Blah blah disclaimer blah.
Bumps in the night and shadows under the bed for Darkness Amber, hepatica, wanda, dolphinology and kas7.
Well, it's been a long ride, but thanks for sticking with me you guys. Here ya go.
It was the screaming that woke Bridger. The screaming was all around him, inside him and through him; the screaming was him.
He opened his eyes. The white light that he had seen just before passing out was gone, and the bridge was dim, lit only by the emergency lighting, and above the screaming was the insistent sound of an alarm. As his senses came back to him, the screaming narrowed until he located its source: a woman, one of the few people still on the bridge, standing with her back to him, staring at something he couldn't see.
He sat up, clutching his head. What was she looking at? Why were they on emergency power? Where were the crew? He located Ford, who was crouched in corner with his arm across his face, as if fending something off. Struggling to his feet, he took a step forward, wincing and grabbing at the back of a chair as the pain in his ankle reminded him of why he had been on the floor in the first place. "Jonathan?"
All of a sudden he felt an intense feeling of being watched, as if something invisible but hugely malevolent had turned its attention towards him. Then the screaming was gone, and everything was gone, and the bridge was silent as the depths of the sea outside. The woman turned towards him, and he thought he recognised her face, but it was distorted in terror, her eyes and mouth stretched black in her pale skin. She was still screaming; but Bridger could no longer hear her.
And then Robert was standing in front of her, his eyes pleading, desperate. Oh no, thought Bridger, fighting down an urge to throw up. We've been here before. You'll have to do better than that. He ignored the tingling in his nerves that told him to run, using the adrenaline to better purpose. He took stock of the room. There were five crew members still there, besides himself; the screaming woman – what was her name? – Ford, Ortiz passed out on the upper level of the bridge, Shan backing away from something over by the helm, and Hitchcock, looking pale but calm. Hitchcock.
"Commander," he called to her, trying to attract her attention, not sure if she would hear the words that fell away from his ears as if he had never spoken them. It can't keep this up for long, he thought to himself, ignoring the apparition of Robert that appeared now between himself and Hitchcock, stretching out its arms. Before it could only handle one person at a time. He waved his arms. Hitchcock looked up, and stood to attention, then her eyes widened in horror. Across the bridge, Ford took his arm away from his face and sat up, looking confused.
It was ok when I was unconscious, Bridger realised, his brain beginning to function more quickly as it became accustomed to disregarding the constant stream of emotions that bombarded it. There were only four to deal with then.
"Commander," he turned back to Ford. "Help Ortiz!"
He saw Ford nod before he felt the crushing weight of a thousand tons of water on his head.
Ford shook Ortiz by the shoulder, trying to ignore Peters' high-pitched shrieking. Ortiz's black eyes opened, and he stared up at the other man. "Commander?"
Ford turned. "Captain, he's-" but Bridger was lying on the floor, his arms flailing as if he was trying to push something away, eyes open but seeing nothing. "Damn," Ford whispered. He couldn't quite make his head make sense of what was going on, but he knew he had to do something. He tried to recall the sequence of events. Bridger had been shouting. Something about torpedoes.
"Torpedoes," Ford muttered.
Ortiz shook his head. "Sir?"
Ford couldn't remember what they were supposed to be firing torpedoes at. "Fire the torpedoes," he said, rising. He took a step towards the console, and then he was confronted by his brother, hanging on a large wooden cross. Someone was shouting, shouting something, but he could only stare at the blood that was dripping to the metal floor. Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, the image was gone. Ortiz was half way to the weapons console, but he was crouched, cowering, and Ford knew he had to get there before it noticed him again. He broke into a run, jumping over Ortiz, reaching his hand forward, and his brother's eyes were staring at him, empty, and he fell, despair twisting his stomach, but as he fell he felt his hand connect with something. And then he knew nothing but horror for what felt like an eternity.
And then, and then it was gone.
Ford struggled to his feet. Peters had stopped screaming, and was sitting on the floor, sobbing quietly. The alarm had switched off too, and full power had come back on. The screen in front of him flashed "TARGET DESTROYED" in large red letters. A cross section of the sea floor showed only a pile of rocks where the marine base had been. "It's gone," Ford whispered, reaching out to touch the screen. He felt a strange sense of emptiness.
Behind him, he heard voices. He turned to see Ortiz helping Bridger up.
"Ow, my ankle," the captain muttered, wincing. Ford strode over.
"What's going on? What on earth was that?" he asked, shaking his head, trying to clear away the cobwebs that seemed to have taken over his brain.
Bridger looked at him, exhausted and sad. "I don't know, Commander. I'm not sure I want to know. All I know is it's gone now."
"Are you sure?" Ford asked, rubbing a nervous hand across the back of his neck.
Bridger looked around, leaning on Ortiz, then smiled, a bitter smile devoid of all joy. "Yes," he said. "I'm sure."
"It was Hoyle," Bridger said calmly.
"You've got to be kidding me." Ryder looked from the captain's serene face to the doctor's determined one. "Hoyle's dead!"
Westphalen shook her head. "He poisoned Lucas' water bottle before he died," she said firmly.
Ryder was speechless for a moment. "You mean to tell me," he said slowly, "you're going to pin all of this on one guy? Lucas-"
Bridger leaned forward. "Lucas is sixteen, and he is alive," he said in a low voice. "He has his whole life ahead of him. Do you want to take that away from him?"
Ryder was shaking his head. "So you're going to let Hoyle's family believe he killed all those people?"
"He killed at least one," Bridger said. "He was sick, it wasn't his fault. It's easier to forgive the dead than the living."
"Jeez," Ryder muttered. A frown darkened his sharp features. "And you want me to lie too?"
For a moment, no-one said anything. Then Westphalen put a hand on his arm, and although her face was calm, her voice broke when she spoke. "Please," she said quietly. "Please. For the boy's sake."
Ryder swallowed. "Will he remember when he wakes up?"
Bridger and Westphalen exchanged glances. "We hope not," the captain said finally, rubbing his hand across his eyes, and for a moment Ryder saw how tired he looked under his careful blankness.
There was silence. Not the kind that Bridger had become all too familiar with, but a natural silence; somewhere in the corridor, a woman laughed; the clock on the wall ticked quietly; deep below them, the ship's mighty engines thrummed. Ryder's face was flat with concentration.
Then he looked up. "OK," he said, with a sigh. "OK, I'll do it."
Nick's parents had left that morning with their son's body. Bridger tried not to think of the mother's hopeless face as he entered med-bay, skirting around the spot where the boy's corpse had lain, staring at him with glassy eyes. O'Neill had been discharged as well, and was recuperating in his quarters. Only Lucas was still there, unconscious, but out of danger, so Doctor Westphalen informed him. Bridger crossed to his bed, watching him sleep for a moment, less pale now, more like the boy who had grinned at him only a week before as they talked about haunted outposts. He reached out and ruffled the boy's hair, feeling the warmth through his fingertips, and closed his eyes as a memory of Robert filled his mind. When he opened them again, he saw to his surprise that Lucas was watching him.
"Well, hello." Bridger tried to sound natural. "Welcome back. How are you feeling?"
Lucas coughed. "Like I was hit by a truck," he croaked. "No, actually make that a cruise ship," he added, rubbing his head ruefully. "What happened?"
Bridger held his breath. "You don't remember?"
Lucas blinked. "I remember it was dark in the base," he said. "Then I fell over, then I'm here. Is everything OK?"
Bridger felt his throat burning with relief and despair; he remembered Levin lying in a pool of blood, and Hoyle's brains spattered across Lucas' quarters, and Nick's mother's red-rimmed eyes. Then he smiled, forcing his voice to sound normal.
"Yeah, Kiddo. Everything's going to be fine."