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The oscillating form regained cohesion on the pad of the runabout’s cramped transporter booth as Raffaele rose from the copilot’s seat and ordered, “Activate EMH.”

The hologram appeared and Raffaele instructed Ensign Beresha at the pilot’s station to brief the EMH on the quickly developing situation.

As the wavering energy field flickered and died to reveal Captain Abrahamson sprawled on the transporter pad, the man took a deep, heaving breath — his first in eighty-eight years. He looked around, wild-eyed and confused. “Where… where is this?”

Abrahamson scrabbled to his feet, bolting forward only to crash headlong into the containment field. He rebounded and landed heavily on his backside.

On the other side of the field, Rafe knelt and made eye contact with the displaced officer. “Captain, I’m Lieutenant Raffaele. Please try to remain calm. You’re in no immediate danger. You’re aboard a Starfleet vessel, see?” He gestured to the Starfleet arrowhead emblazoned upon the combadge affixed to his chest.

Abrahamson seemed to collect himself and began to take a real look at his surroundings. “Okay, Lieutenant, you have the advantage. Explain what’s going on here. Where is my ship?”

“Beresha,” Raffaele instructed, “bring us around so we can see Caelestis through the forward ‘ports.”

Meanwhile, the EMH busied himself scanning Abrahamson with his medical tricorder.

Namsen came about so as to make the older vessel visible through the cockpit windows. Abrahamson squinted at the dismaying sight of his ship set against a stark white field, peppered with black stars twinkling in the backdrop.

“We found Caelestis adrift in this dimensional schism, you and the rest of your crew frozen somehow. We sent an away team over to your bridge, and it appears we unwittingly unfroze you somehow.”

Eyeing Raffaele’s uniform, Abrahamson warily asked, “How long?”

“Sir, I’m not sure fixating on the detai—“

“How long, Lieutenant?” Abrahamson barked with such authority that Raffaele found himself replying before he could stop himself.

“Eighty-eight years, sir,” Raffaele announced sharply, before lowering the tenor of his voice to add, “And if that isn’t disconcerting enough, we’re in the Large Magellanic Cloud, orbiting the Milky Way.”

Raffaele’s eyes were drawn to the wedding band on Abrahamson’s finger, and an uncharacteristic wave of empathy seized him.

“Elevated blood pressure,” the EMH announced, “and indications of significant stress hormones.” The hologram turned his neutral expression on Raffaele. “His reaction seems appropriate to the circumstances.”

Abrahamson shot daggers at the EMH with his eyes, prompting Raffaele to call, “Deactivate EMH.” He gracefully snatched the medical tricorder from the air as it fell from the hologram’s evaporating hand.

“Holographic projection,” Raffaele explained as Abrahamson goggled at the man’s abrupt disappearance. He tapped his combadge, opening a channel to the XO. “Commander, I have a man here with many questions.”

* * *​

USS Valhalla

Abrahamson had been largely quiet during Dr. Zelbin’s comprehensive examination, his eyes taking in the advanced medical technology on display.

Izawa and Cybel stood conferring nearby, awaiting the doctor’s final report on the health of their guest.

“I’m still not sure I could recreate whatever it was that I did to disrupt his stasis, sir,” Cybel explained.

Izawa nodded, his arms clasped behind his back. “With any luck, we’ll be able to crack the mystery and revive the rest of his crew. If we can restore Caelestis as well, we could conceivably send them back to the portal under their own power.”

Cybel appeared surprised. “Sir? You don’t think we should escort them back? Without transwarp, it would take them almost six months at their maximum speed to reach Shul’Nazhar and the portal.”

“I won’t deny that stumbling upon Caelestis with Europa’s help was a rare stroke of good fortune, York, but I remind you the recovery of this ship and crew is not our mission. We’re in a better position now to locate Europa than at any point since we arrived in the LMC. And since we have confirmation that Sandhurst, an acknowledged traitor, has returned to the ship and seized command, locating them has become even more urgent. The man is even flaunting his Amon name, as if to rub our noses in it.”

Cybel seemed about to contest the point, but fell silent in the face of Zelbin’s approach.

“Commodore,” Zelbin said, “I’m pleased to give Captain Abrahamson a clean bill of health. Aside from being understandably upset at his circumstances, his vitals are strong and conform to his last recorded medical examination at Starbase 41 last century.”

“Thank you, Doctor.”

Izawa nodded to the security specialist nearby, silently dismissing her. He hobbled over to Abrahamson with the help of his cane and extended a hand. “Commodore Takeo Izawa, commanding the starship Valhalla. It’s a pleasure to meet you captain, though I wish it were under different circumstances.”

Abrahamson shook Izawa’s hand, still looking somewhat overwhelmed. “Thank you, Commodore. Marshall Abrahamson, at your service.”

“Captain, I want to assure you we’re doing everything we can to rescue your crew, and perhaps recover your ship as well. It would be helpful if you could tell us what circumstances led up to this event.”

Abrahamson’s face set in a stony expression, untold horrors flitting behind his eyes. “Tell me, Commodore, do you believe in devils?”

* * *​
Beresha awoke slowly, luxuriating in the knowledge that following yesterday’s grueling away mission to Caelestis, she had an entire day off duty. She’d scheduled three hours on the holodeck to simulate rock climbing in Delta IV’s challenging Duruk Mountains, a goal she’d yet to successfully complete despite having owned a copy of the program for more than two years.

She slowly opened her eyes and immediately froze as it became apparent she was not in her quarters. Her first thought was that perhaps she’d had too much to drink the previous night with some of the ship’s other junior officers in The Falcon’s Lair lounge in the main shuttlebay.

Please tell me I didn’t… she thought desperately. As a Deltan, she was sworn to uphold her oath of celibacy. Due to her species' potent empathic abilities, both physical and emotional relationships with Deltans could have profoundly negative impacts on humans and other races that her people considered ‘sexually immature.’

She rolled over and was relieved to discover she was alone, however, this was most definitely not her cabin. She sat up and as she pushed the covers off herself she froze again, staring aghast at her hand.

Only it wasn’t her hand.

What should have been a dark, ebony complexion was instead a pale pinkish hue, with tawny hairs on her arms.

Beresha abruptly slid off the bed and glanced around the small cabin searching for a reflective surface. She spied the mirror in the cramped refresher cubical and stumbled desperately towards it, only to freeze for a third time as she found herself staring at the reflection of an entirely different person.

She assumed the woman looking back at her was human, based solely on her appearance, a rather mousy looking Caucasian with shoulder length auburn hair that clung damply to her head as though she’d been perspiring heavily in her sleep.

“Computer,” Beresha blurted, “where am I?”

“You are in junior-officer’s quarters, cabin four-zero-nine, deck four, section three, USS Caelestis, the computer obediently replied.

“Computer, who am I?”

“You are Suzette Saint-Marie, Lieutenant junior-grade, Starfleet. Your current billet is Assistant Chief Navigation Officer, USS Caelestis.”

“No,” Beresha gasped, “Oh no, no, no… by the six deities this is not happening!” She stood, hands gripping the sides of her head. “This has to be a dream. It has to!”

Only it did not feel like a dream, especially to a Deltan, a species who learned the ability to active-dream in their youth as a guide to exploring their own subconscious. She was proficient at discerning dream from reality, and then actively guiding her dream-state in order to stop nightmares-in-progress or to discover more about her unconscious thoughts and desires.

Beresha attempted to utilize these skills, to no effect. All her senses told her definitively that she was wide awake and firmly planted in what humans would term, ‘the real world.’

She walked slowly back to the bed on wobbly legs, nearly overwhelmed by the sheer incongruity of the experience. However, as she sat down on the bed she realized that despite the fact that she appeared to be inhabiting a human body, she still felt Deltan, still had access to her empathic perceptions. She could still sense other crew nearby, could still perceive an undercurrent of fear and stress that seemed to bubble just beneath the surface.

Beresha stood and moved to the closet, pulling on what to her was a uniform from another era, spending long minutes trying to figure out how the various clasps and buckles on the overly-ornate uniform worked. She’d have to try and explain herself to a superior officer, and hope that they didn’t send her to sickbay on a special psychiatric watch.

She caught Saint-Marie’s reflection in the mirror on the cusp of exiting the cabin, and remembered that this woman had hair, something that she’d have to do something with, or about.

Locating a maroon-colored hair band, she fiddled with the unfamiliar tresses for a few moments until she’d suitably contained the unruly mass.

Beresha stepped to the doors, which slid open to reveal a man in a garish jester’s costume, his face painted in a sloppy rendition of a classic Terran clown’s makeup. An overwhelming stench of fetid decay swept into the cabin from the corridor, nearly causing Beresha to gag as she recoiled from the specter’s unexpected presence.

“Hey,” the ghoulish harlequin rasped, holding up Beresha’s severed head in both hands. “Are you missing this perchance?”

She screamed, staggering back into the cabin and tripping over a table leg, falling heavily and wrenching her knee in the process.

“Oh, damn,” the clown muttered. “You’re Deltan, aren’t you? Probably give less than a squirt about clowns, eh? How about this then?”

Suddenly the clown was a Mostrui druid, the hobgoblin of Deltan children’s tales, the claimant of souls who died tragically before their time. He tossed her head into her lap, which Beresha caught fumblingly despite her every sense shouting at her to throw it away.

The eyes of her severed head opened and it screamed impossibly in her own voice–

Beresha sat bolt upright in bed in her junior officer’s cabin aboard Valhalla, gasping for breath and drenched in perspiration, her heart hammering in her chest.

She unconsciously reached down to grab her left knee, which throbbed inexplicably.

* * *​

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