COMMAND SECTION MAIN SHUTTLE BAY, 1110 HOURS
Four bulky figures emerged from the Standby Bay airlock into the Main Shuttle Bay.
All was eerily quiet and still. On the glossy metal deck ahead, people and equipment lay strewn around the runabout's open doorway. Lirik took point, mainly because he had terminated his environment shield to avoid it interfering with the rad suit's power circuitry packed so close to his body. Keeping a healthy distance from the others he focused on pulling his Medusan energy inward, hoping his ambient aura wouldn't cause any distress.
Lirik picked up a discarded tricorder and tossed it to Veana, but he didn't need it to know the victims were still alive - the faint electromagnetic activity he sensed from them told him that much.
Veana had difficulty changing the settings with her gloved fingers, cursing several times, but with a final expletive she then circled it around herself, Narli and Kluless; the Klingon cautiously brought up the rear, Bat'leth at the ready.
"I don't detect any anomalous readings," she said over the commlink. "How do you all feel?"
"Fine," said Narli. "I'm fine," said Lirik. "Hmph!" said Kluless.
"They're alive, but appear to be incapacitated," Narli said stating the obvious, examining Commodore Jackson and the old Human woman dressed from head to toe in black and white robes.
The Klingon's deep loud tone boomed through the helmet speakers: "Where are the aliens?"
Lirik drew his phaser and boarded the runabout, Veana and Kluless following behind, Narli checking the others on the deck. He entered the rear compartment where they found the casualties on the table.
Veana waved her tricorder over them. "They seem to be in some kind of coma, I read very little brain activity or automative function."
"Surely they must be the cause of all this," Kluless said from the doorway.
Veana hesitated, wondering if it was the situation or if she genuinely felt giddy all of a sudden.
"Aside from their injuries again, I'm reading nothing unusual here."
"Our tricorders can only detect so much," Lirik said. "Thankfully the runabout's internal sensors are medical grade."
As he turned to walk to the cockpit he noticed Veana stumble.
"Oh no," she whispered.
"What's wrong?" Lirik asked, a sinking feeling that they would all succumb as the others had – but how quickly? He notice Kluless sidle further back toward the runabout's exit – usually brave to the core, from experience the Yeoman knew that disease made most warriors fearful as it did not make for an honourable demise.
Veana flopped into one of the chairs at the table, trembling. "My legs are starting to feel numb and…oh… I… I think I'm going to be -" the woman gagged once, then twice, trying to put her hand over her mouth, panicking because the helmet visor prevented her. Lirik could see the woman was about to hurl - a potentially lethal hazard in the confines of a rad suit - so without another word he deftly twisted her helmet out of its clamps and released her. With a second to spare Veana spewed over the carpet.
"I'm so sorry," she sobbed, trying to wipe her mouth with the back of her gloved hand, but was too uncoordinated to manage it. "Ew," she winced, "that smell…"
"Smell?" Lirik glanced at Kluless who shook his head. She clearly wasn't referring to her vomit. "It can't be coincidence."
"Oh, I feel… I'm so… sooo...," Veana began to collapse.
Wiping the pinky yellow barf droppings from her chin with a paper towel he supported her torso and head as she fell into unconsciousness.
"That was damned quick," Narli said squeezing past the Klingon, joining Lirik in the back of the vessel, side-stepping the puddle of puke. "Doesn't bode well for us."
The Klingon turned and left.
"Wait!" Lirik called after him, feeling a tingling sensation in his lips. It wasn't a usual tingling, either. "How do you feel?" he asked Narli.
The Andorian shrugged. "I feel fine. Why?"
"I'm not so sure," Lirik said, aware if a strange sinking feeling forming in his belly. "I think I'm being affected."
"Can you re-activate your shield?" Narli asked. "That may offer a better protection."
"Not while I'm wearing this suit," Lirik said, resigned to defeat. "I'll keep going for as long as I can." Leaning Veana's head gently on the table top, Lirik went to the exit. Kluless hadn't fled from the Shuttle Bay as he'd feared, but was standing some way back from the vessel, mic turned off and evidently giving himself a strong pep talk. "Come on," he led Narli into the cockpit, tapping the wrist-mounted comm panel to interface with the Hudson's local network.
"Lirik to bridge," the Yeoman said, studying the curious image of one of O'Hara's medics laying prone over Sarilev's lap, both unconscious.
"Go ahead," Christian fair shouted.
"Everyone in the Shuttle Bay is incapacitated, and we're already being affected, so the rad suits don't appear to offer protection. O'Hara's helper Veana is down and I am also starting to feel the effects. So far the Ambassador and the Klingon Kluless are unaffected," he glanced at Narli, who nodded that he still felt fine.
"Symptoms appear to be muscle weakness, lack of co-ordination, numbness and nausea followed by unconsciousness. We're going to use the runabout sensors to try and ashless…," Lirik flashed his eyes wide at Narli. Opening his mouth, nothing came out but nonsense. "Arb wha lallolo la-lo..."
"Say again, Yeoman?" Christian said through the helmet mic.
Narli pressed his wrist panel. "The Yeoman has lost the ability to speak, Captain. Computer: perform a medical scan of all unconscious lifeforms on the runabout and diagnose the cause."
"Working," the motherly voice replied. Presently: "All unconscious lifeforms scanned. Cause unknown."
"Great," the Ambassador read the information scrolling down the displays for verification and shook his head.
Falling into the vacant co-pilot seat, Lirik propped his elbows on the console, fighting to stay conscious. He appeared to be trying to focus on Narli.
The Andorian wondered what would happen if eventually everyone pitched into unconsciousness and the ship drifted helpless in space. Something touched his arm - it was Lirik. The Yeoman was brandishing a tricorder at him, barely able to hold it. Narli assumed he wanted him to take it, which he did. Lirik managed to gesture both forefingers up and then pointed at the tricorder as he made a long groaning sound, then slipped into unconsciousness falling sideways onto the console and began to snore.
Narli regarded his friend for a moment then studied the tricorder readings and finally the data displays. Despite the potency of whatever had got the others, aside from a mild case of the willies, as Lirik would say, he was still feeling unaffected.
"Tricorder," he muttered to himself. "Tricorder and 'up' - that's what you were saying, weren't you?" He studied his old adversary-cum-friend.
Of course, the Yeoman didn't respond, so the Ambassador was left to take an educated guess.
"Captain, shall I send the ship's sensor and tricorder information to the Bridge? Perhaps the lovely Professor may determine what's happening?"
* * *
On the main bridge, Christian cringed at the Ambassador's term of address, stood and turned to the Science station, surprised to find the high-backed chair empty, the Professor missing.
"I haven't seen her for an hour or so," a middle-aged Human male hanging around the Environment and Life Support stations had noticed the Captain's frustration. The man appeared familiar somehow, but Christian couldn't place him. A stout woman with skin of various hues of yello seated at the Engineering station glanced between the Captain and the other Human, as if expecting something more to happen.
The Captain reached down and tapped the intraship glyph on his comms controls.
"Professor Karim, please contact the Bridge!"
There was no acknowledgement. Turning to face the Lower Bridge area he saw a group of the ship's company milling around behind the Helm having nervous conversations.
"Attention!" he clapped a couple of times and they turned. He flippered his hands for them to come closer. "It's imperative we locate the Professor, and quickly," Christian barked. "Our lives may depend on it." And he inverted his palms to flipper at them to go at once.
The group split apart in several directions revealing Ganhedra sat at the Helm surrounded by several of his people. The Captain felt bolstered by the survivors' willingness to help, or some of them at least, though equally felt frustration from the lack of systems yet on line, like being able to locate the Professor with internal sensors.
Whilst he, Kohl and the other volunteers had done a great job so far in keeping the ship active, there was still so very much to do. He hadn't vocalised it, especially to the Commodore, but he and the German engineer reckoned it would likely take many months before ship's systems were properly adequate for their needs. He considered it may have been the stupidest of ideas to make their escape on such a monolith of a vessel that was in such disrepair, but that boat had, literally, sailed already.
"Ambassador, are you still with us?"
"Apparently so," the voice came over the speaker. "Although comrade Kluless has now also collapsed."
"Perhaps you have a higher tolerance or possibly immunity to whatever it is," the Captain said. "If you seal the runabout and initiate bio-hazard protocols you may buy yourself some time."
"Affirmative," the Andorian said, moving to the exit. Feeling an unexpected sense of abandoning the others outside he pressed the control to close the door. "Captain, I have tried several alternative sensor sweeps, but the computer remains unable to identify anything unusual." Narli sealed the runabout hatch and walked back to the cockpit.
"You'll need to switch the runabout's comm system to local frequency Delta 33, the data stream can piggyback on this channel," Christian had moved to the back of the Bridge and seated himself at the Science station checking the comms were patched in appropriately, then made a quick check on the readiness of the bridge computer core to receive data. "To do that you'll need to-"
"Already done," Narli took pleasure in cutting him off, wondering how the Captain felt about that as he searched for internal bio-hazard commands.
"Good," Christian replied, reigniting his curiosity at the Andorian's familiarity with Starfleet communications, but glad for it at this moment. "We're now receiving telemetry directly to the Bridge." Christian leaned in closer to the screens. "That's good," Christian said, watching the information course down. "Bear with me, Ambassador."
Christian was an Engineer by trade, not a Scientist, though there was an amount of shared skills. His knowledge of biochemistry was limited mainly to his experience as an engineer and the associated principles involved, though he could apply his command training at the Academy and a somewhat finite knowledge borne of his passion for ornithology, and even that was a subject he repeatedly needed to refer to specialist reference texts for. He strained to see a pattern or any unusual data that would help provide a clue as to what was happening, but nothing was coming.
He changed his option from viewing the data stream to the internal visual images of the runabout. The appearance of the unconscious crew was unnerving but he kept scrolling until he found an image of the unconscious aliens. After a quick hunt for the appropriate AV control he posted the image to the Bridge's main view screen.
Christian stood and turned forward.
"Ganhedra," he called, and the old man turned. "Do you know their kind?"
The Helan leader didn't respond at first as an older male to one side and then a younger female to the other leaned in to whisper something.
"We believe they are known as the Ere," Ganhedra concluded.
"The Ere?" Christian walked down to the Command area. "Anything like the Ore?"
"No Captain," Ganhedra said as if reprimanding a child.
"Do you know if they could have caused what's happening in the Shuttle Bay?"
Again the aides leaned in with their advice.
"No reason that we know of," the old man said. "But like the others who live in this nebula, they are a recluse people, and not a great deal is known about them."
"Hm," the Captain stepped over to the Communications station. "Do you… or your advisors know the location of their home world?"
The two Helen either side of Ganhedra gave Christian a curious look. The female turned to the Helm and accessing the appropriate command sequence switched the view screen image back to the forward view, and honed in on a particular star cluster.
The Captain tapped at the Comms console slaving it into the navigation system. He considered sending a message, but despite the cloaking substance their use of comms had already been used as a means of locating them by the T'Kani and it was a chance he couldn't take.
Reading the telemetry it was clearly too far away for them to reach at impulse, although the runabout Hudson would be able to get there in a day or so. But how to do that safely given what was affecting the crew? Ambassador Narli seemed ok for now, but would that last? And could he pilot a runabout? Yes, Christian thought, no doubt he probably could. But there were a lot of variables and for now he felt they should maintain current course and speed.
"Set a course for their star system," he saw the advisors both lean into Ganhedra once more.
"Captain, I wouldn't advise that," the older leader said. "This may just be a ruse for them to take control of the vessel."
Christian thought for a moment and while not implausible his instinct didn't feel it was likely. "I'm afraid that's a chance we have to take. Lay in a course."
Ganhedra reluctantly nodded and began to carry out his instructions, the other Helan splitting off heading into each forward corridor.
Christian tapped the console again.
"Kohl here, Captain," the German replied.
"Give us all the impulse power you can for as long as you can."
"Still there, Ambassador?"
"Still here, Captain."
Stepping back round to Tactical, Christian checked to make sure once again that there were no other vessels on long range sensors, then glanced to his right at the middle aged Human male who had addressed him a short time ago, currently seated at Environment.
"Sir, I need you to sit at Communications and listen for anything unusual."
The odd man hesitated, then walked across the bridge behind the Captain and sat, turning his head slightly away, a move that made Christian curious.
"What is your name, Sir?"
The man hesitated, then half turned toward him. Christian had to step forward in order to discern his features; tightly curled receding copper hair, a confident yet vulnerable demeanour and an apprehensive smile, showing faint crow's feet beside his temples and laughter lines around his thin-lipped mouth.
The man's general appearance prompted Christian to remember the older members of his parents' former acting troupe who often applied heavy make-up when playing roles a lot younger than they were. This man's gnarled hands and wrinkled lower neck-line gave hints of his true age, but it could not be said that the man was not attractive, or that he appeared unfit for his age. His garb was awkwardly youthful. He unmistakably wanted to avoid the usual trappings of becoming elderly, but Christian thought it curious that he had not had cosmetic surgery - which would have been far more effective.
"It's Madison," the man replied after a long pause, speaking in a mid-American baritone voice. "Judge Madison."
The name was so memorable for some reason, Christian almost felt the urge to throw his arms about the man and welcome him as a long lost friend. He sensed it may be that the man was famous – or possibly infamous - but there was an uneasiness that went along with it.
Madison appeared to recognise the common response to his introduction.
"Madison…" the Captain mused. "You seem so familiar. Have we served together?"
"No, Captain," the man said in an authoritative voice and waited a beat before continuing. "But… you are not mistaken, you do know of me. I was the presiding Law Lord on Arianus 2 during the trial of the Ishnar separatists."
The words Arianus 2 prompted a flashback in Christian's mind to his days as a Junior Engineer's Mate serving on the USS Tokyo. They had visited that planet along with three other Starfleet vessels following months of internal conflict, thus providing a peaceful incentive while UFP membership negotiations took place.
The Arianus 2 conflict had originally begun when representatives of the Ishnar, the planet's second largest nation and religion, had vehemently protested against its world government joining the Federation. Tensions escalated, and it split communities all across the world and its territories. Authorities tried to stifle the Ishnar people and their supporters, who reacted in increasing acts of violent protest to make their voice heard. The police and military wildly over-reacted committing several atrocities that were barely reported on, and with the rest of the world backing the hard line, the Ishnar became even more isolated and relations worsened. Shortly before the USS Tokyo's arrival, skirmishes and attacks across the planet had resulted in nearly five thousand civilian deaths, most of them Ishnar, though the world's press reported more on the fatalities caused by the Ishnar.
Under UFP regulations such a conflict would normally require the Federation to pull back and allow the conflict to fully resolve itself locally, but a determined Federation representative, Judge Madison, managed to intervene and cut a deal between both sides and a nearby non-Federation state who owed him a personal favour. The Ishnar were offered relocation to an uninhabited continent of near-equal size and resources on a moon in a star system not too far away which would allow them to maintain their traditions of isolationism - in exchange, of course, for a cessation to any further violence, and also in return for their handing over the key terrorist leaders for trial. Incredibly, it worked, the Ishnar leaders themselves persuading their people that even in their own country they would never be truly free ever again on Arianus 2, and willingly gave themselves up in order that their people could find peace and freedom for a new start elsewhere.
Just as Arianus 2 successfully completed its initial stages for joining the Federation and preparations got underway for the mass relocation, the trial against the leaders took place - and Madison was honourably requested to play the role of presiding judge, given his recent negotiating triumph. Everyone supposed that the trial of the six Ishnar was a mere formality - that they would be found guilty and sentenced according. The vote was split 50/50, a political decision by the Arianus judges to make themselves appear to be fair to their soon to be departed kin. And so it was that Judge Madison held the deciding vote.
According to subsequent interviews he made, whilst his conscience had been pricked by accounts of the families and colleagues of the deceased, Madison knew that the Ishnar had suffered even more, and his desire for a peaceful and generous conclusion was too great. So he let the leaders go free – terrorists in the eyes of the larger population of Arianus 2.
Rather than bringing peace, the decision provoked a new group of counter terrorists to form and the situation rapidly escalated to such a point where the Federation had no option than to suspend Arianus 2's membership application indefinitely, pending the internal situation's outcome, and the deal with the neighbouring state was also broken. With no new home to go to the Ishnar were embittered even more toward the Federation and to their home planet's neighbours. A planet-wide war broke out.
Blamed for the ensuing situation, a conflict that went beyond the Arianus system and into interstellar space among pockets of Ishnar spread throughout the quadrant, Judge Madison was publicly branded as the fool responsible for the situation and was thrown off the Federation Council's independent Law Lords bar.
Reeling from such a massive change in his own life, Madison reacted badly, lashing out, giving candid interviews and speaking frequently in public on the subject, becoming a minor celebrity in his own right and someone who the media loved to ridicule. His behaviour was increasingly unorthodox as he mixed in minor celebrity circles, participated in a variety of entertainments and became an anarchistic role model to many causes. His celebrity was short lived, however, as his notoriety as a philanderer brought him more notoriety and negative press. Gradually his popularity decreased and less was heard about him.
It was a number of years since Christian had heard anything about him at all, and he pondered on what he might have been doing during all that time - and what could have brought him to the Outer Zone?
"Hit the alpha key, Mister Madison, and let me know if you hear or see anything suspicious."
Madison was puzzled by Christian's lack of reaction - but also grateful for it. He smiled and nodded. Christian kept his composure and fixed his eyes on the view screen. Now was not the time or the place, but that would surely come.
* * *
RUNABOUT HUDSON, 1215 HOURS
Ambassador Narli stood staring out of the front viewports of the cockpit area. It had been a while since he'd heard from the Bridge and he was beginning to feel uncomfortable in the claustrophobic tightness of his radiation suit. His right antenna had a particularly gnawing itch as it rasped against the synthetic lining of the helmet - evidently designed with non-Andorians in mind. He had initiated the biohazard measures at the suggestion of the Captain, but, according to the computer, sensors could detect nothing unusual present. He felt no observable symptoms, and questioned why that should be the case when his shipmates had all fallen prey.
As he was about to call the Bridge the Andorian was startled by the appearance of the slender, voluptuous Orion woman Hedra walking into view on the deck outside. Not suited up she seemed a little shocked and confused surveying the incredible scene around her like she'd chanced upon it, then spied him standing inside the runabout looking back at her.
The Ambassador saw her mouth move, apparently demanding to know what the hell was going on, and he hurriedly waved for the young woman to retreat, mouthing 'get out'.
Hedra either didn't understand or didn't want to listen, and shouted something back at him, pointing back at the corridor behind her and then pinching her nose and wincing.
Narli pressed the external comms. "Get out of here now, girl, you may be exposed!"
"Exposed to what?!" Hedra thrust her hands on her hips. "There's a corridor full of unconscious men laying out there and people all over the deck in here. What the hell is going on? Was this your doing? And what is that awful smell?!"
"What?!" Narli was dumbfounded, but pressed the button to connect to the Bridge. "Captain, come in!"
There was silence followed by a slow rasping sound, quite similar to that of a whispering vole of the northern Andorian veldt. "Bridge, respond. Captain Christian, is that you?"
Silence replaced the strange sound, and Narli jumped as Hedra rapped hard on the runabout's closed airlock. Narli released the door and waited for the woman to enter.
"Oh my… the smell is even worse in here!" Hedra stepped into the cockpit area and surveyed the unconscious. "Well, what's happening?"
The Ambassador was astounded. "Don't you know what we've been doing for the past few hours?"
Hedra shook her head. "I can barely hear you with that thing on. I've been hard at it in the Computer Core all morning. I er… wanted to stretch my legs so thought I'd come down here. Want to explain to me what's been going on?"
Truth be told Hedra had hoped to sneak a sonic shower on the runabout. She wasn't used to not bathing regularly and the antiseptic wipes just didn't cut it.
Narli took a few minutes to bring Hedra up to speed.
"Well I feel okay as well," Hedra said, clutching at her chest. "Apart from being grossed out by that smell."
"We were sure it was being caused by the aliens, but the runabout sensors are saying there's nothing unusual," Narli reached up to scratch his antenna, feeling the smooth hard surface of the helmet above it instead.
"Have you tried the transporter as a diagnostic?" Hedra stepped over to the transporter interface and confidently pressed the padd several times. "As I suspected, the recent pattern log shows those of Lirik and Sarilev both present."
"Of course…" Narli said in stupefied realisation. "Now why didn't I think of that?"
Hedra flicked her fingers over the controls. "I'd rather not transport a Medusan, dormant or not."
The Ambassador understood her intentions and carefully lifted the medic off of the Commander and placed him on the floor.
In response to her commands Sarilev dematerialised then reappeared on the deck outside. Hedra tapped in a few more commands. "Computer, compare these two transporter patterns and identify any variations."
The computer tribbled and trilled a couple of times, then spoke in its usual maternally superior tone. "There is a 0.5% resequencing of the subcortical structures of the cerebrum in the second transporter pattern."
"Resequencing?" Narli walked over to join the Orion. She had succeeded where he had failed.
"Computer, what caused the resequencing?" she asked.
"Unknown," the computer replied quickly.
Hedra tapped the console a few more times. "Computer, scan Yeoman Lirik and compare brain composition with his most recent transporter pattern history. Confirm if the same resequencing issue has occurred."
A short beep later. "Resequencing confirmed."
"Well, at least we've found the common theme," Narli said.
A vague sound from behind them prompted them to look over at the open doorway. A young Bolian male poked his head around the corner. "Ah, excuse me-?"
Narli and Hedra turned to each other and then back to the young, nervy blue-faced man.
* * *
Main Shuttle Bay, 1240 Hours
Narli had recognised the young Bolian as the same man who tried desperately to help his fatally injured best friend after the initial attack on Helub, and had shortly after her subsequent demise led a further group of mostly wounded survivors down to the transport tubes just in time to escape with the rest; it was chilling to think that if Kohl had been able to get the underground transport moving right away they would all have been left behind – and O'Hara would also have had far fewer injured to deal with.
Prompted by Hedra, he introduced himself as Nedu Figg. He told them he had been resting in the Beauty Spa along with most of the rest of the survivors when a short time earlier most had fallen rapidly unconscious, all displaying the same symptoms Narli had witnessed in Veana, Lirik and the others. Figg and company soon realised what set them apart was they all had primary skin colours, so deduced the Captain, the Commodore, the Engineer and the other mainly Caucasian individuals who were "driving the Fantasy" would likely be equally incapacitated.
Figg asked most to stay behind and check on all the survivors who'd fallen unconscious in the Spa facility, putting those who needed it into a better seating or laying position, and asked the eldest folk in the group to monitor the ward of variously ill patients behind the plastic screen.
Duties assigned he had led a small group all squeezed into a turbolift up to Deck One. There as expected they found the Captain, the Helan and various other volunteer crew equally unconscious. Only one woman of various yellow hues was still conscious and on duty, desperately trying to keep her eye on all the consoles. A couple more bright skinned people had wandered in from the forward section reporting that others in the Observation Lounge had collapsed; another female with mottled skin colouring stumbled in from the aft saying the same; although she wasn't unconscious she was clearly not feeling at all well.
Delegating several of the remaining group to tend to those who needed it, Figg listened to the yellow-skinned woman's assumption of what the Captain had been intending to do based on what he'd said to Ganhedra and the scans he'd made of the star system. Leaving a violet-skinned young lad watching the view screen for any potential hazard, he sent the remaining few to Engineering while he had made his way alone to the Shuttle Bay.
Once up to speed, Narli contacted Engineering where the other group reported that only a handful of individuals remained awake, again with colourful skin tones.
Narli stood on the Hudson's starboard nacelle looking out over the small crowd of variously assorted blue, green, red, orange and vari-hued individuals who had gathered there to hear what was going on and report back to the others left behind to monitor the fallen.
As indicated by Figg, there were other individuals found with paler hues and dappled skins who were suffering mild to severe effects of whatever was causing this, but still they had been unable to determine the cause.
While an airborne virus had made sense as an explanation for what happened on the runabout and in the Shuttle Bay, Hedra found it implausible that it could have made its way throughout the rest of the ship so rapidly, and Narli agreed. He cleared his throat to draw their attention.
"According to those who were there the Captain put the Fantasy on a heading toward the aliens' home world. We believe he had intended to find a way of using the runabout to travel there more quickly and if possible locate and bring back help. I say we should continue with that course of action," he said, not wishing to come across as too dictatorial.
Hedra, standing below and in front, raised a hand and turned to address the group. "We estimate time to their star system as being at least fifty hours, maybe more."
Narli didn't respond, but instead pointed at a young thickly-veined orange-skinned male at the back of the small crowd who was trying to get his attention.
"Garl Cro Id, Ewnes Distribution Network," the man introduced himself as they had been instructed. "Can't we use the runabout to produce an antidote?"
Hedra replied before Narli could open his mouth. "We can probably learn more about their condition, but as to the treatment, we first need to identify the cause. And as that's eluded us so far, it could take some time."
"We have no way of knowing if prolonging their situation may cause permanent damage," Narli added. "Or whether it will end up affecting us at some stage."
"Marinet, Twelfth Lord of Vokka," a red-skinned, two-foot high man bellowed, his voice belying his stature. "Can we not send a communication rather than taking the runabout? It seems to be our only means of escape. And if anything goes wrong with this bucket of junk I for one don't want to be stranded here at the mercy of those T'Kani butchers."
Narli raised his hand as a murmur of agreement drowned out his attempts to reply. "No, we cannot send a transmission or the T'Kani might hear it. And as the Twelfth Lord suggests, that would not be a good idea. Besides, the Helan leader Ganhedra also said this area of space contains races unfriendly to outsiders."
"All the more reason for the rest of us to take the runabout and leave," Marinet retorted loudly.
Hedra joined Narli on the nacelle, putting herself even higher above the dissenter.
"Well for one thing, there's far too many of us for such a small ship. And for another, where would we go? And for a third, you would honestly abandon all of these innocent people and children?" She scowled at him as best she could. "And in case you hadn't noticed, sir, those Starfleet people you're talking about leaving behind saved our lives back on Helub, and helped us again when the holographic T'Kani attacked us. We owe them, don't you think? Not to mention, they seem the most capable at ensuring we continue to stay alive."
A muffled reply and more murmuring indicated a begrudging agreement.
"That settles it," Narli decided to cut the public meeting short. "I'll take the runabout." Hedra turned to him at that with a quizzical expression. "We need many more volunteers to help in Engineering and on the Bridge. Those of you who have any relevant skills please see this young lady, everyone else keep an eye on the rest of the passengers."
"Er, excuse me?" a bald-headed bright pink woman called out authoritatively. Everyone stopped and turned to her. "How do we know that you won't just take the runabout for yourselves and leave us here?"
Hedra was still staring at Narli, though the suggestion that she would be running off with the Ambassador sounded like an insult on her heritage.
"You don't," she said. "You just have to trust us." Now Narli turned to her, surprised she was suggesting she accompany him.
"I trust them," Figg spoke up and stepped forward. "And the sooner they get going, the sooner they can bring back help. Come on."
Narli was impressed the young man had got them all to depart, even if some did so reluctantly.
"We can't both go," Hedra said. "One of us should stay behind, and it makes sense it's the one with the most authority."
Narli scratched his goatee. "You're a pilot?"
The younger woman shrugged an ambiguous response.
"Well from what I've seen I think you command more authority than even I do, so I'll take the runabout, you get to the Bridge."
"Are you saying I'm acting Captain?"
Narli wasn't sure if she sounded excited or nervous by the prospect.
"If that's what you want to call yourself, then yes," he walked inside, then reappeared. "I thought I asked for everyone to be removed from here?" he asked the two volunteers who'd agreed to look after the fallen on the Shuttle Bay deck.
Hedra leaned in, trying not to be overheard. "Neither wanted to touch the Medusan, and frankly, I don't blame them," she said.
"Great," Narli said and stepped inside, closing the airlock behind him.
* * *