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Long Hours, Short Time

Posted on Nov 17, 2017 @ 2:44pm by Captain Michael Turlogh Kane

Mission: Fear Itself


(Continued from "Glutton For Punishment")

Captain's log, supplemental - nothing has changed. The phobophage entity continues to pick us off one by one, and we have not been able to formulate a plan to stop it. Until we discern what kind of creature this is, and how it can be stopped, all we can do is helplessly wait our turn like animals in an abbatoir.

Location: USS Phoenix, holding station in a quarantine zone near Starbase 56
Stardate: [2.17]1117.1045
Scene: Captain's quarters, deck 2, saucer section

Michael Turlogh Kane and Ellie Kalani sat on the couch in silence. There was a lot to talk about, but Kane couldn't bring himself to open the conversation. While the senior staff worked on finding a way to fight the phobophage, he was left impotent, able to do nothing except think about the dead and all the might-have-beens that went with them.

Ellie took his hand and squeezed it. "Don't fall into the black hole. What's done is done."

"It didn't have to be," murmured Kane. "The phobophage has taken three members of this crew so far. We have no way of inhibiting its movements, no way to counter the hallucinations it creates. We have only fear and helplessness and this terrible sense of waiting."

"You take it badly when a member of the crew dies?" Ellie got up and went to the replicator. "Two glasses of whiskey, with ice."

Kane ave a fatalistic nod. "I think any captain does. I realise that some things are inevitable, but you always try to mitigate the inevitable."

"Sounds like good description of, you know, living." Ellie took the drinks that the replicator fizzed into existence and handed one to him. "The phobophage can't be seen, only felt in a terrible way. Its home dimension is a place so alien that our minds perceive it as raw chaos. There's only a limited amount you can do, Mike. Your staff are handling it. Let them do their jobs."

Kane took a drink and leaned forward. "There must be a way," he said firmly. "Surely rational thought can overcome the hallucinations? We're creatures of reason, for goodness sake, we possess the power to impose our will on our bodies!"

"That's not as easy as it sounds," sighed Ellie. "If I understand Commander Crichton properly, then those hallucinations are not triggered by visual stimuli being interpreted by the brain - they are instead implanted into the brain and manifest themselves in all the other senses. I think it might be like having some horrible waking dream."

Kane shivered at the thought. "There are people who are aware that they are dreaming. With practice, you can learn to shape and control your dreams."

"Not like this." Ellie finished her drink and held out her hand. "Come to bed, Captain. I'll make the monsters go away for a little while, and all the night-spirits will be chased away when the sun comes up in the morning."

It would have to do. Kane took her hand and was led to the bedroom. They put out the light and lay in each others arms, watching the shadows weave weird shapes on the wall.


Scene: Kane's dream -> reality

In his heart, he was child again, and Thomond was bright in the sunshine again. If he turned his face to the sky, he could feel the heat on his face, and if he looked in a certain direction, he could get out of the glare by putting the mountain between him and the sun. His little brother was playing somewhere in the distance, his father and mother were alive, and the cries of the corncrakes on the river were laughter at a funny joke.

There was a long stretch in the evenings these days, a burnt orange twilight that stretched back all the years of his childhood. He realised he was on the castle's roof, looking down from the weathered stone battlements at the village, the river, the courtyard. He tried to remember what day of the week it was, but it was hard to focus on just one feeling. He felt sure it was summer, and that he was eight or nine years old. That summer had gone on forever, just like the river that ran away to the horizon beyond the hills, an opaque ribbon that meandered on by hedgerows and fallow fields into a world of imagination.

Behind the castle where he had been born rose the mighty Slieve Bernagh. There the legendary guardian spirit of his clan, the banshee known as Aval, watched over them from her brooding gray crag. Sometimes he thought he could feel her eyes on him. The sensation was curiously comforting. Aval was magic, one of the old powers who had been forgotten and discarded. The influence of the ancient gods could still be felt in the wilder parts of Ireland, away from the lights of civilisation, in the hills and streams and thorn trees, in the great silent mounds and barrows into which the last of the sidhe had crept centuries ago. They had disappeared from the sight of mortal men forever, sealing themselves away from a world too jaded to shine in their glamour.

He was in an interior corridor now. The dream-world had shifted suddenly, without any warning. He reached out and touched the stone walls, feeling them heave and groan like living things. There had been a human settlement on this river fork for over a millennium, and all the memories of those years, good and bad, were soaked indelibly into the bricks and mortar. When he was a child, he had sometimes lain in bed on nights like this, listening to the wind swirl around the castle and been comforted in its steady, unchanging nature.

He passed that familiar room in the corridor then, his childhood bedroom, and saw himself as a boy lying in his childhood bed, the moonlight shining in the window and landing on a clean, unscarred face that had never seen horror, never known fear, never had one inkling of what it was truly like beyond the borders of familiarity.

A thought, unbidden - if that little boy was to die now, dreaming sweet dreams in his own warm bed, it might be a mercy. He would never have to grow up and see horrors.

Kane touched his ravaged left eye, the one that had been shredded in his skull when the Discovery had been crippled following its disastrous first contact with the Calnarians. Not knowing Human physiology, the Calnarian healer who had treated his wound substituted the ruined organ with a mechanical replacement. Now his eyes were different colours - one natural green, one industrial gold - and the occasional stress headaches he suffered from processing alien technology punctuated the loss of something that could not properly be replaced.

Behind his eyes, in the great canvas of memory, did he recall a childhood dream of a dark stranger standing at his bedroom door, with thoughts of murder in his mind?

The child stirred. The scene retreated away, back into the benighted corridor, and rejoined the formless dark.

He was dreaming. Kane realised it all of a sudden, and the shock of it might have awakened him, but he calmed himself down, realising that the dream-world was changing again. He could no longer see clearly. Now the air around him was dark and thick like cotton wool, and sounds seemed dimmer and farther away.

You never hear the sound that wakes you.

The elation of being in control of his own dream moved him. He paused to think, and then realised that there was a man's voice, calling him from far away.

[[ - bay to Captain Kane.]]

Kane opened his eyes. Ellie stirred in his arms. It was Aerdan who was speaking to him from ten decks below, he realised. He looked around for the chronometer on the wall. It was after midnight, and he had not been sleeping long.

[[Sickbay to Captain Kane.]] There was an undertone in Aerdan's voice that sounded urgent.

Kane let go of Ellie, and she turned over in the bed. "See you later," she murmured as he sat up. Outside, the Starbase hung in space like an enormous mushroom, bright lights against the long night.

"Kane here. Go ahead."

[[Captain, I apologise for the lateness of the hour, but we have a situation in sickbay. It's urgent.]]

Kane got up, put on his pants and boots, and looked around for his uniform jacket. "What's the situation, Doctor?"

[[I'd rather not say, Captain.]]

Kane paused a moment. That sounded bad. He wondered if the phobophage had claimed another victim, and a pit of worry opened in his stomach. "I'll be right there." He pulled on his jacket and headed out into the brightly-lit corridor, leaving Ellie sleeping soundly behind him.


Scene: Primary Sickbay - Deck 12, saucer section

When Kane entered sickbay, he was surprised to see that several of the medical staff were still at work. He nodded greetings to Doctor Suvek and the three other unfamiliar Human staff members. There was a steaming pot of strong-smelling coffee on a table between them all, and they all looked like they had been there for a while.

Aerdan emerged from his office. The Andorian chief medical officer looked tired and drawn. There were dark blue lines under his eyes, but his antennae were slowly curling up and down, like they did when he was deep in thought. "Captain. Thank you for coming."

Kane nodded. There was only one patient in sickbay. Tomas' Vukovic was lying on a biobed, apparently fast asleep. Kane remembered that Tomas' had been in sickbay since he had passed out after the tracking experiment in Engineering. Tomas' said that he could 'see' the home dimension of the phobophage, describing it as 'pure chaos' before being sedated for his own protection. Now, his chest rose and fell rhythmically, the biobed monitoring his vital signs. "Lieutenant Vukovic is still asleep?"

"Yes." Aerdan gestured to the biobed readout. "That's one of the things I need to talk to you about. Doctor Suvek?"

Kane turned to see the thin-faced, satanic-looking Vulcan behind them. Suvek walked past Kane and Aerdan and keyed some controls, changing the readout to a chart that showed a flat, steady line with some alarming spikes. "Captain, I have been attending to Lieutenant Vukovic since he was admitted to sickbay earlier today. As you may remember, he was sedated with a moderate dose of neurozine. With that particular sedative, it is often best to allow it to work its way through a patient's system naturally before attempting to rouse the patient. But we have a problem."

Kane frowned. Tomas' looked healthy enough, but he quickly twigged what Suvek was talking about. "He hasn't woken up?"

"No, Captain." Suvek's features were inscrutable. "There is no more neurozine in Lieutenant Vukovic's system, but he remains comatose. We attempted to awaken him by using three milligrams of cordrazine, but while his body physically responded, he did not awaken."

"Why not?"

Aerdan pointed to the chart. "We're monitoring bizarre spikes in his brain's beta wave activity. You see these readings? They resemble those given off by people who are dreaming. Normally, someone who is dreaming builds up more and more beta wave activity until the climax of the dream, at which point they wake up. But every time that Lieutenant Vukovic approaches the baseline for waking up, his beta wave levels return to this low state."

"Why would that be happening?"

"We do not know, Captain," said Suvek. "Although he is not responding to external or chemical stimulus, Lieutenant Vukovic does not appear to be in any immediate danger. Both Doctor Jos and I agree that monitoring his condition would be best for the present."

"I see." Kane turned back to Aerdan. "You said that there was something else?"

"Yes." Aerdan turned and led Kane toward the morgue. "You'd best prepare yourself, Captain."

They entered the room together, where the three dead Phoenix crewmembers, victims of the phobophage - Sofia Andersson, Arak Schad, and Randolph Carter - lay in state. Each of them had been temporarily entombed in an individual stasis chamber to await transfer to their final resting places and sealed inside wall-mounted niches. "Aerdan, I've seen dead people before." He regretted using the familiarity, but it was out before he could think.

Aerdan stopped at one of the stasis units and keyed in a code on the control panel. The covering wall panel slid aside and the slate bearing to ice-cold, naked body of Sofia Andersson slid out with a mechanical whir.

Kane looked with distaste at Sofia's dead face. Her features were still slightly contorted in fear, even though one of the medical staff had applied topical muscle relaxants in an attempt to make her look like she had fallen asleep. "Why are you showing me this?"

Aerdan moved to a nearby control panel and ran his fingers over the keys, tying the medical database into his workstation. "Because, Captain, although this person looks like Sofia Andersson, both inside and out, it is not her."

Kane looked up, startled. "What?"

Aerdan looked at him evenly. "This is not Sofia Andersson. It is a Romulan Tal Shiar agent."

Kane shook his head, dumbfounded. The person lying on the slab looked exactly like Sofia. "How is that possible?"

The Andorian doctor held up a hand. "I know this is shocking, but I would not have called on you if I was not certain. When this person was killed by the phobophage, I ran a cursory post mortem examination, which indicated cardiac arrest brought on by massive release of adrenaline."

"I remember. Go on."

"Following Ensign Schad's death, I conducted a more detailed autopsy of this cadaver, looking for commonalities between the causes of death between her and Ensign Schad." Aerdan touched a control, and an image of a strange-looking chemical structure appeared on the wall screen, a mass of hexagons linked by jagged lines. "I found this drug in her bloodstream. It is a glucocoticoid - a drug specifically developed to control the immune response of the Human body."

Kane frowned. "Sofia was taking immuno-suppressants?"

"I remind you, Captain, the body you are looking at is not Sofia Andersson." Aerdan moved to Kane's side. "Once I found the presence of an immuno-suppressant, a detailed scan of the cadaver's genetic material was the next step. Immuno-suppressants are often taken to regulate genetic disorders, but, since there was no record of Doctor Andersson ever suffering from such a condition, I needed to know if she was self-medicating a condition I had not been informed about."

Kane nodded. "Go on."

"The genetic markers in the cadaver's blood were strange. They looked Human, but several of the internal organs were showing wear and tear from acutely bad circulation. Investigating further, I determined that this was because the cadaver's blood-base element was copper, not iron."

"Haemoglobin is iron-based. It carries oxygen around the Human body. It binds with the oh-two cells."

"Yes, Captain. This cadaver's blood cells were not doing that properly, and some were not doing it at all. Copper was the preferred element. This cadaver's base blood type is not Human, it is Vulcanoid."

Kane looked down at the corpse with the face and body of Sofia Andersson. "My God," he breathed. "The Romulans can do this now?"

"It would appear so. Not only have her physical distinguishing marks been removed, but this Romulan's entire internal organ arrangement has been surgically arranged to match a Human configuration. Heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas - all moved around, with their accompanying blood supplies. It is an impressive feat of surgical skill." Aerdan shrugged - a uniquely Human gesture he'd picked up in the last couple of years. "The Tal Shiar must have developed some new medical procedure that is capable of over-writing Romulan DNA with other DNA. They could have synthesised Human DNA from existing samples. Once the agent was made ready through reconstructive surgery to look like Sofia, it would have been a matter of chemically changing her DNA, then taking the immuno-suppressants to ensure longevity and an appearance of normal health. Of course, all my findings are at your disposal."

Kane rubbed his forehead. He could feel a stress headache coming on. "Tal Shiar agents must have come aboard the ship while we were in orbit of Romulus, perhaps in that Senate delegation we took aboard. They could have replaced Sofia with this doppelganger right under our noses while everyone was at the reception."

"A likely scenario, Captain."

"Never trust a Romulan." Kane felt like such a fool. Who had ordered this mission? What was the goal of this Romulan agent? Why had they targetted Sofia? They would likely never know, but it seemed that the phobophage had done them an inadvertent favour. By killing this Romulan agent while she worked alone in sickbay that night, the phobophage had ended her espionage mission aboard the Federation's only dreadnought. "That means that Sofia Andersson has not been on the ship for several weeks. I need to contact Starfleet, list her as missing."

"I am sorry to have had to bring this to your attention, Captain."

"You did good work, Doctor." Kane moved to the exit. "Let's not spread this around, alright? We don't want the crew falling into suspicion that there might be other Tal Shiar agents aboard."

Aerdan inclined his head. "Understood, Captain."

Kane walked out through sickbay, away from the body of 'Sofia Andersson', past the sleeping Tomas' Vukovic and the working medical staff. When he made it out into the corridor he almost sank to the floor.


Scene: Corridor -> Kane's quarters

When the turbolift door opened onto deck two, Kane was still thinking about it. If the dead Romulan agent in sickbay was indicative of a new Tal Shiar medical breakthrough, then it might be necessary to have the entire crew checked by the Phoenix's own medical staff - surely now that Aerdan knew what he was looking for, he could replicate the search across every person aboard?

He also felt a measure of triumph that the doppelganger was dead. There were so many factions within the Romulan Star Empire that he couldn't be sure who might have ordered an infiltration mission like this aboard the Phoenix, but one thing was for sure - it had happened under the pretence of welcome. There were daggers in Romulan smiles.

It could all wait until the morning. Wherever Sofia Andersson was at this moment, neither he not nor anyone else aboard the Phoenix could help her. Crossing the Neutral Zone on a rescue mission was not an option. Higher authorities than he would have to decide her fate.

He entered his quarters as quietly as he could, stripped off and got in beside Ellie. She didn't protest or stir when he put his arms around her, and Kane tried to sleep. It didn't come easily, and he tossed and turned fitfully before he dozed off, passing the long hours of the night thinking about life and death.

In the early morning, he tried to awaken Ellie, but she was dead. She had not moved all night, and when Kane touched her in the morning, he found her body unresponsive and cool to the touch. She had no pulse. She had gone to sleep, had a dream, and never woken up.

Kane sat by her in the silence of his quarters, listening to the emptiness inside himself and hearing nothing. He held her hand and cried angry, useless tears, feeling a dreadful numbness well up inside him and spread around his body. Had it been the phobophage, come creeping into the room like some dark angel, unfurling its black feather wings over them while they slept like children? It had just taken her away, led her into the dark, and he had not felt it come or go. No last shared moments, no final words, no fleeting goodbye.

For a long time, he didn't know what to do, but eventually he had coughed up the last of his tears. There was only Ellie's peaceful face. Eventually, he stood up and touched her for the last time, turning away to notify Security and Medical of another death aboard.


Jerome McKee
the Soul of Captain Michael Turlogh Kane
Commanding Officer

"Despite the [horror] that followed, Bruno found that he was still holding Shmuel's hand in his own and nothing in the world would have persuaded him to let it go."
- John Boyne, "The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas"



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