OCTOBER/NOVEMBER CHALLENGE: The Long Winter's Nap

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Admiral2, Nov 17, 2019.

  1. Admiral2

    Admiral2 Admiral Admiral

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    The Long Winter's Nap
    by Admiral2
    8290 words



    At first, there was no sound but the howl of storm winds blowing snow across the icy surface of the glacier. Then came the trilling sound of a molecular transporter, along with the shimmering glow of transit. When both subsided, six figures were left standing knee deep in snow wearing heavy arctic gear. They looked down in confusion, but only for a moment. The area near their destination was supposed to be cleared, but the weather conditions on a planet in the middle of an ice age meant cleared areas rarely stayed clear.


    The party trudged through the snow to an artificial structure about a meter away. Ship’s engineers had constructed a closed entrance over the mouth of the cave where science teams were working. The entrance was sheltered in a way that was supposed to keep snow from piling up too high in front of the door, yet it was still half buried when the party reached it. Fortunately, the snow level hadn’t reached the controls yet and the door slid open and closed, so entry was relatively easy. More of the engineers’ handiwork was evident just inside the entrance. Structural supports had been added to the sides and the top of the cave, while temporary flooring had been set down to provide a level work space and devices had been attached to the supports that provided light and a minimal amount of heat.


    Once they were inside and warming up, the landing party shook the snow off their clothes and took off their hoods and face coverings. “That’s better,” Lt. Commander Van Jensen said with a lopsided grin. “Brother, can we pick the best places to do our jobs! Couldn’t anybody find a garden spot on this snowball?”


    Captain Martin Rourke chuckled. “Bad news, pal,” he said, “according to our weather people this is the garden spot on this snowball!”


    The others laughed as they removed gloves and scarves and head gear. They only unzipped their coats without removing them. The heating elements only dispelled enough of the cold to make it bearable. This was by design.


    As she pulled off her ski hat and combed her fingers through her raven hair, Nurse Abigail Knightley said, “Gosh, I can’t wait to see how much progress they’ve made. Is it true that the ship is almost completely uncovered?”


    “According to the latest report,” Jensen said. “That actually turned out to be the easy part.”


    “The real chore was getting down to the thing,” Rourke added. “Let’s get down there and see for ourselves.” With that, the captain led the party deeper into the cavern.


    Casia Prime, a small class-M world, was deep in the throes of an ice age, with most of the surface covered in glacial ice and ocean-deep snow. When USS Concord reached the Casia Star Group the crew had expected to only make a cursory survey of the planet, assuming any surviving lifeforms would be in hibernation. They had been stunned to detect signs of technology, and the only hibernating lifeform they could detect was humanoid. All the signs were faint, and they soon discovered the cause: the technology and lifeform were buried nearly a quarter-mile deep in one of the glaciers. Unable to transport directly to the target or transport it out - the fear was the crystalline ice scattering the transport beams - the first landing parties were teams of engineers who used lasers to bore a tunnel in the ice and set up the internal structures. After days of this, and a few more of clearing working space for science teams, the crew’s efforts were about to bear fruit.


    The captain’s party reached the work area after a decent hike. They found a hive of activity. The engineers were still working, now using their lasers to clear the last of the ice away from the manta ray-shaped craft they had found. As they worked, Chief Engineer Joachim Levi and Science Officer Dr. Amelie Sarkozy were using portable scanning instruments to monitor the ship’s still-active systems as it was being freed.


    Standing by and observing everything with bated breath was Dr. Anne Rourke, the ship’s Chief Medical Officer. She was anxious for a chance to examine the being they now knew was inside the craft. She turned when she heard the Captain and the others approach and offered her husband a big smile. “Darling! You’re just in time!”


    “Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Martin Rourke said with a smile of his own as he put an arm around his wife. They traded a brief kiss, then Martin jerked a thumb behind him as he added, “I also brought reinforcements.”


    Anne turned and immediately locked eyes on Nurse Knightley. “Abby! Good! Did you bring it?”


    “Yes, Doctor,” Abigail said. She opened her coat a little to show Anne the small satchel she was carrying. “I’ve got a whole revival kit, including a full stimulant hypospray.”


    “Oh, that’s fine. Thank you.” She turned back to Martin. “It’s just in case. I’m optimistic that the occupant will revive naturally once we open the stasis chamber.”


    “And you’re sure that he can be revived?” Martin asked.


    “Sure enough that we now know it’s a she, not a he,” Anne said. “We’ve been getting clearer life readings as we get closer to completely exposing the craft.”


    “And from those readings,” Dr. Sarkozy chimed in, “we can tell she’s in a state of perfect hibernation. Though slowed to an absolute minimum her respiration and pulse are steady, and there’s been almost no tissue or bone degradation.”


    “She’s got this thing’s technology to thank for that,” Engineer Levi said. “I’m reading more redundancies and built-in fail-safes than I would have thought possible, even with micro-circuitry.”


    “Bet you can’t wait to tear into it and see how it all works,” Jensen said.


    Not given to broad emotion, Levi smirked a tiny bit. “I admit I’m looking forward to that, but I can be patient.”


    “Well, I can’t,” Jensen said. He turned to the other crewmen in their party. “Get in there and lend a hand, fellas!” The others acknowledged and went to join the engineers already working to clear the ice. The work sped up considerably then. It still felt like ages for those just watching and not melting or monitoring, but it wasn’t long before most of the ice was melted away and everyone could get a good look at the small ship.


    Everyone was stunned at the sight. “It looks brand new!” Jensen said.


    The ship was about the length of a shuttlecraft and its “wingspan” was a little over twice that. It indeed had the general shape of a manta ray, but three things broke up the illusion. First was the color. The hull was a bright red, with a finish that shined as it reflected the lighting in the space. Next came the vertical plane mounted near the tail end, reminiscent of antique propeller airplanes. Finally, there was the bubble canopy at the front end. On another craft this might be the cockpit, but instead this canopy was the cover of the craft’s hibernation system.


    Everyone gathered around for a closer look. “Right off the assembly line,” Martin said, shaking his head in amazement.


    “It must be made of some fantastic alloy to have been buried under all that ice and not have a scratch,” Levi said. He actually grinned as he continued to examine the hull.


    A few others got close enough to see inside the canopy. Again, Jensen was the first to comment, this time on the sleeper. “Oh, she’s a doll.”


    The sleeper was at least superficially human, appearing to be a young woman of slim build and medium height, with fair skin and white-blond hair tied into a single braid. She was indeed attractive by human standards, with delicate facial features and a model figure highlighted by the skintight bodysuit she was wearing. The suit was dark green in color and sported an indicator panel at the collar, which probably meant it had something to do with the hibernation process.


    Dr. Sarkozy shook her head at Jensen’s comment. “I wouldn’t get my hopes up if I were you, Commander. She is, after all, a much older woman.”


    “You’re kidding!” Jensen said. “Why, she doesn’t look a day over twenty.”


    Anne Rourke laughed at that. “Try ten thousand years over twenty, Van!”


    “Ten thousand years,” Martin mused, “yet ship and passenger look like they just touched down this morning.”


    “But the figure is accurate,” Sarkozy said. “We know from our analysis of the surrounding ice. The vessel must have landed just as the glacier reached this point in its migration south. That was approximately ten thousand years ago.”


    As Sarkozy explained Anne took more readings of The Sleeper’s vital signs. She smiled at the results. “Okay...I think it’s safe to try this. Abby, stand by with the revival kit. Joachim, have you got the controls worked out yet?”


    “Just about,” Levi said. “As complex as the circuits are the controls seem to be laid out so that anyone can use them.” Levi approached the ship and slid open a small hatch near the canopy. Inside was a control panel with a few buttons. “Okay...ready here.”


    “Disengage the hibernation system.”


    Levi touched two of the controls. A moment later soft, tonal hums sounded from inside the canopy as lights blinked on The Sleeper’s collar. This went on for almost a minute, then the blinking and humming stopped at the same time.


    Then there was nothing. “Did it work?” Jensen asked.


    “Doctor,” Martin said, “are you sure she’s...I mean, could your instruments have missed a malfunction somewhere?”


    Nurse Knightley answered for Anne. “She’s still alive, sir. There’s just been no change to her vitals. Heart rate and respiration are still at hibernation levels.”


    “Actually, Captain,” Sarkozy said, “It’s more likely that the hibernation system is so thorough that simply turning it off wouldn’t immediately revive the sleeper.”


    Anne thought about that. “If that’s the case, then I guess we’ll need the revival kit after all.” She turned to Levi. “Can you open this thing?”


    “Simple enough,” Levi said. He touched another button. There was a clunk! and a hiss of pressurized air just before the canopy flipped up and back. Everyone cringed a little, subconciously worried what the sudden influx of outside air might do to The Sleeper, but again, there was nothing.


    “Now, Abby,” Anne said, “give me the stimulant and a noisemaker.”


    “Yes, Doctor.” The nurse opened the satchel and took out a hypospray and a small communicator’s earpiece. Anne took both of them and used controls on the instruments to set them.


    “All right,” she said, “first let’s give her a wake up call.” She activated the earpiece and inserted it gently into the woman’s ear.


    “Hope you’re not blasting wild music into her ear, Doc…” Jensen quipped.


    “Hardly,’ Anne said. “It’s nature sounds, mostly, at a sublingual level. It’s just to remind her of the outside world and entice her back to it. Then this” - she pressed the hypo to the woman’s neck and injected something - “will wake her body in conjunction with her conscious mind.”


    Everyone waited, wondering what would happen if these tricks didn’t work, then Abigail grinned. “That’s done it,” she said. “Heart rate and respiration are increasing slowly.”


    Anne looked at the readings. “Excellent! She should fully revive in a few hours.” Then she turned to Martin. “Captain!”


    “Doctor?” Martin said with a raised eyebrow. Anne was only formal with him when she was about to ask for something he’d be inclined to say “No” to.


    “I would like to take Miss Van Winkle here up to Sick Bay.”


    “What...you mean back to the ship? Isn’t that dangerous? What about contamination?”


    “It’s more of a risk for her than it is for us, Captain,” Sarkozy said. “The hibernation system has been reinforcing her immune system for more than ten millennia. It’s unlikely she’ll be carrying any diseases that would survive that.”


    “Besides,” Anne said, “in the event of any kind of outbreak I’d be much better equipped to deal with it in Sick Bay than I would in this cave. I also think it would help her acclimate better if she were in more advanced surroundings when she wakes up.”


    Martin took a moment to think about it. He locked eyes on his wife in the meantime. There was a slightly pleading look in hers, and eventually he realized he was going to cave in. “All right, let’s get her up there. It’ll take a while to get a stretcher down here, though…”


    “Oh, don’t worry,” Anne said with a triumphant grin, “we’ve got that covered.” She turned to the engineers who’d been in the cave with her. “All right, gentlemen! You can get that set up now.”


    “That’ turned out to be a collapsible stretcher complete with safety straps and thermal coverings. It had apparently been brought down during one of the latest equipment runs.


    As the engineers put it together, Martin crossed his arms and said to his wife, “Okay...am I really that predictable or are you that manipulative?”


    Anne gave him a pat on the shoulder. “Now, Darling, all I did was take into account your analytical skill and your sense of honor and I was confident you’d come to the right decision.”


    “Which just happened to be exactly what you wanted.”


    “Isn’t it wonderful how that worked out?” She continued to grin as Martin just shook his head in defeat and the engineers worked. Soon the stretcher was ready. “Oh, that’s fine,” Anne said, then she looked at Martin and Jensen. “Now then, if you kind gentlemen would help a lady into her carriage?”


    Jensen chuckled. “Duty calls, Skipper.”


    “I heard,” Martin said. “I’ll get the head.”


    With the Captain at her torso and the XO at her legs, The Sleeper was gently lifted from the hibernation chamber and rested on the stretcher. Once she was settled in Anne and Abigail tied her down with the straps and covered her to her neck with the thermal sheets.


    “Abby and I will go back with her,” Anne said. “We just need someone to transport our new friend.”


    “Van and I will take stretcher duty,” Martin said with a shrug. “We might as well give her full service.”


    Anne smiled at that, then asked, “Has the storm outside gotten any worse?”


    “No,” Jensen said, “but it hasn’t subsided any either. We better make sure the tranporter guys are on their toes, or the ‘young’ lady might have lived this long only to die of frostbite!”


    “We’ll get her through quickly enough,” Martin said confidently. He turned to Sarkozy and Levi. “I suppose you want to stay and start tearing in?”


    “I don’t know how much tearing we’ll be doing,” Levi said. “I don’t know that we have any tools that can crack that hull.”


    “But now that the occupant is clear, we can make a closer examination of the interior of the sleep chamber,” Sarkozy said.


    “All right. Take charge down here, Doctor. Call up when you need relief or resupply.”


    “Yes, Captain.”


    With that, Martin and Jensen picked up the stretcher and got ready to walk out. Martin turned to his wife. “Shall we?”


    “Surely,” Anne said, then she led the way back up the tunnel.
     
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2019
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  2. Admiral2

    Admiral2 Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Langley
    At first there was nothing, the dark quiet oblivion that she’d become accustomed to.


    Then there was noise: the sound of nature, running streams, wind blowing through trees, animal calls in the distance. How long had it been since she’d heard such things? There was no telling. All she knew was that she shouldn’t be hearing them now, yet there they were, steadily getting louder, as if she were walking toward a forest.


    That was odd enough, but a new sound crept into the forest, the sound of conversation. It was strange, alien; she couldn’t understand a word, but it was definitely people talking, as if she wasn’t just walking toward a forest. She was encroaching on someone’s campsite.


    Suddenly she was gripped by anxiety. To dispel it she tried to bring herself back to that state of oblivion, tried to shut out the forest sounds and the people speaking. Then something happened that made it impossible.


    Someone said: “Translation circuits engaged, Doctor.”


    And the fact that she could now understand the speakers made her do the unthinkable.


    She opened her eyes.




    “She’s awake!” Abigail said.


    “Yes, I can see that,” Anne said. She’d been watching The Sleeper for the past ten minutes waiting for signs that the revival kit was working. She’d been gratified to see her change positions as her level of sleep rose from comatose to REM to twilight. On a whim, she’d had Abigail activate the universal translator built into the life sign monitor above the bed. Turned out her timing was excellent. The Sleeper’s eyes were now wide open, fully aware and staring right at her.


    “Hey there,” Anne said, smiling. “Can you hear me? Can you understand what I’m saying?”


    The Sleeper just stared for a time, then whispered, “I’m awake…”


    ‘That’s right,” Anne said. “You probably have no idea how long you’ve been in hibernation…”


    Suddenly The Sleeper rose up and began looking around frantically. “Where is this??” She said. She turned to Anne. “Who are you??”


    “Take it easy,” Anne said. “I’m Dr. Anne Rourke, and you’re aboard the United Space Ship Concord. You’re in our medical facility. As far as we can tell there’s been no adverse effects from your long sleep…”


    The Sleeper turned away and shut her eyes tight. “NoNoNoNoNo!” She growled through gritted teeth. She began to sob. “What have you done?”


    Anne didn’t understand the reaction. “We just...woke you up.”


    “You woke me up!” The Sleeper growled again, then she turned to Anne and screamed, “You have no idea what you’ve done!!!





    Elsewhere, sensors activated, circuits closed, servos started to work, power sources restarted.

    Something was brought to an active condition it had not been in for a very long time. That could only mean one thing.


    She was awake.


    Processors engaged and began to analyze the data the sensors received. There were indications of apprehension, confusion, despair and a desire to flee.


    She was afraid.


    Active sensors came on. Mapping systems calculated the shortest route while long-range scanners mapped all the obstacles in the way.


    They wouldn’t be for long…
     
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  3. Admiral2

    Admiral2 Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
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    “All right,” Anne said, “please tell me what we’ve done. What is so wrong with waking you up?”


    “Because He’ll come!” The Sleeper said. “He always comes when I’m awake!”


    Anne wondered about who “He” was, but decided to try and calm the woman down before asking about him. “So, you’re saying the last time you saw him was the last time you were awake?”


    “Yes,” The Sleeper said.


    Anne smiled. “Well, do you realize how long ago that was?”


    “No…” The Sleeper said, wary.


    “You’ve been asleep for ten thousand years.”


    The Sleeper gasped. “Ten...thousand…”


    Anne shrugged. “As we measure time, anyway. We found your ship in a glacier on a frozen planet. That’s how long we think it’s been there.”


    The Sleeper turned away, the slightest glimmer of hope on her face. “Could that be long enough?” She muttered, then she shook her head violently. “No...No! I can’t take the chance! He’s bound to come now that I’m awake!”


    “Well how can you be so sure?” Anne said. “Is he also in hibernation?”


    The Sleeper turned and looked at Anne as if she were a slow child. “No. Of course not.”


    “Well then how can you think he’d show up again after so long?”


    “Because I’ve been alseep for much longer than you think, and I’ve been awakened more than once...and he’s been there, every time!”


    Anne was slightly taken aback, but she tried again. “Well, you needn’t worry. The Concord is one of the newest, most capable ships we have. You should be quite safe here.”


    Now The Sleeper was taken aback. “But...I’m not worried about my safety!”


    “Well then, why....?”


    “He’s coming to kill you!





    Martin Rourke was in the Captain’s Cabin writing out a report on the ship found on Casia Prime when he heard the bosun-whistle alert sound from the communicator resting nearby. He flipped up the cover and touched the “receive” contact. “Rourke here.”


    “Captain,” Abigail’s voice said, “the Doctor would like you to come to Sick Bay immediately.”


    Rourke’s eyebrow went up. The nurse sounded flustered. Had something gone wrong with their patient? “I’m on my way.”


    He was walking through the door to Sick Bay a few minutes later to see most of the staff gathered around one of the beds. When he looked closer he could see that The Sleeper was sitting up in the bed. It confused him. She’s awake. Isn’t that what we wanted?


    “You wanted to see me, Doctor?” He said to Anne as he approached the bed.


    The Sleeper turned and looked him in the eye. “Are you the commander of this vessel?” She said before Anne could speak.


    “Yes,” he said, a little wary, “I’m Captain Martin Rourke, and you are…?”


    “Please, Captain, there’s no time for pleasantries. You must order these people to return me to stasis immediately!”


    “And why should I do that?” He asked, though he was looking pointedly at Anne when he said it.


    Anne frowned a little. “We were trying to find that out before you came,” She said, then she turned to The Sleeper. “Look, let’s start over, all right? Why don’t you tell us why you were in stasis in the first place?”


    A look of frustration joined the fear on her face, but The Sleeper relented. “Oh, all right, if that’s the only way I can get you to listen to me!


    “My people once ruled over a vast interstellar empire. I was a member of the royal family. My father, the Emperor, was the last in a line that had reigned for centuries. We were at the height of our power, our dynasty unchallenged for nearly as long as our heirs had sat on the throne. That all changed on my Ascension Day…”


    “Ascension Day?” Abigail said.


    “My birthday,” The Sleeper said, “when I was finally old enough to take the throne should my father die. There was a grand celebration, but the moment I was to receive my crook and flail--”


    Anne gasped. “Crook and flail?” She said, then she turned to Martin. “Darling, those are Egyptian symbols of power as well. I wonder if--”


    Please don’t interrupt me again!” The Sleeper yelled at no one in particular. When she saw she had everyone’s undivided attention, she looked pointedly at Anne and said, “You asked for my story, and I will tell you all of it, but we won’t have time if I have to pause or repeat myself. Please just listen!” Anne nodded her compliance, and The Sleeper continued. “On that day we were told that one of our outer colonies was invaded and completely destroyed by what was reported to be an army of robotic titans, half-again as tall as a man and armed with frighteningly effective weapons. We sent a retaliation force, nearly fifty warships and a brigade of soldiers. The last man died reporting their total destruction.” She choked up for a moment, but forced herself to continue. “A few days after we lost those men the robots invaded another colony, and another, taking a colony every few days in a methodical fashion, as if they’d been sent to wipe out any world where my people had influence. We tried to defend against them, put fleets and divisions in their path...they were torn to pieces. Finally, with half our empire turned to ash, we pulled all our remaining forces back to defend our capital world, abandoning the rest of our peoples to the invaders.”


    A sob, a sigh, then she continued. “There was slim hope. Even our most powerful weapons couldn’t defeat the whole horde of robots, but they could defeat themselves. They were machines, after all. Some malfunctioned during battle and were taken to repair stations set up by the enemy. A team of our bravest commandoes slipped behind enemy lines and managed to steal a dormant one from a repair station. They brought it back to our homeworld in the hope that our scientists might find a way to defeat them, or at least turn some against their comrades. Their time was limited, however. The robots were intricately built and programmed, and the rest of them were about to invade our inner ring of colonies.


    “Finally, my father--” she sobbed again “--my father asked the scientists if they could at least get the robot repaired and programmed to defend one person in time. They said they could, so they were ordered to make the robot my personal bodyguard. They succeeded, with limitations. For some reason the robot fell dormant when I was asleep, even though it was vigilant and protective of me in my waking hours. They wanted to find out why and fix the problem, but my world’s time ran out. The invaders came, darkening the skies with their numbers. It was literally the end of the world.


    “But not the end of hope, because my guardian’s mission to protect me was enough to turn it against its comrades. It supported our military in the final battle, and its help was actually potent enough to let us keep the invaders at bay. The problem was the battle might last days, and if I fell asleep at any time it would stop fighting. So I was kept awake by any means necessary, with any stimulus available, until the last invading robot was destroyed.”


    She looked at Anne. “The first time I was put into stasis was in the aftermath of the final battle. The purpose was to help me make up for the sleep I lost while putting my guardian in a dormant state so it could be reprogrammed properly or dismantled thoroughly, depending on which could be accomplished. If all went well I would awaken in a week’s time in time to have breakfast with my father.


    “At first nothing seemed amiss. I woke up just when I was supposed to, exited the stasis chamber, got cleaned up and dressed and went to the dining room, where I found my father waiting and a full breakfast laid out. It was the happiest time in our lives in a long time, just sharing a meal together as family.


    “Then a messenger came running in: the Guardian was active, and had broken away from the scientists as they were trying to program it. It had blasted out of the lab and was tearing through the capital city on its way to the royal palace. Fearing the robot had reverted to its original programming, my father and I were told to hide in our secure bunker until the robot could be brought to heel.


    “Unfortunately, the robot managed to get all the way to the palace and intercept us halfway there. It made short work of the few guards with us, then--then it killed Father, right before my eyes. I waited there for it to kill me too, but the death blow never came. It just stood by me and faced the direction other guards might come from. It took time for me to understand, but when I realized it I was horrified.


    “It hadn’t reverted to its old programming, Its new programming had been altered. It now saw anyone near me as a threat to me, regardless of their intent.”


    Abigail’s eyes went wide at that. Anne and Martin shared a worried look.


    “Before I could attempt to stop it a company of palace guards appeared and tried to reach me. I ran the rest of the way to the bunker and shut the door behind me. It might keep the Guardian out, but I didn’t know for sure. It had never been tested against that kind of threat. In the bunker I contacted our military leaders, who told me they had no hope of stopping the Guardian. There was only one thing to be done: I had to stop him.


    “There were stasis chambers in the bunker. I had to program one to put me in stasis, get in, and hope the machine worked before the Guardian could wreak more havoc. That was the second time I went into stasis.”





    Van Jensen was in command on the bridge. The watch was a quiet one, giving him time to think about random things, like The Sleeper. He hadn’t heard anything about her since he and the Captain had carried her to Sick Bay hours ago. I wonder if they’ve got her revived yet… he thought idly.


    Before his musings could go any further an alert sounded from the helm console, currently manned by Lt. Radha. “Commander,” Radha said, “we’re scanning a distortion field, starboard beam, edge of the group!”


    Jensen got up from the center chair to see the reading for himself. “A time warp?” He said. “Factor’s off the scale! If that’s a ship coming in, where the hell’s it coming from?”


    “Definitely a long way off,” Radha said. “It’s stretching space-time to the breaking point trying to get here.”


    Jensen grimaced and decided not to be caught unaware. “Turn us toward it and keep station here. If we have to fight I want all our batteries pointed right at it when it’s in our space!”
     
  4. Admiral2

    Admiral2 Admiral Admiral

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    “I went to sleep in that bunker completely lost, with no idea if putting myself under would work again, or what would be waiting for me when I woke up next time, or if I’d wake up at all. It was just all I could do to keep my people safe.


    “Eventually I did wake up again. I was awakened by archeologists of all things. They’d had to dig down to the ruins of the royal palace. After they told me that, they told me how long I’d been under: three thousand years.”


    Anne gasped, but forced herself not to speak.


    “That seems like a long time, doesn’t it? Unless you sleep through all of it, of course, but it is a long time. Long enough for my life and pain to become folklore and myth, long enough for my people to develop astounding technology, and long enough to make the same assumption you did: that the danger I tried to warn them about had passed.


    “But the danger hadn’t passed. The very day I was speaking with their ruling council about what had happened to their forebears the Guardian emerged from a vault he had been locked in since the day I went to sleep in the bunker. They hadn’t tried to fix or destroy him. He’d simply been buried with the hope that as long as I never woke up, he wouldn’t be a threat, but enough time passed for my people to forget, to relax their guard--” she started crying again “--and they woke me up!


    The others waited for her to compose herself. She forced herself to stop crying, took a deep breath and continued:


    “In the last hours, after the Guardian had torn through their best tactical weapons and elite soldiers, after he had decimated an entire city because it was in his way, the ruling council made a decision. They had been preparing to send out a deep space probe, that ship you found me in. Its mission was to traverse the space between galaxies with a sleeping astronaut who would be awakened at distant stars to explore. Instead, they made me their astronaut. They put me under and launched me into space, with the ship’s computer reprogrammed to never wake me up or land.”


    She turned to Anne. “The day I lay in that ship’s sleep chamber was the last time I was awake, Doctor. I have no reason to doubt how long you say it’s been. For me it’s always just a long night’s sleep, one I never expect to wake up from. The ship shouldn’t have been on a planet. It was never supposed to land, never supposed to be somewhere where it might tempt people to wake its passenger, but it was and it tempted you, and here I am. That’s my story.” She turned to Martin. “And now that I’ve told it, you must return me to that ship and return me to stasis, please!”


    Martin was at a loss. He traded a look with Anne. He knew what his wife wanted him to do, sure as she was that this Guardian couldn’t still be a threat, but he had a ship to protect, and if any of The Sleeper’s story was true it’d be irresponsible for him to give Anne what she wanted. The decision wasn’t actually as hard to make as he made it seem. He was simply going through any possible alternative before committing.


    Then circumstance took the decision out of his hands. At that moment three siren blasts sounded throughout the ship, followed by the voice of “Sparks” Jordan. “Now hear this! Now hear this! All hands man your battle stations! This is no drill! Captain Rourke, report to the bridge immediately!”


    Martin cursed under his breath. “I’ve got to go!” He said, then turned to leave.


    The Sleeper grabbed his tunic. “Wait! What if that’s him? You can’t just leave me like this!”


    He gently moved her hand and said, “Look, we’ll decide what to do with you later. Just stay here and try to stay calm.” He turned and left after that, sparking a general retreat as everyone who’d gathered to hear The Sleeper rushed off to other parts of Sick Bay, leaving Anne alone with their guest.


    “He’s right,” Anne told her, “you’ve just got to try and relax.”


    The Sleeper shook her head. “No! If he’s coming I’ve got to do more than relax! You’ve got to take me back to my ship and put me under!”


    “That’s impossible right now. We’d have to leave the Concord. We can’t do that while we’re on alert.”


    “Then sedate me! That should be simple enough to do! I just need to sleep!”


    “You’ve already slept more than a thousand lifetimes. We have no idea what kind of long term effects all that hibernation could be causing, and there’s no way for me to test that while you’re asleep.” There were other reasons Anne wanted to keep her awake, but the medical ones were real and most immediate.


    “But if that’s the Guardian--”


    “If it is, you must have faith in this ship and her crew. If there’s a way to keep everyone safe from your Guardian, we’ll find it. Now, I’ve got help get things ready.”


    Anne rushed off then, leaving The Sleeper alone with her fear and her thoughts. Oh, Father, how could it have gone so wrong? All you wanted to do was protect me…





    Martin Rourke strode onto the bridge from the lift. “Status report!” He called out.


    Jensen was sitting in the center chair. He turned it toward Rourke and got up. “An object broke the Time Barrier at the edge of the star group. Entry into normal space was preceded by a very large warp. I’ve got the ship turned bow on to the object, which is now approaching us at high sub-light!”


    “What kind of object? Is it a ship?”


    Radha took this one. “Too small. It’s barely three meters in length. It might be a probe…”


    “...or a missile.” Jensen finished.


    “Either way,” Radha said, “it seems to be increasing its delta vee as it closes. If the acceleration is consistent it will be at point blank range in three minutes.”


    “Damn,” Rourke said. “Good job sounding Battle Stations, Van.”


    “Glad you think so,” Jensen said. “For a minute there I was worried I overreacted.”


    Rourke shook his head. “You wouldn’t have worried if you’d heard the story I just heard.”


    “What story’s that?”


    “Later. Take your station.”


    “Aye, Sir!” Jensen stepped up to the helm and relieved Radha, who rushed over to stand by the Science station. Once the XO was settled in, he checked the ship’s readiness status. “Sensors at full power! Defense fields energized! Main batteries charged and ready to fire!”


    “Deflectors Full Intensity!” Rourke ordered. “Keep the main engines spun up to full!” He was thinking they’d run if they couldn’t fight. “Sparks! Any signal from the object?”


    “No, Sir,” Sparks called from the comms station. “It hasn’t signalled us and it isn’t answering our challenges!”


    “We’re getting a better picture of it, sir,” Radha said. “Three point six meters in length, no life signs, metallic...humanoid!”


    “Humanoid?” Jensen said. “Sounds like some kind of robot!”


    Rourke grimaced, his worst fears confirmed. “Yeah, one that’s really old, really powerful...and really upset that we interrupted our guest’s beauty sleep!”


    Jensen’s eyebrow went up at that. “Man, that’s going to be some story…” he muttered as he went back to tracking the inbound. “Point blank range in one minute!”


    “Target main batteries on the object,” Rourke ordered.


    Jensen used the cobra-headed repeater in front of him to pinpoint the object. “Main batteries locked on!” He said.


    “Reading a power surge!” Radha called out. “It may be charging some kind of weapon!”


    “Brace for impact!” Rourke said.


    There was dead silence for the next few seconds, then Radha called out, “Incoming!”


    Something powerful slammed into Concord’s defense fields and deflectors, rattling the ship and throwing anyone standing and not properly braced to the deck.


    “Return fire!” Rourke called out.


    Jensen pounded the “Fire” button, sending two full power energy beams lancing toward the target. There was enough force in each to shear off the top of Mount Everest.


    It wasn’t enough. “No effect!” Radha reported.


    “Impossible!” Jensen said. “That was dead on!”


    “It’s firing again!” Radha said.


    The ship was rattled again. This time the crew was better prepared, but the assault had an impact just the same. “Damage and injury reports from all decks!” Sparks said.


    Rourke cursed. “Pour it on, XO!”


    Jensen pounded the “Fire” button again.





    After the ship shook for the third time and casualties started to fill up Sick Bay, The Sleeper got out of bed and found Anne. She wasted no time making her point. “Doctor, there’s no time now! Lives are at stake!”


    Anne finished treating the patient she was with before turning. “Look, I need you to get back to your bed! There’s too much to do! We’ll talk later!”


    Anne tried to move on to another patient, but The Sleeper stopped her. “No! I will not be set aside and ignored! Not again! Not when there’s so much to lose, and the solution is so simple!”


    Anne glared at her. “The solution is not simple! Just keeping you asleep forever is an injustice to both you and civilization! You deserve a chance to get your life back, and the universe deserves to know you! You’re a living witness to a history that’s only been guessed at! You have to stay awake to share your knowledge!”


    “What good is being a witness to history if everyone I try to tell it to dies?”


    “We’ll find a way to deal with the robot! There has to be another way!”


    Before The Sleeper could answer the ship shook once more. It was the worst impact yet, inspiring more calls to Sick Bay when it was done. When they’d recovered, The Sleeper looked Anne in the eye. “There is no other way! I deeply wish there were, Doctor, but in all this time all there is is my curse! Acting on it is the only way to save your people!”


    She took a step closer. “It’s dormant when I’m sleeping! It attacks when I’m awake! He’lll kill you all to keep me safe!” She grabbed Anne by the shoulders. “Put me back, for goodness’ sake!”
     
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2019
  5. Admiral2

    Admiral2 Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2004
    Location:
    Langley
    “Captain.” Jensen said, “in about thirty seconds it won’t need weapons to attack us! It’ll go through the ship like a bullet!”


    “Evade!” Rourke said. “Pick a direction and engage hyperdrive, Maximum Time Warp Factor! Blast us out of here!”


    Jensen complied, angling the ship to starboard and speeding away from Casia Prime and just barely avoiding a collision with the target. In seconds the planet and then the star receded to just one more pinpoint in the sky. Rourke and Jensen were tempted to breathe a sigh of relief.


    Radha didn’t give them a chance. “Captain! It’s pursuing us!”


    Jensen checked his controls. “It’s in hyperdrive, matching our speed...it’ll overtake us soon!”


    “Redline the mains!” Rourke said. “Make him work for it!”


    “Evasive course?”


    “Steady on! I don’t think zigzagging will help!”


    The normally quiet background hum of the main engines rose in volume and pitch to a grating shriek as the Concord tore through space. Both Jensen and Radha monitored the progress of their pursuer while Sparks continued to relay damage reports. In the midst of all this, Rourke thought hard about what to do next.


    And at that moment, the lift opened and Anne and The Sleeper walked onto the bridge. Rourke turned in his chair to glare at them. “What are you two doing here?” He demanded.


    Anne hesitated, unaccustomed as she was to admitting to mistakes. “Captain,” she began, “I’m convinced our friend is right. We need to return her to her ship and to stasis immediately.”


    Rourke frowned. “You picked a fine time to be reasonable.


    “What’s that mean?”


    Rourke pointed at the forward viewer. “See those points of light in the background? One of them is the Casia Star Group! We left it light-years behind us a couple of minutes ago! Unfortunately, we can’t say the same thing about our opponent!”


    The Sleeper looked at the viewer. “It’s him, isn’t it? The Guardian?”


    “We believe so,” Rourke said.


    “Maybe I could talk to him. I’ve never tried to convince him that I don’t need a protector anymore…”


    “I’d be willing to let you try, but he’s not acknowledging any of our transmissions.”


    “He’s closing to attack range,” Jensen said.


    “Incoming!” Radha called out.


    This time the impact wasn’t as severe. “Looks like we’re still too far ahead for it to hit with full force,” Jensen said.


    “That will change,” Radha said, “he’s still accelerating.”


    “I’m open to suggestions, ladies,” Rourke said.


    Anne fell silent as she thought about the problem. The Sleeper simply looked downcast. Nothing happened for a moment, then everyone turned when the lift doors opened once more. This time Abigail Knightley walked onto the bridge. She went straight to Anne and handed her a hypospray. “I thought you might need this,” she said.


    Anne took the device and smiled weakly. “Thank you, Abby.” She turned to The Sleeper. “Are you sure? All you need to do is sleep?”


    For the first time since she was awakened, The Sleeper smiled. “I’m sure. It will do until you can get me back to my ship.”


    Anne nodded. She set the hypospray and got ready to inject the contents. She looked The Sleeper in the eye. “I’m so sorry,” she said.


    The Sleeper shook her head. “It’s all right. You’re doing what you must to save your people, as I did to save mine.” With that, she turned her head to bare her neck.


    Anne took a breath to strengthen her resolve, then injected The Sleeper. The sedative was fast acting. She and Abigail had to catch the other woman before she fell to the deck. They lowered her gently instead.


    “What was that all about?” Jensen said.


    “Saving our necks, hopefully,” Rourke said.


    “He’s powering up again,” Radha said. “Stand by...Captain! He’s powering down!”


    “I don’t believe it!’ Jensen said. “The thing just dropped into normal space!”


    Rourke let himself relax a little. “That simple,” he muttered.


    “Apparently,” Anne said, her tone heavy.


    Rourke decided he’d talk with her about it later. “XO, bring us about and rendezvous with that thing. I want to see it for myself.”


    “Let’s hope he’s not the shy type…” Jensen muttered as he turned the ship.


    It only took a few minutes for Concord to reach the area where her attacker stopped. Jensen brought the ship to within a few thousand kilometers. Even this close, the object was relatively tiny on the main viewer. “Magnify!” Rourke called out.


    Sparks increased the magnification on the viewer until the target could be clearly made out. “Incredible!” Jensen said. “It really is a robot!”


    They were looking at what appeared to be a shiny metal mannequin, male shaped, with vague facial features. Its body was painted mostly in red and green, with a few white and gold accents. It looked as if it were fully articulated, capable of moving like a human, but for the moment it floated stock still in space, as if it hadn’t just been trying to hunt them down mere moments ago.


    “Meet The Guardian, Darling,” Rourke said to his wife.


    “I could have done without the pleasure,” Anne quipped.


    “What do you want to do?” Jensen asked.


    “Let’s give this guy a wide berth,” Rourke said, “and get back to Casia Prime.”





    Back in the cavern, Amelie Sarkozy had resorted to pacing as she tried to figure out what could possibly have happened to the ship. The landing party had suddenly lost contact, and a million and one of the worst possibilities imaginable were going through her mind as time ticked by without any contact.


    Just as she was about to order someone else to the tunnel entrance to try again, Levi drew her attention to the tunnel opening. “They’re back!” He said.


    Sarkozy looked. Sure enough, Abigail, Anne, Jensen and Captain Rourke were returning to the work area, with the Captain and XO carrying The Sleeper on a stretcher, returning exactly as they had left. “Captain, what happened?” Sarkozy asked. “We tried to contact the ship, but received no response.”


    “We had to break orbit for a brief time,” Rourke said. “There was no time to alert you.”


    Sarkozy was confused by that, and even more confused by the presence of The Sleeper. “Did she ever wake up?”


    “Just long enough for us to regret it,” Jensen said. “It’s a fascinating story, Doc.”


    Anne ignored Jensen’s banter. “Joachim, can you get her back into hibernation?”


    Levi was just as confused as Sarkozy, but he shrugged. “Certainly, just as easily as taking her out of it.”


    “Let’s get her back in there.” Rourke said to Jensen.


    As the men worked to get The Sleeper from the stretcher back to the hibernation chamber, Sarkozy said, “We wanted to tell you that we accessed the ship’s computer records. Our estimates were wrong after all. You wouldn’t believe how long she’s really been asleep, or how far this vessel has travelled.”


    Anne’s already dark mood turned darker still at the news. “I’m sure it’s fascinating news, Amelie, but we’ll need to discuss it later. Gentlemen, are we ready?”


    Rourke and Jensen backed away from the chamber. “She’s back just how we found her,” Jensen said.


    Anne nodded and turned to Abigail, who handed her a fresh noisemaker. She adjusted it and inserted it in The Sleeper’s ear. “May you have pleasant dreams,” she whispered. With that she turned to Levi. “Put her back in stasis.”


    Levi went back to the controls, closed the canopy and restarted the hibernation systems. In no time at all the systems were working again. “There,” Levi said, “just as easy as before.”


    “All right,’ Rourke said, “I want this place packed up and everybody back to the ship, on the double.”


    “But, Captain…” Sarkozy said.


    “No arguments, Doctor. This time scientific curiosity will have to give way to self-preservation. Lets move.”


    As everyone else in the cavern went to start gathering equipment, Sarkozy sidled up to Jensen. “What happened up there?” She asked.


    “I’m not so sure myself,” Jensen said, “but here’s the way I heard it…”


    As they exchanged information, Anne stared forlornly at the sleep chamber. “It’s so unfair,” she said. “She might live to the end of the universe, but never see any of it, and we’ll never truly learn what things she has seen.”


    “We do know one thing she’s seen,” Rourke said. “We’ve seen it for ourselves in vivid detail.”


    Anne turned to him. “Couldn’t we try to deactivate the robot? Now that it’s dormant, we have time to study it. Maybe we can reprogram it, or-or dismantle it…”


    “Darling, the finest minds in two eras of an ancient civilization tried to do that and failed. I’m not going to risk making things worse. No, I intend to seal that tunnel and seed this whole sector lousy with warning buoys. Nobody’s going to wake her or him up again if I have anything to say about it.”


    “It’s cruel.”


    “It was her choice.”


    “What’s cruel is that she had no other choice.”


    Rourke thought about that. “Maybe, but right now, neither do we. We’ll just have to let this sleeping beauty stay asleep.”


    Rourke then walked away to help with the preparations for returning to the ship. Anne didn’t move, determined to watch over her patient until the last minute.





    And elsewhere, The Sleeper found herself sitting alone at the bank of a small river that cut through a lush forest alive with small animals. She knew it wasn’t real, that it couldn’t be real, but she smiled anyway.


    “Thank you, Doctor,” she said. She appreciated the gesture.
     
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2019
    Gibraltar and SLWatson like this.
  6. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2005
    Location:
    US Pacific Northwest
    Just... damn! :wtf:

    Great characterizations, excellent pacing, a mysterious antagonist, and plenty of foreshadowing and action. This, sir, is the full meal deal! I loved old OG 'time-warp' Trek references, and how they delivered a visceral description of something tearing through space like a bat out of hell, bearing down on Concord.

    I pictured this as being a Pike-era adventure (or earlier), but regardless of the century, it was a well-rounded story with a satisfying conclusion. Well done!
     
  7. Admiral2

    Admiral2 Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2004
    Location:
    Langley
    Thank you very much!

    Yes, it is indeed set in the Pike era. (I thought I was being obvious enough about it. You shouldn't have had to guess..