"Will you do it?" Andrew Miller asked, a little anxiously.
"I'll think about it," Josh Rosen said. They were in one of the ISS Defiant's old bio labs. It was no longer being used for experiments, and had instead become a storage room for equipment.
"Well, I hate to rush you, but the clock is ticking," Miller said.
"Yeah. But look, you know what kinda trouble I could get into, Andy."
"Uh, please?" Asking for permission was a sign of weakness. Being polite was a sign of weakness, the kind of thing that women did, and then only sometimes. Becoming beholden to someone was another sign of weakness. But he was getting a bit desperate.
"You're really under the gun, eh?"
"It's either that, or she'll have to come up with the name of some other guy," Andy said.
"Well, she could. Melissa wouldn't be the first girl in the Terran Empire to tell a lie when it came to ID'ing the father of her kid," Josh pointed out.
"True, but there's only a little pool of candidates. Unless you wanna volunteer," Andy said.
"Nope, that's all you. What the hell were you thinking, getting involved with the pilot at the same time that the Empress is using you for her plaything? It was a dumb move, Andy. You weren't thinking with the right equipment."
"Yeah, I know," Andrew admitted, "but I, uh, with Melissa, it's not like it is with Hoshi. I, uh, I wanna get out of this, stop being a toy. She's sexy as hell, but all of that gets old, and faster than you'd probably think. She just, she doesn't seem to have a heart, yanno?"
"Don't let her hear you say that," Josh glanced around nervously. They were alone, but it was impossible to tell who might be listening in some fashion. Even hearing such treasonous sentiments could buy him a one-way ticket to the agony booth.
"I've only said that kinda thing to you and Melissa. Josh, we got no way to escape without you. You, uh, take whatever you want from the fund. Cut it right off the top. Just, please, leave enough so our son doesn't starve, okay? Could you? Please?" There was that word again.
"Okay," Josh said, sighing a little, "You can put the account in my name. We'll hide it like you said; make it look like gambling debts. If anybody asks, you owe me a boatload 'cause you stink at cards."
"You're a life saver, Josh."
"So it's all set," Andy said. He and Melissa were in her tiny quarters.
"Okay," Melissa said, kissing him. "I can't work much longer. I'll get myself to Ceres where my sister Miri lives. She can help me with, you know," she patted her belly, "Will I be able to see you?"
"I dunno. It might not be for a while."
"Tommy won't know you," she said.
"No, he, uh, I guess he won't," Andrew said, turning away.
They were on the Bridge for the night shift. Melissa was piloting. Josh stood in the back at attention, for he was a security crewman. Andy was at the science station. The Empress Hoshi Sato was in the command chair, getting bored.
"No one ever tells you," Hoshi yawned, "but space travel is pretty damned boring when you're between stops. Andrew, let's, uh …."
"Empress!" Melissa interjected.
"Oh, what is it?" Hoshi snarled.
"I'll need to go on leave soon."
"Leave? Whatever the hell for?"
"Who's the father?" The question was asked out of neither concern nor congratulations nor curiosity. Rather, it was to determine who to yell at for taking the main pilot out of commission.
"I don't know," Melissa said cautiously.
"Wham bam, huh?"
"It was dark, and there were a lot of them," Melissa held her ground, staring straight ahead.
"That can be fun," Hoshi said, "tomorrow you and Miller will take a shuttle as we'll be orbiting New Vulcan. Get me two slaves who can do calculations. In the meantime, Andrew, c'mon to the Ready Room and we'll make use of the cot that's in there." She sauntered away and Andrew was forced to follow her.
He remembered it vividly, all of it, even though it was May of 2192 and that had all happened in September of 2166. He sat in the Empress's plush quarters, alone, remembering that day and the events of the day that had followed. They had taken the shuttle to the surface, and everything had seemed to be going along relatively smoothly. But when they had taken off again, the shuttle had lost altitude quickly, and crashed. He had walked away with nary a scratch, as had the two unlucky Vulcans chosen to work for Hoshi.
And then there was Melissa. She had slumped forward, hitting her head, and blood had dripped from the side of her mouth. There was nothing that could be done, and Andrew remembered her last words – bridge to nowhere.
But that was nearly twenty-six years previously.
In the meantime, the fund had stayed right where it was, completely unused. It had been for Tommy, and there had never been a Tommy. Rosen had never tapped it. Perhaps that was out of respect, or maybe the fellow just hadn't wanted to be associated with it and caught somehow. But he could have it, Andrew figured. Andy would not need it.
It had taken Andrew that quarter-century to gather together the means, the opportunity and the nerve to do what he was about to do. And he had done so.
He rolled the means around in his hands. It was a small capsule, and it said Tri-C on one side. On the other, in far tinier print, it said Crossman Pharmaceuticals. It was tricoulamine, a fatal neurotoxin. It would be painful, but for no more than a few seconds. And it wouldn't be anywhere near as painful as when he'd had to say the two most painful words he'd ever said, those many years ago, "Madden's dead."
He clicked open a PADD and typed a simple message, "MM, I'll be with you soon, my love." He saved it and made sure it stayed open. He wanted it to be found. He looked around the room, seeing the last things he would ever see, and took a deep breath, smelling the last scents he would ever smell.
He then bit down on the capsule and, in a few seconds, made his escape.