– III –
The dream had become all too familiar by now.
Even though the details were never the same, the theme never changed. She was running up what began as nothing more than a little slope but turned steeper and steeper with each bound until it became a mountainous incline, impossible to overcome.
She knew she needed to get to the peak, that her life depended on reaching it but without spontaneously sprouting wings, her chances of getting there equaled zero. Instead she would slip, like she did every time.
She didn’t scream as she fell and the darkness engulfed her, almost as if she had gotten used to her own failures. As if they had become a part of her now.
Tazla Star opened her eyes and felt a sharp pain in her midsection, almost as if her symbiont was ready to burst right through her flesh and skin, trying to forcefully disconnect itself from the host body.
That too she had come to expect.
She threw off the covers and found her tank top drenched in sweat.
“Computer, time,” she said as she threw her legs over the edge of the bed and sat up.
“The time is 1058 hours.”
She had slept less than two hours. And even after pulling a double shift.
With her elbows resting on he knees and holding her temples, she took a few breaths to try and wait for the pain to go away. It always did after a few minutes. But by then she’d be unable to go back to sleep.
Tazla Star couldn’t remember the last time she’d had gotten more than four, maybe five hours of sleep straight. Not because of the stressful demands of her job, or because of fighting a war that seemed to go on forever but because her entire body was out to punish her for the mistakes of her past.
She reached under her bed and found the small safety box. It opened after she entered a combination and she removed the hypospray, considering the device for a moment.
Inside it contained a vial of yridium tricantizine, also known by its street name Syndicate-Y. A drug popular with members of the Orion Syndicate and one she had become addicted to early in her career when a deep-cover assignment had spun out of control.
Accepting the drug to infiltrate the organization hadn’t been the first or last mistake of her career but it certainly was amongst the biggest. In fact she was certain that things had taken a desperate turn for the worse after her addiction had kicked in and turned her into a closet junkie, easily manipulated by those who sought her loyalties.
She had tried to come off it before. For a while a substitute drug, less addictive and damaging, had been a promising way to finally kick the habit which was threatening to destroy what little of a life she had left. It hadn’t worked out.
Since coming on Eagle
permanently she had tried to go cold turkey a number of times. Going four or five days, sometimes even a whole week, without a shot. But eventually, when her concentration dipped, the dreams became more vivid and she wouldn’t get more than three hours a night, she had no recourse but to go back to her supply.
While eying the tempting hypo in one hand, she felt the octagon-shaped mark on her chest with the other. And while it had healed over the years, the outline was still visible and she had chosen not to treat it and keep it as a constant reminder. The Mark, as it was known by Syndicate-members, was a sign of their loyalty and commitment to the organization. It was also the shape left behind of the first Y injection which bounded most of its members to the organization for life.
With the pain in her abdomen almost gone, Star drew one large breath and placed the hypo back in box, closed it and pushed it back under her bed. She’d go another day without an injection, she’d managed to convince herself.
Her legs felt rubbery when she stood but at least the sweats had stopped. She hoped a long sonic shower would get her ready for another long day. And perhaps this time it would tire her out enough to get back to five hours of sleep.
Afterwards and dressed in a fresh uniform, she aimed a furtive glance at the windows of her quarters to be greeted by the unusual sight of hundreds of different color splotches vying for dominance as they impacted against Eagle
’s shields. Most of the crew, she knew, found this spectacle to be mesmerizingly beautiful. To her it reminded her of one of her more vivid Syndicate-Y trips and she couldn’t stand looking at if for longer than a few seconds.
She swiftly left her quarters.
She had barely set foot on deck twelve when she heard the Vulcan science officer call out her name.
The first officer slowed to allow him to catch up with her more easily.
“Mister Xylion,” she said in acknowledgment as he stepped up to her and matched her pace. “How can I be of assistance today?” she added, aiming a tiny smile his way. She was quite proud of how chummy she managed to sound considering how little sleep she’d gotten. Then she realized that this was mostly lost on the Vulcan.
“I have a request to make.”
He raised an eyebrow as if her response has been a complete non-sequitur to his query. But apparently his sharp Vulcan mind quickly processed the true meaning of her words. “As you may be aware,” he started, “this is the first opportunity a manned Starfleet vessel has had to enter this nebula without being affected by the heavy radiation which is toxic to most humanoid races.”
“I am indeed,” she said and hoped he’d get to the point soon. No matter how much she pretended to be in an agreeable mood, the Vulcan was the one person on board who’d easily be able to test her patience and threaten her with a headache.
“You may also be aware that our only studies of this spatial phenomena have been limited to automated probes and even those were unable to yield a significant amount of data before they succumbed to this hostile environment.”
“I can sense where this is going.”
“It would be a great disservice to the interest of science and our own efforts to better understand our own galaxy if we did not take full opportunity of our current circumstances and attempt to learn more about RAFGL 77-89-98.”
She thought he sounded unnecessarily dramatic about the whole thing. “Run your scans then,” she said. “We’ll be here for at least ten days. That should give you plenty of time to do some in-depth studying.”
“Regretfully most of the equipment I would require in order to study the nebula are currently reserved for the engineering team’s efforts to construct the observation array.”
She nodded. “I see the problem.”
“And I appreciate that at this time, the construction of the array has to take priority over all scientific considerations, especially since it may give us a significant advantage in the war against the Dominion.”
Star came to a stop in front of the doors leading to sickbay and turned to the Vulcan. Had he not just answered his own request, she wondered. “And you would be right about that,” she said. “Further scientific study of the nebula will have to wait for another time, I’m afraid.”
“Not necessarily,” he said and handed her a padd.
She glanced at it and to her dismay realized that the science officer had written a fifty-page report on the benefits of a one-week study of Aphrodite. She got to the middle of the first page before she made the decision that there was no way in hell she’d read the entire thing. She looked back up at him. “Commander, while I appreciate your point, as well as this,” she waved the padd, “what I can only assume is a compelling—if not comprehensive—report, you have pretty much already summed up the reasons why it’s something we can simply not consider at the moment.”
“If you would like to refer to page sixteen, section nine-alpha, you will find that I have proposed a solution which I believe would resolve that very issue without interfering with our current mission.”
Star found the page but then quickly realized that the section he had referred to went on for about ten pages. “Why don’t you just give me the abbreviated version?”
“The runabout could be equipped with Professor Rosenthal’s transphasic shielding and allow us to enter deeper into the nebula and carry out observations we’d be unable to complete on Eagle
due to our current mission profile.”
Star sighed and tried to give the report another shot. Once again she gave up quickly.
“I would only require a small amount of volunteers to assist me in modifying the Nebuchadrezzar
and accompany me on the away mission.”
Star sighed and eventually returned the padd to the Vulcan. “You find those volunteers and you got yourself an away mission,” she said. “But I expect this to last not a minute longer than seven days. I want you back on Eagle
with plenty of time to spare before we are due to depart.”
“That should not be a problem, sir,” he said and then quickly departed, no doubt to get his away team assembled and begin the required modifications.
* * *
Read the writer's commentary for this segment here