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DL | CIO (CS Theta) | LCDR Stacker | “Handlight in the Dark"

Posted on 241803.13 @ 23:42 by Lieutenant Commander James Stacker

Mission: Lacuna
Location: Outside the Arboretum, CS Theta.
Timeline: The Present

James had never considered himself a particularly excitable man. He had his books, his music, and his job, but one would never find him striding the corridors with arms waving and voice booming in excited discourse. He would never be that man heard before being seen, who prompted eye-rolls and chuckling by the tolerant - and rapid departures by the less-amused. Never would he be caught at a musical symposium or philosophical discussion. That's not to say, however, that he was some passion-less fellow. The day after the masquerade showed such a glimmer of humanity.

If asked as to his state of mind, he would have given the inquirer a sidelong look before answering that he was quite fine, thank you very much. In point of fact he was better than fine. Downright jovial would have been a far better explanation. At a staff meeting he caught his mind wandering to the prior night. Just after lunch he'd realized that the cause of turned heads in a corridor was his humming a tune whose name and words he didn't recall. Among those who knew him best - a small group: Chief Warrant Parsuv and a pair of subordinates - there were a few blinks, some raised eyebrows, and a handful of concealed smiles and knowing looks.

When this behavior continued into a second day, the smiles were a little harder to disguise. Legitimate concerns were expressed on a few occasions as to sudden bouts of coughing. Just under 36 hours after the end of the masquerade, though, this brightly-glowing and changed world was snuffed out.


"The day started off just fine. No, nothing unusual in the morning. There was a department staff meeting scheduled for oh-seven-hundred, which started ten minutes late ... Lieutenant Gaines ... Oversleeping. He informed me that morning that he'd had trouble for a few days with getting enough sleep ... No, he swore up-and-down that he was getting to bed on time. I told him to go to medical to see if they could issue something ...

Yes, that's how I found out."


There was a knock on the doorjamb as his computer flicked from zero-nine-one-three to zero-nine-one-four. The door itself was locked open, fostering an atmosphere which either plagued the unwary - was the boss really that open today, or was this a trick? - or invited those with legitimate business to simply knock and make their presence known. By the friendly way in which it was delivered, he knew this to be the latter case and as such didn't bother to look up from the computer. "Yes?"

He knew the interloper could only be one of a handful of people. Had it been anyone senior to him there would've been warning. But when nothing came his way he glanced across to the doorway and the waiting uniform. Peripherally he saw the edges of the papers - the ones weighed down with a PADD - rustling in the slight breeze that wafted through the doorway.

"Sir ... um, I just got back from medical."

"Good," James said. Just like that his focus was gone from the computer, chair going back to an upright position as eyes sharpened with studious intent. They quickly saw and noted the small pouch held in one hand. Even better: medical had had something to issue out to the lieutenant. Yet that wasn't all. Was that a look of ... confusion? Odd. His head turned slightly to one side as an eyebrow involuntarily raised itself. "Something wrong?"

"I'm ... well I'm not sure sir." A thumb swiped across the man's mouth. There came a shrug. "The nurse on duty asked if I'd seen Commander Valeese. She didn't show up today."


"The first indication of 'anything wrong,' as you humans like to so melodramatically put it, happened at zero-nine-thirty-five ... Yes, I remember the time well enough. I was having a disagreement with a supervisor over Martian-grown blueberries, compared to those from Proxima Seven ... Yes, Commander Stacker came to see me. Well not me specifically. He came into the duty mess and asked if anyone had heard from Commander Valeese that day ... No, it turned out that two other individuals had also been asked if they had seen her. Neither was aware of the inquiry to the other, though ... Yes. I am aware of the irony ... No. He seemed fine ... I do. He said he was temporarily leaving the section, and would return momentarily."


The door of the turbolift hissed open, revealing a dark corridor. Lights were out here: that was the first thing categorized. Several ceiling lights were entirely dark. A few more were producing either far more muted lights, or were stuttering at random. A problem with the power grid, or just more maintenance for the engineers? A coin flip, he decided, as he unsnapped the handlight from his belt and flicked it on. Engineering would get to this section eventually. Confidence borne of years of experience told him so.

A slow initial sweep of the powerful light revealed nothing out of the ordinary. Bulkheads needing paint, rust streaking an exposed section of piping, carpeting that was faded and worn from years of neglect and the trodding of feet. What had been here? Crew quarters? Storage bays, he decided, kneeling to examine ruts ground deep into the carpeting. They were consistent with wheeled handcarts: the type one might find on a run-down station that'd seen better days, and whose technology was deteriorating. Now, it seemed to be a low-security area. Was there a resident population here? He stopped to listen, mouth slightly open, breathing shallow as senses strained and his head made slow turns. Nothing. The air was ... he sniffed again and brows furrowed in thought. Mulch. He turned, light shining up the corridor, illuminating darkness over a closed door. Stenciling pronounced it to be a secondary entrance into the arboretum.

He made a thoughtful sound, for none of this explained why the computer was routing him here. Four separate inquiries had all resulted in the computer saying that Val was somewhere in this section. A low-security disused area, uninhabited, with poor lighting. Meeting with a contact? The idea disappeared as quickly as it had occurred to him. Val was many things, but an out-and-out traitor? No. The hard white light panned away from the closed door to the arboretum and towards the corridor to his front. Onward it went, turning to the one to the left. Both disappeared into the distance, running outboard towards the curve of the station. The light could only illuminate them so far. He tapped his comm badge.

"Stacker to ..." To who? Station security? They would flood this area, and questions would be raised about why he'd refused to enlist them into the effort. His own personnel? They might wonder just why he was haring off after a commander. The light turned again as he continued to think, illuminating where a bulkhead met the floor. A cover had been long ago removed off a section of EPS conduit that was now dark. Probably bypassed during construction, he thought, as the deck fluttered with the passage of a heavy turbolift car, powering its way up the shaft.


"Please restate intended recipient," the small device attached to his chest beeped. Adrenaline pulsed and eyes widened, an instant before he remembered the incomplete direction. He gave it a double-tap to kill its waiting and frowned, looking away towards the unlit corridor to his left, pulse racing as he exhaled a long, deep, breath that he hadn't realized he'd been holding. The light swung left, then right. Which way? He tilted the light - and froze, eyes sharpening. Something had moved. Slowly, he moved across the carpet, towards whatever-it-was that cast a shadow so fine that it'd almost gone unnoticed. Only the tilting angle of the light had revealed its presence, he realized as he squatted down to examine it. A leaf stem. Gently, two fingers grasped it, teasing it back out into the open, finding the rest of it still attached.

"What the hell?" he muttered, letting it fall back down as he turned to look back over his shoulder. The door to the arboretum was on the other side of the junction. A sparsely-used junction. Random leaves in corridors was a ... His thoughts froze as the light caught something that glittered. Small and fine. White. It vanished when his index finger depressed the 'off' switch on the handlight, only to reappear and be caught in the beam when it was toggled again. He leaned towards it. Small. Delicate. A fingernail?

A chill suddenly ran down his spine. What if ... "Val, this isn't amusing!" he barked, handlight swinging up to illuminate the corridor in front of him, as if she'd suddenly appear. But he heard nothing. The light panned back the other way, illuminating the still-accusatory stenciling of the closed door to the arboretum, as he listened and continued to hear nothing other than his own breathing. The light turned, panning, falling across the bulkhead across the corridor from him. Dents. Scrapes, practiced eyes noted. They were slight but noticeable. Recent too: he could see telltale discoloration and fibers fluttering from where cloth had caught on ragged metal. Something had happened here, he concluded as he swallowed, hard, and rubbed at his mouth with his other hand.

"Jesus ..." This can't be real. But even as he thought it, there was some logical part of his mind screaming what he had to do. A hand racked by a slight tremor moved towards his chest as his mouth went dry. It was as if all the moisture had been sucked out of it. "Computer ... Snap Count. I - I say again," he said, voice firming up from a tremor. "Snap Count!"

=/\= End Log =/\=

Lieutenant Commander James Stacker
Chief Intelligence Officer
Cold Station Theta, SB-1170


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