explain. But it may be the only way of getting us out of here. So if you really want to help, look over there, or over there, or better still, just close your eyes until I tell you that you can look."
Seeing that fighting him would do no good, she agreed. She closed her eyes. "Fine." He waited a moment and then he flailed a hand up and down in front of her face to see if she'd react. When she didn't, he turned his back to her and then pulled a small device from his pocket. It was a piece of technology that she was never meant to see.
No one here was ever meant to see it. If they did it could have lasting repercussions for History, and he hated those.
Those caused mountains of tedious paper work, hours of meetings with people who had more pips on their collars than he did and days of report writing in which he would have to promise under pain of suspension never to risk such danger to the timeline again. But those weren't the worst of it. The worst of it were those long-winded, self-righteous lectures from the guy he usually worked with.
Gem waited just long enough to be certain that he was doing whatever it was that he didn't want her to see before she slowly cracked open the corner of one eye.
Just as she did, Blakeney spun, checking to be sure she didn't see him, and she snapped it shut again before he caught her. They played this scene out several times before finally, she heard a sound somewhere between a beep and a chime and she charged forward, both eyes open.
She caught Blakeney unawares and spun him around by the shoulder, slamming his back up against the wall. She went for the alien weapon that was now strapped to his hip and grasped hold of it.
"No!" He shouted as the device in his hands rattled to the ground at their feet.
"This is the only time I'm going to ask you." Gem bellowed. "What is that, who the hell are you and who are you really working for?"
"You’d better pray you didn't break it." Blakeney said gravely, "Because you know who I work for already. Who I am makes little difference. But that is the one thing that could still save our lives."
"Pick it up, then." Gem instructed, still holding the weapon on him.
"Not until you stop this nonsense and put that down." Blakeney folded his arms, and even more so than when she’d rejected him what felt so long ago, he looked truly hurt. "If you think, after everything, that I could ever," he stopped. He shook his head and gave a bitter laugh.
She now felt ashamed of herself, and while every bit of training she had told her that she was being a fool, something in her overrode that seeming voice of sanity, and she slowly lowered the weapon.
She flipped it around, and offered it back to him by the handle. Michael responded by taking it, then clipping it to her belt. "You were right before. We should both be armed."
Observing her continued dismay, he sighed and began grumbling slightly under his breath. Gem couldn't make out the words, other than hearing him say two she'd heard him use before in reference to her: this one.
Now more confused than ever, Gem watched as he picked up the small device and exhaled a sigh of relief after looking it over. His relief was short lived, though, as he reached into his pocket again and brought out something else. He began to scan the air around them, and he frowned, a very cold frown.
"It's much worse than I thought." He concluded. "It seems that our friends use up a lot of oxygen during decomposition."
"How much?" Gem asked quietly.
"Enough, that while I thought we might have a couple hours of breathable air left in here at least..." his eyes locked on hers. "We don't."
Gem couldn't help but shiver as the gravity of his words sank in. She had always been a survivor; so had he. One thing they had so clearly in common was that they were willing to fight for their lives, like flames to burn the hands of those who’d wish they were extinguished. However now there were no more hands, no more foes, the flames just locked away without fuel destined to slowly burn themselves out.
All her life Gem had examined her mistakes solely to avoid their being repeated. She could find no more value in them than that. So it was a strange thing that now in this moment each step, all of which must have been wrong, that she’d taken on the path to get here played throughout her mind even though it was so plain to see that she’d never have a chance to repeat those mistakes again. The future couldn’t matter if this place were to be her tomb.
She’d seen his face. She’d heard his laugh. She’d turned him down once. She’d not turned him down enough. She’d made him angry. She’d let him make her smile.
Suddenly Gem realized she was staring and she turned away from him, looking nowhere but just into any direction he wasn’t. He shouldn’t have had this place in her thoughts, not now. The mistake wasn’t his, and it was him.
Right until the moment she was standing by the comm panel in that small apartment with the choice to go anywhere in the world to safety, or to go to him. She’d had the chance to never come here; life would have gone on. She’d made that choice, so clearly the wrong one. She questioned then why as she watched him out the corner of her eye that it still didn’t feel like it had been.
Like reading the first half of a book, even when you know how it ends, Gem found her mind needed to replay for her all that had happened since that choice was made. The locking of the door above, the alien’s dying words. Michael's concern she would be hurt, everything he’d said…
She stopped- and reviewed slowly every intonation of his remark from moments before in her mind. He'd said that he'd 'read up on the history' of this place before he'd come here. She had thought, at first, that he merely meant the history of the mine. Suddenly though she considered the meaning of history as less a rigid definition and more something they all were destined one day to be.
Then there was the phrase ‘When our people meet’; it now took on meaning as well. The alien hadn’t said meet again and never spoken just as if that meeting were a possibility. At some time in the future, that meeting was going to happen for the very first time. The alien had already known, as if for him it had already happened.
So much more now made sense. Michael now made sense and Gem could simply not stop herself from staring.
He’d had the valid credentials known only to the agency. He’d known the alien species already even though Federation records had them nowhere to be found. He had believed that Tetratinium was common even though today it was indeed quite rare.
One thought led to another, and like a series of dominoes, each fell down in the row until she reached the end of the line-- her ultimate conclusion. It made everything else fall into place. His training, his timing, all of his little lies; one and only one reason could explain it all.
He was an agent alright, just not an agent from today.
Lt. Commander Michael Blakeney
//// Gem Lassiter
Director, The Alchemy Project
Lt. Commander Michael Blakeney
//// Gem Lassiter
Director, The Alchemy Project