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Lt. Commander Kevin Breeman: The Road


Johanna MacLaren
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((Breeman's Quarters - Starbase 118))

::The night had worn on a long time and when it was finally over Kevin felt

rejuvanated and yet also tired. He knew he would sleep tonight and that he

would be much more alert tomorrow morning than he had been today.::

::When he lay down he went over the peculiar discussion with the Orion

woman earlier today. She'd been angry, demanded to know what had happened

to Michael Ryan Kelly. He stared up into the darkness, trying to replay

events from one year prior in his mind. He remembered the man materializing

nearby. He'd felt a sense of relief. He'd seemed healthy, gone about his

business. The transport had been fine.::

Mbeki: You know Kevin, just because you can see it doesn't mean it's

working.

::Where had that come from? Her voice echoed through his mind from all

those years ago. He again felt himself huddled beside her in the

navigator's chair of the escape pod as they hurtled from Jupiter to Mars at

some fraction of the speed of light he didn't care to remember.::

((Flashback : Escape Pod near Jupiter))

::The world outside the window was black now, save for a single brilliant

mass directly in front of them. The stars were invisible, obscured by the

oncoming glare of the slightly blue-tinged sun. He knew they still had

weeks to go before they'd reach the gravity well of Mars. And once they

reached that they'd need to wait another week to drift into a long-range

orbit.::

Mbeki: So you're saying that because you can see the droplets outside the

waste extraction system is working?

::He sighed and said,::

Breeman: Look, this is the forty-ninth time today you've asked me for the

full checklist of items. You didn't care the other forty-eight times what

the status of that system was but now you're suddenly interested?

::He was angry. He was tired. He vaguely remembered weeks ago finding Mbeki

an attractive and fun-to-be around young woman. That had ended when she'd

mentioned having a boyfriend. And in any case she had become more of a

nuisance, calling back to him whenever he'd feel like he had just relaxed

and alleviated his anxiety. He had hoped that she too would understand what

had happened only a week ago, when they'd been set to perform a standard

landing procedure on Europa when something went wrong.::

::Around them the computer aboard the Epimetheus had reported rapid

decompression on all decks and then an imminent warp core breach. He

remembered running toward the nearest escape pod and then following Mbeki

into one of the few remaining open hatches. Looking back it had been a

stupid decision. They'd run headlong into a long-range survival pod

designed for interplanetary trips. If only they'd ducked into one of the

smaller pods. That was the first horrible truth he'd come to grasp when

he'd understood what was really happening.::

::This was the Academy survival practicum. He'd realized this when the

impulse drive controller aboard their pod exploded almost the moment they'd

ejected. But Mbeki still seemed to believe there really had been an

accident and that that was the reason they were now adrift with nothing but

their maneuvering thrusters combined with the momentum from the

Epimetheus's ejection cycle to send them on their way toward the nearest

Federation outpost. Mars.

The second horrible truth had been that Mbeki still refused to believe that

this was a survival practicum, and that no one was going to rescue them

until they made their way themselves. She had been, subtly at first,

refusing to acknowledge that their escape pod's gravity was a short-term

luxury and not something she could take advantage of throughout the rest of

their trip. And now he was dreading her vomiting, accompanied by more angry

tirades, when the gravity net finally did give out.::

Mbeki: If that system fails, Cadet, we'll be more screwed than just having

to deal with the smell of each other's [...].

::Kevin shot her an angry glare and said,::

Breeman: Yes, thank you. I'm aware of that, Cadet.

::He wanted desperately to go to the back of the pod and look at Jupiter

again, to watch its receding swirling face for a while.::

Mbeki: Now please. What is the status of the waste extraction system?

Breeman: Functional.

::He said it with emphasis on the first syllable.::

((Present - Breeman's Quarters))

::In the darkness of his quarters he felt almost as alone now as he had

then. Had he made the right decisions? Was it necessary for him to re-check

his work on the off-chance that something somewhere might have failed? And

inevitably systems did fail.::

((Flashback: Escape Pod near Jupiter, Two Weeks Later))

::He scratched at his growing beard, opening his mouth and bearing his

lower teeth as he watched the readout. They had only three weeks of water

left.::

::They weren't going to get through this. He could feel it in every fibre

of his being. It had been three weeks. They still had at least eight before

they would reach Mars.::

::He thought of the last few conversations he'd had with his father, when

the man had grown ever more skeptical of his decision to join Starfleet as

the date of his departure neared. Perhaps he had been right. At this moment

Kevin could have been sitting in a comfortable chair sipping a coffee while

debugging code in some animation studio or at an engineering firm. He could

have been sitting in a meeting room where there would have been so much

space he could look out for meters without his eyes making contact with a

single object. But instead everywhere he looked the spaces were cramped and

more often than not his eyes fell on Mbeki, her round curves and dark skin

at once visually appealing and yet also forbidding. She was an annoyance.

She whined and complained about everything he did. He had grown to hate her

every gesture and movement. He hated her because he knew that if he allowed

himself to feel any more deeply than tangentially what he was now feeling

she would see him cry and she would judge him for it exactly the way

everyone else would.::

::”Crying won't solve anything!” he envisioned her saying, and thereby

scoring another point for the Mbeki side of their on-going spats.::

::That brushed up against the real memories of conversations he really had

been in, when he'd slammed his bedroom door in his father's face,

screaming, “I'm joining Starfleet whether you like it or not!,” or when

he'd solemnly declared during one dinner table spat, “I will not prostitute

my mind before your working class ideals!”::

::The words hung there in space, the context surrounding them now all but

gone so that they arranged themselves around him like constellations on a

zodiac of his past mistakes.::

:: “You have to take responsibiliti for yourself!”:: The words had rung

muffled through his bedroom door just over three years ago. “You can't keep

looking for people to do it for you!”

::His lips quivered and he barely suppressed a tear and then said, nearly

growling to keep the emotion at bay,::

Breeman: Listen... Bathing. We can't keep sponge bathing with that much

water any more.

::Mbeki crawled over toward him and stared at the readout as well.::

Mbeki: Great. Three weeks. That's just goram great. And what about the

gravity situation--

::The topic of the escape pod's gravity came back again as it always did

whenever he'd discuss their current power situation with her. And, as he'd

taken to doing over the past week, he cut her off and pretended to ignore

the question.::

Breeman: And that's not the worst of it. Valve two on the transfer pump is

failing. I'm going to have to use power to do an EVA to fix it.

::She nodded now and the river of relief that gushed through him threatened

to cause him to faint. He would be able to spend some time outside this

accursed pod and away from her.::

Mbeki: Oh wait. Why don't I do it? I need you to work the latches on my way

out.

::He didn't bother to suppress his disappointment, which by now was turning

to rage again. He rolled his eyes and said,::

Breeman: Oh anyone can work the latches! Come on!

Mbeki: It's delicate work out there, okay? Frack! And we've only got two

people in here, not a whole crew!

::Kevin sighed.::

Breeman: ::Barely under his breath:: And it's a good thing too.

((Present - Breeman's Quarters))

::In the end he had been glad to have a bit of time to himself, even if he

spent it opening and closing a bunch of latches. He'd gone over a thousand

different versions of the things he'd say to his father when he returned.

He'd thought to apologize, to break down crying, to let himself go and

crumble. He'd sobbed there in the dim lighting of the aft control panels

whenever it looked like she was out of view.

The clank of the airlock had been signal enough for him to regain his

composure, and when she finally had returned he'd thought to try to get on

more friendly terms with her by asking how the view had been.::

((Flashback: Escape Pod near Jupiter))

Mbeki: I don't know! I just fixed the [...]ed transfer pump and got back

inside!

::He glared angrily at her. He was stuck with this shrew and there was

nothing he could do about it, save fling himself out the nearest airlock

and asphyxiate to death. He'd heard about suicidal ideation during

prolonged survival situations in his psychology courses last semester.::

::Unfortunately that had not prepared him for the survival practicum. He

knew there was a very real possibility that they had dropped completely off

the grid and were not traceable on anyone's sensors. To be sure, if a

rescue ship were dispatched they might be able to find them. And he knew

that located in the back of this pod was probably an emergency distress

beacon that he could press, indicating he wanted out of the practicum. And

then he could go back home in spite of the protests of people like David

Owens or Mbeki, if she finally did catch on that this was an exercise.::

::They were within one thousandth of a lightyear of Earth, their home. And

yet right now the space around them in this local neighbourhood of planets

called the Sol System was the most inhospitable place he had ever known.::

Mbeki: Well? Are you going to put this away?

::He nodded, taking the tool kit and setting it back down in the provisions

trunk below the floor. Soon their gravity net would fail. He didn't want to

tell her.::

Mbeki: I'm going to take a nap.

::Without thinking he said,::

Breeman: Mbeki.

Mbeki: What?

Breeman: The uh... gravity won't last for more than 24 hours.

Mbeki: How could you know--

Breeman: Because it's not designed to.

Mbeki: What?

Breeman: This is an emergency escape pod. It has one purpose. To keep us

alive. And it's designed to do that no matter what the cost.

Mbeki: Are you saying we'll be weightless?

Breeman: I'm afraid so.

::She looked at him as though he'd told her he'd killed her family.::

Mbeki: No. ::Her voice shook with anger.:: We are not going to live like

that for eight weeks!

::Kevin's frustration and exasperation consumed him as he glared at her

angrily.::

Mbeki: I didn't join Starfleet just so I could float around in space! ::She

swallowed and spoke evenly,:: Fix it!

::His father again. He shoved the memory from his mind, forcing down

another sob.::

Breeman: I can't.

Mbeki: Fix it, [...] you! Fix it!

::He shook his head briskly, terrified at the horrible place he was now. He

couldn't keep them alive while maintaining gravity. He could go nowhere

where Mbeki wouldn't be just around the corner or just behind the door.::

Mbeki: God [...] you!

::He wanted to let the words tumble over him. But here he was. Kevin.

Alone, cut off from the family he'd done everything to reject during those

final days just before he went off to the academy.::

Mbeki: We'll be just floating. Our bones will atrophy and we won't ever be

able to walk again. We'll be just falling!

::He ignored the first comment about the atrophied bones. He suspected it

wasn't true.::

Breeman: We are falling! Look outside. Look around you!

::There was a brief flicker as one of the lighting panels switched off.::

Mbeki: What was that?

Breeman: It's the power redistributing itself, Mbeki. Now do you want to be

able to see or do you want gravity? We can't have both. And don't think the

sun will give us enough light. Those front windows are polarized. And I

can't turn that off. We'll go blind.

::There was a brief grinding sound as one of the air filtration units began

to give out. And then another light switched off, plunging them into total

darkness. The grinding stopped and soon he heard a whir. He could hear

Mbeki breathing unevenly in front of him. Nevertheless he felt relieved.

The escape pod had made the correct decision.::

::But now his decision not to deactivate the gravity grid for Mbeki's sake

was costing the escape pod dearly. Its onboard computer was having to make

ever more drastic decisions. Lighting or air filtration? Transfer pumps or

water rations? He looked at her in the dark, hoping she would come to the

decision herself and ask him to turn off the gravity. Inwardly he sighed.

There was no chance of that happening.::

::Instead she walked briskly toward the makeshift bedroom she'd made for

herself inside the utility closet, yanking at the door so it clanked as it

slid closed behind her.::

::Kevin sat down on the floor in the dark, and heaved a sigh. Finally he

stood and turned around.::

::Opening the power systems panel he accessed the gravity control.

Replicator rations were the most tempting place for the extra power to go.

He flicked the switch beside the gravity net and suddenly he felt himself

falling while the world around him remained stationary as it had been

before. He resisted the temptation to reach out and grab hold of the

nearest object, while his stomach tightened up as his core tried to regain

his body's stability. In a few moments he calmed that impulse as well and

moved his concentration around to different parts of his body in order to

acclimate himself.::

::He felt the bones in his legs and arms drift apart ever so slightly, now

held in place only by the tendons that connected them. He let his body

remain frozen while the fluid in the semicircular canals inside his ears

drifted around freely, brushing up against random combinations of nerve

endings as his brain demanded to know just what direction up was.

Finally it was time to let Isaac Newton have his way. He tapped lightly on

the console to move the power into replicators and illumination, knowing

that this would be his last act standing on any kind of surface. As the

lights came back on he gently drifted away from the panel, his torso

tumbling backward, his hips and legs finally following. Briefly the world

around him started to spin again as he let himself register the end of the

last visual clues as to which direction was up, while the fluid in his

inner ears sloshed around some more. Now at his feet, the panel closed with

a mechanical whir. Moments later he heard the sounds of several latches

around him clicking open. Hand grips now protruded from all the walls.::

::He could hear a soft sobbing from behind the door to the utility closet.

He wanted to call out to her. “I'm sorry,” he wanted to say. But if he did

would she come flying out, a flailing mass of hair and arms and legs, and

hurt herself or Kevin, or worse yet do damage to the escape pod? If he

tried knocking on the door and comforting her would she interpret that as

his being improper?

Instead he settled on simply floating there a while, condemning himself for

having been so angry with her now that she was crying. He had taken matters

into his own hands and frightened someone, a woman no less. He knew what

David Owens would have said, were he still teaching at the Academy.

But now both David Owens and his father were millions of kilometres away.

Somewhere his father would be hard at work cutting branches off an old

tree, or repainting the living room. His mother would be slaving in the

study, working on her next book. His father might even now be dwelling on

something he had said, doubting his ability to be a father. Or worse yet

maybe he was crying somewhere, ruminating on the hurtful things the two had

said to one another, confiding in his mother or his brother things Kevin

now remembered with horror.

His brother would be somewhere painting, or perhaps working with his father

as he often did. Would he still be angry at Kevin?

This was where his exodus had brought him, to a desert where up and down no

longer existed, and he had lost the ability to walk and let off so much of

the 'thought energy' that always built up inside him, demanding he release

it by flapping his hands or walking. He clambered his way back up to the

flight controls and pressed himself into the chair, securing every last

strap he could find around himself. Then he wrapped his arms around his

face and cried until his midsection hurt.::

((Present - Breeman's Quarters))

::Looking back that had been the first time he'd made a decision without

anyone else's input. It felt good to know that.

Owens had told him he couldn't keep retreating into himself the way he

always had, expecting others to make the decisions for him. Soon he would

have to face people and even tell them what to do.::

::He'd done a horrible job during their survival exercise aboard the escape

pod. Mbeki had eventually calmed down, after several long sessions of

crying in the utility closet. He hadn't bothered to try to talk to her.

Instead he'd spent the first three weeks afraid he'd provoke her anger. And

he had been ashamed of himself as well. Why hadn't he been more adamant

about telling her this was really all an exercise?::

((Flashback: Escape Pod Between Jupiter and Mars, One Week Later))

Mbeki: I closed the air shunt vent down in the water control section.

::He had to smile at that. He turned to see a wispy-haired Mbeki drifting

slowly toward him. He had to marvel at the way she had adapted to zero-G

life so quickly. She now looked like an orangutan as she clawed her way,

hand over hand up along the grips, from the rear of the pod.::

Breeman: Good idea. I think we should be okay for now.

Mbeki: I want to apologize for my outbursts earlier.

::She spoke with a professional-sounding tone. He wanted to ask which

outbursts in particular she meant but thought better of it.::

Breeman: It's okay. This is new for both of us.

Mbeki: Yeah...

::Kevin turned back toward the front window and they were silent for a

while. He focused on the blue-white sun, but when he saw Mbeki's reflection

in the window he looked down at the controls, to the mechanical comfort

they gave him.::

Mbeki: Are you scared?

::He nodded before he realized he was doing so and then turned to face her.

He thought for a moment about saying no, but realized that would create

dishonesty in an environment where the two of them needed to work as a

team.::

Breeman: Kinda. Yeah.

::Then she said the unthinkable.::

Mbeki: Why?

::He let his hands hover near his ribs, allowing his shoulders to float

more freely. It wasn't like he could let them slump.::

Breeman: Because I don't know if we'll overshoot Mars' gravity. I'm scared

we let Jupiter's gravity well alter our course, maybe by drifting too close

to Io. And I guess because... We're going to have to cross the Asteroid

belt.

::Mbeki laughed loudly and said,::

Mbeki: Yeah but the asteroids are so loosely packed that we probably won't

even notice we're there much less see an asteroid.

::He nodded. She was right. Indeed the objects would whiz by them so

quickly that even a close flyby would be unnoticeable.::

Mbeki: Believe me Kevin. I re-checked the calculations a hundred times.

I've looked at the gyros. We're fine.

::He knew she had but that the readings wouldn't be accurate enough because

they didn't have gravitic sensors on board. All she had was the on-board

computer's last known trajectories of all objects in the Sol System about

which the Epimetheus had bothered to concern herself.::

::And yet he had to use that. He couldn't allow this fear that they would

drift on forever to eat away at him.::

Mbeki: We'll get there. And maybe....

::She waited a moment, her eyes falling on Kevin's. He felt a surge of

anxiety, as though she was expecting him to do or say something but he

didn't know what. He looked away and at the instrument panel to her left.::

Mbeki: I'm scared too.

::He nodded, watching her.::

Mbeki: I've done the math a thousand times but I can't tell we're moving.

It's like we're just hanging here.

::He smiled.::

Breeman: I know. I never thought it would be like this.

::And then he decided he might now be able to share with her what he'd been

using to reassure himself that they were in fact moving..::

Breeman: You see the sun?

::She looked toward the front window.::

Mbeki: Yes.

Breeman: See how it's sort of blue-white?

Mbeki: Uh huh.

Breeman: That's because we're flying toward it to reach Mars. You can tell

we're moving by looking at the visible light.

Mbeki: Oh yeah! The Doppler effect! The wavelength is bunching up because

we're moving toward the source.

::Kevin was relieved. That same blue-white mass of light in front of them

seemed to stay in only one place, gently bathing the surrounding blackness

in contorting waves of light as the corona shed energy. Nothing anywhere

around them seemed to be moving.::

Breeman: It's too bad we don't have any telescopes because then we could

look at the contracting visual field in front of us and do some experiments

with relativity--

::CLUNK. He stopped a moment and Mbeki spun her body until she was facing

the diagnostics panel.::

Mbeki: Frack! Water distillation system is gone. Oh God.

::He froze. Without water they would survive only for another two days.::

Mbeki: Wait. What about the heat exchangers? They're fine right?

Breeman: Yeah but what does that have to do with--

Mbeki: Well we could rig something up with one of the air filters and boil--

Breeman: What air filters? We've only got one left!

Mbeki: I don't know! Help me here!

Breeman: I.. well...

Mbeki: Okay hold on. I'm sorry. Calm down!

::He did his best to do so, as he looked helplessly toward her fearing

another tongue lashing. He could still feel the knot in his stomach as

parts of him continued to register just what had happened.::

Mbeki: It's not the air filtration system itself. It's the biofilter we'd

need. We've still got one extra site to site transport. Now it's a gamble

but if we used the biofiltering from that and tied it into the heat

exchangers we could boil our water and then pass the steam through that

filter as it condensed.

::His anxiety melted away and he felt himself smiling. He reasoned aloud,::

Breeman: We'd lose our last site to site. But that's nothing compared to

going without water.

Mbeki: We'll need to conserve our subspace beacon power. If we get too

close to Mars or risk overshooting we'll need to call for help. That's

allowed right?

::Kevin smiled broadly. She really did understand that this was an

exercise.::

Breeman: Right. Let's get on it.

::He felt more happy now than he had ever felt in his entire lifetime, he

decided. They were a team if only for this brief moment.::

((Present - Breeman's Quarters))

::The feeling of the bed beneath him came back with a jolt. Inside his legs

his joints again registered gravity. He could tell that his face was

pointing up, that down was beneath his back and buttocks. He imagined a

pool of fluid inside his semicircular canals touching all the right nerve

endings for his brain to form the picture of how he was oriented in space.

He smiled now. These simple sensations always reminded him that he'd made

it. In the darkness he remembered the last bout of three days' isolation in

the regravitation tank.::

((Flashback - Carl Sagan Memorial Hospital, Mars, 3 Hours After Landing))

::He still couldn't stand. Whenever he attempted to do so his knees would

protest, shooting pain out from his joints. He envisioned his femur and

tibia sliding up against each other if he put too much weight on them. How

did the nurse manage to stand like that?::

“Our bones will atrophy and we won't ever be able to walk again.” The words

stung him every time he tried to sit up and felt his spine protesting as

his head threatened to droop behind his pitifully arching back.::

::And yet he felt contentment. He'd never longed for people in quite the

same way. And when he'd think back on Mbeki he'd reach for his communicator

and contact her again.::

Breeman: =^= Mbeki, how are you feeling?

Mbeki: =^= Stiff. Like lead. God! But my boyfriend's here now!

::He smiled at that, feeling horribly guilty for every time he'd eyed her a

little too long as she'd floated there in space over the course of the past

eight weeks.::

Breeman: =^= That's good. Glad to hear it.

((Present - Breeman's Quarters))

::The first night he'd felt like a rock pressed into the warm blankets as

he'd slept. He'd dreamt in zero gravity, always beginning with numerous and

painful hypnagogic jolts as his dream self switched off the gravity again.

And he'd awake a few hours later and see vestigial images of floating padds

and tissue papers drifting past his bed as the covers began to float up and

fade away, only to reveal the real covers over his now awake body.::

One day his father and mother had visited the ward to see him. His mind

had raced around with the things he'd thought to say, but every time he'd

wanted to speak the words had seemed as foreign to him as utterances he

might make to the native speakers of a new language he was learning. His

father had hugged him and his mother had done much the same. They'd talked

and laughed about stupid things, but everything had remained unspoken.::

::He'd learned over the years to speak more openly. He'd even managed to

express his love for a woman. What if he became a father? Would he end up

having children as opinionated as he? Would he show his more opinionated

side one of these days to Savannah and thus risk hurting her?::

::But maybe his father had already helped him get over those tendencies.

He'd shown no disgust when Kevin finally had apologized to him for all the

things he'd said to him. His last thought as he drifted to sleep was an

observation that he could no longer count the number of times he'd found

himself in situations where so many barriers he'd put up for himself

throughout his childhood and young adult years had been destroyed.::

Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Breeman

Chief Engineer

Starbase 118

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