Monday, November 18, 2002

What Dreams Have Gone

Mon Nov 18, 2002  5:59 pm

    You cannot go where dreams go.  This is reality.
    The words were dim in Stephen April's mind.  Part of him wanted to.

    The moon hung like a pearl in the indigo sea of starlight, above rows of oak and poplar trees that made up the small rural community of Wormwood in New England.  He was standing on the porch, in front of the old wooden couch-swing where he and his mother had enjoyed sunrises in his childhood.  It was evening now, with the promise of encroaching night signifying the fall of darkness, the end of the day, as of days he had known.  He looked behind him expecting his mother in the swing, but of course she was not there.  She was on Atlantis IV with one Regan Kingsley, when he last saw her.  He took the two steps down off the porch, towards the trees.  A cool Atlantic breeze from the ocean not far off rustled the trees and lifted his hair, making him shiver.  A shooting star zipped briefly into existence against the starry night and was gone.
    "This is some sort of psi-manipulation, isn't it," he spoke aloud, marveling how like his own voice it sounded.  He even felt the vibration from his vocal chords, in his neck.
    "'Sort of'," a voice mimicked behind him.  He did not have to look to know it was Vin'to.  The Takarran appeared by his side.  "It is a mental image based on your own memories and mental status.  You are sleeping, in reality.  This is a dream.  I can help you to focus your dreams."  Vin'to smiled, only slightly, at the effect he had on his subject.  "This is deeper inside of you than I have ever been.  A part that you have forgotten.  Your true self."
    "I don't want to be here," April said, only half-true.  The other half of the truth frightened him.
    "But you are here," Vin'to replied.  "You have always been here.  This is you... part of you.  You can ignore it, but you cannot unmake it.  You will always be here.  That is why I am here."
    "Why are you doing this..."  April was apprehensive, suspicious.  A murder of crows flitted briefly into existence over his head and vanished.
    "It is my atonement," Vin'to said – the first clue April had about this Takarran in the three months since they met, but didn't really recognize it for that.  In the illogical world of mental reality, little makes sense and order takes a back seat to the will, the random turbulence of thoughts, feelings, dreams and emotions.
    Inspiration struck April.  He could see HER again, here, if only a dream.  He turned then and looked questioningly at Vin'to, who smiled and nodded.  "Yes," the Takarran said.  "It will be simple..."
    "No," April suddenly blurted, before realizing why.  "Wait.  Somehow that would just be... wrong.  It wouldn't be her.  She... she's dead."  He had to force the words out, even here in the dream.  "I don't know if I could bear that pain again..."
    Vin'to studied him.  "You mystify me, Stephen Boone April.  You have suffered greater pain and suffering in the last three months than any human I've known, but you resist the pain of lost love."
    April jerked, and didn't know if it was the dream or the real, his mind or his body.  But in that sharp jab, the scenery rippled and changed, and a long dark shadow fell over the world, blotting the night to black.  Vin'to and the New England night disappeared.  April foresaw somehow what was coming, and railed against it.  "No... don't, I changed my mind, don't bring her in, don't let me see..."  He backed away, with nowhere to go.  He was alone in a void of never-ending blackness.
    And there she was, her face, her smile, beautiful white teeth framed by warm skin and a mane of blond hair.  She was an angel, radiating light in the darkness, but frozen, forever frozen in his memory... a memory herself, dead and gone.  The woman he loved so much he would have given up everything, all his ideals and aspirations, would have given his life for hers.
    Cassandra Alyssa Evans.
    Dead.  Gone.
    Along with the best part of himself.  She had woken a new person inside of him, made him see he could be what he never dared to let himself be before she entered his life.  She completed him.  And she was gone.  Gone, just like that.  One sunny afternoon on some distant planet next to another ocean changed his life forever, sent him to this hell, banished him... from heaven, alongside his own personal angel, to hell with his own personal demons.  Cassy Evans made Stephen April everything he was not, then and now... in life and death.  Stephen April was now everything that Stephen April was not.  The man he had been was gone, lost back there at the past end of the spectrum of his life.  He'd come a long way since then, yet went nowhere.  He was stuck back there, in that moment in time, with her, on that planet, under that yellow sun, kneeling in the green grass next to the broken body of his love, the scent of charred earth and fumes from the crash stinging his eyes and nostrils.  Stephen April had never left Atlantis IV.  This person walked around in Stephen April's body, with the buried, repressed, half-forgotten memories of another life that was now essentially a lifetime gone.
    He felt so unutterably alone.  How could anyone know what it felt like, how could anyone begin to comprehend, understand, the torment, the anguish?  Every time he closed his eyes, she was there.  His plea to Vin'to was an illogical one – the Takarran did not force her visage to April's mind: It was already there.  It had been there since she died on that fine sunny day, and always would be.
    A bloodcurdling howl harrowed him to the bone, and April did not look to see, to know it was the armored figure who taunted, tortured him with the promise of death.  He had seen him enough on a daily basis, in his new daily life and recurring nightmares, to have the fearsome warrior forever etched into his memory, as strong as the presence of Cassy Evans.  A warrior clad in Klingon armor stenciled with Klingon glyphs, waving bat'leths in each hand, weapons protruding from every portion of his visible body.  The Battlemaster.  The one who would be the death of April's physical body, to send him to join Cassy, and Chance, and Lacy, and all the others April loved who had died.  He ran.  And yet, why did he run, if he was already dead?  Why did he run, if death was his only existence now?  Why not just embrace it, and accept it?
    Why not just let the hunter make the kill?
    Perhaps part of it was hope.  Another was instinct.  And another was something else he feared even more.
    But again, April consciously thought none of this.  It had no place in his reality... barely, in his dreams.
    He ran into another memory from days past, when he had been aboard the ship which brought him here.  The void dissipated to reveal the cramped confines of the prisoners' room aboard the rogue ship.  April stood looking down at himself.  How pitiful and pathetic he looked – bruised, battered, bloodied and squirming.  Amazingly, he did not feel it as he looked down on himself.  For that, to an extent, he was grateful.  The Borg nanosubstance, had he kept it, would have healed his wounds, but there was little use in self-recriminations of that aspect; it was much too late now.  He looked around in the strange haze of the room.  Most of the prisoners were sleeping, if restless.  Once in a while the April on the boarded bed let out a whimper or gasp of pain, stirring them.  They could not silence him.  They dared not invoke the wrath of the masters of this vessel.  They tolerated the discomfort of his discomfort.  His panning gaze came to the Takarran standing beside him: Vin'to.
    "Interesting, is it not?" Vin'to said with a smile.
    April nodded, looking around some more.  "I didn't know Takarrans were capable of psi-projection."
    "Only one percent of our population has developed such extrasensory abilities," Vin'to explained.  "We believe it will grow in time."
    "An evolutionary development?" April said.  Vin'to nodded in turn.  "I don't know what you hope to accomplish by this, Vin'to."
    "I hope merely to ease your pain, somewhat, by separating you.  It is monstrous, what they are doing.  Not only to you, but to me.  I share this with all who come here."
    "How long have you been here?"
    "Many years.  I do not know how many."  Vin'to shrugged.  "They value my endurance; therefore, keep me alive.  In turn I acclimate the others they capture."
    "And you're trying to acclimate me?"
    Vin'to hesitated.  "I believe I did acclimate you... three months ago.  But, you are different.  I have never seen them do what they are doing to you.  They are torturing you.  This Crowley bears great hatred, and directs it to you."
    "Some people," April said, "once the seed of hatred has taken root in their hearts, are unable to ever rid themselves of it.  I know what Crowley hates me for.  Like most hatred, it's illogical.  But then we humans are an illogical bunch...  Enough about that.  Vin'to, why do you stay here?  Why don't you try to escape?"
    Before Vin'to could respond, the dream world shifted yet again, and it was not entirely of April's making.
    April's appearance had changed.  He was tanned again, but naturally complexioned, darker, without the beard or long hair, yet still April, wearing Egyptianesque garb.  The prisoners' room aboard the rogue ship had become the interior of a large stone temple, and someone appeared, melting in from the edges of this reality.  A woman.
    Or, what looked like a woman.  But only at first.
    A lithe female shape approached, white-furred with black stripes, the sheen of her furry coat gliding smooth and supple over well-honed muscles.  Her stride seemed to flicker the fires in wall-mounted braziers on the brown stone walls.  The fire light caught in her blue cat-slit eyes, and she smiled at him, baring sharp teeth.
    April forgot about Vin'to, forgot about everything for just a moment, even Cassy, and so none of them were there, nothing and no one else existed.  Not even April existed in this place.  Here, he was Menteptah... and this truly was another lifetime.  A past life.
    "My Pharaoh," Osira purred, sliding clawed fingers over his shoulders and nuzzling his neck.  Her breath tickled.
    "What are you doing here?" April/Menteptah asked, not sure of where he was, or how he came to be here again.  He thought he heard a howl in the distance, but it was only the wind outside, lashing the night-time desert.  In that distance lay the forgotten truth that this life was also no longer his.
    Osira raised her head to meet his gaze and for a moment her eyes were different.  Green eyes.  Human eyes.  But... familiar, at the same time.  "Stephen!" Osira cried, with not one voice, but two, and not her own.  It sounded like a male voice and a female's mixed together.  "We're coming to rescue you!  You're not alone..."
    April awoke with a start, in the dead silence of night.  'Silent' but for the snores of the other men around him, chained to their bunks in the darkness.  He blinked several times.  That sounded like... no, it couldn't be.  Just voices in his dreams.  He laid back down, but couldn't sleep again.
    That sounded like Jenna, and Jallez.  But he knew that was impossible.  He had tried to communicate with Jenna for the past three months, via their Borg node, but never got a response.  It was damaged, and he knew why: one too many blows to the head with a painstik had shorted it out.
    No, it was useless.  He was trapped here, and he would never leave.  He knew it, accepted it, as simply the way it was.  If they were going to come for him, they would have came a long time ago.  Perhaps his friends didn't know where to find him... perhaps they gave up on him.  Perhaps they were glad to be rid of him.  He had garnered quite a bit of resentment from those under his command, back when he had a command... back when that life meant something to him.  But that was before Atlantis IV...  Still, he couldn't imagine Jallez would not have tried.  If Jallez didn't come for him, and he didn't... then there was no point hoping.
    Stephen April was here to stay.


Thursday, June 27, 2002

Principles (#937)

Captain April
Aboard the Runabout Kerulen
(After "Impressions")
[U.F.S. Caledonia]
    It went beyond red alert.  Translated: It was chaos.
    The bridge shook.  Consoles exploded.  Then the ship heaved against the inertial stabilizers trying to hold it steady, sending bodies flying through the room.  From somewhere there came a sickening crunch of what sounded like bones breaking, or it might have been the shattering of panel covers.  Tucker Creed could not tell.  The Sound that riveted his attention at that moment was the computer, calling out through the deafening din: *"Danger.  Structural integrity failing.  Danger..."*
    He shot a glance at the viewscreen—a habit; he knew it wasn't working.  But he didn't really need the viewscreen to know who was out there, attacking the Caledonia.  A stray thought strafed his mind—an echo of a conversation he'd had with April's engineer onboard Arcadia: "How the mighty have fallen... I believe it was you and your righteous principles that landed you there; ironic, no?"  He saw Jallez's smirking face for a fleeting instant.
    Creed would never admit that the half-Vulcan was now officially correct.  Creed's 'righteous principles', loyalty to Section 31, had landed him here.  After being beamed from Arcadia to the starship Kirk to be taken back to Earth—and, ostensibly, to detainment by factions working against 31—Creed wasted no time utilizing the 31 network of operatives aboard both Kirk and Caledonia.  Both ships were part of the task group sent to Grazellius to rebuild the crippled Arcadia.  After the three ships (Hood completing the trio) warped back towards the Federation, Creed got himself out of sealed quarters on the Kirk and over to Caledonia, a ship manned almost completely by Section 31, and indeed the ship Creed formerly commanded before taking the Arc assignment.  That was just before Hood and Kirk suddenly turned on Caledonia, and opened fire without a word of warning.  Sensors on the Cali [short for Caledonia, natch, though it looks like short for California] should have detected the sudden power-up in the other ships' weapons.  31 monitored everything, leaving nothing to chance, especially when traveling in the midst of two 'nonaligned' vessels [meaning neither was part of Section 31, nor its antithesis, Shado].  They should have seen it coming in time to erect a defense.
    They didn't.  Which meant there were probably insiders, Shado agents most likely, aboard Caledonia, who had sabotaged the ship's defensive warnings.  No one else had the gumption or stupidity to attack a purely Section 31 vessel... except, if those two other ships were 'nonaligned', why did they attack?  Had Shado won them over, or at least their captains, who perpetrated a hoax that the Caledonia was a threat?  Why wait until now to attack—why not before, in the few hours since leaving Grazellius?  Calihad quantum slipstream drive; the other two ships did not.  Even reenacting April's wormhole drive from the Questor, it was going to take them days to reach Federation space.  They were quite a ways out, though in a few hours they had crossed a considerable portion of the Alpha Quadrant, eating distance fast between the Federation and Grazellius.  Why not attack at the farthest-most point from home?  Creed's instincts told him something had changed between the time of leaving the Grazellius system and the time of the attack.  Some sort of signal set them off, and now here was Caledonia, one of the most powerful starships in existence, fighting for its life—a losing battle.  Despite the diversion that had been his Arc assignment, Creed never stopped thinking of this ship as his.  He took command when Captain Ng who had replaced him was killed.  But defending it was now futile.  The assault was merciless—a few more poundings and the computer would be warning of a warp-core breach just before it exploded.
    But Creed wanted to know who had done this; who had gotten the better of him and his ship, and why.  Whoever they were, they were mistaken if they thought there would be no retaliation from Section 31 because of this.  Every action had an equal and opposite reaction.  Consequences.  Every deed, good or bad, had a cost... and if he had to with his dying breath, he would make them pay.
    The deck pitched again and he slammed into the command chair; excruciating pain shot through him.  His arm was broken.  It might have been the sound of the breaking bone he heard before, but must have ignored in his detached determination.  He could not ignore it anymore.  He propped himself against the side of the command chair while his vision hazed from the pain, and shook his head, trying to clear it.
    "Any response... to our... distress signal?" he moaned.  There might have been no one else alive on the bridge.  He had nothing more to do than call out in case anyone was, and heard.  Caledonia was meant to go down fighting, and had tried.  If she could not fight, then he at least could defy the odds the universe had suddenly stacked up against it.  He'd go to his death acting according to his duty.  For an instant he imagined Jallez having something to do with this, a form of personal revenge for Creed stripping him of the chief engineer's spot on Arcadia.  He hadn't thought the Shado man (former Shado man, according to Jallez) capable of sinking that low, but then Jallez was always eccentric.  Yet Creed wouldn't have attributed that much influence to him.
    To his amazement, Creed got a reply: a croak of a voice, raspy, as if the vocal chords were burned.  He strained his neck to see through the dim haze that it was Tyler, holding himself on the sparking Tactical console, hands twitching in their grasp.  He might let go and fall at any second.
    "Sensors... non-responsive," Tyler gasped, then saw something, and dared to steal a glance at Creed, his former-captain-cum-captain-once-again.  In the black smoke-filled shroud which had settled over the bridge, Creed saw it too, by the red light flashing on Tyler's face, highlighting the tactical officer's features.  A proximity detector—probably the only thing still working on the bridge.  Some new ship had entered the area... in response to the Caledonia's distress call...?
[Runabout Kerulen]
    Lily Kinarian's mouth hung open, agape.  She had done an affable job navigating the warp-imbalanced wormhole, and now sat awestruck at the sight in the forward viewport and on screens: the starships Hood and James T. Kirk, attacking the Caledonia... or what was left of it.  She closed her mouth and said to Captain April, turning her head slightly but unable to take her gaze from the conflagration:
    "What do you make of it, sir?"
    April wasn't quite sure what to make of it.  This was the last thing he'd expected to find: not just that the Caledonia's distress call that they were under attack wasn't fake, but that other Starfleet ships were attacking.  He wasn't quite sure what to do when both victim and aggressors were technically on the same side.  He had an inkling of how Captain Benjamin Sisko must have felt when forced to open fire on the starship Lakota from theDefiant...
    "We came in answer to a distress call," he said, finally.  "There's the ship in distress.  Let's aid it."  As the words came out of his mouth, he hesitated—knowing that Caledonia was a Section 31 ship, and because of who they were, what they stood for—direct contradiction to what he stood for and felt the Federation did as well—because of that, he felt an urge to let them get what was coming to them.  Poetic justice, in a way—probably what they deserved.  But there were still men and women on that ship; only a handful alive, now, according to Kerulen's readings, after all the beating, but alive.  He could not stand back and let them die.  Section 31 sometimes sacrificed lives.  He wasn't Section 31—this was one reason why.
    "How, sir?" Kinarian said.  "One runabout can't fight two starships."  She shuddered at the thought.
    "Hail them," April said.  When there was no immediate response, he raised the runabout's Red Alert—shields sprang into place—and said to Kinarian, "Put us between Caledonia and the other ships.  Stand by weapons..."
    Kinarian's head darted toward him in shock at what he was preparing to do, but she obliged.  The runabout took off for the center of the melee...
    "Weapons ready," said Bajan, a noncom seated behind April in the four-man cockpit.  The noncom was nervous.  April was too, as one might see peering closely into his eyes that moment.  He could imagine any number of possibilities for why the other two ships weren't responding to hails... alien infiltration, or some other such out-of-the-ordinary occurrence (though if one thought about it, such things were pretty ordinary in Starfleet)... and if they had turned hostile on another Federation craft, which the Caledonia was regardless of who staffed it, then they might just attack the Kerulen too.  They girded themselves to soon find out...
    ...when they got an incoming hail.
    =/\= "This is Captain Berkowitz on the Kirk," =/\= came a com-voice, a man's.
    April slammed the intercom open.  "This is Captain April of the Arcadia.  Captain Berkowitz, what the hell is the meaning of—"
    =/\= "We're under orders," =/\= Berkowitz's com-voice said.  In the viewport, a torpedo shot out of the Kirk and streaked into the Caledonia's port nacelle, exploding it.  =/\= "That's all I can say.  Trust me, I know how this looks.  It would be best if you stayed out of it and returned to your own ship." =/\=
    April's face twisted in astonishment.  He couldn't believe what he was hearing, much less seeing—one stunning revelation after another, this day.  Inclination to mark the date on the calendar and see if future days to come compared.  "I will do no such thing," April said, "until you stop your attack and explain, or I'll be forced to take offensive measures."  He knew how that sounded: plum loco.  Lily was right: the Kirk was a Sovereign-class starship; the Hood: Excelsior class.  The Danube-class Kerulen was outmatched by a long shot, despite its state-of-the-art equipment.  He just hoped it sounded crazy enough to dissuade or at least stall them, and give him and Caledonia time.
    The pause on the other end of the comm-line made April imagine what kind of reaction Berkowitz was having—one of incredulity, maybe wondering if April had the balls to back up his bluster… or consisting of Berkowitz laughing himself silly.  Either way, if he put April to the test, what would the Arc CO do when the cause was hopeless?  March in and get the runabout crew obliterated, captured maybe…?
    Captured.  Or obliterated.  By Starfleet.  It was insane.
    ...Or simply acknowledge that his bluff had been called and retreat, stay out of the way...
    ...Except April didn't bluff.  If he said he'd risk his life and the lives of those around him—assuming it was the only way and the cause was just—he’d do it.  They might not stand a chance, but it might save a few lives.  The attackers might, just might, desist, rather than intentionally murder a few more Starfleet personnel.  Yet, after seeing them attack another Federation starship, what was enough to make them desist?
    And Kerulen charged into the field of fire...