CPA Muse Award Winner
The Stars Called Out: ‘Return to Us, Dear Souls’
Posted on November 21st, 2003 by William Marlowe
As an enlisted man, Midshipman Wilkstein was used to the rotten work–which had taken him to turbolift maitenance that day, where he would spend his shift in cramped accessways and under very heavy turbolift cars. He swore frequently and mightily, his voice tight with his customary quick and sharp anger. That is, until the sound of starlight dammed the river of profanity that issued from his lips.
“The computer doesn’t understand those words. Gods know I’ve tried to make it understand, but I don’t think it’s possible.”
Wilkstein slid out from underneath a car and looked at Midshipman Eylesa. She had her hands on her hips and a pitying expression on her face.
“You swear in Ylyscan,” Wilkstein said. “Maybe it understands English.”
“I’ve used Ylyscan, English, Klingon–there was even that time that I was working on the arch console on Holodeck 3, and swore in binary. As you like to say, no dice.”
A few savage clanks and bangs echoed in the maintenance bay.
“Hitting that stupid thing won’t fix it, you know–will you take a break, if I sit with you?”
“I suppose I can, for a bit. Is your shift over?”
“Yeah. I’m done until 0800 tomorrow.”
“Want to have dinner when I get off?”
“That would be lovely.”
They talked for a little while longer and Wilkstein felt better for it. They kissed and promised to meet in the lounge later.
Eylesa lingered a little after Wilkstein got back to work, watching him with adoring eyes. It wasn’t long before he started cursing again and it took a lot of effort on her part to keep her laughter quiet.
“I can hear you, you know,” he said. “Don’t try to–” He was interrupted by a loud metallic clap, and he followed it with an even louder “Shit!”
“Darling?” Eylesa knelt at his side. “Are you all right?”
What issued from under the car ought not to be repeated, but Eylesa got the point and called sickbay.
“Dr. Marlowe here.”
“Midshipman Wilkstein is injured,” came the reply. “I don’t know how badly–but I think this counts as a medical emergency. We’re in–yes, darling, he’s coming–we’re in turbolift maintenance.”
“I’ll be there in a minute–and do something to calm him down.”
Marlowe grabbed a medkit and took the nearest lift to deck twenty-two.
“Cut it–just cut it–”
“Relax–dar–David, relax,” Eylesa said. “You’re not going to lose your hand. I’ve almost got it. Hold still . . . ” She made a last expert cut to the metal that had closed on Wilkstein’s hand, and a piece of metal fell to the deck. She pulled David from underneath the car and held him in her lap.
Marlowe walked in the door and knelt.
He gave Wilkstein something for the pain, scanned the injury, then carefully examined the hand. It was bloody but not serious.
“Let me stop the bleeding, then we can get him to sickbay.” He reached for his medkit, which was not where he left it. He felt himself immediately hurled against a bulkhead, and then he heard the alarm klaxons go off. The lights flickered and went out, but he found that firelight was sufficient illumination in the turbolift maintenance bay.
“Midshipman! Make sure his hand is–” the ship rocked again, less severely this time. He looked at the small fire where a conduit had overloaded and realized that the fire suppression system wasn’t activating. He slapped a comm panel and nothing happened. He tried his communicator without result.
“Whatever happened must have fried everything,” Eylesa said. She spoke a few very eloquent Ylyscan phrases and tried to soothe Wilkstein. “Nobody knows we’re down here.”
“He’ll be fine. I need your help to try to open the turbolift doors. We can climb out through there.”
Eylesa stood, but she felt something tug at her back. Wilkstein gave a startled cry.
“What?” Marlowe walked over. He saw Wilkstein’s wide eyes, locked on Eylesa’s back. “Turn around, Midshipman.”
Eylesa’s uniform was perforated with small slits. A piece of metal winked at Marlowe from within a dark tear.
“How bad?” She did not sound worried or frightened.
“I don’t know. I can’t see very much.” The smoke was starting to get bad by then and Marlowe couldn’t find his kit. “There’s not much bleeding. The metal must have been hot enough to cauterize most of it . . . The real problem is . . . ”
Her head. A dark, glistening comb of shrapnel parted her soft brown hair very neatly in back. She fell to the floor.
Wilkstein covered her with his body and spoke softly to her. Marlowe grabbed a bit of debris and pried a chunk of wreckage off what he guessed was his medkit. “Stay low! Put your uniforms over your faces!” Between his accent and the sound of the fire and their own pain, the other two didn’t understand him.
Marlowe gave up on the medkit and knelt by Wilkstein and Eylesa. “Turn her on her stomach. Hold her head like this. Can you do that?”
Wilkstein held her.
“David. There’s something I–” her words melted into a sharp cry and tears fell to the deck.
“What the hell are you doing?!” Wilkstein shouted.
“Nothing! The metal does more damage the more she tries to move. Just keep her still–”
” . . . the stars . . . ” She slipped into her native Ylyscan tongue then, and Wilkstein could only understand a few words–but he had heard them before: at her grandmother’s funeral. And then the bulkhead opened.
A wall of fire and debris charged the three in the maitenance bay. The resulting loss of pressure had a sort of rewind effect: moments after the initial breech, the flames were pulled back into space and vanished when there was no oxygen left to feed them, and much of the material that had crashed through the bulkhead likewise flew into space and out of sight.
It would not be until later that Wilkstein would learn about unprovoked attacks from crystalline ships, but as the air escaped from the compartment and pieces of the Atlantis and her assailant pelted him, he saw Eylesa slide across the maitenance bay and into the adjecent compartment, section 12 Alpha. He slid very slowly along the deck; and he realized that a chunk of bulkhead had pinned him down–he was sprawled out on the deck like a pithed frog, grinding towards the open hull. He couldn’t find Marlowe, so he looked back to Eylesa. She fell soundlessly into the void and vanished into the dark.
The turbolift car Wilkstein had been servicing earlier rolled over the deck towards the breech, throwing Marlowe around inside. When the open doors afforded him a view of the hole in the hull, Marlowe knew he had less than a second before the car flew spinning into space. He braced himself against the walls of the car as it bucked around him, and when the car rolled again the deck wasn’t there. He blacked out.
“We have to do it all. We have to give it all to him. If he dies, what’s the point?”
“Obviously. But what if someone finds out?”
“Nobody will find out. Not even he will find out. He wouldn’t remember a thing.”
“All right. It isn’t as if we have a choice anyway. Do what you have to do.”