A Long Twilight Journey

Chapter 2

By: Athirne

Now we are well into our second month of the mission. Before I get into the state of the crew I should probably update you about what has happened since I last left off. We are now approaching the edge of explored space. Everything appears to be coming together finally. We nailed down the problem with the reactor only giving out about half the power it was supposed to. Also we increased the accuracy of the optical targeting to about .0001%. Now if needed, our tactical officer can fire a weapons burst with about a fourth of a meter of error at maximum range. And we finally got the transporter working. Yes that is right, once again he made a large pizza. It was Chicago style with ‘all the works’... that is to say within reason. It took us four days just to clean the grease out of the systems. However it did make him very popular among the non-repair crew.

As for the crew, my first officer and mate have been continuously exchanging... unpleasantries. However I am beginning to think they knew each other prior to the mission and it is all in some kind of fun.

Speaking of Jason, he is in one of his ‘bad moods’ and has spent an increasing amount of time with Skuks. Hy has been kind enough to avoid taking a peek in his mind and hence avoided a disaster. In reality though, I think they just exchange stories more then him talking about more on-topic subjects. After all he is a rather private person.

The rest of the command staff is still in a relaxed mood. At least until Jason comes onto the bridge and hijacks Rose’s chair and spends about half an hour spinning around in it. Sometimes I swear I am mated to a five year old.

And as for me, well, I have been trying to learn more about this damn ship. From what I gather this uses alien technology from a ship that crashed on Earth quite a while ago, even before morphs existed. The ship eventually came into Star Fleet’s possession when they uncovered an old pre-war research bunker in North America. It actually looks like half of the work was already done.

Another interesting fact about this ship is that they had problems with particular components and they asked for, and received, help from someone called Mage Athirne. Some of the crew who had seen him actually say that he haunts the ship. I asked them if he died. They replied by saying something like, "no, well that assumes he ever was alive." Very odd indeed. I am starting to wonder if cleaning up after my dear mate has caused a sight transfer of schizophrenia.

Jason took that moment to run into my private room just off the bridge, taking my attention away from this diary/log. He spotted me behind the desk and jumped over it to land on top of me. He grabbed onto some of my fur and pressed himself into my side. That was when I realized he was cold and shaking.

"What's wrong, love?" I asked concerned.

He looked up slightly and said, "She's back."

I brushed my fingers through his hair. "It's okay," I reassured him. I suppose this is another thing I should explain about him. Jason is schizophrenic, as I said before, and he suffers from delusions. As for the ‘she’, he is referring to girlfriend he had in high school. They were deeply in love. However some things interfered with their relationship. She was a vixen and he was a human. She moved on to Star Fleet while he avoided it like the plague. She was a delusion while he was not. You know the little things that ruin life. Could you imagine waking up one morning and realize that the one you loved more then life itself, didn't move away, didn't break up with you, but actually never even existed?

"What does she want?" I asked him softly, stroking his cheek.

"She said we were all going to die," he replied, crying into my fur.

That shocked me needless to say.

Skuks was sitting on the floor next to Jason, who just so happened to be resting his head on my chest... the upper one.

"And that was all she said?" asked Skuks.

"Yes," Jason replied solemnly.

I wrapped my arms around him once again and held him tight.

"Don't worry," I assured him, "It's not real."

He sighed and hugged me back.

Then a chirp sounded and I hit the back of my right hand. You see each member of the crew received a sub-dermal implant that, from what I understand, was a gift from someone who called himself a mage. This, if I understand correctly, is ironic since the ship owes its existence to this mage. I wonder why he does not call the ship a gift too?

At any rate, the implant is a piece of micro circuitry that has embedded itself into the bones on the back of the crew’s right hand. If what our ship’s doctor tells me about this is true, then there are organic ‘petals’ that are just below the skin that are pressure sensitive. To activate some of the more advanced functions of this implant, say accessing the COM systems or computer, you simply hit the ‘petal’. The other functions this device has is a tracking device (helpful on away missions and also allows the ship to tailor its interface and structure to suit each of the crew’s needs). Finally, it also monitors the health of the individual (no need for a med scan, which should save quite a bit of time if there is a medical emergency).

"Captain, you have a message for you from Admiral Benson. It's marked as eyes-only and is using the new tachyon transmission technique." The voice of Rose came from the back of my hand.

Note to self, in case I ever have to backhand someone ask if it would damage the implant.

"I'll take it in my office," I replied and tapped the back of my hand.

I sighed and got up on my legs as Jason moved over next to Skuks.

"Have fun you two," and with that I was out the door.

Skuks chuckled and sipped on a cup of tea. Hy sighed and asked, "Anything else you want to talk about while you are here?"

He smiled and placed his head hys chest while the Skunktaur took another swig from hys mug.

"We want to know when you going into your female phase next," he stated with a wink.

Skuks’ eyes went wide as hy choked on hys tea.

I walked into my little office, and noticed an out of place PADD on the table. It read: "Skuks will be ready by Tuesday. -Jason-"

This made me blink and wonder how he could have beaten me here... or did he just place the PADD there before I left and transmitted the message after I left. At least Jason is his usual direct self.

I shook my head and sat on the soft pad behind my desk. It was more like a big table that had the front and sides enclosed.

"Ship, receive message."

"Implant ID confirmed, applying cipher. Please stand by," the computer replied.

I looked at the PADD again as the ship returned the ‘handshake’ and completed establishment of the encrypted channel. The Star Fleet insignia flashed on the wall in front of myself as the image was replaced by that of a human female of Asian decent with an Admiral’s uniform on.

"Benson, this is quite a surprise. I did not expect a call from Star Fleet command for another week or so."

"Yes, well," she began with a solemn look on her face. "There is something I believe that I should tell you before you go any farther."

I blinked. "And that would be..."

She sighed and closed her eyes.

"The reason we never wanted your mate to be on board is because there is a slight discrepancy that, until now, we have never been able to make out in the protein coding of his DNA, along with specific trace chemicals in him."

"He is not..." I began.

"No, for all we can tell he is healthy. Too healthy, which is part of the point."

"What do you mean?"

She took a deep breath and said, "You know that when your mate was eight, he was found on an odd space craft that records indicated as belonging to a family of explorers. However eventually we investigated and found out that according to the records, he was a member of that family, their only child."

"What are you getting at?" I asked slightly annoyed.

"Eventually we found out that this family only existed in computer records, nothing more. While we were able to confirm that there was a family on the ship at one point, only he survived the entire trip to Earth space."

"Recently, with the technology we have obtained from a mage in designing this ship we were able to fully analyse and compare the testing results against that of other humans. We found that there was a chemical that is only found in two beings that we know of: skunktaurs and mages."

I had never been more confused in my life. What do mages, skunktaurs, and my mate have in common that would be so odd? "What are you saying?"

"Please, let me finish," she replied.

I nodded and allowed her to continue.

"When the skunktaurs got the set of injections that the chakats created, a very small trace amount of this chemical compound was in it. Eventually we discovered that this was what gave them their enhanced psychic abilities."

"As I said before, we also have discovered that this chemical exists in elevated levels in mages. While we have yet to observe any unique psychic abilities in mages, we have come to believe that this is what allows their bodies to tolerate their implants without being rejected."

"Now, I believe that the Mages wound up establishing their homes in the area you are heading into, the same area from which the ship Jason came from."

"Are you saying Jason is somehow a mage?"

"No, not a mage, a forgotten!"

I blinked.

"By what I am about to tell you, I am raising your level of clearance from Top Secret to Angle O/A."

Suddenly I felt like I was thrown into a corny mixing of Sci-Fi and conspiracy theories. All I could do was nod and wonder if Benson lost it by spending to much time with her team in Intelligence that was trying to decrypt the remainder of the WW III and Mage records.

"From what we can tell, a group of about 200 human philosophers, teachers, and scientists believed that the small war that was elevating between the humans and their creation would end in the destruction of one of the sides. In order to avoid being involved, they banded together and manipulated several governments to create a deep space exploration vessel. When it was completed, they stole it, placed themselves in stasis on it, and sent it off into deep space. In order to insure that they would not be stopped, they detonated a nuclear warhead in the upper atmosphere over what was then the United States. This caused some havoc with satellites and caused about 40% of the civilian satellite communication network to fail. In the chaos they slipped out of the system with little complaint as the governments had other things to worry about. You see this initial chaos was used by the morphs to start the all out war."

Naturally I was inclined to disbelieve this, but it did make too much sense. The pre-war taxes were huge and the governments strictly controlled the media for that time. Perhaps it was to cover up the fact they were creating something big in space. Perhaps it was also the reason that for that time nearly every issue brought before the UN, US, China, Russia, Germany, and the UK was ignored or placed ‘on the back burner’.

"You mean they could have been the predecessors of what are now called the mages?" I asked, my head spinning.

"Yes. But also what you have to understand is that, at least from what we have been able to pick up, not all of the mage population became mages. We know they have a rather relaxed cast system and that there are three kinds of ‘citizens’: The mages, the commons, and something called the naturals."

"So Jason could be part of the naturals?"

Benson shrugged.

"Why don't you find out yourself. You do have at least one mage looking after your ship. He was the one that designed some of it for us. His name is Athirne. Ask him when he eventually shows up... or you could see for yourself if you ever go out that far."

"Why don't you ask him yourself?" I replied.

"Um, we know each other and let's just say that he has made it clear that if we ever meet again, he will behead me, set it on fire, place the charred remains on a stake, and then write the words: ‘do not try the patience of wizards, for I am subtle and quick to anger’. Or something along those lines. And don't ask why he wants me dead; its a long story."

"Is there anything else?" I asked.

"Yes, the real reason why we have this as a joint mission is because that one mage hates Star Fleet. He despises us. The only reason he is helping us is because Earth is their order’s cradle. He wants to protect Earth but does not trust Star Fleet alone with the first prototype ship he helped us with. He was the one who demanded you be placed in charge. He was the one who preferred not to have your mate along."

"Why are you telling me all of this all of a sudden?"

"Because he wanted someone to tell you once you entered the deep range, and because I wanted to inform you that your mate is not what he appears. Just remember, impress him and survive this. I bet that by the end of this mission you will have come across more information about the mages and their hierarchy then any non-member. If you impress this mage, you may wind up making the first step in an alliance between Earth, Chakona, and the mages."

"Secure channel closed," the computer stated.

Well this is just great. Not only do I have to get used to a completely new ship, my first command, a new crew... well mostly new, and now this. Great! My mate may somehow be linked to these... mages. Not only that, but Benson seems to be acting like this is one of the most important missions ever. The chime sounded and I did my best to collect myself.

"Who is it?" I asked.

"Jason. We reached our first check point, love," came the reply.

I got back up on my paws and walked over to the door. It slid open to reveal Jason with a grim look on his face. He gestured for me to go in front of him in the hall that connects a few offices and the conference room to Command and Control.

Speaking of which, that is another thing that I am going to never get used to. The entire ship is designed and functions differently from any other Federation construction. Weapons and defensive systems function differently. There is no bridge, but a command and control (mostly this is because the layout of the space is fundamentally different then what you would see on the traditional bridge).

At any rate as I passed Jason by he gave me a little pat on the bum. I glared back at him, but he looked innocently back at me. It was next to impossible to get angry with him. He is very good with subtle control of a situation. He never gets into a situation or conversation that he has not already thought out and knows basically how it's going to end.

I sighed and continued to the open passageway onto the command deck. Now on a standard bridge design you would expect to see designated consoles for specific purposes. However on this ship the functions of the consoles change as they are needed. During normal operation you have: navigation, two science consoles, a communication console, and a MISC console (ship status, weapons, etc). In brief engagements or small battles it switches to: Navigation, Battle console, communication (both standard and for drone control), and then the MISC console (this time ship status, engineering, etc). In heavy battle you have: Navigation, offensive systems, defensive systems, Drone/fighter/support control, Engineering (the only time there is a dedicated engineering console), and the MISC console (Communications, etc). While these are the default configurations for each main alert status, you can grab any spare console and its controls and displays will reconfigure to what you need (you can even combine functions).

Also there is a back ‘island’ (nothing more then a slightly raised oval shaped area where the command staff is). There are three chairs there (the chairs can be configured for bipeds, taurs, or folded into the wall.) And this is more of a relatively ‘traditional’ setup for this ship. If you think this is bad, then you should see engineering or medical.

Rose saw us enter and got up from the center chair. That chair promptly folded flat and shifted forward and down slightly of its own accord. Did I forget to mention that this ship’s AI is one of the most advanced AIs I know of? You can actually have conversations with it. And it will respond with the intelligence of a student in college, although if you want to, you can stump and confuse it. However, that is easier said than done (I have only seen Jason do it).

Rose began to rattle on about the ship’s status and how Jason should stay out of her chair (I have the center one, Rose has the one to my right, and the left one is for an adviser. That is where Jason usually sits while he is in command and control).

Jason chuckled and took his seat. He reached and tapped a button on a console to his left. It then folded out of the side wall and folded out in front of him. He had another of those ‘if she keeps talking then I am going to sleep soon’ looks on his face. Personally I could not blame him.

When Rose was done with her little spiel, we looked at Jason and asked the question we hate to get the answer to: "Any signs of intelligent life in the system?" I asked.

"First," he began, "I would like to point out that I have yet to encounter an intelligent life form. But as for the question of life in the system I can tell you definitely that there is none in this system."

I am so going to need to have a word about that later.

"However I do believe I have detected a world that has quite an unusual structure on it."

That got my attention. "Where?"

"Fourth planet from the system’s star," he replied while bringing up a picture of the world on the holoscreen.

It was red and covered by violent storms. The spectrum analysis showed that it was heavy with iron and had an odd EM field. It was slightly larger than Mars and looked like it went through hell, and by that I mean far less hospitable then Mars.

"And this structure is where?"

He zoomed into the planet and showed the results from an EM ping from the ship. While it was severely distorted by the storm and the heavy amount of metals on the planet, you could just barely make out a segment of the results that was out of place.

"From what I remember of reading EM ping results 101, that looks more like a mixture of plastic synthetics and some kind of steel. Kind of like what is used in modern construction. It is very lightweight and is far stronger then any normal steel," Jason said in a monotone voice that, if he continued, would make you want to be in a coma.

Okay, perhaps I would drop that speech about the intelligent life with him later. Once again I am amazed by my mate’s abilities to do the damn near impossible.

"Um..." I began as I tried to look at what he saw again.

"A probe, captain?" Rose suggested.

"Yah," I began still in awe, "Go down to the launch bay and make sure they have it configured correctly for nasty weather."

I didn't even notice her leave or Jason authorize the launch for me. I was still looking at the EM analysis. Something was odd about the results. I unfocused my eyes and just let my mind try to figure out the pattern.

That was when I saw it. A design that I have only seen one other place. Jason had a pin that had an identical design on it. He said it was a gift from his parents before they died, shortly before they entered Stellar Federation space when he was only a small kid. Jason was left alone on a ship, only a child, having to stay in stasis until the ship revived him when they neared Earth space. Could this be the place where they were laid to rest?

Perhaps I should not have been concentrating so hard on the pattern, for the next moment I heard the ship’s general alarm.

"Unauthorized shuttle launch." The ship’s computer said.

I looked back to see Jason was gone. I closed my eyes for a moment and then began to make my way to the shuttle bay.

When I entered the shuttle bay, Rose was already there.

"So it was him," she said just before I shoved her to the side and got into the ship’s second shuttle.

As I entered my codes and began the pre-launch sequence, the shuttle’s door opened again and in walked a slightly pissed-off Rose. She threw my EVA suit at me.

"If we are going to follow him, then we are going to need to breathe."

I cast down my eyes. I could not believe what I had just done, I struck someone; my first officer of all people. This was all too much for one day, Jason’s hallucinations, the message from Benson, and now this. Perhaps I was never meant to be a captain.

Clearing my mind, I began the launch sequence as Rose sat down next to me. All I wanted was this day to end, to survive this and have my mate next to me in bed tonight was all I thought of. Screw what was right for my position and what else would go wrong today. And I continued justifying my actions through the flight, landing, and suiting up.

"Rose, take the shuttle back and wait in command for me. This may take a while and I need you up there in case the saying that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, is right."

She nodded and I made my way outside for a little walk. It was about half a kilometer until I got to shuttle one and another half till I got to Jason. He was in a EVA suit, on his knees and from the looks of it he was crying.

Slowly coming up behind him, I placed a handpaw on his shoulder.

"Are you alright?" I asked him.

Perhaps I won't be ripping off his helmet with the handpaw.

He spun around and looked at me with tears in his eyes. I never do know why, but I can never be mad at him in a state like that. I wrapped my arms around him and hugged him closely.

"There was a mine field," he began between sniffles. "They stuck me in one of the ship’s stasis pods and tried to manually repair the damage. They died from lack of oxygen and slight decompression. When I came out, I saw them on the floor, not moving. That was when the ship’s computer informed me they were dead. I found a planet, hostile, just the way they like things. They never did like anything that was easy. And then I buried them here and performed some kind of a ceremony I don't remember. I removed a piece of the hull and placed it on top of where they were buried. It's all slowly coming back to me."

How I wish I could hold him tightly against him and let my fur absorb his tears. He smiled gently and stroked the side of my helmet.

"I'm sorry for what I must have put you through today. Slowly everything from the trip is beginning to become clear in my memory again. It has left me rather agitated, and I'm sorry that it's affecting you too," he said smiling at me

I almost forgot the link I had with him. We chakats do develop a form of a telepathic link with our mates, family, and those who are close to us. In a way then I suppose that some of his emotions must have affected me throughout the day. For a human he is extremely emotional, and an emotional rollercoaster at that. But I have always loved rollercoasters.

Smiling to him I stroked him through the EVA suit fabric and slowly led him back to shuttle one. After settling down and placing the shuttle to return to the ship via autopilot, I removed my EVA suit.

"Now I think we need to have a little chat, Jason," I said as I removed his helmet.

He had a final sniffle and then looked oddly at me. Then he sniffed the air again and went white as a sheet.

"Here, let me help you out of that."

Skuks arrived at command after hearing the news. "So what did Jason do this time?" hy began to ask Rose and looked at the holo screen. "Why is shuttle one a'rocking?"

"I don't know, but I wouldn't come a'knocking," Rose warned.

I walked out of the shuttle and looked back at my mate. "I will be back in our quarters in about half an hour. Be there or I will hunt you down. I'm still not finished yet." With that said, I walked off to command and left Jason behind with the shuttle-bay crew.

"What was that about?" one of the crew asked.

Jason shrugged and said, "I don't know, but you know that you never should say no to a large female feline. They tend to get a temper."

The four crewmembers chuckled and walked into the shuttle. Jason pocketed something from his discarded and rumpled up EVA suit and left the shuttle bay.

"Hey Tom, look at this!" one of the shuttle bay workers said.

"What?" he replied.

"The EVA suit Jason used must need a new oxygen gauge, it reports that none was used."

"How odd. Give the tanks here and I will recharge them."

Continued in Chapter 3.




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