EP 6 "DIVIDED" - ACT II
COMMAND YACHT, UNKNOWN LOCATION, 0955 HOURS
Christian considered his options. Before being plunged into total darkness he'd had little chance to examine his surroundings; he couldn't recall any details, he saw no signage or distinguishing configurations that may have indicated exactly where he was. On this unknown deck the temperature was warmer, the air smelled musty. Fumbling with his fingertips he had first attempted to pull open what he presumed was the turbolift interface – hoping at the least he might find fibre optic cable behind the plate that he could use as a light source while he attempted to override the turbolift door command. Unfortunately, his nails were too weak to jemmy it open, bending and nearly splitting with the effort.
The Captain's eyes were open so wide his sockets began to ache. The notion of exploring an unknown part of the ship in the dark didn't thrill him and yet neither was he prepared to stay where he was; he needed to get to the Bridge. He'd heard what he thought were explosions, conceivably an attack. The ship had shaken noisily then lurched so violently he fell to the floor; this followed by such extreme g-force holding him down it could only have resulted from sudden and intense acceleration overpowering the inertial dampeners. Christian pressed up against the internal wall and slowly began to feel his way along. He supposed he was progressing in a forward direction but he couldn't be sure. A sharp ridge of metal pricked the end of his fingers and he recoiled his hand quickly. Crouching low he attempted to proceed, finding that entire side of the corridor from floor to ceiling was a twisted mess of sharp metal.
Unexpectedly, there was a sound. Christian instinctively looked around in the pitch black. He couldn't hear more than the blood circulating past his ears, his own short breaths and heart beating in his chest. The noise had come from further back, beyond the turbolift: a muffled sound like a young deer stomping on dry, compacted earth. His mind immediately drifted to the cadaver of the spider he and Collard had chanced upon. "Where there's one, there's more…" he heard the Ensign's foreboding words in his mind.
"Keep it cool, Christian," he whispered to himself, licking at the line of salty sweat above his top lip.
He stepped into the middle of the corridor, and progressed with his arms outstretched, taking small steps – extending his lead foot and sweeping it in a gentle arc for any obstructions. Several slow steps later he angled his way back to the wall. It was smooth, and he could continue on his way. He hoped to reach a jefferies tube or a means by which he could signal his shipmates or generate light.
'Thud-thud-thud-thud'. The muffled heavy footsteps again. 'Definitely not human', Christian thought. At Command school, he and his fellow trainees had been subjected to numerous tests challenging their fears and fortitude. Virtually all simulations involved an element of risk - either to a ship, an alien race, civilians or crewmen in their charge. Various tests were fabricated to challenge their personal fears. Their metal was truly tested, and certain trainees couldn't handle the pressure – in fact less than half of the original group that had made it past basic training graduated.
Christian drew on his experiences, remembering the pounding repetition of directives his tutors had ingrained in him. Putting aside personal risk, he pressed forward with increased urgency, keen to get out of this situation as quickly as possible and trusting that his haste wouldn't be his undoing.
* * *
COMMAND YACHT, MAIN BRIDGE
Jackson was transfixed by Murat's flourished attempts to retake the Helm from his Engineering station. "What is it, Professor?"
The slender woman replied from her Science station to the rear. "Sensors show a great deal of localised ion radiation in this sector. It will not be possible for the Yacht to proceed at warp for at least two hours at present speed."
"A small mercy," Jackson said. "Hopefully time enough to regain control."
Murat gave her a waning glance, he was clearly inclined to disagree.
"However," the Vulcanised human female kept her tone neutral and steady. "I am also detecting… eight vessels on a direct intercept course from multiple vectors, the closest is thirty nine minutes away."
"T'Kani…" Jackson's brief optimism was short lived.
Karim shook her head. "Unknown at this range and with the amount of proximal ionisation. But that would be the logical conclusion."
"Great," Jackson reacted, regretting her display of emotion as soon as she had spoken. She speculated if her first time in the centre seat would also be her last. "Who was in Engineering?"
Murat replied. "Commander Kohl dispatched Miss Warnerburg and Mister Hostas. I believe they were accompanied by one of the Klingons for protection, I'm not sure who."
"It was Kluless," a large voice bellowed from the portside rear of the bridge. Jackson turned to face Karless, the burliest of the three Klingons who had come aboard. He observed her suppressed amusement. "In our language it is an honourable name," he warned her.
"Of course, I'm sorry," she composed herself.
"Kidron was in engineering back on the Command Section of the ship." The man walked over to join her, one gloved hand gripping his belt, the other clenching and releasing restlessly. "Be assured, he would not have allowed a small… girl to get past him." He had bared his crooked sharpened teeth on the word 'girl' and finished with the same snarling expression.
Jackson scratched her chin with a delicate finger. "That remains to be seen. Would you lead a team down to engineering to investigate?"
"I require no assistance, I shall proceed alone," the man spun around toward the turbolift.
"Wait a minute. I don't want anyone going anywhere on their own," the Commodore awkwardly trotted in front of the huge man.
"Commodore-!" the warrior began, growing impatient. His complaint was swiftly arrested by Jackson's upheld hand, her once glossily manicured nails now chipped and poignantly evoking that of a Klingon.
"I'm in command, mang," she said firmly, fixing her eyes upon his. "Murat, Reb, go with him."
"Me?!" Reb rose from the Helm, shocked; he reasoned that if the T'Kani agent had managed to get past a Klingon warrior, a stringy man such as himself would have no hope. Added to his anxiety he had a bad history with Klingons (they all hated Ferengi in his experience) and he didn't trust the Romulans.
"On the double, Mister," Jackson prompted. Reb scowled and watched Ganhedra nervously slide into his vacated seat as he left. The turbolift doors didn't respond when approached by the Klingon.
"Here we go again," Reb sighed turning to the view screen, noticing Ganhedra beckoning over a nearby Helan. The elderly man pulled the young man very close to whisper in his ear. The subordinate nodded - or was it a bow - and grabbed another Helan to accompany him as he jogged forward into the observation lounge.
"Turbolifts are also inaccessible," Murat said stating the obvious. He skipped down the steps leading to the jefferies tube on the lower bridge but found a bulkhead in place just beneath Deck One, closing off that route as well. "It's sealed," he said to the Commodore. Karless elbowed him aside to see for himself.
"I wonder who doesn't want us to leave this deck?" Reb smirked.
"There's no shifting that," Murat said to the Klingon.
Reb sidled up and looked over Karless's big shoulder into the shaft. The Klingon snarled at him for standing too close and he rapidly withdrew. As one of the few routes onto the Bridge, Reb assumed the doors would be designed as impenetrable once secured. But they hadn't been designed with Klingon brutality in mind as Karless, boldly jeering Reb's words of defeat, entered the shaft, hacked open the maintenance cover and cut through the circuitry and fluid tubes of the door's machinery with his d'ktahg. The thick panels were then easily pried apart with the well-used blade.
"Oh," deflated Reb turned to Jackson on the upper bridge, "he's got it." Reluctantly he followed after Murat into the jefferies tube.
A minute or so into their descent, Reb stopped on the ladder above his two compatriots. "Wait, this isn't right," the half-Ferengi caressed the conduit's lining with his free hand.
"What is it?" Murat halted, causing Karless to follow suit and throw his heavy-haired, multi-ridged head back, staring up at his weakling compatriots.
"Why have you stopped?" the Klingon demanded from below.
"He's found something," Murat passed the detail on to the large man. He was careful not to show how deeply fearful of the Klingons he was. As a young boy, he had heard stories from his grandfather and great uncles about the Klingons' insatiable thirst for blood and victory, but as he grew older he learned that his own people had been responsible for much of the conflict that existed between them. Historically, the two races had maintained a shaky accord, but Murat's own lineage had met them face to face in battle on two occasions – both with the same fatal outcome.
"This is where deck 3 should be," Reb said, rapping on the surface with his knuckle and listening to the echo. "There's a deck here, I'm sure of it. But I can't see an access hatch."
"You are mistaken, Deck 3 is further down," Karless said, reading the signage beside the exit hatch under his feet. "What makes you think a deck is there?"
Reb looked first up to the exit hatch for deck 2 above him, then back down. "Actually, I'd estimate room for two decks between the hatches to Decks 2 and 3," he saw the Klingon becoming impatient. "The resonance off the walls is well pronounced to my ears." He tapped the metal shaft several more times. "There's definitely a deck on the other side."
* * *
In the darkness of his solitude, Christian heard a faint muffled knocking from nearby. He moved in its direction.
* * *
Reb climbed slightly higher and rapped for a third time. "See? Definitely a difference." Murat frowned, not hearing the difference, despite his enhanced Romulan hearing.
* * *
Christian heard the noise once more, and moved closer.
* * *
"Bah!" Karless resumed his descent. "We have no time for this, come on."
Murat regarded Reb for a moment, then followed swiftly behind. The merchant pilot continued to feel around for a concealed exit, sure he would find something. A beckoning 'psst' sound from Murat concluded his investigation for now.
* * *
The noises had stopped. Christian groped his way further along – no doorway, merely pipework and then more smooth, non-descript bulkhead.
"Hello..?" he called, half-heartedly at first. "Hello!" he shouted louder and pounded on the wall.
There was no response. At last, a few paces later, he located a signage plate and luckily, the writing was in relief. He slowly, carefully traced the letters with his fingertips: LIFE SUPPORT SWITCH ROOM BETA FLANK. The last two words made no sense but he guessed they were a location reference. Normally they would have indicated a deck and section number respectfully. Neither Beta nor Flank were helpful without a frame of reference.
His fingers discovered the door beside the sign. Unfortunately it was made of a single plate, its edges buried tightly into the casing on either side. Strangely, there were no entry buttons – and while he gave it his best attempt, there was no way he could force it open.
Thud, thud… thud. The sound seemed to be following him albeit at a distance and tentatively. His flesh crawled, his imagination creating all sorts of theoretical beasts in his mind.
"Shut up!" he told the creature and his busy mind. He needed to concentrate on locating light or a way out. Or maybe a weapon.
* * *
ENGINEERING, COMMAND SECTION (ALONG WITH THE PASSENGER SECTION, ADRIFT)
Engineering was pandemonium. Collard had been elbowed into the side-lines and become immobilised amid the bedlam, unable to work out where she might be useful. The flickering emergency lights and showers of sparks from expelled cables signified power was unstable.
As soon as Kohl had arrested the ship's violent roll, the young French Canadian Ensign had instinctively moved to help extinguish fires and make casualties comfortable. She had then been distracted by a loud bleeping nearby, a large situation board alight with a graphical depiction of the Yacht detaching from the rest of the vessel. The Command Section on the display was blinking red, signifying a state of emergency; the forward 'dead-weight' Passenger Section it was attached to was grey and lifeless.
She'd heard a voice shout that life support systems were failing. The ship was now gently rocking from time to time, as if swerving between port and starboard thrusters igniting. Kohl had used the same thrusters to stabilise their roll and trajectory initially, and slow the ship as best he could. Supposedly he was having an issue in keeping them from heaving from side to side every so often.
A handful of engineering volunteers had been led off to the beauty spa come sick bay for medical attention. Shortly after Wheezy the Jetraleker medic had arrived to tend to those who were unconscious, semi-conscious or unable to move from a variety of broken bones and lower limb injuries.
Meanwhile Kohl had dispatched a team of three Helan to rendezvous with Lieutenant O'Hara who'd been directed to the lower decks to try and locate the two casualties who had fallen down the warp shaft – their moaning was becoming fainter.
Collard considered herself superfluous – she knew rudimentary functions but she was no engineer, and wasn't overly familiar with the older technology and systems on board the Fantasy.
Out of the corner of her eye the Ensign spied a glimmer, like sunlight reflecting off sheer satin. It was Lirik, patently not following Captain Christian's orders. She felt the need to remind him.
"Your place is with the civilians!" the Ensign barked suddenly.
The Yeoman, surveying the general melee, grimaced at her then observed she'd been standing at the perimeter of the action and also recognised the fear in her eyes despite the valiant front.
"It's okay, they're safe enough in the spa," he said kindly, "I thought I could be of more help here."
"Are they okay?" she asked hurriedly. "I wondered whether because of the way we rolled the runabout might have slid into the survivors, crushing them?"
"People were injured in that way but by others falling on top of them, yes, it was unavoidable," he said, "but the runabout has built in auto-stabilisers in case of sudden earthquake, sinkhole or landslide situations. He strode to the warp pit where coolant and an unknown inert gas were billowing up, clouding their view.
The Ensign caught up with him and as they both reached the surrounding safety rail Kohl emerged like Hephaestus from the ether of his magical forge, standing on the narrow grille of the pit that surrounded half the core. The German had removed his jacket revealing his dirty vest, his strong pecs and torso muscles sucking the material close to his body with sweat, neat curls of blond nesting out from under the straining hems.
"The Command Yacht has gone," the Ensign quickly informed him.
"Obviously," Lirik chimed.
"We have a major problem," Kohl tried to be heard above the increasing hissing sounds. "Warp and impulse engines have both taken a pounding. Neither system had been safely isolated when separation occurred. The Yacht essentially ripped itself free. There must have been a massive, overwhelming energy feedback via the interconnecting Sections' power junctions - it's blown main power and ruptured plasma conduits throughout the ship; thankfully the impulse safeties we put in place prevented catastrophic overload, but the damage is nonetheless extensive. I sent everyone I could spare to deal with the two fires that weren't auto-suppressed, mercifully they're both extinguished, but the damage isn't insignificant. But the worst of it is the feedback came as far as the reaction control assembly and caused the dilithium crystals to be super conducted. They are practically burnt out – probably won't last more than 30 minutes, and now re-crystalisation isn't possible in their fragile state. We were lucky the injection valves shut off or the core would have overloaded." In between swirls of mist, Lirik caught a glimpse of the charred and damaged core and surrounding area.
"Lucky…?" Collard couldn't fathom how the word was relevant.
Kohl ignored the youth. "With impulse engines failing and dangerously so I recommend we take them fully offline, change over to generators and initiate low energy consumption protocols effective immediately, try to conserve as much power as we can."
"Can't we use the emergency warp system, or use its crystals?" Lirik motioned at the unit at the back of engineering, apparently undamaged.
"The EWS is designed to be impenetrable for security and safety reasons - it has to contain a small matter-anti-matter reaction core and the whole associated plant in one sealed unit impervious to damage. We haven't had time to investigate how to safely open it since it was last used," the Commander explained. "Besides, as it's specifically designed for short bursts of warp speed, the components would fall short of being suitable replacements for engineering systems, including the dilithium."
Lirik nodded. "How should we proceed, then?"
While they had got off to a bad start back on Helub, since journeying together Lirik had come to respect Kohl a great deal. Moreover his previously prickly, awkward, unorthodox and nerdish demeanour was now in stark contrast to the exceptionally handsome ripped man standing before him. He was clearly a good deal younger than Lirik had believed, and a lot 'fitter'.
Kohl combed his hair back with his big left hand and adjusted his glasses. The one casualty's cries were growing weaker. He failed to ignore them fully.
"As you know the generators had been in constant use for over five years, at least as long as the Helan had been on the ship - switching to impulse and configuring them the way in which we did, they have scarcely recharged. Consequently we have maybe two hours in which to make repairs before power begins to fail. Warp status is not great either. The reaction chamber was stressed beyond safety parameters when the crystals were super conducted, so it's a lot more fragile than it was before. I should be able to shore it up, but re-initialising the core won't be possible unless we can find suitable replacement dilithium. I was thinking the crystals from the Hudson as a stop gap."
Lirik first raised a disapproving eyebrow then appreciated it was the only option. "Very well then, reactivate generator power and attempt to fix the warp core."
Collard puffed her cheeks and shook her head with disapproval as Kohl disappeared into the Fog.
"Ensign," Lirik said noticing her flinch. "As we are, the ship is not secure. The agent may still be on board- ."
"Surely she was the one who took the Yacht?" Collard blurted.
"Most probably." Lirik wondered at her state of mind, this wasn't quite the same spunky, enthusiastic Academy graduate who'd come aboard a week earlier. "Yet we can't be certain, can we? Form a search party-."
The Ensign's interrupted again. "With who?"
"The Klingon can help you, for one," Lirik flicked his eyes toward the elder of the warriors helping to clear some heavy debris.
"With just two of us it could take days," she continued to gripe.
"So go to the beauty spa. Conscript anyone you can - tell them it's Captain's orders. Tell them their lives depend on it. I don't care what, just get them to help."
The Ensign didn't appreciate his tone. "Wouldn't it be better to take the runabout, go after the Yacht instead?"
Lirik was growing exasperated by the Ensign, although that had also been his initial thought.
"No, the safety of this ship, or what's left of it, and the survivors takes precedent. The Captain and Commodore are with many of the volunteer crew - I'm sure they will be doing everything they can to return to us. But in case they can't, we have to assume that we're left to fend for ourselves."
The Ensign's expression belied her training once more. "What if we can't restore warp power? We're dead in the water, aren't we?"
Lirik gritted his teeth, thinking of an appropriate reply. "If we don't find an alternate means of power, things could get a little static, yes."
As if heralding what was to come, the lights in engineering dimmed and died, as did all computer and mechanical noises. Lirik and Collard were aware of the total silence in the dark as Kohl initiated the transfer to generator power. A heartbeat later, rather than a dim glow the surrounding lights went to full brightness, the sounds resumed in earnest. In addition all those Engineering stations that had until now been either blank or frozen in one mode came to life. The computer began to voice an automatic checklist.
"What's going on?" Collard asked Kohl who'd taken up position leaning over the diagnostic table and dripping beads of sweat onto the glass surface.
"My guess is that the ship was in a state of restrictive lockdown and when I reset to generator power key systems rebooted – what was previously unavailable is now functioning. While they're not all on-line and various networks are incomplete, this is a damn sight better than it was."
"How could that happen?" Lirik asked.
"I can't say right now. Hedra had been working on command functions in the computer core. I'd guess the generators maybe initiated localised independent protocols and the computer network then reestablished connected pathways," Kohl was confused.
"We have already seen evidence of duplicate and triplicate back-up systems on board," Lirik said.
Kohl tapped on the computer interface panel. "Yeah. The computer core is coordinating management of the systems perfectly well, despite the fact it is running at 55% capacity." He half-laughed, pushing his glasses up his nose. "Weirdly, in many ways we're better off now than we were."
"I doubt that, Sir," Collard said under her breath.
"Are drive systems still offline?" the girl named Vostaline had just entered Engineering from elsewhere and walked directly over to them.
Following his conversation in the Hudson with Collard, Christian and Jackson, Lirik had become increasingly intrigued by their Helan fellow travellers. As she stood directly opposite him in the bright light, he was briefly distracted by the elaborate designs applied to the clothes she wore. The overall garment was understated, however the intricate detail and skilled craftsmanship that had gone into the beaded patterns seemed overly ostentatious for such a simple dress. He reminded himself the Helan were an unfamiliar culture and not to overthink things.
"Yes, that's a mechanical problem we still have to resolve," Kohl smiled warmly - the German respected the younger girl and her polite forthright manner, and it showed to Lirik.
The Yeoman cleared his throat authoritatively. "Okay, Ensign, organise your group as we discussed. Mister Kohl, I'll go and get your crystals. Meanwhile see if you can access the command protocols and bring these internal systems fully on line, I want to know the extent of the systems now available. Sensors would be good." Lirik lowered his voice: "Weapons and shields, as well, in case the Captain and the others don't make it back."
"You know we are very low on deuterium as well?" Kohl whispered in unison.
"Taking on supplies was the Captain's next priority. Carry on," the Yeoman marched into the corridor gesturing to Collard to follow.
Alone with Kohl, Vostaline gazed past the man's smooth, naked arm as he patched into the mainframe and interrogated the available diagnostics programmes, then looked back to where Lirik had departed.
"Do you trust him?" she asked.
"Who?" Kohl glanced at the Helan who was staring into the distance. "Lirik? I suppose. Why do you ask?"
"I sense his cunning," she said. "He may be duplicitous."
"Oh you can be sure of that!" he chuckled, then saw her seriousness. "I wouldn't worry about it, they're all like that in the Diplomatic Corps. He has our backs, I'm sure."
* * *
COMMAND YACHT, UNKNOWN LOCATION
Christian was sweating profusely. He had discovered an open doorway on the opposite side of the corridor and stepped slowly over the threshold. He clapped his hands. The light echo suggested a large, unfurnished room. He still had no clue as to where he was exactly.
As the Captain felt along the blank, inside wall to the immediate left of the door, he quickly hit a corner and proceeded along the perpendicular. Seven careful paces later, another corner. As he turned on this one, which he knew to be opposite to the entrance, the wall disappeared and he nearly lost his balance. Fearing a precipice, his foot found it was a low wall, up to knee height. He traced the edge over the smooth corner beside his knee onto a horizontal ledge. Abruptly, the metal gave way to a colder surface.
This smoothness arced up and away from him then graduated back in to the warmer-feel of the ceiling material that he could reach standing on the ledge. He stretched from side to side - fingertips touching struts a metre or so apart either side of the cold surface; he found the same beside it and further on.
"Windows," he muttered out loud. He deduced that either a blast shield or a thicker layer of the black substance covering the ship might be covering the windows, blocking out the starlight.
The Captain didn't hear a noise, but he instinctively sensed a presence in the room with him. Peering into the darkness he could scarcely make out two very faint points of illumination in the direction of the doorway. He strained forward to try and identify what they were more clearly. A shiver ran down his spine as he saw what he thought were two clusters of dark red hemispheres level with his waist.
Christian silently ordered himself to be calm. Slowly, quietly, he inched away, concentrating on not making a loud sound or a sudden move. Fear began to take hold when he discovered no other exit. In the farthest corner from the door, he decided to stay where he was, hoping that the creature might walk away. He clambered onto the low ledge and pushed as far back as he could into the space between the cold window and the side of the room farthest from the entrance. Glaring back to where he'd come from he saw the distant faint eyes staring intently at him…and he was sure they had moved a little closer.
* * *
COMMAND YACHT, ENGINEERING
Karless peeked round the corner diagonally opposite the entrance to engineering. All was surprisingly quiet and undisturbed. There was no sign of Kluless - who should have been on guard in the corridor outside.
The warrior stepped forward and Murat followed closely. Reb was on edge. Determined that he wouldn't be taken by surprise bringing up the cowardly rear he was walking slowly backwards continuously looking side to side. The three halted outside the shiny black room, each vying to get a clear view inside through the open doorway without stepping into line of fire.
"No-one's there," Reb stated in a not-quite-whisper, attempting to calm his own nerves. Cautiously, Karless edged into the room checking all corners. To his right, he saw the bulkhead that had exploded and killed the human helper a fortnight ago as they left Vekarian space, now taped off with yellow/black hazard strips.
Before he could proceed with an appropriate strategy and to the Klingon's surprise, Murat broke away, pushing past him, and made his way swiftly into the centre of the room, stopping at the Chief Engineer's station. Karless thought he was either totally brave or totally stupid as the agent could have easily been hiding behind one of the pedestals or columns in the room.
Murat tried every console in rapid succession all with similar negative bleeps. "I'm locked out. The security algorithm in place is adaptive."
With no sign of imminent danger Karless moved beside him, trying to understand the garbled codes coursing across the screens; Reb hung back, stopping to stare into the torn up, gaping hole.
"Can you break the code?" the Klingon demanded.
Murat shook his head, continuing to try his luck via the myriad newly available computer systems that were now on line. "I may be able to gain entry and isolate related and non-essential systems, but navigation and helm are impenetrable."
Karless was frustrated by this news, and approached the doors leading into the warp core area, deciding upon a more direct, hands-on solution to the problem. They didn't open for him.
"Perhaps the T'Kani agent is in there with the others?" Murat wondered.
"You!" Karless shouted to Reb, who physically jumped. "Assist me!"
"Am I the only one who thinks this is a terrible idea?" Reb hung back.
"Do not make me make you," Karless warned.
Reb swallowed hard and joined the strong smelling Klingon beside the door. Despite his best attempts with the mechanism, they refused to budge. Karless applied his trusty blade. This time to no avail.
"We need to find an alternative way in," the Klingon said. "One of those Jefferson Tubes."
"Jefferies Tubes," Reb corrected him, then wished he hadn't.
Karless regarded the charred opening, spotting within its spliced innards the narrow and damaged shape of a horizontal crawlway running along the edge of the room to the warp core.
Reb followed his gaze, then realised the large man was glaring down at him, one tooth pushing out from between his lips in a slight smirk. He knew what Karless intended.
"Oh, no," he began to protest. "No way."
The Klingon began a low snarl.
"You are smaller than either of us," Murat highlighted.
* * *
COMMAND SECTION, ENGINEERING
Lirik hovered beside the warp pit, watching Kohl prepare to install the runabout's crystals into the chamber housing. The German was having a difficult time with the damaged articulation frame.
He also noted there were no more sounds coming from the warp shaft, the one casualty presumably having fallen unconscious - O'Hara's company should arrive any moment. The Yeoman took the opportunity to study Vostaline again. She'd been left by Kohl at the diagnostic table ascertaining what systems had come on line as per Lirik's request; given the Helan had lived off generator power, oblivious to the ship's warp capability and computerised potential, she was showing remarkable adaptive skills. But then again, they had also managed to move his runabout from right under Kohl's nose into the Fantasy without any difficulty.
Ensign Collard rushed into Engineering with a flurry. "Sir," she approached Lirik. "This isn't going to work. I only managed to persuade three individuals to help and this ship has too many places to hide. We're hardly making any progress."
"Maybe I'm going about this the wrong way," Lirik said. "Commander, do we have internal sensors?"
The German didn't answer, he was busy concentrating, straining with the relatively small and delicate dilithium chamber housing.
"Commander…?" Lirik leant over the rail.
"Grrr!" the German was frustrated, trying to fix the relatively compact device, the muscles on his shaking arms flexing tension into his long fingers, their tips attempting to push misaligned connectors into place on the object clenched close to his body. Instead of clicking home, the device unexpectedly snapped, and the dilithium crystals fountained up into the air and scattered onto the grille on which he stood, all falling through the gaps and out of sight below.
"Aaaargh! Verdammt!" he raged.
The sound caught the attention of everyone in engineering and more people gathered at the rail, hearing the crystals tinkle into the distance as they fell from the pit into the misty depths of the shaft below.
Lirik and Collard were stunned into silence. After a brief moment of numb disbelief, Kohl roared akin to a wounded bear and aggressively smacked the internal rail of the pit.
"Nutzloses beshissenes raumschiff…" he screamed, then shook his angrily. He flung his head back, shaking his fists in front of his face. "Inkopetente dumme wurstfinger, mein GOTT—Raaaghr!"
"Whoahwhoahwhaoh!" Lirik waved, "having a pity party Qo'noS-style isn't going to help any."
"Who would have built such a ludicrous platform!" he cursed at the grate he stood on and kicked the structure.
"What's done is done," Lirik reassured as calmly as he could. "We can find them with tricorders."
Kohl picked up the pieces of the articulation frame and housing that had snapped clean off and shattered respectively, and waggled them at the Yeoman.
"The crystals are no longer the problem. There's no way I'm going to be able to fix this in the time we have. This damned ship!"
Collard suppressed her fear. "Can't we repair the impulse engines instead?" she asked.
"Too badly damaged for the time we have left," Kohl hung his head. "The warp engine was our one hope."
"So what are we going to do now?" Collard said, marveling at how a senior ranking engineer could have been so impatient and clumsy.
"Mister Kohl, the computer," Lirik softly spoke, "where are we with internal systems' availability?"
The German grunted, scanning the grill in vain for any of the lost crystals. "I've not had a chance to personally check. From what Vostaline says we have regained substantial internal controls - well, for whatever still works on this bucket of scheisse."
The group joined Vostaline who was slowly, methodically checking systems, apparently unconcerned with the current drama. "I am seeing more systems now," she informed them, "but with limited generator power, not many are functional."
Lirik's hands tapped the diagnostics table interface. "Let's see: communications, gravity and life support, turbolifts, ah…here we go…" he quickly interfaced with the ship's schematics, "…Engineering's local library files." Exploring deeper into the contained library he brought up a series of deck plans. Simultaneously, Collard took up a position opposite, next to Vostaline, and patched into the security system.
"I have partial internal sensors… images also," she scrolled along various shots of empty passages and darkened rooms on a small display screen. "Eighteen areas are completely devoid of power, we're blind to multiple locations on most decks."
Lirik completed his inquiry with a flourish of a finger and a 3D holographic representation of the SS Fantasy (in its entirety and its original gleaming white livery) materialised above the diagnostic table. The small crowd of volunteers and curious survivors congregated toward them, all eyes focused on the representation of the Fantasy and whispering comments.
"That's what it looks like underneath the coating?" Collard asked.
Pressing a single orange lozenge on the lcars Lirik split the ship into its three primary Sections, eliminating the Yacht that had now gone. Manipulating the programme further he stripped the outer 'skin' of the rest of the ship, revealing the detailed interior of each deck. Two more taps and the decks began to spread apart vertically, spacing out to show original rooms, dividing walls, conduits and mocked up sample furniture.
"According to the file info, this deck plan is ten years old and two overhauls out of date," Lirik said. "But it's basically the same ship."
Collard was applying her recollection of older Starfleet data systems and she soon found a system similar to the one on the Command Section Bridge she'd used during the T'Kani hologram incident and mapped it into Lirik's active program. Hundreds of green dots began to glow over the occupied decks where internal sensors were online, mostly in Engineering and the Solaris Lounge.
"This is all of us, or should be," she said proudly. Her pride was short-lived as two blips flashing red at the bottom of the warp core suddenly went out.
"The people who fell…" Vostaline murmured. "Are they still alive?"
Lirik honed the scanners on the relevant blips; the readings showed no signs of life. "No," he said quietly, and around him a couple of sharp intakes of breath followed by sobbing and whispering as the information was passed on among those present.
They could all see on the display that O'Hara's search party wasn't far away - just two decks above them, apparently trying to find a way in to the shaft.
"Do we have transporters?" Lirik asked.
Kohl scanned the systems, Vostaline shaking her head beside him. "No, that technology was largely stripped out."
Lirik located the intercom panel - active in the search party's locale - and entered the relevant corridor designation. "Engineering to Lieutenant O'Hara. Internal sensors are mostly back online, our readings are showing the casualties are two decks beneath your current position. We aren't getting any life signs, but the system could be malfunctioning. Please acknowledge."
Twenty long seconds later the mellow voice of the Helan named Fraxon came over the speakers. "Acknowledged."
"Ensign," Lirik saw the Canadian was flushed, evidently bothered at the death of two more innocent civilians. "You can use this interface to search the ship, monitor key areas and main systems as well, I'm going to leave you in charge until we get back."
"In charge?!" she said, taken aback. The German Engineer also seemed vexed by this.
"Er…I'm senior officer," Kohl said defensively, sizing up to Lirik. "Who ever said you were in command?"
A couple tutted their disapproval at the untimely power struggle; a handful of his Engineering posse stepped up behind Kohl in support.
"Where are you planning on going?" a human teenage girl interjected, eager to diffuse any argument.
"The Passenger Section," Lirik announced. He tapped the console and revealed on every alternative deck the rectangular staggered positions signifying the airlocks between the two Sections of the ship that had been impenetrable until now.
"We don't know what state it's in, we could be wasting both valuable power and time," Kohl objected rudely.
Lirik sighed. "True, and yet you're also forgetting something-"
"O'Hara to Engineering." Through the overhead speakers the Lieutenant's voice sounded bleak, cutting off Lirik's explanation. "I'm sorry, your two crew didn't make it." A low moan of affirmed disappointment rippled across the room. "Are all main systems back on line?"
"Not all, no," Collard answered. "But we have a bigger problem. Warp and impulse engines are damaged. We're running on generators but we have less than two hours of power left to fix things. We may have gained entry to the forward part of the ship. Yeoman Lirik is suggesting we explore."
"I agree," O'Hara responded, surprising Kohl and Collard. "We have a number of casualties in urgent need of treatment. If we can locate the main sickbay we might find equipment and medicines that could help."
Lirik glanced at Kohl and entered more commands. In the centre of the forward part of the holographic blueprint of the Fantasy the ship's Main Medical Facility glimmered an olive green over several decks, two hundred and twenty metres forward of the dividing plane.
"Found it," Lirik said. "And it's a big one."
Kohl's heart was beating fast, realising the potential of the library files at his disposal and conducted his own analysis. A large engineering area on began to flash gold amid the holo image. "Passenger Section Engineering…" he said and watched Lirik smile and nod knowingly.
"Lieutenant, are you free to accompany us?" Lirik asked.
"Are you kidding? I'm on my way," she said.
Lirik faced Kohl, signaling that he had authority; better for morale that the recognized senior Starfleet officer take charge.
"Okay, we'll split up into two teams, one will proceed to engineering, the other to the medical facility," he looked at the Yeoman. "That sound okay to you?"
"Absolutely," Lirik grinned.
* * *
COMMAND YACHT, BRIDGE
Commodore Jackson paced behind Tactical. The turbolift to her left suddenly opened and Narli, along with three Helan, stepped out, catching their breath and wafting their shirts to try and cool down.
"Ambassador!" she said in astonishment.
"Our turbolift was locked down, didn't you hear our shouts for help?" the big blue man snapped.
"No," Jackson sighed, thinking they must have been cut off by another bulkhead.
"What in Andoriban's name happened to us?" the Ambassador fondled the bump on his thigh from the violent ship movements earlier. Jackson filled the Andorian in on the current situation. As she finished, the turbolift doors opened again. Murat stepped out.
"Commodore, Engineering was unoccupied," he walked over to the engineering station and swiftly drummed out a combination of instructions. "We have been unsuccessful in our initial attempt at hacking into Navigation or Helm. An adaptive code is locking us out of all drive systems. But I have managed to regain control in other areas, including turbolifts, as you can see. Karless advised me not to use the comm system in case it was being monitored. "
Jackson leaned on the back of his chair. "Where are your two compatriots now?"
Murat raised an eyebrow - he hadn't considered either man to fall in that category. "Karless and Reb are still attempting to break into the warp core," he remembered Reb's pained expression as he squeezed into the tight conduit, barely wide enough for a regular person to fit. "But Commodore it's very likely the agent is in there. It may be quicker to sabotage the engines instead. That may at least buy us some time."
"If we do that we'll never escape those other pursuers," Jackson objected. "Professor, any further detail on those ships?"
"Generating a visual," she announced haughtily.
Everyone regarded the main view screen that swapped from the starscape to a sea of static. Gradually, as Karim manipulated long range sensors, the haze cleared to reveal four ships in the familiar diamond formation, flying at impulse toward their position. Although too small to discern at this magnification there was no doubt in anyone's mind who they were.
"At present speed they will be within weapons range in twenty five minutes."
"So, at least we know that like us they can't travel faster than maximum impulse amid all this ionisation," Jackson surmised. She turned to the Romulan. "And how long until they're in transporter range?"
"About twenty minutes, depending on the levels of ionization," Murat suggested vaguely, much to the Professor's annoyance, "presuming they have transporters?"
"They have transporters," Ganhedra repeated from the Helm. "Range approximately one standard orbits… oh, um… approximately forty thousand kilometers but as the lad says, they might be hampered by all the ionisation, and it may not be possible to do so through this ship's coating."
"You said we had weapons earlier, what exactly do we have?" the Commodore asked.
Narli manned the Tactical station and entered commands. "Two forward micro torpedo tubes with…" he tapped several times more, "…a single magazine loaded in one…" The computer tribbled twice, interrupting him.
"Don't tell me. Weapons went off line?" Jackson said. Narli shrugged. "Murak, could you get that system back for us?"
Murat ignored her mispronunciation and assessed the command pathways available. "Maybe. But it could take a while, depending what measures have been put in place."
"It seems to me regaining navigational and drive control is our best option," Narli said, casting a sideways look for Hedra, who wasn't there.
"Very well," the Commodore said. "Professor, it's imperative you do all you can to override Helm and Navigation control."
"That would be futile," Karim objected, standing to confront the older veteran. "The encryption is highly complex and outwardly unbreakable, even for me."
"Nevertheless," Jackson said wearily. "You have to at least try. You're a bright woman, I'm sure you'll figure it out."
The Professor approached her. "Commodore, your flattery is utterly misplaced, I just told you that I cannot -"
"Professor," Jackson cut her off, "that's an order, not a request." The two women squared off for a few seconds, then Karim nodded politely and returned to her station.
"Miss Hedra may also be able to help," Narli said, noticing the Professor's back stiffen, though she said nothing.
"If you can find her. Murat, go back to engineering, keep on trying to regain manual control. And try and think of a way in which we could stop the ship with the minimum of damage, just in case," she checked the time on a nearby console. "I'll see if I can take control of weapons systems such that they are. You have twenty minutes. Good luck."
Murat nodded and left.
Narli flounced down to the lower bridge, pointing at the starboard corridor to indicate that was where he thought Hedra had gone.
Jackson stood at the Tactical station and felt overwhelmed by the bank of linear lcars frames before her. She'd not been in such a position since her Command school training days. She had been graded high at rapid lcars entry, having had the fastest trigger finger in her class - she hoped that a show of dexterity might help cover up her unpracticed tactical systems knowledge.
The Andorian Ambassador wondered what on Andor's moons the Commodore was up to, knowing full well she was no soldier and would surely be very out of practice given her mostly administrative role for the last few decades.
The starboard corridor was empty and he imagined what the Fantasy might have been like in its heyday, imagining the smartly dressed crew and the ambience of joy and festivity. Then through the smoky haze of memory he had flashes of recall, now feeling sure he'd heard stories about the vessel in the distant past. Stories of scandal – or was it intrigue? He felt it might have been involved in a major incident…
Entering the Observation Lounge he was as impressed by the epic panorama through the huge forward windows as he had before, but on this occasion there was no ship stretched out into the distance, only the few visible decks of the Yacht below.
"How is he?" the Ambassador asked Veana, kneeling to his left beside the unconscious Commander Sarilev, a small pile of bloodied cloth beside her.
She shook her head, visibly concerned. "His vitals appear to be stable, but his wound is fairly deep. He needs medical attention that I'm unable to provide.
He placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder then walked down to the forward part of the deck where Hedra stood staring forward through the windows. Two Helan were also there, each at the far side of the bank of windows, as if on lookout.
"How are you doing?"
She scoffed and shot him a look of ridicule.
"This might sound like so much hollow praise, but you are a valuable asset to the people on board this ship… and that ship," he added, tilting his head behind them. She didn't react. "You may not like it, but we need you."
Hedra remained immobile.
"On the Bridge," he said emphatically. She blinked hard. "Like, right now."
* * *