1080: More to Lose

by Tam Elton (as told by Rada Dengar)
Immediately After Small Boat, Big Ocean

-=Sickbay; USS Serendipity=-

Giving it one more look over, Kellyn knew she could do no more and given how unfamiliar much of the technology in the emitter still was she wasn’t sure it would be wise even to try. Though she’d been able to surmise the function of certain components this was typically based upon little more knowledge than that it ‘sort of looked like’ an equivalent from holographic technology of today. Now it was entirely possible that what they’d done was for naught as the fault was all part of those same components that neither she nor Trev nor even their little Jonas Brothers enthusiast could comprehend.

The emitter itself however was no longer really the problem and she knew it. If there were truly to be irreparable damage then it was to his programme itself. All everything she and Trev had done was really worth was that it would give him the best chance to be restored without the faults in the emitter forming more cracks in his being as it attempted to rebuild him. Nothing they could do would mend whatever cracks had already formed, or were about to.

The doctor’s programming was often thought of in terms of his mind but it was in fact closest to a biological being’s DNA. Each time he was reactivated it was as if he were born again, with those instructions as the guide to his creation. Far beyond just specifying a physical form, they would give him his beliefs and his hopes and continue his deepest thoughts as if never interrupted.

How a man as intelligent and sentient as any was stored in such a form and from beginnings so quantifiable was perhaps a mystery they’d never know. What they did know though was that that essence of who Dalton had been, was too delicate a mix to ever be remade no matter the ingredients on hand. If he was to be lost, whether from the collapsing of his programme in the next few moments or damage already sustained, then he was lost already.

“Damn it,” Kellyn swore softly under her breath, at a volume that even impressionable half Vulcan ears shouldn’t have been able to be hear. “This shouldn’t be so hard.”

She knew there was only one choice and so she should just activate him and get on with it. It was at times like this she wished that they, or in this case she, would have just had the common decency to make medical holograms as faceless and easy to detach from as any other piece of equipment in sickbay.

With the possible exception of Jamie Halliday, she couldn’t see any engineer on board having any sort of reluctance to just reactivate a tricorder or medical scanner for fear they might not have fixed it properly. By all logical arguments Dalton should be no different. She knew how he was built. She had seen the figurative ones and zeros, the nuts and bolts of who he was, before he had even been. She had been there at the start.

Yet since then he had grown. Kellyn was not so arrogant as to think she could create life as vibrant and living as could be discovered across this galaxy. Nevertheless, as she caught sight of the little girl by her side trying not to appear too hopeful, she realised it was not such an arrogant thing.

Since she had first cradled that tiny infant in her arms Arie had grown so much. She was now less than a foot below her mother’s height. She had developed opinions, thoughts, and as Lair looked to Tam she was reminded, friends all of her own. She had made choices, whether she realised them or not, about who she would be and she’d responsibly taken ownership for who she’d become.

Though she would not say that Dalton was exactly like a son to her, as she truly pitied the woman who gave birth to a six foot four Texan, she would say he had grown in many ways. That was why this was so hard; they weren’t talking about the loss of a programme, they were talking about the death of a friend. Or rather, no one was talking at all.

Having made their preparations already, each person here had gathered around to see if they would be successful, and they watched in silence as if trying to avoid causing any distraction to a delicate surgeon. Though Kellyn was no surgeon and nor had she very often at all had the word ‘delicate’ applied to her, that was exactly how it felt. The truth was that in this moment it was just like she was the doctor and he was the patient. Just as any doctor would tell you, some times you just have to have faith that the patient will be strong enough to fight through.

Letting out a deep slightly even breath, Kellyn knew she had that faith in Dalton McKay. If the man could go head to head with Zanh Liis about leaving his sickbay, albeit when she was in an injured state, then he’d have to be tough enough for this.

“Okay, stand back,” she finally said with calm authority, trying to sound as though she had no fear that this could go very wrong.

She wasn’t really sure what difference it would make to have them standing next to her or two metres behind her against sickbay’s walls, as if Dalton’s life ended it would be not with a bang but a whimper, or perhaps a fizzle, and so they were in no real danger.

When Dane realised this was uncertain. Trev however clearly knew it but he didn’t argue, simply placing one hand on the shoulders of each of the children and ushering them back a few steps.

Before placing her finger finally on the control to activate the emitter and being careful to ensure no one saw it, Kellyn actually muttered a silent prayer. Regardless of how much she doubted that any gods who’d let an entire world go through such torment as hers could have such goodness as to help save a single holographic lifeform, it seemed nonetheless the most appropriate thing to do.

With a distinct and far from new feeling that her unhearable words had truly been unheard, she finally pressed the button.

All of their hearts seemed to stop for a single beat as a bright light was cast out into the room. It was not the usual materialisation process, but whether that meant they’d failed or simply that their patchwork modifications were successful was impossible yet to tell.

Then the light began to shimmer and to fall into a single glowing tubular form, with only the shadow of humanoid features visible within, as easily viewed as a womb and a shroud.

The shimmering quickly grew faster. Feeling sudden stability in the emitter’s place in the air, Kellyn released it stepping quickly back.

Then in an instant the light began to collapse in upon itself, and features began to form. Then were it a shroud it began to fall as colour and definition took their place.

There stood revealed a familiar body and a familiar face, and then finally a familiar Dr. Dalton McKay.

Tam Elton
Civilian Crew
USS Serendipity NCC-2012
As told by Rada Dengar

1079: Small Boat, Big Ocean

By Lair Kellyn
Time: Current

-=Sickbay, USS Serendipity=-


Slowly, Lair Kellyn lifted her head. It came thumping back down and the reverberating vibration moved through her skull in choppy waves, like far too small a boat on much too large an ocean.

*Mud,* she thought again.

She winced in pain. She felt like she wasn't altogether tethered to this existence; instead she was floating somewhere both above and below her own body yet somehow still bloody well enough living in it to have a blinding headache.

Her mouth was so dry that all attempts to moisten her lips with her tongue were entirely and pathetically unsuccessful. At last, she managed to lend the slightest amount of sound to the thoughts in her head, producing something that could almost be called speech.

"It's like trying to think through mud."

Her slurred words immediately captured the attention of the man who'd been working nearby.

"Kellyn!" Trev Sterling set the LMH's emitter down and hurried over to her. He was joined a moment later by a small someone that Kellyn was very happy to see.

"Arie? Trev? What the hell are you-" she tried to sit up and felt her daughter's small hands protectively grasping her arm.

"Please, Mother, lie still. You were injured when the ship was damaged."

The instant she'd spoken the words her eyes widened, indicating that Arie regretted having said them. Her mother's reaction was just what she knew it'd be.

"Damaged? What happened?" Kellyn bolted up too quickly and immediately her stomach lurched. "Uh, oh..."

She felt a cold sensation against her neck, heard the hiss and then immediately felt the effects of the anti-emetic Trev had just injected into her.

"Hold up there, you," he said. "You've taken a hell of a knock, Kellyn. You can't just go charging out of bed that way."

"What happened to the ship?" Kellyn repeated, suddenly realizing that there was no medical staff present and that one of her fellow engineers had been the one injecting medication into her. "Trev, where's McKay?"

Tam Elton approached now, holding out the doctor's mobile emitter in his small, trembling hand. "We're hoping he is still in here, Commander Lair," he said.

Kellyn's eyes flashed, she swung her legs over the edge of the biobed and she reached out a hand, snapping her fingers. She wanted to ask for something, but for the moment her mind drew a blank as to what the name of the item she needed actually was.

Arie knew the look, and the gesture as Kellyn continued pointing into mid-air at nothing. She picked up a tricorder. "Here you are, Mother."

"Thank you, Arie." Kellyn began to scan McKay's emitter. "It all looks in order, well, except I don't remember doing that, or that, and how the hell did you..." she cocked her head sideways as she looked at the display. "I definitely didn't do that."

"We had to make a few temporary modifications." Trev answered. "Arie's knowledge of McKay's emitter is..." he shook his head. "Extremely impressive."

"Yeah well the whole Joe Jonas thing apparently wasn't for naught." Kellyn winked at Arie, whose cheeks took on slight color. Acknowledging the other small being in the room, Kellyn rotated slightly to address him directly. "I'm sure you were a big help too, Tam."

"I held the emitter as steady as I could, Commander." Tam answered, with utmost seriousness.

"I'm sure you did a fine job. Now will somebody tell me what the hell is going on with the ship? And get me a fractal recoupler, if we turn McKay back on before I reintegrate the primary and secondary projection systems he's gonna light up like the laser show at EPCOT and not in a good way."

"The...what at where?" Trev asked.

"Never mind. I've been spending too much time on the holodeck with Dabin Reece and you're avoiding the question, Trev Sterling." Kellyn glanced up at him from beneath hair still matted with what she coldly and correctly assessed must be her own blood before returning to the work at hand of preparing to reinitialize McKay's program. "What happened?"

"Arie, Tam, could you please go into Doctor Hartcort's office a moment so I can speak to the Commander privately?"

Arie turned and obediently led the way with Tam a step behind, but then she paused and looked back over her shoulder.

"Respectfully, sir," her small voice was clear and calm as she spoke, no trace of the fear he'd seen in her earlier remaining now that she could see her mother moving and speaking again. "Commander," she nodded to her mother now, and then directed her eyes back at Sterling who had given the order to march. "With such limited resources and the ship in imminent danger, would it not be better if you explained it to us too? We might perhaps, in some small way, be able to help."

Trev shook his head once more. "How old are you again?"

"I will be eleven on my next birthday." Arie answered truthfully.

"Going on forty. Well, it's up to the Commander if you stay." Trev suppressed a smile.

"I'm willing to bet that these two have already helped a lot more today than I'm currently aware." Kellyn replied. "They can stay."

"Okay." Trev drew a deep breath. "The ship has been hijacked, somehow. We're no longer in normal space. Most of the crew had left for shore leave before the ship was taken..."

"Or for their unofficial court martial." Kellyn whispered, thinking how very far away she must be from Vulcan in this moment.

"For that too."

"Who is in command?"

"TC Blane."

"Well, that's a good thing." Lair nodded. "But it's quiet, much too quiet and that's a bad thing." Kellyn observed Trev's clothing for the first time now. "You aren't supposed to be here are you?"

"I'm supposed to be on Maui drinking something blue with a little paper umbrella sticking out of it."

"Well, when this is over, I'll buy you several glasses of blue stuff with as many umbrellas sticking out as you want." Kellyn promised. "I take it that we can't just walk out of here and march into Engineering."


"And we have no one else right now that we can absolutely count on to help us?"

"McKay, if we did our job right and can get him running."

"And you have me."

All present turned toward a familiar voice addressing them from the doorway.

"Dane," Trev said, "I thought-"

"I did what I had to do and I tried to get back to the bridge but I can't. It's cut off."

"What do you mean, 'cut off'?" Kellyn asked.

"I mean that it's been taken by hostile TI agents and we're in very, very deep." He looked at Kellyn and added, "Sir."

"Well then, Ensign," Lair said, her newfound affection for Cristiane coming through in her voice, "We're just going to have to figure out how to best put you to good use."

Dane looked at her sideways. "How are you feeling?"

She gave a dismissive wave of her hand. "I'll live."

Dane looked to Sterling as if asking confirmation of this assertion. Lair noticed this immediately and reached out, lightly cuffing Dane on the ear with an open palm in a manner more joking than intentionally violent.

"I told you, I'm fine. Don't make me go looking for another bottle to break over your head." She looked down at McKay's emitter once more. "Before we try initializing him, is there anything I should know? Like you reprogrammed him to yodel and wear lederhosen?"

"Not intentionally." Trev answered.

"Then let's hope he doesn't come back doing either." Lair turned now to the youngest people present. "Arie, Tam, could you gather up all of Lieutenant Sterling's tools now and bring them here? I see them over there and if anything goes wrong I might need to borrow one pretty quickly."

"Aye sir," both children answered in unison, and the moment they'd walked away, Kellyn gestured for the two men with her to lean closer. She lowered her voice to the faintest possible whisper. "The Captain?"

"Taken hostage." Dane answered gravely. "Zanh, O'Sullivan, and Lindsay, all over on the Poseidon, the TI ship that is holding us here."

"I take it in addition to the bridge they've taken Engineering."

Dane and Trev both nodded.

"We need to get a message to them down there, to let them know that there is help on the outside if they just tell us what they need us to do." Lair's head began to spin again, and she felt Dane's hand steadying her as she almost veered over the edge of the bed.

"Easy, there."

"Thanks." She sighed. "I don't have time for...for... woozy. I need to think." She closed her eyes a moment and when she opened them again, she saw that Arie and Tam were nearly done with their task. "Suggestions?"

"We might be able to get a simple, encoded message to them down there. Text only. If we're very, very careful," Trev replied.

"Ah, Vol told me that you had a little 'secret agent' in you. I see he wasn't lying." Kellyn's lip curled slightly. "And you, bright boy, I know that you have all kinds of Keiran O'Sullivan type tricks up your sleeve. So you and Trev start on that, I'm going to give Dalton one more look over with the help of our young friends here and then..."

"Then?" Trev asked nervously.

"Then we find out whether we're in for clog dancing to go with the yodeling or the traditional Texas two-step."

"I've never so hoped to hear a twang in my life." Trev sighed. "C'mon, Cristiane. Let's see about sending that message."

Commander Lair Kellyn
Engineering Research and Development
The Alchemy Project

1078: Two Different Men, Too Little Time

By Ashton Ledbetter and Jamie Halliday
After What Lay Beyond

-=Main Engineering, USS Poseidon=-

In a rare moment of worry, Jamie’s features had seemed to drop from their usual, bright manner. Ashton had given him various ‘simple’ tasks to do; simple that was in the sense that they’d not destroy the entire ship if not a large part of the universe if they were performed by anyone other than a trained TI agent.

Mostly this just consisted of the recalibrating and reallocation of superconductive subspace resonance amplification and alteration conduit connections, and so he’d had the opportunity to let his mind wonder a little while he’d worked.

As usual Jamie had worked exceptionally hard with a smile on his face and a song, albeit one suitably free of sunshine, lollipops and other wonderful things, as seemed appropriate for his circumstances, in his heart.

It was true there were men with phasers nearby quite ready to use them for the purpose of ending his existence, and even just being severely injured would be a serious dampener on his day. However he’d always noticed that being unhappy took people very little practice, so he was sure that being shot after smiling for the previous hours would be no less enjoyable than if he’d been acting like he was in pain already.

Normally hard work made the people you were working for happier. Attempting to repair a sonic shower while it was being made use of had proven an exception to this, but otherwise it was a reasonably reliable rule. However for every bit harder he’d worked Powell, and to a lesser extent the other engineers, had simply grown less content.

The man’s suspicions and hostility towards Jamie had gotten to the point he’d almost never leave him alone. Every now and then he would stare at Jamie for such a long time that he’d wonder if he didn’t have a piece of asparagus in his teeth that had captured the man’s fascination. Yet the hate and angry intent in Powell’s eyes suggested that if asparagus staring was an activity he enjoyed then it was best not to interrupt him.

Mostly Jamie had ignored him, appreciating at least that if he was the focus of Powell’s attention then Ashton was not. As eager as Jamie always was to help out a possible good friend, something which he actually accessed much more tightly than many would believe given his friendly nature, he’d thought this was actually good fortune. Still, he had thought his fortune would be even better if he could manage to completely avoid thinking of Powell.

Now though he intentionally approached him, the concern evident in his eyes to all those willing to look for it, and so easy for Powell to miss.

“What do you want?” Powell snarled with arms crossed threateningly across his chest, as he monitored Jamie’s stepping to stand in front of him.

“Something’s wrong,” Jamie said simply as he arrived.

Clearly though any problem of Jamie’s was quite instantly not a problem of Powell’s. He offered no response but a warning stare; the kind that was so cold that it was somehow felt even by Ashton Ledbetter who’d previously been looking away while he’d worked.

“It’s been too long since we received a data transmission from the bridge science station,” Jamie explained. “Something must have happened.”

“Yeah, something happened,” Powell retorted incredulously. “Your science officer was sent back to your ship, that’s what happened.”

Instantly Jamie felt relieved, and the smile returned slightly to his face. This did not please Powell.

“Do you know why?”

Powell scoffed in disgust. “Even if I did, why would I tell you?” he asked, though it was spoken more as an insult than anything mistakable as a question.

Suddenly Jamie’s features were enveloped by confusion.

“So I wouldn’t worry,” he answered, as if it were just a matter of fact.

Powell was not impressed. His patience was now gone.

“Get back to work,” he said bluntly, his tone making it clear that it was a warning.

Jamie however looked poised to object again, to try to convince Powell that he must be confused because helping Jamie would have cost him nothing and only a rather bad person wouldn’t have wanted to do it, when Ashton quickly stepped in.

“Jamie. Could you come over here now please?” Ledbetter said loudly and firmly, the way one would to a child who’d just approached a phaser on the ground and was eyeing it with utter, unknowing wonder.

Unlike that child though, as Jamie saw the hatred on Powell’s face, he understood the reason for the request. He quickly moved off to join Ashton where he was working on the contents of an open panel.

Powell grunted and his eyes continued to bore into the back of Jamie’s head as the man stepped away.

Seeing Jamie’s now re-established smile Ashton could have missed that understanding of how close he’d come, but as he came up beside Ashton he said something which could leave no doubt.

“Thank you.”

The words were spoken quietly so as not to be overheard but with appreciation that could never be lost to lack of volume. Even if he didn’t realize when he was doing it, Jamie apparently was aware of the dangers when he’d speak before he thought.

“It’s all right,” Ashton assured him, gesturing towards the input device beside the panel where Jamie, picking up on Ashton’s meaning, began to make minute adjustments to settings as if assisting Ashton in some way.

Jamie didn’t realize it, but for just a second Ashton actually watched him as he did. It was odd, but as hard as it should be to believe that Jamie was smiling constantly and not realizing the danger he was under, it was only now that Ashton realized he was likely much more aware of it than they gave him credit for. Yet he smiled in spite of it; apparently completely unshaken by threats to his life.

Such thoughts were worthy of much greater consideration.

Quickly though Ashton recalled that it was important to maintain the illusion for the still nearby Powell, whose breath could practically be felt on his neck.

“Try to retain the third coefficient between point two one and point two three,” he announced, loud enough that Powell could hear.

“That shouldn’t be too hard,” Jamie replied, for the sake of listening ears.

Then without another word being spoken the two continued to work, or to do something that appeared close to it, for several seconds more until Powell finally moved away again.

After Ashton especially breathed a sigh of relief, it was Jamie who spoke first.

“Some people just make no sense to me,” he quietly confessed, his words clearly directed at one man in particular.

“Me as well.” Ashton agreed, neither man turning their eyes from their work.

Fearing that someone might see that there was no reason for him to be doing what he was doing, having far too much faith in the technical abilities of people around him, Jamie shifted slightly to block the view of his screen from passersby.

“Hopefully Lara will be able get some information to the bridge about this ship.” Jamie added hopefully.

“That’s unlikely,” Ledbetter replied, reaching an arm in and beginning work inside the panel to specifically counteract what Jamie was doing for fear it might upset his readings. “The TI agents will be limiting access to the bridge. No one on, no one off.”

“Then what would they do with her?”

“With their numbers the best they can hope for in regards to secure areas are the bridge and Main Engineering. In a situation like this engineers and command staff are their biggest threat. They’ll go through the crew roster and make sure all engineers are combined in Engineering. Other officers will be either locked in or just restricted to their labs or offices, depending on whether they’re thought to be a threat.”

Jamie smiled, just not as broadly as usual. It was probably as close to a frown as he got. Lara’s knowledge was going to be locked away with her in whatever place the TI agents chose to imprison her.

“So we are on our own.”

“And running out of time,” Powell added, coming up behind them. “What are you doing in there?”

“I’m attempting to enhance the harmonic filters of the temporal jump drive’s variable input calibration matrix. The only way to do that is by patching in additional filters. In this case, your replicator system. I’m hoping this will allow us to performer a finer calibration and hence discover why your drive will not function.” Ashton grimaced as he felt his bare hand become momentarily lodged in the small access holes for cabling inside the panel.

“Step out.” Powell ordered.

“But I’m nearly finished!” Ashton protested. It seemed to be the story of his life, that whenever he was about to accomplish something, specifically something he was asked to do by someone else, that they suddenly changed their mind and wanted him to stop. The difference with Powell was that he, unlike the others, was male.

“Shoot them both unless he comes out within five seconds.” Powell said.

Those with weapons raised them, half pointed at Jamie and the other half at Ashton. Ledbetter grunted in exasperation, as he tried to pull himself free from the hole his hand was caught in. Five seconds was an extraordinarily short amount of time, even shorter when it represented a countdown to the flame of your existence being snuffed out.

As the Chief Engineer reached “two”, Ashton finally pulled himself free. Powell leaned and looked into the panel with both his eyes and a tricorder. There was dead silence for a minute as he conducted his scans. Finally, he pulled himself back out.

“Carry on,” He said, then walked away, motioning for the guards to stand down.

“Why yes, I will accept your apology for implying I was attempting to commit sabotage. And I thank you for applauding my engineering skills.” Ledbetter said, only to Jamie, since everyone else was out of earshot.

“I’m just pleased they did not execute us. I can live without the apology.” Jamie said, as he and Ashton both resumed their previous positions.

“Well, it’s just common courtesy.” Ashton added. “You should expect more from people Jamie.”

“And how often do you apologize when you’ve been proven wrong about something?” Jamie asked with perfect innocence. Ashton quite literally gasped, which caused Jamie to replay the previous question in his mind. With his attention divided between the conversation and his work, he was wondering what exactly he might have said that elicited that response.

“I mean, Captain Ledbetter, I’m just curious what your answer is. I didn’t mean that to sound in any way condescending.”

Ledbetter suppressed the urge to lecture Jamie about manners, and instead actually undertook the unusual task of actually looking within himself for the answer.

“Well, sometimes,” he finally said, as if that were an excuse. “But we have a job to do right now, enough philosophy for today. How are the readings?”

Jamie shook his head back and forth as he read the display. “Possibly making some sense. I’m not entirely sure.”

“I was afraid of that.” Ashton replied. He extricated himself from the panel once again and joined Jamie.

“Why? Isn’t this exactly what we want?” Jamie asked, confused as to why Ashton would still not be happy, even when they appeared to be closing in on exactly what they were looking for.

“It’s exactly what they want. Meaning, if we are getting close to an answer, we’re going to need to figure out what our next move is.”

“How long do you think we have?” Jamie asked quietly, realizing only now that in spite of how easily he had followed Ashton that even Ledbetter himself didn’t know where their next steps would take them, let alone if they’d be the right ones.

He hoped to be corrected and for Ashton to reveal that in fact he had, as he’d assumed, the perfect plan for them to get out of this. His response however was instead truly a shock to him, for the honesty and concern with which it was spoken.

“I’m afraid not likely long enough.”

Ashton Ledbetter
Temporal Investigations Observer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012


Crewman Jamie Halliday
Engineering Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012

1077: Down to the Wire

By Alison Schneider, Lance Hartcort, Jariel Camen and Fleur Le Marc
The Morning After The French Connection

-=Starfleet Medical: Earth=-

Lance stood in the corner of the operating room that Alison had secured for the upcoming operation on Tress. The room was one of the finest that he has ever seen; large and well equipped with every possible tool and system that could be required. It made his Sickbay on the Sera seem quite insignificant in comparison.

Still, he found himself wishing that he was performing this up there on his home turf. He could not shake the feeling that he was the visiting team getting ready for the big game.

He shook his head to rid himself of the feeling.

*Nerves,* he told himself.

Still, he pondered why he would be so on edge. This would be a relatively simple procedure, low risk and straightforward, medically speaking. He did not recall feeling this way when he operated on the Admiral.

And that was her heart.

*I’m taking this personally,* he realized. Tress was more then a patient to him. She was a member of the crew. No, she was a child that he witnessed first hand to have her hearing stripped away from her in an act of insensitive cruelty.

In a small way he felt that he had let her down by not finding the cure for the fever sooner, before it had the chance to take one of her God-given senses from her. It did not matter how many other lives had been saved by his work on Bajor, only that one little girl lost her hearing.

Shaking his head once more he pushed away from the wall and made his way towards the center of the room and the biobed that sat there.

He glanced up at the clock.

*Less than an hour. I’ve got to get my game face on.*

He noticed Alison walk into the O.R. and he smiled warmly.
“Did ya bring your screwdriver?” he asked jokingly.

Alison chuckled in response; she, like he, was wearing the standard Starfleet surgical garb, which included a mask currently tied around her neck. Tugging at it softly to pull it down, she replied, "You know, I knew I had forgotten something."

"Pre-op ready?"

"Yup. Anesthesiology is on standby, waiting for your instructions."

"All right, I’ll go and speak with them in a minute."

"...and then there is post-op," she added.

"What about it?"

"It too is ready, along with an audience. It seems like this surgery has become a minor sensation around here."

Lance felt something surge in him, a mixture of pride and nervousness. "My father?"

"Of course. Plus the heads of Surgery, Medical, and Science."

Lance whistled softly. “It’s flattering but…” He adjusted his head garb. “…I hope that it does not send the wrong message to the parents. They were already on the fence about this whole thing to begin with, if they ever suspect that our motivations were anything more then helping their daughter…” He let the statement hang in the air knowing that Alison would not need any help figuring it out.

He smiled at Alison. “So, can you run interference for me after we are done here? I think the parents will need time with Tress before any circus if you know what I mean. Plus we should talk to them first.”

"Not a problem," Alison said with a wink. "I already have half of them wrapped around my little finger." She stuck one of her little fingers into the air and wiggled it around.

"That's more than I needed to know."

"As if anything could distract you from your work today."

Lance briefly thought about the little girl who was soon going to be lying in front of him. He wanted to help her; he knew that he could help her. He was going to help her, and that mission was enough to focus him on what was most important.

"There is just one other thing," Alison added, breaking into his reverie.



"Oh," Lance replied with a chuckle. "Is he already counting his profit?"

"Surprisingly, no. He does want a post-op report, but, and I say this with a bit of surprise myself, he sincerely wishes us well. He hopes the little girl gets better, and I actually think he stopped thinking about profit just for a moment when he said that."

“Wow. The universe never ceases to amaze me.” He clapped his hands together. “Well I think it is time to get this show on the road. You wanna warm things up in here and I’ll go see if our guest of honor is ready.”

Alison nodded and Lance made his way through the swinging double doors and down the short white tile hallway to the pre-op room where Tress was lying in a floating biobed with her supportive but anxious parents and brother hovering nearby.

Lance made his way over to the foot of the bed and picked up the PADD that was hanging there. Scanning over the information he added his thumbprint to verify that he was accepting the patient and that he was satisfied with the work of the pre-op staff. He hung the PADD back into its spot and took a seat at the far end of the bed. There was plenty of room as Tress was only a small child and occupied a very tiny portion of the adult sized bed.

Lance smiled warmly at Tress and signed. [[How are you feeling?]]

Tress released the iron grips she kept on both a ragged stuffed penguin and her brother’s hand just long enough to answer the Doctor. [[Afraid.]] She frowned deeply and made another sign.

[[I promise, we’ll give your hat back soon.]] He saw the continued worry creasing her small brow and making her little nose look even more wrinkled than it naturally was. [[It will be okay. You won’t feel a thing. It will seem just like a quick nap to you. We’re all going to make sure Tress is safe. Do you trust me?]]

Tress nodded firmly and bravely. She did not like naps, but she liked Doctor Hartcort. He was nice and he had a handsome smile. She didn’t believe he would hurt her. She trusted him.

Lance grinned and turned to her expectant parents. “And how about you two? Are you ready for this?” Beyond the parents, he saw Vol Tryst, now leaning against the door frame at the entrance to the pre-op area.

The Counselor acknowledged Lance with a small wave, and the Doctor refocused his attention back on Fleur and Jariel.

“I will never be ready for this,” Jariel admitted. “But I do know we have all done our best, and we are prepared.”

Fleur nodded weakly. The look on her face still made Lance uneasy; he wished that they were going into this with everyone as convinced as he was that it was the right thing for the child.

Still, whatever doubts may remain in Le Marc’s mind they had all spoken their peace time and again; now the decision had been made and it was time to stand behind it.

Vol resisted the urge the run his fingers through his hair. He could sense the nervousness in each parent despite their forced, outwardly calm appearance, and he dared not given any indication of his own anxiety, lest Lance pick up on it.

“I’ll need to take her back now,” Lance said.

Fleur leaned down, pressing her hands to each of Tress’s cheeks as she kissed her forehead over and over while whispering, “I love you.” She couldn’t prevent tears from falling down her cheeks and Tress’ chubby hands reached up toward it, brushing them away.

[[No cry, Mama. Is okay.]] She signed gently. [[OK?]]

Fleur nodded, using every bit of her remaining will to push the edges of her lips upward into a small smile.

“When you wake up, you will be able to hear me say that I love you,” she added softly, trying to convince herself once again that this was what they were meant to do. Finally, she turned around and moved away, facing the wall so that Tress could not see how truly divided she still felt about what was about to happen.

Vol did not miss it, however, and he stepped forward slowly now. He did the thing that he sensed would most help Fleur in the moment; he simply drew her into his arms and hugged her close.

Jariel and Pace each took turns gathering Tress up into a hug as well.

[[Brave Tress. I am so proud.]] Jariel signed, after setting her back down.

Lance waited patiently, until they each stepped back. Vol finally released Fleur and joined the crowd. He flashed Tress one of his glowing smiles. Slowly she raised her hands and greeted him by name.


Vol felt a lump rise in his throat. [[Good girl, Tress. Very good girl.]]

She pulled the blanket covering her up over her face now, hiding shyly from the praise she didn’t quite understand how she’d earned.

Hartcort released the computerized locks on the anti-grav bed, allowing him to push Tress towards the doors. She laid back and, feeling she was moving, lowered the blanket again so she could see where she was going. She looked up at the lights passing by overhead.

[[Nap?]] She asked Hartcort one last time.

He nodded a yes back to her.

[[Nap, and play?]]

Again, he nodded. “You can play all you want as soon as you’re awake.” He said softly, even though he knew she couldn’t yet hear him.

Outside the surgical suite there was complete silence. No one was looking at anyone else, just staring at the floor, lost in thought.

Vol had his own impressions of what was raging in the minds of those around him. He was so very tempted to speak as to what everyone was thinking, but he held his tongue. This was their own conclusion they would need to come to if they were to believe it and make peace with it.

Fleur slowly lifted her head and looked around the room.

Jariel saw her motion, and looked up to catch her eyes.

Some in her situation may have asked if they were being irrational for still having doubts, or looked yet again for reassurance, or ask what everyone else was thinking.

Not Fleur Le Marc.

Suddenly she took off for the door.

Jariel fell in right behind her, her actions having been the answer to the question he would never now need to ask. Vol stayed behind, taking young Pace by the shoulders and holding him fast at arm’s length.

“They feel just as you do. It took those moments of silence for their minds to clear. She’s coming home, Pace. Perfect, just as she is.”

Vol felt the young man tremble as he fought against his tears. It was a futile gesture when Vol knew exactly what he was feeling inside, but he was content to let the Bajoran process his emotions in whatever manner he saw fit.

The young man spoke only one sentence in reply.

“Thank the Prophets.”


Just outside the surgical suite, Camen and Fleur caught up to Doctor Hartcort.

“This isn’t a social call I assume?” The doctor asked, as he stopped the cart.

“This has to stop.” Fleur gasped, her heart pounding so loudly in her ears she couldn’t even hear the sound of her voice. “I am sorry Doctor, but this is not what is best for her. I appreciate all the trouble that you have gone to, but there will be no medical procedure today. I- I am taking my baby home.”

Fleur gathered up a very confused Tress from the bed.


[[You are not sick, Tress. Mama and papa don’t think you need the Doctor if you are not sick.]]

Tress thought a moment. She poked her fingers in her ears and frowned.[[Broken. Tress is bad, no ears.]]

“Oh, God no.” Fleur shook her head fiercely and kissed Tress face again and again. Finally she handed the baby to Jariel so she could sign again. [[Tress is a good girl. Tress is a perfect girl, just the way she is. Not broken. Special.]]

[[Tress, no broken?]] She seemed unsure, and her tiny eyes darted to the faces of all around. She didn’t want to let anyone down and something in her small mind told her that this was all very important to the grown ups around her.

Jariel shook his head emphatically, kissing the top of her head.

[[Tress never broken. We love Tress.]] Fleur’s tears fell from her cheeks down onto the floor, where Hartcort’s eyes were now focused.

[[Home?]] Jariel signed to Tress. She looked up and released a soft, gentle sigh. She nodded back, still looking a bit perplexed, but also relieved.

“I think you’re making… I…” Hartcort caught himself and stopped, but Jariel knew where he was going.

“If it is a mistake, it is ours to make. I don’t believe it to be so.” Tress watched his lips move as he spoke, and she ran her hand over Jariel’s cheek the way that she so loved to do, her bright, inquisitive eyes searching his deep, dark ones for approval and affection. She always found both.

Hartcort wanted very much to argue the point, but he knew this was not the time or place. However, there would be a time and place. He lightly tapped the back of his hand against the bed in frustration.

“Your technology will do many people a lot of good. I have no doubt. When Tress is old enough to make decisions on her own, she may seek you out. But for now, she will go on knowing she is perfect exactly how she is. Thanks for everything you’ve done. We appreciate it very much, truly.”

With that, Jariel and Fleur turned for the exit.

Lance Hartcort simply curtly nodded through pursed lips as they departed.

[[Can I have my cheese now?]] Tress asked.

Jariel laughed. He nodded, nipping lightly at her fingers in the way that always made her giggle. She made another sign and frowned with concern.

[[Yes, chou chou, you can have your hat too.]] Fleur promised.

Tress looked up and sideways now, and flashed Fleur her most mischievous grin. [[Cookie?]]

Fleur felt, for the first time in days, as if the weight of the worlds has been taken from her shoulders.

She knew that as time went on and Tress grew, she would not be asking for such small, simple things to make her happy.

Those concerns would have to wait for another day, though, and Fleur would take comfort in the small joys that she could so easily provide. [[Yes, my dear. Cheese, hat, cookies. You can have it all.]]


Alison Schneider
Starfleet Research


Doctor Lance Hartcort
Chief Medical Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012


Jariel Camen
Ship’s Chaplain
USS Serendipity NCC-2012


Fleur Le Marc
Civilian Crew
USS Serendipity NCC-2012

1076: What Lay Beyond

By Lara Valera Ryn and Denise Moreno
Immediately After Raising Suspicions

-=Bridge; USS Poseidon=-

They say the greatest lure to travel the stars, or indeed any frontier, was the chance to discover something no one had before. Yet Denise felt like all she was discovering was new problems surrounding her from every side. With her own technical understanding and the information now displayed on the armrest of her chair she could not deny that Lara’s typed words had been correct. The sensor readings had been tampered with; maybe here, maybe in Engineering, or perhaps both.

Apparently casually to an outside observer, Denise scanned through them all over and over again. She was hoping to find one thing to prove Lara wrong but she couldn’t, and she knew this was not an accident. It was an act of sabotage which anyone who truly understood it would realise was a very risky and even stupid decision. Sensors were more than just the eyes of a starship; especially one as sophisticated as this. They were a large part of its mind, perhaps akin to the Cerebellum.

Philosophers and scientists would argue this point over that part of the brain, but none could argue that those sensors knew anything of what they really did. Automatic procedures would counteract radiation, loss of life support and fix shield modulation to prevent them simply drifting from their established purpose. Yet they’d do so much more when it came to a HRT. They maintained that delicate balance that was required to keep this ship together in its proper place in space and time. Even simple tests with a single corrupted entry of data could cause the incorrect reaction that would destroy them all.

This ruled out Brody in Denise’s mind. He may be many things, few of them good, but he was never a fool. Perhaps the noblest truth about him was that he was a man who would fight with his all for what he believed in. To risk for any cause losing this ship, let alone his own life, was not something of which Denise believed him capable. Even if he had a plan to escape he had to know that there’d be nowhere he could go that could give him what this ship could. He needed this to work as much as she did.

Turning now to do a mental evaluation, the closest thing to a hidden interrogation, she passed her eyes over the crew working away on this bridge. They all needed this to work. They each of them knew that they could never undo what had already been done. In time TI would be back online and they would come after them. They’d maybe even make jumps to ensure this never happened. There could be no escape from the crimes but to a time and a place where they ceased to be viewed as criminals because of them.

Obviously whoever did this had a reason for it. There were however far better ways to sabotage this ship. Perhaps they wished to disguise some plan of their own. Perhaps now hidden among the sensor readings, something either most obvious or least so from the console in Engineering, was the single incongruent blip that gave it all away.

It was likely that they could find it if they dug a little deeper, but as Denise’s eyes turned subtly to Lara and saw the woman’s eyes equally inconspicuously finding hers, she realised that they may not find it at the same time. Lara had asked her to trust her, but Denise could not bet an entire future on the familiarity of a single conversation.

She needed time to fix this, to find out the guilty party, but to do so without watching eyes so as to avoid tipping her hand too soon. The reality was that it could be any of them. The great risk taken by being willing to bend the rules, even for what you were certain were the right reasons, were that your own rules were equally as flexible to all those around you. Ironically, the one woman on this bridge who had openly declared herself as an enemy was the one woman that couldn’t have done it.

While directing her eyes elsewhere, Denise typed a message by touch into the console; an easy feat with the number of years spent typing up letters and documents for someone else by the same method.

Lara spotted the words forming on her console, and moved quickly but not so much as to be suspicious, to ensure that they were hidden from the perspective of the guard. Behaving like she was observing any other piece of data, she studied the message that was now displayed.

‘Responsible agent could be on Serendipity. They will monitor conversations. You must speak of this to no one.’

Lara read the message from Denise. It was a possible scenario. In which case, that same person could now be doing something to the Sera, something which could have repercussions long after this fiasco was over. Regardless of who the person was and where he was, it did not look good for any of them.

To acknowledge her receipt of the message, Lara coughed harshly. Everyone looked at her, but she gave a soft nod indicating that she was okay, one which she knew Denise would receive.

"Sorry," Lara said, "the ship is just a little dry." She turned back to the console and tapped a few final buttons, pretending to be finishing the work she had already completed. Transferring the numbers to a nearby PADD, she moved away from the console and stood up.

Her guard immediately materialized at her side, sizing her and her movement up. Lara waved the PADD in front of his face and tried to smile reassuringly. "I just want to report my findings."

The guard looked over at Denise, who nodded. He then motioned with his hand for her to approach the Captain. Lara did so, and in any other situation -- or universe or time line perhaps -- her movement would have seemed natural. Just a subordinate reporting to her superior. The normality of it all made it almost appear plausible, as if nothing were out of the ordinary, at least for a brief moment.

Lara handed the pad over to Denise, who skimmed through the numbers, more appearing to review the data without really doing so, giving the impression that she was seeing something new.

"Is this everything?" Denise finally asked.

"Yes. They'll need the numbers back down in Engineering." Lara held her own hand out, expecting Denise to drop the PADD into her outstretched hand so she could then be escorted back to Engineering.

Instead, Denise placed it on the arm rest of the captain's chair. She motioned to the guard, who immediately stepped forward and grabbed hold of Lara's arm. "Take her to the transporter room and return her to the Serendipity."

The command surprised Lara. But it was an innocuous enough command and the guard did not question it and Lara could not. All she could do was shoot Denise a quizzical look, but the other woman was reviewing the data again and clearly pondering what to do with it. Lara had no choice but to go with the guard as he escorted her through the ship.

She rather suspected that others among the Sera crew -- Ashton Ledbetter for one -- might already know the layouts and the schematics of this ship, but she decided that any piece of information she could obtain could be of use, even if it was just one route from the bridge to the transporter.

Promptly enough, the guard and Lara arrived at the designated room, and once they were inside, he less than courteously pushed her in the direction of the transporter pad. Lara obliged, thankful that she would be leaving this part of the job behind, but concerned for her crewmembers that remained here to figure out this mystery. Still, before she could even turn around and properly adjust herself on the transporter pad, she heard the ever familiar and comforting sound of the transporter kicking in, returning her to the Serendipity and what lay beyond.

Lt. Lara Valera Ryn
Science Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012


Ensign Denise Moreno
Temporal Investigations
Commanding Officer
USS Poseidon

1075: Unexpected Familiarity

By Wren Elton
After San Francisco Nights

-=San Francisco, Earth=-

Wren could feel the rough texture of the wood against her skin as she placed her hand once again on the old and worn out door. She was momentarily stunned and had to brace herself against the eerie familiarity of the sensation, which should have faded completely with how long she’d been gone. All of a sudden it was too real as energy seemed to surge through her hand and throughout her entire form. She was not looking again upon a memory but now she was living it.

Her mind attempted to flash back but found no difference in her recollections to distinguish them from her reality. She was here and here was there. It wasn’t just the building, though the place was so much more frighteningly similar than she’d expected. This entire street, largely empty at late morning, seemed in a feat that one would long for in so many more pleasant times, not to have aged with the rest of the world.

That was not to say it was young by any stretch of the imagination. This was and always had been the area so depressing at night you thought would surely look better by the light of day. Then the morning came and just more of the same was revealed.

There were no trees for birds and no people or traffic on the street, so it still sounded just as it had so long ago. As she’d walked the uneasy stems from where the transporter had left her, her feet had found every crack in the ground from that time remained unhealed. Every movement she made began to slow as the sense of this place overcame her. She didn’t want to be here.

Yet even still the slowest steps couldn’t keep her forever from seeing this place that almost physically forced her back even as it drew her in to feel it so real. She’d never thought she would come back here. A large part of her had hoped that when she did this place would have been gone; taken by time and never to be returned. Yet there it was still. It was unchanged with the same depressing undersized, undecorated dark walls that seemed always untouched by the light in the middle of day.

It’d been boarded off and there’d been a sign placed up to declare that it was closed. Somehow it even seemed even less maintained than it always had then. Yet, and though it felt perhaps a little smaller, in every measurable way it was the same place where she’d made the best and worse choices of what was starting to feel like a very long lifetime.

This was the very tavern where she and Rada had met for the very first time. It was only now though that she really thought about that fact. All this time she’d been so worried that about how he might suffer when his memories were reignited, but before this moment she hadn’t truly asked herself how hard it’d be for her to look upon such familiar sites again. A slight chill passed throughout her body with the cold wind somehow blowing on the otherwise sunny day as she wondered if seeing it all again now so bereft of the romance she’d known there wouldn’t remind her too much of all the times he’d looked at her since the resequencing was over. It’d hurt like a knife through her heart every single time.

She wasn’t sure she had the strength to face that all yet. Steeling her mind back from her the tide of memories of emotion and passing a glance up and across the entrance from where she stood confirmed that it didn’t matter though. The building itself was clearly locked up tightly; perhaps to remind her that looking to the past was easy but returning there was rarely so.

She couldn’t get in even if she wanted to, and realising what a relief that was she felt a twinge of shame. She needed to get in, regardless of how every moment here threatened to overpower her, and she had no right to give up yet. Sadly Wren sighed as she finally brought her hand away. The very instant she broke off contact, she felt she could breathe again.

Maybe she could try to pry open the seal on the door. However she doubted she had the strength to do it alone. It wasn’t so long ago though that she’d thought she’d had the strength to do everything alone.

Discovering that her hand had already developed a coating of dust from her contact with the door, she looked around for a tap or something to wash it off, but finding nothing she reluctantly chose to she wipe it off on her shirt as best she could. Then looking down at what she’d done she frowned. Thankfully the simple dark top she’d chosen to wear, far from the beauty of her efforts the night before, hid the dust well. By that respect it’d been a good choice, but by no other.

In this moment very aware of where she was, how she was dressed and how she was feeling; Wren was so glad that he couldn’t see her now. She was so very unready to see him again yet. After last night and all the tears as she recalled the foolish choice when she met with the father of her child here, she didn’t feel like herself at all. It was so much so that she doubted that even with all his memories intact he’d recognise her now.

Yet that wasn’t the thought she had now or the thought that made her so sad. Now she recalled another night not long after that. It was the night where she’d so quickly left this door for what she’d decided must be the last time. It was the night that’d cost her so many years, years so much longer than the time they’d had together that she made them spend apart.

“What a waste,” she said softly to herself.

“You’re right about that,” agreed a voice from behind her, causing Wren to jump slightly when she heard it.

She’d been so blinded by her own thoughts she’d not sensed the woman’s approach. For a telepath more than anyone else this experience could get the heart pounding.

Seeing her surprise, the stranger quickly apologised as she moved towards her further. Quickly Wren got a sense of who it was and her heart rate began again to slow.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you. But you’re right about the building.”

Wren turned now to see this woman’s face, finding to her surprise that in contrast to the bold voice the figure moving slowly, attempting to move anything but, seemed the very picture of a frail old lady. With two of what Wren could only assume were much loved cloth shopping bags beneath her toothpick arms, apparently full judging from her difficulty in balancing herself with them and her purse, this lady moved anything but gracefully. In fact the very quick first sense Wren found of her was that, contrary to her ‘little old lady’ appearance with the faded Sunday dress hanging over her, stark white hair styled into a bun and the glasses that seemed far too large for her thin face, she was not to be mistaken easily for a lady.

“I don’t suppose you know what happened to it…” Wren started but her words appeared to be unheard.

The old woman turned her attention from the building to Wren herself, her eyes opening in curiosity and disbelief.

Though her awkward walking style had seemed slow, the old woman had already clamped her arms around Wren’s arms and pulled her closer in towards her face as if to examine her. There was surprising strength in her, what appeared to be, arthritic hands which said this woman was tougher than she looked. Of course, in this neighbourhood she’d have to be.

The woman was squinting behind the thick frames as she looked Wren’s face up and down with fascination, as if just trying to get a sense of what, if anything, she was seeing.

Then a flash of disappointment crossed over her features and she began to frown.

“You’re not Diane,” she insisted to Wren with a hint of disapproval, still holding onto her for the moment.

“No, I’m not,” Wren answered, not meaning to sound as impatient as she did. She was just too tired right now to really be thinking about this.

“I’m sorry, dear. My old eyes aren’t what they used to be,” the old woman explained as she released her. “You sounded like someone I once knew. Then since I saw you looking at her tavern I thought you must have been her.”

“Her ta…?” Wren started in confusion before she made a connection in her mind. Pausing for a moment, she asked a question with curiosity. “When you said Diane, did you think I was Diane Robinson?”

“You know Diane?” The old woman asked in almost disbelief, Wren getting the sense that she once has known or at least she felt she had known Diane very familiarly. Clearly they hadn’t kept in touch though; that was no surprise where Diane was concerned.

“I used to run this tavern before she did,” Wren explained, though she had known Diane far better than just that.

The old woman’s face now lit up at the thought that she’d found one of Diane’s young friends.

Wren hadn’t made the connection straight away because she had always called Diane Di for short. Almost everyone did. Rada of course never had because he was far too worried that she’d think me meant ‘Die’ as a suggestion.

When it came to Di and Rada one could never have found a more different pair. She was wild and impulsive. She brought out that side in Wren too. In fact they were like twins and they would egg each other on to always try to be the worst behaved one. It was a matter of strange pride to never be outdone in spontaneity or foolish decisions.

At the time nights spent on the town with Di were the greatest things of her life. Looking back they became some of the most frightening. It was a miracle that both of them survived it. It’d be an even bigger one if Di was still around now.

“On, she was a lovely girl,” the old woman insisted, giving a warm encouraging slap to Wren’s arm as she did. “She was always so busy though. Then I guess she’d have to be with all those young men she brought back.”

The old woman’s eyes suddenly widened in horror as she quickly stuttered out.

“I don’t want you to take that the wrong way. I’m certainly the last person to criticise her for having her fun. “

“It’s alright,” Wren assured her softly. “If there was anything Di liked it was men.”

The old woman smiled knowingly and contrary to what she was now seeing Wren sensed that once upon a time this woman was quite popular with the young men herself. In fact Wren would even suggest that even in her nineties as she must surely be, she was still breaking hearts; even if those hearts weren’t in quite the best shape anymore.

“My name’s Wren,” Wren added, not quite sure whether a handshake would be the appropriate greeting given the weight of groceries still awkwardly supported beneath this old woman’s arms.

“Oh, isn’t that exotic,” the old gold commented, taking hold of Wren’s hand even if it hadn’t been fully offered yet. “I’m mad Madelyn. Call me Mad.”

“Alright, Mad.” Wren smiled slightly once her hand was finally released, though it was far from a genuine smile. “You wouldn’t know how to get into contact with Diane?

“I’m afraid not, dear,” Mad answered, and the disappointed expression on her face said she’d been hoping that Wren could tell her that. “Ever since she left a few years ago, and closed the tavern, I haven’t heard a thing from her. It’s a little disappointing, but never mind.”

It was clear that it was more than a little disappointing. Knowing Di the last words she said to Madelyn would have been about how she would be in touch soon. That would be her intention too, until the very second the next distraction came along.

“I was just hoping she could let me in, to have a look around the old place,” Wren explained as she indicated the sealed door.

“Hmm,” Mad stopped for a second, thinking about this problem. “You know I might know someone who can help you with that.”

“Really?” Wren asked, every sense telling her to say “don’t worry about it”, but all the knowledge of herself telling her that she simply didn’t want to get in and so should ignore those senses. “Any help would be appreciated.”

“Well, keep in mind I can’t promise he will be able to help but Daryl is generally good with this type of thing. He fixed the door on my shower and the viewscreen in my bedroom. I know he’d be happy to help Also, you never know, he is a good looking young man. You two might even hit it off.”

Madelyn wiggled her eyebrows suggestively.

“I’m really not looking for someone at the moment,” Wren said flatly, and the expression on Mad’s face was again knowing but now in a very different way.

“I understand,” she said quietly. “I lost my husband, twenty years ago next March.”

“I’m sorry,” Wren said simply, choosing not to correct her on the minor details of her misunderstanding, and the old woman just shrugged her shoulders. She felt she’d mourned enough already.

“Daryl’s at my place right now. You can come with me to see him if you like.”

“I’d like that, thank you.” Wren said, then gestured to the groceries. “Let me help you with those bags.”

“Thank you,” Mad said with complete surprise, as Wren took the heavy bags into her own arms.

For a moment she just stared at Wren with a mixture of sadness and amazement. This was simply not the type of thing many people did around here.

“It’s a shame, really,” She finally suggested.

“What’s that?” Wren asked.

“I know you and Daryl would hit it off famously.”


The walk to the Madelyn’s tiny apartment wasn’t long, in fact it was only across the street. It was however quite slow. Her room was on the fourth floor and in spite of her age the old girl was insistent on taking the stairs. Though by the looks of this place the lifts likely wouldn’t have worked anyway.

For most of the journey Wren simply smiled and nodded, pretending to be really listening as Mad all but literally sung this Daryl’s praises. If Mad was to be believed then he was a dashing and mysterious adventurer whose creative genius could solve any problem. Of course given his list of impressive accomplishments involved the installation of a towel rack and stopping her replicator making a strange ‘humming noise’, Wren was suspicious of that last part. Perhaps she was spoiled by her time spent among Starfleet Engineers, she’d certainly been spoiled by one in particular, but then just perhaps it was that candles shone their brightest in the pitch black of night. Around here any help likely felt like entirely unbelievable; she knew she had felt like that with Rada when she’d first realised all those years ago that he wasn’t just in this for himself.

This Daryl apparently had on the day of his arrival volunteered without charge to help an old lady with a few things when the building’s superintendent had kept her waiting months. Wren was a little sad that the first thought that entered her mind upon hearing that was that he might just be casing her home to come back and rob her later. She’d seen it too many times. Still, aside from a warning that likely wouldn’t be believed, there was nothing much Wren could do. On the bright side, a criminal past likely wouldn’t have been counterproductive to assistance in breaking into a building.

Thinking about this, as they continued walking and Mad continued talking, her mind wandered slightly to the type of men she was for so long on track to end up with. They were criminals. They were exciting. They were just like her father. It was frightening to think now just how she could have been helping another man like that father a child and continuing the cycle on. Then maybe that ship had already sailed. All the prestige in the world didn’t mean a thing when she considered that if Tam’s father could abandon his child then if he wasn’t a criminal that just meant the laws had some catching up to do.

His family had been wealthy, which meant a lot more than people said it did even on Earth, and so they may have ended up in some place nice. However with most of the men she knew a building like this was more likely. She’d have probably outlived them, because their lives were rarely absent of danger, then would have found it was just her and her children until eventually they left to. Then all she’d really have to look forward to as the years continued on was the occasional loveless tryst with aging men who should really know better, and that just every now and then she’d be able to believe a young man was just helping her out simply because it was a nice thing to do.

Being here and looking upon Madelyn, as the woman continued chattering on as if she’d not been allowed a real conversation in years, only made Wren’s heart hurt more for the thoughts of the man who saved her from that fate. She wondered where he was right now, and if he was happy. As selfish as it made her feel, she truly hoped he wasn’t happy with someone else.

Finally they cleared the final set of stairs and reached Madelyn’s door. Wren was slightly tired by the journey with the heavy bags, whereas the old woman seemed almost unaffected likely having made that same trip without anyone to offer her the smallest gesture of help for many, many years.

The feeling of tiredness however didn’t last at all long, though Madelyn didn’t notice the sudden change in her follower.

After fumbling around through her purse, swearing only once about the mess, Madelyn took the key out and scanned it over the reader. She then pushed open the door and stepped slowly into the small mixture of kitchen, dining and entertainment room that made up her entryway.

“Daryl, I’m back!” Mad announced at the top of her lungs, not seeing the young man and so assuming he was probably working on that loose shelf in her bedroom.

“I’ll be there in a second,” his voice answered her. “You know you really should have had someone look at the supports on these shelves a long time ago.”

“I’ve been trying to. Before you no one else could be bothered,” Mad replied simply, as she automatically moved over to the kitchen counter, before she quickly realised that she didn’t have her groceries to put there.

“Oh, just put the bags down here,” she said to Wren who she assumed would be just behind her, but as she turned she realised that this young woman wasn’t really listening to her anymore.

In fact she looked as pale as a ghost and was moving almost not under her own power.

“Well, I’ve fixed them now.” Daryl continued, his voice coming closer. “It’s a good thing I did. I’d say a few more weeks and they’d have collapsed. You could have really hurt yourself…”

By the time he opened the door Wren’s heart was pounding. She was so completely unready, and in such a mess, but she had no way to get out of this now and she was far too paralysed to even try.

Before she could even say another word, it was confirmed to her eyes what her ears and other senses had realised already. There in the doorway stood the man Mad had called Daryl; the sweet and kind young gentleman who had helped her with various small repairs and pleasant company throughout the short time in which he’d been here.

That man was Rada Dengar.

Wren Elton
Manager, Afterthought Café
USS Serendipity NCC-2012

1074: Save Her Soul: Two

By William Lindsay and Zanh Liis O’Sullivan
Immediately following Part One

-=A running holosuite on the USS Poseidon =-

Liis cried until she felt she'd run out of tears, her eyes stinging and her head pounding as she lifted it up once again.

She didn’t know what was happening to her and she was so very lost in this tiny room and even smaller life. She didn’t know who she was now. She no longer even knew who she once had been.

Her mind was such a haze of thoughts that were so contradictory that she still believed at least half could never be true.

It was an impossibility, just as everything was here.

The coverless bed that couldn’t give warmth; thin, diluted light that never could overcome the darkness.

Yet it was the door that couldn’t be opened that most seemed to be crushing down on her very soul.

There was no point in hope. Even if she could somehow overcome the erosive, destructive doubt and to believe this wasn’t her life, there’d still be no escape. There’d still be nothing she could fight and no face from the fantasy she tried to tell herself was reality with which she could interact.

Just as quickly as it’d risen her head seemed to crash down again to the ground. She felt so physically exhausted, but it was more than just that. One could sleep exhaustion away but in a million years she felt this would not be gone. She felt weak, and that rightly she should. Not a movement of which she was able could take her anywhere out of this room and so clearly she wasn’t strong anymore.

Her eyes again threatened to close, to block out everything she wished she didn’t see in her mind’s eye as clear as day. Yet as she looked along the floor out of the corner of her eye and thought about just how low she was it was then that something truly unexpected happened- a thought rising up from deep within.

There was an instant, a split second, where she realized that whatever the truth was, the choice she had here was simple.

She could believe that Keiran was dead and resign herself to the broken life that Brody indicated was all she had left, or she could fight.

She could fight him just as she had every other time- and hope that in the end, somehow she could escape the nightmare again as she had before. With that realization, she suddenly only felt fatigued again.

If I fight this particular battle, she thought, this has to be the very last time I do it.

Her fate must be in her own hands.

She was technically out of Temporal's control now, of that she was sure. She tried to remember, to focus on what Brody had said to her when she'd been here before.

Yes, she had a definite feeling that she remembered having left TI for good. Her compass being lost- blown up, somewhere.

On a starship.

During a firefight.

No, during a fire...

She'd been hurt, then. She was bleeding. She was fading fast and Keiran- he was holding her and saying something.

She tried to focus on the memory, to isolate one word, then another, to reconstruct just one sentence he'd spoken that she could hold on to.

He said my name, she thought.

He said 'Zanh Liis'.

He shouted it.

Then he said

She fought the unrelenting desire for sleep brought on by the medication Brody had injected into her- a time released formula, as it surged in her bloodstream again and attempted to overtake her consciousness.

He said something about my eyes.

She let her eyes fall closed a moment, and in the darkness she could feel the heat and smell the fire around them, the melting of all of the internal works that composed the structure of a starship.

For an instant she remembered it so clearly. His frantic voice echoed in her head as she tried to wrench herself back into that moment in order to fight for control of this one.

"Zanh Liis! Eyes front, mind? You've gotta stay awake."

"Awake," she whispered.

Another memory accompanied that word- the lyrics to a song that he'd sung into her ear as they danced in the living room of their home back in Cork.

Keep me awake for every moment...

Now many images overlapped for an instant in her head- one dance to that song in a timeline far removed from the one she'd believed was current- from their first marriage.

Their first house.

The reality that had ended with her death the next day.

This memory, the one she'd been having just a moment ago, was definitely not of that time.

That was not a memory restored to her by the Sylph, she was certain of it.

She was certain because it was experienced from her perspective alone; whereas the ones the Sylph had resurrected in her were enhanced and intensified because they overlapped Keiran’s viewpoint with hers; overlaying the emotions they'd both felt and inextricably binding them together in her mind.

This memory was definitely not that.

In this memory she knew how to dance, and the house was different. They'd been married only days in this memory. This memory was recent.


The thought did not surprise her as it had before, either; it seemed the most natural thing in the world.

With that epiphany a rushing cascade of memories washed over her. She heard the voices from many different people, speaking words from many different dates and times- days she was sure were not something she could possibly only imagine.

"Are you ready now? To tell me what it is that's been hauntin' your dreams so. Even with me here, asleep just beside you."

"So today is a day for all of us to celebrate, not only the marriage of Liis and Keiran, but all that their union stands for. It stands for faith, for hope, and for never, ever giving up on the things that really matter. Even if History itself tells you that you’re damned for trying.”

"And that's the story of the time Keiran managed ta set his vestments on fire when he was an altar boy. Durin' Easter Sunday services, no less."

Keiran's voice. Will's voice. Mary Clare's voice.

She fought off sweeping, nauseating dizziness as she forced herself to focus.

It was her own voice that next rang in her ears, the words barely audible over the rushing of her own blood.

"Thomas, I know you. I know you won't talk to the Counselor and I know that you won't talk to anyone else about it either. So please, talk to me. We both came to Turner's Cross today for a reason. Tell me yours."


Yes, she remembered this event specifically; it could not have been a hallucination.

They were in the pub- O'Halloran's. In Cork. Not all that long ago. What had he said to her?

She murmured softly to herself, insisting that her brain must free the memory and return it to her fully now- there was no other way out.

She battled and struggled on, until finally, she recalled at last the sound of the voice of TC Blane.

"To remember. Which is funny, really, Zanh Liis, because I've done nothing since the last time I remember being at that damned church but try to forget it."

She heard the ringing of the piano, a chorus of voices singing...

She had tried to run, but Blane wouldn't let her. He forced her to face her fear. He held her fast there, water from the day's rain falling from her hair onto the floor all around them.

'Goodnight, and joy be to you all'.

Liis jumped.

There was something--something that if she was really living in the timeline where Keiran had survived long enough to marry her- would be unmistakably evident. It would be as plain as the ridges on her nose, if it truly had ever been real.

It was something of which Brody would have no knowledge- and so if all around her was only some sort of unreality of his own making, he couldn't have thought ahead to remove it.

Her hands shook as she reached up and tugged at the shoulder of her Medical-issue shirt, to the point the fabric began to tear in her attempts to draw it down over her shoulder so she could see.

She only needed to see one letter.

She turned her head, forcing it back unnaturally and painfully.

She whispered only one word as she dropped her eyes down toward her exposed skin.


There it was.

On the back of her right shoulder, the tattoo she'd gotten that day in Cork, as TC Blane stood by grinning at her, shaking his head as he held onto her leather jacket for her.

She could barely make out the S in SHTV but seeing it was enough to confirm the existence of the whole: the coat of arms was there, and getting that tattoo was something she was entirely certain she'd never done in any other timeline.

The reality of the image, permanently painted upon her skin at the point of an artist’s needle, was just the thing she needed to see to confirm that she was, in fact, still in command of her faculties.

None of this nightmare was real.

With the realization came a sound- a thundering, inescapable pounding in her head- but it wasn't pain this time.

It was the sound of drums.

Drums she'd heard before.

She fought to remember where, as the faintest hint of a melody accompanied them in her mind.

She heard musical voices- a tapestry of fine, masculine voices all singing in harmony.

A room full of O'Sullivans...all with wives and children. Gathered together, to send Liis and Keiran off and back to the Serendipity after the end of their proper honeymoon in the countryside.

This was another memory far too real to deny, and it held her transfixed now.

The pounding of the drums. The look in Keiran's eyes and the sound of his voice whispering in her ear, as his brothers sang with fire and conviction, that he would love her until the day that he died and that they would never be parted, ever again.

That nothing, and no one, could ever break their bond.

The words of the chorus of the song they'd sung echoed in her mind-comprising a petition to a higher power for protection and mercy against a raging sea.

They repeated again and again with the driving sound of those drums, and her heart skipped backwards.

"Lord have mercy," she whispered, remembering the translation. "Christ have mercy."

Suddenly, she not only believed but absolutely knew with everything she was that it was the higher law of love that would be her savior now.

It was a love forged out of pure fire; bonded to her soul through the actions of an angel in the form of a man that would help her tonight, in his absence, to save her soul herself.

Brody was a liar, and she would get out of here and find Keiran again, wherever he was.

Her triumph in the realization was short lived, as the medication levels in her blood elevated to the point she could no longer stave off the marching advance of unconsciousness.

Yet even as she fell flat once again to the floor before her, her mind was more awake and truly alive that it had been in so long.

So even as she closed her eyes she spoke softly to the empty room, as she hoped in ways she’d never hoped before that upon waking again, she would still remember their absolute, unquestionable truth.

"An Lámh Fhoisteanach Abú," she murmured. "Keiran, I love you."


Captain William Lindsay
Interim Director
Temporal Investigations


-=/\=- Zanh Liis O’Sullivan
Commanding Officer

1073: Save Her Soul: One

By William Lindsay and Keiran O’Sullivan
Concurrent with Pygmalion's Lament

Soundtrack: Heartland, by Celtic Thunder


-=Inside a running holosuite aboard the USS Poseidon=-

She awoke in the place where she'd last fallen.

Her head ached but not so much as her heart at the realization that her return to this hell had not been a nightmare at all.

Not this time.

She reached up and touched painful, swollen flesh along her jawline. She couldn't remember exactly why it hurt, but she was willing to bet that she'd put up some manner of fight when faced with the reality of coming back here.

She always had.

Then again, she realized it was a real possibility that she'd inflicted the injury upon herself in another frantic struggle to get out- to run. To run where, she didn't know; just anywhere. Anywhere at all in the worlds but here.

Slowly, she lifted her head.

She propped herself up in the corner where Tucker Brody had left her; unable to find even the strength to crawl the few feet that stretched on as endlessly as a wavering mirage before the feeble, thin metal bed.

Even if she was able to make it, she would find no warmth or comfort there.

She could not sink into a pile of soft pillows and disappear into the billows of a mountain of quilts.

Keiran's arms would not be waiting just beneath those covers to hold her there.

This sterile, unholy excuse for a place of rest belonged to them- to those who had put her away. She neither needed, nor wanted, any part of it. She would much rather sleep on the floor.

At least the small and shallow space she occupied-- that which her body actually took up on the floor--felt still, somehow, to be her own.

She was curled up with her arms around her legs and her chin upon her knees. She knew it to be a position incapable of protecting her from anything that they'd choose to inflict upon her, yet it was the only one she could possibly endure.

She had no idea how long she'd been here when at first she opened her eyes.

Of all that she recalled about her days and nights spent here, one thing never escaped her notice: the fact that time ceased to have any meaning in this place, except to be understood as the greatest possible distance between you and the freedom you once had.

This could very well be the end, she thought. The time when freedom never comes again.

Time moved much more slowly here than anywhere else she'd ever known. It was something beyond description as a simple irony that she'd spent so long fighting to outwit and outrun Time itself at every turn, only in the end to find herself its captive; locked up in the coldest, most unfeeling prison imaginable.

She ached for him.

She longed for the sound of his voice, for the words he'd whisper to her so tenderly to reassure her when she'd have nightmares of this very kind. His arms would enclose her; he would press his lips to her ear. The chasm within her soul would be filled with the steadying, stabilizing force of his love as he kissed away her tears and promised that he would never leave her side again.

He was gone.

Again, they were telling her that he was gone.

She didn't want to believe it this time any more than she had wanted to believe it any of the others. She thought that there should be something, anything, a single shred of irrefutable proof that she could offer them to deny the truth in their words.

She needed so much to be able to stand before the piercing eyes of Tucker Brody, call him a damned liar and much worse, and have the truth of those words to be the one thing she could still hold on to.

There should have been her rings.

There should have been so many memories that she could quote to him in evidence of things that had never happened in other timelines and that she was so certain had been real in this one.

Through the haze of her medicated mind she simply couldn't grasp onto them; every time she thought that she'd caught one that she could hold onto long enough to cite it, it vanished, slipping from her grasp leaving no trace it’d ever been.

She tried to repeat the words aloud, to force them from her own lips as though hearing them in her own voice could make her believe it was the truth.

Keiran O'Sullivan is dead.

Those four words burned a painful trail through her mind but the flame was extinguished to frozen silence before it ever made it to her lips. As before, she found that she just wasn’t strong enough to speak that word and his name in the same sentence just yet, or perhaps forever.

Every time she had tried before, save that one time that she remembered getting through it in that last paradox timeline so they'd finally set her free, it made her cry.

"Keiran is dead."

The sound of her own voice startled her.

She didn't even try to prevent those same bitter tears from falling now. There was no one here she needed to hide them from, and she had long since stopped trying to convince herself that without him, she could ever be okay.

-=Meanwhile, in the Brig=-

"A Thiarna, déan trócaire." Keiran whispered. "God forgive me but even more you, Liis. I promised ya I'd never again leave yer side."

"You know Liis will forgive ya an'a'thin', O'Sullivan, and God has nothin' ta do with this," said William Lindsay, as he continued to shift vigilant eyes around the cell for any weakness, any means of escape that he could exploit to improve their situation. "Ya know they say the Lord's awfully busy these days. That's why we have TI ta begin with."

Keiran ignored him.

He'd long since learned to live with Will's disrespect for the Divine, knowing it wasn't going to change. The best thing to do, he'd learned, was to make as little a point of noticing it as possible and just go on about his praying.

We will get to her,” Will assured him, rising from his position seated on the single bed at the back of their cell and approaching O’Sullivan at his place near the forcefield.

"We never should'a let Tucker Brody get within a thousand light-years of her. We owed her better than that," Keiran whispered bitterly.

Will knew that Keiran’s words weren’t really meant for him to hear but still thought that he should respond. Even if he only answered in anger, hearing anything outside of his own head right now couldn’t do the Irishman any harm.

"I promise ya, Keiran, we're gonna find a way outta here."

From the way Keiran failed to respond, his head never even turning from the stance it’d held for so long, Will wasn’t even sure that he had been heard.

The huge O’Sullivan looked like a stoic guard standing by orders in the exact spot where his master had placed him. For those who didn't know him as well and especially if viewed from behind as Will saw him now, Keiran could have seemed almost paralyzed with fear in this moment.

Will, however, knew Keiran O’Sullivan better than anyone else but Liis, and he sighed at the sight. He had never seen the man so anxious- or quite as angry- in all the time he’d known him.

O'Sullivan was burning up with rage inside, and Will was truly beginning to worry for the safety of any and everyone standing in the path between Keiran and Liis when that roiling fury finally reached its apex.

O'Sullivan's stance now changed along with his emotions, fueled by the knowledge of how much danger she was in. His remaining patience evaporated and his darkest fears fought to escape the strength of his grasp.

His hands fidgeted and he began to shift his weight from foot to foot as if nothing was comfortable.

For once and as eager as he was for escape, Will felt like the more patient of the two. Keiran simply seemed to be unable to accept the idea that they’d not save Liis this very moment. It was as if he somehow knew, from somewhere very deep, that she was in pain right now that would continue for every single second that they wasted here.

So Keiran’s eyes refused to leave the darkened area directly in front of their cell. He didn’t know what he was looking for but just that if there was nothing in here to escape with, as he had already concluded, then this was where it would appear. He felt certain it was his fault they were still stuck here. He should have been able to find a way out by now- he still had to find a way and he was sure that he could --he just had to look a little harder.

This brig, though in many ways identical to almost all modern Federation designs, was unfamiliar to them. Yet they were certain of two things. The first was that this was a Temporal Investigations ship; their prison designed to keep even the most trained agents as its continued prisoners.

The second was that there should be more light. Between this and the other four cells in the room was an empty floor with some basic controls, that should be lit up and manned with that light shining in here.

There was however only darkness outside the cell and there were no guards to be found. They’d been alone here ever since they’d awoken. There’d been not even a sound of the crew passing them by.

They had no idea and no way of going what was going on anywhere in the universe at that moment. It was almost like they’d just been left here and everyone else had just gone. They knew that Liis could be on the other side of this wall or she might no longer even be on this ship.

Wherever she was, Keiran was certain that if he didn't get to her soon that even if her corporeal form survived whatever it was that Brody was putting her though, that he would never again get to look in her eyes and see the light of the woman who loved him.

Her body may live on, but her soul would be as dead, and as damned, as one dragged straight down to Hell by the devil himself.

He knew she was strong. He didn't doubt that.

It was her ability to believe it- to trust that strength- that when it came to Brody he sadly had to worry about.

Neither man was anywhere near willing to give up yet though, and having observed his friend’s silence for far too long Will placed his hand on Keiran’s shoulder.

“We will get to her in time,I promise you, Keiran,” he said more firmly, and finally though Keiran didn’t turn he acknowledged Will in his way with a slight nod of his head. "She's tough, and she has all the good memories you've given her since the Paradox ta hold on to. If that isn't enough to keep her alive, then nothin' in the universe could be."

That he would get out of here and find her was something of which Keiran was certain. Still, he struggled to stand against his deep and abiding fear- as painful as any physical wound to his heart could be- that when they did get to her that he would be too late to help her.

He had to push those thoughts from his mind though. He couldn’t afford to have them until he once again held her in his arms.

He softly muttered a barely audible prayer that when he did it’d not be for the last time.

"A Chríost, déan trócaire."


Captain William Lindsay
Interim Director
Temporal Investigations


-=/\=- Keiran O’Sullivan
Security Liaison
The Alchemy Project

1072: Pygmalion's Lament

By Landry Steele
Concurrent with Raising Suspicions

-=USS Poseidon=-

With one hand behind his head and a smirk on his face, Tucker Brody appeared the very definition of self-satisfaction as he slowly rolled steel colored eyes high and away to the ceiling above.

He’d returned to his quarters, a small and out of the way spot chosen for location far more than vanity, in hopes of resting a little while. He needed his mind to be exceptionally sharp; the minimum standard of performance he set for himself as always, and for all his training and discipline he was still convinced that there was nothing better to ensure that than taking a well earned hour’s rest when you could.

It was an old-fashioned viewpoint, one very much out of step with the seemingly alcohol or caffeine fueled TI agents he'd encountered but then Tucker was raised by people who had chosen to live as though they were a few hundred years out of their time.

His mother had always been a staunch believer that no matter the depths to which the morals of people in what she called 'this Godless society of ours' sank, a young Southern gentleman, properly raised, should comport himself in a certain manner under any circumstances. He'd been raised with rules of law, rules of culture, rules du jour and of course always rules of established dogma. Tucker had for so many years tried to his level best to obey them all.

He’d failed miserably of course but at least he really had tried.

It just seemed that in the end, God couldn't be made to see reason and so when He and an idealistic young man seemed to disagree over what was right, that the 'good ol' boy' had been forced to go against Him.

Tucker rarely realized at the time that he was going against Him, or at the very least that he was about to face the wrath of an even scarier and unpredictable entity: Mama.

He recalled once having sat alone, far removed from the crowd at a congregation picnic and noticing a sad, scrawny little cat meowing pathetically as it dragged itself along by the chain link fence. It appeared to be on its last legs, more crawling than walking, and the sight was just too much for him to stand.

Taking pity on it, Tucker had gone to the picnic table and collected a large, fat fried chicken leg from a china platter in the center of the spread. It was the preacher's wife's signature dish at these events, and people were always still talking about how good the chicken had been after the following Sunday's sermon.

No one ever seemed to want to talk about the sermon.

Tucker had taken the chicken and moved as quietly as he could. There were gaggles of women to the left of him and another set of equally feminine obstacles to the right. He had a way with women that he didn't want and had no idea how to control, and it always seemed to cost him the one thing he was always short on: time.

Time to think, time to imagine the world, the universe in fact as it should and could be.

He surveyed the two potential paths to the fence and sighed. The older ladies, his mother's peers, were to the one side and would try to tell him how handsome he was 'growin' up to be'. The younger crowd on the opposite side, he decided, was much more dangerous and to be avoided at all costs.

The group of teenage girls- all of whom had spent hours applying their make-up and styling their hair just so in the hopes of getting his attention but still failed to at least hold it onto it- tried to call him over to join their conversation. The very idea made his head hurt.

Real conversation, it seemed, was something of which the whole herd of them was incapable of; giving new meaning to the tired old phrase 'small talk' as they discussed entertainment and the local gossip for which he had entirely no use.

Even if they wanted to tell him how much they wondered what he was "Thinkin' about all the time when he'd get so quiet like that”, the one or two times he'd picked one of them out to try to explain his thoughts to, they seemed to be lacking any sort of brain underneath all that hair and so ended up giggling and asking him if he was going to be at the ice cream social the following Tuesday.

Tucker hated the ice cream socials.

Deciding that the elderly ladies would be the path of least resistance, Tucker nodded politely to them as he ducked attempts to ruffle his hair or to straighten his tie as he walked past. After several "Yes, Ma'am's' and 'Thank you kindly, Ma'am's' and "Yes Ma'am, Mama does look lovely today in her fine new hat," he had finally been able to break free- contraband cat food still in hand as he knelt beside the fence where the tiny thing had finally lay down, too weak and hungry to move another step.

He took the handkerchief from his pocket and got it ready so he could remove all traces of grease from his fingers afterward and then set the plate down on the ground, pulling the skin back from the leg and starting to pick off small pieces of meat. He pursed his lips, making small kissing noises to get the cat to raise its weary eyes forward, but it wasn't until the scent of the food reached its nose that it finally turned toward him with what seemed to be the last of its strength.

"There ya go, little kitty. You need to eat this more than any of those fat cats over there do," he said softly, as he pushed the bits of chicken one by one through the fence to the delight of the hungry and appreciative animal. "I'm sorry, I should'a brought you some water too. You eat your chicken and then we'll put that right."

It was only as the cat began to purr loudly with gratitude and a small triumphant smile raised the edge of Tucker's mouth that he saw his mother’s shadow hanging over him, her legs slightly shaking in that way that they would only when she was really angry.

He hated looking up, but knowing it'd be worse if he didn't he finally raised his eyes and saw her face. He didn't even need to look though really to know she was furious, and after she grasped the links between strong, bony fingers and shook the fence violently to scare the cat away, she turned on him. Mostly she only yelled of course; that was all she’d ever do when there were other eyes around. When he got home, it was an entirely different story.

She was always careful though- her 'whippin's' never left marks where anyone could easily see them.

For years he’d taken all the punishments and ignored her own contradictory behavior: misdeeds that constituted, if you went by the book, less than humble, exemplary Christian conduct. Some would say (and many did, in whispers that Tucker tried his best to ignore) that a good and devoted God fearing widow shouldn’t flirt with the preacher every Sunday.

Of course for all their talk there was just as much an unspoken public consensus that it could never be considered immoral when the preacher flirted back.

Tucker had put up with it all because he was an innocent in the world even beyond the day he’d left there; still so blindly trusting that the good would get what they deserved in the end. The meek would inherit the earth and good things came to those who were willing to wait.

He’d not be so foolish now.

Years of meekness had gotten him nowhere, and waiting had cost him the most precious of all irreplaceable commodities; time.

He had no doubt he was a very different person now than he'd been the day he got taken to the woodshed for having given away a single piece of the preacher's favorite chicken to a flea-bitten stray in front of the whole of the congregation; even though here he was still breaking the rules for what he knew was right.

He thought little of that life anymore and when he did it made him angry. He quickly tried to switch tracks on the train of his thoughts whenever the voice or actions of that woman would come back to him: in the end he'd come to believe that his mother was a prejudiced simpleton and her opinions no longer merited his consideration.

She was right about the importance of rest though, living proof of the old adage that no one can be wrong all of the time.

Tucker had not bothered to change his clothes or even to crawl beneath the sheet as he sank into bed. It'd be easier to just put on a fresh set of clothing when he woke instead of bothering to take off his already wrinkled uniform now. The minutes were ticking away on his hour of rest and he knew he could afford to take not a second longer than that.

He quickly realized though that holding still with his eyes closed may be the closest thing he'd get to rest now.

He soon discovered that he was just too preoccupied, his mind spinning quickly just as the gears and levers that clicked away within the interior mechanisms of the clock he'd replicated and placed beside the single bed. Soon he had given up on even closing his eyes.

He glanced over at the timepiece- the only thing in the room that was really his- and listened to it ticking softly as he replayed in his mind the success of all his plans so far he told himself that these were the best moments in life. Even better than victory was the careful and precise path to find it. Navigating that path was what challenged his mind. It was the challenge that he deserved; it was the challenge that was always the most rewarding part of any undertaking.

He still walked that challenging path now, he knew and so mentally measured his steps. The ship’s temporal components needed to be made operational and Denise needed to be taken from command. Thinking about that fact he reached over to the clock and brought it closer to study its face; to see if it was time yet to sow more doubt.

Placing it back down and readjusting himself in bed, he decided that it wasn’t, not just yet. Denise needed time to worry. It was too soon to visit Liis again in his role as the caring doctor with many other patients to see. The ship's repairs would be done no faster with him there to interfere. There really was nothing to do now but to rest and to wait as he planned alone.

As he considered that the smile faded from his face and given he was alone he didn’t bother to force it back on.

He instantly found that he wasn’t quite comfortable anymore and so vainly shifted his position once again. It made no difference though because there was nothing Tucker was less comfortable with than his own mistakes and try as he might he could never quite pretend he was.

Here in this Spartan and empty excuse for a home it now seemed like everywhere he could glance was attempting to drum into him that he wasn’t free from his single greatest misstep.

The fact was that he hadn't always been alone.

There was a woman and there was a time. She was the one person who’d managed to make such an impression upon him that he had allowed her to truly see the inner workings of his thoughts. For awhile, for a span that seemed to his memory to be eternal and yet at the same time had ended impossibly too soon, he had been understood and accepted for who he was.

Then that time had passed and for the first time in his life he felt alone. More than that, for the first time he felt pure, undeniable loneliness and a longing to go backwards to where he’d been. No matter how many days had come and gone since, that feeling had never really gone away.

Turning his head and his eyes to the small view port and looking out into the blackened emptiness of space he couldn’t help but consider the only cure for this weakening disease would be if he could get her back again.

However even as his mind began to fill with a hundred other thoughts of her he dismissed that one the quickest.

He didn’t even know where she was.

He’d never get her back, and he wasn’t sure he wished to if he could.

-=USS Serendipity=-

Standing in the shambles that had once been her tidy and organized quarters, Landry's shoulders fell.

Her arms ached, a side effect of having hugged them so tightly around her body as she shook and tried, desperately, to keep from freezing in a room that could never feel warm to her now. Not with these memories sweeping in and icing over every surface within the space, including her empty, still form.

Her own skin felt alien to her now, and it was as though she was watching someone else go through the motions of moving as she stepped forward, crunching glass and injured rose stems beneath her boots as she began to clean up the mess she'd made.

If only all messes were as easy to clean up as a little broken glass and a few pieces of tipped over furniture. She was a mess that no amount of housework could fix.

This was not news to her.

She'd accepted that she'd become this way the day that she'd walked away.

She'd had to accept that the world around her would cease to make sense if it could no longer be filtered through the amazing machinery that was his mind. He had a way of cutting through everything people said, all the noise and nonsense and concentrating on what had to be done and how. He helped her to see that what she'd always felt was just instinct about the way people behaved was something more- that she really had a gift for observing behavior in others and determining their intentions, often before they were aware of them.

He joked, at times, that she was the perfect "Human Lie Detector".

He had never lied to her. Of all the things he had done, that had never been one of them.

He had also never done anything out of purely evil intentions; she really didn't believe that Tucker had it in him to be truly evil. Misguided, yes. But never truly malevolent.

She stopped moving, seized by a sudden memory, and rolled up the sleeve of her uniform tunic.

She looked down.

Hiding beneath the fabric, where no one would see that she was actually breaking uniform code by wearing it, was a simple gold bracelet. Delicate and smooth against her skin, it held a single, antique decoration.

The small charm, made in the image of a clock face, stared back at her; hands unmoving with no works behind to propel them to mark the actual passage of time. It seemed sadly appropriate to her that the one gift she'd kept of all he'd given her was the one that reflected that for her, the moment she'd said goodbye to him was the instant when time had screeched to a grinding halt and had ever since stood still.

She’d always kept this with her since that day. Sometimes she could go for what would seem in retrospect to be so long without really thinking about it beyond a passing glance. Other times, in moments like this she would just find herself overcome with the need to look upon it for a long while. She was never quite sure exactly what made it so easy to dismiss one second and so entrancing the next.

All she knew was that when she regretted her decisions the most, that to look upon this precious gift had the almost magical ability to help her remember that she’d had no choice. It was what it was and that was all it ever could be. Somehow, it seemed now with him so near that that magic was gone; it was just a powerless ornament once again.

So instead she tucked that bracelet away and moved towards her window. Her sad, vacant eyes then stared out and onto the side of the giant ship Poseidon.

He was over there, somewhere. He was so close she could almost touch him again.

Without any real thought her hand reached up and gently brushed the cold glass, almost as if she truly believed it would pass straight through.

He’d taught her it was not such a foolish thought to have. He’d had a barrier around him much like this glass only significantly less transparent which one day she’d realized she alone had found a way to see beyond. That was such a beautiful day.

Even before that though and in a much simpler but no less meaningful way she had wanted to reach out to him. She’d watched him with such awe and fascination of his mind from that very first day, barely able to find a coherent thought as she considered running her hand so slowly along that impossibly handsome face.

-=Flashback, 2387 current timeline: Earth=-

The door chime sounded.

Landry glanced nervously up at the clock again as if seeing the face for the very first time, though she'd been watching it tick away the seconds for the past half an hour. Her heart sped up as she realized that unless the neighbor's bi-weekly order of take out from the local Chinese restaurant had been sadly misdirected, Tucker Brody had arrived at her door not a moment late.

Not a moment too soon, either.

She wondered how it was possible that the hours in one day could ever pass so slowly.

She'd done nothing but think of him since the moment he'd walked into Vox' office and given her that smile that told her she was in very, very deep trouble and it was instantly too late to get out of it unscathed.

No matter what else she was supposed to be doing she couldn't seem to shake the unsettling experience of simply having been near him, and that was not only something completely unfamiliar to her but was something that she couldn't have been prepared for nor would have even believed possible if someone had tried to warn her about it in advance.

She bit her lip and nervously twisted her fingers around each other.

She'd rehearsed just how she wanted to act when he arrived, though her plans for calm and distant behavior flew straight out the window the second she realized that he really was just on the other side of the divide. Without even realizing what she was doing she’d grasped the handle and yanked it open, the thought occurring to her only when it was far too late for attempts at deception that she’d just given away she’d been nervously waiting there for him.

He pretended not to notice, or perhaps he’d expected her to be so diligently prepared all along. His smile was warm and his eyes were burning; lit by a fire so bright within him that Landry nearly had to look away as his gaze focused solely on her.

"Evenin', Landry."

The way he drawled her name gave her goosebumps.

She managed a weak nod in reply.

He laughed softly at her obvious inability to speak. Not wanting to make her feel uncomfortable he shifted his focus, and his eyes, away from hers. He looked her over, and then his slight smile became a true grin. "You really are hidin' your light under a bushel, wearing that Starfleet uniform."

Not missing the intonation, and shivering slightly because of it, Landry suddenly felt much more confident in her choice of the modest but not at all unflattering black dress she'd chosen.

She looked away, her face reddening and again, Tucker laughed but not in a mocking way. "We'll have to get you used to hearin' those kind of things about yourself. Ain't right for a lady as lovely as you to go through life without knowin' how truly...appreciated, her beauty is by the men around her."

Landry parted her lips, which suddenly felt as parched as a Vulcan desert, to try again to speak but found she was still unable.

"Do you have a wrap? Might be a little chilly. 'Course, I'd be happy, as a gentleman, to lend you my jacket later if you should happen to need it."

"Thank you," she finally managed to choke out, and she decided- on purpose- to leave her wrap behind as just the thought of wearing his jacket was undeniably appealing to her on a level she couldn't articulate.

"Shall we?" He extended his arm, and Landry looped hers through it, feeling dizzy as he drew her nearer and she caught once again just the faintest hint of his cologne; not enough to be overpowering but just enough to ensure that not a single one of her senses could deny his masculine appeal.

He led her out into the street and he exhaled slowly after breathing deep the evening air. "Really is a perfect evening, and the world's at our feet, Landry. There's nothin' out there in this world tonight that you can't have, if you just say the word. So tell me..." He turned those bright, remarkably brilliant steel gray eyes toward her and she felt her knees weaken. "Startin' with dinner. Where can I take you?"

Maybe it had something to do with how amazing he looked in the light of early moon, or just how easily she could get lost in his beautiful voice, but she was utterly bereft of words. All it took was a look from him to take her breath away, and then when he asked her where she wanted to go for dinner she was still barely able to stutter out any sort of a response.

After another moment of her silent self-doubt, she saw moving across his features the same look he’d given her in Vox’s office when he felt she was playing dumb.

Again he asked, a little more forcefully. "Landry, I asked you because I'd really like to know. What kind of food would you prefer for dinner tonight?"

This time she answered with the first possibility that came into her mind. "Italian?" She said the word as a question and he couldn't help but shake his head a little.

"You askin me the question or yourself, darlin'? Let's try again." He grinned at her. "Italian." He spoke the word as a statement and she couldn't help but laugh a little. She didn't recognize herself all of a sudden; never had a man had this effect on her.

"Italian," she concluded.

"I happen to know just the perfect place."

Just as promised, a short walk later, he revealed that he really did know just the right place. Landry had lived in this neighborhood for a year but she had never noticed this restaurant before.

It was tiny, and yet it wasn't truly hidden, it was one of those little gems scattered in and among the larger establishments in town that gave this city its unmistakable charm.

The place was intimate but not isolated, and as the maître d' recognized Tucker immediately and swept them past a line of waiting customers toward the best table in the small and exclusive dining room, Landry observed that it seemed to be populated only by couples in love.

As they were led to their table, she actually realized she was thinking it was the type of first date place a man might take a woman back to later on in their courtship with a specific purpose in mind: to ask him to marry her.

She was grateful that Tucker had been looking away as the thought and the expression which accompanied it surely would have captured his attention. Fortunately, she'd been spared, or so she thought, as he pulled out her chair for her and she sat down gratefully, though somewhat awkwardly, as no man had done that for her before.

He sat down across from her, and she had to wonder from the expression on his face if he hadn't caught a glimpse of her sentimental daydream. His eyes reflected a deeper sort of warmth now, and she shivered with the sense that he somehow knew she’d been having thoughts to which she had no entitlement just yet.

He actually seemed to be slightly amused.

He didn't torment her long, though. Instead, he began studying the wine list, with every intention of buying at least one bottle of the very best in the house.

For Landry this provided the most remarkable opportunity. It gave her the chance just to study him, staying so still so she didn’t leave the possibility he’d realize what she as doing, and she could observe how with such concentration and careful yet powerful consideration he made his decision. It was mesmerizing, and in this moment it almost hurt to be an entire table away from him.

Suddenly her surroundings, as lovely as they were, seemed to dissolve around her into an altered state of unreality; her mind and eyes fixed only on him. She studied him as intensely as he did that menu, trying to commit to memory every detail of the way he looked at this moment; only then he spoke again and she wasn’t sure she could count on remembering anything other than the sound of his soft, resonant voice.

“Well darlin’, what do ya think? 89 Rayas or the Cambrian?”

“The Cambrian,” she answered quickly, and without thought.

“Really?" He was intrigued. "Why?”

Landry suddenly had the feeling she’d made precisely the wrong choice and hurried to undo the damage as fast as she could.

“If you prefer the Rayas, that’s…”

Brody sighed, a short but somehow unending sigh that left Landry incapable of continuing.

“Never said that. I only asked why.”

“Well, I…” Landry started but couldn’t finish and quickly found her cheeks burning, her eyes falling to study the flickering flame of the candle in the centerpiece on the table before her. She offered no further response.

For a moment he said nothing either, but his eyes never strayed from her face.

“I take it you don’t know much ‘bout either wine. Ain’t a thing wrong with that,” he finally responded. “Only concern to me is that you thought you had’t pretend.”

Landry quietly muttered something which started off on track to be an apology but couldn’t really succeed as one because she couldn’t actually offer any explanation. Somehow her cheeks, which already seemed to contain a dangerous amount of her blood, just seemed to be getting redder.

“It’s alright,” Brody continued. “I know why you did what you did. With what I said before, you concluded that I wanted you to be more decisive. You wanted to give me what I wanted.”

Landry nodded slightly, realizing how true it really was even though she hadn’t consciously thought of it that way when she had done it.

“Don’t,” he added softly, but saw quickly that from her response that she was taking the word in a very different way than he'd intended to speak it. “I’m not telling you what not to do,” he continued gently. “I’m sayin’ you don’t have to. You don’t have to be what anyone else wants you to be. You certainly don’t have to try with me.”

For a few seconds she could find no words at all, but now it was for a very different reason.

“Okay. I won’t,” she finally answered, her eyes gradually moving back up to his as she tried to grasp that he was real. The irony that she was not doing as he asked in order to do so was lost at present; she just felt so amazed that he would care enough to encourage her like this.

When she saw the warm and ever so slight smile of approval that had returned to his face another, softer grin came back onto hers. Somehow the way he looked at her now just made her blush even more.

“You see, I know who you are Landry Steele,” Brody murmured, in such a low tone the words were almost like a dark, deep secret being whispered between friends.“More importantly I know exactly who you could be. You can do things, see things, even feel things”, he punctuated the last two words with a grin that seemed to make her heart threaten to stop if not to go straight into reverse,“that most can’t even dream of. There’s only one thing missin' that you need to have it all.”

“What’s that?” Landry asked quickly, as though she expected no less than had he suggested he was about to reveal the very meaning of life.

He considered just saying the word plainly, but then thought better of it.

Instead, he leaned over the table towards her almost as if he intended to kiss her. Landry intuitively moved into him, when at just the last second he turned instead to breathe more than whisper the word into her ear.


Landry closed her eyes, nearly swooning and utterly unable to prevent the chain reaction of emotions and sensations that his sudden closeness caused.

She had a thrilling and terrifying feeling that she was spinning out of control; that things were already moving at a speed so great that there would be no way to safely navigate any steep drops or hairpin turns that may lie unseen around corners up ahead.

She was truly powerless against his charms, and as she grasped hold of the arms of her chair to try to keep from listing to the side as the room spun around her, she realized that she was definitely on a path from which she couldn't turn back.

She would only realize later just how little control she'd had over the situation from the very start.

She was merely along for the ride.

From the moment she first saw him Tucker was in the driver's seat; with one hand on the wheel, one on her heart, and the pedal pressed flat to the floor.

Ensign Landry Steele
Temporal Investigations
Aboard the USS Serendipity NCC-2012