Part 1 - The Black Ship

Chapter 1 - Histrionics

A screech so shrill it could only belong to a child ripped through the stale, recycled air to wake Lieutenant Nic Reiker. He rolled onto his side with a groan and reached out to his wife, shaking her by the upper arm with a sleep-hoarsened, "Your turn, Jez."

She remained immobile for half a moment with a grudging groan before pushing herself up off the pillow and throwing back the covers. The awful, penetrating bawl continued on, pausing only to the sound of loud, ragged gasps to fill up tiny lungs before resuming the racket.

As she continued to her daughter's room, Jez hazily considered that while nightmares were supposedly common in children, this was taking it to an extreme. Their daughter had been a quiet, self-effacing toddler, and serious, precocious child; and then she turned six. She hadn't particularly changed during the day; perhaps, now studious and painfully shy, she was even more withdrawn.

Night had become a problem. For two weeks now, Ellie had woken from a deep, almost comatose-like sleep. At first it had been with whimpers and claims of nightmares. Concerned regarding so uncharacteristic a development (and at Jez's insistence), they'd coddled her. Then, after a serious discussion that this new habit could not continue, they'd firmly kept her in her room.

The first night she'd screamed bloody murder until Nic went to check her. His stern presence and heavy hand to her shoulder woke her with a startled, guilty jump that immediately stopped untoward behavior. The second she cried, loudly and brokenly; Jez cracked the door, soothed her sweaty hair from her forehead, and after the girl woke with wide eyes near black in the dull gleam of the single small light in the room, she quieted.

Nic had taken the night before, when he found her fetal-curled beneath a blanket, catatonic and repeatedly slamming her forehead into the bulkhead. She continued the trance-like motion even after he guided her through the modest, otherwise empty nursery back to her cot. Tonight, it seemed, Ellie had begun the cycle again. This broken sleep was beginning to wear their nerves, and Jez couldn't help but summarily hope that this phase would end quickly. Her eyes half-closed, she fumbled on the control panel until the portal slid open.

The sound immediately amplified as she stepped in; it was then that her sleep-addled mind determined that something was seriously amiss. The tall bookshelf bolted to the wall had been haphazardly knocked over, dresser drawers upended and their contents strewn around the room; the mirror was cracked in a spider-web pattern as if struck in a single point by a considerable force. The few toys they'd seen fit to give her were crushed, or twisted, or ripped limb from limb.

The tiny blonde girl was sitting straight, legs extended as if she'd bolted up from sleep, her pale face screwed in terror and eyes shut. Her ear-piercing screech was interrupted only long enough for her to catch a breath and begin again (if possible) louder.

Forging through the zone of destruction, Jez reached out, hoping to wake her as before and cease the noise. The tiny, frail fingers of her child deflected her touch before grasping and crushing her wrist with a vice-like grip someone so small had no business having. The little porcelain doll-like face snapped up, long-lashed eyes fluttering open to reveal her pupils rolled to the back of her head, and she growled something cursed and incoherent in a gravelly register.

She then fell onto the mattress, form and fingers limp, her thin chest heaving with hyperventilation. Jez pulled back until she hit the wall, washed with panic, nursing her wrist, her hand covering her mouth to stifle her sobs.

"You're certain, then?"

"Unequivocably," came the reply in a sweet sort of twanging drawl that indicated a heritage on some backwater planet. It certainly wasn't the carefully slow, neutral tone of her father, born on the Battleship Lacertus as his father, and his before him; a word that big, she decided, sounded odd in that accent, and she much preferred the reply she'd heard previously while the source had been conversing with a colleague, the careless, "Sure as the Good Throne is gilded, darlin'."

He began, "There's no history of it in either of our families-"

"That's not necessary."

"I was under the impression that-"

"Unless you've got an alternate explanation, Lieutenant," the second voice interrupted, muffled negligibly from the separating bulkhead and closed door, and certainly clear enough to be made out by small, acute ears. She knew young ladies didn't eavesdrop, but they were discussing her, and one could hardly help it when the speakers failed to modulate their voices and left her nothing with which to occupy herself.

"Is there one?" That would be her mother, quiet until now, with the barest glimmer of desperate hope.

"Possession," was the frank response of the churgeon – 'Doctor Gunn,' her memory supplied from the brief glance she'd gotten of the identifying placard on the white coat stretched tight across the tall woman's disproportionately large chest – "but categorically speaking, between the two that's certainly the worse option." There was silence for a long moment, broken by that same foreign-sounding twang, "I understand this is hard for you to accept-"

"What are the next steps?" Her father was all business, brushing past any implication of sentimentality on his part.

"The Oriens Ruboris is in the sector on its way back to Terra. I'll request it be hailed… Transfer shouldn't take more'n a week or two."

"And in the interim?"

There was an infinitesimal pause, followed by an almost grave, "I would think, Lieutenant, that, all odds considered, you'd want to make the most of what time you have."

"That seems as unnecessary as it does impractical, Doctor; and hardly safe."

What she could only imagine must be a stunned silence ensued. Obviously this woman did not know her parents. She proceeded with a slightly unsure, "Then it's either here or the brig, and frankly that's no place for a girl that little – she'd worm through the bars easier'n a joygirl is on Ascension Day." After brief, heavy silence, she amended, "Not that you'd know anything about that, sir. As it is, in the med bay I'm uniquely suited to monitor her-"

"And if she gets out of hand like last night?"

"There are certain drugs I can use to sedate her if the need arises," was the confident reply.

"Whatever is safest for the ship, Doctor. If there's nothing else…?" He left the query without end, clearly excusing them.

"I'll just leave you to say goodbye, then."

There was silence for a moment before he rejoined curtly, "I wouldn't care to cause... histrionics." There was the sound of a portal opening – obviously into the exterior gangway – footsteps, and then silence.