She raised her voice a few decibels and shouted, in a tone designed to carry over distance, "Data? Are you here, Data? Anybody here? Kahless? Spock? Anybody?" When no answer came except the slight whisper of the wind, Ace became a little worried. She looked around again, ever the soldier, searching for possible ambush spots. There were none to be found; the outcropping was completely open. As she looked around, she finally noticed, as if an afterthought, the beauty of the place.
*This is great. Warm, slight breeze, peaceful... and no one around for miles, especially that jerk Harriman. But, why am I here and no one else?* As she thought this, other thoughts began to crowd her mind.
*Is this a trick? An illusion of some kind, created by the Devidians to drop my guard?* On a whim, she kneeled down and felt the grass beneath her feet. *Seems rather solid to me*, she thought with a smile. *Haven't seen a place this unspoiled since...*
She let her thought trail off as she spied something in the grass near her feet. Reaching over to her right, she picked around in the grass for a moment, intently searching for what had caught her eye. After this moment of searching, she found her quarry; a small, flat wafer-like object, rather like a necklace, with a strap attached to it.
She turned it over, the sunlight glinting off of the silver surface, until she saw the intricate design on the back. It was like some kind of connect-the-dots puzzle, she noticed wryly, with grooved lines bringing together small circular indentations. The indentations sparkled, like little mirrors embedded inside. It was then, suddenly, that Ace's mind, clouded by years of distrust and fury, allowed her to remember what the object was.
*The TARDIS key! The same damn key the Doctor gave me...* She looked around at the surroundings, this time with a much more critical eye than the previous two sweeps of the area. This time, she was trying not to look for ambush, but for recognition within her own mind. Then, in an instant, it came to her.
"Heaven..." She muttered softly. *I'm on Heaven, again. The Doctor's gone, I'm left holding the bag, and the only thing to keep me company are my wits and even those are rattled by Jan's death. Why did he have to leave me here, with nothing? Didn't he see that I still wanted to go with him, even in spite of what he had done, simply because I had grown used to, dependent on him?*
Ace stood up, and looked out over the horizon, into the fastapproaching sunset, as her thoughts continued unabated.
*Even after Jan, I still needed the Doctor to help me put the pieces back together, just like after Fenric. Only this time, he didn't put his hand on my shoulder and tell me everything was going to be all right... he did the one thing I never expected him to do. He took all my anger, all my bottled-up rage over what had happened, to Jan, to me, to my life, and left me. I needed him more then than I'd ever needed anyone, and he bailed.*
Ace frowned at the memory, even as the sun continued its fiery and majestic decent past the point where the pale blue of the lake met the now-orange sky. If she wasn't so preoccupied by the pain of her memories, she would have enjoyed the fantastic sunset. But at that point, she was beyond caring.
*Couldn't he understand that I was more afraid than angry? I mean, I've never seen anything so... hideous than what had happened to Jan and the other Travellers, and I was frightened. And, of course, I can't face my fears, so I lash out. As for Jan... Poor Jan. I wonder if I was ever in love with him at all, the way I shrank away from what he had become...*
Ace's silent reverie was interrupted by a slight, almost unnoticeable whispering noise. If Ace hadn't paused, she might not have noticed it at all. As it stood, she did notice, and she began to tense, as the whispering noise came closer, became a more readily identifiable rustle of leaves.
*Someone, here? But who?* Against everything she had been taught about an approaching enemy, Ace decided to risk boldness over discretion. She whispered softly, "Hello? Who's there?" Then after a pause, she continued, "Data? Spock? Is that you?"
Then, still no reply save the ever-closer rustling of the leaves at the edge of the forest some hundred yards away. She had overlooked the spot before, as she really wasn't expecting ambush, but her training had made her cautious enough to risk a cursory glance. She hastily began to regret her decision, and crept closer, determined to find the source of the commotion.
As a thought entered her head, Ace decided to try something. She called out, a little louder and clearer, "Benny? Professor? Is that you?" *Hey, if this is Heaven, they are the most likely nominees, aren't they?*, she thought to herself, justifying her choice of words. Then Ace stopped her advance short, as she realized that the rustling of the leaves had stopped.
Still curious, Ace decided to chance finding whatever was in the forest, and take a look for herself. The forest seemed to envelop her almost immediately, as if it had somehow expanded to take her in. As she went further inside, she smelled something very strange. She stopped a moment, and took a deep breath.
*Well, whatever it is, it isn't the fresh smell of forest growth...* She thought acidly, and then the true nature of the smell hit her. *This place, this entire forest, smells of decay, of death. Oh, God, what have I gotten into?*
Ace began to turn back, the way she had come, to escape the dark, dank forest. But, as she did so, she noticed something. *None of the trees seem to be changed, yet, somehow, they have, I know it. I can sense it.* She began to move in the opposite direction of the way she had come, expecting to reenter the grassy glade overlooking the lake. But, as the minutes spent walking stretched on, Ace could swear that the forest just kept on going, further and further ahead of her.
*This is impossible! I know I didn't walk this much when I entered the forest, so how can I walk so long and not seem to get anywhere? This is well weird.* Ace stopped short, trying to discover the mystery behind her surroundings, when she heard it.
It wasn't very loud, or very long, but Ace could definitely hear it. Her hearing, indeed her entire body, was sharpened now by both her training and the absurdity of the situation. She spun around in a circly, trying to track the sound, but it seemed to be coming from all around her. Ace finally decided to continue moving ahead.
As she moved further and further along, the trees still seemed to keep pace, as if Ace wasn't really going anywhere at all. But not that she really noticed; she was only concentrating on the sound; when she heard it again, a little louder and clearer than before, she tried to make it out.
*It sounds like a whisper... or a strangled cry. Maybe someone's in trouble!* She now increased her pace to a jog, as she moved again in the direction she thought the sound was coming from. A few seconds later, she heard it again; it definitely sounded like a cry of anguish to her ears. She speeded up again, so that now she was almost running. A half-minute later, the sound happened again, much louder, but still more or less indistinct.
It didn't matter to Ace; at that volume, she reasoned, whoever made the sound was right on top of her. And it was just then, as she made that determination, that she heard the leaves behind her rustle. She turned around, hoping to see whoever had made the sound that was drawing her almost like a siren's call. She saw the leaves rustle, and then part. A figure came out of the gloom; Ace supposed it to be humanoid, as it looked to be standing up straight. As the figure came out of the shadow, the light began to illuminate its features. It was definitely human, a man. Tall and thin, Ace saw, then gasped. The face was gaunt and sallow, remarkably unsurprising but for the green fungus growing on the side of his face, as if it was eating away at the skin and flesh. The figure curled his lips into the semblance of a smile, and Ace looked, wide-eyed, as she finally placed the figure. Even before it had spoken, she knew who it was.
"Aaacccceee...." The figure moaned in a drawn-out monotone, like the monster in some bad horror movie. But it was no movie, and Ace was practically in tears, tears of shame and fright.
*Oh, oh God, Jan... This is what you look like, what the virus did to you. I didn't want to leave you, but I was scared, and I ran. Oh, I'm sorry...*
With tears coming down her face, she watched in shock as the figure suddenly raised his hands, badly deformed by the same fungus-like growth, and began to stumble toward her. Ace began to move away, sheer fright galvanizing her into action. She had gotten no more than a few feet before something- a root, she guessed- tripped her. Falling to the ground, she turned around to see the hideous figure of a man she once loved bearing down on her, coming ever closer, closer to her...
Ace did the one thing she never thought she would ever do, the one thing that by not doing, had set her apart from all of the other companions of the Doctor. She screamed, in fright and agony, from the top of her lungs and the depths of her heart. Ace screamed her head off...
Ace sat up in the cave, a slight cry escaping from her lip. She looked around warily, wondering if anyone had heard her. Someone had; Data looked up from whatever he was doing, and turned to face her. His voice, even in a whisper, carried a melodious quality that Ace found very relaxing.
"Ace, are you all right? I heard you cry out..."
As she looked at him, his face still crowned in the now-lowering light of the super-heated rocks, she was suddenly struck by something she would have never imagined. A feeling of peace. *I haven't felt like this since I was with the Doctor.*, she realized with a start.
"I'm fine, Data. Really; I just had a bad dream..." She shivered, partly from cold and partly from the dream's eerie feelings. Data nodded.
"I can understand your discomfort. I have had several very bad dreams myself, and I am never quite the same immediately afterward."
"Hold on a second... you have dreams? And just when I thought you couldn't surprise me any more than you already have... I didn't think it possible."
"The dreaming process within me came as a result of a premature evolution of my programming. I was accidentally hit with an unusual beam during an experiment, and it somehow activated a previously unknown area of my subconscious programming structure."
"That's cool, Data. But, if you don't mind, I'd like to change the subject. The dream I had was something I definitely don't want to continue thinking about." She moved over to where Data was sitting.
"What are you working on, anyway?"
Data looked down. "As you know, your weapon is extremely useful to us, both as a source of continued heating energy and as a defensive tool."
"Yeah, yeah. But it's almost out of power."
"I am trying to correct that difficulty."
"Look here, Ace." Ace looked at what he was doing. Data was poking around at wires from his exposed arm and was working them into what appeared to be the energy reserve on the Spacefleet blaster.
"You're using your own circuitry to repair the blaster! But, how exactly?"
"These", he pointed with his free hand to the exposed wiring in his left forearm, "are energy induction wires that are connected to the servo-circuitry that moves my arm, hand, and fingers. I have a theory that I can use these induction wires to transfer energy from my own power source to the energy reserve battery on your weapon."
"But won't that drain you?" Ace asked worriedly.
"I have studied the battery's energy capacity extensively, and I do not believe a substantial loss of energy will occur."
"By the way, what makes you work, anyway? I doubt you have have a battery charger in your quarters."
"No, Ace, I do not. I function through a variety of methods, most particularly a trilithium battery pack stored in my chest and several small bioelectric storage packets found throughout my body."
"Bioelectric? You mean, organic material?"
"Yes, I do eat on occasion in order to convert the food to energy that is stored in the bioelectric packets. The packets really only act as a reserve power source; the trilithium battery provides most of my energy needs."
"Trilithium? I've never heard of it."
"Trilithium is a very stable artificial element, compounded and derived in part by the dilithium that starships use to power their warp engines. Its stable structure, as well as the largely controllable energy output created by contact with catalysts and its ability to regenerate, makes it a very useful element for small-grade power production."
"Like your batteries."
"Precisely." As he spoke, he fitted the last wire into the battery pack of the blaster. Ace noticed that he was using a small set of tools. "You carry tools around with you?"
"Yes. Several years ago, I was injured on a planet, and I was forced to use several crude tools to repair my very delicate positronic circuitry. After that experience, I resolved to carry a set of microtools inside a specially designed storage compartment embedded into my upper left shoulder." He pointed to a hatch.
"Now, then, let us see if my theory is successful." He paused for a moment, then began to wiggle the fingers of his left hand.
Ace looked on, incredulous. "Why do you do that?"
"Because the movements of my fingers activates the servo-circuitry..."
"Which, due to your jury-rigging, are now feeding the power used to move your fingers into the power batter of the blaster."
"Only a small part of the power, but yes, that is correct." After a few more seconds of wiggling his fingers, he stopped, and disconnected the induction wires from the blaster's power battery.
"Ace, would you check to make sure that there is sufficient energy stored in the power battery while I reconnect the induction wires to my servo-circuits?"
"Righty-o, Data." Ace smiled as she took a look at the power gauge. "It's at almost 3/4 power. Not great, but it'll have to do."
"To risk putting any more power into the battery could cause it to explode. The trilithium-derived energy is close to the blaster's normal energy signature, but the gamma frequency is slightly lower, I was able to determine."
"You mean, like putting diesel fuel into a gasoline engine... It'll run for a little while, but then it'll ruin your motor. Cool." Ace fingered the blaster, and smiled. "I've said it before, and I'll say it again; you, Lieutenant Commander Data, are a veritable idea fountain."
"Thank you, Ace. Now, I think you should get some more sleep. We have a very important day ahead of us tomorrow."
"Don't I know it. Good night, Data." As Ace settled in again, and fell asleep, she thought resolutely, *Yeah, it's an important day tomorrow. It's going to be the day that the Professor finds us and takes us all home, I just know it.*
Picard's reverie was broken by the sound of the ensign at the helm position in front of him.
"Yes, Ensign McKnight?"
"We are now in orbit around Devidia Two, sir."
"Thank you, Ensign. Mister Worf, would you call the rest of the senior staff together for a conference? The Doctor and Guinan as well; it's about time we got some kind of rescue plan together."
"Yes, sir." Worf punched buttons on his communications console to carry out the order, while Picard walked to the right side of the bridge, and through a door. A few seconds later, he entered the conference room. He walked to the
large windows covering one side of the room, and looked out into the depths of space. A few seconds of waiting, and the yellowish orb that was Devidia Two came into view.
As he saw the planet again, Picard could not contain his feelings of anger and dread. *I thought they were finally defeated... or that they would find some other type of energy for their needs. But now they've returned, with a more far-reaching plan. Will I have to kill them now, in order to save the past and future of Earth? Can I do such a thing?*
Suddenly, Picard heard a cough behind him. He turned to see the entire senior staff (except for Data, of course) seated at the table. The Doctor and Guinan were sitting at the far end of the table, looking at Picard. The Doctor spoke.
"Thinking of the past, Captain, or the future?"
"Both. I had really hoped that it wouldn't have to come to this. But they had to come back, with an even more complex plan to serve their needs. I just wish there was some way to help them."
"Help them? But, sir, they-"
"Mister Worf, the Devidians are just trying to survive, like we are. It is unfortunate that they have such a specific and potentially dangerous taste. But, never mind that; our first priority is to Data and the others who have been taken. Suggestions?"
"I find it hard to believe that the Devidians have come back here, sir. I mean, we trashed it good last time."
"Yes, I know. But it is still the most likely place to begin the search."
The Doctor and Geordi looked at each other. They were still the only ones who knew that the air sample that the Doctor had taken from Ace's disappearance had come from a future Devidia Two. They weren't going to volunteer that information, either; all they had told Picard was that they had found evidence of triolic radiation in the sample, which, of course, directly implicated the Devidians in Ace's kidnapping.
"So, what are we are going to do now?" Riker was impatient.
"Number One, you are going to lead an away team to the caverns where we first encountered the Devidians two years ago. You will once again create a phased-energy field and search for evidence of activity by the Devidians since our departure."
"What are we to do if we find evidence? Wait until they activate their portal and do it all over again?"
"No. If evidence is found, and a portal can be created, I will do it." It was the Doctor who spoke now, and everyone was taken by surprise.
"Doctor, I can't in good conscience allow you to put yourself into such a dangerous situation..."
"You don't have to worry, Captain. I can't completely explain, but I will take the risk. And so will you."
"Now, wait just a minute, Doctor..."
"Will, don't argue with the man- sorry, Time Lord. I've known that I was going to have to accompany the Doctor since the beginning. It's... expected."
"Yes, Commander. It is Captain Picard's destiny to accompany my on this mission, as it is the destiny of one other, who I will not reveal at this time."
Riker looked at Picard, then at the Doctor, and realized that he wasn't going to win this argument. He nodded, and stood.
"Geordi, Deanna, and the Doctor will come with me. If we may go..."
"Of course, Number One. I have a feeling that we don't have much time left to us. Everyone is dismissed."
As the group filed out of the conference room, Beverly held back. Picard turned to look at her.
"I wish you didn't have to go, Jean-Luc..."
"I know, Beverly. But as the Doctor said, it is my destiny." He gave Beverly's hand a squeeze, and impulsively kissed her on the cheek.
"And who am I to argue with destiny?"
As he left the conference room, Beverly looked after him, and let out a small sigh. *I will never be able to change the man, no matter how hard I try.* Then she let out a slight smile. *And I wouldn't have him any other way, either.*
"All right, everyone, you know what to do." Each of the group members went off in a different direction. They would go off for a few moments, stop, and plant the device they were holding down in the cavern floor. After checking to make sure the purchase was steady, each pulled the top of their respective devices up.
A blue ring around the top of the device could be clearly seen, and as the Doctor pulled the top of his device up, a thin blue line could also be seen, extending from each of the devices in turn, creating a blue ring. The group gathered together in the center, and the Doctor spoke.
"Geordi, are you sure this phased-energy field will allow us to see the Devidians and thier portal?"
"It worked last time, Doctor. Still, it wouldn't hurt to cross your fingers, though."
"Why on Gallifrey would I cross my fingers? Does it have some kind of religious significance?"
Geordi looked at the Doctor incredulously, as Riker and Troi smiled. "You're joking again, right?"
"Geordi, I am a Time Lord, and Time Lords rarely joke. But on the other hand," the Doctor smiled at this, "I have never been called a typical Time Lord. Proceed."
Geordi nodded, and tapped some commands into his tricorder, and a few seconds later, the cavern took on a bluish hue. After a brief second of study, Geordi announced, "That's as good as I'm going to get, Commander. Remember, this is fine work."
"Okay, then; let's get to it. The Captain will want a report."
The group split up again, looking around the cavern again, this time for evidence of recent Devidian activity. A few minutes later, they regrouped.
"There's no signs of any Devidians, or their energy storage globes, Commander." Deanna spoke, looking at the group.
"All right, Deanna. Geordi, anything from the tricorder?"
"Nothing that I can make out..."
"Can I see that tricorder, Geordi?" Geordi handed over the instrument to the Doctor, who proceeded to scan the area. After a few seconds of this, he punched some commands into the tricorder, and scanned again. He looked at the disply screen, and 'hmmm'ed matter of factly, as he handed the tricorder back to Geordi.
"See those alpha wave patterns, Geordi?"
"Sure, I... wait a second!" He scanned the area, and punched some more commands into the tricorder.
"What is it, Geordi?" Riker wanted to know.
"The Doctor's on to something, I think. Geordi pointed the tricorder out in front of him. "The alpha waves are more or less flat-lined throughout the cavern, except for here." The chief engineer walked over to a spot some ten feet in front of them, and turned to face the away team.
"I still don't get it, Geordi..."
"Does this spot look familiar to you?"
Riker thought for a moment, was about to say no, then stopped.
"Wait! Isn't that where..."
Geordi nodded, a wry grin coming to his face. "It's exactly the spot where the portal two years ago appeared."
Deanna spoke. "So, does that mean that the Devidians have returned to using this cavern as a base? That doesn't really make sense. For one thing, those storage globes aren't here."
"That's true, Counselor." The Doctor thougth for a moment, and then replied, "Perhaps they are still using this cavern, but only as a stopping point, a waystation, if you will, to enter this time period."
"That does seem like a better theory. So, now what do we do?"
The Doctor grinned. "'We', Commander? I don't think so. We're returning to the Enterprise so I can collect your Captain. Then, the two of us are going to pick up my companion and the other members of our little band from the earlier time period I spoke of."
"And then what?"
The Doctor grew very serious, and spoke almost in a whisper.
"Then, Commander, we're going Devidian hunting."
Artwork by Robert Sankner, Copyright 1997
Cris Lawrence, alias Doc8 on Dalnet, is a 20-year-old sophomore Political Science student at Miami University of Ohio. In addition to this story, he is currently working on two other Eighth Doctor stories: "Picture of Guilt", featuring the first adventure of Melissa Chambers and the Doctor; and "The Play's the Thing", which, with some revision, will hopefully become his first published New Adventure sometime in 1998. Cris is also a fan of the DC Comics character The Flash, and you can see the culmination of his obsession on his Scarlet Speedster Web Page
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