Posted on May 8th, 2022 by Hannah Ziredac
April 7, 2401
‘You used me as bait, you motherfucker!’
‘I said I’m sorry, Hannah. Jesus. I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t have the forcefield. You were totally safe.’
‘Was I? 28th century Borg technology? You think I’m gonna buy that?’
‘Well, it’s strong. They really couldn’t have gotten in.’
This was the conversation that greeted Omen when she materialized onboard the Apollo ship. She and Vector traded a glance. This seemed right: Lacuna going in half-cocked, not taking other people into account, using them as tools. There were some vicious hyenas in the Section, especially at Shakespeare’s old cell on Yufurf, but Lacuna might have been the worst species. He never embraced his hyena side. Came off like a toothless doofus while plotting how he would take advantage of you, but it wasn’t an act. Shit-ass never grew up.
‘You could have laid out the plan for me,’ Hannah said. ‘You could have said, “Hannah, your biometrics are gonna bring everyone including the captain right to us, but don’t worry, I have an impervious safety bubble, so we’ll get it done,” and, you know what, guy? I probably woulda been pretty alright with it.’
‘I couldn’t have known that.’
‘You know how people find out stuff they don’t know? They fucking ask. We’re supposed to be working as a team. What are we, the fuckin Avengers? There’s an apocalypse on the horizon, and we need team-building exercises.’
‘Who are the Avengers?’
‘Don’t change the subject, dickhead.’
Omen cleared her throat. ‘Where do I put my stuff?’
Destiny got up, beckoned her down the hall to another holosuite. Vector tagged along, saying something about how Lacuna was going to get his balls kicked off, and he didn’t want anyone to intervene.
‘All you need to do is just clue me in,’ Hannah said, once everyone else had retreated. ‘That isn’t hard. It shouldn’t be hard.’
With a shrugging petulance Lacuna said, ‘Look, you haven’t been doing things like this as long as I have. If you clue everybody in, there’s more chance that someone’ll trip up.’
‘How the flying fuck does that make sense?’
‘It just does. When you get to be my age, things just make a certain amount of sense.’
‘Yeah, alright, Dad, I—‘
Lacuna tensed, flushed, and half-lunged as he shouted, ‘I said don’t fucking call me that!’
Hannah stepped back, mouth ajar, hand going to the handle of her phaser pistol. Lacuna spun away the moment his last syllable spat from his teeth. He hung his head, his arms akimbo, and his shoulders bobbed as if from a sob or a laugh—or a cocktail of both.
‘The fuck is wrong with you?’ Hannah said, still on guard.
He sniffed, didn’t turn. ‘Oh, you know.’
‘Now’s the time to fill someone in on what’s going on in your brain, dude. You can’t scream at me like that. I’ll put you the fuck down if you do it again.’
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, turning at last. His eyes were a little sparkly and red, and his mouth was sculpted into a supplicant smile. ‘I’m sorry. I should know better. I just… Look, I…’ Lacuna took a half-seat on the corner of Destiny’s desk. ‘Can I tell you something with the request that you don’t tell the others?’
‘That entirely depends on what you’re going to tell me.’
‘It’s no big deal if you do. It’s not a secret. I just would rather they don’t know.’
‘Sounds like something called a secret.’
‘Just listen.’ Lacuna closed his eyes for a long moment, wincing against more tears. ‘My daughter. Sarreon killed my daughter.’
‘What?’ Hannah’s hand fell from her holster. ‘When?’
‘Same day he killed your brother. She was on the Meridian. Olivia. Olivia Martin.’
Hannah took a moment to recall. ‘The Security officer? She’s your daughter? She looked like she was, like, 40; how old are you?’
Lacuna laughed a little. ‘Like I said, older than I look. And she was 40; 41 on August 3rd. I was going to get her The Moths at the Beacon by Raela St. Marcus. Every year I sent her a physical book. Every year, even when she was too young to read. She never knew who sent them, but she read each one.’ He took a breath, thumbed away a tear, pinched away a bit of snot. ‘She never knew I existed. Had a small mission on a border colony called Metriaga, forty years ago. One of my first missions. While there, I had an ongoing thing with…with her mother. Ghastly woman. Manipulative. Mean. But that wasn’t why I left. It was just bad timing. Elaine was, maybe, four months along when my mission was over. I had to go, and take my alias with me. After that, I just couldn’t return. Most of that part was because of Elaine. Some of it was this throat sickness that went around the colony. The rest of it was just… You know. Tale as old as time. Absent, illegitimate father, never coming back.’
He waved his hand in the air, batting away the rhetoric. ‘By the time she was full-grown, I was already in deep with the Section. I would barely have been around, even if I’d made myself known. So I kept a distance. Elaine’s meanness had rubbed off on her too. And I got it into my head that my dumb ass would probably have just fucked her up even more. So I left it at the books. And I kept an eye on her. Once a month, just a quick check, even after the Section died. Did it even more after the Section died, actually; had a lot of free time.’
And he cleared his throat, held back another cry. His words came out in a desperate husk. ‘I checked on her the day before Sarreon got to them. If I’d just waited one more day, or if I’d been present in her life, then maybe…’ Lacuna’s tears choked him for a second. ‘Maybe my little girl would still be alive.’ He let himself cry for a moment. ‘I’m not trying to make excuses; I’ve always been little reckless; ask Vector and Omen. But I’ve never been this reckless. I’ve never been this on-edge and angry. I want to get that grinning green bastard just as much as you do. He killed your girl, and he killed mine.’
Hannah approached him slow. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘Just talk to us from now on. If you jeopardize us, we can’t avenge them.’
‘Yeah,’ he said. He sniffed, said it again. ‘I’m sorry for yelling.’
3 Pearl St.
Vector stood on the front lawn and stared out at the Kennebec. Some kids bicycled by, riding down the narrow old path of Front Street. Next door, Chi’neh’s neighbors tended their garden in the warm noonday sun. Someone’s red balloon floated high above the houses and disappeared beyond the trees of the riverbank.
‘Damn, Chi’neh, you live here?’
Omen stepped down off the porch, now out of her Starfleet uniform, and into black pants and a simple red tanktop. ‘Yeah. I’ll had to recreate my interior; that part didn’t make it into Apollo’s little holo-archive project, or whatever Salladay called it. Look, though, they even got the stones I replaced.’ She pointed at the stone barrier to her lawn, where the natural stones on the Front Street side were less weatherworn than on the Pearl Street side. Then she pitched a thumb over her shoulder. ‘And my hanging flowerpot on the porch.’
‘Apollo’s holotech is almost a little too good.’
‘You said you started looking into them a while ago?’
‘We all did. All of a sudden this crazy tech starts popping up all over the place, fiercely protected, hard to track, identities of the employees all hidden. We were sure they were criminals for a while there.’ Vector jutted a lip. ‘They might’ve been. We’ll never know.’
‘So. The Emissary.’
Vector shrugged. ‘Yeah. Shit’s pretty weird.’
‘I don’t put it past him.’
‘Did you ever hunt him, over at Lorrenz? He was Objective Number One at Dirget back in the ’80s and early ’90s.’
‘I never did, no,’ Omen said. ‘I helped prepare some of the teams, but we were more cleaning up Sarreon’s messes. In ’81 he’d started up what was basically a death cult in a Reman refugee colony. We didn’t hear the Fall by name—not that I remember. Maybe we mistook the Fall as an event, or just a concept. But these maniacs chanted about the, uh… What’d they call it? The “great catalyst”. Yeah. “The great catalyst from the starless black.” Scary shit. Sarreon didn’t run the cult; he just kicked up the dust and got it going. Put this classic cult leader in charge. Total megalomaniac, used his power to do some pretty unspeakable things. I’ll let you read the report; I don’t like to fucking think about it.’
Vector nodded. ‘Oh, I’ve seen a cult or two. I can imagine.’
‘You think we can find him?’
‘I don’t know. Maybe if we had a year. Ten times the resources. One less Lacuna.’
‘Still the same shit-ass, huh?’
‘Worse. I don’t think he knows I know, but his estranged daughter was on the Meridian. He’s got skin in the game, which might be a first for him. He’s gonna fuck something up. I know it.’
‘I don’t want to juggle an unstable agent with the mission.’
‘Me neither. We need as many hands, though. He’s not useless.’
Omen tsked. ‘I suppose not.’
‘Well, I’m gonna go get started,’ Vector said. ‘I don’t want any pauses in the search. I’ll be on the bridge. Look forward to workin with you again, Omen.’
‘You too, Jazon.’
The search went on for eight more days before Omen and Destiny snagged a lead all the way out at Hodges Shipyard on New Australia. Classified reports detailed a mass murder and robbery that had taken place fourteen days before. The intruder had made off with components for quantum slipstream drives, and the security officers onsite sustained stab wounds and severe blunt-force trauma. Only one was shot. Surveillance had been blinded, and the investigators were at a loss as to how. Comparing this robbery to the Meridian massacre and Sarreon’s modus operandi, the Roland had their first workable lead.
And he had left a trail.
Five light years away was a small Federation colony that had gone quiet shortly after the incident on New Australia. The USS Hopkins was already on the case when the Roland arrived, which provided a stream of information to the Roland once Destiny was able to tap into their computer. Four small cities across a large equatorial had all succumbed to mass hallucinations, paranoia, violence, and, eventually cannibalism. The only survivors were those who had sought complete isolation as a product of their paranoia, and had taken to the wild, where they had, to quote the Hopkins XO’s log, ‘gone feral’. No cause had yet been found.
‘This is one of his old tactics,’ Omen said. ‘We used to find colonies just like that.’
‘We did too,’ Vector said.
Hannah asked, ‘So it’s not the Lights.’
‘No.’ Omen fell grave, spoke with slow deliberation. ‘We surmised that it was Fall technology, given to the Emissary to sow ultimate chaos before the onslaught arrived. The survivors we found were always in a highly suggestible state, like whatever drove them crazy wiped the slate clean for a new conquerer to come in and sweep them into the fold.’
‘Jesus,’ Destiny said.
‘Sarreon never deployed it in major cities.’ Omen pointed at the map overlay of the colonies. ‘Only smaller ones, no bigger than these.’
‘What did he want here?’ Lacuna said. ‘These colonies didn’t have anything of any strategic value. Nothing’s missing on any cargo manifests or inventories.’
Vector said, ‘We can’t forget that Sarreon enjoys this. He likes hurting people. It’s not improbable that he picked a vulnerable colony up on his sensors while fleeing New Australia, and just thought, Why the hell not.’ Everyone endured a long silence, then he added, ‘This is an advantage, though. It matches his behavior when we were hunting him in the ’80s. He gets careless as he gets confident. He escalates into a spree, like a serial killer. We can find him if he keeps it up.’
The path of destruction and madness led the Roland from colony to colony, from space station to space station, from derelict cargo freighter to gutted civilian transport. Sometimes it was clear that his targets had something he wanted or needed, and other times it was just like the colonies: malice for its own sake. And it only got worse. The Roland heard tales of such horror that the narrative will not repeat them here. People died, but people were also made into their own monsters. Hannah felt ill on many such discoveries, and had to remove herself from the room to let the stories fall on more conditioned ears. Destiny often joined her in the removal.
In the meantime Vector continued his combat crash-courses with Hannah, driving her to face the hologram facsimile of this deranged monster, steadying her hand, enhancing her reflexes, and training her to kill. Over and over again she put a max-output phaser beam through Sarreon’s face, and over and over again she told herself she’d be able to do it—and over and over again, Vector reminded her that she would not know until she was in the room with the real man. Doubt consumed her, trading bites with rage and sorrow.
Near the end of April, the Roland reached the end of Sarreon’s path: the colony world of Metriaga.
Reports illustrated a timeline. He had come to Metriaga before, as early as late June last year, when the planet’s troubles trickled in. A passenger and cargo ship called Honah Lee had gone silent, and turned up barreling toward the northern colony of Alira’s Landing. They managed to stop the ship from causing a tremendous disaster, but they soon discovered the entire crew murdered. In the weeks following, a trail of oddities ran from Alira’s Landing all the way south to Ballad. Personal logs saw widespread nightmares and sleep deprivation. This soon gave way to the same troubles they saw before, resulting in thousands of injuries and deaths. Metriaga City held, but with a ten percent loss of population.
‘After everything this colony’s been through,’ Lacuna said, ‘they have to endure the whims of a sadistic psychopath.’
Sarreon’s trail ran cold at the spot he boarded the Honah Lee. There was nothing out there—no debris, no radiation, nothing. Just empty space. ‘He ceases to exist after this point,’ Destiny said. There was only so much they could extrapolate from Sarreon’s course. No further reports of chaos could be found in any surrounding systems.
April 28, 2401
At Lacuna’s insistence (and Vector’s rare concurrence) they transported down to Metriaga for some ‘real fresh air’. They aimed for a town in the southern hemisphere, far from where Sarreon’s swath had been cut. Place called Giles’ Folly, picked because of agreeable weather patterns and an un-nosy security reputation. Nearby a thin river made its torpid way through a shallow ravine, its waters cool and checkered by the shadows of the leaves. Large flat rocks impeded the flow, and it was here that the Roland crew took their air. Vector leaned on a tree on the riverbank, and Omen sat on a long-felled trunk nearby; Lacuna hopped to the farthest stone and faced downstream; Destiny removed her shoes and waded into the shallows, halfway up her shins; and Hannah found a small stone just a couple meters in, just big enough for her.
‘Something’ll come up,’ Lacuna said. ‘Like we said, he’s overconfident. He’ll show us right where he is, eventually.’
Vector said, after a long moment, ‘You’re probably right, but I wouldn’t put it past him to leave a deliberately false breadcrumb trail. Like we’ve also said, he enjoys doing this.’
And Omen said, ‘I’d agree with that, except he’s been here before. His trail started here, last year, and then he came back through. He wouldn’t stop his bloodbath now, not when he thinks he’s this unstoppable. Lacuna might be right.’
‘We don’t have time for that scenario,’ Vector said, dislodging from the tree and pacing to the river’s edge. He squatted, ran his fingers through the lazy current. ‘The thing that could lead us to him could very well be a Fall ship coming in from an alternate timeline. We can’t let that happen.’
After a silence Omen said, ‘Can’t we track the energy output of the…what are they called? Nurigana?’
‘No,’ Destiny said. ‘The only way to find the nurigana is with other nurigana, and Sarreon has all but one of them.’
‘And some dumb bitch jettisoned that one,’ Hannah said. ‘Figures, huh? That I’d fuck this up?’
‘Don’t be unkind to yourself, Hannah,’ Destiny said.
‘Kind, unkind, what’s the difference? He’s gonna win. There’s no getting out of it now.’
‘No, look at it! Look at everything we’ve found the past few weeks! This guy can take out a whole ship by himself, turn whole colonies into rage-virus lunatics, and open portals to alternate timelines. And I had the only way to find him in the palm of my fuckin hand.’
‘If you’d kept it, he’d have killed you just like he killed Zoë.’
Hannah’s voice frosted over as she said, ‘Don’t say her name.’
‘I’m sorry. But what I said is true. And it’s a moot point. If you had the Light, and tried to use it to find the others, Sarreon would find you. Find us. And we’d be dead. The only way the Lights could be useful now is if Hannah could use remote recall.’
‘There were some nurigan-keepers who could use their nurigan’s ability without being near it.’
‘How far away?’
‘Anywhere between a deck of a ship and across the quadrant. The Lights were quasi-corporeal; physical distance wasn’t a factor once the nurigan imprinted on a sentient liaison. If you were able to do it, we wouldn’t need to find it. And as far as our experiments showed, Sarreon wouldn’t be able to find us.’
Hannah stood up into the water, wading from the knee-high center of the river to Destiny’s position. ‘Was anyone ever able to control what their Light showed them?’
‘Yes. I was. Mine showed me people’s dreams, and projected me into them. That’s how I communicated with you and Z—… with the others.’
‘My Light showed me people’s most treasured possessions. Not just what and where they were, but how to get to them. Safe combos, passwords, even routes through security. The Lights have to be Sarreon’s most treasured possession. If I can remote-recall, and control what I’m looking for, I can find him.’
Destiny’s face was crestfallen. ‘Hannah, it takes a lot of mental fortitude and practice. I don’t know if anyone could do it in the time we need it.’
‘Not like we have any better options.’
Lacuna said, ‘Can you show her how to do it, Salladay?’
‘I can access my research notes, yes.’
‘Then do it. We’ll keep trying our way, Hannah can try hers.’