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Things Manifold

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Disclaimer: Andromeda and all of its characters belong to Tribune Entertainment and Fireworks Productions, they are not mine and are only ‘borrowed’ for the purposes of the story. This is alternate reality story branching off from the events shown in the 3rd season episode “The Unconquerable Man” featuring Gaheris Rhade and Rommie. Note: This was written for the 2013 Journey Story 3.0 Big Bang.

Summary: Spiraling out of the events from the 3rd season episode "The Unconquerable Man" Gaheris Rhade killed Dylan Hunt on the eve of the Nietzschean Uprising, not the other way around and now has taken command of the Andromeda Ascendant and reset the time-line, now the crew must come to terms with this new reality.

“Things Manifold” by Karrenia

The ship hovered on the edge of the spatial anomaly that had torn a hole in the fabric of time, given him the opportunity to choose between two branching paths. He felt like a block of ice, but the type of ice that possessed both deadly intelligence and the capacity to utilize that intelligence, if given half a chance.

The thing of it was, even knowing that they were on the verge of staring their own demise in the face, that it could be, quite, beautiful. Oh, sure it was deadly, there was no doubt at all in his mind that it was, but knowing that should he choose the wrong path would mean his death; and Gaheris Rhade was not yet ready to slough off this mortal coil.

He had faced down the man who had once meant much to him, as both a fellow high-ranking officer in the former Commonwealth High Guard, a certain Dylan Hunt. He sometimes relived that moment when he had come in to the Command Deck, forcelance primed and ready to deliver the final strike. Dying would have been easier than helping Dylan rebuild the Commonwealth; a simple and plain statement of fact. The fact that Dylan had not seen it coming, or if he had, had been much too busy keeping his own body and soul together inside that twisting landscape; was a reason but not the only reason that had allowed him to narrowly escape from certain destruction.

Another niggling item that had been preoccupying him for far longer than he is comfortable with; he had also come face to face with a man who, in another branching of paths could have been his successor of sorts.

It felt very much as if he had just woken up from a very long dream, and if such comparison could be made; he felt as if he’d been rudely awakened from the dream, without his consent and for as yet unrevealed purpose. The process of emerging into full consciousness from that dark and hazy void, had been painful, extremely painful; but as a Nietzschean it was only to be expected that he would bear it with his customary stoicism and without complaint.

All the same, Gaheris Rhade vented a bit to the only other person aboard the Andromeda Ascendant who would if listen to what he had to say, understand what he had to offer, in a way that no one else could. Even now, the memories of what had taken place in that pocket dimension when he’d come face-to-face with his contemporary, Telemachus Rhade haunted him; so much so that there were times, especially late at night when he could have sworn that that other life was much more concrete and lucid than his present reality.

In that other reality he was a dead man, a footnote in the annals of history, but that his very last act had been one that had branded him as a traitor to the original Commonwealth High Guard; the man who had murdered Captain Dylan Hunt, his commanding officer and perhaps his best friend. What was that old saying, oh, yes, one never knew the value of something until it was gone. ‘

Gaheris shook his head, and shifted his weight, a move that made the leather of the old-fashioned high-backed chair creak in protest. The game board that had sat, half-completed on the table beside the chair was another mute reminder of a past that might have been. The black and white pieces sitting where he both men had left them. He had not moved them since.

Did he miss that other life? Perhaps he did, a little. Would he have done anything differently than what had come to pass in that shifting, murky corridor of space time that was all the time in the world and yet no time? ‘No, I would not have done so, unequivocally no.’ he thought, his thoughts making circular paths in his mind.

He allowed a fraction of smile to curve the corners of his mouth, and thought: “I have be given a second chance, and in this universe of ours second chances are often few and far between. Would I rather be dead? No, I do not think so. While there is life there is hope, and I shall make the most of the opportunities presented to me.”

Once, long ago, he recalled discussing varying natures of philosophies, especially those concerning nature versus nurture, fate and destiny, and everything in between. Despite the way things had turned out between himself and Dylan Hunt. The other man had been his friend, and also someone he could talk to almost as an equal. He recalled saying about destiny, and having to put up with Dylan’s by turns irritating, and rather moralist ideals. Gaheris had told Dylan that only destiny that he believed in was the kind that a man carved out for himself. Did he still believe that? He wondered and then with a grim smile curving his lips, he said. “Yes, I do.”

**

 

“Slow Dancing in a Burning Room

The memory of that experience still lingered within him, etched upon his memory like an engraving on a stone. If he had not been better practiced in keeping his emotions under rigid control it might have been strong enough to bring him bolt upright from a sound slumber. As it is; he is very good at keeping his strongest churning emotions under a tight rein.
His rigid discipline and determination had seen them through much worse events in his life allowed him to push those thoughts down to the point where they no longer troubled his waking hours. Hopefully, to the point where they no longer troubled his sleep as well.

If the universe, such as it was, was in the market of doling out second chances then he was a living, breathing examples of it

He believed that by now he had successfully exorcised whatever demons still lingered. The past was the past, and it there it would remain. For the moment, there was the present to attend to, and whatever the future would bring. Along with the Andromeda Ascendant, he is the only one who can recall how things used to be. He still harbored more than a few doubts about whether or not this is a good thing or not, and if so, whether or not he should take steps to rectify the situation. As it is, he can only move forward.

Turning over on his side, in bed he regarded the woman who lay beside him on his bed. Fully aware that the rank and file among the crew, although mostly comprised of his own fellow Nietzscheans who had served with him during the fateful battle at Witchhead, would not approve of their captain’s liaisons, might object to it, however, he did not really give a damn just now.

That fateful battle had sealed the fate of the Old Commonwealth, the final nail in the coffin of a corrupt system that had seen its glory day long behind the; ripe for the picking and plundering.

In the back of his mind, he thought, it was bound to happen sooner or later, everyone could say that it the old Commonwealth had turned inward on itself, becoming more and more contentious, stretched out like a string on a harp, we just give it a shove in the direction we wanted it to go.’

Shoving those thoughts to a back corner of his mind, he thought over their love-making, fierce and tender by turns. They complemented each other well, both in private and in public.

Gaheris ran his hands through Beka Valentine’s silky blonde hair, watching her sleep, her pale skin banded by streaks of light and shadow in the low lighting of his quarters.
Sooner than he might have preferred they will have to wake up and return to their respective duties aboard ship, but for now, he just wished to enjoy this time together.

Beka Valentine sleepily murmured something under her breath, and makes faint moaning sounds, and rolls over onto her side, so her face was turned toward his.

She opened her eyes and glanced up at him, her normally focused blue eyes soft and misty with sleep.

“What is it?” he asked, wondering if this is in fact her natural color, but he does admire how the low-lighting in his quarters draws out the contrasting shadows of light and dark like a mummer’s mask on those high cheek-bones and deep blue eyes.

“Was it good for you?” she whispered softly, reaching up to cup his face in her hands and then bringing it down to her lips and kissing him.

“Yes, I but I don’t understand why you feel the need for reassurance on that matter,” he replied, leaning into the kiss and returning it, letting it linger and savoring the sweetness of her lips and mouth.

“Well, good,” she replied. “But I can tell that there’s something troubling with you. We’ve been together long enough now, that you often telegraph your feelings even when you don’t realize that you’re doing it. Tell me what’s wrong,” Beka said.

“Nothing,” he began glibly, offering her a confident smile, hoping that he could distract her with some more foreplay.

Beka Valentine narrowed her eyes, not accepting that lazy confident smile and glib nothing at face value. She was enough of realist and had been around the proverbial block when it came to men, be they human or
Nietzschean when they wanted to avoid talking about something that was eating away at them, or on a more personal matter, relationship issues.

This time, Beka sensed, it was something on the latter rather than the former that was troubling Rhade.

Beka had been acting as a de facto second in command for several months now, ever since Battle of Witch head and the fall of the Old Commonwealth when he had put out a call for crew member for several months now. And even if she had not been sleeping with him, felt that she had gotten to know rather well, she frowned. “Don’t you dare try to brush me off, I know you too well.”

“Beka, please, I don’t want to talk about it,” he muttered, turning his head away to watch the digital readout on the chronometer on his bed stand.

“Hm,” she snorted. “Don’t get me wrong, Gaheris, it’s not like I want to overstep my bounds here, but I think we’ve got a good thing going here, but lately it seems as if you’re deliberately shutting me out.”

“Please, Beka, no arguments, and I’m not trying to shut you out, it’s complicated,” he replied.

“Then simplify it for me,” she demanded frostily, pulling herself upright by leaning on her elbows, the move sending the blankets that covered her half-naked body slipping away.

He paused a moment, thinking over what he should say, or rather what should be left unsaid and finally replied, “It is just that I am dealing with a few residual issues from the battle,” he said, some of that frosty tone that he’d heard in her voice, coming out his own.

“Let me help,” she offered with her one of her trademark dazzling smiles, going from frosty to charming all in a heartbeat.

She had not been with the crew at the time of the Battle at Witch Head, but the governing Nietzschean
Council had not exactly been meticulous or concerned with keeping information sealed up tighter than the legendary blade that had, legend had it, once belonged to the progenitor, the legendary Drago Musveni.

Beka was well aware that it had been a fierce, hard-fought battle, and had taken its toll on those who fought in it, but that was not was worrying her just now. If Gaheris was suffering some kind of residual effects from it, more likely emotionally than physically, she was determined to do whatever it took to help him deal with it.
Gaheris saw that smile and that trademarked self-satisfied but mischievous Valentine confidence that he’d heard so much about and wondered if might not been a genetic trait; her brother Rafael Valentine had it too, but he would rather not think about that too much.

“Thank you, but no, Beka,” he finally said after a moment’s pause to consider her offer, adding, “This is something I have to deal with on my own.”

“Humph, If you say so,” she said, willing for the moment to let the subject drop, but determining that she would have it out with him at another time.

“I do,” he replied with a lopsided smirk, his handsome face prickly with the stubble of fresh shave.

Beka leaned forward to kiss his lips, rubbing her face against his, feeling the stubble and the scent of him fill her nostrils. She did not know what it was exactly that had attracted her to him. She knew that she had always been attracted to strong, handsome, muscular men, especially those with dark hair, and with a commanding presence.

Gaheris Rhade fit her bill of particulars; he had charisma, charm, presence, and all that in spades. The fact that he was Nietzschean and she was a human female had not, well, only for a moment, stopped her from considering his offer of serving under him, when he had made it, and when she had begun to think of him as more than just her commanding officer, somehow, without either of them realizing it, had come to mean something, something much more. What they had, well, it was worth holding onto, for now.
**

Elsewhere

Rommie possessed a brain equivalent to the size of a good-sized planet; along with that came an almost eidetic memory, so why then is that there are seeming gaps, inconsistencies in what she knows to be true and what
cannot possibly be true?

When these inconsistencies first began to trouble, manifesting as white noise along her neural net, she had dismissed them as nothing more than an electromagnetic aberration.
She had proceeded to deal with at she would any other type of malfunction no matter how minor it might be, running routine diagnostics as a matter of course. When the results of her own self diagnostics on her modified android form matched up with those of the ship’s own parameters she should have be reassured on that score.

Rommie had served under and with High Guard Captains of all stripes and mettle, and Gaheris Rhade is just the latest in a long line of such.

“Memories are tricky things”, her acting ship’s engineer had once explained to her in that endearing, meandering and effusive manner of his; and he had gone on to expand how he could find no evidence of tampering or data corruption in either her core matrix or her android avatar.

For him, that is all well and good, but, despite those reassurances, every now and again it feels as if an electromagnetic short will erupt here and there along her data net, flashing for several nano-seconds, there and gone again in the blink of an eye, to borrow the time-honored Old Earth cliché. Harper is fond of these sayings, and she finds herself indulging in them from time to time as well.

She does not know whether this is because she’s become accustomed to having him around, or if she does so to indulge his curious predilections. In either case, it fits the current situation.
Rommie had been processing the memories of her time serving under Gaheris Rhade with the disjointed flashes of serving under a different captain, and despite the fact that logic is clinical and even cold. And, as an android she should have no trouble laying to rest these troubling sensations.

Yet, she respected him, followed him with the same loyalty and determination that she would have given to any commanding officer worthy of that respect.
He had earned it. And yet, in the midst of running a routine diagnostic on herself, then why should she feel a vague sense of disquiet, vague but gradually growing.

She was reasonably confident that, at this hour of the night it is not likely that Gaheris or the new weapons officer, Charlemagne Bolivar, will interrupt her task or her troubling ruminations.
If these troubling gaps in her recollections of past and current events continue, it might be best to mention them to her captain and seek his advice.

Aloud she remarked: “Something is clearly wrong and it is something that neither logic nor diagnostics will so easily resolve.”
Thanks to the human engineer, Seamus Harper, she is also an autonomous android and that one fact is proving far more problematic an equation for her logic circuits to find a workable solution.

She is an android created to be a reasonable facsimile of a human female. She has never given the matter that much thought’ suddenly recalling an ill-tempered but remark made by Rafael Valentine while they had been a mission together:

He had said, that would have preferred an android avatar unencumbered by cleavage, or that irrepressible manner that she had come to recognize and as inherited Valentine trait, he had gone to add something about, ‘as it is, the visual aesthetics are still pretty damn good.’

It had occurred to Rommie that Harper might have had more than just an engineering feat in mind when he built that artificial body for one of the ship's many androids. Sometimes that fact has caused a few misunderstandings, not to mention an occasional glitch when logic did not agree with emotions.

Dealing with the emotions of her crew is an entirely different equation than those of strangers, especially hostile ones,
But the emotional equation is not at issue just now, it’s the fact that what she knows and what she remembers are at odds, and its troubling, to say the least. At least, with the swiftness of action and resolve that she was known for Rommie decided to have a chat with her ship’s engineer, perhaps he could determine a solution that she had thus far been unable to come up with.
**

 

Charlemagne Bolivar leaned over, stroking his thin blond beard for a moment, contemplating not only the current arrangement of the game board and his next move, but also several moves ahead. He avoided making eye contact with his opponent, knowing that it would do him little good to look there for tells, or other nonverbal clues as to what was really going on in the other man’s mind.

Finally, he made his decision and reached to move his white stone along the diagonal track on the board he had selected.

Gaheris, waiting patiently while the other man made his move, allowed a small smile to crease his lips, and countered the move with one of his own black stones. Go was a much more complex and multi-layered game than it appeared, and had made a study of it its history and its strategies.

“You know, Rhade,” Charlemagne remarked, sturdily casual, even as he saw the black stones increasingly diminish his whites, “I never really cared for this game.”

Rhade leaned over the game board, chin resting on one fist silently contemplating his response before remarking: “Oh, is that so? I find it fascinating. “

Bolivar shrugged and smiled, adding “I oh, I have no doubt at that, but it’s so, what’s the word I’m looking for? Rigid comes to mind.”

“I suppose you have another preference?” asked Rhade, conversationally. He did not particularly mind that Bolivar did not care for go, even among Nietzscheans, it had become something of an ‘acquired taste.’

“Yes, as I matter of fact I do. I’ve started what I hope will be a recurring trend among the crew,

“What kind of game?” asked Rhade , his curiosity piqued.

“Poker.” Charlemagne Bolivar replied with an expression on his face that could only be termed a smirk.

Rhade shook his head and allowed one dark eyebrow to slide upward just a fraction of an inch, saying only, “Poker. Isn’t that, well, problematic?”

“Only when you play against a certain assistant weapons engineer,” Bolivar replied with a grin, a dangerous glint in his icy blue eyes.

“You must be referring to Rafael Valentine.”

Bolivar shuffled his feet on the carpet and then cocked his head back and laughed, loudly, and then smiled again. “Yeah, and just between you and me, he cheats.”

“If you are aware of that, then why do you continue playing with him?”

“Because he’s an inventive, garrulous, fascinating cheater,” added Bolivar. “And it’s not always easy to tell when he’s cheating and when he playing on the straight and narrow, and I like the game.”

“I see, “Rhade remarked with a smile of his own. “I shouldn’t think I have any issues with you running a poker game aboard ship. Just be certain that it does not interfere with your duties aboard ship.”

“I shouldn’t think so, but it does lead into a question that I’ve wanted to ask you for some time.” Bolivar lounged back in the chair, with his tightly curled blond hair, chiseled features and the deceptively lazy posture of tightly coiled strength; he might have been some predatory animal of the savannah.

Gaheris, for his part, knew well that practiced indifference, but chose not to remark upon it.

“Which is?” he simply asked.

“Why do you have humans aboard? I should think it wouldn’t sit well with the Nietzchean Governing Council.”

Gaheris shrugged. “What they don’t know won’t hurt them. Besides after all this time, it wouldn’t hurt to mix things up, make inroads on a brand new start for everyone, our people and humans alike.”

Replying with a commendably straight face, Charlemagne Bolivar said: “Good luck with that.”

Coming from Bolivar whose nonchalant and sardonic manner often belied a dangerous side had more often than not taken his enemies off guard, that remark could very well have several layers of meaning, than was obvious.

However, at this at this particular moment, Gaheris chose to take it at face value.

Perhaps, even though he wanted to make the most of this second chance, and hopefully not make the same mistakes time as he had the first time around, much could be said about learning from those mistakes.

Hard-core, hide-bound among his own people seemed to cling stubbornly to ideals that had served them well before and up until the climactic battle that had sealed the fate of the old Commonwealth, and could still serve them well into the future, if they did not allow themselves to become so entrenched in those ideals that had blinders on to everything else.

He had decided that having Beka Valentine and her rag-tag crew aboard made just made sense, especially if he wanted to build a better future for everyone. Why he cared about carving out a better future he could not have really explained, but it felt right, felt necessary, and for now, that would have to suffice.
**

 

I can’t put my finger on it,

“Harper,” Rommie inquired, given her inflection, it might have sounded peremptory coming from anyone else, and “I need a word with you.”

Harper, a bit preoccupied whenever he became utterly absorbed in a project or often many projects at once, startled like a rabbit caught by a fox running through rain-soaked hedgerows but quickly recovered.

He groaned and scuttled out from underneath one of the long white work benches where a collection of tolls, blueprints, and other assorted paraphernalia had accumulated. “Sure, Rom-doll, I always have time for you. What’s up?”

“Harper,” Rommie began resolutely, than trailed off with unaccustomed uncertain quavering just on the edge of her ordinary firm tones. It was not a sensation that she was either familiar or comfortable with; she shook her head and pressed on.

“As you no doubt are aware I have been experiencing glitches, perhaps more than glitches in my long term memories somewhere in my core memory matrix. Repeated diagnostics have failed to turn up anything wrong.”

“You’re still having memory lapses?” Harper asked, worry and compassion tingeing his own voice.

Rommie was well aware that Harper had feelings for her beyond that of a fellow crew member and ship’s engineer at this moment she could not afford to address it just now.

“I told you that memories are tricky things,” said Harper. “I hate to say this, but it might be my fault. You know? What with all the tinkering, modifications I made to your android ah, assets.”

Rommie quirked one black eyebrow at a slant and simply asked, “How so?”

“In my effort, to ah, to make your avatar more human, “ Harper said shame-shamefacedly, and then steadied his hands and looked her in the eyes, “I might have inadvertently hampered by making your emotional memory engrams overwhelmed by too much stimuli.”

“That could be one explanation, but, I have a gut feeling,” she smiled and then winked,” which is odd because as you’ve mentioned I do not have a gut or feelings,” but that there’s more to this mystery than meets the eye.”

Harper nodded and then said seriously; “I don’t believe it’s possible for androids to experience the human equivalent of amnesia, or at least it shouldn’t be. If it were, than we’d have a real mess on our hands.”

“Yes, I mean, no, I mean, can you not do something about this?” Rommie asked, crossing her arms over her chest.

“I’ll give it my best shot.”

Rommie nodded. Coming from anyone else, she might have harbored more than a few doubts, but although he was cocky, irrepressible and often irritating and endearing by turns, Seamus Harper’s best was usually quite good.

“Where should I start?” he asked.

“I suggest where start at the source of the problem,” suggested Rommie calmly.

“Huh?”

“For an engineering genius, Mr. Harper, you can be quite dense from time to time,” Rommie said, then smiled. “I mean, inside the core of course.”

“Sure, that’s what I thought you meant,” Harper replied with a grin threatening to wriggle away from his face. He sat down on the edge of one his many workbenches which were scattered around the cluttered Machine Room, and brushed aside the hair away from one side of his neck in order to reveal the data patch that been implanted there.

Rommie sat down as well, and braced herself. Harper took a cable and then attached one end to his data patch to it, and the other to one the ship’s access ports.

He braced himself for the abrupt falling away sensation that he experienced whenever he entered the Andromeda Ascendant’s core matrix.

In space between taking a deep breath and finding himself inside the incredibly vast, intricate and awe-inspiring landscape of her mind, was always staggering.

He had thought he had gotten accustomed to it, but each time, it still took take his breath away.

The view, as always was incredible, staggering on a huge scale, but fascinating nonetheless, but her wasn’t here to sight-see, so contained his eagerness and concentrated on the task at hand.

“Okay, I’m in,” he said, “What am I supposed to be seeing here?”

Rommie, or rather her computerized form, replied, “It would be easier if showed you.”

Suddenly, Harper’s mind was flooded with images, as he found himself, or rather his digitized form inside the Andromeda’s core matrix.

The seemingly random shuffling of imagery was, in a way that he could not immediately explain, not as random as it first appeared.

He viewed the ship as it had hung poised just at the edge of an event horizon of a singularity in deep space, and saw how it had pulled away at the last second.
He witnessed as Rommie received a commendation for grace under fire at the hands of Gaheris Rhade after the climactic battle of Witch Head, but the weird thing about that particular memory was the disjointed nature of it, the image wavered back and forth, grainy as if it were not quite solid not quite squared away.

While the image of Rommie was solid and real enough, but the image of the captain who had presented her with the award kept shifting, at one moment Gaheris Rahde was there, yet, in the next he had been replaced by another man, one that Seamus Harper did not recognize. However, he had the strangest feeling that he should.

For her part, Rommie, also was experiencing a peculiar sense of dislocation, almost juxtaposition; that her memories of the past events, both recent and more remote, were happening to her at the same time. How that could be, she could not explained, at least in any coherent manner at the moment. It was an intruding puzzle, and one that she was determined to solve.

Other memories, flashed along, more disjointed and fragmentary than the previous ones, and that strangely familiar tall, burly, blonde man dressed in a High Guard Commonwealth captain’s uniform jumping down from a great height and falling down in a concentric construct seemingly built along a symmetrical yet insanely complex construct, and falling, falling, falling with not bottom in sight.

Even at a remove, and experiencing this particular memory second-hand as it were, the sensation of falling and falling end on end, made Harper’s physical body quite nauseous, and he forced it down.

Moving on, another memory flashed across his eyes and mind: This time, it was himself he saw, laying on a biobed, another strangely familiar purple-skinned girl leaning over him, her face a mask of concern and compassion, and something more.

Another memory surfaced, this time it was of Gaheris Rhade making the proposal to the former salvage crew of the Eureka Maru to join him aboard the Andromeda Ascendant, and of Beka agreeing to take him up on the offer.As with one the memory where the strangely familiar man wearing a High Guard captain’s uniform had appeared, again his image and that of Rhade’s had overlapped, blurring their faces and forms. Harper did not know why, but somehow that seemed significant enough to warrant further investigation.

“Talk about major schizophrenia, Romm-doll. We have gotta to do something about this,” Harper muttered.

“Agreed,” she replied.

 

**

When he at last pulled himself out of the core, his mind reeling with the overlapping images that he’d been inundated with, Seamus Harper was drenched with sweat, making his clothes stick to his back and torso like a second skin.

The inside of his mouth felt like he’d been chewing on nails and he realized that he’d been holding onto the edge of the workbench where he had been sitting, so hard that the knuckles where white. That was immaterial just now as he took a few precious seconds to get his breath back and began rocking back and forth, muttering ‘Whoa’, and ‘hot damn’, under his breath, before regaining his composure.

“What does it all mean?” he asked

“I do not know, perhaps much, perhaps nothing,” Rommie said, and shrugged, and oddly human gesture for the normally implacable android. “It must mean something, it just that we have not discovered what that something is yet.”

She stood up and shook her head, and quite without realizing that she was doing it, or analyzing why should do it, she reached leaned over and gave Harper a quick peck on the cheek.

“Hey” Harper exclaimed. “Not that I’m complaining, but what was that for?”

“Thanks for listening, I believe that we may find the answer to this conundrum yet, there is always hope.”

“Always,” he echoed.
**

A few days later

“That’s now why you’re here, is it?” Gaheris asked. “Something’s been troubling for some time now. I may have allowed myself to become rather preoccupied of late, but I’m not blind. Gaheris said quietly.

“I never said that you have,” said Rommie as quietly as he had, at last turning around her back on the spectacular view of the vast, sprawling mercantile complex of the city below the penthouse granted to them by Ignatius Valentine for the duration of their stay.

“Is it that obvious?” she asked.

“No, not really, but then perhaps we know each other too well, by now.”

“Yes, that would be an accurate summing up,” Rommie replied.

“I have been mulling this over, wondering whether or how best to broach this subject with you.” Rommie began and then she placed her hands behind her back and stood with her back as ramrod straight as if she were lining to face inspection by High Guard brass.

“Permission to speak freely, Sir,” she asked firmly.

“Permission granted,” Rhade replied, equally seriously.

“I cannot explain a recurring phenomenon, I have run every test and diagnostic I can think off to determine the nature of the anomalies cropping up in my memory engrams within my core matrix.”

Rhade heaved a deep sigh, and tapped his fingers and rubbed the backs of his eyes with his powerful hands, holding out a perhaps selfish hope that ‘this’ would not be the subject that she would bring up.
But it was out, and much like the proverbial genii in the bottle of Old Earth mythology, once it had come out it would extremely difficult to force back in.

“I had not realized that you would be affected as much as you have been,” he said.

“Affected, by what?” she asked.

“I realize that this is difficult for you, believe me, I know. Rommie, please understand that these discrepancies in your memories are a mere side effect. “

“Side effect?” Sooner or later, your memories well, for lack of a better explanation, will auto-adjust to fit the present reality. Until then, just hang on.”

“I do not understand, what do you mean to adjust the present reality,” Rommie demanded.

“It’s like this, because of a set of branching paths, and our ‘travel’ through a tunnel through space, and the choices we made or did not make, reality as we know it, has altered.

“It is complicated, and I’ll leave it to those who specialize in quantum physics to provide a better explanation, for now, all I will say is that reality has been rebooted, and the two of us are the only ones who retain memories of the previous timeline.”

Rommie tilted her head to one side, as if thinking over both what she he been told and also what had been left unsaid, before saying: “For the sake of argument, let us say that you are correct, what do I until then?”

“Go with the flow. And I would ask you not to mention any of this to the crew, it could be potentially problematic,” Gaheris replied.

“Yes, sir,” she answered.

“For now why don’t you go down and join the others, I hear our gracious host has organized a poker game.”

“No, I do not think that I will,” Rommie replied, then added, “That is more Bolivar’s speed.”

“I think you’ve been hanging out in a certain ship’s engineer’s company, you’ve picked up his liking for Old Earth idioms. It’s fine, just don’t overdo it.”

“Just as you say, Sir.”
****

Harper, craned his neck to glance up at the glinting neon marque that hung atop the facade of the gaming and gambling hall owned by Ignatius Valentine, like the most awe-struck tourist

He stood gazing up at it, for long moments, without saying a word, and she could not help thinking, perhaps uncharitably, that it was the longest few moments that Seamus Harper had ever been silent, except perhaps when he were either sleeping or unconscious. Finally, when showed no signs of moving, she marched over and grabbed him by the elbow, steering him inside.

Truth be told she had spent the better part of her life out in space, first as captain of the salvage ship the Eureka Maru and now aboard the Andromeda Ascendant, so much so that she could never be fully comfortable dirt-side as many spacers referred to being on the surface of a planet.

“Come on,” was all she said, “We shouldn’t keep our host waiting.”

“This is amazing, it’s like one huge diversion combined into an entire city. I mean you could find just about anything you wanted here.”

“I know what you mean,” said Rafe Valentine, who up until now had been the quietest member of the four.

“We will soon find out, will we not?,” Bolivar Charlemagne stated with a lazy grin spreading across his handsome features, and then reached up to run his hands through his blond hair.

They entered the vestibule, threading their way through the teeming crowds, waved by a burly security guard dressed in the uniform colors of Ignatius Valentine’s commercial empire colors, and were then escorted by another pair of guards to one of the many gaming rooms where a table had already been set up for a poker game.

Uncle Sid had been sitting in one of the metal chairs clustered around the poker table, but stood up upon their arrival. “Welcome, Welcome. I am so glad that you accepted my invitation. Bela, Rae, it does my heart good to see you again."

“Hey,” Rafe replied, flashing one of his trademark off-center, confident grins.
Beka still felt the anger and resentment that she harbored for her father boiling just underneath her skin, but forced it down. Now, was not the time to let her anger get the best of her.

Thinking even as she forced the anger down to a manageable level, ‘Or maybe, damn that smug, bastard to hell, high water and back again, it’s probably just what he’s counting on. He knows me too well.’

“Beka, please introduce me to your friends,” Ignatius cheerily invited.

“Dad, this is our ship’s weapons officer, Bolivar Charlemagne, and our engineer Seams Harper.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Ignatius replied. “Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, shall we get down to business? The game is Five Card Stud, nothing fancy, and twos and jokers are wild.”

Taking their seats at the round table with its green baize coverlet, the cards already cut and dealt, wondering, not for the first time, if this was not their father’s admittedly warped but smooth way of making up for lost time, for making a first step for a reconciliation of sorts. If that was the case, she was not entirely certain whether or not she could trust him.

There had been too much bad blood, misunderstandings and anger and resentment between the three of them too smooth over easily.
Even as these thoughts coursed through her mind Bela studied the lay of the cards in her hand, those that had already been played, and said, “I raise you two hundred credits.”

For his part, Uncle Sid either didn’t notice the fact that when his daughter had sat down at the card table in one of his lavishly appointed gambling and gaming halls, she’d done so with her teeth clenched and a forced smile of good humor on her face that would be better termed a grimace. But he chose to put it down to stress and not point it out.

“If any of you are unfamiliar with the game, let me make it simple for you,” offered Ignatius calmly.

“The goal of the game is to accumulate the best combination using all of your five cards, one of which is dealt face-down (for your eyes only) and the remaining four which are dealt face-up (for all to see). Only two cards are dealt initially, one face-up and one face-down, after which betting proceeds, typically starting from the player seated to the dealer’s left, or if it’s a bring-in game, the player with the lowest face-up card.”

In the back of his mind, he thought, ‘Kids will be kids, speaking of which, it is entirely possible that I taught the younger well, perhaps too well, when it comes to life skills just as scams, heists, and counting cards. I may just lose this game to one of my offspring’

“During each betting round each player must either choose to bet, check, call, raise or fold,” Bolivia interrupted. “Are we going to talk about this or play the game?”

“Very well, let’s get this show on the road,” Ignatius exclaimed.
Play continued, with the capricious whims of fortune shifting from one player to another as the cards were shuffled and reshuffled and laid down.

Bolivar, having played with both Rae Valentine and Seams Harper in relatively friendly games that he held every other month aboard ship, kept a wary out for any tricks that the former might think to employ, raising and lowering his bets accordingly.

At one point in the course of the game Seams Harper hit a lucky streak, the cards that he needed to lay in a straight or even a full house he either drew or from the face down pile, and the stacks of red, white and blue chips accumulating in front of him growing higher and higher.

Rafe wanted to wipe that infuriating smirk off the blonde kid’s face, but he forced his irritation down, and schooled his expression to a calm, revealing mask. Poker, took more than just sheer luck, it took skill and strategy, and he had that in spades.

Rafe Valentine often wondered if the keeping together all the members of his big sister’s rag-tag salvage crew was either an inspired stroke of genius or a powder keg waiting to explode. Either way, he was willing to stand by her decision to keep the undeniably brilliant, often annoying, irrepressible engineer around.

And while he would never admit to the cocky young engineer’s face, at times, even the jaded con man could not help but be impressed.

At this moment every skill he had honed over several years as a con man and card shark were coming into play.

Bolivar was ready to admit that he had gravely underestimated the entire Valentine clan, if the undeniably close yet dysfunctional bunch could be termed as such. Family and the clan pride were two of the things that were of utmost importance to Nietzsche ans, and while he understood that family was also important to ordinary humans, he would never quite understand how they worked it out between themselves.

In the meantime Harper, was drumming his fingers against sides of his orange cargo pants watching as the tides of fortune and the cards that had early on swung so much in his favor had now turned against him. “That’s it,” he declared. “I’m out.”

“One down, three to go,” declared Ignatius Valentine.

“I’m out, as well,” Bolivar said quietly, getting up and stepping away from the table, going over to another empty one and straddling the back and then draped his lanky form over it.

“I see your thirty credits bet and I raise you everything I have left in my stake plus my brother’s as well.”

“Whoa, Beka, let us not be hasty here,” Rafe muttered.

“What’s that saying, go big, or go home,” she grinned, and then added; “Besides I suddenly feel lucky. What’s the matter Dad, too rich for your blood?” she challenged.

“Duly noted, dear,” the older man replied.

When each of the remaining players turned their hands face up, Bela had indeed backed up her risky bet with substance, her royal flush just beat out Ignatius king high and two pair.
Ignatius began to clap, a slowly building and bringing together of his hands. “Well done. Beat me at my own game.”

“We’ll take the credits now rather than later,” Rae said.

“See Merton in the business office and he’ll arrange the transfer of the credits into your accounts. It was a pleasure, a true pleasure seeing you again. We really must do this again. In the meantime, show your selves out.”

“He does not like losing,” Harper whispered to Bela in an undertone.

“No he does not,” she replied. “Let’s get out of here, collect our winnings and get off this planet.”

“You will get no argument from me,” agreed Rafe.

“Beka, wait,” called Uncle Sid, “stay for a moment, I want to talk you alone for a moment.

“We’ll wait for you outside, Sis,” Rafe called.

Beka gave her brother a withering look but waved them out.

“What is it?”

“Look, I know we have never been on the best of our terms, and I was hoping this little invitation would be the start of something better,” he said, his eyes never quite meeting hers and feet shuffling on the heavily carpeted floor. He reached into his pocket and withdrew a small silver flask and tossed it to her. “I know that you’ve got a tasking convoy mission ahead of you, and, well, catch.”

“How could you know that,” she demanded. “That was supposed to be top-secret.”
“I have my sources,” he replied, with a smirk plastered on his face.

She knew that flask, knew how its small, innocent looking container held one of the most dangerous and addictive synthesized drugs to be had for the right price. She had no intention of taking what her father was offering, and yet, even as it lay on the floor at her feet, that dangerous siren call of the drug known as Flash called out to her.
She steeled every inch of her will and determination to resist that call, knowing full well that she had vowed never to give in to it, but, seemingly against her will, she watched her own hand reach out and take the small silver bottle and slip it into her pocket.
***

It’s Dirty Job, but Somebody’s Gotta Do it,

Beka had always prided herself on her piloting skills, her reflexes and reaction time; they had served her well time and again, especially when it came to navigating through the often unpredictable regions of the space known as slipstream. Using those dangerous cross-currents of coruscating blue and white energy fields had made it possible for space craft to travel vast distances in far less time than it would have taken through traditional means.
But, the risks were worth the risks, another old Valentine mantra, the greater the risks, the greater the payoff. Gatherings, in the brief but concise briefing earlier in the day, had informed all of them that convoy had to reach its destination within the next five days if it’s crew and cargo were to arrive intact at Valerian IV, and before Reptilians rebels could get their hands on it.

Beka had proposed the dangerous route and while Gatherings had also expressed concerns about her ability to safely navigate the ship through those particular sections of slipstream; with every ounce of her being she had told him confidently that if she couldn’t do it, than no one could.

Standing at the weapons console, Charlemagne Bolivar was gazing, whose was tasked to act as liaison between the Andromeda Ascendant and the commander of the convoy, was gazing at her speculatively, but she had neither the time nor the patience to be attention to him.

Gaheris stood in the center of the Command Deck, his arms folded over his chest, lips pursed and feet firmly planted on the metal floor. Rommie stood beside him, with an equally composed expression on her face.

Now, seated at the helm, feeling every, thud, bolt, lurch, and creak of the ship as she piloted the ship, as if she were an anvil pounded upon by a hundred hammers, now she just she wished that she could back up her boasting with action.

Her head pounded and her she swung the ship into a hundred and eight degree spin to enter another gap in the stream, transitioning from jump to jump with increasingly frenetic abandon.

Rommie, at one point, came over to whisper something in her ear, but it was lost in the greater reverberation of white noise that filled her ears, focused her attention and consumed every fiber of her being.

Gaheris had expressed his utmost confidence in her ability to pull it off, and she hadn’t dissuaded him, but it was taxing on her every last reserve of energy. Nor had she told him that she had decided to use minimal doses of the drug known as Flash to enhance her reaction time and reflexes.

If anyone had noticed that her blue eyes were too bright, the palms and knuckles of her hands on the controls too slick with sweat and white-knuckled from holding on too tightly, no one had said anything about it thus far, and in the back of her mind, she thought, ‘That’s the way it’s going to be for now.’

When Gaheris had asked if she needed more time to recover between slipstream jumps she had replied with an airy cheerfulness that belied her true feelings, “Sure, not a problem, don’t worry your pretty little over it, I’ve got this under control.”
**
Several hours later, the strain beginning to tell on her, she nearly fell down on her bed, ignoring the protests of her queasy stomach, and only paused long enough to remove her boots and then sank down full length on the bed, feeling that she was so exhausted that she fall asleep immediately. Instead, sleep was elusive and she lay awake, staring up at the ceiling.

Beka would have never figured herself for the type to constantly second-guess her actions, because for one she considered it beneath her vaunted Valentine pride. No matter what happened, no matter how many times she came so close to the big score only to watch it slip through her fingers; there was always that vaunted Valentine pride to fall back on.

After a while it had even become a kind of family motto, tailored here and there by her and her brother, Rafael Valentine, to Valentine Smart, Valentine smarter. It had defined their early lives under the care of their father, Ignatius in his more sober moments.

Those moments; as they got older, had become few and far between until she had been forced as a teenager to make a very difficult decision.
She had sworn by everything that she held dear that she would never ever succumb to the deadly siren song of the dangerous designer drug known as Flash.

Her father had steadily become addicted to it, although he would never admit it; so the only thing that she and her brother Rafe had watched from a distance with the mingled horrified and fascinated absorption that one tends to have when viewing a crash.

Their father had begun to slowly spiral farther and farther downward until they could barely recognize him anymore.

She would never have gone so far as to characterize Ignatius Valentine as a monster, because he did manage to recognize his obligations as a father and sole provider for their family, even as dysfunctional as it often seemed to be; but still it was a kind of unspoken issue between the three of them.

Now, years later, if there was one lesson that had always been pounded into her skull from a very young age; it was that it was simply something that ended up hurting you in the long run. The long run was very much on her mind at the moment, alone with her thoughts. Right at this moment, her thoughts did not make very good company. She had weighed the risks versus the benefits and had determined that should would carefully measure out minimal dosages of the drug, just to keep her reflexes and reaction time up in between jumps in the slip stream and with any luck no one would even notice the difference. She opened the bottle and using the eye dropper, dropped a drop of the quicksilver liquid into her eye, one at a time, making certain not to spill a drop.
***

A Time to Reap

In the solitude of her own quarters aboard the Andromeda Ascendant, Beka began to pace back and forth, her thoughts coming in a rushing tide, there was the pressure of knowing that within the next twelve hours should would have to go and navigate the Cortisan convoy through some of the most tricky and dangerous currents of Slipstream; difficult enough when it was just one ship, but with the added difficult of an entire convoy.

She momentarily ceased her frantic pacing, fists spasmodically clenching and unclenching, and sank down onto the floor with her knees drawn up slowly rocking back and forth.

At that moment the door chime to her quarters sounded, but it was just one more noise amongst the pounding in her head and she chose to ignore it. Whoever it was at her door, would soon get the hint and go away; however, go away whoever it was did not do, instead came into the dim interior of her quarters, calling her name.

From the sound of the voice and the shuffle of the footsteps, she determined that it was Seamus Harper.

She did not want to see anyone or have anyone see her in her present condition.

“Go away!” she screamed.

“Beka, Beka, what’s wrong? Are you okay!”

“I had the weirdest dream, a dream about you and you being in trouble,” he called out.

“Damn you, Harper!” she screeched, I told you to go away!”

“Beka, he said, homing on the sound of her voice and increasingly erratic movements,” Something is wrong.

“I, I’m fine, such a bet over-tired, nothing a good night’s sleep wont’ fix,” she muttered.

Harper reached her side moments later, worry and fear etched all over his mobile features as if a sculptor had carved them into his face. He crouched down by her side and placed his hands on her trembling shoulders.

She resisted for a moment and then sank to down to the floor. “I don’t understand!”

“Don’t’ understand what? Beka, talk to me!” exclaimed Harper.

Harper waited, patiently, not knowing what else to do so or say that won’t help her, but then she raised her aching head slowly and painfully and locked her gaze with his own.

Harper took one look into her glazed blue eyes and clenched his own fists, he didn’t want to believe it, but the evidence was there even if he chose to ignore it. “Beka, Oh My God! You’re on Flash! Do you have any idea what that stuff will do to you. Okay, so I’ve heard the high is great while it lasts, but the crash, is ten-times worse!”

“No, No, no,” she stuttered, half-turning away from him, and then muttered, “Well, yes, but only a little at time a time, just enough to get through the worst parts of Slipstream. I can control. You see that’s the key, control, it’s always been about control.”

“Damn it, Beka! Go see Rhade! You need to tell him what’s happening!”

“No, No, I can’t, not just yet, there are only three more jaunts and then the convoy will be home-free. Until then,” she said and then trailed off, and nearly would have collapsed in a loose-jointed heap if Harper had not been there to catch her.

He half-carried, half-walked her over to a nearby chair and gently set her down. “Come on, Boss, you know as well as I do that you can’t go on like this. If you won’t tell the Captain…”

“Harper, please don’t tell him, promise me.”

“Okay, okay, but…” he trailed, helpless fumbling for what else to do.

“Hah!” Beka exclaimed ruefully; : ”Do you know what the ironic thing about all this is?”

“No, but I think I can guess,” replied Harper.

“That I’m usually the one that has it all together, but right now I feel like I’m shattered into a million pieces.”

“Beka, you know that I will always have your back, no matter, and if there is anything, anything I can do or say, just say the word and it’s as good as done.

“Just give me time, and Harper, thanks,” Beka muttered, mustering a tiny smile for his sake.

“For what?” Harper asked, sounding surprised yet relieved that seemed to be recovering, slowly, but recovering.

“For being there,” she replied, “and the best thing you can do for me is go. I think I am ready to go to bed, to sleep.”
**
Conclusion A Time for Everything Under the Sun

Gaheris sighed and closed the seal on the flexi that contained the reports of his crew, resolving to find a competent medical officer from one of the aligned worlds.

He did not know why have a chief medical officer had never occurred to him when he had initially assembled his crew, but with his first officer’s condition, it the lack of one a doctor had been brought home to him. Even though, Beka had not breathed one word to him ever since the near disastrous transit through slipstream only four days ago, he had thought it best to give her space.

Seamus Harper had apparently discovered it, and had been enjoined to keep silent about the problem, and despite the human engineer’s garrulous nature, he had kept his promise.

For his part, Gaheris figured that he would reprimand the young man too harshly for not saying anything; discipline had to be maintained after all. There was history and loyalty to Beka to be taken into consideration after all.

He would speak to Beka later on this evening, and whatever it took, would make certain that she received the care that she needed to burn off the addiction to the drug. There would be no more repeats of the near catastrophe such as the one that nearly befell one his crew.

Gaheris figured that he should be angry, angry at himself for not seeing what was happening, for having placed her in that situation in the first place, and perhaps for forcing into taking such desperate measures.

Aloud he muttered, ‘Why didn’t she come to me? Tell me what was wrong? Together we could have staved off the worst of the damage. Damn, fool-hardy, stubborn, beautiful woman!” I am angry at her for over estimating her own skills at navigating through slipstream? Yes, should I have seen it coming? Yes, and yes.”
He pounded a clenched fist into the cushions of his chair, nearly bursting its seams, and then forced his emotions back under control, folded his hands in his lap.

If he had learned anything from Beka Valentine, it was that her sense of family, although much different than that of Nietzcheans, was that one took care of one’s own, no matter what. It was a good lesson, and one that he felt
certain he would take to heart. It was not all bad to have added a certain, variety, to his crew, they would have much to learn from another now and into the future.

He also made a mental note to check in with Rommie and see if his assertion to her only days ago had been correct; the disjointed and fragmentary memories of the previous time-line were now almost as vague and hazy as a dream or fog along the ground. He had promised her that while, it was not a malfunction or a glitch in her programming, and that there was nothing to worry about; he still knew that as assertions went, it would be difficult to accept that reasoning.

Her memories would reset to adjust to this new timeline. As his own were in the process of doing, but even so, he would make sure that she was all right as well.

“In the meantime, there is nothing to be down, but face the future and whatever might come with equal measures of strength, confidence and hope and faith in each other.”