Location: Boston, the Gateway to the Galaxy
But it wasn't quite time to get up.
He rolled over once, no PADD in hand this time.
Directed dreaming, he thought. "I could try that,” he said softly to the darkness.
It was a white room. Whiter than white. Blinding. Not even like a white star, for hot, white stars are bluish.
There was no blue. It was unrelenting whiteness. The essence of white.
He sniffed the air.
There was a scent. Another dream-that-is-more-than-a-dream, Doug thought.
But the odor was acrid, and was making his eyes tear.
"Where are you?" he called. "Where are you? Where are you?"
For the last piece of the dream, he typed a little more on the PADD, but it was getting foggy and fading from view.
This time, when he awoke, he could not get back to sleep no matter how hard he tried.
"That alien is dangerous." Yimar complained, just outside the room.
"Where is Mommy?" asked Chelben.
"She's, uh, um, sleeping."
There was a crash in the other room.
"Chelben! Stay here! Father, I'm coming!" Yimar cried out, leaving the child and running into the room.
Doug pulled on sweatpants and went over to the ship's gym. He hadn't been there in a while. Despite the early hour, Crewman Cutler was there with Jun. "Here, now," she said to the child, "you play with this. Hit it really, really hard,” she said, bringing down a speed bag to his height that was almost as big as he was.
She straightened up and nodded slightly.
Doug went over to the free weights. He was bent over to grab a larger barbell when he heard voices behind him.
"C'mon!" said the male voice. "It's not like you've got any other offers."
"No. I gotta watch the kid. And I already got a man."
"An imaginary one? You won't get any other offers." the man teased.
Doug turned around. "Delacroix," he said calmly, "she's not interested."
"You really expect me to believe that?" Delacroix asked. "You and I both know the only reason any of the women come to the gym is when they're lookin' for some action. And I'm just the right fella to give ya some, eh Cutler?" he got up in her face even though he was shorter than she was.
She turned her face away. "Oh, and the black eye? It is one serious turn-on." Delacroix added. "I could give you a matching one, ya know."
Cutler bent over. "Jun! Stop playing with that, it's time to go."
"Nuh!" yelled Jun. He was having too much fun hitting stuff.
"C'mon!" Delacroix grinned, grabbing her.
"Crewman!" Doug said, “Leave her alone."
"Oh? And whaddaya gonna do about it, Old Man?" He straightened up but was still considerably shorter than Doug.
"I don't fight children,” Doug spat out, turning away and giving Cutler a quick look.
He wasn't braced when Delacroix hit him hard, straight in the gut, and couldn't help but to react. He reeled back, a little surprised.
"You really are slipping." Delacroix said, laughing.
Doug shook his head to shake off the cobwebs and uppercutted Delacroix to the chin. The smaller man fell onto an exercise mat.
Doug turned to Cutler. His stomach hurt something fierce but he knew it wasn't a bad injury. "Your man should be doing this."
"Yeah, but he's on shift."
"He owes me one,” Doug said.
"I, I know. Look, can we go?"
"Sure. Come on, Jun,” Doug said. Delacroix was stirring a bit and he didn't want to risk a repeat.
They walked in the hall, leaving Delacroix back at the gym.
"Um, thank you." Cutler said, “You've, uh, I guess you had owed me and now you, you don't anymore."
"How did you figure I owed you?"
"The other night. The targeting array was fine. And all the Empress wanted was for that city to be taken down. And I did it for you. So you owed me for that."
"Yeah, uh, a little, I guess,” Doug said, “Huh, no breakfast for me today."
"You're probably better off. Well, this is where I go." they were at the door to the Empress's quarters. "Uh, can I ask a favor?"
She dropped her voice to a barely audible whisper. "I, I want to work in Tactical."
"I know you do – and your talents are being wasted here,” Doug indicated Jun, who was smacking the door with his palm to try to get it to open faster. "But, um, I'd need her approval. And I'm not so sure I could ever get it."
"Yeah. It was a thought." Cutler looked down.
"Hmmm. If the time and place were right, I might be able to put in a good word. But no promises."
"I hate promises." Cutler said, “Always making you think something's really gonna happen, and it never does."
"Where are you? Where are you?" asked the woman in the white room.
"First coherent sentence so far,” Polloria said. She walked out of the room with Yimar. "See how it works?" she said to the girl as soon as the door was shut behind them. "The brain was targeted in a very specific way. So if you tell the alien a word, she'll understand it and know it. But if you don't, it's as if she's never heard of it."
"Can the same kind of thing happen to a Calafan?" asked Yimar.
"Of course not. It only happens to them because they're inferior. All species are inferior to Calafans,” Polloria said decisively.
"Treve says they're not."
"Treve is an idealist,” Polloria said, “When he gets older, like your father, he'll see the light. Of, of Lo."
"Father, are you all right?" Yimar burst in to a room that was all red. There was a gouge in the wall and a piece of equipment on the floor nearby.
"Fortunately, I was able to duck in time. Polloria, let's go outside the room and talk. Yimar, stay here a moment."
"But, Dad! What if she throws another drug delivery tube?"
"We'll be right outside. And I'll call Dr. Baden. Just, just be aware."
Hours later, Cutler looked up when the door chimed. "Uh, come in, I guess."
It was Tripp Tucker. "I, uh, I got done with work early."
"Yeah,” she said, kissing him. "You should know, Jun's awake, he's over there." Jun was staring at an on-screen entertainment of some sort.
"Got it. So, um, how are you doing? Shiner gettin' better?"
"A bit, see? But that side still hurts. Can't eat or smile on the left side of my mouth."
"So I'll just kiss you on the other side, then." He did so.
"Charles, why are you being this way?"
"Well, it's not like last time."
"Last time was a good five years ago."
"I know. But, I mean, you're being nice. And you're almost gentle, even."
Tripp was quiet for a while. Cutler cringed, waiting for another shoe to drop.
"Beth, I'm dying."
"Yeah. I, I know."
"And so you shouldn't get involved with a guy like me. I'm liable to go while we're doing it."
"I don't care."
"You, uh, you need to understand. My guts feel like they're made of tar and my lungs feel like they're filled with ashes."
"Not everything is affected." Beth said, smiling.
"Oh, that's affected, too. I can't, uh, can't do it too often."
"Well I can't, either. It's not like I can get away too much. If the Empress found you here, she'd have a fit."
"Still, I'm a bad risk for ya."
"Lemme tell you something. I am the lowest-ranking pers – , no, creature on this ship. Even Dr. Morgan's lab animals are treated better than I am. Everyone feels they can take a shot at me, and they sometimes do. Jun does it all the time. And this morning at the gym, if the Old Man wasn’t there, Delacroix would've, well, he ...."
"You went to the gym?"
"You sick of me already?"
"No. I had to take Jun for conditioning training. I was not there to look for, for another man. Not that anyone would've been interested anyway."
"I should have protected you. That's, uh, you should stay in, mostly. Safer that way."
"Are you, uh, are you a little concerned about my welfare, Charles?" She came closer and kissed him. "Ow."
"Oh, sorry. Didn't mean to press on the left side there."
"Did you just apologize to me?"
"Uh, yeah. I guess I did."
"We are a pair,” she said, “Both falling apart."
"Come back to the Bridge again tonight."
"I can't always get away,” she said.
"I know. But we'll do the same thing. You bring the kid, and put him in the Ready Room, on the cot."
"Charles! I get the feeling we won't always be able to do it in the Captain's chair! Think of all the people who are on the Bridge."
"Well, it's pretty quiet at oh three hundred hours, Beth."
"I'll try not to be late."
The next time he kissed her, he made sure it was away from the swollen left side of her face. And it didn't hurt much at all.
"Don't, don't try that again,” Yimar said to the woman in the red room.
"Try that again." the woman parroted, reaching for another drug delivery tube to throw.