Where USAC left off...
Apprehension turned then to blatant horror on everyone’s faces, all but the Slayer. Horror and death were old hat to her. There was more to this, she knew, else they would not have asked her to take over the investigation. “I need to review the mission logs. Perhaps there’s something in there that might shed some light on this,” she said. “The flight data recorder would have been stored in a secure location due to the nature of the mission as it was when it began, right? Whatever we’re looking for, that black box will point us in the right direction, I’m sure we’ll agree.”
“No problem,” said Ensign Cornwallis, whose name Buffy had just now noticed, so focused was she on the investigation, “we have a secure vault here in the Headquarters building; clearance is Top Secret SCI in order to access it, of course. Admiral, sir?”
Bayfield nodded his assent. “I’m sure we can get the good Captain here clearance to enter the vault and review the data recorder, once we get her read on for Top Secret SCI. I don’t know what Watchers’ Council operatives are cleared up to, but it helps us cover our own collective ass when we read them on ourselves,” he said finally to Buffy.
“Thank you, Admiral,” she replied. “As for the wreckage itself, I assume you all have it kept at a secure shipyard for study?”
“We do, but here’s where it gets really weird,” said Cornwallis. “Nobody wants to go near it. Everyone that’s tried to analyze the ship’s interior has reported seeing some very disturbing stuff, like blood and torn flesh on the walls, or sometimes flesh growing from the walls. Some reports even indicate some sort of mental intrusion, with no apparent source. Instruments have malfunctioned over and over, yet when they’re checked over planet-side, diagnostics show nothing’s amiss. It’s all very bizarre, and according to the initial investigation, more than one of them have been seeing their psychiatrist on a more frequent basis. Each one of them reported seeing very disturbing images of the crew being tortured and mutilated, as well as images of their own fears and regrets seemingly shoved
into their minds while they were on the ship.”
“Mental projections from the ship itself?” queried Buffy. “Sounds like the ship brought back something with it. What sort of malfunctions were reported with the equipment?”
Cornwallis looked at Bayfield and smiled, then she turned back to Buffy and continued. “Very perceptive. Maybe that’s the sort of gifts a Slayer gets, one of them being a keen mind for investigation. Their bioscanners picked up life readings from the ship where there shouldn’t have been any, and the readings were off the scale. But when the scanners were examined for faults, there were none. Each one of them was tagged for investigation and placed out of service until this thing blows over, which hopefully will be when you submit your final report to us.”
Buffy smiled at the thought of seeing actual physical instruments finally being able to detect supernatural phenomena; the Council would love to have something like that, as they could refine them into handheld models that Watchers in the field could use to spot demons and other forms as well as she.
She took another look at her datapad, and running a search for survivors of the incident, she came across something interesting.
“What about the psychiatrist’s report of the two survivors from the Clark
? Lieutenant Starck and Technician Cooper? Can we get anything from that, or shall I interview them myself?”
Bayfield looked at Cornwallis and smiled, then looked back to the Slayer. “Good follow-up, Captain. I was waiting for that,” he replied, and then he looked into one of his desk drawers and reached for something. What he pulled out was a pair of the biggest cigars Buffy had ever seen in all her seventy-plus years of existence. He extended one to her and said, “Congratulations, Captain. You just earned command of the Terminus
. This is part of your qualification for said command, though, so I suggest you enjoy it.” The Admiral took a cigar clipper out of his drawer and snipped off one end of each stogie, then reached across his desk toward the diminutive USAC Captain. She took the proffered cigar and shrugged.
“Normally I don’t smoke, but what the hell, sir; it’s not like these things are gonna be the most likely thing to kill me, is it?” She placed one end of the rolled tobacco and leaned forward toward the Admiral, who leaned forward with a lighter aflame. He placed the tip of the flame as Buffy drew her breath into her lungs, taking the flame with it and igniting the leafy substance. She took a long pull of the cigar then removed it from her lips, closed her eyes for a second as she took the fragrant smoke into her lungs, then sighed as she released the vapour into the air. She looked at the Admiral with a satisfied smirk.
Bayfield chuckled at the performance of Captain Summers and said, “Well done, Summers. I’d guess that’s not your first cigar.”
“Actually, sir, it is. About the psych report?”
Bayfield and Cornwallis looked at each other with widened eyes, not having seen a young bottle blonde from California take a big hit from a Havana like that and just grin it away like she’d been smoking all her life. Then they looked back at her, and the Admiral said, “Yeah, there was something there that we noticed. It was similar to what you perceived about the ship having brought back something with it from wherever it had been for seven years and change. Starck kept trying to tell people when they first admitted her to the Michael E. DeBakey VA Hospital here that the Horizon
had brought back a life force, for lack of a better term. She said that it had tried to take everyone on board back with it to the other place.”
“Where it took the original crew…” Buffy said.
“Yes, well, “Cornwallis continued from there, “the Lieutenant had to be confined to hospital for a year at least, having suffered from delusions of being chased everywhere by a naked man with torn flesh everywhere on his body. She had also suffered a psychotic break in the first month after being admitted and hadn’t recovered from it for at least six months afterwards. Throughout the other six months she had terrible nightmares, every single night.”
“Were they specific as to the type? Some details about the dreams themselves might help me figure out where to start after I look at the mission logs and the scanners.”
“She’d find herself in different places, sometimes on the Clark
, sometimes on the Event Horizon
, or somewhere else entirely, but every time she’d run into him and she’d wake up screaming.” She paused for a moment to gather her thoughts, as if finally remembering something important. “There was something else. At one point in each of the dreams she would come across the core of the Horizon
’s gravity drive. She’d see the magnetic rings align, the core would open, and then she’d see either the crew of the Horizon
or the Clark
’s crew being tortured and mutilated beyond belief, and still living afterwards, but these images would occur to her so fast she wouldn’t remember until later on through hypnosis. But always at the end, the torn man would appear and attempt to seize her, and that would be it.”
“OK….” She reflected, “What about Cooper?”
“Discharged. He never left the planet after that, said he never wanted to see the inside of a spacecraft again after what he went through. He currently resides in New York after a brief stint in a psychiatric facility, about a week I think…. He’s never been happier.”
“Alright, then,” said Buffy, “I’ll follow up with Cooper and Starck after seeing what’s the what with the equippage…” When Admiral Bayfield and Ensign Cornwallis looked at each other, confused as to what she had said exactly, she took another long puff from her cigar and continued. “Admiral, I might be seventy years old almost, but I’m still a California teen at heart. We pride ourselves on our odd language.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” said Bayfield drily. His expression then returned to that of the serious expression of the military officer. He then pushed back from his desk and stood up, then stepped around to meet the Captain face to face. “Well then, Captain. I think we know where to go from here; do me proud. We’ll fix things up so that people know who you are and that you’re coming.” When Buffy started to open her mouth in protest at what she was sure was an open betrayal of the Council, Bayfield continued, “Don’t worry, we won’t tell them about your Slayer status or the existence of the Council; your secret is safe. As far as anyone will be concerned, you’re another one of my minions coming to ask more questions and jot down more answers into your notepad before you leave. Satisfied?”
As she nodded her head, Buffy replied, “Totally, Admiral. Totally.”
“Very well, then. Dismissed, Summers.”
In one fluid motion, quicker almost than he could see, Buffy stood up , picked up her tablet PC, and fired off a crisp hand salute. The Admiral then snapped one of his own in return and dropped it. She returned her arm to the Order Arms position, then pivoted smartly on her heel and began to step toward the door. Before she got two steps, however, the Admiral harrumphed.
“Sir?” she asked in confusion.
“The cigar, Captain,” he said, “does not go out of doors once lit…”
She looked down at her left hand, which to her surprise was still holding the smoldering remains of an expensive Havana. Her eyes widened in surprise, then she walked smartly toward the desk, toward the ashtray, and she placed the fragrant rolled tobacco in the ashtray. With an embarrassed “Sorry, sir”, she turned and stepped through the door, and was soon gone from sight, to begin the most important mission for the Council she had possibly ever undertaken.IIIIIIIIIIIIIIII