A countdown timer initiated above the door, and it indicated to Cas that she had only one minute to identify herself. Elimination seemed cut and dry to Cas–a permanent end, and not some clever phrasing for another meaning.
“My name is Cas,” Cas said. “I was a Commander on…Damn it, what was it?”
An alarm sounded and the countdown jumped ahead by five seconds. “Invalid response,” said the computerized voice. “Authorized personnel only. Identify or face elimination.”
“Commander Cas, who solved the Rings,” Cas guessed. Five more seconds vanished from the countdown after another alarm sounded.
“Shit,” Cas muttered low enough that it was not registered by the microphone that awaited her answer. A dull ache permeated from deep behind her eyes. A hint of a memory drifted to the surface for a fraction of a second and then it fell away from her thoughts too quickly for Cas to have taken anything meaningful from it. She focused, and the pain intensified. She gritted her teeth against it, determined.
The memory of the party was so real once again, as if Cas was there in person reliving those moments. Bertie. Gavin. Raph.
Vittorio. The oily slick smile of his made Cas’s skin crawl, but she endured it. Meanwhile, an intense buzzing rang in her ears. The pain intensified further as Vittorio addressed her.
“The —- of —- hour,” Vittorio said, some of his words drowned out. “What —- honor ——– you, Com— Cas—-.”
“Damn it,” Cas muttered. The world shifted suddenly and she was back in front of the door. The pain had subsided but at the loss of her focus on the memories she had been trying to recall.
Again she thought back to the party, the pain even more intense as her body rejected the idea of remembering that night and, more specifically, details about herself. She pried at the little black box in her mind, and felt as it began to give.
Once again she stood alone with Vittorio, the burning Earth visible through the massive windows ahead. Stars twinkled visibly all around. A couple stood out more than the rest at first, and as Cas focused and the pain only grew worse the stars grew into greater focus. A constellation formed.
“Cassiopeia!” Cas gasped, only somewhat aware of the blood that ran freely from her nose. “Commander Cassiopeia of Ellipse Datum!” She fell forward as the door opened, and the world righted itself.
“Welcome back, Commander,” the computerized voice said. “It’s been a long time. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”