By: D.E. Brynelsen
"You never appreciate just how big a starship is," Commander Tamerin thought to herself as she picked through a debris-strewn corridor in the downed saucer section of the Enterprise-D, "until you have to get around one without turbolifts!" The saucer was all that was left of the Federation's flagship, destroyed in battle with a bird of prey commanded by the Duras sisters. It had come down in the wastelands of Veridian III cutting a wide swath through a primordial forest and desert as it crash-landed and skidded to a stop. Tamerin's ship, the Longworth was one of those sent out by Starfleet to rescue the surviving crew and retrieve whatever was salvageable before the saucer was dismantled and all traces of its presence eradicated per the Prime Directive. Tamerin thought of the 20th century Earth legend about a secret government agency whose job it was to hide the existence of extraterrestrials from the public at large, and laughed as she pictured herself in a black suit with dark sunglasses convincing a Veridian native that the giant spaceship he'd just seen fall from the sky and crash was all a figment of his imagination.
An ominous groan came from somewhere below. With the Structural Integrity fields' offline due to the emergency batteries having long ago exhausted their reserves, the saucer was slowly collapsing under its own weight. Already the bottom three decks had compacted down to the point where they were now inaccessible except to remotely operated drones.
"Commander?" Lt. Reginald Barclay touched her arm as he checked his tricorder. "We're getting close." He pointed into the darkness ahead with his palm light. As the beam played over buckled supports, and the shards from shattered access terminals, a low moan came from where the wind outside blew over a breach in the hull, the sound like that of a vengeful spirit angered by these intruders to its realm of the dead.
"This had better be worth it Reg," Tamerin said checking her own tricorder, "We're supposed to be three decks up."
"Oh it, it, is C, commander," Barclay stuttered, "Provided they survived the crash."
"Who survived the crash?" Tamerin asked, "Everyone, alive or dead has already been accounted for."
"I'm not talking about anyone in the crew." Barclay responded.
"Then who or what?" Just then Tamerin's commbadge chirped for attention. She slapped it as she said, "Tamerin here."
"Commander, were picking up some unusual readings from a lab in your vicinity. They've got Miss Alice very excited, can you check it out?"
"We're on the way there now, Tamerin out." She turned to her companion. "You care to elaborate on what it is we're looking for Reg?"
"It's best if you see for yourself Commander." He replied.
They reached the lab after several minutes of climbing over debris and forcing open doors stuck in buckled frames. It was filled with banks of computer access stations, their screens dark, tables with more equipment, and an alcove that Tamerin recognized as being part of a holographic configuration system, used for creating 3-D representations of equipment for study or aid in the design process, or for fine tuning items or characters used on the holodecks. Barclay went to one of the workbenches and after clearing off some fallen equipment, located what he was looking for; a small box, about two feet in length and about half that in height and width. Little telltales blinked weakly, indicating its power source was still functioning.
"What is it?" Tamerin asked as Barclay held it with a barely suppressed look of pride.
"There still in there," he said with a sigh of relief as he scanned the box, "I was afraid their patterns might have degraded or failed completely!"
"Who?" Tamerin said testily as another groan came from somewhere nearby. There was a muffled shriek of overstressed metal and the deck below them dropped nearly a meter. She recalled a historical holo-vid she'd seen at the Academy about an event from the first decade of the 21st century; of a pair of tall towers struck by commercial aircraft in an act of terrorism that had finally collapsed in on themselves as the weight of the floors high up became too much for the damaged support structure below them. The same thing was happening to the saucer section to a smaller extent. "In case you haven't noticed it Reg, this is not the safest place to be right now! What is this, some kind of mini transporter buffer? Are you telling me someone tried to repeat Captain Scott's feat and await rescue by reducing themselves to their atoms?"
"Nothing like that Commander," Barclay replied. "They're two self aware holographic entities, much like your Miss. Alice."
Tamerin thought about the holographic avatar the Longworth's self aware main computer had created for itself, correction, herself, in order to interact with the crew. Modeling herself on an early 20th century woman whom she believed the ship had been named for, Alice was able to roam its corridors at will thanks to all the holo-emitters installed. She was also a closely guarded secret, which made Barclay's knowing about her to be rather surprising.
There was another short metallic scream and the room tilted abruptly. "We can discuss this topside," Tamerin said as she slapped her commbadge. "Tamerin to Longworth, two to beam up!"
"Nate, they're two beings just like me!" Alice paced back and forth in front of the desk in the Captain's ready room, a soft swish coming from her petticoats. "They're totally self aware, which makes them a life form!"
Behind the desk Captain Nathaniel Bryson leaned back in his chair as he stroked his slight beard. Arrayed on the bulkheads between the tall windows that looked out into space were images and photographs of his ancestors with whom he shared his name; a 17th century pirate, a man of the early 1900's standing before a plantation house on an island in the Caribbean along with his two small daughters, a man in World War two fighter pilot's gear, and a man standing surrounded by several antique aircraft including a massive flying boat. "The jury's still out on that point concerning you sweetheart," He smiled, "Mainly because the higher ups don't want another circus sideshow like the one they went through concerning Picard's Commander Data, and he was the only one of his kind."
"You're forgetting Lore Nate." Alice said stopping and folding her arms.
"Okay, one of two of his kind. My point is; word gets out that there are more holograms that are capable of thinking for themselves just like you running loose, and we're going to have everyone from the Federation Council on down jumping on this and us."
"And what's wrong with that?" Alice retorted as her attire shimmered and changed until she wore a white blouse and long skirt and a large flower bedecked hat. A sash running from her left shoulder to her right waist was embroidered with the words Votes for Holograms, and she held a sign on a stick that read: We demand our rights!
"Because they might take you away from me." Bryson said softly. "And I don't think I could go through losing you again." His thoughts turned back to two years previous and a battle with an alien race near the Carnak Sector. A shot from the enemy had punched through a weakened point in the shields and struck right in the vicinity of the central computer core, causing a massive systems overload and cascade failures. As he and others had attempted to download her program and matrix, Alice had reeled off a list of damaged and failing systems in a dull monotone until she had uttered the words: "Is this what it is to die?" and just before her photons dissipated, "Nate, I'm afraid!"
"But you got me back." Alice said as she came around the desk.
"Only because you had the foresight to copy yourself into a bunch of the Gnats and beam them down to the planet." Bryson replied roughly, "Command would take everything, including the main core back to headquarters where they'd analyze you bit by bit to see why it is you are what you are."
"But Nate, these entities that Abbie brought back, don't you believe they have as much right to exist as I do?"
"Yes," Bryson answered slowly, " which is why I've given Mr. Barclay clearance to let your cousins out of their box in one of the holodecks, he should be about ready by now." He got up from behind the desk and offered his arm to Alice. "We'll take this one step at a time. Now let's go down and introduce ourselves."
In Holodeck three Lt. Barclay was working with a pair of technicians as Bryson and Alice entered. Behind them in the corridor a goofy looking cartoon rabbit in red overalls was running pell-mell looking for a place to dispose of the large black sphere with a sizzling fuse stuck in the top he carried. "We'll be ready in a moment Sir," one of the techs said looking up at the new arrivals.
"Good, I want the emitters outside disabled until we know what we're dealing with." Bryson said brusquely. There was muffled boom from outside the holodeck, causing him to run a hand over his face. "And have someone throw a net over Roger and take him back where he belongs!" he added with a sigh.
"We're ready now." Barclay reported as he made a last connection. Bryson nodded and the engineer flipped a series of switches. The box hummed and shortly thereafter two figures began to coalesce on the hologrid. As they formed, they revealed themselves to be a man and woman in late Victorian dress, the man sandy haired and dressed in a severe black frock coat, while his companion wore an elaborate red and black ladies promenade ensemble complete with a large pinwheel hat with long feathers.
"Where are we?" the man demanded, "Why have you?" his eyes fell upon Barclay. "Mr. Barclay, so I take it we're back aboard the Enterprise?"
"No, you're aboard my vessel, the USS Longworth." Bryson replied stepping forward. "I'm Captain Nathaniel Bryson, and you are?"
"Professor James Moriarty at your service Captain." The man replied. He indicated his companion. "And this is,"
"Regina, Countess Bartholomew" The woman said in an aristocratic tone. She eyed Alice with the air of a queen confronted by a peasant. "And you are?"
"Alice, Princess of Sagamore." Alice replied drawing herself up and matching the other woman in distain.
"Why have you interrupted our journey Captain?" Moriarty demanded, "Why have we been seized against our wills and brought aboard?"
"Your Journey?" Bryson began, but was stopped by a shake of Barclay's head.
"A moment of your time Captain?" he said in a whisper as he guided Bryson away from the others. "I think I should explain a few things before we go further. As far as the Professor and the Countess know, they've been exploring the galaxy aboard a shuttle for the past year or so."
"You mean they don't realize they're only holograms?" Bryson asked.
"Oh they know. It's just that they've been lead to believe Captain Picard and myself gave them corporeal bodies. It might take a while to explain."
"I've got the time." Bryson sighed shaking his head.
To be continued