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Going home

Richard Matthews

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It was dark, it was cold, and he could not move. No, that wasn't exactly right. He could feel a tight and constricting presence, some sort of binding. However, there was a slight give to it, he could indeed move about, just not very far.

His panic subsided as this fact sunk in. It had all but abated when his memories of what had happened to him began to come back. Slowly, piece by garbled piece, the events leading up to his being stuck in the ice became clear. His name was Richard, he was a science officer, part of Starfleet, and he was-

Wait, was that really ice covering him on all sides? No, it was glass and cold steel; he was in something metallic and very small. A glass window above him, which had fogged up during his panic attack, didn't provide much of a view. Why was he in this thing? This cold and cramped space that he couldn't imagine he would ever voluntarily subject himself to.

Right, it wasn't voluntary. Richard tried wiping away the condensation obscuring his view of the outside. It didn't help. Wherever they had put him, please god not underground, it was too dark to see.

Diadem, the people of Diadem, whom the Vigilant had been meeting with on a first contract mission, had been nothing but kind and courteous. That should have tipped them off that all wasn't right in the world they had stumbled upon. The senior officers had been wined and dined; some of them even partaking in other delights. Richard had been doing just that -coaura- a game involving manipulating light patterns and memory testing. He'd been playing and winning against a dignitary when he'd.

Richard winced at the memory; the sharp pain from the blow to the head was a dull ache now, only bothering him when he moved his head to the left. It explained why he was having a time recalling things. He probably had a concussion, because after the explosion of pain, things got fuzzy. He'd put up a fight, that he was sure of, but they had hit him with something other than just their fists, a drug that really did a number on his senses. Because Richard could not shake the memory of staggering to the floor, dropping on hands and knees, slowly lowering himself to the ground, and then looking up into the face of his assailant.

It had been his face (he'd recognize it anywhere) that had been grinning down at him.

He rapped his knuckles against the glass. It was cold to the touch, while not bad enough to give him a chill; it was cold enough to make him a little uncomfortable. Wherever he was, there was no source of heat out there.

"I'm trapped," Richard said. "And I'm talking to myself."

Deciding that oxygen was too precious to spare, Richard decided against stating anymore of the obvious. It would be silly to lay there talking to himself, narrating what was happening to him as if someone could hear his tale of woe. After all, it wasn't like he had . . . his come badge! Richard shifted around franticly, the tight constricting clothing he wore gave just enough for him to lift up his arm. But where a badge should have been pinned, Richard found nothing.

In frustration, he punched the glass above him. The smacking sound of his fist against the glass reverberated around him. All he had to show for his troubles were bruised knuckles. The little effort it took to make the swing left him spent. He lay there a moment trying to calm his breathing as darkness encroached on his vision.

"Awake?" The crackling startled him. The voice that followed the static, that scarred him. It was his voice. But not.

"Don't be like that Richard," not his voice said. "I just wanted to let you know how your friends where doing. I figured I owed you that much."

"What are you?"

He heard himself chuckling over the speaker. God but he had an annoying laugh. No wonder it got on Grant's nerves. "Come on Richard, you're smarter than that. For my sake, I hope that you are. We do share the same DNA after all."

"A clone then," Richard frowned. When could the Diadems have gotten a DNA sample from him? For that matter, just how had they grown a fully developed clone of him, and in under eight hours? "That's not possible."

"Improbable, but not impossible, I am Lt. Jg. Richard Matthews, a science officer aboard the USS Vigilant."

The thing was mocking him. The thing was mocking him and it was using his own voice to do so. Richard would have none of that.

"Stop that! I don't care what you say you are. You're not me! You hear me?"

His voice was still chuckling at him. "Hear you loud and clear Richard. Maybe you should quiet down a little; there isn't much air where they've stuck you."

"And where did they stick me?"

"It's basically a freezer, where they keep the bodies until they dispose of them."

There was that cold feeling again. This time though, it wasn't from pressing against the glass window in front of him. "I'm in a morgue."


"And this is the part where you tell me what your evil plan is, right? Brag about how you're going to; to whatever it is you think you're going to do."

"So that you could possibly get a warning out to your friends, Richard, I'm not stupid. I am you remember? I know you're already working out how to activate the com system on your end. While wondering why a casket even has one to begin with."

"The thought had crossed my mind." Richard admitted while his hands traced along the sides of his 'casket.' Finding nothing, no panel or switch, he slowly rolled over as much as he could in the small space he was in, continuing his search for a set of controls or something to work with.

"It won't work you know. Who is going to believe the message of a raving lunatic, claiming that a high-ranking Starfleet officer is a clone? No one in their right mind would." There was a pause and Richard could have sworn he heard the scratching of pen on paper. "I need to speak with Dueld."

"Best to keep to yourself if you want to fool people," Richard snapped, even though the other couldn't see him, he made a rude gesture as he growled out his warning/threat. "My friends can tell the difference between me and a fake. You might sound like me and look like me. However, you are a quickly thrown together copy. You won't full anyone."

"I've been doing well enough so far. Seems all I have to do is make a not so funny joke here or there. No one is the wiser. Really Richard it's not like they expect much from you."

"You must though, why else would you be calling me?" He had found what he was looking for. A small panel that popped open to reveal wires and buttons, there was a little speaker off to the side, and a small screen right below it.

"I wanted to make sure you were comfortable. You've been out for a while you know. Air must be awful thin in there by now."

"It's a little stuffy, but other than that, fine."

Richard had to stop three times as he fiddled with the wiring of his mini prison. It wouldn't do to cut off the transmission by accident, but as anyone who knew him well enough would say if asked, Richard just was not a hands on kind of guy when it came to electronics. The software he could handle, having fancied himself a bit of a hacker back in the day. The hardware, not so much, and his time at the academy hadn't helped with that. He could recall one class that might have assisted him about now but-

'Cadet, why are you not listening?'

Richard, who had been chatting up the cute security officer on his team, smiled at the ranking officer running their class. 'Well this isn't really my department. Yusueh and Patolos are the operations officers.' He chuckled, at the annoyed look the instructor was shooting him. Was it his fault that he'd never actually need to know how to wire up a radio?

'Who are you cadet?'

'I'm the doctor.'

'Dr. Who?'

'Dr. Rich-'

'I don't care,' she cut him off, 'and neither well anyone out there, do you think this is a game? Because I have no time for cadets who can't take their classes seriously. This could save your life someday. But if you think you already know everything that you need to know. You can leave this exercise and go straight to the testing. My office after your last class cadet, dismissed.

Looking back, Richard rather wished he'd practiced better study habits right now. Actually listening in class for one.

"I just wanted to-" the audible click of another channel being open disrupted the not Richard's little speech. But he went on as if he hadn't noticed the little blip. "And say thank you for being so pathetic. It's been laughably easy to play the fool. No one notices a thing, not the giant buffoon who claims to be in charge of security around here. Not that lazy Captain of yours who has his legs up more often than an Orion slave girl does. Not even your chief medical officer and she did a physical."

Richard winced, he would have some explaining to do once back aboard the Vigilant. Clone or not. You just didn't get away with saying things like that about superior officers.

"It's because I'm a perfect clone. Yes, of course there's a way to tell what I am. If the CMO or any medical officer did the right tests, they'd see that my cellular structure is akin to that of a small child's. After all I'm only 20 hours old."

This was good, without any real prompting, the monster wearing his face was spilling all its secrets. The trick was to keep it talking without asking too many questions. Questions derailed the flow of the other chap telling you something; they just weren't part of a normal chat.

"The Vigilant just broke orbit around Diadem. In a few short minutes, you will be out of range and I won't get the chance to talk to you ever again. You have, if I'm guessing right, twenty minutes left."

Maybe less than that, Richard was actively taking slower shallower breaths now. Lightheaded was never a good thing to be. Lightheaded inside a casket wasn't even an option.

"The people of Diadem haven't been ignorant of your federation for some time. The alliance between their world and the others in this solar system, you remember hearing about that right?"

The alliance between Diadem and the three other inhabitable planets that shared its solar system had been a real selling point for the Federation. Four planets for the price of one in a region of space where they didn't have many allies to begin with? The admiralty had been all but drooling when they had sent their orders to the Vigilant to make first contact.

When it realised that Richard wasn't going to answer, the voice that was not his own continued. "It's not so much an alliance as an empire ruled over by the people of Diadem."

Richard laughed. "Four planets does not an empire make, tell them to get back to us when they're on par with the Klingons or Romulans. Now those are empires."

"It's not much of an empire now. But once they gain access to the United Alliance of Planets, and the fire power of the Federation, their empire will trump both the Klingons and what is left of the Romulans' Star empires."

"You cloned me so you can clone others too. God, it's like a twisted version of the body snatchers." Frowning, Richard asked. "You do know this has been tried before right? Little alien parasites, humans used as puppets, hostile alien take over. Really you should be sued for plagiarism."

"The process of creating me included a data dump, it could be called. While I don't know something as trivial as what was on the breakfast menu yesterday. The scientists in charge of my mental development were able to give me the big things."

"You have my memories then?"

That's how the Diadems planned on doing it. Not just by replacing officers, but by stealing their memories. The perfect infiltration units supplied with all the necessary information.

"I'm already tagging officers aboard the ship to be taken during the next visit. The chief of science was a trial run. The important officers, like the Captain, First Officer, or Chief Medical Officer, are the ones we want. You can get closer to the admiralty through a Captain after all."

Hearing enough, Richard directed his next question to the person listening in on his little conversation whit himself. At least he hoped that he was talking to someone else. He wasn't exactly sure if his call had been answered by friend or foe. He didn't even know if it had been answered.

"Did you get all that?"

One beat, then two, Richard was starting to sweat in his little icebox.

"Nothing to say Richard? You've been awfully quite while I've chatted away here."

Panicked, Richard began fooling with the wires again. "What do you mean quiet?"

No answer, just quiet, Richard didn't know if he'd cut off his connection with his tampering or not. Apparently he'd done something to not be able to transmit.

"You couldn't have passed out already Richard, surely we're made from tougher stuff then that? Come on say- what?"

The startled exclamation caught Richard's attention. Breath healed to hear his other self over the speaker and to conserve as much air as possible. He strained to hear what was going on. The clone was talking to someone, he could just make it out, the clone said something and then he swore he heard the sounds of a scuffle.

"Who was he talking to? Hanson, trace the source of the signal now."

Was that the captain? Richard sucked in a quick breath. They were talking again.

"Sir there is an open channel to the planet's surface, where it's being received and broadcasted, but I can't tell the transmitters location. I can only narrow it down to a fifty mile radius."

"Bridge start scanning the area Ensign Hanson has given us. That thing was talking to someone and I want to know who."

"Me," Richard gasped, the effort it took to speak was frightening, but he did it anyway. "Sir I'm in a morgue, probably the basement of that hospital you visited."

"Sir, what about Matthews?"

There was a pause, when the captain spoke he sounded as tired as Richard was feeling. "I can't see the Diadems keeping him around, not if they wanted to keep up pretences, they'd have disposed of the evidence." Richard shuddered. The captain went on. "I just can't believe I didn't notice something earlier. I told Richard that I had gotten my hands on the recipe for those cookies everyone liked at the party. He just looked at me like I had two heads before saying 'that's nice sir.'"

"Sir, bridge reports they've got something." Hanson's clipped and dry tone, while usually a source of annoyance for Richard, made his spirits soar now.

"Let's go see what it is Ensign."

Quiet, save for the shallow gasping breaths he took, which were loud and deafening to his own ears. There were no voices coming over the speaker now. Richard didn't even know if the channel was still open. If the Vigilant had found him, would they even need it open to lock on to him, no they wouldn't. Any second now, because it would only take a moment for them to lock on to him and beam him aboard, he'd be breathing that wonderful recycled air and a hot nurse or doctor would be fussing over him. His Captain would simultaneously commend him for his efforts, berate him for getting into trouble, and threaten him never to do it again.

Any second now, because his chest was getting tighter. His silly crewmates did have the flair for dramatics; a down to the last minute save was something they would do.

Any second now.

The world was going white; finally, they were beaming him up. The world would go completely blank for a moment, two three minutes tops, and he'd be home again. It would only be like a second for him though, a blink of the eye and he'd be home and safe.

Richard smiled as he closed his eyes. He was going home.

Lt. Jg. Richard Matthews MD

Acting CSO

USS Vigilant


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