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Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 2,532
# 15
01-13-2013, 10:59 PM
[Just a crazy idea that popped into my head late at night.]



Personal Log, Encrypted. Captain Alexei Ivanovich Strannik, commanding officer of the USS Chin'toka.

Three weeks after returning to our own time the tense expression on my first officer's face told me all I needed to know. The padd in his hand seemed to pulse radioactively as he offered it to me. "Captain...we have a serious problem." The gentle Aenar locked eyes with me--or more accurately, posed himself to simulate the effect. It wasn't hard for me to imagine the long hours of practice th'Valek had put in to achieve what he did among races so dissimilar to himself. I favored him with a long gaze myself, knowing that while he wouldn't perceive my features in the same way as the rest of my crewmates, he would sense my energies and intentions just as he had since we'd roomed together at the Academy.

I reached forward, taking the padd, keying its contents open. My insides spasmed disconcertingly. Additional reports of a haunting on Deck Thirteen. Incomprehensible, inhuman voices--if they could be called voices--glowing doubt, the crew was on edge after confronting the Devidians in the Drozana system. And how could I of all people blame them? I knew their rattled nerves better than they could ever imagine.

I forced myself to control my voice--to even find a voice. "What about the sensors? Has anything registered?"

th'Valek shook his head. "No, sir. They wouldn't."

Of course not.

"Bozhe moi," I mumbled under my breath. "What about the witnesses? Has Dr. Sei looked them over yet?" I'm sure I could have found those details on the padd--but I didn't want to look. Didn't want to make the dread possibility real.

"Borderline--and frankly, if this is what I think it is, they've been smart about it. All of them previous victims from the ground strike team. On all but one of the 'ghost' witnesses, there are definitely signs of low-grade neural draining. You'd almost think it was an aftereffect--"

"But it's not."

"The only one who wasn't drained was in the arboretum." Th'Valek aimed another one of those long, silent 'looks' at me. "The rest were in quarters throughout the deck."

I slammed the padd onto the desk and let loose an obscenity. "I should've known they wouldn't let us off this easily. Let me off. I should've checked more carefully before we left Drozana!"

Commander th'Valek grabbed my arms. "Alyosha--this is not your fault! That spook Drake engaged the temporal device without asking your permission or giving us even thirty seconds' chance to check ourselves over for boarding parties while the triolic radiation had them exposed. And if Drake knows even half as much as he likes to claim he knows, then he would've known the risk to you, me, and our crew. He would've known that putting you at risk automatically would endanger the whole crew. He would've known the Devidians would go looking for revenge. I would like to say he wouldn't have put you in this position in the first place, but considering the dark little knot where his heart is, I won't go that far."

"And that's what tears me up!" I snapped. "Does he think I don't care about this crew? That I would condone the position he has put them in? That I'm like them? If he had any idea what it's like when I lose someone--how hard I try to bring them back--" It wasn't exactly choking up. I don't know how to describe the feeling, but it was there and it weighed heavily upon me.

"Commander--" My voice stayed just as sharp as before. "I'm going down there to deal with them. Form a team--but I am taking point. I want them to stay well out of range unless I call for them." I grabbed the synchronic rifle still sitting in my weapons locker.

And next to it...I crossed myself. God forgive me. "I swore I would never, ever use one of these." But I picked it up anyway: the ophidian cane. It weighed strangely in my hand as if heavier than any other object in the world--more real, more substantial, terrifyingly compelling. Right. Sickeningly right.

In my inattention I nearly pushed th'Valek aside--and almost jumped when his voice rang just two feet to my side. "Alyosha, you cannot be going alone!"

"I won't put you in the position of ordering you to stay away. But keep...the rest of the crew...away from them. Please. I don't want them going after anyone else beyond whoever they already have."

"Should I start setting up triolic enhancers?"

I nodded. My voice fled me. Go ahead.

th'Valek still understood. "Alyosha...are you sure you want to do this? You know it could--"

My voice was still gone. I know.

"No!" I gasped. They had gathered in the enlisted mess--and there was the evidence: half a dozen poor souls shuddering weakly, feverishly, staring at me as if...

My poor crew--they couldn't see their attackers. Not yet. But I could see them. I could feel them. Oh, yes--the Devidians were here, feasting--but as soon as I entered, they turned towards me--

Commander th'Valek's antennae poked straight out towards them, the hair on the back of his neck standing up--was he drawing telepathically from my reaction, or did his telepathic senses extend that far? "At your command, Captain."

I nodded. "Engage the triolic enhancers."

"Let them go!" I boomed.

One of the glowing forms broke off and shot towards me. "We hunger!" it hissed, though its mouth did not--could not move. It wasn't designed for that. "Would you deny us? You?"

I leveled my rifle straight at his conical maw. "I gave your commander the alternative before. And it's right here on this ship! You know it's here! Why do you insist on going after my crew when I can help?"

"And why do you insist on protecting them? What are they to you? We are not designed to feed from your should know that! For centuries--millennia--you think we should have starved to death as a race, that every bit of our existence until the 24th century and the possibility of your device is evil?"

"I have sworn two oaths and that is enough," I growled. I didn't have time for the moral debate. I didn't need a tricorder to see how weak the victims were getting. Their eyes were still open, though, staring at me, wondering how I'd provoked this response out of the Devidians when they never spoke to anyone else. "And I will honor them."

I leaped up to meet him--I fired--he reeled back, spun, slapped the rifle out of my hand--

And made contact. "God help--"

--me! My voice died as I felt the surge--


th'Valek's faint shout behind me, muffled as if underwater, confirmed my worst fear: I had flashed out of form.

The pain from the eidolon's claws was intense--such a tiny nick and yet so much more powerful and real than anything. Almost anything except the ophidian, alive and squirming now in my other hand, waiting for my command to strike, eyeing my crew, and I felt--

No! I screamed to myself, using the force of my fury to subdue the ophidian and push free of the ground--there was no sense staying down now that everyone awake enough in the room knew the truth. I raked at his face with my own claws, clumsy, for I barely knew how to use them. Mocking laughter emanated from the eidolon, an inhuman screech--

--that I well knew from my efforts to suppress my own natural reactions.

His hand encircled mine, grappling for pressure points, trying to force me to drop the ophidian, prying into my mind in a duel whose rules I knew nothing about.

"We found it underground in San Francisco in some kind of creche," the scientists were saying, "No idea how it got there. Looks recently hatched. We brought it to the Interphasic Research Lab here in St. Petersburg, but we think it might be sentient--"

I jerked my arm against his thumb, aiming for the weak point just as I'd been taught at the Academy, gave thanks that the trick still worked in my natural state. I pushed off against the wall, the ceiling--it had always been so difficult back at the Academy to hide my aptitude for microgravity navigation--and body-slammed the eidolon as hard as I could into one of his ravenous subordinates.

I shoved back too with my mind.

She crouched over my prone form, her eyes lit with concern as I spasmed, too weak to move--slipping away from the world, and she touched the top of my head--and so fast, too fast to stop, she screamed, her cry petered out into a whimper, and I suddenly shot awake from the potent mixture of energy and terror--I understood little of these people, so different from me, other than that they were people, however insubstantial their touch felt.

And how had I repaid her compassion? I didn't know how to fix it...the deed was irrevocably done. I withered again, this time not from starvation, but shame.

I needed no understanding of the eidolon's language to feel the contempt he aimed back at me.

I'd formed a visage for myself, mastered spoken language, become bilingual at that--and that brought with it the revelation of my name's real meaning. Alexei, son of 'Ivan Nomad.' John Doe, of sorts--my isolation out there for the world to see even though I now walked and spoke outside the lab with nary a second look from anyone else.

"Alyosha! Behind you!" Commander th'Valek's voice reverberated in my mind just as much as it sang out the reminder of another reality. I whipped around out of habit--I didn't have to; I didn't really have eyes, but the human mannerisms were so long ingrained that even now they didn't leave me even when the response slowed my reflexes compared to the...others.

The other Devidians.

The ophidian, however, wasn't so slow. As my hand lashed out, it wrapped itself around the umbral's neck--and squeezed. It didn't take long before the aggressor dropped. The others had been frozen by the spectacle, it seemed--and with that, th'Valek squeezed off a volley of shots...felled the intruders. Their poor victims started to fall--until I seized hold just long enough to lower them gently to the floor.

It was so, so terribly easy for me to sense the state they were in. I gripped the ophidian tight, forcing the energy out of myself in a process that doubled me over just as surely as what it must feel like to retch. I felt myself growing weaker and weaker until something shoved hard into my body, the impact strengthened by the triolic enhancers...

"The med team is on its way--you can stop now...stay with me..."

His voice faded away as I crumpled to the deck.

The first sensation as I returned to awareness was of the respiration-feeding mask over my mouth, breathing air and life--artificial life--back into my body. The attack victims--did they make it?, I sent to th'Valek. He repeated my words where Dr. Sei could hear, for I was too weak to resume my familiar form or even form sonic waves to mimic speech.

"Most of them," Dr. Sei confirmed. The Trill was the only other, besides th'Valek, who had known the classified truth all along. "All but one. I'm sorry, Captain."

They were still calling me 'captain'--so at least I hadn't woken up to a mutiny, or at least it didn't involve the whole crew.

I never meant for any of this to happen.

"I know. And the survivors do, too. They're actually saying they could feel your care for their lives. They send their thanks."

I didn't respond at first.

"They've all talked. They agree to keep your secret."

What about Chief Ruuim? I thought back--the Caitian NCO that had seen me lose control in the arboretum when all the stress of the Drozana mission had come crashing down on me.

"We'll talk to him." Commander th'Valek answered, this time.

I don't know. Maybe it would be better if I resign, as soon as I regain my form.

It had been one thing before the Starfleet scientists--or I, for that matter--had known anything about my race. I was just a curiosity then, and there hadn't been any objections to my entrance into Starfleet Academy, given my repentance for what had happened to my first childhood caretaker, and the creation of an alternate feeding device that had safely sustained my life ever since. But since the Enterprise crew had discovered the truth--it had been a constant battle with the bureaucracy to prove I wasn't a threat, to get things classified at the right levels so I could continue to serve quietly, behind my human form, without facing the contempt of my crewmates. And now, thus exposed...

It didn't really surprise me when th'Valek clapped me once on the shoulder. With the Aenar's unique mode of perception, appearance wasn't exactly an object. I almost jumped though--as much as I could with so little energy--when Dr. Sei took my clawed hand.

"After what my patients reported from their...experience," Dr. Sei said, as deeply impassioned as if she'd heard me for herself and not through th'Valek, "I'd say Starfleet would be losing a fine captain if you let this drive you away. Think about it, Alyosha."

Indeed...I will be spending a long time doing that. Normalcy might return quickly for most of the crew of the Chin'toka--but for me it will be a long time coming.

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Last edited by gulberat; 01-22-2013 at 01:06 AM. Reason: Research into Russian surnames showed Alyosha's surname needed to be changed.