A Sea of Stars - Ch. 24 - Aftermath

    real reward for a job well
       done is another job
          worse     than
         the         first

    escape is to never finish.
      but in the end, even
          that      is
         not        really

           an option

Lillian awoke and was immediately struck by a strong sense of déjà vu. She was lying on her back in a hospital bed, just like the one she had woken up in–hours? days? years?–ago. Once again, she was strapped down, but more loosely than before. There was a little give at the arms and legs, although the band around her middle was just as tight as before.

There was no pain, which was curious. She wondered about that until she spied any IV with an innocent enough looking bag dispensing some sort of clear liquid into her arm. Must be some sort of pain killer.

She looked around and received her first pair of shocks. First, the infirmary was two too small. Instead of the half dozen beds she’d see the last time she’d been in the infirmary, she had the only one. Second, the infirmary wasn’t supposed to have a skylight with a spectacular view of Saturn’s majestic rings overhead.

“I don’t think I’m on the Borealis anymore,” she whispered to herself.

“Quite right you are my dear,” a posh, British sounding accent came from over her head. She craned her head back to see and caught sight of a middle aged gentleman with completely silver hair and more than a few wrinkles. Another surprise–he wasn’t wearing the sky blue jumpsuits of the Borealis’ medical staff. Instead he had on a outfit that more closely resembled one sort of loose fitting robe. The color matched though, other than a touch of ornamental scrollwork along the sleeves. He was warmly at her. She couldn’t recall having seen him before in her life.

“Um.” She hesitated; she didn’t want to sound rude. But she was curious and it didn’t take long for the curiosity to win out. “Where am I?”

“Why you’re on Titan Station of course.” He gestured skyward, towards the massive spectacle of Saturn hanging overhead. “I would have thought that the scenery might have given it away.”

“But I’m not supposed to be on Titan Station. I live on the Borealis.”

“Right you are once again. My don’t we have a bright one today. At least you did live on the Borealis, up until about two weeks ago.”

“Two weeks?” She shot up right–or rather tried to, the bands around her middle kept her firmly in place. All she managed to do was raise her head a few inches above the pillow. She sunk slowly back into place. With some effort, she managed to calm her voice and repeated herself. “Two weeks? But I was just there.”

“I’m afraid not. You’re most likely remembered that dreadful confrontation you had with the Sympathizer Adrian Bailey. It’s been all over the news you know. Quite exciting.”

“I remember that… He was trying to kill us.”

“Well he didn’t. Instead, you got the one up on him, now didn’t you?”

“I guess so.” She shuddered slightly. She’d never meant to kill anyone. “But that still doesn’t explain why I’m here.”

He shook his head. “I’m afraid that you hurt yourself rather more than you’d thought in those last 24 hours on the Borealis. Getting thrown about and breaking your ribcage only to go out on a daring repair mission in zero gravity? And then on top of that to engage in hand to hand combat with a man twice your size? You’re lucky you’re still in one piece.”

Something in the way he said it made Lillian suddenly afraid. She started wiggling her various extremities, making sure that she was in fact all in working order. Hands, fingers, toes. Everything was working.

The doctor was watching her closely and must have noted the movements. “I did tell you. You’re going to be fine.”

“Please. Just tell me what happened.”

“I’m not sure I’m the best one to tell the story. How about we leave that to a friend of yours.” He turned to the door and raised his voice. Only slightly, but somehow it carried easily. “Mrs. Corris? Could you please send him in?”

A slight pause and the door opened. A young lady–she couldn’t have been more than a year or two older than Lillian–stepped inside and held the door. A heartbeat later, Quinn strode in after her. He had a worried look on his face that immediately faded into a lovely grin when he saw Lillian awake and watching him.

“Lillian!” he called out, crossing the room in two large strides. He leaned forward–possibly to give her a hug–but froze when he saw the restraints. “Doctor, are those really necessary?”

There was a twinkle in the elderly doctor’s eye. “Oh, I’m sure she’ll be fine. We just had a note from the Borealis staff to make sure to handle her with care.” He was turned towards Quinn, but Lillian could still see the corner’s of his mouth turned up in a smile. “Apparently they’d had some trouble keeping her in bed before.”

Remarkably, Quinn seemed to be turning as red as Lillian felt. “I might know something about that.” As he spoke, the doctor was already loosening the restraints, first at her legs, then her arms, then finally the thick band around her middle.

Finally, she could sit up properly. She rose, hesitantly at first, expecting a rush of pain from the various injuries the doctor had been going on about, but there was nothing. She sat up straight and tried an experimental stretch. It didn’t hurt a bit.

“Excellent,” the doctor commented on seeing her stretch. “We were hoping we could get you all fixed up by the time you woke.” He looked back and forth between the two of them and stood. “Well, I’ll be off then. If you need anything, you be sure to let me know.”

“Thank you, doctor…”

“Middleton. And don’t mention it, I was just doing my job. I’ll be around after a while to see how you’re doing.” He waited a second, nodded, and strode out of the room. Lillian could hear him saying something to the nurse as he passed and then the door closed behind him.

“So…” She started, dragging the word to the breaking point.

“So.” Quinn joined her. “I guess you’ll be wondering what happened then, won’t you.”

“That’d be nice.”

“Well, what’s the last thing you remember.”

“Adrian.” Only a single word, but it seemed to be enough. Quinn nodded. “Well then you already know all of the interesting bits. After that it was mostly a lot of waiting. We had to recalibrate the gate to use only seven points and that took the better part of a day. The medics were worried about you and tried to push, but there wasn’t a thing to do about it.”

“When we finally got the gate fixed, we had to wait for the next emergency frequency to come up. Turns out it was Titan Station. We got a connection about 20 hours after the showdown in the shuttle bay. They were all sorts of surprised to see us again so soon. We sent you over with the first batch and most of the crew after.”

“Most of the crew?” Lillian asked.

“Yeah. Opening the gate tore open those welds you’d put in, so we lost the living quarters again. Of course, we’d already had them sealed off again by then, so it wasn’t a big deal, but it’s going to take some specialized equipment to fix it. They’re putting a team together right now, should be good to go in the next few days. That’s where Jacobs and Madeline are actually.”

Lillian raised a questioning eyebrow.

“They’ve been here almost as much as me, but they got called in by the Commander to head the repair efforts. He wanted you, but…” He gestured vaguely around the room.

Lillian nodded. It made sense. And it was nice to know that everyone had made it out safely.

“They’ve got a skeleton crew still on the Borealis, running the gate from that end, keeping an eye on things. They’ll try to get her back in full operation by the end of the month. It’s the first time anyone’s attempted a repair effort of this scale on a gateship midflight like this.”

She thought hard for a moment, trying to figure out when the end of the month might be. If she’d been out for two weeks, that meant… “So another three weeks?”

“That’s it. They’re really putting some effort into it.”

She slumped back into the bed. If she knew anything about doctors, she’d be stuck here well longer than that.

Quinn had been watching her and a small grin reappeared. “Oh, don’t worry about that. You’ll be out of her within the week. You’re already good to go, they just want to make sure that there aren’t any lasting effects from being out so long.”

She let the surprise show on her face.

He nodded, seemingly in agreement. “You’ve got me. Apparently you have some friends in high places though, Doctor Middleton there is a specialist, they flew him in specially from Mars.”

Friends in high places, she thought, huh. I wonder who that is… She didn’t say anything though.

Sensing her pause, Quinn went right on. He pulled out a rolled up newspaper he’d been holding in his back pocket. It was printed on some sort of flexible, reusable electronic surface, but the styles and fonts used were unmistakable. She hadn’t been anywhere that had a regular paper in years, but some things never seemed to change.

He held the paper out for her. “Here, I think you should read this. Quite an article. Although when I showed Madeline, she didn’t seem as interested as I would have expected.” He shrugged.

Lillian took the paper and spread it out before her. The headline stood bold across the top of the front page: WE ARE NOT ALONE.

She looked up at Quinn who was making a ‘go on’ gesture with his hands. She lowered her head and started reading the article.

`WE ARE NOT ALONE By: Francis Drake `

24 October - That age old question–are we alone in the universe?–was answered today with a resounding NO by a surprise discover at the edge of the solar system.

A group of scientists, let by Dr. Stephen Biggs set foot today on what is most definitely an alien craft, the first such craft ever discovered. It was found after a tip from an as of yet anonymous source to the observatory on Titan station pointed their telescopes right in the correct direction.

While the craft appears to have been abandoned by its creators years if not centuries ago, long before it reached the solar system, the number of discoveries made in just the first hours are truly astounding.

Even now, Parliament is forming an interdisciplinary task force to take up residence around what is now being called the Artifact in order to study it more closely. The newly completed gateship Discovery has been rerouted to provide a home for these men and women and to provide safe and quick access to and from the ship.

Continued on page 2

`See page 4 for an interview with Dr. Stephen Biggs See page 11 for pictures of the interior of the alien craft `

There was a picture taking up a large portion of the page. At first glance, it looked like a dim, shadowy picture of a park at night. It could have been taken anywhere. But as she studied the picture, she saw the trees were too low to the ground and, rather than leaves, seemed to split into smaller and smaller branches, finally fading into a shell of interwoven twigs. She couldn’t recall ever seeing a tree like that. And what she’d taken as a brook, winding beneath the tree, was shining in a way that she associated more with oil or even tar than with flowing water.

She looked up at Quinn, who had been watching her read. “Isn’t that amazing?” he asked.

“Amazing,” she agreed, hoping she put just enough emphasis into the word so that he’d believe she meant it. As far as he knew, she was hearing about the Artifact for the first time. Which reminded her–Eve. But she couldn’t very well ask Quinn, could she? He didn’t know about her.

Quinn sighed. “You’re thinking about Eve, aren’t you?” She gave him a hard look. How in the world… “Madeline told me. She told me pretty much everything while you were out. I think she just wanted someone to talk to.”

Lillian shook her head. Of course. Madeline. She smiled though. That would at least make it easier than having to remember to constantly guard her tongue around him. “How’s she doing?”

“Better, actually. The virus was more devious than she’d expected and when she took out every copy she could find in the Borealis’ systems, she missed the one that had gotten into her own. She was out just about as long as you were, but managed to pull through just fine. That’s a heck of a program… woman… artificial intelligence…”

“Friend,” Lillian said simply.

He smiled. “Friend you have there. She’s with Madeline now, helping to plan the repairs. I’m sure they’ll both be by this evening.”

Lillian suddenly felt tired. According to her augs, it was only early afternoon, but still she felt physically and emotionally drained. All of this despite having had two weeks of sleep. She laughed at herself. I’ll never complain about sleeping late again, she thought, it just won’t compare.

Quinn saw her drooping eyes. “Go ahead and sleep. The doctor said that you’re going to be tired for the next few days. It takes a lot out of you to heal all of that damage.” He hesitated for a moment and Lillian could feel herself falling asleep.

She snapped awake though; he wasn’t going to get away with it this time. “What is it?”

“Well, I was thinking. When you wake up again… Would you like to go out for dinner? Just the two of us?”

It took her a second to track what he was saying. A date. All this time, he’d been working up the courage to ask her out on a date. She started to laugh, quietly at first but it grew. Seeing the look on Quinn’s face, she managed to calm herself down after a few moments. “I’m sorry.” She wiped a tear from her face. “So sorry, it’s just that with all that’s been going on… You know what? That sounds nice. This evening? Just one request though.”

He smiled, but he still looked slightly worried. “What’s that?”

“Wherever we go, try to make sure that it’s not going to blow up on us…”