Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Reaching the End

Month 6, Day 11
0655 Hours

She awoke slowly, feeling foggy-headed and out of breath. After a moment of panic in the utter blackness, she remembered where she was. That’s why I feel so claustrophobic. I never did like places like this, so small I can barely wriggle through them. This is worse than a jefferies tube. What did you call it? An air duct? Not intended for people to travel in, but less chance of being found. Which is good, since we fell asleep again. So now where do we go, Kolleen?
Kolla stilled her mind and listened for the internal voice that had become so familiar to her. No answer came. Kolleen, are you there? Still no response. Yellow Pits of Zort! Has she died? What will happen to me? But through the panic and fear, she felt an overwhelming yearning for a bottle of the strange liquid Kolleen had been pouring down her throat. That realization helped her calm down. The drink has... worn off. We can’t hear each other. Zort, I don’t know where to find any more of it!
Well, if I have to do this by myself, then I’d better get to it. What did she say when we stopped to catch our breath, just before I fell asleep? I think... we were getting close. Ahead - somewhere - is a branch going up... We got stuck on terms for distance, until she said the branch goes up about as far as this elbow to the fingertips, then turns at a right angle to this tube, and ends in a mesh. Once I get through that mesh, then I’ll be in that 2nd command room where our attempt was interrupted before.
She inched forward until she got to a place where she could see the confining walls around her. She carefully turned over, onto her back, and saw that the light came from around a corner in the duct branch above her. This must be it! Moving slowly, aware now that she would not hear noises that these people could, she managed to sit up and then to get her feet under her rump. A scant hands-length from her face, a mesh of fine wires stood between her and the 2nd command room. Oh, no!
Several people were there, systematically tearing apart all the work she and Kolleen had done a few hours before. Kolla’s heart sank, and tears slid down her cheeks. Why did I fall asleep? I knew time was getting short! And now I’m too late! Oh, I’m so tired! And getting queasy. Would that be the claustrophobia?
Though her sight blurred, she continued to watch. The people worked in pairs, one talking and putting labels on the bit of circuitry in front of them while the other wrote. Eventually, that piece would be separated from the rest, placed in a box, and that pair would move to the next area.
Among the workers, she noticed her husband’s look-alike, talking while a woman took notes. Poor man looks as tired as I feel. What are those brown blotches on his face? I don’t remember those, and I got a good look at him when he interrupted our work. She studied the other faces in the room. Nobody else has them.
Pair by pair, the workers left, taking their notes and the boxes with pieces of Kolla’s attempt to get home. Eventually, only Sethym’s look-alike remained. Even the woman working with him had left, taking the box with the pieces he had removed, and leaving him leaning against a console. His eyes were closed, his shoulders slumped, and his head slowly lowered, his chin seemingly headed for his chest.
Then a woman entered, a woman in a brown uniform, not the maroon ones everybody else down here had been wearing. That’s the woman who helped us escape that time. She had that strange name- well, they all have strange names, but that one even more so. Yellow Dog. Yes, that was it.
Yellow Dog stopped just inside the doorway, something clutched against her chest, and studied the speckled Sethym look-alike. He tilted to one side and awoke with a start. Yellow Dog lost interest in him and looked around the room. But not just with her eyes. That one uses more than her eyes, I think.
After a long moment, Yellow Dog started purposefully across the room, headed straight for the vent where Kolla was hidden. Shocked, Kolla thought of scurrying back into the dark and confining ductwork. I wouldn’t make it. I haven’t the strength. If I tried, I’d probably make a lot of noise in my haste, so they’d know I was in here anyway. Besides, where would I go? This was my last hope.
Yellow Dog stopped before she fully reached the meshed vent and placed something on the floor. Then she walked over to the man, took a firm grip on his arm, and started helping him towards the door.
Kolla’s gaze turned back to the thing on the floor. It wasn’t all of what Yellow Dog carried, but Kolla recognized the bottle. That’s the stuff Kolleen drinks. Her eyes stung as she thought of being trapped in this body that wasn’t hers, of the trouble she had already caused for Kolleen, who had only tried to help her. Two minds in one body. There’s no way this poor woman could have a normal life with me in here, too. Not that this body will live much longer, anyway. But before we die, I should at least apologize to her.

The woman in brown and man in maroon had stopped in the doorway to look back. She didn’t care. Zort’s Shadow, I miss talking to her!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Captain’s Answers

Month 6 Day 11
Jane Burke
0551 Hours

Jane couldn’t stop her yawn, then stared at the helm for a second before making a slight adjustment. “Did you say Bugalu is awake?” she asked Dr Davis. “How long before he can return to work?”
Davis explained. “He’s awake from the... electrical charge, for lack of better words. But that shock weakened his immune system and the flu immediately took over, so he’s not capable of work.” Jane scowled, and Davis hurried on. “On the other hand, Evans is released. He should be here in a couple minutes, as soon as he’s showered.”
I should be relieved to hear it. He is in charge of the bridge on midnight shift, after all. But I’d prefer it was Bugalu. Davis was watching her closely. “Any idea what happened in Bugalu’s room? He broadcast that MacDowell was there, and by the time anyone arrived, he was unconscious, and she was gone. I know that much.”
“From what I understand, Yeoman Yellow Dog and Lt Tall Bear got there at the same time, from different directions. There’s no clue where MacDowell went. She seems very resourceful.”
“Apparently,” Jane growled in frustration. What an understatement. She turned as the lift door opened. Takor emerged, and an exhausted Smitty staggered behind him. “News, gentlemen?”
“We have a theory,” Takor stated.
Dr Davis walked to Smitty and gave him a shot in his neck. He didn’t react until she was done, and his scowl of surprise quickly changed to a less haggard face and a straightening of his spine.
A stimulant? Why didn’t she say so? Jane motioned the doctor close and canted her head as the stimulant was delivered into her neck. Well, that cleans some of the cobwebs from my brain.
There was a sharp crackle from the communications console, and Abdulla complained in her native language. Smitty whirled, his eyes round. “You aren’t still- Stop trying to drain that!”
Abdulla stood, looking angry. Her eyes flashed, but her voice was even as she reported, “I haven’t made any progress.”
Smitty gave a short nod and relaxed. “Come and listen.” She walked over, and Smitty waved her to sit at navigation, currently empty. Davis offered her a shot of stimulant, but she refused.
Takor started. “Ms MacDowell has been studying radios.”
“That’s a surprise?” Abdulla muttered.
“It is her field,” Dr Davis stated in confusion.
Smitty didn’t answer those statements. “She’s also been studying the theories of transporting solid objects by breaking them into electro-magnetic waves. Her notes concerned similarities between communications equipment and the theory of transporters.”
“Similarities?” Abdulla asked.
“Far more of them than you’d think,” Smitty added. “Although, from what we managed to decipher, she veered quite a ways from the current theoretical formulas.”
“She did so deliberately,” Takor reminded him.
“I still don’t-“
“What’s your theory?” Jane asked impatiently.
Smitty frowned as Takor explained. “That we somehow intercepted a transporter beam of the natives, and the contents of that beam are now trapped in our communications equipment. Or, more correctly, the electrical manifestation of the native’s body is still in the equipment. The consciousness, we believe, is inside Ms MacDowell. Unfortunately, we have not yet discovered how such a transfer happened.”
“If the native’s mind is inside Mac’s body,” Abdulla asked, “then where’s Mac’s mind?”
“There are two possibilities,” Takor responded. “Both intelligences might be present in the one body.”
“But I think Colleen’s consciousness has been transferred into the communications equipment,” Smitty stated. “She’d never make any sense of those papers on the theory of transportation, let alone the formulas involved.”
“Yes, you would think that,” Abdulla muttered, which earned her a sharp look from her superior.
“I disagree, Mr Smythe,” Takor returned. “Most of the handwriting in her notes looked much like Mr MacDowell’s to my eye.”
Burke opened the intercom. “Attention all hands. This is the captain. I am countermanding all previous orders regarding Lt MacDowell. If you see her, report it to the bridge, but make no move to interfere with her. But do avoid all physical contact.” She closed the channel. “What was she doing on the auxiliary bridge?”
“She didn’t get much done,” Smitty stated. “But it looks like she was trying to modify the circuitry to try to retrieve her own body. It wouldn’t have worked. The essence of the native may have been temporarily converted to something that resembles electricity, but it cannot be electricity. It must have some... cohesiveness that keeps it together. Otherwise, our efforts to remove that charge from our equipment would have worked. Or it would have joined the electricity in the rest of the ship and been dispersed. If she tried to move that... pseudo electricity to another location, most of it wouldn’t arrive.”
“What about the cohesiveness you mentioned? Wouldn’t that keep it together?” Jane wondered.
“Why did this happen to Mac?” Abdulla interrupted. “I assume the console exploded because it was suddenly flooded with pseudo-electricity that it wasn’t built for. Why didn’t that consciousness enter me? Why wait until Mac got here?”
“We have no answer for that,” Takor stated.
Jane didn’t wait for them to remember her unanswered question. “What do you recommend?”
Smitty didn’t hesitate. “She needs to drain that residue directly into a... converter. We’ve got to recreate what she was doing on the auxiliary bridge here, on the main bridge. Help her finish it, if we can. And then-“ He swallowed, and his voice got quieter. “Then we hope there’s enough of her left in the equipment to... complete the procedure.”
“Do you agree, Takor?”
“The alternatives all appear to result in at least one death, either of the native, or of Lt MacDowell. Or both.”
“Then do it,” Jane instructed.
“Yes, captain,” Smitty responded, and headed for the lift.
Abdulla watched her superior with wistfulness. “Lt, go help him, since there’s nothing up here you can do right now.”
“Thank you, captain!” Abdulla smiled as she hurried to catch up with Smitty.
Jane turned to the doctor. “The next time you think I need a stimulant, just tell me.”
“Yes, captain,” she acknowledged, and prepared to leave.
“Have any engineering or communications people been recently released from sickbay?” Jane asked.
“Yes,” she answered, looking thoughtful. “Wilson, Adams... Jones. And Vogel.”
“Thank you.” Again, Jane opened the intercom. “Attention. All engineering and communications staff capable of working are to report to Mr Smythe on the auxiliary bridge.” She closed the channel and turned to her science officer. “Sit at navigation, Takor.”
It hesitated. “I am not trained-”
“Don’t touch the controls, just sit. Conversation is easier if we are both sitting.”
“I see.” It moved around her and sat in the chair Abdulla had vacated. “Was our explanation not clear, captain?”
“Clear enough to make a decision. Let’s call this curiosity. If we intercepted a transportation... signal, and MacDowell is not- was not familiar with that technology, since we don’t yet have it, then it seems likely the native directed her studies. Would you agree?”
“I do, captain. Most of the handwriting, as I’ve said, seemed like MacDowell’s, but there are places - especially in the beginning - where pieces of the theoretical equations were crossed out and something else substituted, including symbols neither of us recognized. Those areas were much less similar to MacDowell’s handwriting, but the writer appeared confident. I suspect the native is quite familiar with the workings of their transportation equipment.”
I hope so. “Doesn’t it seem likely that this... person would have realized it was not feasible to pull her... its physical form from this bridge to the auxiliary bridge?”
“Desperate humanoids will act on the slimmest chances.”
“We don’t know the natives are humanoid.”
“There must be something about MacDowell’s physical form that was compatible. And the cohesion of that signal may be stronger than Mr Smythe believes, making the attempt possible.”
“Not strong enough to keep its body and intellect together,” Jane pointed out.
“After that make-shift contraption is built here, how do we get... MacDowell to come here? She can’t hear us explain. She’s done her best to avoid us. And I can’t blame her.” There isn’t a word for this mixed being, so we’ll have to keep using our crew member’s name.
“My yeoman will manage it.”
“Your yeoman?”
“They are good friends.”
“Bugalu is her best friend, and she left him unconscious.”
“It is hard to explain, captain. But if there is a difference in MacDowell’s mind - if she shares it with another person - then YD will know and act accordingly.”
“Whidee?” Jane repeated. Whitey? That’s not-.
“Yellow Dog,” he explained. “Is it inappropriate to use an abbreviation of her last name? Many others do so, and I picked up the habit.”
Oh, Y D! “It would not be appropriate any time formality is called for, but if she doesn’t object... It simply caught me by surprise.” I seldom notice nicknames. Keeps me from using them with the lower ranks.
“Do you need a nap, captain?”
“I just received a stimulant, Takor. And you are not trained in helm or navigation.”
“But Mr Ryan is, and he has arrived for assignment.”
She turned to find the relief navigator behind them, faint spots barely visible on his face. “Captain, I’m reporting for duty.”
“Good. You may return to your station, Takor. Mr Ryan, take your accustomed seat. It’s good to have you back.”

“Thank you, captain.”

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

One Good Friend

Month 6 Day 11
0311 Hours

Kolla opened her eyes and rolled away from the black man. Rising to her knees, she looked around the room. “Nobody else is here yet, Mac said in the back of her mind. We can’t have been out very long, but they’re bound to show up soon.
I know, Kolla answered, her lips pressed together. She considered the unconscious man. Is this one also a friend?
“He’s my brother.”
If she had actually been talking, Kolla would have sputtered. Brother?
“That’s how close our friendship is.”
Is everybody on this... ship your friend?
“No. There’s a couple I can’t stand. Some I haven’t actually met. Quite a few I would not want to be alone with.”
Yet every time we are found, it is by one of your friends.
Yeah, what rotten luck. I’d much prefer running into someone I would like to punch.
That would render us unconscious, too.
I’d find a way.
Yes. Kolla laboriously climbed to her feet, leaned on the desk as the room started to spin. You have managed to avoid it pretty well. Until this one.
I never expected Bugsy to tackle me. Didn’t anybody tell him what would happen if he touched me?
How would your people know about that... side effect of our situation?
They wouldn’t be assigned here if they were stupid. That first encounter with Takor-“
The lizard. Right after you... Kolla could feel a chuckle emanating from the other ...invaded me.
It wasn’t something I wanted to do.
I know. Anyway, after that accidental touch, somebody would have figured it out. Kolla sucked in a deep breath. Are you feeling better? Because we really should get moving.
Yes, Kolla acknowledged. She turned, was startled to see a black-haired, dusky-skinned woman in the doorway from the corridor. But the woman who entered paid no attention to her, knelt beside the black-skinned man and wrapped her long fingers around his wrist.
This one is a friend, too.
You said that about the man.
He- Apparently, he doesn’t understand what’s going on.
Then this one won’t, either. Mac didn’t answer right away. Kolla could feel her thoughts churning in the mind they shared. I- We can’t ask for help again. We don’t have any energy to spare. With two of us inside this body, it’s doing double duty, you could say. It’s very rapidly approaching complete exhaustion.
I wasn’t that far from it when you arrived.
She stepped toward the door. What? Why? Their internal conversation was interrupted when the black-haired woman rose to her feet and hurried to get to the door first. Kolla watched her warily, expecting to be stopped. But the woman-
Her name is Yellow Dog. I think she’s here to help.
Not likely.
Meanwhile, Yellow Dog strode boldly into the corridor, where she stopped to look in both directions. Then she waved Kolla/Mac forward. Of two minds about what to do, the redhead started forward slowly.
Yellow Dog gestured for her to hurry, again looking in both directions, then stepped across the hall and opened a jeffries tube hatch. Reaching the open door, the redhead leaned out just far enough to glance up and down the hall. Yellow Dog had stepped well away from the hatch. Seeing no one else in the corridor, the redhead hurried across the hall and dove into the tube. The hatch closed and was dogged shut behind her.
Kolla/Mac crawled along the tube in the dim light. I hope your brother is okay.
So do I.
Why did the woman help us while the men have tried to stop us?
Well, I’ve been thinking for some time that YD is telepathic. Or at the very least, she’s extremely empathetic.
You think she knows that you are now... us?
I would not be surprised if she does. I’ve never managed to surprise her.
Kolla paused just long enough to raise a hand and try to stifle a yawn. Why were you already near exhaustion when I arrived?
I’ve worked a number of double and triple shifts this past week. Almost everybody aboard is sick. And before that, I’d started having trouble sleeping. Probably nerves, since despite a great deal of studying, I can’t remember anything long enough to pass a simple quiz by my boss.
You have problems with your memory?
I never used to. Not until I arrived here. But now, any time the boss asks a question, my mind goes completely blank. Sadness emanated through the entire body. So of course he thinks I’m a complete idiot, and he’s about to ship me out.
That seems harsh. I haven’t seen any lack of knowledge in you. Except, perhaps, difficulty understanding basic solid transport concepts. But if that’s not your field-
Kolla, we don’t have that.
What do you mean?
Those papers I finally found? The ones you said were full of holes and in some places just plain wrong? They weren’t on improving a transporter. They were on the theory of transporting solid matter.
Really? Then I take it back. For someone just hearing that it can be done, you grabbed the concepts quite readily. Your captain would be the idiot, if he cannot see your intelligence.
The captain doesn’t make that decision. She leaves it up to the department head. In my case, Mr Smythe.
The name sounds... familiar. Have we run into him?
A couple of times.
Is he the big one you had to fight?
No, that guy is in security. Smit is... he’s... Words failed, but a picture of the man slowly formed in Kolla’s consciousness.
Kolla mentally grunted. That’s the one I mistook for Sethym, when I first got here. But Sethym has a mustache.
Who’s Sethym?
My boss.
If he’s anything like Smythe, I feel sorry for you.
He’s also my husband.
One arm buckled, and the body nearly landed on its face before adjustments could be made. Husband?
That’s a scary thought.
Kolla dismissed that topic and lay down, rolling onto her back. What do we do now? Do we have any options left? She closed her eyes. Maybe we just fall asleep right here, and... not wake up again. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
Nope. The body rather jerkily returned to hands and knees and moved on, turned at the next intersection. We go back to the auxiliary bridge.
We’ve already tried that.
We try it again. And by the way, what were you doing to Smythe that made him look... scared?
You don’t know?
It’s not like you were doing it in front of a mirror. Plus, the whiskey was wearing off. It was getting hard to hear each other.
Kolla considered what words would best explain. I was wishing he were Sethym.

Mac sighed internally. Guess it doesn’t matter. I won’t be here past the end of this quarantine anyway.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Bugalu's Turn

Month 6, Day 11
0253 Hours

Bugalu put a hand on the bulkhead and stopped walking to emit a huge yawn. I should have protested when the captain told me to get a nap. But since she replaced me with Capac, who is certainly not ready to relieve the captain, I couldn't very well do that. If one of the senior officers had been released from sick bay, but... Don't know how long she can last. Startled by the lift door opening behind him, he whirled, found himself leaning against the wall for support.
Tall Bear emerged. "Seen Mac?"
"How do you do it? You've been on duty as long as I have, but you're going strong, and I'm... I haven't even gotten to my quarters yet."
"Training." Bear started forward. "She wasn't on the officer's deck this time."
"Matt never mentioned training to see how long he could stay awake," Bugalu stated in confusion.
Bear stopped next to him. "Who's Matt?"
"Mac's brother. My roommate at the Academy. He was in security."
"Oh. Not at the Academy. I had some training before that."
"What? Military training?"
Bear smirked in amusement. "You could say that. Apache warrior training."
"Really? I've heard rumors..."
Bear gave him a sharp look. "No, you haven’t. No one talks about it."
Bear isn't doing as well as he seems. I've never heard about 'Apache warrior training' from him before this. "So, you got relieved to take a nap, too?"
"Got relieved from the bridge. Norris is up there. That's good. Easier to stay awake moving around. Now I'm looking for Mac. Again. You seen her?"
"Not since they took her to sick bay, unconscious."
Bear's attention suddenly focused. "When was that?"
"Back when this whole thing with her started."
"Oh, yeah. Got to find her. Join me?"
Bugsy shook his head. "Captain said get a nap, so that's what I'd better do."
"True," Bear stated and turned to continue his search, stopped abruptly. "You see that?"
"No," Bear mumbled. "It’s my spirit animal. Its disapproval was for me alone."
Bugsy watched his friend walk away. What did he think he saw? How can I not know what his spirit animal is? Thought we were friends. Bear turned the corner and was gone from sight. Bugalu looked around, realized no other crew member was in sight, not even in the distance. This place is... creepy... when there's no one else around. Lights are still bright - they always are - but somehow, it makes me feel... uncertain. Vulnerable. I have got to get some sleep.
Somehow, he forced himself forward, one hand on the wall for support. His living room door was right around the corner and opened for him. Nothing to hold for support as he staggered across the room and into his bedroom while stripping off his shirt.
He kicked his boots off and started to crawl onto his bed before he realized it was already occupied, the blanket wrapped tightly around her. Who the- He blinked and realized the Who had fire red hair, mostly disarrayed by now. “Mac. Can’t blame you for sleeping. Don’t think you have for the past month or so. Still, you don’t usually make it my bed.”
She didn’t answer, being asleep, and he was loathe to wake her. Then he noticed her face was covered in sweat, and an area of moisture on his pillow under her head grew as droplets rolled down her face. “Did you finally come down with this flu? I should probably take you to sick bay.” He unthinkingly reached out to check her temperature.
Bugalu jerked his stinging hand away as Mac jolted awake and sat up. She flung the damp blanket at him and jumped to the bottom of his bed, paused in the doorway to his living room to stare at him with gray eyes.
That wasn’t a fever I felt. But I’m still awake, not knocked out cold. She looks terrible, like an animated corpse. Only greyer.
And scared. She hides it well, but I can see it in her eyes. I don’t remember ever seeing her scared before. And now that she’s put some distance between us, she isn’t running. That’s got to mean something. He kept his voice mild, normal as he tried to reason with her. “Sorry to wake you, Mac, but I really think you should go to sick bay. Maybe Verasis Flu effects you differently, since you’re a Gaelunder. Come on, I’ll take you there.” He held out his hand in invitation.
She stared at his hand and slowly backed into his living room.
He shrugged and followed, but as she slowly backed toward the door to the corridor, he casually walked to the liquor cabinet and poured two drinks. He handed one out for her. She stared at it and licked her lips, but wouldn’t come forward. He set it down atop the cabinet. “Well, here it is, in case you change your mind.”
Without looking directly at her, he sipped his drink and walked over to sit at his desk. Meanwhile, she moved to the cabinet, and when she looked down to pick up the glass, he surreptitiously opened his intercom. “Mac, what in space brought you to my quarters at this blasted hour of the night? Oh, wait. It’s the middle of your normal shift, isn’t it?”
She tossed the liquid down her throat, then coughed and sputtered. Mac wouldn’t have drunk rum; she would have smelled the difference. The look the grey face gave him was... confused... disappointed. She reached into the cabinet and pulled out his bottle of whiskey, took a healthy slug straight from the bottle. That’s more like Mac.
She looked slightly better now; at least there was a touch of color to her skin. Her mouth moved, but he didn’t hear a sound, and he frowned in confusion. Frustrated, she walked forward several steps as her body became enveloped in darkness and she labored for breath. “Bugsy!” Mac’s voice came to him dimly, as if from a great distance. “Help us! I can’t do this much longer! Don’t let them tear...” The dark aura was gone, her voice faded to nothingness, and she staggered, fell against the desk. He pushed his chair back, to keep some distance between them.
“Mac, what’s wrong?” he asked, truly confused and absolutely worried about his friend in a way he hadn’t been for a long time.
Her head jerked up, and hot green anger glinted in her grey eyes as she deliberately closed the intercom.
Her mouth thinned into a straight line he’d never seen on her before, but he knew she was ready to lay into him with all the fury she could muster. Since I can’t hear her, she can scream all she wants. I just need her to stay here until Bear - somebody - comes and gets her and we can finally sort this out.

Instead, she whirled and headed for the door. Bugalu desperately lunged to stop her. As his arms wrapped around her, a searing jolt pierced his body.