The environmental readouts were nominal numbers, indicating no toxins to be found within the vicinity of Yaath, the fourth most resource-intensive restaurant within the Hades Gamma quadrant. The atrium of the spired, glistening silver purple architecture folded in a stock fourth-dimensional pattern, oscillating in between different frequencies of time, showing little hints of the space the building held, would hold, and had held, in a kaleidoscope designed by minds long forgotten to the records of The Federation Alliance. Bustling about hurriedly were many different servers, some multi-limbed, others non-humanoid, bio-mechanical, and others literally Servers, as the place was newly networked to work with any standard UniCom, making ordering a dish from the far spiral end of the galaxy as simple as thinking of it. The glittering spires, the permanent UV adjusted sun, held aloft in a permanent stasis of cold fusion, providing light but no warmth, was the proudest display of bio-diversity and hospitality in a quadrant unknown for its tolerance. The breeze, simulated; blew itself across many dining tables in the Simu-Deck, rustling the antique paper napkins on the table of an engineer, and a First Officer having dinner.
“It’s multi-dimensional. A kind of temporal-spatially electrified version of what they might call obsidian on Ancient Earth. Even though there are no igneous minerals involved. I guess it’s kind of a nebular quartz that appears only here in this quadrant! I’ve always wanted to see it.” The Engineer said, wrapping their eating utensils in the paper napkins, like they’d seen in old Terran records.
“It’s beautiful.” Said The First Officer, placing one hand on the table, the other reaching for her glass.
“I always thought about coming here, but as a reward. Not really as a before kind of thing.”
“It’s shore leave. We have to have shore somewhere.” The First Officer touched her UniCom, and closed her eyes.
“What are you getting, honey?”
“It is shore leave!” The Engineer touched their UniCom, and thought about a delicious bowl of grated Zyxtium, a favorite edible mineral from adolescence.
In a flash their UniComs sent their thoughts through the networked airwaves reaching the chefs inside, whose concoctions crafted aromas that permeated throughout Yaath and into the simu-outdoor deck, the false sun beaming down on a bright, perfectly crafted blue-silver sky, that shined the constellations from your home solar system, based on your UniCom preferences. The Engineer recognized Cassiopeia, and Kolara, and C#11408-B, from their studies at Academy. The Engineer had no constellations from their own solar system, being wiped out in The Third Dirge.
“What are you thinking about, love?”
“Mmm.” The Engineer reached for the drone delivering the food and drinks.
“It’s going to be…Even more than we previously expected. It’s looking like a lot more.”
“That’s why we plan. That’s why we know that this next system is important. Uncharted new worlds are always terrifying.”
“The problem is always difficult. How do we make our presence unknown to Class 5 civilizations anymore? Is this the right way even? I don’t know sometimes.” The First Officer looked wistfully at the projected shifting spires, the ones that reminded her of the mountains from Eden Prime. The clouds shifted into a shape not entirely unlike an elephant, then just as quickly disapparated.
“Careful. You know that Captain Kass has a plan. Why do you think we were even given shore leave? I’m sure she’s on an away mission getting some vital part needed to chart this new system safely and securely.”
“I’m not losing faith in our Captain, I just feel so restless. So emotional and distraught. I know on some level, intellectually I’m worth it, worth having this title, this uniform, and working directly alongside the Captain is like, trying to…”
“…Trying to describe magnetism to an organic infant.”
“Quaint! But sure!” The First Officer laughed.
“I know what you mean. The few times I’ve been on the bridge I’ve felt it. That powerful sense of energy, of confidence, of love and care.”
“Yes, The Captain exudes it with all her being, and it’s like nobody else notices it? Or takes it for granted that She’ll Figure It All Out At The End, and whenever I tell people that I worry for her, that I worry for the crew, for the ship itself, everyone thinks I’m doubting. That there’s some criticism or judgment I’m making.”
“When the truth is only the opposite.”
The Engineer drank their wine in a single gulp, while taking bites of algae-loaf, each mouth taking care to breathe in between chews and swallows. A drone wizzed by, playing a simple midi-tune, with a screen that flashed CONTINUE PLAYING??? ONLY 2 CREDITS! The First Officer touched her UniCom and thought it away. The Engineer thought it back, and bought four extra tunes to play.
“I don’t doubt the Captain’s plan. I know that this is our best chance really. I know it’s all thought out and safe but… Whenever we enter a new system, it’s the Captain who’s the most vulnerable you know? They represent us all. They live and die on it.”
“I’ve calibrated the stealth systems religiously for the last fourteen rels. I promise you, they’re primed and absolutely our best chance at all of this going peacefully and promisingly.”
“I don’t work next to her, but I admire the Captain endlessly. I just need you to know that even though you worry about her, I’m sure she’s considered you in the full equation of things too, you know?”
“Yeah.” The First Officer gazed into her glass of wine.
It reflected her augmented irises, which asked her for approval to analyze the alcohol content of her beverage. She canceled the prompt with a blink.
The Spires shifted and spun. For a second, flames burst from within them, showing a day in the future when Yaath may catch fire, or a day in the past when it did. It burned now too. The sky shifted to a super-intelligent shade of neon purple. It began to sing. The midi-drones chimed in.
POSEIDON’S CHORUS JOINS FOR US
LOSING CONTROL INSIDE OF TIME
GUIDING FORWARD INSIDE OF MIND
DOES THIS ONE HAVE CONTROL
ABYSSAL ABYSSAL ABYSSAL
ABYSSAL ABYSSAL ABYSSAL
The Engineer looked at The First Officer, who leaned back in her seat, sipping her glass. She listened to the skysong, and closed her eyes. She looked beautiful, and around her glowed an aura only visible on a spectrum human eyes couldn’t see. The Engineer noted to paint or draw it for her one day, as there were no words to fully describe it in her language.
“You shine when you talk about The Captain you know.”
“I know, you’ve told me before.”
“It’s just very bright!”
“Do you remember the first time we met?”
“It was at Academy wasn’t it?”
“No, I mean, when we met met.”
“Yeah. That was a dark time, I know.”
“No it’s okay, I don’t mind talking about it with you. You’re the only one who I can really even talk about it with.”
“I think about it all the time.”
“Because even though The Agamemnon was a nightmare, it was when we made it out, and when we got into that escape pod together, and that we even made it out of that place, before that madness began to take everyone.”
“I don’t know. I never want to think about the things I saw that day. The things Primrose did to the crew. To himself. To you…”
The Engineer held their biomechanical hand up to The First Officer’s cheek. They wiped away a tear from her eye, taking her temperature, feeling her heartbeat, her mineral and nutritional readouts, the compositions of all the chemicals inside of her, they could feel the raised levels of cortisol, adrenaline and salinity dilution, probably from excess rehydrating.
“I can raise your serotonin levels, babe, if you want?”
“No, thanks though. I’d rather do it the old fashioned way.” With that, The First Officer finished her wine, and leaned across the dining table, pulling The Engineer close.
“I’ll never forget it, my love. When I saw you in that hallway, those radiation vents cooking you. The way you moved. The way you helped Augustine until the very last moment. Before they were cooked in that thing. Before you were cooked in that thing! And how I wondered and doubted and had so many doubts and mixed feelings about being a Second Officer, and every single time I think about it I think about how you deserved that credit. That is was you and your strength, and your capacity to withstand things mere humans cannot. That there’s no way I would’ve been able to to do the same for you. I felt so small and weak and scared. I remember feeling so trapped and knowing Primrose was coming specifically for me, and the whole Artifact was just a goose chase for him to get us locked into that course into the gas giant. I want to forget about it all but I just can’t, and even though I’m so afraid and embarrassed I’m still happy that I survived! That I made it out and with my sanity intact. That we both did together. No matter how many recommendations I put forward, no matter how much I suggested you get this promotion, because I outrank you, they gave me the credit. It’s nonsense! It’s an injustice and it isn’t right! I can’t even think about how much you gave to be here, to have me be here, and I think about how you’re still an engineer, and how you deserve to be on the bridge with me, by the Captain’s side!”
“Oh, sweetheart. You know I’d love nothing more than that, but I’m an engineer. They need me down in the depths of the ship. They need my solutions. My expertise.”
“I know. You’re so amazingly smart. I can’t even imagine.”
“I can show you if you like?”
“You’re always full of surprises. Of course!” The First Officer chuckled through tears.
The Engineer reached their hand, interweaving their seven organic digits with the fingers of The First Officer. Their hands clasped together, The Engineer closed their eyes, and touched their UniCom, activating a homemade program they had been working on in between missions, just for this occasion, on one of the few planned allotments of shore leave before venturing into the uncharted Darkspace. The program began to run, and the bio-mechanical parts of The Engineer began to whirr and flicker as the information was channeled into bio-electric energy, synced up to their UniComs, united their minds in a singular vision.
They stood alone, surrounded in off grey to white. They faced each other.
Before them was a great blue sea, a vast archipelago, each floating with all manner of glorious things, some with foods from all over the universe, others with media handpicked from thousands of FedAlliance cultures, others with activities in abundance, and all within a thought’s distance away. The Engineer showed how it worked, and reached down into the island, picking it up with their hand and expanding it into full scale. They were now on a beach. The sand crunched under their feet.
“I don’t think sand is supposed to crunch like that!” The First Officer joked, cracking a mischevious smile. The tears fading from her face, indistinguishable from the work of the program or not.
“I’ll get the hang of it eventually.”
“I know you will. I can’t believe you made all this yourself! This is incredible!”
“What’s really incredible? Is how much time it took to get the time flux equations right. I dunno how they do it here in Hades Gamma, fourth-dimensional thinking is tough even for me.”
“Time Flux? Like a dilation?”
“Yeah, but mentally induced through my biomechanics.”
The Engineer reached down and expanded a small island onto the top of a table that was thought into existence.
“Here, try this.”
The Engineer handed The First Officer a square that had a picture of a laser sword on it. She placed it into her mouth and saw a saga told in nine parts immediately as if she had lived it herself. Every struggle, every hope and dying wish of an ancient republic from an impossibly long time ago, and the battles made in its last dying days, and the violent but inevitable reclamation of that republic from the empire that conquered it. She watched them all grow, and die, and begin again. It was lifetimes.
“End program.” The Engineer said.
The First Officer shook her head and looked up at The Engineer, who was smiling.
“Did you like it? All of that only took two minutes in Terran time. I know we’ve got a long way to go after this leave, and that the next mission is vital but deeply uncertain. And I just wanted to make something so that we’d have time. That’s what the program is really. It’s time. For us. We can see and do all the things we’ve wanted to in there, and it’s only a fraction of the time out here.”
The First Officer smiled.
“Then let’s stay here.”
“I want to, but I’m scared.”
“You don’t need to be. We’re all going to be okay. You’ve convinced me of that now.”
“It’s not that I mean, I didn’t even do anything!”
“You know you don’t have to. You just do. By being here.”
“Even though I’m not actually there, there?” Said The Engineer, with heavy hearts.
“But you are. And you will be. And you always have been.”
“I love you. I cannot wait for us to be on mission together again.”
“I love you too. The bottom deck feels so far away from you, even though we’re still on the same ship, we’re thousands of miles away from each other.”
“Do you think we’ll get to see each other in atmo before shore leave ends?”
The Engineer got a red alert on their diagnostics screen, telling them a fusion coupling had come undone or corroded. It was the kind of problem that required manual maintenance.
“Oh no!” The Engineer cried, giving away the seriousness of their dismay.
“Go save it. Go do it, darling.” Said The First Officer, knowing exactly how this played out.
“I’m not! I don’t want to leave you! But if I don’t look into this well…”
“Go ahead, darling. Do what you do. Save the decks. Keep the engines burning so I can guide us on the bridge. Keep us safe. And stay alive!”
“I’ll try!” The Engineer said with a wink and a kiss.
“I love you.”
“I love you so much.”
Then The Engineer faded away in a flicker. Like a telemetry signal suddenly dropping off the spectrum. Their form leaving behind the unprojected canvas The Engineer was occupying, revealing the food, bowls, and utensils were actually unused the entire time. A side effect of Yaath’s 1-1 Hard Light projection tech.
The Engineer closed their UniCom connection to Yaath. They leaned back into their chair and began to upload their program before making their way to the fusion couplers, both mouths smiling wide.
The First Officer sat at the dining table, and a midi-drone buzzed nearby. She thought at it, making it play a song she had heard The Engineer humming one day, while fixing a manifold. It was soft and sweet, and had a few harsh notes that made the melody blend with the way the sky sang, a newer tune, one that rose and shined with lucid hope, and the suns setting behind the spires, now showing a thousand different lifetimes celebrating a moment, whether it was a birthday, or a victory, or a New Cycle, or an end to a long, hard-fought war. But they were happy, and they were smiling, and The First Officer took solace in that for them, their past times were forever here.
She leaned back, and a drone refilled her glass of wine. It asked:
“Do you feel better?” A standard Yaathian greeting. Hospitality planet and all.
“Yes.” She said. “I’m feeling much better. Much.”
She sighed, but lovingly.