The Farther Shore | Chapter 26 of 35

Author: Christie Golden | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1879 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter 17

THE GUARDS SPRANG into action, calling for reinforcements and sprinting out into the corridor. Montgomery whirled on Kaz.

“What’s going on here?”

“They’re gone,” Kaz said softly, sadly.

“Gone where?” Montgomery bellowed. Kaz didn’t answer, but averted his eyes and stared at the floor.

A dreadful suspicion took hold of Montgomery. He looked at the small red lights that ran along the floorboard of sickbay.

“Computer, locate Dr. Jarem Kaz.”

“Dr. Jarem Kaz is not in the facility,” replied the computer.

“You’re the EMH,” said Grady, his voice filled with shock.

[197] The EMH who bore Kaz’s face nodded. “Yes,” he said. “Are you going to delete my program?”

Delete my program. They’re gone. “Seven and Icheb weren’t really here,” said Montgomery, slowly, working it out as he spoke. “Those were just holograms. And when they left sickbay, their programs were deleted, weren’t they?”

“I have been instructed not to say anything,” the EMH replied.

“You will,” Montgomery said grimly. “Grady, keep talking to him. I’ve got another clever EMH to interrogate ... if he’s still here.”

When he reached the Doctor’s cell, Montgomery decided it was time for a good bluff. He strode boldly up to the hologram, and nodded to the guard. The force field was deactivated.

“Seven, Icheb, and Dr. Kaz are gone.”

The hologram arched an eyebrow. “I beg your pardon?”

“They’ve disappeared. Replaced by holograms. Know anything about that?”

“No I don’t,” the hologram replied, though he added archly, “but I can’t say I’m sorry. If only I, too, could escape.”

“I think you did.”

The hologram stared at him and spread his arms. “It appears to me as if I’m still unfortunately fully present and accounted for.”

“What was your daughter’s name?”

The hologram stared. “Admiral, are you well? I’m a hologram, I couldn’t possibly—”

“Answer me! What was her name?”

[198] He had been right. The hologram that had replaced the Doctor was doing a fine job of imitating the Doctor’s facial expressions and snide comments, but there had been no time to completely fill him in on the Doctor’s developments over the last seven years. Fortunately, operating under the conventional wisdom of “know thy enemy,” Montgomery had been brought up to speed on the Doctor.

“Elizabeth,” it replied, trying to look confident as it took this wild stab in the dark.

“Nice try,” said Montgomery. “It was Belle.”

 

The hologram sagged. “He had a family?”

“Made up a holographic program. Little girl died. Lieutenant,” he said, turning to the guard, “I’ll need you to deactivate this hologram and download its program. Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to—”

The blow caught him off guard. He stumbled and recovered just in time to see Lieutenant Garris drop silently to the floor from the Doctor’s Vulcan nerve pinch. Montgomery drew his phaser before his brain could tell him it was futile. The hologram raced for the door, and disappeared as Seven and Icheb had done.

“Suicide run,” Montgomery said aloud. But to use that term would mean that a hologram had a life it could choose to sacrifice, wouldn’t it?

Montgomery shook his head. Time to ponder such niceties later. Right now, he needed to shut the facility down. The whole place could conceivably be riddled with holograms.

The hologram posing as Robinson jumped. She had felt a slight fluctuation in her field. Not enough to be visible, but enough to know what it meant.

[199] She closed her eyes. She didn’t want this to be happening, but Baines had warned them it might.

She looked over at Andropov, and as she met his eyes she realized that he had felt the signal the Doctor had given them as well.

“I had hoped we’d survive this,” he said softly.

“Me, too,” she said.

Her console lit up. “Seven of Nine and Icheb were forced to leave sickbay,” she said. “The Doctor made a suicide run. And they know that Kaz is gone.” Robinson looked over at him. “They’re calling for a complete lockdown and sweep.”

“We’ll be discovered, then,” Andropov said. “I wish ...”

“I know,” Robinson said softly. “I do, too. But maybe what we do here today will ensure that other holograms won’t have to be faced with our choices.”

“Do we have time to leave the messages?” Andropov asked.

Robinson glanced again at her console. “If we’re brief,” she said, and softly began to speak into a small padd. Andropov did the same.

Then, slowly, they got to their feet. They knew that every other hologram in the facility that had been placed there to assist Oliver Baines in his revolution was doing the same. They’d all gotten the signal from the Doctor, before he fled to his death.

Almost simultaneously, as if it had been choreographed, each hologram placed down its portable emitter. They looked just like simple briefcases, but were so much more.

[200] They drew their phasers and looked at each other one last time.

“It’s been good to know you, Vassily.”

“You, too, Barbara.”

They took aim at the portable emitters and fired.

 

Allyson couldn’t handle it anymore. Even though Andropov had done all he could to keep her in the shade, to see to it that she was properly hydrated, the workload and the heat were simply too much for the girl.

She was right beside him when she fell. He heard her cough, and when he turned to assist her he saw her eyes roll back into her skull. She went limp and he caught her. She weighed hardly anything and he was able to carry her away from the cluster of organic slaves. He feared she might be crushed beneath their feet.

“Come on, Allyson,” he said, gently slapping her cheeks. Despite the heat that rose in waves around them, that soaked their tunics, her skin was cold. She was still breathing, though.

A shadow fell over him and Andropov looked up to see a mounted hologram. The sun was so strong behind him that his face was in shadow, and Andropov couldn’t make out his expression.

“She is too weak for the work,” he explained. “She needs help.” When the rider made no offer of assistance, he tried again, more desperately. “I don’t know what kind of master plan Baines has, but if he lets this girl die it will only work against him and his cause. Your cause. Please, help her!”

The rider nodded. “You are right,” he said. “Blood must not be on our Lord Baines’s hands.”

[201] And before Andropov could even move, a spear materialized in the rider’s hands and he had driven its point deep into Allyson’s chest.

Blood welled up around the spear shaft and Allyson thrashed. Red fluid dripped from her mouth, bubbled from her nostrils. Her eyes were enormous and filled with incomprehension. Andropov screamed and frantically tried to pull the spear from her, as if that would help anything at all. She tried to cry out, but all that escaped her bloodied lips was a mewling noise.

It was hard for Andropov to see. Why couldn’t he see? In the back of his mind he realized he was crying, but all he cared about was Allyson, helping Allyson, oh God, she was dying, right here in front of him and—

Suddenly everything was dark and cool. The spear had vanished, but Allyson’s bloody body remained. There was no sun, no sand, only a cluster of people in a dark box with yellow stripes.

A door opened, and Oliver Baines strode in. “Our little adventure together is over,” he said. “The holograms I created to replace you are ... have been deactivated.” He cleared his throat, and continued. “You will be returned, after we have had a chance to treat your injuries and give you food, water, and a shower. You may also rest in safety if you wish. Your clothing is clean and ready for you to—”

Andropov cried out, “You lying son of a bitch!” and sprang.

Baines’s eyes went wide. He tried to run, but Andropov was fueled by raw grief and righteous fury despite his weakened condition. He knocked Baines to the floor and began to throttle him.

[202] He felt hands closing on him, trying to pull him away, and struggled, but to no avail. The holograms held him firmly as Baines got to his feet, clutching his throat.

Again the door opened, and for a second time, Oliver Baines entered. “I thought one of you might try something like that,” he said mildly, “so I sent in my holographic replica. He can endure such attacks much better. Flesh is so fragile.” Baines looked at Andropov, smiling slightly. “Don’t you think?”

Andropov snarled and struggled, but he was held fast.

“It’s all right, Vassily,” came a voice. Andropov turned his head and saw Allyson get up from the floor. She was drenched with blood, and the hole where the spear had been gaped open grotesquely. Andropov tasted bile in his throat and forced his gaze away from the monstrosity.

“You bastard,” he said to Baines. “You ghoul. It’s not enough to kidnap innocent people, torture them, and murder them, is it? You’ve got to create holograms of their dead bodies and make them dance like puppets—”

“Vassily, no!” cried Allyson. As she walked toward him, the blood disappeared from her garments. The horrible hole in her chest closed before his eyes. “You don’t understand. I’m a hologram. I’ve always been a hologram, from the moment you met me.”

The guards holding Andropov let him go. He made no move, only stood rooted in place, staring.

She walked up to him, her green eyes compassionate. “I’m sorry we tricked you,” she said. “You would never have grown as fond of me if you had known I was a hologram. You’d have regarded me as the enemy, or even worse, as just a program, not a person.”

[203] “You are a program,” he said hoarsely. Allyson reached up and stroked his cheek. “Yes, that’s true. But I really am everything you thought I was. I am an artist. And I am a person.” She reached and held his hands in her own. “Aren’t I?”

Vassily continued to stare at her, and then all at once a broken cry escaped him. He reached for her, pulled her into his arms, and held her tightly. Her hair was soft on his cheek. Her arms went around his torso and she clung to him. Tears again filled his eyes, tears of joy and relief.

She was right. She was a person. And he loved her.

By the time they had finally moved away from each other a little, the crowds had thinned out. Only Baines remained. It was either the genuine article or a hologram, but Andropov was so weary from his injuries, the physical exertion, and the emotional wave he had just experienced that he really didn’t care.

“She picked you, you know,” Baines told him. Andropov wiped at his wet eyes. “She looked at your record and saw how you interacted with the other ... um ... guests.”

“He’s right,” Allyson said, squeezing Andropov’s hand and looking up at him with shining eyes. “I’m not a programmed character in a novel. I’m capable of making my own decisions.”

“Just like a so-called real person,” Baines said.

“I don’t know what’s real and not real anymore,” Andropov said. “But I care about her. I don’t want to leave her.”

Baines smiled. No smirk or grin, just a genuine smile of pleasure. “This is what I want to see between photonic beings and organics,” he said softly. “This [204] understanding, this compassion, this mutual respect. It’s possible. I’ve always known it, now you know it, too. Lieutenant Vassily Andropov, I need your help.”

Andropov looked at him searchingly, then down at Allyson’s upturned face.

“What do you want me to do?”

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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