LAST DUTY

by Lorraine Anderson

"Jim, every cell in his body's been disrupted!"

So, doc, what does that mean? Dead? No, McCoy, I'm not dead. I can't be dead. Not like this. Not at the touch of a woman. Look, c'mon, there was a lot of pain, but I don't even hurt anymore.

That's not me on the ground.

D'Amatos don't die like this. We die in bed, or we die in battle, but we don't die at a woman's touch. Ok, well, there was this rumor about an uncle...

Why am I thinking this?

How can I see myself? I look closely at the thing on the ground.

It looks like me...

Wait a minute, if that's me...

How am I able to see? How am I able to think?

Dumb D'Amato. Am I abandoning my Catholic upbringing? But if I'm dead, where's the bright light?

I can't be dead. Yet.

Why does everything look like it's through a bad video feed?

"I told you I was for you, D'Amato. Now we shall be together, forever."

Wait a moment, where did that thought come from? That sounded like the woman who touched me... then woman in the strange purple and silver jumpsuit.

The video feed faded, leaving darkness. I saw her coming toward me. She was spotlighted.

Highly dramatic. Together forever? I don't think so, sister.

She looked confused. "But that's why I touched you. To bring you here. To save you. To be with me. To restore me. I've been..."

You said something about matching chromosomes, before. Nothing about saving me.

"I've brought you into the computer with me. I had to save you from the illness..."

What illness?

She looked down and shook her head. "To drive away the invaders..."

Boy, are you confused, sister.

"You are a Kalandan, aren't you?" Her face was darkening. "You're not an invader..."

I tried speaking out loud. "I'm not an invader." She looked threatening. "I'm a Kalandan." Think of purple, polka dotted elephants. She can read minds. Purple elephants, purple elephants with purty pink polka-dots.

She brightened. "I'm glad. The last one I brought here was an invader. I had to purge him."

I raised my eyebrows. At least, I think I did. "Purged?" That sounded very computerish. She looked distracted. "I have to go. I must go to the invader's ship."

The invader's ship? Enterprise! I thought the Enterprise was destroyed. That's why I was surveying. We were trying to figure out how to survive on this planetoid. That's when I encountered this... thing. She said she was for me. Lucky D'Amato. Then she... she killed me. I have to warn...

She blinked out, no, not like a light, like nothing I had ever seen. I was alone, in the dark. I would have even welcomed the bad video feed. As I thought, it came back. The Captain, the Doctor, and Sulu were still standing over... me. I couldn't hear anything. The Captain fired towards the ground, presumably to bury me. But the phaser blasted about three inches down, then nothing. A hard surface of... metal.

Which shows you that we depend too much on tricorders. I didn't read anything like that on my tricorder. Just regular volcanic rock, usual for most planetary bodies. Not that we didn't know that this wasn't a regular planetary body, considering the size, the gravity, the abundance of oxygen and the lack of plant life to generate the oxygen.

We landed on a frigging spaceship. I think. With a computer the size of the North American continent.

Am I stored in the computer? Think, D'Amato. If that is me on the ground, then where am I? My soul. Me! Yes. That was the only explanation. I was dead. I was stored in the computer.

But that implied that others were stored in this computer. The woman is here, but where is everybody else? She said something about a plague. An illness. They did this to avoid a plague? That could explain the "touching" bit; maybe they had to do that to come back to life. So I'm not really dead?

Probably that part is broken. Like she is.

I had to find out. I closed my eyes and concentrated on talking to somebody. Surely they wouldn't store just two people at a time. I opened my eyes. Nope, nobody else.

Wait a minute. Somebody flickered in. A black man...

Watkins? Was that his name? From Engineering.

"Watkins!"

He turned his head. "D'Amato?" He looked around. "Where are we?"

I blew out my breath. "Purgatory."

"Huh?"

"We're dead. Seriously." Seriously dead. Sincerely dead. Concentrate, D'Amato. Think about it later. Watkins looked down at himself doubtfully. Then at me. "Look, did some woman touch you?"

"Yeah. She was messing around with the matter/antimatter integrator bypass controls. I tried to stop her..." He looked around. "We're dead."

"Now you're getting it. I think we're stored in a Kalandan computer..." I looked at him, and it occurred to me I didn't know his specialty. "How are you with computers?"

He looked puzzled. "Fair to middling. Not as good as Spock or Scott. What do you mean?"

"Look, Watkins, we may not have much time. I think we're stored in a computer. We need to access it. Kirk, McCoy, and Sulu are out there, and I think the Enterprise is in danger. We have a mad woman in charge here, and I want to change that." Mad woman or something.

Watkins digested that for a moment. He was a bright guy, Starfleet trained, like I was. "I'll need some sort of access."

A column appeared before us. "There you go."

The woman appeared. "He is not Kalandan."

We moved in front of the column. "What do you mean?" I said. "He looks Kalandan to me."

She looked at me sympathetically. "You are newly absorbed. He is an invader. He must be purged."

"Purged? But..." Watkins started to protest. Then he faded out. Poor Watkins. Today just wasn't his day.

I said a novena for his soul, then thanked God for Watkin's help. I let the column fade out behind me. I could try to access it later. I had to talk to this... person.

She didn't seem a bad sort. She was confused, or maybe mad, but not bad. "I'm glad you brought me here." Purple elephants...

"I've been lonely," she said, looking pensive.

"I've forgotten your name."

"Losira. Commander." She looked as if she were trying to convince herself.

Commander of an empty rock. Pitiful. "Where did everybody go?"

"They died."

"Before they got scanned into the computer?"

"Oh, no, they appeared in here when they died."

"Where are they?"

"They're gone."

"Where?"

"They've purged themselves." She looked infinitely sad. She was the Commander. And all good commanders stay with the ship until all hope was lost.

I looked at her. "What about you?"

"What do you mean?"

"Why didn't you go?"

"I... did." She looked confused.

"But you're still here." Or maybe partly here. My great-great-grandmother was in a Elder home with a form of dementia. Talking with Losira was a bit like talking with my gr-great.

"Yes." She looked determined now. "I am for you, Commander D'Amato."

I felt a chill. "You already said that."

She looked confused again. "I did?"

Ah, hell. What an insight. She really wasn't here. I wasn't dealing with a person, I was dealing with a simulation of a person. A computer's idea of a person. Which made it harder, and simpler at the same time. "I like you, Losira."

She brightened. "You do?"

"I think I'm for you." The words tasted like ashes. Still, if it would buy time for Kirk and the Enterprise.

She looked to one side. "I have to go. There's somebody else out there."

No! She disappeared.

"Computer!"

The column appeared. "I need to talk to the simulation."

"Please restate."

Sweet Holy Mother Mary, this was as bad as the Enterprise. "I need to be with Losira."

My perception changed. I was out on the surface, looking at Sulu. "I am for you, Sulu." I heard her say. I saw an arm stretch out before me.

Ah, hell. This wasn't exactly what I meant.

Losira, I said. I felt her hesitate.

You don't want to do this. I knew I wasn't talking out loud, but she heard me. "We will be the same, down to our chromosomes. I must touch you, Sulu."

Sulu was scrambling backwards. Good Sulu. Keep out of her range.

Don't do this. Don't do this. Don't do this. I barely heard what was being said.

He tripped. I tried to pull back her arm, succeeded fractionally, and she grazed him. Sulu screamed. Kirk and McCoy rushed in, looking at us. We disappeared, and found ourselves back in the dark room.

"You tried to prevent me from touching Sulu," she said sadly.

I sighed. "You are for me," I said simply. "How can you be for me when you are for Sulu?"

She cocked her head to one side. "That does not compute." She looked downwards, then up, brightening. "That was another aspect of me."

Does not compute. Well, it wouldn't, if the computer were screwed up, too. No logic here. Well, I can be illogical. "I need you to be for me, Losira."

"No. I need to be... for Kirk."

She disappeared again. I thought about going after her, but figured Kirk, et al, could take care of themselves... maybe there was something I could do in here. "Column."

The column appeared. "Computer," I started, then stopped. "Computer, what is your purpose?"

"To defend the Kalandan outpost from invaders. To store the Kalandan people."

"There are no Kalandans left."

"There are 100,000 Kalandans stored in my memory."

"Are you sure?"

"Restate."

"Scan your memory. Are there any Kalandans in your memory?"

"There are two Kalandans stored in my memory."

Losira, more or less, and myself. "Explain the discrepancy."

"I do not consistently scan my memory."

"When was the last request for a scan?"

It seemed to hesitate. "Nine thousand years ago."

I snickered.

"Restate yourself."

"Great protector. The Kalandans are all gone."

"No."

"What are you protecting?"

"The Kalandans."

"There are no Kalandans!"

"There are two."

I sighed. I could... purge... myself, but I couldn't purge Losira. I wouldn't be able to protect the others. Not that I was doing such a good job now.

Losira appeared again. She looked at the column, then at me. "You are accessing the computer."

"Is that bad?"

"That is a fact." She looked at the column. "I haven't accessed the computer in a long time."

"Why not?"

She looked into herself. "I was... sleeping."

Dormant. Programs are dormant. In fact, I wondered if I were running in real-time myself. It seemed like only a few minutes were passing, but every time I looked out... A picture started in front of me. Kirk, McCoy, and Sulu were standing around their tricorders. "The energy source..."

"They are in front of the computer chamber." Losira looked panicked.

"Open the door!" To my astonishment, a door opened in the side of the wall. "Well, I'll be..."

"I must go..."

"No! Losira, stay here!"

She hesitated. Hmmm. Was I getting to her? Then she disappeared.

Damn computer. "I need to be with Losira."

And I was with her. Kirk, McCoy and Sulu were in front of me.

Losira, I thought, Can you duplicate yourself? Be for three at once?

In my innermost thought – maybe the computer will overextend itself. It sent the Enterprise someplace else, somehow. It's disrupted at least three people. It's thousands of years old. How much power could it have left?

I saw two Losiras either side of me. No flickering, no overextending. So I need to do this the hard way. No, Losira, I shouted. You need to be for me. Computer, I need to be with all three.

I felt my attention split. I tried with all my might to keep the three from rushing forward - after all, I knew a computer could outspeed merely human flesh - but only kept them in twitchy reaching as the three Starfleet officers bobbed and weaved.

Why didn't they run? Get out of here!

Spock came in.

"Spock," the captain shouted. "Shoot the computer!"

Go, Spock!

I saw a beam go toward the ceiling. The Losiras beside me disappeared, then I was back in the dark place.

I closed my eyes and sighed. They were safe.

I did wish the Enterprise crew could see Losira in a better light. I have the feeling she was quite the amazing woman.

"Playing recording," I heard, then I heard, "My fellow Kalandans..." The sound faded from where I was. I hoped the Captain was seeing it.

The computer seems to be functioning minimally. So, is it me in here, or just a recording, as Losira ended up being? Is the real D'Amato dead, or am I D'Amato? I will leave this record, then purge myself...

Losira flickered in the distance. She's not gone. I had better stay, just in case some dumb fool has the bright idea of fixing the computer. And they will, if I know Starfleet. And because I am Starfleet, I'll be here. Maybe I'll figure out how to project myself by that time, like Losira...

I was in the chamber. I caught a glimpse of Kirk's back. "Captain," I said, startled.

Kirk whirled, startled, but I had already faded. "D'Amato?" I heard him say.

Goodbye, Captain.

I'll be here if you need me.

-End-