|10 years ago the Federation was attacked by their most fearsome enemy, the Borg - but how far are they willing to go to protect themselves now?|
Captain Jane Povich trudged wearily along the spartan corridor towards the automatic doors at the end. They were merely two sliding plates of pressed alloy but as they would swing open they would do so on the final chapter of her career and she knew it only too well.
At each of her shoulders was a burly security officer from the ranks of the Olympus crew. She glanced back to the stony faced expression on a man who refused to meet her gaze, his eyes churning with hatred towards her that sickened her to her stomach. She knew what she'd become to the eyes of Starfleet and now saw her action in the same light and was beginning to despise herself for it.
The three of them finally reached the doorway and the man behind stepped forwards and pressed the request access button. A chirp sounded from the electronic hatchway and then silence.
She bit her lip nervously while the seconds ticked past in the corridor, an awkward silence permeated the atmosphere from her two guardians until the reply finally issued from the speaker.
"Bring her in!" The voice said with a stoic formality to the words that barely masked the contempt of the person who had spoken them.
The doors slid open on the large briefing room at the rear of the Olympus bridge. At the head of the table sat Admiral Crowe, a high ranking officer with a long running involvement in Starfleet intelligence and a poor person to cross in the way that the Captain had. She looked over to the other faces that glared back at her coldly. Captain Reader she knew already and several other faces were familiar also.
"Sit down please!" The Admiral told her, the tone of her voice hiding little of her resentment.
Captain Povich duly complied with the instruction and sat at the foot of the table with her head hung sadly as if in defeat.
"As you know, all charges against you for your membership of Section 31 have been dropped in exchange for your co-operation." The Admiral began as if slightly disappointed that she couldn't punish her more. "This interview will help us to get the facts straight in the matters concerning the events you took part in."
Ensign Katherine Rogers knotted her fingers together tightly as she glowered with a hatred she did little to disguise.
"Yes sir." The Captain muttered in agreement.
"This is not a formal hearing." Captain Reader told her. "We have your logs such as they are and have completed the survey scans of your vessel, we just want to hear your side of the story."
"Let me remind you of something." The Admiral cut in angrily. "You still face a large number of very severe charges for your crimes and you are being monitored constantly. If you refuse in any way to co-operate with these investigations then we will reinstate all the charges and prosecute you to the full extent of the law."
"I intend to co-operate fully." Captain Povich told her, her voice low and apologetic as if that of a small child being scolded by an angry parent.
The Admiral nodded to herself in satisfaction, her hands together in front of her face.
"Ensign Rogers has agreed to be present as a witness." Captain Reader told her. "And I will be able to offer evidence to give us a more rounded perspective on what happened."
"I understand." She said softly.
"I have read the preliminary reports." The Admiral explained. "You may begin."
"May I say something before I start." The Captain swallowed nervously.
"Continue." The Admiral agreed grudgingly.
"Thank you." She nodded. "I just wanted to say that I very deeply regret my involvement in what occurred."
"I think it's a little late for that!" Katherine scowled.
"I also deeply regret the death of Captain Girling." She said awkwardly. "From what little I know of him he was a fine officer."
"He was." Katherine agreed with unmasked hostility.
"Please begin!" The Admiral turned from her written reports.
"As you all know…" Captain Reader began. "It all started for us two weeks ago when we detected something heading toward Federation space."
"I've analysed the data that Reader sent us!" Haldo shrugged at the Corinthian's briefing table.
"And?" Captain Girling asked as he gestured for him to continue.
"The object heading towards our space is large and definitely artificial." He explained his interpretation of the findings. "Whatever it is it's only just registered on our border detector stations."
"Is it a threat of some kind?" Katherine asked.
"There's definitely radiation coming off of it which is why it wasn't detected before but I don't see that it would pose a threat to the outer systems. It's coming in very slowly." Haldo shrugged.
"So why send us?" Katherine asked, glancing around to the Captain.
"Because they can!" Haldo laughed. "They've never had a long range scout ship with Transwarp before, we can go out, take some scans and bring back enough data to have this thing analysed months before it lumbers into our borders."
"It makes sense." Blake agreed. He rubbed his head thoughtfully. "How long would it take us to get there at Transwarp?"
Haldo shrugged. "This ship is pretty erratic. The Transwarp velocity varies but I think about an hour should get us there, another three to thoroughly scan the object."
"A five hour round trip!" Blake shrugged. "Nothing exciting has happened to us, we certainly have no leads to follow up."
"We'll need to top up the Deuterium tanks." Haldo told him. "The ship has used more fuel already than a Galaxy class would expend in a year of normal operations."
"She is a thirsty ship!" Captain Girling smiled. "But she's worth it!"
"I suppose." Haldo huffed as if in only part agreement but deep down he loved the ship as much as anyone, maybe more.
"So we go then?" Katherine asked.
"We've never travelled that long at Transwarp before." Blake turned to his engineer with a thoughtful frown. "Can she take it?"
"I should think so!" Haldo furrowed his brow. "We've taken no damage from our other trips but this ship is so radically different from anything that's gone before that it's difficult to say for certain."
"We can always drop out of Transwarp!" Ensign Rogers suggested. "If anything happened then the field would dissipate, wouldn't it?"
"Who knows?" Blake scratched his head and smiled thinly.
"Well I'd like to think that you would…" Haldo frowned. "Your brain is rattling round in the computer system."
"The computer doesn't know." Blake shrugged. "It's never done this before."
The nacelles retracted back into the sides of the hull as the internal systems reconfigured, sending power to the field emitters to generate a Transwarp portal in which the ship could travel beyond warp speed.
With a flash the small ship was drawn into a glowing blue vortex of swirling energy, a temporary tunnel through the fabric of subspace.
Captain Girling sat at the command seat at the heart of his bridge as the tension grew among the crew during the long journey.
"Something is definitely wrong!" Haldo said, adding to the growing uneasiness.
"I can feel it." Blake agreed. "I couldn't tell you what it is though."
"That's fair!" Haldo smirked. "I couldn't tell you what the problem is either. It's like the energy creating the vortex is building up in front of us and the Transwarp coils are feeding more energy trying to overcome it."
"There's no reason why that should be happening!" Doctor Jones shook his head. "According to the design specifications the Transwarp tunnel should remain stable as long as power is being fed to the coils."
"No offence." Haldo began, clearly building to something that would give just that effect. "You could fill a warehouse with the mistakes you made when you built this thing!"
"None taken." He grumbled sheepishly, not wanting to provoke him. "I just can't see what's going on!"
"How long?" Captain Girling called out.
"Transwarp threshold contact in 2.4 minutes." Goruss Clogg called out from his station.
"Threshold contact?" Haldo sniggered towards Blake. "He adds a much needed sense of discipline, doesn't he?"
"Very much needed!" Blake agreed with a low grumble. "Can we hold out that long?"
"Structural integrity fields are stable." Clogg reported.
"I think we can make it." Haldo agreed.
"You think?" Blake turned to his engineer.
"Best I can do until I have time to analyse the problem properly." Haldo shrugged. "But the good news is that if you die, I die right along side you."
"That is good news." Katherine agreed hesitantly. "We could all be sharing the after-life with Haldo eternally running diagnostics to find out what went wrong."
"Let's make sure that doesn't happen!" Blake agreed with a grin.
The Corinthian exploded out of the conduit in a blaze of glowing energy, tumbling slightly as her thrusters fired to correct her geometry.
"I'm detecting damage!" Haldo cried out as a warning light began flashing on his console. "It's the Transwarp conduit!" Blake jumped up suddenly from the centre-chair. "It's ruptured."
"I'm isolating it and cutting power." Haldo told him, his fingers dancing wildly across the computer interface.
"The coil is collapsing!" Doctor Jones warned. "It's drawing in power."
"He's right." Haldo jumped up. "We need to eject the coil!"
"There's no ejection mechanism…" Doctor Jones cried out. "We didn't think this could possibly happen."
"I guess we need a bigger warehouse for your mistakes!" Haldo frowned. "We could beam it out."
"I'm locking on." Blake told them. "Transporters are fixed on the coil, I'm beaming it off now."
"No you're not!" Haldo shook his head as a warning appeared on his engineering screen. "Too much radiation from the coils, it's scattering the Transporter signal."
Blake frowned deeply, concentrating on the computer, his mind trying to overcome the problems.
"I've isolated the radiation frequency!" Doctor Jones called out as the ship began to shudder. "Try it now…"
"I've got it." Captain Girling sighed in relief as the coil dematerialised from its mountings and appeared off the ship in a ball of glowing blue light.
"Shields are up!" Goruss Clogg shouted, his eyes fixed on the glowing orb as his panel warned him of the amount of raw energy broiling away inside the coils.
"It won't explode." Haldo said softly, staring disappointedly at the coil as the lights began to die away. "The energy will dissipate naturally."
"It's not good, is it?" Ensign Rogers asked with a sense of impending doom.
"From my readings it's bad. Very bad." Haldo shook his head sorrowfully as the coil went cold and dark, a smouldering block of metal floating haphazardly in space.
"The coil is fused, isn't it?" Blake sighed.
"I think so." Haldo agreed softly.
"At least we're alive." Goruss Clogg said from the rear of the bridge. "We can just replicate a new one, can't we?"
Doctor Jones turned to him and shook his head sadly.
"How long will it take to get home at maximum warp?" Blake asked.
"Three years." Haldo told him. "Give or take stopping off for repairs but we can't make it the way this thing uses fuel."
"And it would take us two years to replicate a new coil because of the complexity of the linings." Doctor Jones added for good measure.
"So we're stuck here…" Katherine groaned. "All alone!"
"Just us and our mission!" Captain Girling clapped his hands together and put the problems out of his mind for now. "We need to locate the object and begin our scans."
"Are you serious?" Doctor Jones started in surprise.
"Deadly." Blake agreed with an expression that gave little suggestion of a lack of sincerity. "We're going to move to the object and begin a detailed analysis. In the mean time, Haldo and Doctor Jones can take the shuttle and recover the Transwarp coil to see if there's any chance of a repair that might shorten our homeward journey!"
"Me and him?" Haldo asked, folding his arms over his chest and scoffing at the idea.
"It's not open for debate." Blake turned to him with a look of utter resignation.
"Alright." Haldo agreed grudgingly.
The Corinthian's nacelles swung out from the narrow hull and locked forwards to allow the normal warp drive to operate.
Blake led the Haldo Compz and Doctor Jones along a seemingly unfinished tunnel to the rear shuttle-bay.
"So you finally found the shuttle?" Haldo asked as the sound of their footsteps echoed around the bare metal corridor.
"I always knew where it was." Blake smiled a reply. "What kind of shuttle do you need?"
Haldo frowned to himself. "I thought there was only a Type 6 in here?" He asked.
"We have a wide variety of shuttles in the bay." Captain Girling told him with a smile.
"There was barely room for one!" The Doctor shook his head. "And we couldn't even find that after the ship initialised!"
Blake reached out for the door control. "The ship recycled it!" He smiled. "The pattern was stored in the replicator, I can make any shuttle I like."
"You can replicate a whole shuttle on demand?" Haldo asked slightly uneasily. "How long would that take?"
"Virtually instant." Blake told him. "There's a Type 6 behind this door right now."
"I see." Doctor Jones cast a troubled glance towards Haldo. "So you can instantly replicate a shuttle now…"
"And we're ignoring the fact that that's impossible?" Haldo added for good measure.
The Corinthian glided away from the shuttle as the small boxy craft left to retrieve the wreckage of the Transwarp coil. The ship slunk along towards the object, scanning forwards with her powerful detection grid.
"I'm detecting something…" Ensign Rogers told them as she temporarily manned the science station.
"I should hope so." Blake said sarcastically as the massive object swam into view in the holographic projector at the fore of the bridge. The object was massive, a huge irregular mass of machinery with two gigantic opening at the front that could easily swallow a pair of Galaxy class Starships.
"No, not that thing!" She shook her head and frowned. "I'm detecting an energy spike of some kind in front of the object."
"There is a very strange radiation coming off the object." Goruss said conversationally. "The scanners can't seem to lock onto anything properly. Targeting scanners are completely off-line."
"Whatever that thing is, it's not going to shoot at us!" Katherine told him. "It looks completely inert."
"If it's dead then why is it generating radiation?" Clogg replied. "I'm maintaining a manual weapons lock."
"What is this energy spike you're detecting?" Blake asked, turning away from the impressive spectacle of the huge lump of machinery tumbling lazily through space.
"It could be a ship!" She raised an eyebrow. "I'm no expert but it could be the residual energy signature of a cloaking device."
"Confirmed!" Goruss Clogg replied. "It's phasing badly, if it's a cloak then it's failing."
"Red alert!" Blake said firmly as the weapon systems on the Corinthian instantly snapped into a state of readiness, the exposed sections reconfiguring to fire energy beams and the forward Phaser cannon glowing dully to life.
"It's a ship alright." Goruss Clogg said finally as his tactical analysis came through. "Their cloak together with this radiation is making it difficult to get a good scan."
"It's good enough." Blake told him. A thought struck him and he turned to his tactical officer. "Can you fire a phaser beam with just enough energy to collapse the cloak but not harm the ship?"
"I imagine so." Clogg nodded. "Graviton field tactical cloaks all run on a similar technology, I can have a firing solution for you in a few seconds."
Blake smiled to himself. Adjusting the beam intensity was something he could do himself in an instant with his neural connection to the ship but he wanted to see if his new officer was capable of applying subtlety as well as he applied caution.
"The beam is ready and I've got a manual lock on the target." Goruss Clogg reported finally after a few seconds of calculations.
"Wide beam." Blake ordered. "Fire."
The Phaser cannon in the nose fired a steady stream of crackling orange energy into the cloaked vessel. The ship flickered as the cloak began to fail and then suddenly the field collapsed with a crackling surge of electricity that licked across the ships hull.
"It's Federation!" Clogg announced in surprise. "Not Starfleet, I don't recognise the configuration but it looks a recent design."
"Maybe Section31." Blake sneered as the Corinthian computer fed him the information from its memory banks. "It's not appearing in any of their identification tables."
"How did it get out here?" Katherine asked.
"Judging from the condition of it I'd guess it came here at warp." Clogg answered her. "She looks like she'd not had any proper maintenance in years."
The vessel swam large in the viewer, a rounded forward hull with two long booms snaking backwards containing the warp nacelles that glowed a deep flickering blue.
"I'm not detecting shields." Blake turned to his officers. "No weapons either."
"They're virtually dead in the water." Goruss reported. "Minimal life-support, damage to all systems, probably from maintaining a high warp factor for way too long."
"They came here at Warp?" Katherine frowned deeply. "That would have taken years and we've only just discovered this thing! How did they know to come out here?"
"Maybe it's time we found out!" Captain Girling smiled at the prospect of going aboard and satisfying his curiosity. "The derelict can wait!"
Haldo Compz sat at the command chair aboard the small type 6 shuttle as the Corinthian's Transwarp coil showed on the scanner display. He punched the padded wall and was mildly relieved that it felt as solid as he thought it should. He nodded to himself and glanced over it with a mild suspicion before turning his interest back to his work.
"What do you think?" Doctor Jones asked. "We could tow it home but we wouldn't be able to go at warp. Perhaps we should beam it aboard?"
Haldo ignored him and continued his scans.
"You still don't like me, do you?" The Doctor shook his head.
"Why should I like you?" Haldo asked grumpily, glaring out menacingly from under his brow, his gaze fixed on the display but his attention wandered elsewhere. "You're a Section 31 scientist, you're responsible for lies, pain and death!"
"Am I?" The Doctor shook his head. "You don't know anything about me."
"I know all I need to know about you and people like you." Haldo growled.
"I know what you are, Haldo!" The Doctor told him firmly. He snapped round angrily and glowered at the small scientist. "I know that your race was a genetically modified strain of Humans. I know you were left alone believing you were an alien and the last of your kind."
"But you don't know what that was like!" Haldo told him angrily, his voice beginning to rise in volume and aggression. "My family believed they were all going to die because of men like you!"
"My family did die!" Doctor Jones snapped back. "They were killed when I was just a boy."
Haldo opened his mouth to speak but somehow words failed him.
"I was five when my family were killed, attacked by raiders on a science outpost." He began sadly as if opening an old emotional wound that had not yet fully healed. "They were out near the neutral zone close to the Romulan side. The colony had taken no moves to defend themselves, they just relied on Starfleet to save them. The survivors waited for three days before a Starship arrived to help them."
"It's a tough Galaxy." Haldo grumbled emptily.
"I know it is!" Jones agreed with still a hint of annoyance. "I made it my work to help the Federation. I worked reverse-engineering technology but it just took too long to go through proper channels, that was why I accepted an offer from Section 31. I'm not a medical scientist but the technology captured from the Borg could benefit all of mankind as well as helping us to defend ourselves from their next attack!"
"Is that what you believe?" Haldo asked quietly.
"I grew up being bounced from one Federation outpost to another looking for foster parents and a good education, sometimes the system just fails." He grimaced. "The technology in Blake and the others could change our world. The Borg template generates shields to protect from weapons, it hides you from sensors, it allows you to replicate objects at will, it could even replace damaged organs or be integrated into transporters and ships computers later on like Blake is with the Corinthian."
"Maybe the Borg started by thinking that way." Haldo sneered.
"And maybe they didn't!" Jones told him. "I did what I did to help people the best way I know how and let me assure you that you don't have the market cornered on misery, we've all had our fair share!"
"And what about my kind?" Haldo argued but without much passion.
"They were all volunteers." Jones told him. "You only know what you were told as a child, your memories and fantasies have mixed together so much that you know nothing for sure!"
Haldo turned his attention back to the display while his mind chewed over what he'd heard.
"I guess we should beam the coil aboard." He said finally.
"We could beam it into the passenger compartment but we'll have to erect a force-field around the control room." The Doctor replied thoughtfully.
"Agreed." Haldo said with a hint of reluctance.
The torchlight didn't seem to make a lot of difference on board the abandoned ship. Blake scanned the corridor with his tricorder and squinted but the dim emergency lights seemed bright to his eyes and he wondered if they were unusually bright or some implant was at work inside him. The air was stale and tasted dirty as he sniffed in a deep lung full. Service panels were missing where the crew had made brash repairs or possibly fed the plating back into the replicator for energy. All around him were signs of a ship that had slowly ran out of hope with a resourceful crew making constant adaptations as she went.
"It smells like the Corinthian did when we first went aboard!" Katherine commented as she waved her light around in the gloom. "Looks like it too."
"There's a certain sense of determination here." Blake said rhetorically. "Whatever they were doing they really believed in the mission."
"I'm still getting no life signs!" She told him with a shrug. "The ship seems totally unmanned."
"It's still intact." Captain Girling said thoughtfully. "They wouldn't come this far and then just abandon it!"
"What about the derelict vessel?" Ensign Rogers suggested. "They could have gone over there!"
"All of them?" He shook his head and frowned. "It doesn't make sense."
Goruss Clogg stood behind them brandishing a phaser pistol. He was clearly agitated and snapped around suddenly, raising his weapon at shadows.
"Clogg?" Blake asked finally. "Are you ok?"
"Something happened here!" He replied, his voice low and respectful, as if he knew he was walking on someone's grave.
"I think we got that!" Katherine smiled. "Maybe they left a program running, perhaps an EMH?"
"Good idea!" Blake nodded. "You go down to sickbay, I'll go to the Bridge and see what's up there!"
"And me, sir?" Clogg asked.
"Go with Ensign Rogers." Blake told him as he nodded towards her.
"Perhaps the engine room?" Clogg suggested.
Katherine shrugged and snapped closed the tricorder. "I'll be fine." She assured them both. "There's nobody left here, the Corinthian is maintaining a transporter lock on all of us and no matter how badly malfunctioning an EMH is, it won't be able to hurt me."
"The engine room then." Blake nodded. "I want you both to check in when you get there. If you find anything then get in touch immediately."
Haldo Compz stepped onto the Corinthians bridge to find it deserted except for the two officers at the front who always worked in silence.
"We really need to find a name for those two!" Doctor Jones pointed to the two officers.
"Yeah." He agreed hesitantly. "Where the hell is everybody?"
"And what the hell is that?" Doctor Jones pointed to the scout ship floating in the viewer.
Haldo glanced up, following the Doctors finger. He frowned deeply and reached for his Comm badge. "Haldo to Girling."
"You're back?" Blake replied. "We're visiting a Starfleet ship we found."
"So I see." Haldo stepped closer to the screen. "I've never seen anything like it, what is that ship?"
"I was hoping you could tell us!" Blake replied. "I can't find any record of it in the Starfleet archives."
"I could check the protected Section 31 files?" Doctor Jones suggested, eager to help.
"How's my Transwarp coil?" Blake asked.
"Not good!" Haldo sighed. "The silicon filaments are heavily damaged and we can't easily replicate them. I think I can bodge it back together but it won't give us much speed if I do."
"Make a start!" Blake instructed. "We might need it, give me as much as you can. Doctor, I'd like you to tell me everything you can find about this ship."
"Yes sir!" He replied enthusiastically.
Goruss Clogg stepped into the main engineering bay. It was a large room in comparison to the slightly cramped feel of the rest of the vessel. The consoles were still alive with scrolling engineering displays but the lights were low and the support beams were bathed in dull red lights from the emergency batteries.
He slowly made his way across the bare metal floor towards the warp core. At the heart of the room was the reaction chamber, fed from a towering pillar of flickering blue light wrapped in polished metal. He glanced down the column which disappeared into an opening in the floor. The system appeared to be functioning although the power levels were helplessly low.
He ran his hands over a service panel where the hatches had been discarded on the floor. Behind them was a jumbled mess of circuitry where some kind of repair or modification had been started.
He took a deep breath and turned away from the core. He could feel his heart thumping in his abdomen at the way the craft felt. There was an almost tangible sense of malice to the ship, as if it was floating up to his senses on the stale recycled air. He could hear every chirp from the controls, every sigh of the hull as it flexed uneasily with the stuttering energy from the support fields.
He shook his head to dispel the images that were haunting him as he reminded himself firmly that he was a professional and a professional tactical officer at that.
As he continued his cursory exam he noticed a large piece of machinery behind the core. He looked over the thing, a tall mass of jumbled equipment with a dull yellow glow throbbing uneasily inside it. It was connected up to the power matrix with a mass of cabled and hard-point circuits that had been pulled from the banks of systems.
"Computer?" He asked. His inquiry was replied to with silence. He cursed silently and stared fixedly at the modifications to the engines. Something just didn't feel right.
Captain Girling stepped onto the bridge of his ship with Katherine and his chief security officer.
"I've found some details about the Pulsar!" Doctor Jones stood up in his enthusiasm and pointed wildly at the ship that drifted before them.
"Go on!" Blake told him as he settled into his command chair.
"The Pulsar was part of a project to replace the Oberth class for a new general science vessel." He began. "The other two vessels put forwards were the Nova and the Hubble class developments. The Hubble was just an update of the Oberth and failed to get off the drawing board but both of the others went to prototype."
"And the Nova proved to be the superior ship and was adopted?" Katherine suggested.
"No!" The Doctor grinned. "The Pulsar outperformed it in every trial but the design was halted and the prototype was mothballed."
"So what's it doing out here?" Blake asked rhetorically, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.
"Good question!" The Doctor agreed. "What did you find aboard?"
"Not much!" Katherine told him. "The EMH had been deleted as well as most of the archive records which is odd in itself. Everything they didn't need was wiped out to make space for some new data but whatever that was it's either gone or was never loaded."
"The prototype has been modified." Blake told him. "The shuttlebay has been turned into a fuel store with new tanks fitted and we found the pattern of a cloaking device in the replicator files."
"So it's not Starfleet?" The Doctor frowned.
"Section 31?" Blake asked knowingly. "They could have taken the ship."
"The ship would have been well suited to a very long journey at high warp!" The Doctor said thoughtfully. "Section 31 have their own vessels but most are either refitted Starships or have to be built in secret. They aren't usually as sophisticated as this vessel!"
"We found some engine modifications too." Blake spun around to face the viewer. "I'd like Haldo to look over them when he gets a chance."
"I think we should be more interested in what happened to the crew?" Goruss Clogg told them from his station.
"There was no cellular residue that would indicate anything violent happened!" Ensign Rogers told him flatly. "And all of the medical supplies were fully loaded."
"Maybe there was no crew?" Blake suggested. "Perhaps the ship was automated and sent here!"
"The Pulsar class required a crew of 40 to operate it properly!" Doctor Jones shook his head and frowned. "Section 31 didn't like to use unmanned equipment as it can't adapt to the unexpected like a resourceful humanoid can."
"Alright!" Blake breathed heavily and glanced up at the viewer as the angle suddenly shifted to the derelict alien vessel. "I guess our investigation continues on the ship!"
"If it is a ship!" Katherine shuddered involuntarily at the daunting sight of the vast alien craft.
The object was a gigantic hulking mass drifting listlessly through space. It was a vast irregular shape with appendages clawing out from its tattered heart. A gaping entrance lay at the front big enough to swallow a fleet of small vessels. Hull plating was jagged and torn from minor collisions that had occurred in its journey and engineering sections lay smashed over its body.
The Corinthian drifted cautiously towards the massive craft as her powerful scanners felt their way inside as best they could, reaching out to caress it with unseen fingers of energy.
"There's a lot of radiation coming off of it." Haldo grunted as he tried adjusting the bandwidth. "It's effecting the sensor definition."
"Can we transport?" Blake asked as the image filled the viewer.
"Yes." Haldo shrugged. "But only at short range. I'd recommend going into the heart of it, then I could scan it properly and we'd be able to beam just about anywhere inside it."
"You want to go inside?" Clogg asked in disbelief.
"That is why we're here!" Blake agreed. "We're meant to be explorers… check your job description!"
"Shields will protect the ship more than adequately." Haldo told the security officer. "I'm even detecting pockets of atmosphere littered around the thing, there may even be some power!"
"Atmosphere?" Katherine asked in surprise.
"M-class…" Haldo agreed. "We could go in there without survival suits!"
"Yeah, but would we want to?" The Captain smirked.
"Check my job description…" Haldo grinned. "I'm no explorer!"
"Well we are going aboard!" Blake said finally as his decision was made. "I'd like you on my team, Haldo!"
"I thought you might!" He complained weakly. "Do I have a choice?"
"Not really." Blake replied turning to the others. "Katherine, Clogg, you're with me!"
The four of them materialised in a large hollow chamber with bold engineering pipes running through the roof and walls. The material was metallic and was heavily stained by corrosion and wear.
Every footstep they made sent echoes bouncing around the cavernous hall as the four of them glanced about.
Haldo snapped open his tricorder and began scanning. "So far so good." He nodded. "Lots of tarnished metals with a strange crystalline composition. I couldn't tell you exactly what the ship is made of but I can tell you that it's made of a lot of it."
"I'm detecting more of that radiation!" Katherine frowned. "It's permeating through everything and is being refracted through the structure of the ship making it hard to compensate for."
"Any idea how old this thing is?" Blake asked as he stepped closer to a rusty metal pipe.
"Not yet." Haldo admitted. "But I think I've found something in which you might be interested!"
Haldo led the group to the far end of the room, his eyes fixed on his tricorder as he shuffled along in the gloom. "There!" He pointed. At the edge of the room was a small cylinder with a glowing metallic dome and a series of small vents around the edges.
"That's a portable life support generator." Katherine said in surprise. "It's one of ours."
"The crew of the Pulsar must have brought them aboard." Blake said thoughtfully. "At least we know that there was a crew on board her now."
"Which only leaves the question of what happened to them." Goruss Clogg said coldly with a hint of nervousness as the possibilities sent a shudder up his spine.
"Captain!" Haldo looked up from his tricorder. "I'm detecting life signs!"
"Where?" Blake frowned.
"Close by." He replied. "There's an energy shield of some kind around this whole section but I'm cutting through it. I'm detecting at least three people."
"Human?" Katherine asked with a growing sense of Clogg's infectious trepidation.
"I can't tell." He shrugged as he began walking towards his findings.
"Wait!" Blake called out, grabbing his engineer by the shoulder and stopping him. "Me and Clogg will go first. We don't know what we're going to find down there!"
Doctor Harold Jones sat at his console on the bridge of the Corinthian. The external view showed a gloomy image of the small ship inside a cavernous bay of twisted and ancient metal. He quietly continued his investigation into the Pulsar, a missing vessel that had never made enough of an impact to be mentioned in Starfleet records.
She had been crewed by a small number of officers for her trials but they had all gone on to serve on other vessels and were easily accounted for. He glanced up at the weathered vessel and a cold shudder traced it's way up his spine like a spider crawling over his flesh with venomous fangs poised to sink into his unprotected flesh. He breathed out and shook his head and smiled at his own lack of scientific objectivity.
He looked up again and with the press of a few buttons the viewer showed the bay that they were inside of and the shudder returned. It was claustrophobic, as if the metal around him were mocking him, as if her was in the hand of some gigantic metal demon that was about to close it and capture him forever.
Blake kept his body close to the wall as the pair made their way quietly towards the life signs before them. Clogg remained slightly behind him, slightly nervously which was deeply out of character for him. Blake silently made a mental note to have a long discussion about his attitude at a later date. Perhaps he wasn't the right man for the job after all.
They rounded the last corner to find a short corridor which led to a small room at the end of a greying mess of bulkheads and tubing. A small yellow emergency light flickered in the distance, the first sign of movement that they'd actually seen beyond the shadows that were sent scurrying from the darkness by the light of their own torches. Blake gestured to Clogg that he intended to go first and made his way as quietly as possible along the narrow path. He gingerly felt his way along, the floor-plates were so old that they were beginning to break up in places.
He finally reached the doorway and with his phaser pistol raised he stepped quickly inside.
Two dishevelled faces glanced up quickly to see him. Two pairs of hollow, frightened eyes gazed up with a mixture of fear and relief at the sight of him. They were both dressed in old style Starfleet uniforms with red shoulder flashes but their uniforms were tattered and damaged, dirt was strewn down their faces, streaked with sweat and grime.
Slowly a woman stood up nervously. She swallowed hard and her lips began to flutter into a weak smile.
"Starfleet?" She asked, his voice low and husky.
"I'm Captain Blake Girling!" He replied, lowering his weapon and stowing it in the holder at his belt.
"Captain Jane Povich." She replied with a beaming smile as she wiped a mop of greasy black hair from before her eyes. "I never dreamt that this would happen. We expected to die here."
"What happened?" He asked, glancing down to her first officer who had remained seated on a bare metal tube. He had closed his eyes in relief and was beginning to laugh quietly to himself.
"We were stranded here." She raised her hands. "We've been here for nearly four months now."
"Where's the rest of your crew?" Clogg asked pointedly as if it was an accusation.
"Dead." She sighed, closing her eyes in regret. "They're all dead."
"You're all that's left?" Blake shook his head in dismay.
She nodded in agreement. "Ensign Barkoy is inspecting the field generators, there's only the three of us now."
"We'll beam you back to our ship. I'll have my medical officer check you over and get a decent meal inside you and then we can discuss this more thoroughly." Blake suggested.
"You have a ship?" She grinned widely. "We can leave now?"
"Right now." Blake nodded and smiled back supportively.
Captain Girling sat opposite Captain Povich and her first officer with Katherine at his side in the briefing lounge.
"This is an interesting ship!" Captain Povich said uneasily, casting a glance to Commander Garret.
"I'd like you to tell us what happened." Blake told her firmly, leaving her little room for manoeuvre.
"We came here with a skeleton crew of 15." She began. "Our shuttlebay was used to store enough fuel for our journey and our stores were fully loaded with supplies. We relied on the Captains Yacht for transport off the ship but it was damaged early on."
"By the time we got here, everything was damaged." The Commander smiled wistfully.
"Why did you come here?" Katherine asked.
"We were sent." She shrugged a reply. "It was a classified Starfleet intelligence mission."
"What was the mission?" Blake asked, leaning towards her.
"To investigate the derelict and send our findings back to Starfleet HQ." She told him matter-of-factly. "We deployed subspace relays along the path and transmitted our entire logs in a holographic matrix, we even had to delete our EMH to do it."
"So how were you stranded?" Blake asked, shaking his head slightly as he thought that her answers were too measured and evasive.
"The Star-glider was damaged." She replied. "We had computer interface links with us and it wasn't unusual to beam the entire crew aboard. We left the Pulsar docked inside much the same way that you have. We had to clear a lot of space in the computer stores for the matrix and it caused a feedback loop in the end and the computer stopped responding and we just couldn't beam back!"
"How long did it take to get here?" Captain Girling leant back and folded his arms.
"Four years nearly." She smiled. "We were travelling at Warp 8 constantly for most of the time. In the end the replicators, holodecks and even main life support failed."
"We had equipment on board to set up base camps on the derelict." The Commander added. "We set up the portable units and kept up life support in the critical areas of the Pulsar."
"We are attached to Starfleet Intelligence ourselves." Captain Girling told them. "The derelict has come through close to the heart of the Galaxy where the radiation belt has masked its approach. We've only just detected it now so how did you know about it four years ago?"
"I can't answer that!" She shook her head sadly. "We were simply given a classified mission which we carried out to the best of our abilities."
Haldo Compz continued with his work on the derelict vessel after taking a Type 6 shuttle over with a load of scientific research material. He had examined every part of the vessel he could detect while Goruss Clogg scanned through the base camps logs.
"So what do you think?" Clogg asked conversationally as his computer racked through their records.
"I don't know." Haldo replied with a puzzled expression. "I don't think this is truly a ship in the way we think of one."
"Then what the hell is it?" Clogg asked, intrigued.
"I wish I knew." He frowned. "There are no manoeuvring systems, no impulse system or any other propulsion equipment that's anything like what I would expect to see. All there is are a few field coil devices in the appendages but they could be anything from transporters to weapons."
"That doesn't surprise me." Clogg sighed. "I think that this crew knew what this is, I think they knew exactly what this was built for."
"Any idea what that was?" Haldo asked.
"They've done a pretty good job of deleting their files." The security officer told him with a note of disappointment. "They seem to have downloaded everything of any interest to the Pulsar and then sent the lot to Starfleet."
"But Starfleet never got it." Haldo added thoughtfully. "In fact there was nobody in Starfleet who even knew that this ship was out here."
"There are two reasons why they would have used a holographic matrix to send the information." Clogg began with a coy smirk. "There would be less degradation along a sub-space relay network and secondly, once the message is sent there would be no copy. There's nothing left here for us to find."
"There's this object!" Haldo waved his arm around the room, gesturing at the ship surrounding them. "We have better sensors on the Corinthian that they did, we can just run a new analysis."
Goruss Clogg glared at him for a moment without saying a word, his eyes narrowed defensively as troubling thoughts began to run through his mind. "This object?" He muttered.
"They can delete all the files they like." Haldo grinned. "They were just about this vessel, we can just start again."
"We can if the object is still here." Clogg raised his brow as he voiced his suspicion. "Or if we are…"
Haldo swallowed hard as the smile vanished from his face. "Your paranoia is a welcome addition to this crew." He mumbled.
"Enter!" Blake called out as his door chimed. The hatch slid open and Captain Povich stepped sheepishly into his office. "I hear that you had borderline malnutrition and frostbite in three of your fingers."
"We've been given a clean bill of health." She assured him. "We had to make do with a lot of sub-standard equipment."
"I can imagine." Blake smiled thinly as he gestured for her to take a seat. "Would you like a drink?"
"I'd like that." She nodded. "We haven't had replicators for two years, I'm not used to just asking for what I want."
"We still have replicators." Blake smiled knowingly. "On this ship I'm used to getting whatever I want, sometimes before I even know I want it. "
"You're lucky." She scowled thoughtfully.
"Tell me about it." He said.
"By the end of the first year we had overloaded the plasma conduits." She began. "We had to divert power from most of the key systems just to keep the ship moving. We disconnected half the transporter emitters and rigged them up as solar panels to run the life-support systems. All fifteen of us were living in the crew bunks and surviving on emergency rations and the two lower decks were uninhabitable. We didn't have any contact with HQ after the first 6 months. I've never felt so alone."
"It must have been hard." Blake said softly.
"It was." She nodded. "By that time none of us expected to survive but the mission came first."
Captain Jane Povich hung her head and breathed out heavily, lost in her inner torment.
"What about that drink?" Blake's voice cut into her train of thought.
"Yeah!" She looked up slowly, dragging her thoughts from the morbid ruminations that captured her mind whenever she allowed it to drift. "I'd really like a glass of wine. Red if you have it."
"Red wine." Blake nodded as a shimmering blue light appeared on the table before her as the replicator fed the pattern into the transporter in accordance with Blake's unconscious whim.
"Wow." She gasped. "I've never seen that before."
"This ship is a little unusual." He shrugged as she scooped up the glass and sipped haltingly at the wine.
"I have to ask…" Captain Girling began.
"My crew?" She nodded knowingly. "You want to know how they died?"
"I have to ask." He said again. "Your records were deleted so I have to ask."
"Thanks." She smiled weakly. "I appreciate that you didn't ask in front of anyone else."
Captain Povich hung her head again as she cradled the wine, gazing at it is if the answers were slightly out of focus inside somewhere and perhaps if she looked deep enough she'd be able to see them.
"Five of them I killed myself." She said with a laboured sigh. "Three others were killed by the Commander and the rest simply killed each other."
"Ok." Blake said with a nod. "Now you have my attention."
"We set up a perimeter base where you found us." She began although telling the story was clearly distressing her. "We set up force-fields and an atmosphere processor and began to take readings. By the third day we began venturing deeper into the machinery, outside our defences in small groups of three at a time."
She began running her finger around the rim of her glass, her eyes seemed hollow as she told her story. "We sent a party as usual into the upper bays where we hoped to find a control room." She continued. "Only one of my people came back, Crewman Lynch. They routinely had phasers but he'd lost his. His clothes and hair was dripping with blood and he was shouting that he wouldn't let us take him. He was waving around a metal rod and it was covered in blood too."
"He'd killed them?" Girling asked.
"He'd beaten them to death." She nodded sadly. "They were my friends and Lynch was no killer. He was a stellar cartographer attached to Starfleet science, he'd never served on a ship that even had phasers before, I'd had to go through the weapons protocols with him during the journey."
"What happened to Lynch?" Blake asked softly.
"We couldn't restrain him." She explained. "No stun settings seemed to work on him, he took a phaser and shot another officer, eventually we had to kill him."
"I take it the others came to a similar end?" Blake suggested.
"We only let them leave the base in environment suits after that but it didn't make a lot of difference. It took longer but they went the same way." She looked up and finished her glass of wine in a single gulp that slightly choked her. She swallowed hard to clear her throat. "Have you ever seen your friends turn on you like that? Can you imagine what it's like to spend all those years in space together and then have them try to kill you without ever knowing why?"
"No, I haven't!" Blake admitted. "I doubt many officers have seen anything like what you're describing."
"I should hope not." She sneered
"So what did you find out there?" Blake asked. "What is on this ship?"
"I honestly don't know!"
Haldo sat back thoughtfully while the tricorder completed its scan.
"Anything?" Clogg asked.
"I still can't exactly tell what this ship is made of." He sighed. "But if I had to guess I'd say that this vessel is old. Very old."
"Well I can see that." Clogg smirked beneath his mouth tentacles. "I once boarded a vessel found discarded that we estimated with a hundred and fifty years old that looked like this."
"No." Compz smirked. "Judging from the particle decay of the materials I can identify I would guess this thing is closer to five thousand years older than the ship you're talking about."
"Wow." Clogg nodded with a tone that implied that he was impressed. "I guess they built it to last."
"I guess so…" Haldo agreed. "So what have you been doing?"
"I've been working through the away-teams reports that I have been able to find." Clogg mumbled. "I haven't found much of any interest that either corroborates their story or contradicts it."
"Is there any point in you even being here?" Haldo smirked.
"I wouldn't be if the choice were mine." Clogg admitted. "My species is sensitive to certain psychic vibrations and this place feels wrong, like something very dark happened here."
"You do realise that there's only one way we're going to be able to find out much more about what this thing is." Haldo told him with a tone that implied he felt largely the same way.
"I know." Clogg grumbled as his eyes rolled about the base. "We will have to explore it."
"So what do you think?" Blake asked as Ensign Rogers flicked through the reports.
"I don't know." She sighed. "Medically their stories check out completely. They were there as long as they said and the three surviving officers never left the confines of the shielded areas. It's possible that the force-fields protected them from harmful radiation that we couldn't easily detect.
"There's more to this." Captain Girling shook his head. "They know something more than they're telling."
"You think that they're Section 31?" She asked. "They were wearing normal Starfleet uniforms and didn't have any unusual equipment."
"Apart from a state of the art science ship that went missing from a development storage hangar!" Blake reminded her.
"Apart from that." She agreed with a nod. "Doctor Jones has been over their story. He can't see any way that Starfleet could have detected the derelict early enough to have allowed them to have arrived here when they did."
"So perhaps they were sent by Section 31?" Girling suggested as he scratched his head thoughtfully.
"So what do we do?" Katherine shrugged and passed him back the reports.
"We need to explore the ship!" He said finally.
"Rather you than me." She shuddered.
"You've got a rough idea how my shields work." Blake said thoughtfully. "Would they protect me in the same way as the ones around the base camp appeared to have protected the survivors?"
"Yes." She nodded in agreement. "You should be safe from whatever affected the Pulsars crew. The rest of us could take portable defensive transmitters and we should be fine."
"Ok." He agreed. "We'll do that but I'm not leaving the Corinthian unmanned. I'll just take you and Haldo, Clogg can carry on at the base and the rest can stay here."
"Ok." She agreed hesitantly.
"I want all three of the Pulsar crew to beam to the base to assist Clogg with the investigation, I'm certainly not leaving them on my ship. He said as he stood up. "Break out the equipment and weapons and meet me in the transporter room in ten minutes."
Haldo was reluctant to leave the base. The vessel moaned and sighed as it drifted lazily through space, the ancient engineering creaking as the parts flexed together, and more worryingly, apart. At times the floor plating moved slightly as you walked over it with a stomach knotting sound of tearing metal from deep in the confines of the vessel.
"I'm detecting something up ahead." He said softly, standing behind the others nervously.
"What?" Blake asked, spinning around suddenly. "Movement?"
"Nothing like that!" Haldo breathed a sigh of relief. "I've been scanning the power conduits and they seem to lead to an area up ahead that might be a control room or an engineering centre."
"Sounds better than movement." Katherine agreed. "I'm still not detecting life signs but this radiation is confusing my tricorder badly."
"Keep me posted." Blake told them.
"It's not far." Haldo spoke with a hint of trepidation. "Just up there." He pointed along to the end of the corridor where a large mass of pipes and other engineering vanished into a room.
"Come on." Blake told them as he began walking along the unlit shaft with his torch in one hand and his phaser in the other.
"Any idea what this thing was?" Katherine asked conversationally to break the uneasy silence.
"Not a ship!" Haldo said firmly. "There's no propulsion equipment. The engineering seems to be set up to power a main key system but I don't know what that would be."
"Perhaps their version of a warp drive?" Blake suggested.
"I'll keep an open mind but I don't think so." Haldo told him flatly. "This is just too industrial, if I had to guess I'd say this is a machine of some kind or maybe a weapon."
"A weapon?" Katherine repeated. "What makes you think that?"
"It's a huge fusion reactor with the power being looped through to a single energy device and then back to a storage unit." Haldo shrugged. "In my experience of Humanoid life they tend to put the most effort into blowing things up, someone has gone to a lot of effort here, I doubt it has a totally benign use."
The three stopped outside the entrance. It was merely that, an open hatch with no door or other affectation. There was nothing but an open hole to walk through amidst the pipe-work and corroded metal plates.
"I'll go first." Blake told them.
"I'll go home." Haldo grinned thinly, hiding as best he could behind his humour.
"Wait here." The Captain told them. "I'll check it out and call you in when I'm sure it's safe!"
With that, Captain Girling stepped into the room. Haldo and Katherine waited in silence in the empty shaft. They watched with disproportionate interest as the light from his torch moved around sending shadows dancing from the opening like ghosts haunting the ancient metal.
Blake stepped out of the room and swallowed hard.
"It's all clear." He told them. "Except for two bodies, they've been beaten to death, one has burns on his uniform and they've been dead a while."
"Right." Haldo said with a shudder of clear fear at the very thought of going in there.
"I'd like you to come in." Blake told his engineer. "But I won't order you to do so."
"I'll come in." Haldo nodded and took a deep breath.
"You'll be fine." Katherine told him and took his arm as the pair stepped gingerly into the control room. The room was large, a corroded metal cube with banks of equipment and structural supports. The middle had a raised section with a concentration of displays and controls.
"The technology doesn't look that much different from our own." Haldo commented for the sake of speaking. His throat was dry and he could feel himself shaking through his whole body. "They don't look to be much more advanced than we are."
"They certainly think bigger!" Katherine added.
"Do you think you could get any of this stuff working?" Blake asked him.
Haldo shrugged and stepped forwards to the first console he came to. It had a shiny black reflective surface although the face was littered with dust and debris and the corners had frayed and began to roll up from the casing. Down each side were rows of unmarked buttons and a few small switches.
"I doubt it." He admitted. "But I can probably hazard a guess as to what this thing might have been used for."
"Get right on it." Blake smiled and turned to Katherine. "Would you examine the bodies, I'd like to know anything you may be able to tell me?"
"So you established this base to begin your surveys of this ship?" Goruss Clogg asked the Captain.
"Yes." She agreed, her arms wrapped around herself nervously as her eyes darted around, scanning the shadows for movement.
"How long were you over here away from the Pulsar?" He asked as he ran his eyes over his notes on a portable Padd.
"We returned almost every day." She explained. "Until the computer problems started and we got trapped here."
"I see." He nodded with the appearance of a man who was deeply unconvinced.
"I have two small issues to raise with you about your story." He began, dropping the Padd to his side and glaring down into her frightened eyes.
"Which are?" She asked, wrapping her arms around herself even more tightly.
"The computer problems stopped you being able to communicate with your ship to beam back aboard?" He began. She nodded weakly in reply.
"And yet you had already sent the holographic matrix message back to Starfleet command as there is no sign of it here." He told her.
"We left the inner bay of this ship to send the message and then came in closer to beam our people out." She explained.
"But you weren't beaming them out…" He adopted a slightly contrived quizzical expression. "You and your entire crew beamed over."
"Yes." She nodded. "We came over to clear out our equipment. We'd already determined that there was nobody aboard and the ship posed no threat."
"But!" Clogg grinned widely. "There is no equipment here. No scanning gear, no detection equipment and no computer terminals and there was no way you could have beamed it away."
"We'd already cleared them away." She stammered nervously.
"I don't believe that you could have." He told her flatly.
"You cannot talk to me this way!" She told him angrily.
"I think that you have undergone an unexpected trauma which has shaken you. I don't think you expected to be rescued and have quickly concocted a tissue of poorly thought out lies." He told her calmly. "I believe that you are so shaken that your lies are ill-conceived and very easy to spot."
"I need to think." She glowered at him.
"In accordance with my investigation I am authorised to relieve you of duty." Clogg told her. "I'm sorry to inform you that I believe that there is significant doubt that you have acted in accordance with your position and must temporarily relieve you of command pending a full investigation."
"Found anything yet?" Blake asked as he wandered aimlessly around the alien control room. With power off the controls were all dark, no lettering for the universal translator to work on and no back-lit displays to give vital clues of the purpose of the vessel.
"It's not a ship!" Haldo called out across the control room. "This thing is more like a refinery, a mining ship perhaps or a waste processor."
"I can't tell you too much about the deceased officers." Katherine added with a note of disappointment. "Their brain tissue is so atrophied that there's not really anything left to scan that shows anything interesting. One was beaten to death with a blunt object, the other has taken several phaser hits but I don't think they killed him."
"How did he die?" Haldo shuddered openly at the thought of a similar fate befalling them.
"Natural causes more or less." She told him. "I think he just curled up and quietly starved to death."
"Lovely." Blake sniffed sarcastically.
"They weren't exactly following Starfleet protocol I guess." Katherine raised her eyebrows. "I can't offer any explanation of why they might have done this."
"But this is definitely the control centre?" Blake asked, turning his attention back to Haldo.
"I think so." He nodded. "It controls the equipment on board this thing, it's linked into a central control nexus. Circuit pathways all converge around here."
"So that leaves the questions of who built it, what they used it for and why did they abandon it!" Blake rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
"I'm just happy they did." Haldo breathed a sigh of relief.
"At least we know that this installation had a benign purpose." Katherine smiled.
"I stand corrected." Haldo admitted. "It's a refreshing change to find that not all species harbour violent intent towards every other species they encounter."
"So we need to go to the main reactor and the reprocessing plant." Blake told them. "Can we do that?"
"No." Haldo shook his head. "The reactor area is directly below us but has no breathable atmosphere and the artificial gravity generators won't reach down that far and I can't see any way to reach it so long as the floor plates don't give way. The area scans totally cold, there's nothing down there to see in any case."
"If Section 31 sent the Pulsar crew here then they must have been interested in this vessel." Blake said thoughtfully as he began pacing up and down. "A derelict lump of machinery like this they would have just left to a Starfleet science ship. They must have seen something special about this."
"Well they must have been looking at a different part of it to what we've seen." Haldo grinned.
"Maybe we're looking at this all wrong!" Captain Girling suddenly stopped pacing and turned to the others.
"I agree." Haldo nodded. "We should be looking at it in the reverse angle viewer on our way home."
Blake sighed and turned his attention to Ensign Rogers. "What would Section 31 or anybody else possibly see in this vessel that would make them go to all this trouble?"
"Technology?" Haldo answered, intrigued.
"Someone obviously has scanners out here to detect things before Starfleet becomes aware of them." Blake began pacing as he thought out loud. "They must have found something on this ship that they wanted."
"Like what?" Katherine shrugged.
"Maybe the material it's made of?" Haldo suggested. "This object is nearly the size of a starbase and has survived in space for thousands of years without any kind of structural integrity fields in place. It must have been impacted millions of times by small asteroids and radiation flares but has weathered it all."
"Run a scan!" Blake snapped suddenly. "Follow all the control and power lines that could carry enough plasma to power a weapon or a field generator."
"Ok." Haldo agreed with a degree of enthusiasm as he snapped open the Tricorder panel and began with a sensor sweep.
"What are you looking for?" Katherine raised an eyebrow quizzically.
"I don't know." He admitted with a shrug. "I just don't think they'd go to all this trouble for a new kind of metal. They were after something bigger."
"There are four main power arteries." Haldo began. "The largest goes directly to the processor plant and two go off to other places I can't scan. The other splits into four and goes off into the corners of the object. I can't scan much further in."
"Splits into four?" Blake repeated thoughtfully. "At those points it could be a shield grid, designed to surround the object? Maybe a propulsion system?"
"I could only speculate!" Haldo told him. "One of the points has an atmosphere pocket but I just can't scan through the radiation."
"We could take a shuttle up there and beam in at short range." Blake suggested with a grin.
"We could?" Haldo grumbled. "We don't all have shields and weapons built into our bodies with a bunch of other technological miracles. We might like to leave that to someone who has."
Doctor Jones continued running scans as deeply into the vessel as the sensors were able to penetrate while he attempted to increase their range with every trick he could possibly imagine.
"Damn it." He sneered as his latest modification actually managed to decrease the sensor resolution by ten percent. He frowned to himself as a small red flashing box appeared on his portable Padd. He picked it up and accessed the box that told him a private message had been received.
He glanced around himself guiltily as if caught in an act of criminality as he wondered what could be going on.
The message asked him for his identity, requesting him to place his finger on the screen so it could read his bio-electric aura. He took a deep breath and pondered his next action carefully with an expression of deep suspicion. There was no real reason why a person would attempt to contact him in a manner that would circumnavigate the ships systems unless they were trying to keep it a secret from the Captain and crew.
His finger hovered over the access button while his mind was split equally over what to do.
Finally his latent curiosity won out and he hesitantly pressed the button. The message flashed open with text only, a short written communication.
"Doctor Harold Jones…" He muttered under his breath. "Section 31 membership SC402-R1." He knew that this was not a message he had wanted to receive. "Captain Povich orders you to disengage the Corinthians weapons, shields and sensors, beam the crew back aboard and leave the vicinity of the object immediately."
He closed his eyes for a moment. In the short time he'd served as a crewman aboard the Corinthian his attitudes had changed. His life had changed and his loyalties had followed suit.
"Jones to Goruss Clogg." He said as he pressed his Comm badge. He waited for what seemed like an age, he was unusually aware of his breath as his chest heaved heavily, his heart slowly prickling with adrenaline as nervousness began to pervade his being.
"Goruss Clogg?" He said again, pressing the badge. Again there was no answer.
"Doctor Jones to Captain Girling!" He said finally.
"Problems?" Haldo asked, noticing the expression on Blake's face. Blake started over to the others, nodding his head angrily.
"Goruss Clogg is not answering hails." He growled. "And the Pulsar crew sent Jones a coded message. It seems they've got away with our shuttle."
"So they are Section 31?" Haldo nodded with disappointment that their suspicions were correct.
"They'll be heading for the Pulsar." Blake said rhetorically. "Can they get that ship moving?"
"Yes, there's nothing to stop them, manual control could be established quickly." Haldo replied as the three hurried along the access shaft to get within transporter range of the Corinthian. "They could use the shuttle computer files to augment their damaged systems quite easily."
"They can't outrun us!" Katherine called out as they all broke into a run. "They don't even know we have Transwarp capabilities."
"At the moment we don't!" Blake reminded her. "The systems are still damaged."
Suddenly the three of them vanished in a flickering blue light as they got close enough to the ship to beam aboard.
"Where's my shuttle?" Blake growled as he appeared on the bridge.
"They've headed deep into the bowels of the vessel." Doctor Jones snapped around and jumped from his chair in surprise. "I've lost them."
"Blake!" Haldo called out from behind. "They've spent months scanning the radiation fields. They know how and where to hide from our sensors."
Blake breathed heavily and stood for a moment in thought. "Clogg?" He asked finally.
"No sign of him but I am detecting traces of his blood, they must have taken him along." Katherine called over from her station. "I will need to get to him as soon as possible."
Blake turned to the Doctor. "Can we follow them in this ship?"
"Blake?" Haldo stepped forward, slightly horrified at what he was hearing. "We can't fly deeper into this structure, it's simply not stable enough."
"We're going after them!" Blake told him firmly. "Shields to maximum, disconnect the navigational deflector and set phasers to fire automatically at any obstacle that threatens the ship."
"Blake…" Haldo rubbed his head. "I don't know about this…"
"Can you do it?" He spun around angrily to his engineer as his determination flushed away any thought of self-preservation.
"I can do it." Haldo gritted his teeth and scowled back at him. "But I can't guarantee our safety if the vessel begins to fall apart, the structure is vast, we could easily be crushed."
"What are you waiting for?" The Captain growled angrily with a twisted grin as his eyebrows pitched down aggressively.
The Corinthian's thrusters fired as the shields began to come to life, surrounding the ship with a powerful defensive barrier against incoming objects. The long vessel began to turn to the last known coordinates of the shuttle as the nacelles began to fold back tight into her sides to give her a fighting chance of getting through the structure.
The rear thrusters fired and she took off into the massive engineering shafts that led to one of the irregular outcroppings of the gargantuan vessel.
"So far so good!" Haldo grumbled, pointedly aiming his remark at the Captain as the viewer filled with the image of massive engineering equipment racing past the ships hull.
"It gets tighter up ahead." Blake told him. "We don't need to go all the way, just close enough to find the shuttle."
"And how do we get out again?" Haldo asked sarcastically.
"We'll fire our way out if we have to." Blake told him. "We don't need to worry about leaving yet though, we're not going anywhere without my chief of security."
"I'm detecting the shuttle." Doctor Jones called out. "It's right up ahead but the radiation is incredibly strong up there. We won't be able to beam him out until we're within a hundred metres."
"We won't be able to beam him out at all if they have their shields up!" Haldo added. "Not with this radiation."
"We'll do what we can." Blake told them more calmly. "We don't leave people behind."
"No!" Haldo agreed. "We just behave with reckless abandon when it comes to thoughts of our personal safety."
"One day it could be you out there." Blake turned to face Haldo with an expression that left little doubt of his sincerity.
"We're running out of room fast." Doctor Jones told them. "We're going to have to stop."
"How close?" Blake asked, his attention suddenly flicking back to the viewer.
"Not close enough." Haldo shook his head. "They're not moving, they've landed somewhere, on a platform or something. I can beam a team up there but not into the shuttle, it has shields up, the same kind that surrounded the base."
"Are you detecting life-signs?" Blake ran his hand over his head across the stubbly remains of his hair.
"Too much distortion." Haldo shook his head.
"Could I beam up there and fix a beacon on Clogg?" He asked with a raised eyebrow. "Would you be able to lock onto him then?"
"A Comm badge with a distress beacon would do it." Haldo nodded.
"I'm going." Blake said as he stood up quickly and turned to the rear of the bridge and drew his phaser pistol.
"Me too!" Katherine called out as she jumped forward with a medical kit. "He might need immediate attention."
"I'm coming too." Haldo stood up from his console with a doleful expression.
"I need you here!" Blake told him with a small smile that let him know he appreciated his offer.
"You need me there." Haldo insisted. "…And one day it could be me!"
Blake smiled widely and nodded his agreement.
Blake and the others crawled stealthily towards the stolen shuttle. They hid behind a jutting pylon and peered out at the three Section 31 officers as they worked at the rear of the Type 6 shuttlecraft. The Captain was clearly highly agitated as the others carried a large device towards the ship between them, it was about a metre long and clearly required both of them to lift it and even then they were only capable of shuffling along slowly.
"What is that?" Blake asked rhetorically.
"I have no idea!" Haldo shook his head and squinted. "Maybe it's what they came for?"
"I doubt it." Blake shook his head. "They sent a message, whatever that was about was what they came for."
"Blake…" Katherine nudged him gently. "I have to get to Clogg, he could be dying in there."
"So what do we do?" Haldo asked.
"I could go over there and try my luck." Blake suggested. "My shields will take a few hits, I could probably get them all before they could hurt me."
"Probably but not definitely." Katherine scolded him at the very suggestion of the idea. "And what about if they killed Goruss?"
"Do you have a better idea?" Haldo asked.
"I could surrender?" She suggested. "I'm a Doctor and they have an officer that needs medical attention."
"They took him as a hostage…" Blake shook his head firmly. "I'm not going to rely on their good will."
"Wide-angled stun beams?" Haldo suggested. "If we all fire a beam at maximum spread then we should hit them all with enough energy to stun them long enough for us to move in."
"Wide-angled stun beams?" Katherine furrowed her brow. "What do you mean?"
"You just fire them through a lump of metal at point blank range." He explained with a self satisfied grin. "The metal vaporises and diffuses the beam for a few milliseconds, but that should be enough to bump the energy all over the place."
Blake shook his head with a heavy frown. "I've never heard of that before." He grumbled. "In the absence of a proper plan…"
"That's the spirit." Haldo winked. "Trust me."
"Come on…" Captain Povich barked as her colleagues struggled with the alien object.
"What's the damn hurry?" Her first officer gasped at her as sweat poured down his brow and his muscles burnt from the exertion.
"We've got to get out of here." She scowled at him as she fingered her phaser. "You want to wind up like the others?"
"We're going as fast as we can!" Garret assured her with a knowing nod.
The two men carefully lowered the cylinder to the floor some distance from the shuttle and collapsed in exhaustion, gasping for air. "We need a rest."
"There isn't time for this" The Captain grumbled as she hurried past them towards the control deck of the shuttle. "I'm going to begin the countdown before Girling comes after us."
"Shouldn't we wait to get out of here?" Commander Garret frowned nervously as he hoisted himself from the floor.
"We don't have time." She shouted. "I've never seen a ship like that Corinthian, who knows what's been going on back home while we've been gone? We don't know what they're capable of."
"We could be killed!" The Commander protested angrily.
"It will start at the base camp." She told him as she set the controls. "We'll be safe and they won't have time to respond. Once we're clear we'll have the one we installed before and a spare unit and they won't dare to fire on us with our hostage."
Suddenly the cabin of the small shuttle lit up with an orange blaze as the diffused phaser beam surged through the opening. The Commander muttered a weak sigh and collapsed to the floor. Captain Povich jumped to her feet in surprise, her heart fluttered and her eyes rolled back into her head as her world instantly melted into darkness.
Captain Blake Girling peered into the shuttle behind the muzzle of his phaser pistol.
"I'm impressed." He nodded to himself with a sense of satisfaction at the sight of the three unconscious Section 31 officers. "Katherine…"
She followed him quickly round the entrance and snapped open her medical kit. Clogg was laid quietly on the bench that ran along the starboard bulkhead, blood was caked around a deep gash on the side of his head. She ran her fingers over the wound as her tricorder scanned the extent of his injuries.
"He'll be ok." She told them. "He needs attention but he'll make it now."
"Can you stabilise him?" Blake asked. "We'll have to carry him outside for transport."
"I'm working on it." She told him flippantly as her attention was fixed firmly on her patient.
"Blake…" Haldo called out from behind his tricorder. He turned to his engineer.
"Blake, you'll never guess what that thing is…" He told him as he gestured towards the cylindrical device the officers had been carrying.
"Go on." Blake told him.
"It's crude and corroded but I think it's a Transwarp coil of some kind." He said as he checked his findings.
"A Transwarp coil?" Blake repeated in disbelief."
"It's made of a similar material to our own." Haldo told him with a grin. "I could repair our equipment with that thing."
Blake took a deep breath and turned his back on the alien device. He glanced around the industrial machinery all round him.
"What is this thing?" He sighed. "What the hell is this vessel?"
"The radiation is coming from a bay just over there." Haldo pointed down a dim corridor beset with jumbled machinery.
"The source of it?" Blake asked.
"It's not the power source." Haldo shrugged. "It seems to be where the power feeds to not where it's fed from."
"I guess I'd better go and have a look…"
While Ensign Katherine Rogers worked on Clogg's injuries with a phaser beside her in case the Section 31 officers recovered the other two headed off hesitantly down towards the source of the radiation. Although no different from the rest of the decaying vessel the silent menace seemed to grow with every step they took towards the bay at the end. Haldo glanced nervously around him as the shadows mocked him with their sinister dance. They coiled around his feet as if they could ensnare him with their jagged fingers and rake out his very soul.
"We're close." He breathed as the sound of their footsteps echoed dully around behind them.
"I can almost feel it." Blake agreed, slightly disturbed.
"I'd suggest that you may have some kind of detection equipment built into your implants." Haldo sighed. "Except I can feel it too."
"What the hell is down there?" Blake shook his head, not at all sure he wanted to find out.
They stepped up to the open hatchway and paused before stepping through. They looked at each other for a moment while they inwardly composed themselves.
Together they stepped in.
"It's ok." Katherine whispered softly as Clogg's eyes flickered open a crack. "I've fixed your wounds. You were hit on the head, you're going to feel a little groggy for a while."
"I'm ok." He groaned.
"You're not quite ok." She smiled broadly. "But you will be."
"I was with the others…" He furrowed his brow thoughtfully, trying to gather the tenuous threads of his memory back together.
"It's ok." She smiled. "We did your job for you while you were unconscious."
She ran her medical tricorder over his head to double check her work and didn't notice what was happening behind her.
She heard a sound and snapped around suddenly. Standing behind her was Commander Garret pointing her own weapon at her. She didn't have time to rebuke herself for leaving it at her side before he fired. Everything flashed suddenly and the world melted painlessly into darkness as she crumpled to the floor and into a deep, bottomless pit of unconsciousness.
"My god…" Blake murmured as the pair of them stood in awe. They were perched on the edge of a long gantry that had long since corroded away. The room was vast, a huge open space with a massive circular structure around a raised platform. Countless probes and devices were attached all over the metal beams and large walkways were fitted along the length of the sprawling structure.
"I can compensate for the radiation from here I think." Haldo told him, his voice lowered in respect for the sheer engineering achievement of the existence of what he was seeing. "With none of this metal in the way to diffuse it I can isolate the frequency."
"Maybe this is what they came for..?" Blake asked as he shuffled forwards. "What is this place?"
"It's like a replicator, I think." Haldo shrugged. "It's a matter processor of some kind."
"Is it still active?" Blake frowned.
"No…" Haldo shook his head. "There are residual pockets of electrical activity around here but the main systems have been dead for a very long time."
"Then where is the radiation coming from?" Blake huffed in exasperation.
"There's something on the platform at the centre." Haldo closed his eyes in disgust at the readings. "It's organic. This thing was used to process living organic matter."
Blake shook his head and sighed as he brushed away the dust on a control console that glowed dimly at the side of the gantry. "This is still live…" He told Haldo. "Can you make anything from it?"
"I might be able to access some kind of records." Haldo replied. "I doubt somehow that much happened here any of us would want to know about…"
Blake stepped back to allow his engineer to reach the panel. He shrugged and wandered back to the gantry to stare out into the cavernous bay.
"They processed organic matter." Blake said to himself. "They built this to process living beings…"
"There are other service bays all over the vessel." Haldo told him as a map flashed on the controls. "This thing was built to strip planets bare."
"So much for benign." Blake huffed.
"Blake." Haldo called out, backing away from the control panel nervously.
"What have you found?" Blake felt a surge of alarm at the sight of Haldo's ashen face and expression that approached sheer panic.
"You better see this…" He gasped, swallowing hard to clear his throat.
Blake kept his eyes locked onto his as he stepped slowly past him towards what he had found. He breathed heavily and turned his attention to the display.
"Oh god…" He whispered as a bead of sweat prickled on his brow and his heart raced. The control was flickering erratically but the logo was clear enough. A few simple lines making a claw but they both knew what it meant, it had a meaning beyond the symbol.
"Borg!" Haldo shuddered.
"Borg!" Blake agreed.
The pair walked along the shaft as if life had kicked a part of their souls through their chests. They were deflated by the shock, both of the intended purpose of the machine and by knowing who the people were who had built it.
"A five thousand year old Borg vessel." Blake muttered in disbelief, the full impact not yet settling in.
"It obviously still has technology that's more advanced than ours. Replicators… Transwarp…" Haldo nodded weakly. "That must have been what Section 31 were after."
"So this installation was towed in to deal with a planet after their military forces had subdued them?" Blake suggested. "Then they just recycled everything into more of them, the beings into early drones and the technology into ships. Whatever was left was reprocessed into energy."
"It looks that way." Haldo agreed. "It must have been surrounded by transwarp coils to assist it, I imagine it would have needed about five to open a big enough conduit for this. It must have taken them a while to strip a planet, but not long enough to warrant leaving these things there permanently."
"The Borg." Blake said in disgust.
"Well they finally found something they couldn't process." Haldo smiled weakly, holding up his tricorder with his findings on it.
"The organic residue?" Blake asked, hoping to hear something positive.
"The radiation is coming off of it. It was probably some kind of complex energy being until they went to work on it." Haldo explained.
"So they killed it?" Blake shrugged.
"Well it left an image." Haldo smiled. "I think that what it was feeling is what the Section 31 crew were feeling when they killed each other."
"It left an echo of what it felt as it died?" Blake frowned as he considered the theory. "It left some kind of psychic imprint on this whole installation?"
"It fits the facts…" Haldo shrugged. "Whatever really happened, when they killed the being it killed them right back. Something they ate disagreed with them."
"So the original Borg crew probabaly turned on each other too?" Blake grinned wickedly at the thought.
"Who knows?" Haldo smiled back. "They may not even have had a hive mind back then."
Suddenly there was a loud groaning sound as the massive engineering sections began to shift and then an ear-splitting crack as brilliant white flash cascaded up the shaft behind the Corinthian. The whole vessel began to shift, the floor seemed to ripple beneath their feet and the walls began to quake.
"Charges!" Blake called out. "They've laid charges to blow the damn thing up."
"We better move…" Haldo said with growing alarm.
Girling and Compz ran out of the shaft to the bay where the shuttle was docked. A beam of energy snaked out of the open hatch as the door began to noiselessly close up.
"Katherine!" Blake called out as he jumped to the floor reflexively and pointed his phaser towards the opening.
"We can't beam them!" Haldo reminded him. "We should let them go, they'll die if they get trapped in here."
Girling slammed his fist angrily into the floor panels in frustration and they buckled easily as he did so.
Suddenly another crack exploded out from behind them as the charges began to tear through the stricken vessel.
With a sickening crash of grinding metal a pile of debris fell from above.
"Blake!" Haldo cried out in fear as he jumped up, ignoring the shuttle's potential threat. He fell back from his feet and landed awkwardly in horrified surprise. His friend lay motionless, his eyes glassy and staring sightlessly forwards. A large metal pipe was embedded through his chest and blood was trickling from the corner of his mouth.
"Blake?" He whimpered softly, the words sticking in his throat.
Blake shuddered slightly and his arm fell limply to the side as a gasp issued from his open mouth.
The shuttle's impulse engines flared and the small craft vanished into a tunnel as the ancient Borg vessel began to collapse in on itself.
Admiral Crowe shook her head sorrowfully as Captain Povich finished speaking.
"We never saw them again." She said after a lengthy silence.
"So you had installed a transwarp coil into the Pulsar's systems?" Captain Reader asked, checking over his report. "Clogg is still in the infirmary but says in his initial report that he saw something like you describe attached to the warp core."
"Our engineers had done most of the work already." She agreed. "We activated it when we beamed aboard from the shuttle.
"So…" Admiral Crowe began. "You had no idea that the transwarp conduit would destroy most of your engineering in the twenty four minutes it was active?"
"No." She agreed. "We were completely without power when we returned to our rendezvous co-ordinates and there was nothing we could do to restore it. The coil itself was completely fused at an atomic level."
"So as well as the deaths of the crew of the Corinthian and the loss of an experimental ship you also stole and wrecked a prototype vessel and lost most of your own crew?" The Admiral glowered at her as if scolding a small child.
"Yes, sir." She said finally.
"The message?" Captain Reader asked, his expression one of stony severity.
"We relayed it back to the co-ordinates." She replied.
"There was nothing there." The Captain told the Admiral. "We assume a ship was there to receive it."
Ensign Katherine Rogers sat in silence on her guest quarters aboard the Olympus, staring out into the myriad stars.
A bleep issued behind her and it took a moment for her mind to rouse itself to realise what it was.
"Come in." She said, turning from the window and marshalling her thoughts.
The doors slid open as Captain Reader and Admiral Crowe stepped in to join her.
She began to stand to attention but the Admiral waved her hand dismissively and smiled at her. "You've done excellent work." She told her. "You'll receive a commendation for this."
"Thank you." She said with a nod. "Is there any word?"
"He's doing well." Admiral Crowe told her.
"Very well." Captain Reader told her. "He's returning to duty today, he's made a full recovery."
"That's good." She smiled broadly.
"Quite a relief for all of us." Reader smiled. "The Corinthian has also fully regenerated. Haldo Compz is a very resourceful man."
"I'd like to beam aboard…" She told them. "If I may…"
"Of course." The Admiral told her with a smile.
Haldo Compz stood at the heart of the Corinthian's bridge as Katherine appeared in the middle of a transporter beam.
"Welcome home." He smiled thinly. "How are you feeling?"
"I've been better." She sighed.
"It's been a long week." He agreed with a heavy outward breath.
"Clogg has made a good recovery." She told him. "I saw him this morning, he's looking good."
"Good for an aggressive sentient lobster!" Haldo winked.
"What about Blake?" She asked, her hands clasped behind her back.
"The beam went straight through his chest." Haldo lowered his head and shook it in dismay. "It was terrible, It nearly cut him in half."
"He was dead when Haldo brought him back." Doctor Jones told her. "I've never seen anything like it."
Katherine stepped into the Captains ready room at the side of the bridge. Her heart was pounding and sweat prickled uncomfortably around her neck.
"How are you feeling?" She asked with an uneasy smile.
"I'm fine!" Blake told her with a grin as he patted his chest.
"I saw what happened." She told him. "They used cuffs on me, there was nothing I could do to stop them."
"I read the report." He told her as he lifted his frame from the chair and stepped up beside her.
"It was my phaser." She said, her eyes beginning to fill up with tears as she struggled to fight back her emotions. "They took my weapon and turned it on me."
"I know." He told her. "It's ok."
"It's not." She wiped her eyes as they glazed over and the tears welled up. "I saw you killed because of me."
"Apparently being killed isn't the handicap for me it once was." He told her softly with a warm smile.
"I thought you'd all died." She hung her head.
"She's a tough little ship." He told her.
"What can I say?" She shook her head. "How can I make this up to you all?"
"We all make mistakes." He smiled and put his hand on her shoulder.
"This one nearly killed you all." She gritted her teeth as the first salty tear escaped and began to trace its way down her cheek.
"Nothing you could have done would have stopped that pipe hitting me or the charges going off!" Blake told her. "It's all over."
"I'm just so sorry." She said simply.
"I told you." Doctor Jones rocked proudly on his heels.
"You told me?" Haldo pretended to be largely ignoring him. "Was I listening?"
"I told you." He said again, unperturbed by Haldo's attitude. "The implants I worked on could replicate new organs. Think what this could mean in a few years, this could evolve into a whole new medical science."
"It could get you arrested if Blake ever tells anyone who you are." Haldo told him.
"Is our Transwarp coil up and running again yet?" Jones smirked.
"The one we salvaged fell apart on the way home but the new one will be up and running in a few more days." Haldo told him flatly. "Now that we have the full support of Starfleet at our disposal."
"You have to admit that this is a great ship!" The Doctor bated him again.
"Maybe I just do a great job holding it together." Haldo grinned. "Any ship is just as good as its engineer."
"Maybe this one is as good as its designer…" He gloated as he turned to leave.
"Jones." Haldo called. The Doctor turned to face him with his arms crossed over his chest as he braced himself for the next insult. "I heard what you did when those Section 31 guys contacted you."
"Oh?" He grunted a reply.
"You're still not my favourite person." Haldo told him. "But I guess maybe you belong on this ship after all."
|Last modified: 09 Nov 2020