Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

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  1. jespah

    jespah Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2011
    Location:
    Boston, the Gateway to the Galaxy
    February/March 2013 Independence challenge -

    Bread

    Independence begins and ends in early 2192, for Leah Benson and her counterpart as they face challenges in both universes.

    Chapter 1

    Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha’alom ha’motzi lechem min ha’aretz.

    The ancient words were like a talisman, but Leah Benson had learned to never, ever say them out loud. It wasn’t that prayer was illegal – for it wasn’t. At least, it wasn’t strictly illegal – but rather it was because, to pray openly, one would make the mistake of admitting that one might not be thinking of the Empress Hoshi Sato 24/7.

    Someone was always watching, and listening. As the Empress had aged, her secret network had grown, and changed. First, it was Mayweather and his cronies. But he’d gotten himself killed during a slave uprising on a rock called Lafa II. Torres would have been next up, but he had met his end there, too.

    Their children had grown up – four of them. One from Mayweather, another most likely from Torres – or maybe Ramirez – a third from the disgraced Tactical Officer, MacKenzie, and one from a time traveler named Ritchie Daniels. There were two other royal children, but they and their father, Chip Masterson, were gone, and it was forbidden to ever speak of them. Leah – or anyone else – would be facing the agony booth if Takara or Takeo Masterson was ever mentioned.

    But the others were adults, and were being groomed to take over. Jun, who was the son of Daniels, had learned communications. Arashi, who was either the son of Torres, or maybe of Ramirez, he ran the treasury. MacKenzie’s son, Kira, ran the science station. And Mayweather’s own, the youngest, Izo, ran the secret police.

    None of them were pilots, though, and so that was one reason why Leah had a job at all. But she was also kept on because, being a lesbian, she was not in competition as the Empress, in her sixties, continued to try to make conquests of younger and younger crew members. This all happened despite the fact that there was an official royal consort, Andrew Miller, a guy who had been a guard and had then been in science, before he’d been, eventually, tapped for his current, somewhat earthier role. Leah was not in competition for Andrew or any of them.

    But Leah still knew enough not to pray in public.


    =/\=​

    Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha’alom ha’motzi lechem min ha’aretz.

    “And now I will recite the blessing over the bread in English,” announced the Starfleet Rabbi, Leah Benson. She stood at the front of a large room, full of dignitaries. There were two challahs in front of her. One was traditionally made. It was braided and its shiny crust meant that it had been brushed with an egg wash before baking. The other was more of a loaf and did not have a shiny crust – it was vegan. “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

    “Thank you, Rabbi Benson,” President Jonathan Archer nodded and Leah sat down with other Earth religious representatives. “Today is an auspicious occasion, for today marks a day of complete cooperation among our species. When we created the Coalition of Planets, back in 2155, we hoped that eventually it would begin to accept new member states. And then when we signed the Federation Charter in 2161, that hope was renewed. But it wasn’t until now, on April fourth of 2192, that that hope has finally come to fruition. Distinguished guests,” he smiled at his audience, “I am pleased to announce that, by unanimous vote, we are admitting three new worlds.”

    Tellarite Representative Gral caught Leah’s eye for a moment. He had an impressive beard which reminded her of ancient rabbis. Then again, his wife was also bearded.

    “The three new member worlds are,” Archer continued, “the Caitian home world, Denobula, and the Xyrillian home world. Please join me in welcoming them to the United Federation of Planets!”

    Ambassador Soval of Vulcan led the applause, gesturing slightly to Jonathan’s aide, a young Vulcan man.

    The Andorian representative, T’therin, stood. “With nearly twice as many member worlds, the work will not be halved, I fear. But I welcome the added burdens, as they are shared. Let us break bread!”

    He took a hunk of the challah from a server and ate it with gusto. The vegan version was served to the Vulcan delegation and they, too, ate as did everyone else.

    Other representatives of Earth’s many religions performed blessings over other parts of the meal and the banquet, including a Wiccan blessing over the gathering itself, a Catholic prayer over the wine and a Hindu verse was recited over nuts and sweets that were also passed around.

    The Starfleet Imam was sitting near Leah. “You are wearing a most agreeable outfit today.”

    “Oh, this old thing?” she joked, for she was in a modest evening gown. “You look good, too, Mahmout.”

    “My wife picked out the tunic.”

    “My wife dressed me, too,” Leah admitted.

    The Buddhist monk, resplendent in saffron robes, gave a thumbs up. “Both women have good taste,” interjected the Starfleet Protestant Interdenominational Chaplain.

    =/\=​

    On the ISS Defiant, there were neither coalitions nor official alliances or federations. Your allegiance could only, openly, go one way.

    Leah ate her modest meal in the mess hall. At least there had been bread. For so long, there hadn’t been any. Their meals had often been little more than gruel, unless the MACOs had gone out hunting.

    “How ya doin’?” asked one of the older Security guys – Josh Rosen.

    “All right,” she replied quietly.

    “This seat taken?” She waved at it as she ate, barely looking up. “We’re gonna go hunting again soon,” he told her. “Rumor has it; we’re taking a detour before we head into Romulan space. I hear the Empress wants us all hopped up on protein before we conquer ‘em.”

    “Oh.”

    “I could get you some of whatever we bring down,” he offered.

    “I got nothing to trade you for it,” Leah pointed out.

    “C’mon,” he coaxed, “look, there aren’t a lotta honeys on board, yanno.”

    “Yeah, I noticed.”

    “So, you and me?” She was a good fifteen years older than him – already in her mid-seventies – but the Defiant had a horribly skewed gender ratio. Less than one-tenth of the crew was female. In part, that was the fault of the Y Chromosome Skew, a genetic mutation that assured that about three-quarters of all pregnancies would result in the births of sons. But the other reason was the Empress herself – she didn’t want a lot of bedroom competition. Keeping other women off meant that even very young fellows would follow her around like trained Rottweilers. “Well?” he persisted after a while. Anything seemed better than absolutely no one.

    She looked up from her food. “I got nothin’ for ya.”

    The light dawned. “Oh. I guess all you pilot honeys are. I remember Madden, that old night shifter, she was. And Pike, she’s still the day shifter, I think it don’t matter to her,” he opined.

    Leah raised an eyebrow but kept on eating. Pike had been on her radar for a while, but that woman always seemed to be busy, or working it.

    “Listen,” he said softly, “even if you can’t or won’t trade, uh, that,” he looked around furtively, “I’m sure you got other stuff.”

    “Stuff?”

    “You know, intel. Or maybe you could get a lead on something or other. You pilot the shuttles sometimes and do recon, right? And you were in Tactical for a while there, too. You’ve got more going on upstairs than most.” She nodded in acknowledgement and tore off a hunk of her bread and dipped it into her food. “Well,” Josh continued, “you get the lay of the land before most people, right?”

    “And?”

    “And you know this, and you could tell me. And in trade, whenever I bring down game, I’ll make sure you get some. And you know I can help you out in case anyone gets too, er, frisky.”

    “Why me?” Leah finally asked. “And don’t tell me it’s ‘cause of the lack of honeys, ‘cause there’s Porter, and there’s Socorro, too. Balcescu, even. All of ‘em are a lot younger than me. I’ll be eighty in less than half a decade, if I should live so long.”

    He looked both ways before speaking. Izo Mayweather Sato, the Empress’s youngest, was a little too close for comfort. He came over. “Hey, Rosen, you’re on the next hunt, right?”

    “Uh, yeah, Izo.”

    “Better not screw it up.”

    “Never, sir,” Josh spat out the second word. Izo and his siblings were little more than privileged brats.

    “Just don’t. And Benson?”

    “What?” Leah snarled. She had no love lost for the Sato clan, either.

    “Come to my quarters and I’ll give you a job to do.”

    Leah knew what kind of a job that would be. “I have to do checks on the shuttles,” she lied. “Rosen here is going to assist.”

    “That can wait,” Izo commanded.

    “Your mother,” Leah played the trump card, “insisted that we do the checks. It’s in preparation for the Romulan invasion.”

    “I’ll see about that.” Izo flipped open his communicator.

    “You don’t wanna do that,” Josh cautioned.

    “Oh?”

    “Your mother’s off with Miller and I think Crewman Tiberius Kirk. You know what happens when she gets disturbed in the middle of those kinds of goings on.”

    “It doesn’t matter,” Izo bragged, “I’m her son.”

    “And you’ve got three older brothers, in case you’ve forgotten,” Leah reminded him even though, technically, he actually had four older brothers and a sister.

    “So?”

    “So if she gets royally pissed off enough,” Josh cautioned, “She’s got three other choices for the succession.”

    Leah shot him a look.
    Don’t lay it on too thickly, her brain screamed. Outwardly, she maintained a veneer of calm. “I gotta go do those checks. This is all fascinating, but those shuttles won’t check themselves.” She got up. “Coming?” she asked Rosen.

    “Uh, sure.”

    They left the loud, dirty, crowded mess hall as Izo stood there, wondering what to do next and wondering if maybe his dear old mother didn’t need him so much after all.


    Chapter 2

    “For our allies,” President Archer stated, “I suppose it’s a little strange to be showing you some of our many faiths. But we decided on this for a reason.”

    Ambassador Soval rose. “Unlike in many other cultures, humans do not have just one belief system. Rather, there are several, some of which are represented here this evening. Wars have been fought over these religions. Yet they survive.” He sat back down.

    Representative Gral got up. “These faiths – many of which are conflicting – have made peace. Let us hear from them.”

    “In my faith,” stated a representative Catholic priest, “we were originally persecuted for our beliefs. When the religion was very young, it was nearly wiped out, as Christians were thrown to lions.”

    The Caitian representative asked, “Lions?”

    President Archer smiled a little. “They’re felines, Representative Gopalahr.” A nod to his aide and the young Vulcan man showed a PADD to Gopalahr.

    “A few centuries after we were persecuted, we turned around and did it to others,” the Catholic priest confessed. “During a time period referred to as the Inquisition, heretics, both real and imagined, were often burned to death. Jews and Muslims were slaughtered for our view of piety.” He sat down.

    The Imam got up and picked up the thread of the narrative. “My faith,” began Mahmout, “it was also both the persecuted and the persecutor. It depended, often, upon location and the date in history. We conquered much of a continent called Europe. In part, the Inquisition was in response to that. And there were innocents, too, who were killed during the Christian Crusades. Those were brutal times.” He sat down, shaking his head a little.

    Other representatives of the Earth’s religions stood and offered what was essentially testimony of how they had treated other faiths, or they had been treated. Finally, it was Leah’s turn to speak. “The Jewish people have often been a paradox. We refer to ourselves as the Chosen People, yet that seems to have created so much resentment over the millennia that we often wonder whether this being chosen business is at all positive. And we have been conquerors, and slaveholders, and annexers of territory. We have neither a monopoly on suffering, nor on causing it. Our hands are far from clean.” She, too, sat down.

    President Archer again spoke. “I know that this may seem strange, but we are showing you our many faiths, warts and all, as a way of demonstrating to you that we understand differences. And we understand ideologies and even a bit of fanaticism. As we have gone into the greater community of space, we have learned that that fanaticism, and those kinds of ideologies, and certainly there are differences, and all of these things are out here. They are all magnified when we have misunderstandings. It is painfully easy to lose our way.”

    He paused and cleared his throat a bit. “But these faiths also do an enormous amount of good. They were the first of our philosophies, and often were the very beginnings of our sciences. They were our first charities, and our first governments at times. Even during the harshest of times, such as during our Third World War, they were often our only social safety net. They offer comfort to the bereaved and can provide a basic moral path for the unsure. And they have even adapted over time, and have learned to embrace not only each other, but even the skeptical agnostic and the fervently nonbelieving atheist.”

    He paused again briefly. “We offer then as a snapshot of our evolution as a civilization and as a symbol of our adaptability as a people.” He looked around the room, as there were not only the member states’ representatives, but there were even people there who represented other species that had not yet joined their new alliance. “We also offer them up as a means of communicating to you that we are open to working with people at all stages of development. We want you to know that space is not a monolith. It is not all about humans, or Vulcans, or Andorians, or Tellarites. The Federation is not in the business of making the galaxy just like the Alpha Quadrant. Daranaeans aren’t going to be chastised for not being Caitians. Enolians are not going to be persecuted for failing to be Xyrillians. And the Xindi will not face destruction because they just aren’t Denobulans. We have set aside our internal differences, but we also celebrate them. We have not forgotten them. And we feel, truly, that they should be celebrated rather than swept aside.”

    His eyes scanned the room, taking in a Calafan representative, a Takret, a Tandaran, a Vissian and more. “Our differences are our strengths. Together, I am certain; we will be greater than the sum of our parts. On behalf of all of us – on Earth, on Denobula, on Tellar, on the Xyrillian home world, on Vulcan, on the Caitian home world and here on Andoria, we offer a myriad of opinions and cultures. All are important, and all are to be maintained. We are strong together, as we celebrate infinite diversity in infinite combinations. And I thank you.”

    =/\=​

    The shuttle bay was quiet. The two of them worked together, with Leah on her back, working on the underside of one of the shuttles. “Hand me that spanner,” Leah commanded as Josh stood nearby and pretended to take notes on his PADD.

    “Uh, sure. Listen,” he began, “I wanna thank you for including me. Izo is, well, let’s just say of the four of them, I put him at number three for my choices to become the next Emperor.”

    “I take it Arashi is number four,” she murmured as she worked.

    “You got it. I bet he’d set up listening stations and hidden cameras. About the only reason we don’t have those now is the Empress doesn’t like a record of when she makes her conquests.”

    “Right. You got a preference between Kira and Jun?”

    “Not particularly,” he admitted. “Kira is at least a little bit influenced by MacKenzie, but he’s a bit of a wimp. If the Empress gets her hooks into the Romulan Star Empire, I doubt he’d be able to hold it.”

    “Perhaps. Hand me the magnetic wrench.”

    “This thing?”

    “No, to the left. Your other left.”

    “Oh, uh, yeah. As for Jun, he’s kind of a wild card. I think he’d –”

    The door swished open and he immediately stopped talking.

    There were two people coming in – the day shift pilot, Shelby Pike, and the Chief Engineer, Frank Ramirez. They didn’t see Josh and Leah, and looked around furtively, and then kissed.

    From their hidden vantage point, Leah and Josh exchanged a look.

    “I wish we could meet more openly,” Shelby breathed.

    “C’mon,” Frank encouraged, “the shuttles are clear. We can do it in one of ‘em.”

    “They aren’t clear,” Josh announced, showing himself and drawing his phaser.

    “Oh!” Shelby exclaimed. “We didn’t know.”

    Leah got up and came over. “Listen, you’re not exactly being careful about this.”

    “Don’t tell her,” Frank requested. Nobody had to be told who that was.

    “You owe us,” Josh declared, resheathing his phaser.

    “What is it that you want?” Shelby inquired, stepping a little closer to Frank and putting a hand on his arm. Frank was taller than Josh, but Josh was armed.

    Leah thought quickly. “I, I wanna get out of here. We’ll stay quiet, but I’ve gotta get off this boat. I don’t wanna be eighty and have Izo Sato leering at me. I hardly know why he’s bothering.”

    “I think he’s looking for someone who’s easy. He seems to need a success,” Shelby mused. Leah shot her a look, so she added, “Hey, I’m not the one who’s really thinking this.”

    “And you?” Frank asked Josh. “You looking to head out, too?”

    “I dunno. But I’m not getting any younger, either. At some point, I will probably get dumped on some rock. I’d rather at least get my choice of rock. Maybe this can be a test run for that.”

    Shelby and Frank moved over to the side. He quietly said to her, “This might be a way for us to figure out our own endgame. I’m not interested in dying here.”

    “I feel the same,” she replied. “But I say we only do it if we can learn something, and turn it to our advantage. If we get in trouble, I’m not taking the fall for either of ‘em.”

    “Agreed,” He murmured, “I’ll take a risk, sure, but I’m not sticking my neck out for them.”

    “A practice run, huh? Well it might not just be a practice run for you. Huh. None of that’ll be easy,” Shelby said more loudly as she and Frank returned to where the others were. She paused for a moment, and then added, “But it’s not impossible.”

    “A shuttle could, I dunno, crash. It could be cover for all sorts of things. There are all kinds of ways for things to … fail,” Frank thought out loud.

    “Where are we going next?” Josh asked.

    “Orders came down today,” Shelby reported, “We’re going to Andoria for a hunt before heading to the Romulan Star Empire.”

    “We can work with this,” Leah decided. “Let’s get there – I’d estimate two days?”

    “One and a half if we go full-tilt,” Shelby stated. “And we all know she’d rather go full-tilt.”

    “Okay,” Josh said, “we got less than two days to plan this.”

    “Why are you two working together, anyway?” Shelby inquired.

    “We’re members of the same tribe,” explained Josh. “There aren’t a lot of us left. My, heh, my mother sent me a last message last week, before she died. She said I should look out for anybody in the tribe.”

    “That explains it, then,” Leah murmured to herself. Josh had never taken an interest in her well-being before.

    “The Empress’ll put it all together, you know,” Frank cautioned. “Well, don’t look at me. Even if Shelby and I stay quiet, someone else is bound to figure all that out.”

    “Then we’ll have to create a diversion, or some sort of a pretext,” Leah mused.

    “The hunt,” Josh decided, “that’ll be the cover. Plus it’s cold there. That’s gotta be good for something.”
     
  2. jespah

    jespah Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2011
    Location:
    Boston, the Gateway to the Galaxy
    Bread, continued -

    Chapter 3

    Two days after the banquet had ended; Leah got her coat and walked outside to get some air and take a break after days of meetings and social gatherings. They were on Andoria, and the surface was frigid. “May I ask you a question?” came a voice.

    Startled, Leah turned. It was a person she had not spoken with for the past few days – the Daranaean ambassador. He was grey and as furry as a Caitian. The Daranaeans were the only sentient marsupial canid species in the galaxy, so far as anyone knew. “I do not believe we were ever actually introduced,” he began, “my name is Boestus.”

    “I’m Leah Benson. What do you wanna know?”

    “I recall from a few days ago, most of the human religious leaders were males. But you are a human female, are you not?”

    “I am.”

    “On my world, we have three feminine castes. We take a wife from each of these castes.”

    “I see.”

    “But our women are, well, they are of course citizens of Daranaea. But their rights are limited. They can neither vote nor hold property. A woman, not even a Prime Wife, cannot testify in open court without male corroboration. Third caste females cannot venture out of their homes without male escorts, even a male infant Daranaean can be an escort, and that seems absurd as I tell it to you. But it has, during my lifetime, there have been some changes. We used to refer to them as last caste females. And we would euthanize them when they became menopausal.”

    “That’s awful.”

    “It was our tradition,” Boestus informed her, “but it was wrong. It took some doing, some understanding that the remainder of even a third caste female’s life, it can have value. And the remainder of the galaxy, you are not like us.”

    “No, I don’t believe we are. You had a question?”

    “Yes. You see, I was wondering, about your faith, and the other faiths, are any of them, or were any of them, were they unfairly biased in favor of men, ever?” He tilted his grey furred head slightly, and that emphasized his canid appearance.

    “There is a Hebrew prayer, actually,” Leah admitted, “It’s out of favor, but it still exists, as a daily prayer for men. It is only used by the most traditional.” She sighed.

    Shelo asani goy, shelo asani aved, shelo asani isha.

    “Here’s what it means in English – I thank God who did not make me a non-Jew, who did not make me a slave, and who did not make me a woman,” Leah explained.

    “I can understand the first two parts,” Boestus stated. “I suppose most can. You would be grateful to be a member of your own faith, as opposed to another. And you would of course be grateful for freedom. Our wives, they are not so free, I think. You see, I was the Alpha of my people for a while there. That is what we call our leader. And I was the conservative standard-bearer, thundering from a podium in favor of traditions and the old school. I was brought up in a household where the women served the man faithfully, and without question. And being the man, anyone can see that that is an easy way to be. It would make a great deal of sense, I suspect, for a male Daranaean to thank a supreme being for being born male, it would be logical, as the Vulcans say. What does your husband say?”

    Leah smiled at that. “I don’t have a husband, I have a wife.”

    He cocked his head again. “How is that possible?”

    “Aren’t there male Daranaeans who prefer other males? Or females who prefer other females?”

    “I, I do not know,” he admitted. “Perhaps they are secretive.”

    “Maybe.”

    “This has been a most interesting few days,” he allowed, “but I would like to return to my home. I am the Daranaean ambassador to Vulcan these days. I am an old man and it is much warmer there. This is not so easy for my old bones.”

    “Why wasn’t the Daranaean ambassador to Andoria sent to this meeting?”

    “He has been taken ill, it seems. Are you a resident of this planet?”

    “Me? Oh, no. My wife and I live in the Sol System, on Io. It’s also a chilly place, but not as cold as here.”

    “I suppose you are ready to return home as well.”

    “I am,” Leah admitted.

    =/\=​

    The ISS Defiant orbited Andoria. Except for a few people on the Bridge, like Shelby, as she was piloting, and Jun Daniels Sato, who was trying his hand at command, most of them were in the mess hall. In order to be safer, Frank, Josh and Leah were in the mess but were not standing anywhere near each other. The Empress stood at the front of the room and spoke. “You are gonna need protein before we go into the Romulan Star Empire! I have handpicked only a few to go along with Izo. I expect a successful hunt, in preparation for a successful conquest. Do me proud, and the rewards will be great. Fail, and find yourselves on a rock. I trust I make myself clear.”

    Everyone on the crew, even her sons, saluted the Empress. A salute was made with a closed fist, held at chest level and then the arm was extended out in front of the body as, simultaneously, the fingers of the hand were spread out and into a straight configuration. You made a delta with your hand.

    Leah was standing near one of the few other women, Tara Balcescu. Tara did the salute incorrectly for some reason, and seemed to have forgotten to splay out her fingers into the delta shape. The Empress saw, and hopped off a small riser she’d been standing on.

    The Empress sauntered over. The years had not been kind to her. The uniforms still looked the same – they were still midriff-baring little numbers. But these days, the Empress’s uniform waistband was a little higher and stretchier than it had been, as there was a secret that wasn’t so much of a secret anymore – there was an ever-growing muffin top.

    She stood in front of Balcescu. “Do it again.”

    “Do what again, Empress?”

    “The salute, you dolt.”

    Tara repeated herself and, again, was wrong. Leah and the others looked over in horror.
    Did Tara not know what she was doing? Did she not give a damn anymore?

    “You will do it right.” Insisted Empress Hoshi.

    “Or what?”

    “Or you’ll learn how to do it right in the agony booth.”

    “Yes, Empress. A thousand apologies.” The salute was correctly performed by a rather cowed Tara Balcescu as the rest of them watched but said and did nothing.


    =/\=​

    “It was good chatting with you,” Boestus stated, “It is a bit encouraging, frankly, to see a civilization that started out, perhaps, more like ours than it would care to admit.”

    “I don’t know.”

    “As I have aged,” the furry man admitted, “I have gone the opposite of many of my peers. Instead of becoming more conservative, I have turned a bit more liberal. I think there is hope for us Daranaeans yet.” They shook hands and he departed.

    Leah flipped open her communicator. “I’d like to talk to Diana Jones, on Io.”

    “Connecting you now,” replied the relayer.

    “Huh, oh, hi,” said Diana, her voice tinny in the device’s little speaker. “Who is this?”

    “It’s me.”

    “Who?”

    “It’s Leah.”

    “Oh! Oh! Where have you been? I’ve been looking all over for you. There’s a strange woman here.”

    “Don’t you remember?” Leah asked, “I told you that I would be on Andoria for a few days. Tallinaria has been there at home with you, taking care of you. You know her.”

    “I do?” Diana’s tone was one of confusion.

    “Can I talk to her?” Leah asked.

    “You mean the Andorian?”

    “Yes, I do.”

    “Uh, okay. Miss?” Diana yelled. The communicator on that side was, evidently, handed over.

    “How are ya doing there?” Leah asked.

    “She knows me less and less, and has looked all over for you. I’ve told her that you’re coming home tomorrow, but she either doesn’t believe me, or she just forgets.”

    Leah sighed. “I bet it’s both. So she’s worse?”

    “Definitely,” reported the Andorian. “I wish that wasn’t the case. I had hoped to give you good news when you returned.”

    “These are the cards we’ve been dealt. I wonder how long I can go on trips like this, and have some measure of independence. I think that, as Diana’s world gets smaller, so does mine.”

    “Until she is completely forgetful, and utterly fearful of me, I suppose you can maintain some independence. But I must tell you, that may not be long from now.”

    “Thanks, Tallinaria; you’ve been amazing.”

    “It is my job, I suppose. Is my planet is one piece?”

    “Absolutely. It’s flurrying here.”

    “I miss that a bit. I’ll get her for you again.” There was a pause. “Diana?” The communicator, again, changed hands.

    “Who am I speaking with?” Diana inquired.

    “It’s me, Leah.”

    “Leah! I have to tell you, there’s a strange Andorian woman here.”

    “Don’t worry,” Leah assured her, “she’s friendly. Do you remember how we got together?”

    Diana thought for a moment. “I remember your parents thought it strange, that a rabbi would take up with a non-Jew. Your brother thought I was not a good match for you.”

    “That was, uh, that was my father, actually.”

    “Oh! Really?”

    “Yeah. Look, Diana, I don’t think I’ll be going away anymore.”

    “But I think you love going away. And you value your independence.” For once, in a long while, Diana was suddenly coherent and perceptive.

    “I – my independence needs to take a back seat to you, I think.”

    Just as quickly as it had come, the coherence and the perception were both lost. “Did you know there’s a strange Andorian woman here?”

    “She’s harmless. I’ll be home tomorrow. I love you.”

    “I love you, too. See ya.”

    =/\=​

    “Do you know anyone on Andoria?” Josh asked. They were walking down a corridor, heading for the shuttle bay. Fortunately, they were alone.

    “One person, if she’s still there at all.”

    “Can she help us? Uh, you?”

    “I dunno. Our relationship was, uh, it was kinda rocky. I was much more of a tequila drinker then. She convinced me to quit, cold turkey.”

    “Well, that’s a good thing, isn’t it?”

    “Withdrawal stinks,” Leah stated unequivocally. “But she also found out what had happened to my last honey before her, and she ended it between us.”

    He stopped for a second. “So, what did happen? With that other honey, I mean.”

    “Like I said, I was a boozehound. The previous honey was Leonora Digiorno. I made her go out and get me more. When she refused, I offed her.”

    “Oh. Holy cow.” He gulped. Leah Benson had seemed like a harmless enough choice for an ally. He’d have to rethink his judgment of her.

    “It was maybe a year later when I met Diana. She was in the Science Department, back when the royal children were small. We hit it off, you know, that sorta thing. Then she found out, and got herself dumped on Andoria. That was after Mayweather was fragged.”

    “Lotsa stuff happened then.”

    “Sure. By that point, I think just about everyone on the old NX-01’s senior staff was dead except for the Empress. Tucker and Cutler and Hayes, I remember, they were gone somehow, and now I wanna be gone, too. I know my history as well as anyone.”

    “Right,” Josh grunted. They had arrived at the shuttle bay. Together, they looked around. “Okay, one last time,” he reminded her, “Let’s go over the plan.”

    “Ramirez rigged the shuttle”, Leah stated. “You and I go to the surface alone – everybody else takes the other shuttle. The pretext is that the carcasses will be flown up by me.”

    “And she’ll buy that?”

    “Beaming can be tricky, or at least that’s what Ramirez will confirm as the cover. You and I fly down.”

    “Right. You land and we get out, to a safe distance away, going in opposite directions. You make sure the others don’t see you.”

    “Uh huh,” Leah confirmed. “Then I hit this remote, and the shuttle goes boom. You claim I was in it, make a big show of trying to find me, you get the picture. I head underground – there are tons of subterranean passageways on Andoria.”

    “Exactly,” Josh agreed, “and depending on how well this goes, maybe I’ll get my turn on the next rock.”

    “Now, are you sure they won’t check for a body after you’ve done your thing?”

    “I am. Sorry to say it, Benson, but the Empress mainly sees people like you and me as being expendable. Plus Pike’ll be flying the other shuttle. She’ll turn it and provide whatever cover she can, and so will I, but otherwise you’re on your own. If you’re caught, we don’t know anything about it.”

    “Right,” Leah nodded, “and –”

    The door swished open, and the remainder of the hunting party, including the other pilot, Shelby Pike, walked in. Izo was with them. “Why are we all crowding on the one shuttle?” he demanded to know.

    “This one needs to be clear for game,” Leah explained.

    “Plus its environmental controls are on the fritz,” Josh lied, “Andoria’s cold, and this one’ll be almost as cold as that.”

    “I can take the cold,” Izo decided.

    There were a few MACOs ready for the hunt. “I wanna ride with Pike,” declared one of them. He got closer to her, “And then afterwards?”

    The younger woman glared at him. “I don’t think so.”

    “See, that’s the problem with the hotter ones,” Izo explained, “they’ve all got attitudes – sticks where the sun don’t shine. But Benson here? Nice and compliant, right?”

    “I’m here to fly the shuttle,” Leah stated, staring straight ahead. “Nothing more.”

    Quietly, Josh dialed the control on his phaser to the lightest possible stun setting. That one would be quiet. “Well, I’m ready to go in the cold shuttle,” he announced.

    “Ramirez had some reason why we weren’t all just gonna beam down,” Shelby announced, flipping open her communicator.

    “What are you doing?” Izo snarled.

    “I am asking him. I wanna confirm it.”

    “Forget it,” Izo looked at her, menacing, “I say we just go.”

    “Suit yourself,” she shrugged. “But it’s on your head if it doesn’t work out the way you want it to.”

    He grabbed her arm roughly. “It’ll work out just fine. Now Rosen, you get on the other shuttle.”

    Sir,” Josh spat out the word, “you said we shouldn’t all just crowd onto one shuttle. If you just switch places with me, that doesn’t even out the numbers at all.”

    Izo narrowed his eyes and stared at Leah. “He better not be your man.”

    “I don’t have a man,” Leah answered.

    “Then we go together. Just you and me.”

    Rosen again made as if to get onto Leah’s shuttle. Izo gave Josh a look. Leah stepped between them. “There are always bad storms on Andoria. That’s why we’re taking the shuttles in the first place. At least, that’s my understanding.”

    “That’s right,” Pike interjected, “I remember the details now. Ramirez says it interferes with the transporter somehow.”

    “Exactly,” Leah confirmed. “So autopilot is a very bad idea. One could crash. Hell, a shuttle could crash, even without it.”

    “Then it’ll be during the hunt,” Izo told her, coming close and looking her up and down.

    “Why me?” Leah finally asked.

    “You should feel honored,” Izo sneered. “I don’t have to explain myself to the likes of you.”

    The doors to the shuttle bay swished open. It was the Empress Hoshi Sato herself, with her consort, First Officer Andrew Miller. She surveyed them all haughtily as Miller stepped back and looked uncomfortable. “Today will be a glorious day!” she enthused. “For this is just the start of our conquest of the Romulan Star Empire! Bring back the tastiest and choicest cuts! Consider them a kind of spoils in advance.”

    “Yes, Mother,” Izo bowed to her.

    “You will succeed,” she told him, sounding a little menacing, even though he was one of her own. “You’ve been rather short on successes lately.”

    “I, I am trying, Mother.”

    “Then try harder!” She commanded. “Even you should know that there’s a limit to how many times you can fail me. Now go!”

    They all saluted her, and she and Miller left.
    Well, that explains Izo, Leah thought to herself, he must think he can’t possibly lose. “Check with me one last time, Rosen,” she ordered, and then her voice turned more pleasant as she added, “and why don’t you go ahead and get in, Izo?”

    He got into the shuttle and then turned to face them from its opened hatch. “I will not fail.”

    “Don’t you worry about a thing,” Josh stated, following Leah to the front of the shuttle. He drew her attention to his phaser and its setting. “It’ll be quiet,” he murmured softly, hoping she’d understand what that meant.


    Chapter 4

    Leah watched the snow falling, and it began to get a bit more unpleasant, so she ducked under an eave. She flipped open her communicator again. “I’d like to see President Archer. It’s Rabbi Benson.”

    The Vulcan aide replied, after checking something or other, “You may see him right away. He is in his office.”

    She thanked him and headed to Archer’s office, a place she knew well. He stood up when he saw her. “What brings you here? I’d’ve thought, after the last few days, you’d be sick of all of us.”

    “Not quite yet,” she smiled. “Sir, you know I married Diana Jones, right? She was on the NX-01, in the Science Department.”

    “I remember her not only from there, but also from the Cochrane. I think she may have been on Captain Reed’s ship, too. How is she?”

    “Uh, not so good.”

    “I’m sorry to hear that. Is there anything I can do? I’m in touch with all sorts of doctors.”

    “I don’t know. We – it’s a kind of senility, or at least it seems that way,” Leah sighed. “She’s just slipping away. It’s very hard to watch. You know how smart she, she was.”

    “Do you need to take time off? I don’t think we’ll be doing a big production like this again anytime soon,” he offered.

    “I think maybe I should leave entirely,” Leah stated. “It’s, well, I see her world shrinking. It seems only fair that mine should shrink, too.”

    “Take as much time as you need to,” Jonathan suggested, “but you don’t have to just up and quit.”

    “I, I don’t know.”

    “You have been affiliated with Starfleet about as long as I have,” he reminded her.

    “Yeah, I suppose so.”

    “And do you remember, we launched the NX-01, and there was the thought that, in deep space, people might need a little spiritual guidance.”

    “I imagine a part of that was to give Dr. Phlox a break as well,” she opined, “I didn’t have much to do for the first few years.”

    “That’s right, I remember now,” he agreed, “and then, after the Xindi probe hit Earth, we got four Jewish crew members. Three were fresh out of school, and the fourth was a little older, and he was commissioned as a Science Ensign. Do you recall their names?”

    “I sure do,” Leah confirmed, “They were Ethan Shapiro, Karin Bernstein, Josh Rosen and Andrew Miller. I recall a few long talks with Ethan, about Karin. I was so pleased when I learned they had decided to get married,” she sighed. “It’s a partnership, you know, and it can color every other piece of your life. But that runs both ways. And I’ll tell you,” Leah admitted, “it’s so much harder when you can see and feel that partnership is crumbling.”

    President Archer thought for a moment, and then offered, “You can have someone help you, all right? And that person can do all of the traveling, and anything else that’s too involved, or that you just plain don’t want to do.”

    “I dunno.”

    “Stay, at least in an abbreviated capacity. Because there’s one thing I know about caregiving – you may find you want to escape into work sometimes. My father suffered from Clarke’s Disease. I was only a kid, but I could see how my mother’s mood changed on the days she went to work. She never wanted to admit it, but I think she was somewhat relieved on those days.”

    “Diana’s only going to get more and more dependent on me.”

    “Cross that bridge when you get to it. For right now, though, you’re still independent. And, at least a little bit, so is Diana.”

    =/\=​

    The shuttles took off and approached the surface. “Once we’ve landed,” Izo commanded, “you need to get lost, Rosen. Go hunt whatever the hell they got here for game.”

    “We’ll have to load up this shuttle with the kills,” Josh pointed out.

    “You can delay that,” Izo put a hand on Leah’s knee. “We’ll be busy.”

    “I am busy right now,” Leah stated slowly. “I need to concentrate on the approach vector. Look at that snow.”

    “So?” Izo was uncomprehending as the storm worsened.

    “It’s looking bad,” Josh observed. “What’s the wind speed out there?”

    She checked a display. “Huh. Man oh man, this is not good.” She flipped a switch. “Benson to Pike, are you getting a handle on the weather?”

    “I am,” came the somewhat staticky reply from the other shuttle. “There are gale force winds, ah, there’s a gust to hurricane strength. This is one ugly little snow squall. If it keeps up for a few hours, we can call it a blizzard.”

    Izo asked, “Is this a dangerous landing?”

    “Yes!” Shelby yelled from the other shuttle.

    “Turn back,” he commanded Leah.

    “What?”

    “You heard me. Now turn back.”

    Josh unsheathed his weapon. At point blank range, he fired at Izo’s back. The Empress’s youngest fell forward. “We’ve got less than a minute before he wakes up,” he cautioned.

    “Then stun him again and heavier this time. We’re goin’ to the surface.” She descended at a steep angle and got the shuttle nearer to the surface. Just before getting there, she opened the channel back up to the other shuttle. “May day! May day!” she called out, lying, “I’ve got engine failure!”

    Pike looked back at the MACOs in her shuttle. “I can’t be going after them. You see what it’s like out there.”

    One of the MACOs – E. Hamboyan was on his uni patch – looked at her grimly. “We are all gonna end up in the agony booth if we just leave Izo down there. You better do whatever you can to land this thing.”

    She sighed. “Okay, but don’t blame me if we can’t get back in the air.”


    =/\=​

    On the other shuttle, Josh stunned Izo again, just to be sure. “He’ll be dead weight. Here, you gotta help me get him out.”

    “Right.” Together, they lifted him out and deposited him on the snow-covered landscape. “I better make it look like I’m going back in. Then I’ll hit the remote.”

    “And then boom,” he confirmed.

    Leah nodded. “G’bye, Josh, and thanks. Your time will come, and Shelby’s and Frank’s times, too. You’ll get out.”

    “Say the prayers,” he told her, “you’re a member of the tribe and I know we can’t say ‘em openly on the Defiant. So say them on Andoria, okay? You keep alive now, ya hear?”

    “I will.” She smiled. She raced back to the shuttle and entered it briefly to grab the first portable thing she could see. It was a medical kit. She had no extra clothes, no food and barely any money, but at least this was something to trade if necessary.

    She didn’t even bother to close the hatch, and could see the landing lights for the shuttle that Shelby was piloting. “You better not get too close,” she murmured as she dashed away from the shuttle. Seeing a small snow-covered embankment, she got behind it and hit the remote. As Frank Ramirez had promised, the shuttle exploded in a mass of flame.

    Leah glanced around for a second and saw a gateway to a subterranean passage. She dashed in, not knowing what she’d find on the other side.


    =/\=​

    Once the shuttle had gone up in flames, Josh noticed Izo stirring a bit, and did not stun him again. Groggily, Izo asked, “What the hell just happened?”

    “The, the storm, man. Benson lost control, and it was a hard landing. She and I got you out here – you musta hit your head, or something. She ran back to get the med kit, but it looks like the fuel tank must’ve ruptured. I, I think she must be dead.”

    “Where’s Pike?”

    “Uh, she’s landing now.” Josh got up and helped Izo up. They walked over to Pike’s shuttle as Izo roused himself.

    The snow was falling even more rapidly. Pike opened the hatch to her shuttle. “I think we’d better just head back to the ship,” she suggested.

    “I said we were going on a hunt,” Izo commanded angrily. It seemed that he had changed his mind. “One shuttle is gone, and a pilot is dead. I’m not going back empty-handed, long as we’re all here.”

    “Somebody needs to stay behind and help me shovel snow,” Pike said. “Otherwise, we could be frozen here all week.”

    “I’ll shovel snow,” Rosen volunteered.

    “Suit yourself,” Izo sneered. He and Hamboyan and the others departed.

    Once they were out of earshot, Shelby asked, “Do you think she got out?”

    “I guarantee it.”


    =/\=​

    Leah entered the subterranean tunnel and was immediately accosted by Andorian security personnel. She put the med kit down and raised both hands over her head. “I’m defecting,” she declared. “My dagger is in a sheath on my left side. This case I’m carrying is a medical kit. I am a trained pilot and I know the Empress’s defenses and her next destination.”

    An Andorian security guard eyed her. “We’ll be very displeased if you’re lying. General Shran doesn’t like that.” He relieved her of her dagger as his partner opened up the medical kit and displayed its contents. “You will need a sponsor. We can’t just have everybody and his brother defecting from the Terran Empire.”

    “I only know one person on Andoria. And she might be gone, anyway.”

    “Give me her name.”

    “Diana Jones.”

    He flipped open his communicator. “Get me Diana Jones.”

    There was a pause, and a voice could be heard through the device’s small, tinny speaker. “My name is Tallinaria. Miss Jones can’t be disturbed right now.”

    The guard looked at Leah. “Start talking.”

    “My name is Leah Benson. I knew Diana years ago. I’m sure she’ll remember me.”

    “Don’t be so sure,” Tallinaria replied, “for she knows nearly no one these days.”

    “Come to the main tunnel,” the guard suggested, “and you can meet in the main security office. Give us a few minutes to get there.”

    “We’ll be there. Tallinaria out.”

    “Why are you doing this?” Leah inquired.

    “If you know what you claim to, General Shran will be most interested. And if you don’t, well, at least we’ll know.” He tapped out a quick message on his PADD –
    General, we have a defector who claims to know Empress Sato’s next moves. Meet us at the main security office.

    =/\=​

    “You may be right,” Leah admitted to President Archer. “But I don’t know how long I can even be on limited duty. It’s, well, it takes a lot out of you.”

    “I remember my father, in the final stages of Clarke’s Disease. He had hallucinations about all sorts of things – giant rabbits, aliens with pointed teeth, a barrier at the edge of the galaxy, composed of pure energy. If he’d been at all coherent and organized, I suppose he could’ve even written a book. I can get you the names of the neurologists we used. I can’t say if any of them are still practicing medicine, but they might have people they can recommend to you.”

    Leah thanked him. “I think I should start heading home today. I would just feel better about things.”

    “Don’t stand on ceremony,” he told her, “I’m sure you can get a ride with Ambassador T’therin or anyone else who’s heading out. And Rabbi?”

    “Yes?”

    “I do know quite a bit about what you’re going through. If you ever want to talk, I am happy to do so. You’re not alone.”

    =/\=​

    Diana and Tallinaria arrived, but they weren’t alone. General Shran came in right after them.

    Diana was a woman who had once been lovely, but her illness was robbing her of everything. She eyed Leah cautiously. “Do I know her?” she asked Tallinaria, who was a middle-aged Andorian.

    “You tell me,” replied the Andorian woman.

    “Years ago,” Leah explained, “You and I were together. We were on the Defiant. You convinced me to quit drinking. And in return, I taught you the secret prayers of my faith.”

    “Faith?” Diana was still not comprehending.

    “Yes,” Leah nodded encouragingly. “I am a Jew, and you aren’t, but we got together anyway, and I taught you my prayers because, well, because I wanted you to know that big secret about me. There were prayers over candles, and vegetables, and wine. And there was a prayer over bread. Can you, Diana, can you say that prayer over the bread with me?” She looked Shran in the eye. “That should prove it, right?”

    “Agreed, pink skin.”

    Baruch …” Leah began.

    But it was as if a switch had been flipped, and Diana finished the prayer for her, intoning and ending with, “
    min ha’aretz.” She looked up. “I haven’t said those words in, in, I don’t know how long.”

    “She knows me,” Leah insisted, “so can I stay?”

    Shran looked at them. “You will tell me all you know, about the Defiant and the Empress Hoshi Sato and anything else that can assist the Independent Andorian Government in Exile.”

    “Yes, sir.” Leah finally let out the breath that she had been holding for how long? Perhaps it had been held for all of her life.


    =/\=​

    On an Andorian ship, Leah walked out of a small guest bunk. “It pays to know the President,” she murmured to herself. She walked along the ship’s corridors. Her destination was the vessel’s small mess.

    When she got there, she stood in front of a replicator, not understanding the printed directions, which were written in Andorian script. “Here, let me help you,” came a familiar voice.

    “Ambassador Shran?”

    “I don’t mind,” he said, “Now, here, it’s set to a voice command, but if I change it to touch screen, I can put it in your language.” He fiddled with keys until the screen changed. “Ah, that’s it. Now, there aren’t too many human foods programmed in.” He stepped back.

    Leah scanned the list – there were pictures with print under them. Orange juice, roast chicken, mashed potatoes, broccoli, vanilla ice cream, sour cream, butter, a plain salad, vinaigrette dressing, oatmeal ….

    Finally, she found what she wanted. She hit the key under the picture of bread and then, when a symbol of a flame came up, she hit it. “I guess that’s wheat toast.” A few more images were offered, such as the ones for butter and jam, but she bypassed them. There was a brief flash as the machine fulfilled her request.

    She took her toast and sat at an empty table. She flipped open her communicator. “I’d like to talk to Diana Jones, on Io.”

    “Connecting you now,” replied the relayer.

    “Leah! There’s a strange Andorian woman here.”

    “Uh, she’s friendly. Listen, do you remember when we first started going out?”

    “A little. Your family wasn’t sure they liked you being with a non-Jew.”

    “That’s right,” Leah confirmed. “But we won them over, in part, because I had taught you the prayers. Do you remember the prayers? Because I’m about to have some bread, and I’d really love it if you would pray with me. Okay?”

    And, together, they recited.

    Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha’alom ha’motzi lechem min ha’aretz.

    THE END
     
  3. Cobalt Frost

    Cobalt Frost Captain Captain

    April/May challenge theme: Obsession

    "A Tall Ship, and Fair"

    * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    “Everyone just has to meet Captain Kirk,” said DTI Agent Gariff Lucsly, casting a fatigued glance at his longtime partner, Agent Marion Dulmur. “If the man isn’t violating every temporal regulation we have – and a few we don’t – it seems half of Starfleet is violating those selfsame regulations to meet him.”

    Dulmur gestured at the starship captain he and Lucsly had come to – well, interview is a good a word as any, thought Dulmur – regarding the temporal incursion to which Lucsly was offhandedly referring. “Maybe, partner, we should give the offending officer the chance to explain what happened.”

    Luscly muttered some Kirk-related invectives to himself, then gestured for the aforementioned ‘offending officer’ to continue his account.

    “From the beginning, Captain, if you please.”

    * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    Admiral James T. Kirk, Chief of Starfleet Operations, was not a happy man. Oh, he was a busy man, with an enviable assignment for someone of his age, and his duties were fulfilling – the practical applications of his experiences had seen Starfleet grow and improve by quantum leaps – but he just wasn’t happy. Not to mention, he couldn’t recall an actual good night’s sleep since he accepted the promotion. He slept, of course, when he was able, but it wasn’t good sleep, not like he got on the Enterprise. Last time they’d gotten together, he tried to explain to Dr. McCoy how he thought he’d gotten too used to the imperceptible vibrations and ubiquitous sounds of a starship’s operations, and that his new home or the small room in the Starfleet HQ’s Bachelor Officer’s Quarters that he used on occasion just didn’t feel right. Bones had taken another snort of whiskey and reminded Kirk that he’d advised against Jim taking the promotion, but since Bones’ advice had been ignored, Kirk needed to Deal. With. It.

    That had been… Kirk found he couldn’t remember how long it had been since he’d seen his friend. Bones was busy with his civilian practice, and one thing after another required Kirk’s attention. Kirk resolved to at least leave Bones a message before he left his office. When Kirk would actually leave his office, however, was an uncertainty that not even Spock would have been able to calculate. Kirk wondered offhandedly how Spock was faring in his efforts to master the ancient Vulcan discipline of Kolinahr.

    At least Kirk saw Scotty on a relatively regular basis, since Scotty’s task of refitting the Enterprise required Kirk’s authorizations. Scotty would also ask Kirk’s opinion on some of the new systems that the Enterprise would be fitted with, though Kirk suspected that, more often than not, Scotty did so in an attempt to make his former CO feel happy.

    Kirk appreciated the gesture, but it didn’t help. Kirk was quite adept at torturing himself with thoughts of the Grey Lady. About six months after taking over as CSO, Kirk had several new monitors installed in his office wall; there were now nine of them, and three or four (depending on the day’s workload) showed different views of the Enterprise in her orbital drydock. Kirk kept up with the refit as often as his duties allowed, watching as his noble ship was taken apart, stripped practically down to the bare spaceframe and rebuilt with cutting edge technologies from across the Federation. He’d studied the design plans, noting the Art Deco influences on the new hull geometry. Furnished with all the resources he could dream of having, Scotty was indeed working a miracle.

    Someone else’s miracle.

    So Kirk would work ridiculous hours, pretending that leaving the Enterprise had been the right choice, and dreaming of nothing but her during the fitful few hours of sleep he managed to get here and there. And deep within his heart of hearts, James T. Kirk would wish that somehow, some way, he could get her back.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    “Incoming transmission, marked priority alpha-one,” said Ensign D’Agostini tiredly. It was 5 am at the Starfleet Communications center, located across the San Francisco bay from the main Starfleet Headquarters campus. Ensign D’Agostini was due to get off shift in one hour, and the transmission, due to its priority tag, had triggered an annoying alarm that had interrupted his nap.

    “Transmission origin?” asked the other poor soul on the night shift, Ensign Holland. He’d just returned from the cafeteria with two steaming mugs of coffee. Handing one to Ensign D’Agostini, Holland sat down and prodded his console back from sleep mode. At least something around here gets sleep, he groused to himself.

    “Epsilon IX,” D’Agostini replied, rolling his eyes. The station’s commander, Branch, had been posted to Epsilon IX for some time and had lately developed a knack for over-dramatizing the importance of his transmissions. Many of the staff at Starfleet Comms figured Branch was just way overdue to get laid, though nobody said so out loud.

    Holland rolled his eyes as well. “Shunt it to the buffer, and we’ll look at it when we get really bored.”

    “You mean we can be more bored than this?” said D’Agostini, as he moved to key the sequence that would route the transmission to the ‘answering machine.’

    “Belay that, Ensign.” The voice had come from behind the two ensigns; it was unfamiliar and delivered in a soft-spoken tone that nevertheless carried a weight of command that froze D’Agostini’s hand. “If the two of you find your assignment here to be less than challenging, there are open billets on the Pluto Comms Relay station, and I understand Starfleet Janitorial is always looking for help.

    “Bring up that transmission from Epsilon IX, if you please.” Both men snuck a quick look in the shadows behind them; the source of the voice had his face hidden by them, but the captain’s braids on his uniform cuffs were clearly visible.

    “Aye, Captain.” A moment later, and Commander Branch appeared on the large monitor set between the two ensigns’ workstations.

    “Go ahead, Commander,” said the unseen captain.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    The annunciator on Kirk’s desk chirped, startling him. He had been knee-deep in a report of recent Klingon activity that was about thirty pages longer than it needed to be, so the desk chime actually made him jump slightly.

    “Yes?”

    “There is an officer from Starfleet Comms here, sir. He has an alpha-one priority transmission from Epsilon IX.”

    “Send him in.” The door slid open and an unfamiliar officer stepped in, bearing a data cartridge.

    “I apologize for the interruption, sir, but this transmission just came in from Epsilon IX. You are the ranking officer on duty.”

    “Thank you, Captain..?”

    “Frost, sir. Gabriel Frost.”

    “You’re not posted to the Comms center.” It was not a question, but stated in a friendly manner.

    “No sir. I’m just… passing through.” Gabriel proffered the data cartridge. “Sir, you really need to see this.” Kirk took the cartridge and snapped it into the reader on his desk. As it was playing, Gabriel’s attention was drawn to the wall of monitors, particularly to the four displaying the very nearly completed Enterprise.

    “She always was my favorite Enterprise,” said Gabriel to himself.

    “What’s that, Captain?” asked Kirk, pausing the recording.

    Gabriel turned to face the Admiral. “I was just saying that you’ve got quite a ship there.”

    “She’s not mine,” Kirk said with more than a hint of regret. “Not anymore.”

    “Things change,” Gabriel answered, a knowing smile quickly crossing his face. “If there’s nothing else, sir?”

    “Hmm? Oh, yes. Dismissed, captain.” Gabriel nodded and stepped out of Kirk’s office. As the door slid shut, Kirk finished viewing the transmission. He replayed it, sitting silently for a long moment after the second viewing to absorb the import of the message. His eyes found the wall monitors, and Kirk stared at the reborn Enterprise as his fingers opened a comm channel to Admiral Nogura.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    “It was absolutely necessary to deliver the data personally?” said Lucsly.

    “I believe so,” Gabriel stated. “The agent of the… what did you call them?”

    “The Bodoni,” Dulmur filled in.

    “The Bodoni, right,” said Gabriel. “Seriously though, a group of trans-temporal terrorists named themselves after an eighteenth-century typographer?”

    “It’s a long story,” Lucsly stated flatly. “You were saying?”

    “Ensign Holland had been co-opted by the Bodoni; I didn’t want to risk him interfering any further, so I felt the wisest course was to take the data directly to Admiral Kirk. He needed to be in command of the Enterprise when she faced V’Ger. I saw the reality where the Bodoni were successful in keeping the V’Ger data buried until after the Enterprise had launched with Decker in command. It was… disturbing.”

    “Did you have any further interactions with Starfleet personnel, or any civilians?” asked Dulmur.

    “After I left Kirk’s office, I beamed back to the Comms center. Ensign Holland was still there; my tricorder revealed that he’d been ‘possessed’, if you like, by one of the Bodoni’s noncorporeal operatives.”

    Lucsly closed his eyes and massaged the bridge of his nose. “You confronted him?”

    “In private, Agent Lucsly. I advised him that Starfleet would brook no further interference from his faction, and suggested the noncorporeal being remove himself forthwith to his place of origin or the next convenient parallel dimension.”

    Dulmur groaned. “You and your movie quotes, Captain Frost…”

    “The Bodoni operative left,” continued Gabriel, nonplussed, “with Ensign Holland none the worse for wear. I sent him home, then proceeded to rendezvous with Commander Taylor for beam-up to Challenger. We made our way home, with the timeline none the worse for wear.”

    “Fortunately for you, Captain,” said Lucsly. “Fortunately for you.” He and Dulmur stood up and headed for Gabriel's ready room door. Just before they reached the door, a thought occured to Lucsly, and he turned back towards Gabriel.

    "Captain, where exactly was Challenger during all this? She is significantly larger than the ships of the era, with a rather unique power signature."

    Gabriel smiled sardonically. "You gentlemen should probably sit back down..."

    * * * * * * * * * * * * *
     
  4. Vulcan Logician

    Vulcan Logician Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

    Joined:
    May 31, 2013
    Location:
    In the realm of pure logic
    Wow! Lots of good Fan Fiction here. Especially you, Starkers. I'll have to comb through the threads to find more stuff by you. I am just dipping my toes into the fan fiction universe, and I must say, so far it's awesome.
     
  5. SonOfTed

    SonOfTed Ensign Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2014
    Location:
    North Dakota, we have Badlands here!
    A very short story (edited a bit by me for space concerns).

    But what a HUGE debate could rage from this!

    If someone is immortal, or virtually immortal, as TOS Flint character was, do they have a right to give themselves mortality? After all, a random date was programmed into Data's mother to make her lifespan more 'human', so does that make her 'death' okay and Data's not okay?

    'The Measure of a Man' is still one of my absolute favorite TNG episodes, because they really tried to dig at and get to the core truths about the concept of artificial, sentient life. You've just added to the discussion and I enjoyed the experience immensely.

    I realize this is just a one shot, but seriously, there is room to explore precisely why Data ended up here. Even if he left Starfleet, I would think that he would continue meeting new friends even as they old ones aged and passed away. What might have happened to quell his natural curiosity to investigate the grand wonders of the universe?

    A bittersweet, wonderful read! :techman:
     
  6. SonOfTed

    SonOfTed Ensign Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2014
    Location:
    North Dakota, we have Badlands here!
    Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant! :beer:
     
  7. SonOfTed

    SonOfTed Ensign Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2014
    Location:
    North Dakota, we have Badlands here!
    From my perspective, you absolutely NAILED Garak.

    The Dominion war was the only time he ever, truly allied himself with his 'friends' on Deep Space Nine, and even then he was still fully capable of betraying them at any time. I think the fact that he didn't had a lot to do with the fact that his primary opponent was Dukat.

    Your not-so-chance meeting between Garak and Bashir is exactly how I would expect Garak to behave... the war is over and Cardassia needs what it needs. So he's essentially working to look out for its best interests. And he's Obsidian Order to the bitter end... never mention anything you don't absolutely have to, and manipulate people whenever possible.

    Recently I rewatched the entire series and was surprised, even in early episodes from season one, seeing how hard Garak worked aboard DS9 to protect Cardassia's best interests... even after they had exiled him.

    Nice read! :techman:
     
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2014
  8. Count Zero

    Count Zero Watching Moderator

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2005
    Location:
    European Union
    Uh, this is meant to be a thread to collect the winning entries of the monthly challenges. It's not supposed to contain commentary. Besides, posting several times in a row in the same thread can be considered spamming according to the board rules, so please don't do it (posting a story is exempt from this, of course).
     
  9. SonOfTed

    SonOfTed Ensign Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2014
    Location:
    North Dakota, we have Badlands here!
    This one has a moral!

    How to stay alive by walking the tightrope between cultures! :bolian:
     
  10. SonOfTed

    SonOfTed Ensign Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2014
    Location:
    North Dakota, we have Badlands here!
    I love it! :techman:

    1. It's truly unique to see the Federation through the eyes of a completely alien race. You invented quite a bit of background given the shortness of the piece. A larger story would be a welcome adventure, quite possibly an entire trilogy.

    2. The odd details of the Tn that do not conform to the standard humanoid species we've seen in Trek were also interesting.

    3. Have you read "The Galactic Whirlpool" by David Gerrold? That's what this story kind of reminds me of... it has a similar theme except the ship that Earth sends out is a colony vessel, long thought lost. If you haven't read it I highly recommend the story. It was one of the first TOS novels to really take Trek to the next level!
     
  11. SonOfTed

    SonOfTed Ensign Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2014
    Location:
    North Dakota, we have Badlands here!
    First. Apologies. I just noticed your post.

    Second. I like to read and review fan fiction as much as I like to write it. I would have used one post to edit/add in additional reviews, perhaps even number them, but unfortunately your "Edit" feature has a time limit.

    Third. No harm intended. Will cease at once.
     
  12. Bry_Sinclair

    Bry_Sinclair Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2009
    Location:
    The glorious Shetland Isles!
    Rather than post the whole story, I thought I would just go for a link. So here is my entry for the 2013/14 Winter Challenge - Aim To Misbehave: Means To An End

    Comments, questions, criticisms all welcome on the story threat, I will endeavour to answer.
     
  13. Phil

    Phil Lieutenant Junior Grade Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2014
    Location:
    Australia
  14. Count Zero

    Count Zero Watching Moderator

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2005
    Location:
    European Union
    Please add the whole story, you two. Old threads tend to get purged once in a while.
     
  15. Phil

    Phil Lieutenant Junior Grade Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2014
    Location:
    Australia
    Should I start a new Thread with mine, labelling it as 'The Winner of the last Writing Challenge' or similar, or just include it whole here?
     
  16. Count Zero

    Count Zero Watching Moderator

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2005
    Location:
    European Union
    Just include it in whole here, please. :)
     
  17. Phil

    Phil Lieutenant Junior Grade Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2014
    Location:
    Australia
    Compliance :-)

    As requested, here's my winning entry from the Spring 2014 Writing Challenge - Strange New Worlds



    THE RETURN OF KAHLESS



    “My Lord, a small metallic object is drifting towards us”

    “On Screen”

    “Yes, my Lord”

    Emperor Kahless, Legendary Leader of The Klingon Empire, long thought to be dead….and looking like he probably should be having just returned from battle with a Predator, still looked impressive in his bloodied Battle Armour as he took his seat on the Bridge of his Voodieh Class Flagship, THE DRAGON, and waited for the object to be put on Screen.

    “Magnify to clarity” he ordered

    “Yes, my Lord”

    The object, too small to be seen clearly in the View Screen, was soon magnified to a suitable size and brought into focus by the Tactical Officer.

    “ACTIVATE TRANSPORTER”

    There was the slight hum of the Transporter as the Tactical Officer correctly interpreted the Order and Beamed the object, the fabled Sword of Kahless, onto the Bridge to appear right in front of Kahless himself. Kahless then picked up the Sword and held it in front of him with both hands as he felt the Power of the Sword flow through him.

    “Set Course for Boreth” he Commanded

    The surface of Boreth is mountainous….desolate….no Cities or dwellings of any kind except for a single Temple situated high up on the tallest mountaintop. As we enter the Temple, we see Torin, a Klingon High Cleric, and Koroth, also a Klingon High Cleric and the one in Charge of the Monastery, going about their respected duties….when suddenly they hear the hum of a Transporter. Kahless, and a dozen of his Imperial Guard, appear in front of them.

    “Who are you?” demanded Koroth “Why are you here?”

    “You dare question me? I am Kahless, and I have returned”

    Koroth glances quickly at a large Painting at the other end of the Hall and then back to Kahless….while the clothing is different, the resemblance to the figure in front of him is uncanny. Koroth then turned to Torin….“Are we expecting the return of the Kahless Clone anytime soon?”

    Upon hearing this question, Kahless’ eyes flashed with an inner light, and his Imperial Guard, dressed all in Battle Armour and each wearing a Black Robe and a Black Battle Sash, levelled their Staff Weapons at the two Clerics and then activated them, causing them to all expand at the front with a flash of Power.

    Suddenly, the two Clerics are startled by a throaty ROAR, as Kahless demands of them in anger “You dared to have me Cloned?”

    After quickly explaining themselves, they informed Kahless where his Clone could be found.

    Reacting to this news as only the real Kahless could, he Beamed back to the Ship with the two Clerics, and was followed shortly after by his Imperial Guard, who have just reduced the Temple to rubble.

    “Engage Cloak, then set Course for Qo’noS” he commanded

    THE DRAGON, along with a small Fleet of K’T’inga Class Battle Cruisers that also Cloaked when the Order was given, soon arrived at Qo’noS and then took up their respected Orbits while they awaited instructions. Kahless Scanned the area of The Great Hall and, after making sure that the position he chose was clear, Beamed down with his Imperial Guard.

    The Imperial Guard, after then levelling and activating their Staff Weapons, made their way forward to deal with any threat that may turn up….and as it turned out, they didn’t have very long to wait as a Sentry spotted the Group and raised the Alarm.

    “Vapourize him” Kahless ordered

    As one man, The Imperial Guard aimed their Staff Weapons at the Sentry and opened fire….there was nothing left but ashes and his d’k tahg.

    Within a few moments, Chancellor Martok arrived with Ambassador Worf and The Klingon Honour Guard….and, taking up his seat as The Ceremonial Emperor, the Clone of Kahless.

    “So, this is the Imposter I have heard so much about”

    And with that, Kahless spoke into his Communicator. Moments later, Koroth and Torin, the two Klingon High Clerics from Boreth, were Beamed down right in front of Kahless and his Group.

    “Imagine my day so far” Kahless said addressing his Clone. “First I find my Sword drifting in Space. Then, when I get to Boreth to fulfil my Destiny, I find that these two couldn’t wait for my return, so they Cloned me….and more to the point, I am told that everyone knows about it and accepts it. So, what should I do with them ‘Brother’? I have already destroyed their Temple”

    This news was not received well by those present….especially Worf, who was the first one to find out about the Clone, but still had him approved as The Ceremonial Emperor. It was also Worf who played a part in finding the Sword and then setting it adrift in Space.

    In the meantime, the Members of The High Council have arrived and taken up their seats.

    “Am I to understand that you claim to be THE Kahless-The-Unforgettable?” asked Martok

    “I claim nothing. I state merely what is Fact” replied Kahless. “And who are you to ask this of me?

    “I am General Martok, Chancellor of The High Council, and Leader of The Klingon Empire” Martok replied

    “And what of my Clone….what is his purpose here?”

    “He has united us and reminded us of what we had lost. He leads us by example….he may well be merely a Clone, but within him are the Original Teachings of Kahless. He reminds us of what it means to be Klingon” replied Martok, still not entirely convinced that this was the REAL Kahless that he was talking to.

    “And how can we be so sure that you ARE the REAL Kahless as you say you are….the Clone of Kahless was unaware that he was a Clone until he was informed about it?”

    You seek to test me….how would you suggest? I’ve already been informed that my Clone is physically weaker than I am, and that he doesn’t have all of my knowledge or memories”

    “That may not be necessary” started Koroth. “If you are indeed the real Kahless, then there need only be an X-ray conducted”

    “Explain yourself” Commanded Martok

    “Something that was not made public at the time that the Kahless Clone was revealed, is that while Kahless is physically Klingon, he has an extremely powerful Alien Symbiote, known as a Goa’uld, inside him. A Symbiote which is, effectively, Immortal, and it is this Symbiote which would have kept the real Kahless alive these many Centuries”

    Kahless’ eyes flashed with Power as he started to speak in a somewhat different voice.

    “You may conduct your X-Ray, but it will merely confirm what you have said. Moreover, not only do I possess one of these Symbiotes, but each of Imperial Guard also has one, as do the others that are with me in the Cloaked Ships in Orbit as we speak….albeit not nearly as powerful as mine. Likewise, the Fek’lhr, whom I eventually killed, also had a Goa’uld Symbiote inside him….almost as powerful as my own”

    And so, when the Medical Team arrived, they proceeded to perform Tricorder Scans, which included X-Ray Tests, on Kahless and his Imperial Guard, and were only slightly hampered by the Fact that The Imperial Guard still had their Staff Weapons pointing at them and the others present, ready to be fired at the Word of Kahless….or otherwise given cause to do so.

    “It is as he said” announced the Klingon Doctor. “All of these men have a snake-like Parasite within them”

    “So, it would appear that you ARE the real Kahless….what now? What are your Intentions?” asked Martok

    “Quite simply,” replied Kahless “I am here to fulfill my Destiny. I have retrieved my Sword and am here now to Re-Claim my Throne”

    In the meantime, some Members of The Klingon Defence Force arrived and, together with some more Members of The Klingon Honour Guard, proceeded to surround Kahless and his Imperial Guard; just as, in Orbit above Qo’noS, various Cloaked Ships of The Klingon Defence Force had managed to locate the Ships in Kahless’s Fleet (due to the vast differences in Technology), and were currently awaiting the Order to Attack.

    The Clone of Kahless, like his Counterpart, was never one to refuse a Challenge, and this being no exception let out a mighty Roar in response.

    “Over my dead body” stated Emperor Kahless

    “As well as mine” stated Chancellor Martok

    “And mine as well” stated Ambassador Worf. “We don’t want you here. If you are THE Kahless-The-Unforgettable as you claim, then you will know that we killed our Gods a VERY long time ago. And now you turn up and turn out to effectively BE a God, why should we let you take The Imperial Throne when we’re quite happy with the Emperor we have?”

    And with that, one of The Imperial Guard fired in Worf’s direction. It missed, but that didn’t stop the outcome.

    Every Member of The Klingon Honour Guard and The Klingon Defence Force present in that area, along with Worf Martok and the Kahless Clone, drew their d’k tahgs and Disruptors and launched themselves at the Goa’uld Kahless and his Imperial Guard.

    While up in Orbit, the Ships of The Klingon Defence Force had received word about what was happening in The Great Hall and opened fire at the Ships of The Imperial Guard.

    Or rather, where they thought the Ships were, because what they actually fired at were Sensor Ghosts as the ACTUAL Ships of The Imperial Guard fired at the Ships of The Klingon Defence Force from behind….giving them, for the moment, an advantage.

    While down below in The Great Hall, The Imperial Guard were firing their Staff Weapons in various directions…. finding out too late that they are good for Long Range fighting, but almost useless when it came to up close and personal.

    The two fights lasted almost an hour.

    In the end, the Ships of The Imperial Guard were all destroyed leaving only THE DRAGON intact. Not that it was entirely one-sided, as a number of Ships of The Defence Force were also destroyed.

    And in The Great Hall, many of The Imperial Guard and a number of The Honour Guard were killed.

    Both Worf and Martok were sporting a number of wounds….apparently with pride.

    But there was only one Kahless left alive….

    During the battle the Goa’uld Kahless had taken off his Battle Armour, which left him wearing the same style Tunic as the Kahless Clone, so at this point, there was no indication which of the two Kahless had managed to survive.

    The surviving Kahless stood up and, slightly unsteadily, walked over and picked up the Sword with guns pointing at him from various directions as the various surviving Klingons were waiting to see which Kahless actually survived.

    He then walked over to The Imperial Throne and hung The Sword on the wall behind it, then he sat down and, after surveying the scene, turned to Worf with a huge smile on his face and said “Now THAT was Fun”.

    That was enough to convince Worf that the Kahless on The Throne was The Clone and not the Goa’uld that was dead, and rather bloodied, some 20 feet away on the floor.

    Then, a number of personnel were summoned to start clearing up the mess as the surviving Members of The Imperial Guard were escorted to the Brig, while the Kahless Clone, along with Worf and the two High Clerics, joined Martok as they all Beamed aboard THE DRAGON and started exploring his new Flagship.






    THE END
    (2005)
     
  18. jespah

    jespah Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2011
    Location:
    Boston, the Gateway to the Galaxy
    Winner of the 2014 Summer Challenge (Crossovers).

    Theorizing

    Chapter 1

    Oh, boy,” Dr. Sam Beckett sighed as he landed in a flash of bluish light … somewhere. As always, it was a wholly unfamiliar place. Ever since that incident with the Cokeburg, Pennsylvania bartender,, he had lost touch with Project Quantum Leap. That leap had felt almost philosophical, and things had changed.

    He had been a pioneer, a time traveler, wending his way through a means that was originally his own design but, he quickly learned, he had little control over any of it. For the first few years, he had ping-ponged between what he had known as the present time – the late 1990s and early 2000s – to events that had occurred during his lifetime. Being born in the early 1950s meant that he had had over fifty years’ worth of destinations. His memory had holes in it like Swiss cheese, but he had managed all right.

    His first leap had been targeted. But the first leap back in time brought with it the need to fix something, to put right what had once been wrong, and then he had leapt again. But his leaps were no longer targeted. He would leap ‘into’ someone else’s life, fix, and involuntarily leap again.. Simplifying matters had been his guide from Project Quantum Leap, Admiral Albert Calavicci. They had worked well together for a few years.

    Then he’d been whisked to a bar in Pennsylvania, and everything just sort of came together, as he had seen visions of people he’d helped during his peregrinations. He had fixed one last thing – for Al Calavicci, it had turned out – and that had utterly cut him off from not only Al, but from everyone and everything else he had ever known.

    Leaping, ever since then, had gotten even stranger, but at least he had his full memory back. That had stood him in good stead as he had made his way. No longer shackled to his own lifetime – and suspecting that he was possibly dead – he had leaped all over the past. He’d been to the American Revolution, the assassination of Julius Caesar in Rome, the moment that Marco Polo had met Kublai Khan, and even the first taming of fire by primitives.

    But this was different.

    For one thing, there was some beeping in the background. For another, there was an incredibly hot redhead standing in front of him. She was wearing a blue jumpsuit, almost as if she was a garage mechanic. “Welcome back, Captain,” she smiled.

    “Uh, thanks, um,” his voice trailed off for a second until he noticed there was a patch on her left arm that said J. Crossman, “Crossman.” It felt odd to be referring to this beauty by her last name, but a run-through of every female name that started with J would take a while.

    “Sir, are you feeling all right?”

    “Huh?”

    “Sir,” Crossman stated, “You seem a bit, I dunno, disoriented, if I may say so. Can I escort you to Sick Bay?”

    “Sure, yes, that would be a good idea.” Sam walked along with her, wondering how he’d be able to figure out her first name. That wasn’t the only thing he was wondering about.

    There were somewhat dimly lit corridors in the building. The ceilings were a bit low; he sometimes had to duck. There were some worn spots and, sometimes, he’d spot a person fixing something or other. They all wore the same uniform and, Sam, realized, so did he. No one saluted him, but they did refer to him as Captain as he and Crossman strolled. Finally, some tall, balding guy referred to his companion as Jenny. Thank God for small miracles, Sam thought. She flipped open what looked like a small cell phone, “Hoshi, can you get me Commander T’Pol?” she asked.

    “Sure,” came a female voice from the phone’s tiny speaker, “go ahead.”

    “Thanks. Commander, Captain Archer’s back. But he seems a little tired so I’m bringing him to Sick Bay.”

    “Thank you, Ensign,” it was another female voice, but this one was a little lower in pitch and seemed a bit flat. Perhaps the Commander didn’t care about much of anything, thought Sam. Ensign, Ensign, that would be the Navy, Sam thought, but with so many women serving alongside men? That would put the date at somewhere near the end of what he had been referring to as his ‘first life’, for lack of a better expression.

    Then the building lurched, and Sam realized it was no building. They were moving. It was a ship – maybe – but it was larger than he expected. It was also darkish and there were no windows. Below decks seemed huge. “So we’re underway, Ensign Crossman?”

    She looked at him strangely. “I think Sick Bay was a good idea, sir. After all, we’ve been underway in the Delphic Expanse for months.”

    “Yes, yes, of course.” It was an old time traveler’s trick that Sam himself had invented. No matter what anyone says to you, say yes to everything. Everything is known, everything is happening, everything is wonderful, everything is solid, you agree to everything. Vamp until you figure out what the hell everything actually means.

    There was a pair of double doors with a Caduceus on each of them, etched in what appeared to be glass. It was obviously Sick Bay. “I’ll take it from here, Ensign.”

    “Sure, sir,” but Jenny did hit the control to get the doors open, the moment she noticed him staring at the doors and trying to figure them out. He nodded and she departed.

    Sam turned to the swishing sound of the opening doors to find a menagerie of experimental animals in cages. And, with them, there was a doctor in a lab coat, facing away from him. “Ah, Captain Archer!” The doctor enthused, but still with his back facing Sam. “I understand your visit to Degra’s ship might have gotten you a tad disoriented.”

    “Yes, yes, of course.” Agree to everything, whatever it is.

    The doctor turned, and Sam’s jaw dropped. “Sp-space alien?” All semblance of coolness was gone. Whoever he had leapt into, that person, this Captain Archer, he knew space aliens!

    “Excuse me, Captain?” the alien inquired, with an abundance of calm.

    Sam blinked several times and found he was hyperventilating. Despite everything, despite how long he had been traveling in time, absolutely nothing had prepared him for this. His jaw was moving, but no sound was coming out. Finally, he squeaked out, “Where am I? What year is this? Who the hell are you? What are you?” Then the floor came up to meet him, quickly, and things got black.

    When he awoke, he was on a bed. That same strange doctor was standing over him, and so was a woman with odd pointed ears who, Sam realized, was possibly also a space alien. Nearby, fortunately, was the only person he kinda, sorta knew – Jenny Crossman. She fretted a little, wringing her hands. “I never should’ve left him,” she said, pacing a little.

    “You had no idea, Ensign,” assured the alien doctor. He looked at Sam. “Now, Captain, I’m curious. Did anything happen while you were on Degra’s ship?”

    “Uh ….” Just saying yes could potentially be a major problem. Whoever this Degra person was, Archer had visited him – Her? It? – voluntarily. Getting this Degra person into trouble – was that a good decision that would speed everything along, or not?

    “Doctor,” said the woman with the odd pointed ears, “the captain appears to be incapacitated. Perhaps I should speak with Degra.”

    “No,” Sam interjected. “I, well, I don’t really know.” He raised himself up on his elbows. “Can I say something?”

    “By all means,” said the pointy-eared woman.

    “I want to help you – I do – but I’m not really sure of what to say.”

    “Captain?” asked the woman. She raised one eyebrow.

    “That’s just it. I’m not your captain. I know I must look like him to you – and I wish I knew where he was. If I had access to Al, I’d know this,” Or maybe Ziggy, he thought quietly to himself, thinking of the parallel hybrid computer that effectively ran Project Quantum Leap, “But, well,” he tried to address the confused looks on their faces, “I think I should explain things. But I barely know where to start.”

    “If you are not Captain Archer,” the pointy-eared woman asked, “then who are you?”

    Now or never, Sam thought. There was always a moment like this in any leap, where he had to almost blindly trust someone. She may have been a space alien, but the pointy-eared woman seemed capable of handling the full truth of the situation.

    “My name is Dr. Sam Beckett. Please, please, stop looking at me like I’m delusional. I know that this sounds insane, but I assure you that, well, within what’s been happening to me, which I admit is more than a little, er, caca, I am perfectly sane. I am; I’m a time traveler. But it’s not fully controlled. I didn’t want to displace and leap into your Captain Archer, but it looks like I have.”

    “Is that a permanent condition?” inquired the pointy-eared woman.

    “No,” Sam assured her, “I have to do something, to fix something in time. I know how crazy that sounds. But once it’s done, I essentially leap out, your Captain Archer leaps back, and I’m on my merry way to some unknown destination.”

    “Cap–, uh, Dr. Beckett,” the doctor adopted a soothing tone, “perhaps it would be best if I were to give you an examination, all right? Ensign, Commander, perhaps you should both depart.”

    “No, no, that’s okay,” Sam hastily spoke, hoping for witnesses. And Jenny was the only human who knew him at all. “Unless I have to disrobe.”

    “No worries.” The doctor’s face twisted into a far too-wide approximation of a human grin, and Sam nearly fainted a second time. “Just lie back, and you’ll go through the imaging chamber.”

    “Imaging? Huh, it looks like an MRI,” Sam mused.

    “Dr. Phlox,” Jenny asked, “what’s an MRI?”

    “I do believe it’s a medical instrument from over a century ago. Now, lie still, please.” The doctor fiddled with controls that Sam couldn’t see, and the bed slowly moved backwards. It was maybe a minute later, and the bed’s direction was reversed. “There, now, give it a moment.”

    “What do you hope to accomplish, Doctor?” It was the pointy-eared woman talking again.

    “I am attempting to confirm Dr. Beckett’s story.” He peered at an instrument. “How very interesting.”

    “Well?” asked Jenny.

    “The DNA scan is not quite right. Dr. Beckett, I can’t say whether this is perfect proof that you’re telling the truth, but it is certainly possible that you are. It does not rule out your story.”

    There was a chime, sounding like it came from an intercom. The pointy-eared woman pressed on a panel on the wall. “T’Pol here.”

    “Commander,” it was a voice with a Southern twang, “the Xindi are comin’ around again.”

    “Do you believe it to be a hostile act?” she asked.

    “I don’t think so,” was the response. “But I’ll let you know if I’m wrong. Tucker out.”

    She turned to face the rest of them. “Dr. Beckett, I do not necessarily believe your story. However, I am curious. Why is it that you have come here, to this time and this place? And, how? The Vulcan Science Directorate has postulated that time travel is impossible, yet we do have some proof.”

    Proof? You have the means to travel in time? You could send me back!” Sam cried out.

    “Dr. Beckett,” the pointy-eared woman attempted to explain, “Dr. Phlox and Ensign Crossman here certainly remember Crewman Daniels. But his equipment is off-limits and even an engineer such as Ensign Crossman or Commander Tucker does not know how to use that equipment.”

    “Gooshie would come in awfully handy right about now,” Sam commented.

    “Gooshie?” asked the alien doctor.

    “He’s the Head Programmer for Project Quantum Leap. I don’t know if he’d be able to use your equipment, uh, Daniels’s equipment, that is. But I bet he’d give it the old college try.”

    The pointy-eared woman thought for a minute. “We should have a meeting of the senior staff. Ensign, you may as well attend. Your roommate is the sous-chef, is that correct?”

    “Yes, Commander T’Pol.”

    “Contact her, please, as this meeting will likely continue into our next mealtime.”

    “Right away.” Jenny flipped open her cell phone-like device and could be heard quietly requesting a catered meal for a conference room. “Dr. Beckett,” she asked, “do you have any dietary restrictions?”

    “No,” Sam said, “and thanks, to all of you. I never know when I end up in these situations, if the people are friendly. It looks like you are; I’m glad of that.”

    Jenny smiled and spoke into her device, “Yeah, Lili, I guess he’ll have the turkey. Thanks; see you soon, Roomie.” She flipped the device closed. “I get the feeling what you’re going to tell us is gonna be big.”

    “Definitely. Uh, Doctor?” Sam asked, “Do you have a mirror?”

    “Certainly.” The doctor departed to get the mirror.

    “Why a mirror?” asked the pointy-eared woman.

    “I gotta see who I leaped into. And I didn’t catch your name.”

    “My name is T’Pol.”

    Sam made as if to shake her hand, but she drew back. “I come in peace,” Sam said.

    “There are certain issues with physical contact,” she explained.

    “Oh.” The doctor had returned with the mirror, and gave it to Sam, who peered into it. “Hey, I look just like Archer. Or maybe he looks like me. Say, Doctor, I wasn’t introduced to you, either.”

    “My name is Phlox.” The doctor extended his hand for Sam to shake.

    “So, you shake hands, but she doesn’t?”

    “You’ll get used to it,” Jenny assured him as they started to walk to a conference room. “How long have you been doing this, Dr. Beckett?”

    “Time’s a little incoherent,” Sam explained, “for me, it’s all over the place. I’ve been on the road – the temporal road, I guess you could call it – for quite a while now. Sorry that’s not more specific. You’re an engineer; I bet you like things explained.”

    “There’s something to be said for a little mystery. Ah, here we are.”

    Jenny got the door to the conference room open. There were already six people in it. T’Pol spoke as one of the people, a very pale middle-aged blonde woman, began to set out food on the table, turkey sandwiches and salads. The blonde smiled at Sam as T’Pol explained, “We have a possible situation. This man claims to be a Dr. Sam Beckett. As you have noticed, he looks just like Captain Archer, only a bit younger. But Dr. Phlox’s DNA scans show that he is a separate person. It is expected that you will all have questions, and the biggest one is likely whether this is a Xindi ruse. However, I believe it would be best to introduce yourselves to Dr. Beckett and provide some nonclassified information about your role on the ship. Commander Tucker?”

    “Yes,” it was that same twangy Southern inflection that Sam had heard earlier. “I’m Charles Tucker III, Chief Engineer here on the Enterprise. Call me Trip. And, uh, Jenny is my best engineer.”

    Enterprise?” asked Sam.

    Tucker nodded. “The Enterprise is the first Warp Five starship.” He smiled proudly and turned to an Asian woman sitting next to him. “Hoshi?”

    “I’m Hoshi Sato; I’m the Communications Officer. My job is to translate alien languages.”

    “That must be very difficult,” Sam commiserated. He looked at the very thin man sitting next her.

    “Yes,” said the man, who had an upper class British accent. “I’m Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, the ship’s Armory Officer. Travis?”

    Travis was a dark-skinned man. “I’m Travis Mayweather; I’m the pilot.”

    “Is anybody flying the ship?” Sam asked.

    The blonde started to laugh. “When I was introduced to the senior staff, I had the same question.”

    “The second shift is on the Bridge,” Travis explained. “So it’s Chris Harris.”

    “Got it,” Sam said. He turned to a well-built guy sitting next to Travis. “And you are …?”

    “Major Jay Hayes. My uh, my mother’s maiden name was Beckett, but I bet we’re unrelated. I’m the head of the MACO unit. It stands for Military Assault Combat Operations. My people were brought in to help fight the Xindi.”

    Xindi,” Sam said, turning the unfamiliar word over in his head a few times, “I take it they’re the bad guys?”

    “More or less,” Hayes replied.

    “And you?” Sam turned to the blonde.

    “Oh, don’t worry about me.”

    “No, I wanna know,” Sam encouraged.

    “My name is Lili O’Day. I’m the sous-chef. I wield a mean spatula.”

    “Got it,” Sam smiled.

    Phlox said, “My species is Denobulan. I take it you have never seen anyone of my kind before.”

    “Doctor, I come from a time where we still think we’re alone in the universe. I guess we’re wrong.”

    T’Pol explained, “My species is Vulcan. Our first contact with humans was in 2063. It was the first time your species had ever met an extraterrestrial intelligence.”

    “I see. Now let me tell you about me. My name is Sam Beckett. I’ve got seven degrees, including as a medical doctor. I was born on August 8, 1953. I take it this is a lot later than that.”

    “It’s October 12, 2153,” Jenny explained.

    “I’m a two hundred year old man,” Sam sighed. “I guess it’s obvious; I’m a time traveler. I invented a system, using a type of string theory. I was able to travel throughout my lifetime. That part started in 1999. It went on for about five years, and then I was sent to Cokeburg, Pennsylvania and it suddenly all changed. I had had a guide and I lost him, I lost the project, and I became somewhat directionless. At the same time, though, I also got my memory back. That’s been a kind of good news, bad news thing. I do miss my family. It’s so much harder because I remember them now.”

    “I was thinking,” T’Pol said, “that we could enter Crewman Daniels’s old quarters and see if Dr. Beckett here can make any sense of the equipment in it. Perhaps that would allow him to return to his home time and location, and for Captain Archer to return to us.” There was a communications chime and she answered it on a unit that was built into the table. “Yes?”

    “Commander, this is Sandra Sloane at Communications. I’ve just received the strangest piece of email.”

    “Crewman, explain.”

    “Commander, this note is from Captain Archer, and it’s for a Dr. Sam Beckett.”

    Everyone looked around the room. “Send the note to my PADD,” Commander T’Pol requested. Once the data had been passed, she showed the screen to Sam. “I will not read it; it is your own private communication.” Sam looked at the note.

    Dear Sam,

    Hopefully the timing is good for this note and you’re getting it after you’ve started to get your bearings. I was surprised to find that my beam back to the Enterprise from Degra’s ship ended up instead being a leap back in time to 2014. The people at Project Quantum Leap said that my appearance was the first coherent activity they had seen in a decade.

    I’m sure we both have jobs to do. I know mine is to stop the Xindi Ultimate Weapon from destroying Earth. They explained that you will do everything in your power to help me, and I appreciate that. Your programmer, Gooshie, and your Dr. Beeks, they both say that they think that my appearance, our switching, and our being so close genetically means that there may be a chance for them to retrieve you.

    Dr. Eleese was particularly affected when she saw me. She didn’t want me to mention this because no one at the Project is sure about the state of your memory. But I am going to tell you because I think it’s the right thing to do. Sam, she is your wife. She said to tell you that she looks at Megrez every night. I’m sure that’s something private between the two of you but you might like to know that that’s the star which the Xyrillian home world revolves around. T’Pol would know. It’s a small galaxy, I suppose.

    I can’t be sure what your mission is, and your computer Ziggy has no data. Your friend Al says he thinks you are there because of something to do with Degra. I can tell you that we had a decent meeting but he remains suspicious and doubts that our people will be friends. Maybe you can convince him. Maybe that is your mission. Tucker, Reed, and Hayes might have other ideas, though.

    It was Sammy Jo Fuller’s idea to write this note. I do hope that it actually got to you, and we really did switch places and you are in October of 2153 and are on the Enterprise. Good luck to you. Hell, good luck to both of us.

    All the best,

    Jonathan Archer​


    Sam looked up. “Looks like Archer and I kind of switched places and we kind of didn’t. He’s at Project Quantum Leap, but he’s there a decade after I lost contact with them and the leaping all changed. So it’s hard to say. But he said that he thinks I’m here to try to convince this Degra person to help you. He also mentioned something about a weapon. What’s going on?”

    “We are at war,” Malcolm explained, “the Xindi attacked with a weapon that split Florida and South America in two. It killed seven million people.” Commander Tucker looked down.

    “I take it,” Sam commented, “that some of those losses were more personal than others.”

    “You could say that,” Tucker’s words were barely audible.

    “All right,” Sam agreed, “I will try. But I don’t know anything more about your war or about Degra or any of this, other than what you’re telling me. How can I be the one to convince this Degra character? Is he the leader of these Xindi?”

    “He’s the designer of the weapon,” Jenny explained.

    “Oh. I don’t know what to say to that,” Sam replied honestly.

    “You should have a MACO presence with you,” Jay suggested, “You don’t know how to use our weapons.”

    “Then it should be Security,” Malcolm remarked.

    “I, I don’t want it to be weapons,” Sam declared.

    “These are dangerous people,” Jay stated.

    “I have to agree with the Major,” Malcolm said, and the unspoken implication was – just this one time.

    “No,” Sam reiterated. “This guy is just an engineer, right? So he thinks like, like Jenny here. If I go in there, guns a-blazing, don’t you think that’ll destroy whatever trust Archer was trying to build in the first place? Even if all I’ve got is a holstered weapon, or the gun’s not loaded, it doesn’t matter. He’ll see it as a threat and that we’re suspicious. And he would be absolutely right. I can’t condone that.”

    “Nobody wants you to be risking your life,” Travis pointed out.

    “I’ll be all right,” Sam tried to assure them all. “Listen, I want you to understand something about what I’ve been doing for the last, I guess, decade. I’ve been in all sorts of dangerous situations. I was a medic at Saratoga during the American Revolution. I hunted wooly mammoth on the steppes of what I’m guessing became Russia. I was in the Roman Senate when they knifed Julius Caesar. I was in Nile floods during the Fourth Dynasty of Egypt, battles during the Crusades, and I was a part of the Siege of Masada. And through all of this, my bacon was saved, over and over again. Whatever is leaping me around, be it God or fate or time or whatever, well, that’s looking out for me as well, I guess.”

    “Fate protects fools, ‘lil children, and I think it protects the Enterprise, too,” Tucker commented. “Still, Cap – I mean, Dr. Beckett. Dammit, why do you have to look so much like him, too? With all due respect, you don’t know anything about this. You just fell into this.”

    “Leaped,” Sam corrected him, but smiled a little.

    “Fine, you leaped. It’s still not right. We shouldn’t, we should not be enabling this.”

    “Are there other opinions?” T’Pol asked.

    “I say there needs to be a Security presence, but the mission should go ahead,” stated Malcolm.

    “Same here, but with a MACO presence,” Jay countered, “We’re better trained in hand to hand.”

    “Gentlemen,” T’Pol interjected, “your suggestions are under advisement. Ensign Sato?”

    “It feels wrong. I would say no.”

    “Ensign Mayweather?” asked T’Pol.

    “I gotta say, I’m liking the idea of you going in alone, unarmed. I think you’re right, Dr. Beckett. I don’t think they’ll even try to trust you any other way.”

    “I agree with Ensign Mayweather and Dr. Beckett,” Phlox stated. “The act of establishing trust means that you need to; as you like to say, walk the walk.”

    “What about you two?” Sam turned to Jenny and Lili, who was clearing the dishes.

    “Us? Oh, we don’t get a vote,” Jenny explained.

    “Why not?” Sam asked, “And don’t tell me about rank. I don’t have any sort of a rank. And I wanna hear what you have to say.”

    “Really?” Jenny asked. Sam nodded. She looked around nervously as they were all looking at her. “I can see the idea of wanting to be open and trusting. And I believe you when you say you’ve had your feet pulled out of the fire more than once. But I just, you know, I don’t wanna see you get hurt.”

    Now they were all staring at Lili. “I dunno. I could make you a cake to bring. I’m, uh, this is why I’m not in Tactical.” She turned back to the task of clearing the dishes.

    “Commander?” Sam asked T’Pol.

    “Captain Archer would have gone in unarmed. And now you will, too, Dr. Beckett.”
     
  19. jespah

    jespah Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2011
    Location:
    Boston, the Gateway to the Galaxy
    Chapter 2

    June of 2014 at Project Quantum Leap had threatened to be an awful lot like May of 2014, which had been like April and before that, going back in an unbroken chain to when contact with Sam Beckett had been lost. But then Rear Admiral (Retired) Albert Calavicci had received a mysterious text message from Ziggy, the parallel hybrid computer, just when he had been about to sit down to dinner with his wife, Beth, and their five daughters, assorted sons-in-law, one daughter-in-law, and a passel of grandchildren. He had sprung up from his seat, whooped louder and longer than any guy in his early seventies had any right to, and had woken up his youngest grandson, Logan.

    Alone in her quiet home, as she sat near the edge of the swimming pool, Dr. Donna Eleese had been picking at takeout and trying not to think about things as the stars winked on, including, in the Big Dipper, Megrez. She had made a wish, “Here’s to you, Sam, wherever you may be.” She received the same text message, but she didn’t whoop or jump. She just sat there and sniffled, and then dried her eyes. “I do hope it’s not another false alarm,” she had sighed.

    That had been a few days previously. It had been no false alarm; rather, it was almost the universe’s version of a good news, bad news joke. The good news was that the project was not dead. The bad news was that the person who had leaped was not Sam Beckett at all. And the cruelest news of all was how much Jonathan Archer looked and sounded like Sam Beckett – at least, like a somewhat older version of him. Dr. Verbena Beeks had performed the DNA test herself, and had determined that Jonathan and Sam were close, albeit not identical. Still, the DNA relationship was closer than even for non-twin siblings.

    Archer had been fitted with one of Beckett’s old suits, a condition that had made Donna really cry when she had gotten home that first night. On the following day, he had asked to get out and see New Mexico, and Al had driven him around in a candy apple red sports car. “Yanno,” Al had mentioned then, “they tell me there are a lotta beautiful women around here. But,” he had shrugged, “I have no idea. I can’t see anyone but Beth.” Jonathan had smiled a little at that, a surprising revelation from someone he had no other way of knowing.

    That had been the day before. Archer was being kept at the project’s secret offices and, apart from Al’s tour of the area, he hadn’t been outside. The spending of his time had been about the unexpected leap, his story about where and when he was from, and the project trying to figure out how to believe him – and be able to justify their decision, if it ever came to that. But they had come around eventually, all of them.

    This time, he asked Gooshie and Sammy Jo Fuller and Dr. Beeks, “Do you think there’s any chance of me going back to my ship?”

    “Well, Doc– uh, Captain Archer, I can’t really be sure. Ziggy says there’s a fourteen percent chance that you’re with us for good,” Gooshie reported.

    “What do you think?”

    “I have no idea. Tina and I were talking, and she thinks, well, honey, why don’t you tell the captain yourself?” He gestured encouragingly to Tina, who was a technician at the project.

    Tina came over, as Captain Archer and Dr. Beeks looked on. “See, it’s like this.” She had a pair of ribbons in her hair and took them both out. “Your – I mean, Dr. Beckett’s – theory is that your life is like a string. And his time travel technology works by allowing you to ball up that string and then the days that you live all touch each other in these weird and unexpected ways. It stops being linear.”

    “All right,” Captain Archer remarked, “I’m with you so far.”

    “But, see, look at these two ribbons. What can you tell me about ‘em?”

    “They’re both turquoise,” Jonathan said, “and that one is a little bit wrinkled.”

    She smoothed the wrinkled ribbon as well as she could. “Now, are they the same dimensions?”

    “I think so. They look like they are. What are you driving at?”

    “Here.” She put her hands behind her back for a few seconds and then showed him both ribbons again; and now they were both a bit wrinkled. “Can you tell me which of these ribbons was in my left hand before I hid them?”

    “No, I can’t. Not without knowing more about them, maybe on a quantum level.”

    “Exactly,” she started to fix up her hair again. “So the way I see it is, your string – or your ribbon, if you prefer – it looks just like Dr. Beckett’s. At least it does to the naked eye and probably to the level of granularity that our instruments are set at. The instruments look at both ribbons and they can’t tell ‘em apart. So it grabs one but it thinks it’s got the other. Or maybe it doesn’t even realize that there are two. That might not matter quite so much. But either way, it’s got the wrong one. And the instruments – or maybe God, or fate, or time – I was never much for that theory, well, maybe they made a mistake. Maybe this is supposed to be a way to get Dr. Beckett back.”

    “Maybe,” Gooshie allowed. “Dr. Beeks here and I were talking, and we agreed that this might be a sign that Sam’s mission is coming to a close.”

    “This might even be a chance to retrieve Dr. Beckett,” Dr. Beeks clarified.

    “But my people will be skeptical, and they might unknowingly interfere with Dr. Beckett’s mission,” Archer said. “I just wish there was a way to get them a message. You know, just in case Dr. Beckett really is there on the Enterprise, and not just lost somewhere. I mean, the idea is that we’re thinking this was some sort of a reciprocal leap, right?”

    “Right. Al might know,” Gooshie stated. He hit the preset on his cell phone. “Admiral, can you come in here a moment?”

    “Sure; be right there.”

    Once Al arrived, Tina asked him, “How would you get a message to the future?”

    “The future?” asked Al. “Huh.” He thought for a few seconds, and then snapped his fingers. “Wait, we did this! When I was stuck in 1945! I wrote a letter and I asked a law firm to deliver it to the project. Don’t you remember, Gooshie?”

    “Some of that time frame from before Dr. Beckett’s disappearance is a little fuzzy for me,” the programmer admitted.

    Dr. Beeks offered, “I can check our files. I’m guessing this was a paper letter.”

    “Well, sure,” replied the admiral, “post-World War II America didn’t get email until a lot later.”

    “It should be an email,” Sammy Jo said, “do you still have email?”

    “We do,” the captain replied.

    “So send an email,” Sammy Jo urged.

    “Then we’ll make it an email,” Jonathan declared. “I can; maybe I should send something to Beckett himself. The fact that there’s a note from me to him will probably convince my staff. And then he can get some information and maybe even share it if he thinks it’ll help.” Tina had a tablet computer with her and loaned it to him. “Uh, thanks. This won’t be more than a few minutes.”

    Once he’d gotten the email written, Captain Archer looked up. “I’ll need a courier.”

    “I think a law firm is your best bet,” Al stated. “Just pass ‘em a few and they’ll do it.”

    “I didn’t exactly leap here with my wallet,” Archer said.

    “Not to worry. I’ll take it outta project funds,” Al said, “We’ll call it stamps, or something. Tina, can you find a likely candidate firm?”

    “Sure.” She took her tablet back and started tapping on it furiously. “Huh. Here’s one: Koenig & Brooks. They okay with you?”

    “They’re all the same to me,” the captain commented.

    “Here, I’ll Skype,” Tina offered, “and then we can all see and hear what’s going on.”

    A paralegal answered. “Can I help you?” she asked.

    “I want to send an email,” the captain explained.

    “Our overall inquiry address is –”

    “No,” Jonathan explained, “actually, I’m looking for a future delivery.”

    “I’m not sure I follow why you’re calling us,” admitted the paralegal. “Can’t you just schedule delivery through your online mail provider?”

    “It’s a far future delivery. There’s a possibility that my online mail provider might not exist then,” Captain Archer said.

    “How far in the future are we looking at?”

    “October 12, 2153,” Al explained.

    “You’re putting me on,” complained the paralegal.

    “Tell ya what,” Al offered, “I’m guessing your billing rate is maybe a hundred an hour or so? So let’s make the price tag an even five hundred. All of this is for maybe five minutes’ worth of work. You take the money, you take the email, and you set it up for delivery. Check every few years to make sure the provider is still in business. If you leave the firm get your replacement to do this. Even all of these little checks won’t come to five hours between now and then, nearly a hundred and forty years from now. You’ll look great, too, for bringing in all that cash up front. So, whaddaya say?”

    “Um, all right; send it over. But I still think this is crazy.”

    “We’ll look over the email, make sure we’re fine with it and then transfer it over with your funds,” Al promised. “Bye.” Once the connection was cut, he looked at the others. “I think she’ll do it. Once you electronically transfer the file over, I think you can consider it sent, for all intents and purposes.”

    “All right,” Jonathan allowed, picking up the tablet again. “We should ask Dr. Eleese what she thinks before we go any further with this.” He sighed. “She’s been avoiding me; I imagine it’s not hard to figure out why.”

    Sammy Jo looked at him. “I think it’s on account that it’s been so very long.” She had a bit of a southern accent, pleasant to the ear. “It’s your look, too, I imagine. If you had had any other sort of a look, Captain, I think she would be more accepting. Now, I suspect, to look at you is to give her yet another painful reminder.”

    “I don’t mean to hurt her.”

    “Of course you don’t,” Al said. “But these last few days, they’ve gotta be hope and disappointment, all put together in one neat little package for her.” He hit the preset on his cell phone. “Donna, yeah, can you come over to project headquarters? We have an idea, but we wanna run it by you first.”

    When Donna Eleese arrived, she cautiously entered the room. “I have a hard time even so much as looking at you, Captain Archer,” she admitted.

    “I’m sorry,” Jonathan said, “I’m not like this in order to, to cause you any pain.”

    “I know,” Donna allowed, “but it hurts all the same. Tell me, Al, why am I here?”

    “We wanna send an email to Sam. The captain here says that it’ll smooth the way and make it easier for his people to help Sam. Otherwise, they might be spinning their wheels there for a while.”

    “I see. And what are you planning to put into this letter?”

    “I’ll write to him, Dr. Eleese, and I’ll mention everyone’s name and, at the very least, all the name-dropping will convince him that I’m legit. And I’ll drop some of the names of my staff. That ought to convince them.”

    “This is fine,” Donna said, “but only under one condition.”

    “Which is?” asked Jonathan.

    “You must never tell Sam that I exist. He wouldn’t be able to do what he needs to, and he wouldn’t be able to commit fully to the people he’s trying to help, if he remembered that he was married.” She turned away, sorrowful.

    “But what about you?” asked Captain Archer, “Don’t you get a say in the matter?”

    “You’ve just heard my say.”

    “You’re entitled to have your husband remember you; to miss you and want desperately to return to you.”

    “No,” Donna said flatly, “I’m not. I don’t matter anywhere near as much as the people who Sam is supposed to be helping. I’m doing right by him.”

    “By keeping him in the dark?” Jonathan’s tone remained an incredulous one.

    “Yes, by keeping him in the dark. Now, if you’ll all excuse me? I have to get out of here. I’m sorry, Captain. I’m sure you’re a fine man and all of that. I don’t suspect you of ill will or foul play. But I just, I can’t even be in the same room with you. Please, please! If you are somehow stuck here, please understand. It’s nothing personal but I, I just can’t look at you anymore. Please, never again.” In tears, she turned away and fumbled for the door.

    Dr. Beeks got up, too. “Dr. Eleese,” she said, “let me go with you. You need someone to talk to.”

    “Yes, yes, of course.” Donna turned back and looked, one last time, her lower jaw trembling. “I can’t stay. Send your email. I hope it does you some good.” The two women departed.

    Sammy Jo sighed. “I don’t think we should be crowdsourcing this. Captain Archer, whatever you wanna write, I’m sure it’s fine. I approve of this and I want it and I don’t, well, I don’t dislike you or anything like that. But I’m also having a lotta trouble looking at you, Captain. Please forgive me.”

    “Just seal it,” Al suggested. “Look it over and seal it. They can’t look at your face. I’m not so sure I can look at your words, to be honest.”

    “I understand,” Jonathan murmured. He looked over the email again, added a few more lines and sealed it. He handed the tablet to Tina who forwarded the message to the law firm. 

    Chapter 3

    They had prepared him as well as they could, but a crash course in Earth politics, the Enterprise’s defenses, and the Xindi situation was just not going to be enough. “Yanno,” Jenny commented, “when we beam you over, maybe you’ll just leap again.”

    “I doubt it,” Sam replied, “I always have to do something first. What about Daniels’s stuff?”

    “Yes, that,” Malcolm said, “We could try.” He glanced over at Commander T’Pol.

    “Yes,” she said, “let us make the attempt.” Everyone else departed.

    The four of them walked over to cabin E-14, which had been Crewman Daniels’s old quarters. Once his roommate, Craig Willets, had been moved out, months before, the cabin had been locked. It contained some of the time traveler’s equipment but it had not been disturbed. Malcolm worked the combination on the heavy lock on the door and got it to open. “Jennifer, you and I had best wait outside.”

    “Of course.”

    Sam and T’Pol walked in. “It just looks like a guy’s bunk,” he commented.

    “Here,” she said, showing Sam a hand-held device that was roughly rectangular in shape although the top part was rounded a bit. “This seems to have been some form of scanner.”

    Sam stared at the greyish device, which had a small screen. He sat down at a desk in the room. “Oh, God.”

    “What is the trouble?”

    Sam just sat there, and started to weep. “It’s not the same thing. Don’t misunderstand me; I don’t know anything about that device. But, God, Al used to carry around something like this. It was a handlink to Ziggy.”

    “And this is a similar-appearing device? Do you believe it would work in a similar fashion, Doctor?”

    Sam thought for a while. “I don’t know. I don’t think so. But this is, you gotta understand, Commander. I’ve been away from my family for a decade, and more. Maybe even a lot more time, because it all seems elastic, like maybe time doesn’t really pass for me the way it does for someone like you. But this, it reminds me. I remember my best friend, Al. And I remember, oh God, I remember Donna. Don’t you, don’t you understand my feelings? Don’t you care at all?” He looked up at her, standing nearby.

    “Doctor, no one explained to you, but my species, we practice a form of emotional suppression. We are not without feeling. We are simply less demonstrative.” Yet despite the fact that it would be better not to touch him, she lightly put a hand on Sam’s shoulder. And instantly, T’Pol’s touch telepathy was engaged.

    She saw him leaping, into a dark-skinned man seated at a segregated lunch counter in the old South, and into Lee Harvey Oswald, and into Elvis Presley. She saw him in the jungles of Vietnam and on the ledge of a building, saving a suicidal woman.​


    She took her hand away. The jumble of sights, and the cacophony of sounds, had been in her mind for less than five seconds. “I believe you, Dr. Beckett, and without reservation. I am sorry that this is your existence now.”

    “Thank you,” he whispered. “We should go. These things belong to Daniels – whatever they are. They can’t help us now.” He followed her out of the small bunk and dried his eyes.

    Malcolm looked at them. “I take it there was no help to be found in there?”

    Sam shook his head, but T’Pol contradicted him. “There was one success. I was able to confirm Dr. Beckett’s story. We will have Ensign Sato attempt to contact Degra in an hour, and arrange to transport the doctor to that ship.”

    “Well, that’s a spot of positive progress,” Malcolm observed as he put the big, heavy lock back on cabin E-14’s door. “Ensign Crossman, why don’t you take our guest to wherever on the ship he wishes to go until then? Commander, I take it that’s permitted?”

    “Of course,” T’Pol replied. “I will inform Commander Tucker of your brief absence, Ensign Crossman.”

    Jenny nodded and Reed and T’Pol departed. Jenny looked at Sam. “Well, you heard the man. Anyplace in particular you wanna see?”

    “Archer’s quarters,” Sam replied, “or do you think that’s too personal? I just, I wanna see a little bit about what makes him tick. Does that make sense to you?”

    “Of course it does,” she said, “after all; he’s having conversations with your friends. I think it’s only fair.” She took him to the captain’s quarters.

    “It’s funny,” Sam remarked a few minutes later, thumbing through Archer’s clothes in the closet, “but the process of leaping means that I get the clothes and the person I leap into, well, I guess they get whatever I was wearing when I first started out.”

    “So it’s something out of style?”

    “Maybe,” Sam smiled.

    “Where do the other people go?” Jenny asked.

    “They used to go to Project Quantum Leap. I get the feeling they don’t anymore, except for Archer, right now, of course. I have to believe that those other people are all right, but of course I don’t really know. We had – they have – somebody has – a waiting room.”

    “Maybe there’s another one. You know, with old magazines and a potted plant that needs watering,” she joked.

    “Probably.” He smiled, and the skin around his eyes crinkled.

    “What’s it like? Leaping, I mean.”

    “Well,” he sighed, “your identity gets pretty messed up. You stop being your own person, but that’s kind of how it’s got to be. You fall in love with whoever they love; you dislike whoever they don’t like. You get their taste in clothes, their food preferences, and even their speech patterns. Because I don’t have a guide these days, it’s all rather confusing. I go from place to place and person to person, and I’ve only got my own wits about me, when I try to figure out where and when I am. The people aren’t always friendly. This has been a damned lucky leap, far as I’m concerned.”

    “You must speak about a thousand languages.”

    “I speak whatever the, I guess you could call them the host – I speak whatever they speak. Then I go someplace else and I’ve forgotten all that. All I remember are the highlights and now, increasingly, I remember more and more about my first – I mean earlier – life.”

    “You said first.”

    “Yeah, I suppose I did. Jenny,” Sam said, “I sometimes wonder if I’m dead. Does that make any sense to you?”

    “All I can go on is what I see before me,” she pointed out, “I’m an engineer, remember? If you were dead, I get the feeling Dr. Phlox would’ve noticed that, know what I mean?”

    “Probably, yeah.” Sam turned back to looking at Archer’s possessions. “I like the artwork. And this model is pretty neat.”

    “That looks like a kid’s toy,” Jenny commented. “I bet he had it when he was little. His father built our engine. Or, rather, Henry Archer designed it.”

    “Holy cow. See now, there’s another place where we differ; my father was a farmer in Indiana.”

    “Have you been to the future? I mean our future.”

    “No, and I wish I had now. I’d know how your war turns out. Truth is; this is the first time I’ve been past 2004, ever. I had wondered, at times, whether that was some sort of hard ending, that time had ended and that was that. Of course I was mistaken,” he smiled again.

    “Then this really is a different kind of a leap,” Jenny commented, “if it’s close to a hundred years later than you’ve ever gone before. Maybe this is your last leap.”

    “Who knows? It could even be that it’s all going to change again. Or this is some sort of fluke. I can’t help feeling that it has something to do with Archer, although God only knows what.”

    There was a communications chime, and Jenny answered it. “Got it; Crossman out.” She looked at Sam. “Hoshi managed to get a hold of Degra.”

    “I guess it’s show time.”
     
  20. jespah

    jespah Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2011
    Location:
    Boston, the Gateway to the Galaxy
    Chapter 4

    “Can I talk to you?” Jonathan asked Al.

    “Uh, sure. Step into my office,” he joked, ushering Captain Archer into the hallway.

    “I’d like to get outside again. Is that okay with you?”

    “Of course it is. I always love taking her out for a spin. Got any specific destination in mind?”

    “I want to visit Donna Eleese’s house,” Jonathan said.

    “Oh. Did you not hear her? She said she can’t handle seeing you. And I can’t say as I blame her. Frankly, you sometimes give me the willies, too. At least you’re a good guy, not like some of the nozzles Sam leaped into over the years.”

    “Noz–? Uh, look, Admiral, you told me that Dr. Beckett doesn’t leap unless he’s accomplished some sort of task, right?”

    “Well, sure.”

    “Maybe that’s what this leap is all about. He’s got something or other to do in my time period. And maybe that also means that I’ve got something to do in yours.”

    Al looked at him and cocked an eyebrow. “You’re not him.”

    “But–”

    “Just hear me out, Archer,” Al stated, in a tone that brooked no dissent. “I lost my best friend a decade ago. And she lost the love of her life. But the truth of it is; we lost him maybe five or so years before that. The moment he first leaped, he was effectively gone. Oh, sure, we had communications with him. And there was one time that he and I were switched and he was able to be here for a day and a half. And that was it. She got a day and a half out of a decade and a half.”

    “That’s horrible.”

    “I’m not done yet. See, everybody who was ever in our waiting room, they took on Sam’s appearance, his aura, his, his essence, if you will. They all looked like him. But at least they sounded like they normally do. Elvis sounded like Elvis. Dr. Ruth sounded like Dr. Ruth. Cam Wilson presumably sounded like himself – his voice was changing, poor kid. And on and on. Then we had no one for a decade, and then you. And you come here, and you don’t just look like him, you also sound exactly like Sam. I know that I would lose it under the best of conditions – and I practically have. When I got a text a few days ago, I was overjoyed. But it was because I thought Sam was back. Captain Archer, you’re a pleasant enough person but you are not Sam Beckett. But me, I get to go home to Beth and try to make some sense of it all. Donna doesn’t get that luxury. She’s been alone and bereft for years. I don’t know what your being here means. But I do know that it’s killing her.”

    “I’m not here to try and hurt her. Or you, or Sammy Jo, or anyone else,” Jonathan tried to assure Al, “but if this leap is reciprocal, then I need to fix something. I know I shouldn’t really be changing too much of history. And that’s in my own best interests – if I fix or alter too much of it, I run the risk of never having been born, or losing someone on my crew because of that. They’re good people and they have a war to win and I don’t want any of them gone. I don’t want to risk that. But I think I should be able to talk to Dr. Eleese.”

    “Ziggy!” Al bellowed, “Figure out why Captain Archer is here.”

    “Now, I don’t know that, Admiral,” Ziggy replied, in mechanical tones that were female in pitch and were spiked with attitude.

    “Can’t you at least theorize something?” Jonathan asked.

    The computer beeped and whirred and seemed to be weighing the possibilities. “There is an eleven percent chance, Captain Archer; that you are here to save Dr. Eleese.”

    That got Al’s attention. “What the hell’s going on, Ziggy?”

    “I only know what I can conjecture. Dr. Eleese checks in every single day, several times per day, searching for news of Dr. Beckett. She checks in far more frequently than anyone else has in the past decade, ever since Dr. Beckett’s disappearance and the loss of contact.”

    “What times of day does she typically check in?” Jonathan asked. Al looked at him quizzically. “I have an idea,” said the captain.

    “The most frequent time is,” the computer paused to check its records, “within five minutes, before or after 2:11 AM.”

    “She’s not sleeping,” Al commented.

    “Admiral,” Captain Archer concluded, “I get the feeling she’s clinically depressed. Does she ever go out with you and your wife?”

    “No.”

    “Does she ever have you over, or go to visit you, or to anyone in the project?”

    “No, and I don’t think so.”

    “Is she seeing anyone?” asked Jonathan.

    “Now, Captain!”

    “I’m not asking for me.”

    “Oh, uh, not that I know of. Dammit, Sam, I mean, Captain Archer, she is depressed!”

    “She’s like, oh, boy, is there a bookstore around here?”

    “What?”

    “A bookstore, Admiral. I think I should go to her home, but I shouldn’t arrive empty-handed.”

    “What, are you bringing presents now?”

    “Just, just get me to a bookstore – it can even be an electronic one – and get me there, okay?”

    “All right,” Al finally agreed, “and I’ll charge that as stamps, too. Sheesh, I hope this doesn’t make things any worse.” 

    Chapter 5

    On the Enterprise, Jenny and Trip stood by the transporter’s controls as Sam waited. “Now that I know what you’re going to do, I can’t help but be a bit nervous.”

    “Maybe think of it like leaping,” she suggested.

    “Ready?” asked Tucker.

    “Ready as I’ll ever be,” Sam replied, shutting his eyes tight.

    “All right; let’s energize this thing,” replied the Chief Engineer.

    The process of being transported was strange. It was close to leaping, but not quite. Sam – when he opened his eyes again – was on board an odd ship with an even odder complement. He looked around at the strange aliens, who had forehead ridges and weird hairlines. One, who was darker-skinned, came over to him. “Captain Archer, why have you insisted on returning?”

    “I think we’ve got unfinished business,” Sam said, still uncertain as to which of the people he was with was Degra. He had been shown an image, but the aliens were so … alien. He felt unsure.

    “When we last spoke,” an alien man who had been standing in the back came forward, “you claimed that the initial attack on your planet was morally wrong. But you must understand something; I didn’t build that weapon for morality’s sake. I built it to save my people. And I’m sure you would do the same if the roles were reversed. You would save your own people and your own skins.”

    “Degra,” Sam said, hoping that he had the right person, “yes, it’s true, I said that.” A time traveler says yes to everything. “And I suppose I can see your point. But allow me to tell you a bit about one of the young victims. You know, of the seven million innocent men, women, and children who were killed when your initial weapon was deployed.”

    “I don’t see what that has to do with anything,” interjected one of the other aliens.

    “Oh, I’ll listen,” Degra seemed skeptical, “but I hardly see where it’ll prove anything. Children are innocent; we all know that.”

    “I’m not talking about a child,” Sam pressed, “Her name was Elizabeth Tucker. She was twenty-four. She worked as an architect; all she wanted to do was build. She wanted to make sure that everyone on Earth had a good home. Because even now, even though everyone is sheltered, there are still, sometimes, people, who are in housing that is substandard. Elizabeth – Lizzie’s – job was to help design new living spaces for them. These would be homes which would conserve energy. They would be spacious, airy, and light-filled. They would mostly have beautiful views. They would be located on grounds where people could grow flowers or even vegetables and fruits, if they wanted to. These homes would be where you could see wildlife, or other beautiful buildings. They would be comfortable, too. People would live with their extended families, or by themselves, whatever they wished. They would be sheltered from rain and wind, snow, and excessive heat. They would live their lives in dignity, beauty, and comfort.”

    “Let me tell you something about dignity, beauty, and comfort,” Degra countered, “when my world tore itself apart, we weren’t thinking about such luxuries. We were thinking about survival. This young woman’s death, I will, I will admit that it is tragic but it is not my –”

    “Yes, Degra, it is your fault,” Sam interrupted. “And if you try to hide behind some old cock and bull story about only following orders, then I’ve got news for you.” Sam’s voice began to rise, “we had a horrible chapter in our history, and six million people died. People tried to absolve themselves from responsibility, claiming that they were only following orders. Well, immoral orders should be questioned! They shouldn’t be followed blindly!”

    “What did your people do with these ones who claimed to be following their orders that resulted in so much death?”

    Sam calmed himself down before he responded. “We imprisoned them. And with the worst of them, we hanged them.”

    “See?” the darker alien said to Degra, “They are primitives!”

    “That all happened fifty – I mean, a hundred and fifty – years ago,” Sam explained. “Our justice system has evolved. But what those people did, it never became acceptable. Those casualties weren’t acceptable, and neither are these.”

    “I don’t –” Degra began.

    “Don’t let Lizzie Tucker’s death be in vain,” Sam implored. “You can end this now. Because somewhere out there, either on Earth, or on your world, or on any of dozens or hundreds or maybe even thousands of inhabited planets, in this galaxy or in any other one that harbors life, there is or there will be another Lizzie Tucker. Sure, she doesn’t have that name. And she doesn’t have that look and she doesn’t speak that language. She might not even be what we would recognize as being female. But she – that alien Lizzie Tucker – she’s got dreams, too. She also dreams of the people of her world living in dignity, and in beauty and in comfort. But the Xindi will never know her if you wipe out the humans. Sure, you might spot her, somewhere out there. But you’ll hardly appreciate her if you treat the original Lizzie Tucker’s death so damned cavalierly.”

    Degra looked rattled. “Send him back to his ship.” He addressed Sam directly, “Captain Archer, I have nothing more to say to you. Do you for once think that I don’t feel any guilt?”

    “Well, you sure aren’t acting like it!” Sam found himself yelling, and he wondered for a split second if those feelings were his, or if they were Archer’s. “Those guilty feelings, I bet someone higher up is telling you to just forget about them, am I right? Well, you shouldn’t,” Sam said, starting to feel the effect of the transporter again. “You should feel that. It’s more important than any orders you’re taking!”

    He stumbled as he reappeared on the Enterprise. “You should –!”

    “We should what?” asked Jenny.

    “You should maybe prepare for peace, but for more war, as well. I think he can be convinced. I’m just not so sure he will be in time,” Sam said. 

    Chapter 6

    Book in hand, Jonathan Archer rang Donna Eleese’s front doorbell as Al waited in the candy apple red sports car and called Beth on his cell phone, cooing sweet nothings in her ear as she laughed at work and pretended to be annoyed.

    “Coming!” Donna called. When she opened the door, she froze. “I, I thought I told you.”

    “I know you did,” Jonathan said, “but I came to bring you a present, and to tell you something. Can I come in?”

    She stood there, thinking it over. “I don’t know what’s better.”

    “I don’t, either,” he admitted, “but let’s talk a little bit. Just a little. See, I think I have a mission, too. And I think my mission just might be here, talking to you.”

    Donna ushered him in. “There’s the back patio, by the swimming pool.” He followed her in and they sat down on deck chairs. “Well?”

    “Well, first, here.” He gave her the book, which was an old paperback with a cracked spine. “Sorry I didn’t get a chance to wrap it.”

    “That’s all right.” She turned it over and read the title, “The Odyssey.”

    “Yes. Let me tell you the story.”

    “I’ve read this; I know it.”

    “All right, well; then let me tell it in my own way, all right?” Jonathan looked to her and she did not object, so he continued, “A man traveled. He saw all sorts of wonders, around the known world. He was a hero of the war, and all he wanted, was to come home. But the gods wouldn’t let him. And so he traveled. And he was tempted, and he was busy, but he didn’t succumb to temptation, and he didn’t let all the things he had to do, he didn’t let them interfere with his desire to get home.”

    “Homer wrote this.”

    “Yes, he did. And the story, well, on the home front, Odysseus’s wife, Penelope, she was wealthy and beautiful. And everybody but her thought that her husband was dead.”

    “She was the only one who believed in him.”

    “Right. And so these men would come to court her, because they wanted her money. And maybe a few of them were almost decent and wanted to take care of her. But she knew better. And so she told them she would make up her mind about them when she finished her weaving.”

    “Yes,” Donna agreed. “She would unravel her weaving every night, and would never make any progress. After twenty years, he came back to her, and the only people who recognized Odysseus were his old dog, one servant, and her.”

    “Exactly,” Jonathan confirmed, “now let me change that story a little bit, all right? A little bit of Homer fan fiction, if you will.”

    “I suppose,” the tiniest hint of a smile arrived on her lips, for the first time since he’d been introduced to her a few days previously.

    “All right, so, Odysseus leaves. And this time, he’s delayed, and it’s partly because of the gods, but it’s also because he’s got good works that he has to do. He does them. And Penelope, she isn’t being courted by anyone, because she shuts everyone out of her life.” Whatever hint of a smile that Donna had been displaying was replaced by a deepening frown. Jonathan continued, “And she waited, and waited. No one knew if he was alive or dead. He was a little like Schrödinger’s Cat. By not knowing, for sure, either way, Penelope fell into inertia. At first, she told herself that she was being loyal. Then she told herself that she couldn’t be sure. Then she told herself that things were safer this way. Then she told herself that she didn’t deserve to be happy.”

    “Get out.”

    “What? I’m not done with my story yet.”

    “I said, ‘get out’!” Donna leapt to her feet and threw the book at Jonathan, who caught it.

    “I don’t mean to offend you. And I don’t mean to hurt you. But this, your behavior, Dr. Eleese! It’s safe. It’s comfortable. And you get to play noble. You get to be the noble, loyal Penelope. But you aren’t!”

    “What?”

    “You are not.” Jonathan got up. “It’s been a long time, getting from there, to here. And all you’re doing is; you’re stuck in this rut. You’re not moving, not going anywhere. You aren’t even widowed. You’re just … waiting. Your life is on hold, as you age and you wait, and you fret, and you check Ziggy over and over and over again! You check Ziggy instead of sleeping. And when someone finally came through, and ended up in the waiting room, you saw it as a sign of what, exactly?”

    “It was confirmation that he’s still alive!”

    “Maybe, but we can’t be sure, now, can we? I wrote that email, but there’s no guarantee that he’s in 2153 and can receive it. Tell me, Doctor, what was Sam Beckett like?”

    She calmed down a bit. “He was wonderful. He was always looking to help people. He could sing, and play piano and guitar. He was a healer. He was kind and gentle and loving.”

    “Did he snore?” Jonathan asked.

    “I don’t see what that’s got to do with anything.”

    “Just answer the question, Doctor. Did he snore?”

    “I don’t, I don’t remember. I don’t think so.”

    “Did he hog the covers? Did he pick his teeth in public? Did he leave dirty socks on the floor?”

    “No!”

    “Did he complain about doing chores? Did he forget to call or text you? Did Sam,” Jonathan thought of what to really ask, “Finish too quickly?”

    She cracked him, hard, across the face. “Get out!” she yelled again.

    “I’ll tell you,” Jonathan matched her volume. “I don’t care whether he did or didn’t do any of those things. It doesn’t matter. But what does matter is that you’ve been idealizing him. He’s the paragon of virtuous perfection and no one in the last fifteen or so years has ever even come close.”

    “That’s what it’s supposed to be, when it’s the love of your life!”

    “Fair enough,” Jonathan replied, “but answer me this one, if you can. If you dare. He loved you that much, so why the hell did he go leaping in the first place? He had an untested system. He had no way of knowing how to get back, or even if he could. If he loved you that much, why did he leap? Why did he leave in the first place?”

    Donna started sobbing, and Captain Archer could barely understand her. “He, he, we, we had a, a fight. An argument; it was about his work, and about how, how nobody believed that it was going to work. He walked out, dammit, Sam, why did you walk out on me? Why did you leave me?”

    Jonathan put his arms around her. “Shh, shh, I, oh, God, I’m so sorry, Doc – uh, Donna. You didn’t deserve this. You didn’t sign on for this. Listen, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I have no idea if we’ll switch again, or if just one of us will get back, or neither of us will. Maybe now I’m going to be stuck with the curse of leaping, too. But whatever happens, whatever it is, I want you to know something.”

    “Y-yes?” she looked up at him, and her eyes were red.

    “I want you to know that you can take this as a sign that he’s alive, my being here. But you can also – I hope you will, I really do – you can take it as a sign to let him go. Live your life, Donna. You have a long time ahead, I bet. I don’t know what your personal future is. But someone as wonderful as you are? That person, that woman, that Penelope, she doesn’t have to stay at home and weave, and then unravel her weaving, forever. And that’s true whether Odysseus is alive or not.”

    Lower jaw trembling, she stared at him as Captain Jonathan Archer disappeared into bluish space.

    Nearly one hundred and forty years later, Ensign Jennifer Crossman of the USS Enterprise watched as Dr. Sam Beckett did the same. 

    Chapter 7 (Epilogue)

    Captain Jonathan Archer returned to the USS Enterprise. It took a few more tries for Degra to be convinced that humans were not a threat. This included a failed stratagem utilizing a shuttle training module, and presenting a Xindi initiation medal from Archer’s own future, which Crewman Daniels thoughtfully provided. While there were casualties, including Major Jay Hayes, the Xindi Ultimate Weapon was stopped, and Earth was not destroyed. And Degra, before his own demise, expressed regret and sorry for the many victims of the first weapon, and he acted the way he did, and tried to lead his people to peace with the human race, because of the promise that had been seven million Lizzie Tuckers, gone before their time, and all because of Xindi actions.

    Sammy Jo Fuller, Tina, Gooshie, Dr. Verbena Beeks, and Admiral Albert Calavicci continued trying to find Sam. There were a few hints over the years, but nothing as substantial as Jonathan Archer’s surprise visit. They never knew whether Archer ever returned to the Enterprise, but Sammy Jo and Ziggy both postulated that, if the forces leaping Sam around were good – God, fate, time, or something else entirely, perhaps – then Earth would not have been left to its own devices during the Xindi war. Although his return could be neither confirmed nor denied – and he, too, was much like Schrödinger’s Cat – they felt that the odds were very good indeed that Captain Jonathan Archer had been returned safely to his own time period.

    Those same people were also all pleased and proud to stand up for Dr. Donna Eleese when she married Edward St. John V, a British fellow who had been Gooshie’s assistant programmer.

    Dr. Sam Beckett never returned home.

    THE END​
     
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