Joined: 12 Jul 2006
|Posted: Thu Jul 27, 2006 8:20 am Post subject: VS #7-"The Derelict" (Chapter 4)
Sheba could hear the claws of the creature scraping against the door outside, and she wondered if it would find some way of opening the door. But after a centon, nothing happened and she could hear it's footsteps recede down the passageway until finally, she could hear them no longer.
She slowly let out a sigh of relief and felt she had dodged a potential catastrophe. She had allowed herself to briefly show a trace of fear, and that had almost been enough for them to do Kobol only knew what to her. The only immediate question though, was would they come back and find a way of penetrating this compartment?
Sheba backed away from the door and decided to take stock of the room she now found herself in. There was a higher level of auxiliary lighting than there'd been in the corridor, though still far from a normal setting. It was easy to make out a large number of what looked like computer bank terminals, with a number of chairs stationed at various intervals in front of them. She moved toward them and tried to recall if these might have been part of an older battlestar's layout like the Callisto had been. Even though the Pegasus had first flown while the Callisto was still active, that ship had undergone a number of overhauls in the last two hundred yahrens prior to her father taking command, so there was bound to be things that would look unfamiliar to her.
She gingerly sat down in one of the chairs, feeling a wave of comfort at getting off her feet after so many long centons of walking through the dark and then being forced to run. As she felt her muscles relax, she cast a glance back at the compartment door that led back into the passageway, and listened carefully to make sure there was no sign of the beasts outside trying to force their way in. But for now, there was only silence.
Her eyes than wandered from the compartment door and could make out the writing to the left that indicated what room this had once been. She could see the old style Colonial lettering which confirmed that this room too had been part of the Callisto. She got up and made her way over to see if she could make out the full description.
ALPHA AUXILIARY CONTROL
That particular description struck no immediate chord with her, since there was no counterpart to anything like that aboard the Pegasus or the Galactica. But then she remembered that in the early days, battlestars had a number of secondary control stations that were designed to keep the ship capable of moving in case an attack left the bridge destroyed or incapacitated. As bridge shielding had improved over the yahrens, and the likelihood that only a breach causing total destruction of the ship could destroy it, these stations had been gradually eliminated over time on the grounds that they were a redundant waste of space.
If this was a backup command center, she thought as she sat down again in front of the dead, inactive computer terminals, then maybe there's a way of accessing the official data tapes on what happened to the Callisto.
Cautiously, she pressed one of the buttons on the lower end of the terminal. Nothing happened, and she then worked her way up the panel, gently flicking numerous ones into what she hoped was an on setting.
After pressing a button five rows up, she felt a start when the entire room suddenly became lit with normal levels of illumination. The effect of seeing normal everyday lighting took her aback since she had gotten so used to the levels of darkness after so long, that it caused spots to flash in front of her eyes for nearly a half centon before they readjusted.
I wonder if this would be enough to really keep them at bay, she thought. With the lights back on, she could make out a number of smaller panels on the console that more clearly indicated what they were for. It then occurred to her that instead of a button for the data tapes, what she really needed to look for was a unicom system. If she could broadcast her voice to all areas of this monster derelict, then at least she had a chance of letting Apollo know that she was alive and okay somewhere.
But her examination revealed no sign of a unicom switch. She felt a wave of frustration go through her but then felt it pass when she saw a button clearly marked, "Flight Log Recorder."
That has to be it, she thought. At least part of the truth should be there.
With no hesitation, she pressed the button and waited for what she hoped would be the dead giving up their secrets of what had happened to the great battlestar.
Apollo felt only caution and skepticism as he saw the pitiful sight before him. If he was right that the demons aboard this derelict had at one time been the crews of the various ships the derelict was assembled from, then it should have been all too easy for one of them to make a sustained appearance in their former state. And he was also aware of how their master was quite capable of assuming a normal human form as well.
"Please......" the man still had his arm stretched out, his voice pleading, "Help me, please."
"Who are you?" Apollo pointed his laser pistol at him and displayed no warmth in his voice.
"I'm a.....prisoner," he whispered, "The last.....prisoner who still has his soul intact. Believe me.....I'm not one...of them."
"What's your name?" Apollo kept his voice cold, "Get to your feet if you can!"
Slowly, the man managed to force himself to a sitting position, "You've......seen the others, haven't you? You......know what happens to them?"
"I'll ask the questions," the captain felt his patience wearing thin, "What's your name?"
The man nodded and swallowed, "I.....don't blame you for thinking I'm.....one of them. I've seen.....so many others like you before."
"If you're not one of them, then that means this thing can kill you. You either answer my question or I use it."
He let out a morbid chuckle, "How I wish your laser could kill me," he took a breath, "My name is Delambre. Colonel Delambre."
(AUTHOR'S NOTE-The name of this character is a purposeful in-joke reference regarding the actor I would envision in this part, David Hedison. If you can figure out the in-joke, you'll also understand the character's first words. )
"Were you part of the Callisto's crew?" Apollo kept his pistol pointed at him.
"Executive officer," he sighed.
"And you say you're not one of them? You aren't.....transformed like the others?"
"If I were, you wouldn't be able to talk to me like this. The only time you can see a ghostly echo of what they once were is to fire a laser blast at them." he paused, "You've done that haven't you?"
"Maybe," Apollo held his ground, "But I don't have any reason to trust you. How did you know to send out a Colonial code? And how did you know there was anyone out there to hear it?"
"Oh, I knew you were aboard. You and your friend. They.....have ways of making me know when an outsider is aboard. It's all.....part of their sick game of trying to give me some hope.......before they snatch it away by enslaving them.......just as they will enslave both of you if you aren't able to escape."
"I know who this enemy is, and I don't fear it or the one behind it."
"That doesn't matter if you know who the enemy is," the man who called himself Colonel Delambre slowly rose to a standing position. "So many of us.....we knew. But all of them eventually were enslaved."
"Yes," he nodded sadly, "I'm the last one who hasn't given in to them."
"I'd like to believe you," Apollo kept up the skepticism but slightly lowered his pistol, "But if you were telling the truth, that would mean you're over five hundred yahrens old."
"Is that how long it's been?" he let out another morbid chuckle, "Strange how time seems to blur when you're in an eternal prison."
"Look mister, or Colonel, or whatever. Much as I'd like to trust you, I've already seen from past experience how the one in charge of this operates, and that includes being able to take human form. So don't blame me if I choose not to believe you."
"If I were who you think I am, would I appear this way to you?" Colonel Delambre gently retorted. An air of sad resignation in his voice, as if this was not the first time he'd had to say something like this. "Surely I'd take a more.....plausible form, like someone who could only have been a recent prisoner?"
There was a strange logic to his voice, and it made Apollo realize that at the very least he needed to consider the possibility that Delambre was telling the truth. And then....as he thought further, he realized that he had one piece of evidence to suggest Delambre was telling the truth. The brief scanner reading they'd picked up when they first saw the derelict, which said there was human life aboard. The demonic minions wouldn't have registered that way. Could that scan have meant this wretched figure in a ragged uniform from so long ago?
He kept his pistol in his right hand half-raised but then detached his micro-scanner from his pack with his left hand. He pointed it at the man and flicked the switch, and his eyes widened in amazement when he saw the readings for a normal human being register on it.
"Well?" Delambre asked, "Are you now convinced?"
"Not one hundred percent," Apollo said as he placed the scanner back in his belt. "You could always have the means to project a false reading."
He let out a sigh, "Shoot me then and see what happens. You know that when you shoot a demon, his true form is revealed for a flash. See if that happens with me."
Apollo frowned, "But that would kill you."
"No it wouldn't," Delambre shook his head, "I'll explain that matter later. But do it now, and you'll realize that what you see before you is exactly who I am."
The captain stepped back and with some hesitation pointed it at Delambre's chest. And then, he pulled the trigger.
The red flash impacted against the man and it failed to have any noticeable impact on him whatsoever. He remained standing in the same position, his expression unchanged. There had been no sign of any other shape or form for even the slightest fraction of an instant.
"Okay," an amazed Apollo said as he put his laser back in his holster, "You've convinced me......for now."
The one-time executive officer of the Callisto sighed gratefully and motioned Apollo forward, "I'll be glad to tell you everything now."
When Sheba pressed the button, the only thing she heard at first was a low whining noise like an ancient communications tuner warming up. But then it cleared up, and she heard the professionally efficient voice of a man filling the room.
".......entry for this, the 18th cycle of the third sectar in the yahren 6827. Commander Harriman recording."
(AUTHOR'S NOTE-Another in-joke in the name, in that I'm envisioning an audio cameo by Richard Basehart, who was Admiral Harriman Nelson on Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea)
Sheba felt her ears perk. She immediately recognized the name of the Callisto's commander from the lecture at the Academy.
"We have now penetrated deeper into the Alpha Quadrant of the galaxy than any Colonial warship has conceivably done in the last five hundred yahrens. Along the way, we have encountered human settlements and outposts that have apparently been forgotten over time by the center of Colonial civilization. No doubt the result of the constriction of our frontier caused by the outbreak of our war with the Cylons, five hundred yahrens ago. We were in particular impressed by the discovery of a thriving agro-community known as the Serenity Colony, where a profitable existence has been established by the local agro-workers who settled there some two hundred yahrens ago. Their only minor problem is the existence of a Boray settlement that mercifully stays clear of their colony and enables them to prosper in their quadrant."
The brown-haired lieutenant found herself recalling a story Boomer had shared with her during one of their more recent deep patrol missions together. She was certain this referred to the same planet Boomer had spoken of.
(NOTE-This is a reference to the human colony encountered in the original series episode "The Magnificent Warriors")
"What we hope to achieve by this mapping of the Alpha Quadrant, so far off the beaten path from the realities and pressures of the war that exist close to home, is to provide Colonial Fleet Records with precious new information that can make them aware of how important it is to achieve victory in this conflict, and enable mankind to extend his presence further than he could have imagined. It has of course, carried with it, the risks entailed by being too far from home to even send out an intelligible long-range transmission back to our star system, but we feel that ultimately the results will have been worth it."
They wouldn't have had anything stronger than a weak gamma signal to send back then, Sheba thought, as she listened with rapt attention. No wonder no one ever heard anything from them again if they were so far out when whatever it was happened.
"Concerns from the crew over being so far from home were mitigated by our recent stop in Gomorrah, where the crew received two sectans of furlon as the guests of the Delphians. Despite their somewhat repellent appearance, the Delphian devotion to art and culture provided the men and women of the Callisto with enough distractions to last a lifetime worth of furlons. But for Colonel Delambre and myself, the most intriguing part of our stay in the Delphian home world, is their report of how their scanners suggest the possible existence of lifeform readings outside their domain, which represents the end of charted space as we in Colonial civilization have come to define it.
"And so, with our sojourn on Gomorrah now at an end, I find myself in agreement with my executive officer that we should do some probing of what lies beyond charted space before we begin the long return trip home to the Colonies. If we do make contact with lifeforms beyond these environs of the known universe, who is to say that we might find in the process allies who could assist us in our struggle with the Cylons and perhaps provide us with the key to victory?"
A clicking sound indicated that this particular entry was over. Sheba waited to see if another entry would begin, but no sound came. Perhaps she needed to press another button to find what was recorded next by Commander Harriman.
This explains why the Callisto was so far from home. But what did they run into that led to this awful fate for them?
Delambre led Apollo to the back end of the room where there were two chairs opposite from each other. He motioned the captain to sit down, and with some hesitation, Apollo did so.
"I have no idea when they'll come back, but usually they give me enough time to try to explain what happened to an outsider before they make their next move."
"What do you mean by outsiders?" Apollo quietly demanded, "Do you mean people like me?"
"People like you, Borellians, Cylons, Delphians, and a host of other alien races you probably never got a chance to hear about," Delambre waved his hand, "After five hundred yahrens, I have no idea how many times it's happened before."
"Meaning no outsider has ever safely gotten off this ship?"
"None," he said pointedly. "And for many of them, their ships end up being added to the mix of what this ship is. A monster assembled from the parts and pieces of every ship it manages to enslave."
"For what purpose?"
"To impress their enemy, of course!" the Callisto officer said as he settled down in the chair across from Apollo. "The Dark One places pride in the size of his efforts."
"So you can't help me find my friend and get me out of here?"
"I'm going to try to, believe me," Delambre said, "But until you hear the full story from me, you can't begin to be prepared for what you're up against."
"Before I let you begin, there's just one thing," Apollo said, "Aren't you the least bit curious about where I come from, and what's happened?"
Delambre let out another morbid chuckle, "Captain, I recognize your uniform, and I already know the fate of Colonial civilization. And frankly, I ceased to care about that long before I was told by the Dark One personally about what happened to the Colonies. The only thing I'm concerned with is finally escaping from this crypt and letting my soul rest eternally in peace."
Apollo found the man's bizarre riddles maddening, but he realized that until he heard the full story in context, he'd never begin to understand this enigmatic man who defied all known standards of medical knowledge to still be alive after five centuries.
"Okay, Colonel," Apollo said, "Go ahead."
Sheba had to flick several more buttons before she finally heard that annoying whirring sound that indicated an old data-tape rewinding. She pressed the switch that had activated that noise again and as she thought, it would now play.
"Entry for the fifth cycle of the fourth sectar in the yahren 6827," a voice different from Commander Harriman now filled the room, "Colonel Delambre, now in acting command, recording. It is my sad duty to report the death of Commander Harriman and more than one hundred additional members of the crew, caused by the damage we sustained when a bizarre phenomenon none of us can still comprehend, came down upon us with force that would make even the mightiest of Cylon weapons seem insignificant. Our bridge is almost completely incapable of sustaining normal operations, and we are now forced to guide the Callisto from the three auxiliary control stations.
"The suddenness in which this turn of events happened still leaves us reeling in shock. That is why nearly a sectan has elapsed before I could find the strength to make this official log entry and bring matters up to date. But hopefully, in the few centons I have before I must return to overseeing our next move, I can recount things as accurately as possible.
"Our journey beyond the domain of the Delphian Empire to look for signs of life in the areas beyond charted space was uneventful for the first two sectans. Increasingly, the crew began to show signs of discontent and desire to finally return the long journey back to the Colonies, and Commander Harriman was inclined to agree with them. But based on my conversations with the Delphian Science Minister during our furlon on Gomorrah, I was convinced these imprecise indications of life that they had never been able to investigate because of their lack of spaceflight capability, had to be investigated. It could easily be decades if not a whole century or millennia before an opportunity such as this presented itself again for a Colonial ship, so to err more on the side of probing further seemed like the better course of action, especially since we had encountered nothing that could endanger us, and since Gomorrah still offered us a nearby base for fuel even if we went further for another six sectars.
"Ultimately, Commander Harriman came round to my way of thinking so the order was given to proceed."
"It was all my fault," Delambre lowered his head in shame as he told Apollo the exact same information that Sheba was listening to at that instant in the recording from five hundred yahrens ago. "I pushed Harriman into going further into the uncharted regions because of my damned.....sense of adventure. I should have been thinking what the crew was going through after being away from home for so long. The furlon on Gomorrah had refreshed me because I didn't have living family waiting for me back home, but the rest of the crew......" he trailed off and shook his head again in shame.
Apollo no longer had any doubts in his mind that Delambre was genuine, but he now felt a sense of uneasiness about what could have led to all this, and how the Callisto executive officer could end up still being in a normal state after all this time.
"Go on, Colonel," he gently prodded.
"Yes, of course. I've......had to do this sort of thing so many times before, I should be used to it." he raised his head but avoided direct eye contact with the captain. "First sign of trouble came when Green Squadron advance probe failed to return from their patrol. They just...disappeared without a trace. Harriman brought us to a dead stop and then initiated patrol sweeps in all possible headings, but they turned up nothing. At least.....nothing of the patrol. But Yellow Group did report finding some pieces of ship wreckage drifting about, and we decided to bring the samples back for study to see if they matched any of our missing vipers."
"We were stunned beyond belief, when our tests on the wreckage revealed that it was distinctly Cylon in origin," Delambre's voice continued on the ancient tape Sheba was listening to with rapt attention. "But not of Cylon vintage that we were familiar with. These samples dated back more than seven hundred yahrens, to the time before the war, and before the original Cylon race of living beings became extinct. This meant that at one time, they had penetrated further than any known race had done, and so far from their own star system. But what had happened to them?
"Before we had time to ponder that question further, that was when our nightmare began. When suddenly we saw before us the most massive ship any of us had seen in our lives. To say it was a hundred times larger than a battlestar might have been a too conservative estimate. Well.....the instant we saw that, it set off a panic of chaotic proportions. When Commander Harriman attempted to take evasive action by withdrawing at top speed, we suddenly found to our horror that our faster than light capability had been rendered inoperable. By forces we still haven't been able to comprehend.
"The panic that had set in on the bridge soon became a mutiny, as angry crewmen took out their frustration on the Commander. Although all of the details are still not fully known, the ensuing chaos by riotous crewmen who'd lost their sanity as a result of this monster ship's appearance eventually resulted in the massive explosion that killed Commander Harriman and left the Callisto in this incapacitated state we now find ourselves in.
"This now leaves me in command of a crew of four hundred survivors, and while mutiny and outward panic doesn't grip up us, we are still faced with an underlying terror of this ship lying before us, while we remain powerless to find some means of escape, and also too far beyond charted space to send a long-range transmission back to the Colonies. Even attempts to try to send shorter range messages back to Gomorrah to let them know of our plight have ended in failure.
"Outwardly, I am trying to do all I can to summon the needed image of reassurance and command authority that is needed. But I find myself totally without any viable answers as to what we can do. And that has me feeling as terrified as the rest of the crew feels now."
A clicking sound indicated that the tape was finished and that if Sheba was to learn more, she needed to find the next entry. As she searched for it, she felt the sting in her leg from the acid that had hit her earlier kick up again, and she annoyingly rubbed at it to try to make it go away.
How much longer should I look though? Sheba thought. If I don't find another entry soon, I should get out of here and start looking for that landing bay again.
The sound of Colonel Delambre's voice then indicated that she had found the next entry, and she settled back again to listen. But within a micron, she realized this was not a normal journal entry. It was a conversation.
"I won't doubt that you're a remarkable person with incredible power. You've demonstrated that in just two cycles aboard. But the idea of saying we must totally and completely ‘follow' you is what I don't understand."
"Come now, Colonel Delambre, why must you delay the journey home for your men by engaging in this tiresome game of semantics? To follow me, is to simply place your complete trust in my judgment and my decisions that will insure the safe return of the Callisto to the Colonies within a sectar's time."
Sheba felt a chill go over her entire body, and a sense of fear that exceeded anything she'd felt in her time aboard the derelict. A fear that stemmed from an immediate recognition of the voice that spoke to Colonel Delambre. The voice of someone she had once spoken with as well.
"......So there we were, stopped dead in space with this ship peering down at us as if we were some kind of insectoid about to be stepped on," Delambre went on. "I didn't have any solutions to offer. We were all.....just on the edge of losing our sanity. And.....that was really what he was waiting for. The right time when we would be all vulnerable and susceptible to his influence."
Apollo didn't even bother to ask Delambre who he was referring to. He already knew who it had to be.
"He.....appeared to you and offered a way out?" Apollo asked.
Delambre gave him that mirthless smile again, "Very perceptive of you, Captain. Yes, he did. Deluded them into thinking he was an enemy of the forces that lay in wait aboard that ship and which had snatched away our patrol, and that only by following him could we have a chance of escaping and making it home."
"I don't need the rest of the details," Apollo interjected, "It's fairly obvious what happened to the rest of the crew. But how were you able to resist?"
"Because I never trusted him from the outset," Delambre leaned back in his chair. "As Commander, I knew how desperate the situation was for us, and my mind just could not accept the idea that a quick, easy solution to our problems could come to us from one man. Not even one with all the charisma and charm that......he projected. But it didn't take long for me to realize I was alone among the entire crew in terms of not being impressed by him, and.....well do I need to tell you the rest if you're familiar with how he operates?"
"No," the Galactica warrior shook his head, "I won't make you revisit that. But...how is it that you're still alive after all this time?"
"It's my eternal punishment," Delambre looked down at the floor again. "Because I'm the one who put those poor souls in a position to be enslaved. They....can never take control of my soul, but the punishment is that I have to stay alive in this derelict surrounded by what they and everyone else enslaved by him have become for eternity."
"How do they keep you alive?"
"I don't know, but I guess with him anything's possible, isn't it?" he threw up his hands. "I never feel hunger or thirst. I never have to sleep. It's practically immortality as man used to define it. But in my case it's the worst kind of prison imaginable. I don't have to worry about my soul being in bondage, because I'm long past the point where I fear them and am vulnerable to that kind of influence. But so long as I'm kept alive in this place, I can never be truly free. Not until the day comes when someone can help me escape from this place, and I'll die at last."
Apollo realized what he meant, "You mean away from this ship, you'd age again and die?"
"In an instant," Delambre said, "But on this ship, nothing can harm me. Not even your laser pistol or anything else. So that's why.....if it's possible that you can resist them, and find a way out, you can......give me release at last."
"You've spoken of others who've come before me," he said, "But that they all end up being enslaved. How does that happen? Just sheer fear?"
"Creating fear, and using their....power to weaken the individual force of will in a person," Delambre sighed, "Have you.....noticed how they secrete a kind of acid?"
"Yeah," the captain nodded.
"Whatever you do, don't let any of that touch you," the Callisto officer said firmly, "That substance has a way of......attacking one's sense of inner resolve if it enters the bloodstream. And soon, even the stoutest of minds ends up finding their will cracking until finally, they're a ripe target to give in, because by then, he'll have appeared in a benevolent form again and promise a way out, which of course too late means turning over the soul by free will. And.....the final result of all that is what you've seen out there."
"I see," Apollo felt unease go through him as he realized there was a way for these demons to circumvent force of individual will. "And do they have.....other weapons at their disposal besides this.....acid?"
"Yes, but the acid is the most effective one. That's been the cause of most of the enslavements I've seen ever since my captivity began."
"Why don't they use that on you?"
Delambre chuckled mirthlessly, "Because Captain, I'm past the point where they're interested in enslaving my soul. He learned a long time ago when I was the last one left that this fate was something that could amuse him a lot more then my becoming just one of four hundred fellow crew members."
"Okay," Apollo rose from his chair, "I've heard all I need to know. What I need now is for you to help me find my friend, and then together we can try to find a way out of here."
"Easier said than done, Captain," Delambre slowly rose, "Your friend is separated from us by three deck levels and the only access tube that could lead us to her or vice versa requires going through the central hub."
"You knew that?" Apollo's eyes widened.
"It's something they make me know," he said sadly, "Just part of their game when others arrive to give me some hope."
"Okay, then the central hub is where we go."
"Which will require a lot of bravery and a lot of dodging on your part and hers, Captain," Delambre's tone grew pointed, "The central hub is where you'll find no fewer than a hundred of them clustered together."