EP 6 - ACT III

COMMAND YACHT, ENGINEERING AREA

Reb tentatively peered through the mesh at the end of the crawl space, checking all around for any signs of the agent, but the warp core room was empty. His skin and clothes were smudged with black soot from the charred insides of the narrow tube as he'd inched his way toward the end, scraping his arms and legs while squeezing past broken shards of plastic and metal, and every scratch stung.

From his prone position Reb marveled at the gentle lighting effect of the warp core bouncing pink and purple colours off the deck and the surfaces of the surrounding atrium as it rippled in non-drive mode. This area was larger and austerely functional compared to the adjacent shiny black control room, and he wondered if it had been designed that way so that only the sleek, ultra-modern room would be on show to any fare-paying passengers who had taken a tour of the Command Yacht.

The core was several metres away, its opaque shaft softly pulsating in the centre of the room. Poking out from the back on the either side were the missing crew: a wrinkled human hand, the distinctive pointed iron boots of a Klingon warrior and another more conventionally booted pair of feet.

Out of nowhere a face suddenly dropped in front of the grille from the right, inches away from his own. "Peekaboo!" it chirped, its breath like violets and gasoline.

"Yeaagh!" Reb couldn't help jolt with surprise and fear, bumping his head hard on a support strut.

The Bajoran-looking girl giggled. "Looking for your shipmates?" she asked and yanked open the square grille. Reb tried desperately to shuffle back away from her. The girl was quicker and gripped his collar with alarming strength, effortlessly hauling him out onto the deck with incredible strength for such a petite form. She stood to her full metre and a bit height, slamming the grille closed with her foot.

"They didn't want to play with me," she snarled, looking over to her right. Reb propped himself up on his elbows. Further into the room he had a better view of all three crewman, unsure if they were still alive; there was no blood or obvious signs of traumatic injury. "Do you want to play?" She said crouching onto her haunches in front of him.

Reb formed a fist and lashed out with everything he had, contacting squarely on her rosy cheek.

"YeOw!" it was like punching hull plating and his knuckles felt bruised. The girl's head had barely moved from the impact, a lock of hair falling over her eyes that were fixed upon him in a menacing frown, her perfect teeth slightly bared.

In the mottled pastel light of the core her appearance seemed fake – like a plastic doll with make-up, gnarled at the edges, and he speculated how in all the days she'd been among them no one had noticed her odd facade – perhaps they'd never got so close. Unexpectedly she whirled round, as if aware of a presence behind her. A second later, the computer chirped a warning. The creature skipped carefree over to the console, her back to Reb, completely unphased by his attack.

Reb desperately hunted for a way of escape or an object he could use as a weapon; the door leading to Karless and Murat was only a short distance away. If he could get there and release the lock, the Klingon could enter and hopefully take care of the rest.

"Tut tut, still trying to regain computer control," the girl commented to no one in particular, "she's quite clever that Professor person isn't she?" Then the girl whipped her head impossibly backwards to stare at Reb. "Computer!" she shouted, staring directly into his terrified eyes as if reading his thoughts. "Maximum impulse speed, disengage all safety measures, authorisation code…" her next words were uttered at such speed the code was inaudible, even to Reb. The computer trilled and Reb felt a brief shudder from the deck as the engines complied.

* * *

COMMAND YACHT, UNKNOWN LOCATION

Christian felt the ship shake itself to a greater speed - his instincts told him as much. The eyes staring at him hadn't moved for a number of minutes. Christian toyed with the idea of making a break for it, but he remained rooted to the spot.

* * *

COMMAND YACHT, BRIDGE

"What was that?" Jackson asked. Everyone present could feel the ship vibrating.

"The Command Yacht has increased speed," Ganhedra called solemnly from the helm. "According to these warning lights impulse engines have exceeded recommended safety parameters."

As if to signify this, a singular circuit blew high in the ceiling of the bridge, sending a shower of silver sparks to the deck.

* * *

COMMAND YACHT, WARP CORE, ENGINEERING

"Who are you? Why are you doing this?" Reb asked. It was the first thing he could think of, desperate to divert her attention from beating him up.

Unfortunately, she leapt over to him in a single bound - an impossible movement for any conventional humanoid, no matter how young and fit. As she glared at him with large, perfectly blue eyes surrounded by wrinkled, cracking grafted skin, Reb knew for certain she was anything but a humanoid child.

"It speaks!" she shrieked with delight and squeezed his cheeks with both her powerful little hands, pushing his lips together in a vertical pout, easing him up to a kneeling position. Her hands were cold and totally hard, not like flesh and bone at all. "Say something else!" she demanded.

"I shed, why are ooh doing dish?" he forced out. She threw his head back, almost breaking his jaw with the flick of her wrists and he fell onto his backside.

"I didn't say repeat yourself!" she squealed angrily. Reb looked at her in terror and disbelief, and seeing this she laughed.

Reb decided on a different approach. "What… are you..?"

The girl hesitated, flicking her hair back.

"Pim," she replied coyly.

"Pim…?" he pressed.

She nodded her head, smoothing the material of her tunic. "Just Pim."

"What are Pim?" he asked.

"No, no, no, stupid half-breed person," she said annoyed. "Not what – who! My name is Pim!" she twirled away to look at the warp core.

"And you are T'Kani?" Reb managed a few bum wriggles backwards in order to get closer to the door as she walked slowly away from him, preening herself. By her previous actions, Reb realised that she was both fast and strong, and he was neither; maybe by stealth he could let Karless in before she could stop him.

"Oh no. No, no, no, no, no," she giggled. "I'm not anything like them, or you, or anyone else on board. I am a… singular sensation!" she giggled again.

"Are you a changeling?" Reb forced out.

She cast a sideways glare at him, grimacing, then burst out laughing. Reb used the opportunity to sidle even closer to the door. Presently she calmed down enough to speak.

"Nothing quite as fragile as that," she said cryptically. The computer trilled, causing her to huff loudly and rush back over to the terminal. "Those nasty…," she mumbled and promptly rippled away into thin air.

Reb glanced from left to right - she had vanished. He wasn't sure, but he thought it had appeared like a cloaking effect rather than a transporter. Regardless, something illogical in his head told him that if he couldn't see her, then she wasn't there. He leapt to his feet and launched his hand at the release panel of the door.

Instead of connecting with the controls, however, he connected with a powerful force field. The energy repelled his entire body, launching him into the air backwards, and crashing him violently into the deck, unconscious.

* * *

COMMAND YACHT, BRIDGE

Hedra laughed. "I don't believe it," she said, cutting the stony atmosphere.

"What have you found?" Jackson walked over to the bosomy Orion who was linked to the computer via the Operations station.

"I was seeing if there might be a back door way of shutting down power to the engines without causing any damage. Look at these power distribution levels along the secondary and tertiary plasma funnels," she pointed at the gobbledegook on the read-out.

Jackson watched the streaming list of circuit references and corresponding output levels. The columns flashed ten sets of figures for each row, and each number was rapidly fluctuating by the half-second, changing between mauve and orange depending upon whether it was an increase or decrease. Professor Karim joined the Commodore.

"The output is unusually high for secondary and tertiary level power supply," the Professor surmised. "What could be draining that much power?"

Narli sat at the Engineering station. "Diagnostics shows all levels are functioning normally within those systems. Engines and essential systems are unaffected by the power drain, despite our increased speed."

"Where is all that energy focused, then?" the Commodore asked. "And why does the computer state that it's normal?"

"Oh no…" Narli shook his head. "I can't access the mainframe. I'm being locked out."

"It's happening to me too," Hedra said. Quickly, her delicate green hands flashed over her console. She dumped the current application and set up an isolated link to a random circuit location. The readout flashed for several seconds and winked off, along with all bridge positions.

"Too late!" a girl's voice rang out over the ship-wide intercom.

"Did you see that?" Hedra asked.

"Who is this?" Commodore Jackson demanded to the ceiling. There was no reply. "Computer, where did that last signal originate?"

"Unable to comply, that function is restricted," came the calm maternal voice.

"Computer, re-initialise bridge workstations," Narli requested.

"Unable to comply, that function is restricted," the voice repeated.

"Commodore-" Hedra began.

"Not now," Jackson turned to the others. "Time to alien ships?"

The Professor walked calmly back to the Science post. "Seventeen minutes, fifteen seconds," she stated.

"Bridge to Murat," Jackson shouted. There was no reply. "Hell!" she cried, and smacked the tactical rail. She swallowed hard, considering what to do next.

"Commodore, please," Hedra pressed.

"What is it?" Jackson snapped, annoyed at being interrupted.

"The circuit power outage readings, they looked the same as holographic projection rates," the Orion woman said.

"What does that mean?" Jackson didn't quite understand.

"I have a theory," the Professor said, walking to the side of her station and opened an access hatch in the wall where several isolinear chips appeared to still be active. "It may be that the holographic systems are being used as a bridge to previously inoperative machinery." She removed the master chip.

Suddenly, the bridge around them rippled, lcars panels and displays shutting down. In seconds, the bridge was as it had been prior to separation.

"She projected a holographic overlay to distract us," Hedra said, almost respectfully. "I should have thought of that."

The Commodore was still confused and couldn't be certain which was real - the broken bridge or the fully powered one. In her mind there was only one course of action.

"We're out of time," she spoke to her two female compatriots. "Miss Hedra, Professor: I want you to round up the survivors and make your way to any working escape pods. Standby to eject as soon as we come to a complete stop."

"Stop?" Narli quizzed her.

"You and me are going to help Murat stop this ship once and for all," she said, and boldly headed toward the jefferies tube - secretly hoping that she wasn't making a big mistake at enforcing such drastic measures.

* * *

COMMAND SECTION, SEPARATION PLANE WITH THE PASSENGER SECTION

"Now opening the first access," Collard's voice said into the helmet speakers of the assembled, suited-up search party.

As the airlock opened a fraction, air hissed into the dark space beyond. The girl who had introduced herself as 'Penge, a Philosophy Student' gasped, thinking it was a decompression. The experienced space travellers knew that the suction would have been far more powerful if that was the case. The rectangular plate in front of them rumbled upwards and the twelve suited volunteers stood their ground, ready for anything.

As the dim light spilled through intersection, they saw a wide transit with a high ceiling, about four metres long on the other side of the doorway. At the end of that was a second pressure door, narrower at the top than at the bottom, a tiny red light winking on and off beside it at hand height.

Lirik took point, as much to distance himself from the rest of the troupe to ensure his Medusan ambience didn't affect anyone.

"Remember, people," he advised them for a second time, "treat this the same as if you were out in space – we've no idea what conditions we'll find. You've all done walks in the past, that's why you've been selected. There's no telling what we will find so stay sharp. I don't need to remind you we're on a time limit, so no hanging around. Stick to the matter in hand. No-one takes any unnecessary risks, and keep together at all times."

The Yeoman reached the second door and pressed the red flashing button. It turned green as his finger pulled away and the bulkhead began its slow ascent. Another puff of air was sucked into the next space. They could all see a thicker companion pressure door behind it lifting, indicating this was the actual sheering plane of separation between the Command and Passenger sections of the ship. Lirik bravely crossed the threshold into the darkened space, now about 6 metres ahead of the rest who remained where they were.

O'Hara noticed the distinct increase in Lirik's pulse and respiration on her visor readout set to monitor the team's life signs. "Everything okay?" she asked.

Lirik smirked at her concern, though no one saw. He ignored the question and tapped his wrist-mounted scanner. "I'm now officially in the Passenger Section," he said chirpily. "Automatic systems appear to have activated. I'm reading low-level life support - gravity too. Let's hope the rest of the ship is as hospitable."

The subsequent pressure door had a huge bird carved stylistically in relief on the surface, just as the Deck One airlock did when they first boarded the Fantasy. Lirik activated the inner door control.

This access lifted quickly, startling Lirik. He glimpsed back to the group some ten metres behind him now as, gradually, uplighters grew in luminescence in the space ahead.

From O'Hara's distant viewpoint, the sight was bizarre. In the bright overhead lights Lirik stood on the verge of a wider corridor with a carpet of a rich crimson with gold and black outlines on either side. The walls were plain cream to hip height, then flock wallpaper of complementary colours to the carpet was hung from the mid-level trim up to the cream coloured ceiling. Brass and opalescent glass lamps were placed at intervals along the upper sides shining a warmer glow on the whole setting. Another four metres or so in front of Lirik, a pair of opaque glass doors began to grow in luminescence lit from the other side.

"Wow," Lirik voiced their combined feelings and thrust his sensor arm forward.

He stepped over the hatch onto soft carpet. On the wall to his right was an oblong black dark glass panel. Touching it, a standard old style Starfleet lcars readout showed that emergency power was active. Flashing below was the message 'Warning: Battery Power Levels At Minimum. Life Support Failure In 00:59:35:09' - the last two digits were whirling round, indicating a countdown in progress.

Lirik took off his helmet and breathed the air. Curiously, he could smell fresh paint. In fact, it appeared as if the whole place had been recently decorated. He ungloved his hands and retrieved a thigh-mounted tricorder, sweeping it in all directions.

"All clear!" he called and waved everyone to proceed. "Emergency battery power has kicked in - we've got just under an hour. You can unhelmet or unglove to conserve your suit's energy, but keep them with you at all times in case of a loss of atmospheric pressure."

The rest caught up and together, they all began the walk ahead. Lirik, Kohl and O'Hara led the way, side by side.

"Will you get a load of this place?" O'Hara casually announced as they swung the doors aside and stepped into a wide, square precinct. The carpet bled into a border that surrounded an ornate black and golden marble floor, intricate in pattern and highly polished. The ceiling was higher here, domed, and painted with heavenly scenes of a romantic style.

They all made their way into the wide area, spreading out. On both sides of the 'foyer', were four turbolifts, each set of doors surrounded with gilded metal frames and divided by thick columns of the same marble. The doors to the turbolifts themselves were constructed of milky glass held within a fretwork of shiny brass-like metal.

Four corridors identical in decor to the last led away from the 'foyer' on the opposite side of the square, two on either side of a large sweeping staircase in the same crimson carpet that dominated their view, launching upward, then forking left and right out of view. A grand painting of a romantic scene in a thick burnished gold frame dominated the wall on the landing.

The floor level exits were individually signposted with a polished wooden plaque with inlayed gold letters designating specific locations they would presumably lead to by foot.

"Waterpark?" Kohl mused to Lirik, standing to the left of the stairs. The deck ramped gently downward and then veered right, under the stairs.

"If you think that's strange," O'Hara said from the exit to his left, "this one says Holopark, the other Mall and Arboretum."

"Let's not get side-tracked," Lirik advised. "Can anyone see signs for Sick Bay or Engineering?" The party shook their heads or muttered 'no' into their collar mikes.

A "ping" caused them all to turn round as one. Vostaline, the Helan leader's daughter, was standing in front of one of the starboard turbolifts. The doors slid apart to reveal a luxuriously padded car with a recessed banquette seat for two. "Wouldn't these be quicker?"

Lirik wasn't sure, but time was ticking by. "Good idea. Both teams should split into two groups in case there is a problem with the turbolift system. If you become separated or lost, head back to the Command Section." He gripped O'Hara by the arm. "Check in every five minutes. Understood?"

While she gawped at his presumptuous superiority, Kohl didn't seem phased. Lirik gave her a quizzical look. She fake smiled for a split second and made for a turbolift with half her group.

* * *

COMMAND YACHT, ENGINEERING

Jackson and Narli approached the sleekly designed room seeing the unconscious forms of Karless and Murat just inside.

"They're alive," Jackson said, crouching to check for their pulses.

Jackson was about to enter the room and investigate further, but Narli gripped her wrist hard. "This is futile. We should get back to the bridge," he said urgently.

"What?!" as Jackson tried to protest he forcefully pulled her out into the corridor and away. The Commodore tried to struggle free, his hold was becoming painfully tight.

"Shh!" he whispered in warning as he frog marched her round the corner. Upon reaching the turbolift, Narli stopped and let go.

"What the hell are you doing?" the Commodore demanded in a hoarse whisper, following his line of sight.

"Someone was in there," the Ambassador informed her, then pointed to his antennae. "The image was faint, but in such a confined, dark space it was like a beacon."

"The agent?" Jackson was half excited, half scared to death.

Narli nodded. "She was using a personal cloaking device, it looked a lot like the ones the Jemm Hadar use." He pulled a personal phaser from under his robes.

"Wait, wait…" Jackson said, "how come you didn't notice the holographic overlay on the Bridge?"

"Excuse me?" the Ambassador was dumbfounded.

"I mean if you can detect a cloaked alien, how could you not detect a… flipping hologram?" she was genuinely confused.

"I can only surmise that the overlay was more substantial in nature," he said, "like actual replicated matter rather than a simple holographic projection."

The Commodore reflected for a moment. "So…like replicated matter?"

"Authentic holo-matter matrix," Narli said, "for the Passengers' real experience."

"Cloak or no cloak, we can't delay any more," Jackson snatched the phaser from him. She proceeded back the way they came, closely followed by the muted protests of the Andorian.

The Commodore strode up to the entrance and stopped in the doorway, aggressively holding the weapon at the ready. She pulled the Ambassador into the room with her and closed the doors.

"Is she still here?" Jackson asked Narli, who stood behind her, intrigued.

"Yes," he said, "in the far left corner."

Jackson aimed and fired - knowing full well the girl would probably get out the way. "Now that I have your attention," the Commodore set the phaser to overload. "You may want to stop this ship now, before we all die?"

The girl materialised on the far side of the room, scowling at the Commodore. "What? Not having enough fun, yet?" Pim shouted. "As if I'm bothered by your little toy."

The phaser was emitting a low noise, slowly growing in intensity. Jackson held the Andorian device up, examining it. "This is a Type…" she read the minute label with ease using her new spectacles, "X9 personal phaser. Being Andorian-made I imagine it is one of the more powerful phasers in the Federation."

"And highly unstable," the Ambassador cautioned her.

"No doubt," Jackson grinned wider - her game of bluff needed to be convincing. "I couldn't begin to tell you the blast radius…"

"Vapourisation effect to eleven point five metres," Narli prompted helpfully.

"Hm," Jackson regarded the device with renewed admiration. "Enough to take out this room and a good deal of the adjacent engine room as well, including the warp core?"

The girl threw her head back, flicking her hair violently out of the way. "So you want to kill yourselves, so what! Why should that concern me? You're as good as dead already."

The noise of the phaser was rising steadily. The Ambassador assumed it was beginning to get too hot to hold - the Commodore was evidently determined.

"Disable the security lock-outs and I'll shut it down," Jackson offered. Narli thought the Commodore had played her ace too soon.

"Ha!" Pim grimaced as her left wrist shook uncontrollably. She had to use her free hand to steady it.

"What's the matter, feeling nervous?" the Commodore stepped forward.

The girl bit her lip, her right eye flicking open and closed mechanically. "What do you hope to achieve by this? Prove how courageous you Starfleet types all are?" she walked back a pace.

Jackson took a couple more steps towards her. "Why not? You've been determined to show us how clever you are - and how determined you are to get your T'Kani friends aboard."

The girl backed up against the doors to the warp room, her whole body was visibly shaking. "The T'Kani always prevail," she said as a statement of fact rather than bravado.

"Isn't that funny, I was thinking the complete opposite. If I know my fellow Humans, they'll be resisting the T'Kani up to their dying breath on Helub," Jackson was creeped out by this small but powerful creature in front of her.

The phaser noise sang quite loudly and was excruciatingly hot. The girl turned and entered a code into the door panel – it wouldn't open. She looked back at the Commodore, this time with fear.

"You are a lot like the T'Kani," was all she shouted above the din, entering further commands and the door finally swished open.

As soon as the doors split apart, a Bat'Leth came crashing down on the girl's skull without any announcement, embedded to at least three inches.

In the nanoseconds prior to impact, Jackson's mouth dropped open in horror at what she was witnessing. She knew in that fragment of time she would not be able to give any warning, even if she'd wanted to - Kluless brought the weapon down with such force and accuracy.

Narli wasn't nearly as phased, expecting to witness the crimson horror of the Bajoran's head splitting in two. Instead the long curved tip sunk deep into the head with a loud "clunk". A trickle of blood and a clear liquid bubbled and seeped out. The girl's torso and limbs began to flail wildly, like a rag doll shaken violently.

Smoke and sparks flew out of the wound and Kluless quickly let go of his weapon, stepping away from her somewhat revolted by the outcome of his action. The weight of the Bat'Leth pulled the girl backwards onto the deck, although the blade remained firmly in place. To the rear of the warp core room Jackson spotted Warnerburg, Mister Hostas and Reb also coming to. Reb stared in a mixture of horror/pleasure, clamping his hands to his ears from the deafening roar of the phaser.

"An android?" Jackson was shocked, her words unheard under the tremendous noise. Narli grabbed the red hot phaser from Jackson and disarmed it, dropping the hot, quietening object to the floor immediately after.

"No time to waste," Narli prompted and stepped up to the main control. "What are we going to do about these lock-outs?"

"Time to intercept?" Jackson urged, approaching the calming girl, her chest rising and falling with machine-like rhythm, still impaled under Kluless' weapon.

"They'll be here in several minutes," he announced. "Commodore, the lock-outs?"

The Commodore crouched so she was at head-height with the prone Pim. The girl's eyelids suddenly flashed open. Rather than cute blue irises, her cornea was awash with a grey-blue milky mass. "You…think you have won…?" she said with a tinny accent.

"Let's make a deal," Jackson said. "If you give us the security code I promise we'll not destroy or dismantle you."

The girl tried to smile, creamy fluid trickled out of the sides of her mouth. "I am not T'Kani," Pim stated, her voice echoing eerily in the chamber, inferring that the T'Kani would be persuaded in such a situation. After a pause Pim spoke. "But… I do not wish to cease functioning. You… will…promise to let me go?"

"Of course," Jackson's heart was racing.

The girl swallowed. "Eight, eight, eight, eight, eight, Delta, eight…" her right eye cleared and looked at Jackson. "It was meant to be my age," she said.

"We're in!" Narli exclaimed from behind Jackson. "Turning us about." They all sensed the slight wobble as he simultaneously slowed the ship and made a tight turn, accelerating away in the opposite direction. A minute later, the ship juddered.

"We're taking fire from long range missiles," the Ambassador said. The simple navigation display showed the brief glow of the explosion behind the Command Yacht.

"Do we have shields?" Jackson walked up to him. Reb eased his way past the android, resisting the urge to kick it. Pim's eye locked onto his as he passed by, which was a macabre sensation. He found a free terminal and ran his fingers across it.

"Shields activated," Reb understood the basics of Starfleet and most Federation computer systems and easily replaced a subsystems monitor to function as a standard emergency bridge console. In its compact, intricate setting he could access any of the major areas within two spans. The ship rocked – another near miss enough to drain their defenses. The computer warbled a protest.

"Aft shields at 35 per cent," Reb stated.

* * *

COMMAND YACHT, UNKNOWN LOCATION

Christian fell off his perch. The ship had shaken for the second time and dislodged him. At the same moment, he heard the heavy thud-thud-thud footsteps coming nearer. The eyes seemed to be just a handful of steps away.

* * *

COMMAND YACHT, ENGINEERING

"Can we fire back?" Jackson asked. The ship shuddered.

Reb looked lost.

* * *

UNKNOWN LOCATION

Christian felt like a long human hair had fallen on his face. As he went to brush it aside there was nothing there. The rest of his exposed skin began to feel similar - like being gently caressed by many strands of delicate hair.

* * *

COMMAND YACHT, ENGINEERING

"Aft shields now at 30 per cent," Reb said. He scowled at the tactical system readings. "Phasers off-line. Reinitialising." His hands danced over the lcars interface - it seemed there was a separate, restricted access system beneath the main systems. None of it was active, so he had no idea why the phasers were routed through it, or indeed what functionality was there. It was a weird set up, even by his standards - nothing on the ship was straightforward. As he activated the sub-system a panel lit up on the adjacent position. On the main diagnostic slaved to the small wall-mounted display behind him, Narli watched the side elevation as decks drew apart, revealing other 'hidden' decks in between. The ship rocked again.

* * *

UNKNOWN LOCATION

Christian's heart was beating faster.

Then without warning, all the overhead lights in the room suddenly came on, blinding him.

He froze for a second, eyes tightly clamped shut by the unexpected brightness. Hard as he could he forced them to open a fraction. Through straining eyelids he made out something dark amid whitish-grey.

His eye muscles resisted and clamped shut again, tears streamed from his quivering pained lids. He managed to crack them open again and there was no mistaking - something dark and spider shaped was not far from him.

* * *