The New Universe

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Ulysses Sean Starker struggled to right himself, open his eyes; anything. No hangover in all his fifty years compared to the throbbing in his head every time his heart beat, to the ball of cotton in his mouth or the way his body trembled on the decking where he lay. Even with eyes closed, he knew the world around him was spinning..... the wrong way.

Sounds soon assault him; sobbing, crying, shouting, screams of pain - all the sounds of fear and trauma. Eyes flickering open he moans, the red blinking light cutting through him like a knife, arm moving of its own volition to block it out. He knows he must do something, something important, but his mind can't yet grasp anything beyond his body's discomfort. His stomach rumbles and he rolls over, vomiting. Through it all, he can hear others following suit, still his mind rebels against him.

Hands clutch at him after a time, pulling him to his knees, pressing cloth into one hand, something else in the other, something familiar he can't quite place. Blinking away a barrage of light and pain, he stares at his hands - in one hand, a small, wet towel, in the other, a canteen of water. Looking up, he can make out the blurred outline of someone with red hair and a roguish smile that screams 'trust' to his befuddled mind. He nods slowly, painfully, wiping at his mouth with the cloth to clear away the last of his breakfast, before taking a pull from the canteen, letting the cool, clear water wet his mouth again. He chokes on it, coughing, head screaming in agony, before spitting it back out and gasping for breath.


The words are muffled, yet they thunder in spite of it, causing him to wince. He gives a half-nod acknowledgement of the advice, and takes a tiny sip of the water, realizing that his lips are dry, cracked and sore. He lets the water trickle into his mouth slowly, swishing it around before swallowing. No choking this time, for which he is profoundly glad. He didn't think he could take another coughing fit, not the way his head felt at the moment.

The cobwebs slowly start to break apart and he takes the offered hand to get up, standing in a great rush that sends his head spinning again. He leans against the blurry redhead for a moment, before he is transferred to a nearby chair for support, half falling into it, clutching the arms to keep from spinning right back out of it again, canteen dropped and forgotten. Even as he remembers dropping it, it's pressed back into his hand and he takes a few more short sips.

"It helps."

He nods again, this time without sending waves of pain through his head. It was helping.

Everything starts to come back to him and through sheer anger he blinks through the stabbing in his eyes to survey the damage, take in everything going on around him. The bridge is a mass of frightened people crying, screaming vomiting, some simply standing or sitting in a daze, faces blank and expressionless. The whole scene before him is cast in red, the color of the emergency lights, causing each and every person to appear blood red to his eyes. Fumbling at his right side, he finds the button he wants and the damn thing at least stops blinking, but the blood red remains.

A hand on his shoulder again and he looks up to see the now clear image of Samantha McBride standing just to his left, her long red hair, normally pulled back into a 'not quite regulation' length pony tail looking very much disheveled, hanging free yet pulled over just the one shoulder to stop just at the upper curve of her left breast in a damned sexy manner. He is reminded, once again, that Sam is a beautiful woman, not too tall, not too thin, with curves where a woman should have curves, but one he can never have for more reasons than he cares to admit, even in the privacy of his own mind. She smiles that roguish, 'I know exactly what you're thinking' smile that women have and Starker grimaces. All damned women know exactly what men are thinking and it's not fair.

He goes over the list in his mind just to reinforce it: Sam is seven years younger than he - she'd snap him in two, she is the Chief Security Officer for this ship - under his command, she is his oldest living friend. He also remembers that he's pulled her head out of the toilet as many times as she's done it for him, he held her when she was with Gerrod and he dumped her cause she couldn't have kids - what a bastard, and she was there when his daughter died, and his wife and son wanted nothing more to do with him. Sam represents the only relationship with man or woman in his life that he hasn't completely screwed up - why complicate or doom it with sex?

Absently, he taps her hand on his shoulder, letting her know that he's fine, and she nods, all serious again, removing her hand to clasp it with the other behind her back - she's all business again. A shadow across his face announces the arrival of his XO, Commander Leland; a short, thin, slimy little prick more into politics than in the business of serving the United Earth Defense Force. His normally perfect blonde hair shows signs that it was hastily smoothed back, and spots of something on the front of his tunic indicate that he wasn't above a little puking of his own and, from the look of his green skin, more may be on the way shortly.

Leland would be, he knew in his heart, a Senator or Congressman one day. He was on the 'fast track' Starker had hear so much about throughout his career. This assignment was proof of that. Odyssey, as the first in a new fleet of ships, was considered a plum assignment, and Leland was ten years shy of being ready for it. Yet, here he was, and Starker was stuck with him.

"Computers are down. Sir."

Leland always did that, added the 'sir' almost as an afterthought. The man really did think he should be in command, and never let Starker forget it for one moment, but he did his job as defined and never did anything truly worthy of reprimand. It was always some verbal slight implied, or a look that would cross his face fleetingly. The man was worthless as an officer and if Starker could have him off this ship he would, but he didn't have that kind of pull, and Leland did.

Starker had never been one to play politics, and it had cost him some power but also meant that he wasn't beholden to anyone. He'd been bitten in the ass more than once for his lack of political savvy, but, dammit, he could sleep at night. Well...most nights, anyway.

"Emergency power only. I've tried intraship communications - nothing. Also, I've tried to reboot systems but the terminals are just dead - no power at all or else the core is offline."

"Send runners to Engineering and the Computer Core - I want updates asap."

"I'll go to the Core..."

Sam smiles again, this time all business, and Starker nods. She trots off and he remembers something else. "Sam!" She turns at the door to the hall and he notices that she is wearing her side arm again, something she didn't have when the fun started however long ago - he couldn't remember right at this moment.


"I want armed Security at all critical areas - no one in or out without rigorous questioning and even then, they dammed well better have a good reason for being there - got it?"

"Planned on it, but, it's good to hear you say it." She flashes a grin and then she's gone in a blur of red hair as she trots around the corner.

Starker turns to see Leland still standing before him. "Well?" Leland jumps as if woken from a daze, turning beet red before spinning around and snapping his fingers at a pair of nearby ensigns who get orders barked at them through clenched teeth. They are soon running from the bridge on their way to Engineering, one to come back immediately with an update, the other to wait. They will trade off until communications can be reestablished.
"Sir? Any theories?"

"I prefer not to speculate, Commander," Starker answers, silently wishing the man would have many, many bad things suddenly happen to him.

"But, the weapons... we-"

"Fired on the fleet. I am aware, Commander." Starker stares straight ahead, visions of the fleet being slaughtered as his ship fired volley after volley of torpedoes, concussion blasts and ion blasts at the defenseless ships gathered to celebrate Odyssey's launch and maiden voyage. The last thing he saw before darkness fell on them all, was the image of Air Force One being sliced into a thousand pieces by the forward laser.

"I am aware, Commander." Starker would not sleep this night.



Starker tossed the report on the stack and leaned back in his chair, eyes closed, palms rubbing away at the headache that was only getting worse. Still nothing from Sam after the initial "Core secured - story to tell - 09:30." But the rest of the ship had flooded in with reports. Engines offline. Computers offline. Main power offline. Life support using emergency reserves. Sickbay stacking crew members five high due to excess vomitting and dehydration.

The thought forces his hand back to the water bottle on his desk. He takes a long swallow, astonished at his own thirst. It's rampant throughout Odyssey - everyone is dehydrated and no one is sure why just yet. Orders were sent out as information came back, and now it's just a matter of waiting, something he hated with a fiery passion, for the staff meeting at ten hundred to get the ships status, and that includes the crews health.

The headache pounds just behind his eyes, and he closes them again, elbows on the desk, head clasped in hands. The aspirin hasn't done a blasted thing and the sickbay is too busy to bother for anything stronger - they've got their hands full. Suddenly, he wishes he had a stiff drink. Moving slowly, he takes the four steps from the desk to the bathroom and fills the sink with water, splashing it on his face even as the knock comes on the office door.

"Come in!" he answers, muffled as he brings the wash cloth to his face, scrubbing at his eyes and neck with the cool water. Towel in hand to dry himself, he steps back into the office to find Sam sitting in the chair opposite his, her feet up on the desk. Just before her is a bottle of whiskey, a half full glass in her hand, an empty one before his chair.

"Drink with me."

Starker hesitates only a moment before taking back his chair, and splashing some whiskey in the glass.

"To the 44st," Sam says, raising her glass. Starker's eyes widen for only a moment, before he nods sadly, and 'tinks' her glass with his, downing the whiskey in a gulp, then struggling not to cough. Looking at the bottle, he notices it's two hundred and fifty year old whiskey. She's toasting their old unit from the War with two hundred year old whiskey.

"Dear god, Sam! Where did you come up with this?"

Sam grins for a moment. "I have my ways." She holds out her glass. "Another." Starker splashes both of their glasses again. "That drink was for me. I lost two people in the computer core. One I found with his head smashed in like a watermelon. The other was shot in the back with the first one's gun."

Starker's hand tightens on the glass he holds.

"Two others were shot as well. Computer techs." She holds up the glass again, Starker 'tinks' his against it, and they both drink. 'She' lost two people, he lost four.

"One more." The glass is extended again, and Starker splashes it again, then his. It's not like Sam to drink in the middle of something like this. He wonders what has set her off. Losing people, that always happened - you couldn't avoid it altogether, but Sam always took it personal. A personal failure. But, she had never stopped to drink about it before - that always came later. Much later.

"This one.... this one is for you, Uly."


"Cause you'll need it in a moment."

Starker's stomach clenched at that. His first thought was for Michael.....

"Xavier D'aubigne is in our sickbay. I found him in the Computer Core."

Starker simply stared. Sam held her glass up, and Starker didn't even bother to touch his to it before downing the whiskey.

"You're sure?"

"I am positive."

Xavier D'aubigne. Some of the puzzle had suddenly been revealed.

"Sam? How did the most wanted TechnoTerrorist in the world come to be on my ship?"

Sam rolls the empty glass back and forth between her hands, staring at it, face blank. "...I have no idea."

Starker slams his glass down with a thump, causing Sam to jump in her seat. "That's not good enough! That's no where near good enough! God Dammit, Samantha!! Why is he in sickbay?! Why not the brig? You should have his ass in a vice-"

"He's brain dead."

Sam says it so quietly Starker isn't sure he even heard it correctly. He falls back into his chair, not even remembering when he had stood up. "He's what?"

"Brain dead. When I found him, he had one of those cables they use.... It was plugged into the back of his head, the other end plugged into the computer. He wasn't moving, barely breathing. I got him to sick bay and into a secure ICU room. The doc said there's no brain activity whatsoever. He's brain dead. The machines are the only thing keeping his body alive. Whatever he did, whatever that was we went through, it must have fried his mind."

Sam fills her glass again, replacing the bottle on the desk, shooting it back quickly. "And I don't know how he got onboard. I've had this ship locked down tighter than a vigrin for months now, and not a single thing has gotten through. We've stopped bombs, people, plots to disperse chemical agents - you name it, we've stopped it. He shouldn't have been able to get anywhere near this ship. And yet...?"

Starker takes a deep breath. "Sam? Sam, look at me." She looks up slowly. "Think about this for a moment. We fired on the fleet." It was no easier saying that with the whiskey in him than it was saying it to Leland on the bridge. "We lost control over this ship and in one, horrible moment, we brought more death and destruction than has been seen in years. That screams Xavier D'aubigne. Someone, somewhere, helped him get on this ship."

Sam sits up straight. "Inside job is what you're saying." Starker nods.

"It makes sense."

Sam flushes red, slamming her hand down on the desk. "None of my people would do that!! You have no right to accuse-"

"That's enough!!" The redhead shuts up, but still fumes. "I didn't accuse your people, Sam. It could have been anyone." She deflates a little. "But we can't afford to rule out any possibility." If looks could kill.... "Think, Sam. If someone helped him get onboard this ship..."

"..then there's a good chance they're still here."

"Exactly. We have to find out who and bring them in. Who knows what else they might have planned?"

"You think there's more?"

"I don't know. But Xavier D'aubigne is a paid Terrorist - he doesn't do things on his own unless there's a lot of money involved."

The clock on the desk begins to chime, indicating that it was time for the staff meeting. Starker stood and began buttoning up his uniform.

"Did the doctor recognize him?"

"No. And we have him listed as 'John Doe'."

"Good. Leave it like that. His name stays between you and I for now. Understood?"

"Aye, Cap."

"Good. Let's go and get this over with. I hate bad news."

"Picked the wrong day to get out of bed then."

"Didn't we all?"

They both chuckle as they disappear down the corridor.

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