EP 6 "DIVIDED" - Prologue

SS FANTASY, CAPTAIN'S OFFICE, 0655

Captain Christian awoke suddenly, momentarily unable to distinguish dream from reality. He'd been on New Paris again: his parents were on the stage of the theatre, the party in full swing, and this time some of his Fantasy shipmates had been among the crowd. He didn't see the casket falling but he saw a flash in his periphery and heard it impact the floor, as if in slow motion. People scattered, running off into the wings terror. The intense flashing lights of the alien entity filled the auditorium; his mother was transfixed, her body shutting down, his father screamed with incomprehension. The mysterious figure dressed entirely in black rose up in front of Christian and carried him down the steps into the stalls, eyes burning with the same acid sparkle of Medusan energy. But on this occasion as they'd left the stage he saw there was a full house, all seats occupied with the dead: the crew of the USS Firefly, Admiral Street and the USS Ajax crew, all those who had perished in the attack on Helub and during their journey since, and in the row right next to him were the latest of those deceased, including the young mother and her two infants and beside them, his own mother.

Eyes straining open to lose the disturbing dream imagery he gazed up at the coffered, barreled ceiling of his office, his first distracting thought being one of anxiety about having to address the ship's company in a short while - look into the eyes with all those troubled souls, not least the children, so many of them here without their families. His thoughts returned to the night before and the lifeless faces of the infants.

As he and the Commodore stood in the makeshift morgue which was beginning to wreak of death, Lieutenant O'Hara had informed them that as was obvious by his appearance the man found in the stairwell had been dead for quite some time, probably since shortly after they made their initial exodus from Helub. Using the runabout Hudson Starfleet database he'd been identified as Bahar Vurgun, age 55, originally from Earth, listed as resident of Starbase 214 for 40 years; a master carpenter renowned for exquisite bespoke furniture made of the rarest wood from across the known Galaxy. They learned from Sister Matthew who'd spent time comforting the distraught man at the start of their journey that he'd travelled to the Outer Zone with his husband and two daughters with the intention of relocating there only for as long as the trouble with the Dominion lasted and they could safely return home. He was the only one of them to survive the attack and was understandably consumed by grief. The details were difficult to hear, and also brought terrifying images to Christian thinking of how long the man had been hanging there like that undetected.

The woman and her two children were Vekarian but no other details were known, none had ID and the Runabout's Vekarian database didn't extend as far as the general population. Their demise was especially heartbreaking and distressing for all those who knew about it; the Captain had hoped to keep it contained but Jackson said rumours had already started. The Lieutenant revealed she'd found a significant amount of a toxic cleaning substance in their bodies, it would have been a swift if agonising demise; time of death a day or so before the Hologram incident.

O'Hara felt she might never get over knowing that it could have been prevented, though surprising him she also told Christian she didn't hold him accountable, it was the attack by the T'Kani causing them to be in this predicament which had led these unfortunate souls to such despair. Christian still felt ultimately responsible and had reiterated to her that assessing the Fantasy's full contingent would be the very next priority, the Commodore adding that the sooner they formed a crew and a community the better for everyone's sake.

The young couple weren't more than 48 hours cold, and had taken a poison the Nurse couldn't identify. Each had been clutching a personalised ornate vial indicating a more considered, ritualized ending – and that they had prepared for such an eventuality. According to a Vekarian who'd helped removed the bodies they were from a planet called Sreltra - the last race to join the Qovakian Union shortly before the first T'Kani invasion. Their people traded in rare minerals abundant across their system. Remaining fiercely independent though amicable for many centuries, increasing raids from pirates warranted the embrace of the Union and all the additional protection it could provide. Ironic that shortly after admission the T'Kani had invaded and taken the Sreltrans' resources for their own. It was a difficult transition for their race because their society comprised a complex hierarchical form of social stratification. The helper said judging from their clothing they would have been part of the formerly deposed elite class, though since the T'Kani's defeat they had regained most of what they had lost; for despite the huge power shift in their society for the duration of the occupation their traditions remained intact and their class were still regarded as 'superior' among their race.

This couple also carried no ID, but as with the Vekarian mother and children it was possible others among the survivors may have spoken to them or overheard conversations during their arduous flight from Helub, although identifying the victims would be left for now until the appropriate time.

Christian rubbed his eyes and blinked long and hard, mentally composing himself for the stressful day ahead. His neck ached from his semi-upright sleeping position and his bare left foot, hanging outside the blanket, felt cool. Beyond his exposed foot he could see a small fire crackling in the hearth - but he could neither hear it nor feel its warmth. Someone had obviously fixed part of the hearth's holo-programme imagery just not its ability to give off any sound or heat. But who would have come in and done that? There was one other light source in the darkened room, and he craned his head back toward it.

The lamp shone brightly onto the Captain's desk, its glass shade glowing a vibrant Green. The light reflected off a dozen various old-style padds scattered across the desk's leather surface into the engrossed face of Yeoman Lirik, hunched over them with great intent, wiggling a silver stylus between his fingers.

"Yeoman," Christian called. The diplomatic aide did not respond. "Mister Lirik," still no response. The Captain glanced at the floor beside the couch and saw an open tricorder silently flashing and across its keypad what looked like an old fashioned Starfleet communicator - also flipped open.

The Captain reached down and closed the communicator, immediately collapsing the dampening field around him with a dull 'pop'. Yeoman Lirik looked up.

"Ah, good morning Captain," Lirik smiled.

Christian swung his blanket-shrouded legs over the side of the handsome antique couch. He pointed at the representation of a fire then at the floor.

"Did you do that? Why was there a dampening field around me? And what," Christian dragged a heavy hand down his face, trying to make it feel more awake, "what the hell are you doing in here…?"

Lirik paused, clearly considering how to react. "I'm working. Getting things in order for you. You were snoring and muttering in your sleep, but I didn't want to wake you," he said, "so it seemed like a good compromise. As for the fire, well I just thought it would be nice. It is kind of soothing don't you think?"

"What time is it?" Christian rubbed his eyes again, not able to suppress a yawn.

"Commander Kohl used the Runabout Hudson to align the Fantasy's chronometers, which were only off by a little. So right now, here and across all of Starfleet, it's currently 0700 hours. Plenty of time to get some work done before you address the survivors," Lirik fiddled with the padds, assembling them in order.

"Would you like some breakfast? I could go and get something while you get dressed and start on these." Lirik tapped the padds lightly. "And maybe I could look at that panel over there," he nodded to the door on the starboard side of the office that Christian had still been unable to open. "You know I'm good with locks." Lirik smiled again, recounting how he'd managed to get past the airlock access' security where Christian had failed during their initial recon of the Fantasy. Christian scowled, as much irritated by Lirik's pep as by his goading and his own feeling of tiredness and having his personal space encroached upon.

"Just how long have you been in here?" Christian hoped he'd not said anything embarrassing in his sleep that Lirik may have overheard.

"About forty minutes - I had an early breakfast with the Commodore and she-" Lirik was interrupted.

"Come to think of it, why are you even here in the first place? Is there nowhere else you can work?" Christian wasn't sure he was being treated with the proper respect he deserved as the ship's Captain, but then again Lirik was Diplomatic Corps, and they notoriously trampled over standard Starfleet etiquette at their whim, the thought of which wound him up even more.

"I'm here at the Commodore's request," Lirik said, beginning to feel the same hostility from Christian as when he'd first found out he was part Medusan. "In my earlier days in Starfleet I served under several Starfleet Captains and Admirals as personal assistant, and have gained many valuable skills since. I know all there is to know about helping organize the smooth running of a Starfleet vessel so I'm here to help you in that," Lirik forced a smile again, trying to keep it friendly. That clearly grated on the Captain though he didn't immediately respond. "It was the Commodore's idea," Lirik added quickly.

Christian was unsure how to react given Lirik's presence appeared to have been endorsed by the Commodore; it seemed she was flexing her authority with their agreement that she would remain his superior officer even though he would Captain the ship and she act as his Exec in all ship's matters. He was beginning to regret the unconventional pact. The chubby Englishman continued, waving the particular padd he'd been working on.

"I've drafted a timetable for you to review for the next few weeks based on your notes and what we know needs urgent attention – you may want to change it of course. The Commodore had to roster you for shifts in Engineering, but I'm afraid with only a skeleton volunteer command crew and relatively few people capable enough to help it's unavoidable at the moment." Lirik held up three padds: "Mr Kohl's consolidated a prioritised list of repairs, a list of essential resupplies, I've included other requests from team leaders – I'm calling them team leaders until we have a more established hierarchy. You can change that as well, of course. There's a draft schedule for evaluating potential crew and assessing everyone else on board plus a list of initial proposed questions I drew up with the Commodore for vetting everyone – O'Hara will add her own from a physical and psychological perspective whilst giving medical checks. Oh, er, these are personal requests and concerns from the passengers." He held up another two padds: "And these are a list of recommended routine meetings, staggered as teams are formed, and a prioritised list of protocol requirements."

Lirik held up another padd: "Talking of which….," Lirik tossed it to Christian and he effortlessly caught it with one hand: "Captain's log - overdue by well over a week, if you please, Sir."

"You couldn't put that all on one padd?" Christian spoke before he thought.

The Yeoman nodded. "I did. All on that one. This," he gestured at the desk, "this is just my preferred way of getting organised. Sir," he added quickly but awkwardly.

Christian didn't even look at the screen dropping it on to the couch, rising to his feet and approaching the desk with some ire. The blanket dropped away to the floor as he moved and Christian stood wearing only his standard issue underpants in front of the Yeoman. Undeterred, he spread his hands on the desk and leaned toward Lirik.

"Let's get one thing crystal clear. I don't need an assistant. Mister Lirik. That fad for personal Yeomans was phased out years ago and besides," Christian leaned even closer, "if I was going to pick someone to be my personal assistant, it most assuredly wouldn't be you."

Lirik reeled slightly but tried not to display it. "Look… Captain. We haven't had an opportunity to talk about what happened to your parents. Obviously I'm sorry for your loss, but I-"

Christian straightened, suddenly aware of his near-nakedness and lowered his voice. "Just get out."

"Okay. But would you at least let me-," Lirik started but was cut short by the Captain's furious outburst.

"I said you're disMISSED!" Christian shook as he shouted, causing the Yeoman to recoil. Lirik stood and quickly walked to the exit, his personal shield shimmering in the dim light from the swift move.

Stopping in the opened doorway he turned for a departing comment, but seeing Christian's rigid, tensed back and hung head, he decided against it and left.

As he walked up the ramp to the bridge, Lirik allowed himself a private smirk at the sight of the Captain wearing only his briefs. But he also felt bad at perhaps broaching the delicate subject of his heritage and what happened to Christian's parents on New Paris too soon. The man was obviously and understandably still feeling a lot of grief from what happened. Yet Lirik was also genuinely disappointed and frustrated that he couldn't be regarded as anything more than just an aggravating Corpsman and a constant reminder of what happened.

For a while since returning from his escapade with Reb, Lirik had thought his relationship with the Captain had started to improve, but from this outburst a moment ago he could tell nothing much had changed. Grief was a very individual thing, he knew only too well. He just had to try and remain steadfast and hope that things would improve in time – and that in the short term the Captain could be convinced to accept the genuine offer of help, which was in the Commodore's opinion truly needed.

Back inside the office, Christian looked up through the rear windows at the large outcrop on the back of the Command Section and the moving stars slowly shrinking into the distance around it at just over warp one. He was trembling, and not wholly satisfied at what had just happened. He hadn't intended to lose control, but realised he had also been waiting for it, hoping Lirik would say something just so that he could react. There was no doubt Lirik would be able to prove himself useful in assisting with the running of the ship, but turning up like that, he had been somewhat blindsided by the way the Commodore had tried to instigate it.

And there was no getting away from the fact that being partly Medusan Lirik would be a constant reminder of the pain Christian had suffered. The thought of his mother, and seeing her in his dream like that, was quite upsetting. As he quietly sobbed, he wondered if he would ever be able to get over her loss.