PROLOGUENEW YEAR'S DAY, SOLARIS LOUNGE, SS FANTASY, 0700 HOURS
In the dimly lit dilapidated spa facility where most of the survivors had re-grouped following their ordeal at the hands of the photonic T'Kani 'boarding party' Starfleet Ensign Estelle Collard carefully weaved her way between the pensive, the restless and the quietly sobbing. She carefully tiptoed over a huddle of sleeping children, exhausted from their continued trauma, making her way to the curtained-off area where the wounded and the gravely sick were being treated. Slipping between the opaque plastic curtains she looked around, noting the same group of civilian helpers attending to patients, each occupied taking pulses, changing dressings, reading temperatures and giving reassurances in between stealing hushed conversations in pairs and with the tall red haired medical Lieutenant.
Collard found herself counting up the patients – there were more than the number of injured brought onboard a week ago, despite several unfortunates passing away since. Presumably the injuries of some had either not been apparent at the time of boarding or had worsened, but she knew that others had been inflicted during their perilous journey so far, not least at the hands of the vicious holo-programme the day before. Despite having just enough treatment for her own wounds to get back on duty the Ensign still smarted from the battering the ship's holo-generated force fields had given her in the guise of a T'Kani soldier. It was sinister to her to think the SS Fantasy, an outmoded pleasure liner, now their only refuge, could be so potentially lethal – and considered how those same holo-systems integrated throughout the ship might be employed to their advantage should they experience a real hostile boarding party.
As the Ensign looked around she saw one of the more lucid patients looking back at her, smiling. Collard found herself unable to return the smile and glanced away, pretending not to have noticed. The hushed gloomy atmosphere and the sheer number of sick people made her uneasy.
As O'Hara walked from one end of her 'ward' to the other she passed close to the Ensign, who raised a hand to get her attention.
"Excuse me, Lieutenant," Collard said in a strong whisper, "have you seen Yeoman Lirik?"
O'Hara stood at least a foot taller than the rookie, causing the Ensign to level her eye-line mostly with the older woman's chest. Instead of simply responding, O'Hara smirked.
"Jumped ship again has he?"
"Just answer the question please," Collard pressed, trying her best to sound authoritative…
Earlier that morning Collard had been awoken from her stupor in the Officers' Mess at the rear of Deck One by a Helan male: the Captain was asking for her in his office below – the large room at the end of the corridor on Deck Two directly beneath the Mess.
Stepping off the steep ramp leading down from the back of the Upper Bridge on Deck One, close to where they had first come aboard seemingly a long time ago, Collard had first passed an alcove on her left fronted by a reception desk positioned in front of two doorways in a curved wall behind: conventional, manually-operated doors, each with an opaque, upright, oval window at head height. There was no signage or lcars panels to indicate what lay behind.
She continued aft along the carpeted corridor passing three more unmarked doorways with the same oval windows on the wall to her left, each spaced equally apart. Arranged along the outer hull wall to her right were about a dozen or so small, round, head-high porthole-style windows that seemed capable of being opened to space, though Collard assumed that was more for show than any practical function. The corridor ended with a floor to ceiling display cabinet, most shelves lit but all dusty and empty. To its left on an angled wall was the standard sliding doorway leading into the Captain's Office, jammed almost half-open.
The Ensign knocked and waited for the Captain's hoarse voice to invite her in. Side-stepping inside she first noticed underfoot was not carpet but what appeared to be dark wooden lacquered floorboards. As her eyes adjusted to the darkened space within she noticed the high, curved, deeply coffered ceiling above, cream-coloured, its square linear ridges reflecting what little light there was. Large ornately framed oil paintings hung at various heights on a dark, wood-paneled wall to her left that almost spanned the entire width of the deck: mostly depictions of old sailing ships and scenes of sea battles, but there were a few portraits also; she couldn't make out who they were.
Dominating the room to its aft, opposite the wall with the paintings, was a bulky antique desk of solid dark wood, its thick legs and bold trims intricately carved and accented in burnished gold paint. A gold chased, dark red, rectangular leather inlay on its surface reflected the downward glare from a shiny 20th Century brass desk lamp with a bright green glass shade.
Pushed back from the desk was a traditional 19th Century style naval Captain's chair of curved, varnished wood and padded, brass stud-framed, black leather sections, slightly frayed at the edges.
Behind both pieces of furniture was a square recessed seating area set beneath an impressive seat-to-ceiling, outward-sloping, multiple-square paneled window arcing up in the middle to an oval crest in gold and black painted wood inset with a cursive letter 'f' which she recognized as the main emblem for the vessel repeated around the ship. The impressive window space formed the rear-most point of the deck and through it she could see in the distance the large raised section of the Fantasy's Command section beyond.
The style of the window reminded Collard of the transoms of grand old sea-going galleons such as those featured in the paintings it faced. Beneath the window and on each side was banquette seating in similar black studded leather arranged around a low, oval wooden coffee table. Above the bench seats on the port and starboard sides were smaller rectangular square-paneled windows that looked out onto what appeared to be external 'balconies' that were open to space; the Ensign then noticed that each was accessible from a door of thick transparent aluminium, partially hidden behind heavy drapes in the walls either side of the desk and recessed seating area.
Once fully inside to Collard's immediate right was what she guessed to be a traditional style map table, each side decorated with relief scenes of mer-people, sunken wrecks and beasts of the deep, the top strewn with ancient printed star maps and a scattered pile of padds of old and even older technology. On the far, starboard, side of the room opposite the door was an antique light green, velveteen chez longue (which the Captain appeared to have been using as a bed) and two matching wing backed armchairs. To her left she now saw an imposing dark wooden fireplace that embraced an inert hearth set beneath the paintings, its grate filled with broken circuits and other trash. Walking further into the room she noted lines of thin paneled windows arranged along the port and starboard walls of the main seating and map table areas offering a view of the stars to port and starboard.
Christian had emerged from the shadows behind the map table, his jacket removed and the sleeves of his undershirt rolled up. As he perched his chunky butt on the edge he first asked how she was doing. She played down her pain making out O'Hara had done a good job in treating her injuries, and having asked the same of him in return he was clearly also making light of the residual pains he was feeling given that the nurse was rationing use of her equipment and available drugs as much as possible. They both smiled wryly at the other's resolve.
The Captain explained that in due course he and the Commodore would be formally assigning positions of responsibility. This would include a Tactical Officer and Security Chief, and as she was just graduated in that field and the only officer aboard with up to the minute Starfleet tactical training they intended to allocate that position to her.
The Ensign's first reaction was to say she was far too inexperienced for such responsibility and also that she was unfamiliar with the older technologies employed on the Fantasy. The Captain said she wasn't alone in that regard, and then reminded her that over the generations many of their Starfleet predecessors had similarly been either fast-tracked through the Academy when circumstances required or gained equally elevated promotions in times of great need. There couldn't be a more equal need for doing a similar thing in their current situation, so if those forebears could manage it, then no doubt so could she.
Not wishing to disagree with her superior, Collard nevertheless felt compelled to ask why newly arrived Commander Sarilev couldn't fulfil that function more successfully given his seniority and experience as a leader and Exec officer.
After a few seconds the Captain explained that while she had only served with him for a short time, he couldn't think of another he would rather trust to have in the tactical position on the Bridge, although he added that everyone would be required to undergo an assessment before final assignments were given, including the serving Starfleet officers among them, if only for parity.
He finished by saying that he believed in her and so did the Commodore and from what he'd observed of her so far she had nothing to worry about. She reluctantly agreed, and seeming more satisfied with her response he then instructed her to find Lirik immediately…
The nurse stared down at her and pursed her lips, resisting any further banter.
"I saw him about five hours ago, I'd guess. He came here enquiring about a young Bajoran girl, but he couldn't find her so he spent some time talking to a few patients, then he left."
"Did you speak to him yourself?" Collard pressed.
"Hang on a moment," the Nurse had been distracted by one of her helpers waving discreetly to her and went to join him.
Collard measured the other events leading up to now…
After the Captain had spoken to her she suggested he first try the newly restored intra-ship to summon Lirik. There had been no response, so he had ordered Collard to go find him in person. Christian told her he had left Lirik at the conn at approximately 1900hours the night before just after their jump to safety.
On the Bridge the Ensign had first spoken to Commodore Jackson who told her she was unable to sleep so had relieved Lirik at about 0100 hours. The tired-eyed woman said she'd found him hunched over the Operations station, drooling onto the lcars interface and snoring heavily, much to the amusement of a few volunteer onlookers. He seemed quite agitated and told her he had been interrogating the fragmented onboard data files and trying unsuccessfully to download data from a padd into the Bridge mainframe for analysis. Jackson had ordered him to bed saying that he had surely earned a rest of his own having been on duty "since last year".
Leaning on the armrest of a spare command chair beside the veteran Collard answered the Commodore's enquiry about how she was feeling after her fight, and then she asked her superior if she knew why Lirik had been so agitated. Jackson shook her head then added he may have been upset because of what a Bajoran girl had said to him, and told Collard what she saw of the minor spat as they'd made their escape the night before. Armed with this knowledge Collard first ensured Lirik wasn't sleeping in any of the designated areas of Deck One and then headed for the Solaris Lounge…
O'Hara had returned.
"As a matter of fact, he offered his services. I told him Medusans didn't tend to make good medics, so he left. Anything else?" O'Hara placed her large hands on her hips.
Collard didn't have any sisters, just brothers, and she hadn't been much good at making female friends in the past; the way things were going on the Fantasy she couldn't imagine the time ahead would be any different.
"Yes. The Captain also requests you attend a briefing at 1300hours on Deck One."
The Lieutenant glared at the Canadian and lowered her voice.
"Ensign, I don't even know what day it is, let alone what time."
"You'll hear a call over the intraship," Collard spun on her heel and walked off, then stopped and turned back. "I believe on Earth it would be New Year's Day."
O'Hara shook her head to herself as she watched the full-of-it rookie quickly stride away.
As Collard entered the Command Section's Main Engineering it was bustling with activity. Lights flickered and here and there wisps of smoke whipped up into the vaulted ceiling caught by the cranked up aircon system. Some survivors stood hunched over consoles making crude repairs, sparks flying as they hand soldered broken units and cobbled together replacement parts from non-essential machinery they'd been able to strip out for repurposing. An acrid, metallic smell permeated the air. Oddly, among this activity a few people were sleeping soundly on the deck in empty corners, plastic coverings used as blankets and rolled up clothing for pillows, some had rags stuffed in their ears.
Kohl was unorthodox for a starship engineer, but nevertheless the progress he had made with the limited facilities and helper crew available was remarkable in such a short space of time – though from what she understood the Captain had helped out a lot. The warp core with its ornate gold lattice housing was glowing a strange pale green and pink colour. Someone, clearly with less sense than willing, had polished the light golden metal making it sparkle.
Collard spotted Kohl's blonde hair bob up from beneath the deck in the warp drive pit. About a dozen people leaned on the railings around and above him. As she approached, Collard assumed they were merely an intrigued crowd, but then she heard the strong German accent, and could tell from his words they were being instructed by the engineer as he worked.
The Ensign pushed to the front and waited for an appropriate pause.
"Excuse me for interrupting, Commander. I'm trying to locate Yeoman Lirik."
"Sorry, haven't seen him," the German officer didn't even raise his head, his hair flopping over his sweating face as the strong man crouched low, attacking a stubborn cover plate on the shaft's wall. His shirt lifted up his lower back and Collard saw small blonde hairs glinting at the base of his muscular spine. She turned away, hoping to perhaps spot the girl or Lirik, when she heard another voice address her.
"I saw him here earlier," the alien-lilted English accent resonated from her commbadge, and echoed strangely from the originator's mouth in its true alien tongue. Collard leaned over the rail to see the Romulan, Murat, staring back at her.
"What time was this? Did he say anything?" Collard ducked under the rail, crouching low to hear his reply; she saw the man was about the same age as her. Or at least appeared to be at such close quarters.
"It was approximately four hours ago. He woke me as I slept over there," the commbadge voice pitched itself to the same deep tone of the Romulan's natural voice. "Asking if I'd seen a young girl - a Bajoran."
"And had you?"
The Romulan shook his head, knowing it to be a human indication of 'no'. Collard was getting nowhere fast. "Thank you. Commander Kohl, the Captain requests you attend a meeting on Deck One at 1300 hours. We'll make an announcement on the intraship."
On his haunches, Kohl wiped his brow. "Okay, thank you Ensign," he winked and nearly lost his balance, causing him to smile quite naturally. Murat steadied him and the two went back to their fixing the malfunctioning constrictors.
Collard walked out of engineering, but rounding the corner was halted by the unexpected sight of a young couple passionately kissing. It felt misplaced given their situation, and the Ensign felt embarrassed by their over-enthusiastic embrace. Her stare caused them to stop and share a snigger.
"May I suggest you find somewhere more - private?" almost as soon as the Ensign finished her sentence she realised where Lirik was most likely to be.
Collard entered the main shuttle bay. Within its quiet, cavernous interior, the runabout Hudson appeared undisturbed – right where it had been jauntily parked the day previously.
Approaching the vessel slowly, her thigh tingled from the wound where the wire had impaled her over a week ago during the initial attack on Helub. And now as the latest treatment for dulling her pain receptors was wearing off, she became increasingly aware of the heavy amount of muscular bruising she had sustained in yesterday's fight against the holographic T'Kani.
The large open doors to the adjacent standby bay were retracted and she could see the damaged booth where the incident had started. Her knuckles, legs and facial muscles twitched as she relived the pain of the fisticuffs that had brought her so close to serious personal harm. Perhaps if the holoprogram had not been deleted when it was she might have been permanently damaged or possibly even killed as a result.
Collard shook her head, reminding herself there was no point in dwelling on the past, or on what might have been.
"Yeoman Lirik!" she shouted, her voice echoing off the high walls. "Where the hell is he?" she muttered in frustration. It had been about forty minutes since the Captain's initial hail had gone unheeded. With internal sensors off-line, her only course of action had been to hunt him down the old-fashioned way.
The Ensign saw that the runabout's airlock was secure (normal Starfleet procedure required the vessel should stand at the ready with its airlock open - but she wasn't sure if that rule applied to their current predicament). Standing on tiptoe on the starboard nacelle, her short frame granted a view of the lounge through the elongated windows to the rear of the vessel. And sure enough there was the Yeoman inside, sprawled out on the port-side couch, mouth wide open, apparently fast asleep.
At the runabout's airlock, Collard entered the standard override code into the access panel, but it didn't work. She tried another combination: nothing. She was about to go and hail the captain from the comm panel on the side wall of the deck when the Hudson's door ominously slid open behind her. But no one appeared.
No answer. Stepping cautiously onto the vessel the Ensign wasn't totally unprepared for the attack as Lirik grabbed her by the shoulder, jerked her inside, spinning her around, simultaneously closing the door and jamming the phaser set on heavy stun into her neck beneath her jaw. She felt the tingle of his personal shield and an instant feeling of nausea welled up from her belly into her throat.
"Ensign…?" Lirik seemed startled but didn't release his grip.
"What the hell..?" Collard caught her breath, slapping his phaser sporting hand roughly away.
"I was expecting…someone else," Lirik seemed confused. The bags under his eyes were puffy and dark – like a man possessed.
"Do you mind?" Collard urgently wanted to get away from the part-Medusan; she wasn't sure she could keep from barfing. Squeezing past the Yeoman as he released his grip she walked quickly into the rear of the vessel where padds, transparent sheets and even bits of old style paper lay scattered about the floor, chairs and desk. Lirik had followed her closely. "The Captain has been calling for you, he wants to see you right away." She gestured at the exit expecting the Yeoman to turn and go on ahead, but he stood blocking the way out and shook his head.
"What? What is it?"
"You need to go and tell the Captain I need to see him down here. And the Commodore. There's something I urgently need to discuss with them both."
Collard recognised the tone of authority. Ordinarily she would have complied to a Diplomatic order straight away, but as she was about to get full jurisdiction for internal security she felt she needed more than Lirik's say so to bring the two most senior officers all the way to the shuttle bay.
"You can talk to them on the bridge," Collard thrust her hand toward the exit as well and watched Lirik shake his head emphatically. "Well what exactly do you need to show them down here?"
The Yeoman disregarded her mild insubordination, also kind of respecting her for that at the same time.
"Just… bring them," he said more impatiently. "And don't use the intercom. Ask them in person. It's imperative this is kept between the four of us for now."
Lirik hoped his choice of words would give Collard the carrot she needed. She didn't immediately disagree, but neither did she move right away.
"Please," he said urging her on but she stared at him holding her ground.
"Ok, fine, have it your way," he said, moving toward her and the main table, "let me show you first so you can…"
As soon as he passed by her she quickly marched back toward the corridor and the airlock.
"So… you'll bring them, then?" he called after her, but she was already gone.
Lirik turned and looked at all the mess.
"Bloody kids..." he muttered.
Thirteen minutes later Lirik looked up as Collard led Christian and Jackson into the rear of the runabout. To the Ensign's great surprise the space was now neat and tidy, the Yeoman sat fresh-faced wearing a newly replicated uniform at the main desk with two neat piles in front of him - transparencies and scribbled paper on one side and a stack of padds on the other.
The Ensign couldn't quite recognise the room and the man she had encountered such a short while ago – and as she had that thought Lirik winked at her discretely.
A third object - a small oblong box - was also placed in front of him, she noticed, but Collard couldn't guess what it contained.
"A gift for you, Commodore," Lirik said standing and handing the slim box to Jackson.
She opened it and retrieved a delicate glass and metal object.
"We have no supply of Retinox 6, and the drug cannot be synthesised, so Lieutenant O'Hara gave me the specifications to fashion these for you using the runabout's enhanced replicator; Ambassador Narli located a rarer base material required, and Commander Kohl carried out the replication, ensuring it was attuned correctly."
"Really…?" Christian felt both left out and pleasantly surprised at the same time, noting the remark about the enhanced replicator. "But when did you-?"
"Last night," Lirik nodded, glancing at the Ensign and hinting at a smile.
Collard didn't understand why O'Hara and Kohl didn't mention that to her when she'd spoken to them, questioning their honesty and also her own ability to extract information effectively.
Jackson put the thin, pliable hooks around her ears and stared out of the rectangular frames, feeling dizzy from the sudden clarity of vision. Even though the glasses were old-fashioned in appearance, the technology employed in the frames allowed microscopic sensors to scan her eye movements and her surroundings and modify a lens field within the glass to adjust to her vision accordingly. She smiled broadly taking in her surroundings and then Christian's appearance with renewed clarity.
"No offence, but you look terrible, Captain," she said dryly. "Yeoman, I'm not sure what to say."
"Seriously? Is this why you brought us all the way down here?!" Christian interrupted, folding his arms with some annoyance, in spite of his superior's understandable gratitude. He felt instantly aggrieved that several of the senior team had clearly worked without his knowledge on this personal project and also that both he, the Commodore and everybody else were still wearing the same tattered, filthy clothing that they had escaped in apart from the Yeoman.
Christian was even more piqued that Lirik was apparently living it up in the relative luxury of the runabout using its sonic shower facility and replicator while everyone else was slumming it.
"Absolutely not, Captain. What you need to see is far more important." He gestured for them to sit.
Jackson and a begrudging Christian, currently unable to find the right words, sat opposite the Yeoman. The Ensign stood awkwardly to one side as Lirik handed each a padd, Collard included, and he gestured her to sit with them, much to her surprise.
"I believe I have proof there is a T'Kani agent among us."
* * *