|The untold tales from around the Federation|
Today I finally left. I've been planning this for a very long time and when it finally happened it was hard to believe it was all real. How many people can say they've done something like this, taken a ride into the final frontier without a proper spacecraft wrapped around them to rely on?
Not many would want to though, to be honest. I couldn't even find a single person crazy enough to join me, which was I had to settle... for him.
It's not that I don't want to travel with Clug, son of Slug, I mean... I know I need to travel with someone. This trip would just be too dangerous to undertake alone.
It's just that... from the moment we met up in London, England, it just seemed like he did everything in his power to put my back up.
Still, I respect him for what he's about to do, and it's not a requirement of the journey that I have to like him...
My travel companion is a pathetic human creature. He moans about everything, and is probably afraid of death.
Like all of them, he talks and he talks and he talks.
I do not like this man. If we get into battle he will be useless, and in addition, I suspect he wears women's clothing.
We had a pretty routine first day, just as I expected really. We left Earth's atmosphere in our little pods, and went to warp for a brief moment to test our engines once we were out of the solar system. Afterwards we went to full warp.
Doing that in a ship is an easy thing. In one of these, it's not quite so straight forward. I got my warp engine up to deliver a pulse and it fired on schedule, my twin sustainer motors holding me at warp before the field collapsed.
It was quite a thing to see, the stars flashed blue and the heavens lit up all around me. Then, I was pulled into this glowing, seething mass of stars, and they seemed to stretch all around me. I've travelled at warp speed before, of course, but this was like doing it for the first time. I felt truly humbled!
We've come such a long way since the first warp flight so many years ago. To think that now, a single man can build a faster-than-light vehicle in a back-garden shed with a few leftover parts...
It was certainly rewarding to see the instruments light up when everything worked properly. I actually managed warp 6 on my first try, and was still well within my safety margins. Clug kept up. Just... His engineering is pretty solid, but he's over-powered everything, so he's draining his charge much faster than I am.
On our first day, we went out beyond the rim of our solar system. I took a diversion around Mars to look over the construction yards before we engaged warp. It's damned impressive stuff to see starships coming together under those enormous scaffold structures that stretch out as far as the eye can see. If it's amazing what one man can now do, then it's a hundred times that to see what dedicated professionals can manage when they come together with a single goal.
After we left the solar-system, we synced our navigation and went to warp. Our warp fields broke up around the same time—I held out just a little longer, and Clug had to fire his engines a second time to catch up.
After that we coasted at impulse speeds to our rendezvous.
The simple fact is, these pods can't make the whole trip alone. We will have to use transports for the really long legs of the journey.
We met up with the SS Ophiuchi without a problem. We had already arranged passage, and they were waiting for us to arrive. That was a little embarrassing—I was hoping to be ahead of time, but nobody seemed to mind. We docked with them in their main shuttle-bay, and then we were off. We have a cabin booked for the next two days while the ship takes us out into deep space.
All I was in the mood for was food and drink. Tomorrow, I'm going to run a diagnosis on the pod, and make sure she's holding up properly. I gathered a lot of information today from her first major flight.
My pod is clearly superior. This is no surprise. It is more powerful, faster, and better armed.
I am a Klingon engineer, but my heart is that of a warrior.
His is weak. If he went into battle, he would die a coward's death in mere seconds, screaming for his mother.
It burns my blood that it is made from Human technology, but still it came together with Klingon ingenuity. I will learn much from this trip.
He invited me to join him for something to eat. He then ate a round thing with nothing living on it. I was insulted and considered slitting his throat, but in the end I simply questioned his honour.
He did nothing to defend himself, except to offer me a slice of his... 'pisa'.
He is a fool!
I had some replicated breakfast and went to inspect my pod. Personal travel is popular in the Federation, but still not exactly commonplace. Certainly not as common as you'd imagine. Most people get by requesting a place on shuttles, or joining transport vessels. I wanted to do something different this time.
Well, I seriously considered getting my own shuttle. I tried, but even a small one was well beyond my means. I couldn't raise the necessary authorisation to own a personal transport. It seems, after months of research, that you have to run a charter service to qualify for a complete shuttle, at least one capable of warp drive.
In the end, during my months of research, I came across this idea.
It's like a kit. You simply download the plans and programs from the network, but you have to locate most of the parts yourself.
The cockpit is a Workbee, but it's reinforced with a tri-polymer cage to prevent buckling. I certainly don't want it buckling in open space.
At the rear I have a warp-burst motor. It's like a single warp-coil from a small ship which creates a massive burst of warp energy. The energy is then fed to a pair of torpedo sustainer motors, which keep you going for as long as you're able to keep feeding them an additional charge from your reactor.
It's a cheap setup, but it works!
The Workbee was a piece of salvage, so I found that quite easily. It was the coil that proved difficult, but in the end, it's such a common a piece of technology that I had it replicated and nobody raised an eyebrow.
I had imagined that torpedo engines would be tricky, but they actually weren't all that difficult at all. Turned out they were no good for my use though. They run far too hot, and the plasma-wash would have fried me alive in my cockpit. I was pretty keen that that didn't happen for fairly obvious reasons...
Probes use much the same system, but run cleaner so the sensors don't have to deal with the interference.
It took around six months to put her together.
Oh, and she has atmosphere motors too! So this little pod can take me just about anywhere a normal ship can go. It's a good deal faster than a shuttle too. Arguably not as safe—not nearly as safe, if the truth be told—but it's a hell of a lot more fun!
I said to Clug that he should check his over too. He made a very Klingon comment which made me laugh. He made some other comment and went off in a bit of a mood. He always seems to be in a bit of a mood. Perhaps he had a kitten that died recently?
I think it would be fair to say we're not quite friends yet.
I went to the cargo bay to find Ma'a'H this morning, and a small furry white thing in a cage barked at me. It was delicious.
The Human was working on his inferior pod. It clearly couldn't stand up to the rigours of matching a Klingon pod in open space. He dared to suggest I should check mine over to make sure it was functioning. I told him I should kill him where he stands for his insult.
My pod was perfect, of course. I will admit that the seat is slightly too small for a warrior's frame, but I had expected to compromise, and comfort is not my priority.
He invited me to watch him consume more small slices of round things that were not alive, but I returned to the cargo bay and found several things that were, and consumed those instead.
Security came to my room later and accused me of stealing something. I was angry and went to punch one of them, but Ma'a'H got in my way and they talked.
They talked, and they talked, and they talked, and finally the security guards got bored of listening to him and they went away to die without honour.
If I were on a Klingon ship, things would be very different. Tomorrow we leave the Ophiuchi, and have two sustained warp runs to make. I expect the Human pod to explode at some point, and Ma'a'H to be sucked into the vacuum of space to die a horrible death.
I have set sensors to record this event.
Today was a long one.
We left the shuttle bay of the ship, which unfortunately faces rearwards. If we were able to leave forwards while at warp, we could have possibly configured the sustainer motors to keep us running and saved some charge.
Sadly it wasn't an option, and in any case, they weren't happy to drop us off any faster than one-quarter impulse speed. They have their rules, I suppose and we have to respect that.
We'd travelled a hell of a long distance while aboard. It's funny how travelling like that becomes so mundane after an incredibly short while.
I had dinner in the upper lounge the previous evening. It was framed by huge ceiling windows that gave an astonishing view of the stars as they tumbled lazily by us. Clug barely seemed to notice anything that wasn't wearing a skirt, but I'm still impressed by the universe around me.
I ate, and slowly, the spectacular view seemed to lose its appeal. That's something about pod travel. You're sitting in a tiny coffin, encompassed by a warp field that's barely a metre wider than your ship, and could collapse at any given second, shearing your ship and your flimsy human body to pieces so fast that your brain wouldn't even have time to register pain.
Oddly enough, that's not very reassuring, but it does make the world you live in seem much more real, vivid and exciting.
We levelled up and synced our navigation systems. If we didn't, we could end up anywhere. Given that our navigation systems are essentially recycled tricorders wired up to a couple of surgical laser-scalpels, we still could end up anywhere, but at least we're a little more likely to end up there together.
We both fired our warp-bursts and our motors latched onto the field. Again, the dark emptiness of space burst open and we were sucked into the gigantic white shard of light and the throbbing blue pulse as the stars streaked by us. It was like the Universe itself had opened up and we were thrown headlong into the very heart of it.
It was a humbling experience, a thrill, and something I will never get tired of seeing and being a part of.
This was my maximum pulse, and I fed additional power to the sustainer motors, so I managed a three hour flight at very close to warp 6.3. Clug kept up this time. In fact, he was waiting for me when my field collapsed.
We did our routine inspection. That was probably more daunting than the warp flight. We were just hanging in space, nothing around us but the tiny dots of white light from stars away at some unimaginable distance. If there was a malfunction there was nothing I could do but hope my rations and power held out until I was rescued. I presumed I would be entertained by the sound of hoarse Klingon laughter, as he left me to my fate and flew off in the opposite direction—if such a thing were to occur...
A Workbee is essentially a metal shell wrapped around a chair. It's designed to house a man while he uses external tools for working on the outside of a ship. What it's not designed for is open space. It feels like you're sitting on top of the universe with an infinite distance beneath you to fall, an insurmountable depth above you, and endless nothing all around. Needless to say, you have only your seat to hold onto, and that's not holding on to anything at all.
If you let it, that will send you quietly and irretrievably mad!
The checks were brief and we were back to warp. We had a further two hours ahead of us to get to the outpost. It was a star base, a trading post on the edge of a basically unexplored region. There weren't many dark spots in Federation space, so this was an exciting port of call for us. There were no M-class planets, no mineral reserves, no alien life... The whole region was a hole in the galaxy where nothing of interest resided. Consequently, it was the road less travelled and that was exactly what we were both looking for.
Another burst and we arrived. We had to maintain impulse power for a further two hours to reach Starbase 401. By the time the station eventually swam into view, I was ready to crawl out of my pod and run the last few thousand kilometres on foot. I'm not expert, but I believe that's impossible. Or at the very least, not recommended!
I finally crawled out and everything ached. Everything!
The seat was designed to accommodate an average person for a whole day, but the engineer that designed it that way was either a sadist, or frighteningly incompetent. I'm not sure which is worse. My back, my legs, my neck were all angry with me for locking myself in that tiny little vehicle.
We were invited aboard the central station for some reason. There were shuttle-bays floating around the outside, but they let us take our pods directly to the main hub. I guess we were honoured, and I wasn't going to argue. It meant one less shuttle-bus ride and we were a lot closer to where there was likely to be a bar!
Luckily for us, there was a service platform. After a day in open space, if anything was going to show up as a problem, it would be showing up now, and we were somewhere where Workbees were a very common sight. We would be able to get repairs made or replacement parts fairly easily.
Landing wasn't a problem. We were drawn in by a very gentle tractor beam and a forcefield locked the air in behind us.
Clug stepped out of his pod after me. He was clearly in as much pain as I was, but that was no surprise. His body is huge, and he looks as strong as a horse!
Sadly, he also seems to have the brains of one.
One thing that was missing from the Ophiuchi was a bar. Station 401 was known to have a good one, so we headed straight there.
Well, not straight there. We arranged a cabin for the night first. Clug made a fuss about wanting to sleep in the shuttle-bay with his pod. The deck-chief told him he was welcome to, and that he hoped he wouldn't find it too uncomfortable when life-support was switched off after the final duty shift.
He stamped his feet and ranted about honour for some reason. That actually gets quite boring after a surprisingly short time. I had a talk with him, and he calmed down somewhat when I told him I was going to the bar to get drunk.
We were shown to the cabin by a man in civilian clothing who kept moaning about having to do meaningless jobs, like showing around idiot travellers who were too stupid to find their own rooms.
Even Clug was too surprised to threaten to kill him. That made a refreshing change.
He took some twisted pleasure in telling the Klingon that the chief was joking about turning off life support, but this was after we had carried our luggage halfway around the station and were both gasping for breath.
I have to admit. I didn't particularly like this man.
And so to the bar.
I was almost looking forward to drinking with a Klingon, and wondered if the rumours are true...
Today nothing exciting happened.
We arrived at Station 401 without incident. The pod performed adequately, as did the Human for once.
We are sharing a cabin. He likes to soften his back with a mattress like a spoiled female. He has too much luggage—two huge bags, which I presume are filled with dresses and make-up.
He says there is a bar. I will show him how a warrior drinks, and then I will punch him into unconsciousness so he does not attempt to mate with me.
Never, never, never drink with a Klingon!
I woke up in the early part of the afternoon with a pain in my head, a throat that felt like I'd been eating a bowl of razorblades, and a stomach that was full of what I presume was very angry rats who were intent on escaping.
We had gone to the bar fairly early, around 6 by the station chronometer. I was hungry. Something about having your skin separated from a subspace rift in the fabric of the universe by four millimetres of metal always gives me an appetite.
I ordered a beer and asked Clug what he wanted. He growled at the barman about Klingon blood-wine, and was handed a beer mug full of cheap Australian rosé. I thought the barman was hoping to be beaten to death at first, and sat back in morbid curiosity at how events might further unfold. The Klingon sipped at the horribly pink liquid gingerly, and then roared that it was truly a drink fit for a warrior.
The barman shot me a grin. I was almost disappointed!
I had three beers before I ordered some food. Clug kept pace, but was drinking beer-glasses full of pink wine. It was all slightly surreal!
Food came. Mine was macaroni cheese with mushrooms. Clug had something that looked like they'd it scraped off of the toilet floor. He said it wasn't delicious, but that he wouldn't have to beat anyone to death with it.
The barman seemed lazily satisfied and just nodded back at him. He said a lot of people felt that way about the food, and that was actually quite a generous response.
You can't really get macaroni cheese wrong, but they tried anyway, and almost managed it.
We followed this up with more beer, and glasses of incredibly feminine wine for the most outwardly masculine thing I had ever seen. I wondered if he actually wears female clothes? It occurred to me that I had presumed him male, but never having spent time among Klingons, perhaps that was completely wrong.
The barman decided now was the time to ask us what we were doing on station 401.
I explained I was a bored travel-writer looking for a new challenge. I had decided to build myself a personal transport, and settled on the idea of a pod. I found I was incredibly proud of myself for having done so.
Clug demanded more drinks. From somewhere behind the bar, the barman pulled out a huge jug, obviously designed to be filled with enough beer to share with a group. He filled the whole thing with rosé and dropped a straw in it. He then pushed it to Clug and smirked.
"Let's see what kind of warrior you really are!" he told him.
Clug began sucking on the straw with a renewed sense of purpose, like drowning himself in pink wine would somehow prove his honour.
The barman made small-talk with me about where I was heading. I mentioned the Ophiuchi, and he told me it was the only warp 9.5 transport ship in service in this part of space and the fastest in Federation service outside of Starfleet. He said he'd been on it once himself.
By this point, Clug was finishing up his appalling drink. There were other people at the bar. Several were looking on in disgust, and some were smirking. I was smirking in disgust. How he hadn't dropped dead of diabetes by that point I'm still completely at a loss to explain.
The barman told us the region was filled with weird stories. Ships vanished, empty ghost-ships appeared with their crews lost, time played tricks, and unexplained phenomenon occurred that baffled the best minds in the galaxy.
Added to that, it was a hotbed for smuggling and general lawlessness. I was sitting next to a Klingon who was slowly killing himself with Australian rosé, so I was partially immune to his tall stories.
After a few more hours and a few more drinks we staggered off. I can still remember most of the walk, although 'walk' may be a little too grandiose a description of what we eventually managed.
Clug had been impressively tight-lipped about his back-story. All I knew of him was that he was Klingon, younger than me, and smelled slightly of lilac. I also knew he could build a pod.
In fact, his pod was quite sturdy, and he clearly knew what he was doing in that respect. In other respects, less so...
I asked him about his pod, but he instead began singing off-key and insisting loudly that we go immediately to the pods and finish getting drunk with replicated beer and Australian rosé wine.
The bay was dark and gloomy and we were alone, save for the hum of the reactor or the life-support pumps. I was too drunk to tell exactly which.
He told me he was an engineer. He seemed proud of this, but also a little cautious of telling me.
"Klingons aren't engineers." he told me. "We're warriors! But my father would be most humiliated if I failed to enter the Grand Klingon engineering program. I must prove myself capable before I can qualify for a five year course, and eventually serve as an engineer aboard a ship. Only then can I find a way to die with honour."
So this trip was his way of proving himself. Why he felt so ashamed of it I never did work out. There seemed a certain honour in what he was doing, but I wasn't able to convince him of that.
We chatted about many things, and his opinion was more open thanks to his being horribly drunk.
"May I ask you an honest question?" he said without a shred of sarcasm.
I nodded and drank some beer.
"Are you fully a man?" He looked me straight in the eye, and chugged a huge mouthful of pink wine.
"I believe so." I shrugged back. I wasn't really sure what he meant.
"You act like a female. I would be dishonoured if I were like you."
I believed he meant it. I didn't have much experience of Klingons, but they always seemed to be a people who spoke their mind, such as it was.
"Can I ask you an honest question?" I returned.
He nodded his huge, ungainly head.
"Why do you have those huge bony ridges on your forehead? I've always wondered."
"Thick bones protect your brain from injury." he said without a thought.
"So they serve no real purpose then?" I added with a smile.
After a moment, he actually nodded his head in agreement, and we both laughed.
"We once lost them." He put his finger to his lips and made a 'shhhh' noise like we were sharing a secret.
"You lost the bones on your head?" I laughed again.
"Oh yes." He nodded his undignified cranium. "We Klingons don't like to talk about it."
"You all did? How did you all manage to lose the bones in your head? Did you all have to wear hats or something?" This was going to be good...
"Humans!" he grunted. "It was all your fault." He very slowly pointed at me, in case I'd forgotten I was Human. He drank some more wine and leant back on the side of his pod. "We were at war with you, Humans. Your ships were excellent, better than ours, and we needed something new. We made a deal with the Romulans. We gave them 30 of our old D7 Class battle cruiser frames in exchange for technology. They gave us cloaking devices and biological agents that they told us would make us more effective in battle. Our leaders put the biological agent in our water supply. At first it made us stronger, faster, but after a year it had a different effect."
"It made your head-bones go away?" I asked suspiciously. I wondered if this was a fantasy, the imaginations of a drunken Klingon.
"It made us Romulan. It began to turn our DNA into theirs. By the time we could detect it, it had already started. We found out they had tricked us just before our ears began to turn pointy."
"Erm..." I managed to say. I mean, what was I meant to say?
"It cost us another 20 D7 ships, with weapons and engines, and a further 10 D8s. They finally gave us the code to reverse the damage." He scowled and flared his nostrils. "Romulans are without honour."
"And... sorry, how is this humanity's fault?" I asked, not really seeing any clear connection.
"It just is!" he boomed.
We both took a drink.
"You don't spend a lot of time around Humans do you?"
"No." he agreed. "You are the first I've ever met. I did meet a Bolian once."
I asked him why Klingons didn't like to talk about this. He seemed confused for a moment, like his food had run off and hid in the corner. At least, his expression was the same as when that had happened aboard the Ophiuchi.
"We do not speak of things that go wrong. Our history that we teach is a positive one. It is meant to inspire our youth."
I shook my head. That was probably the first thing he'd said that made any real sense at all.
"We were like that too. I was taught that back in the dark days, we used to convince ourselves illegal wars were justified long after they'd ended—before they'd even started, sometimes; we'd lie about terrorist actions that hadn't really taken place; we'd lie about genocides that had taken place, that we'd been responsible for. We'd spy on, imprison, even murder our own people, all the time telling them it was for their own good. We always dictated the narrative so as to portray ourselves in the best possible light. We always had to be the 'good guys', and as far as we knew, we always were!
"And you know what we used to say to ourselves? We'd say, 'history is written by the victors', like that justifies it all, ignoring the obvious warning in those words.
"Eventually we learned that making mistakes is inevitable, and it's learning from them that matters. Fooling yourself that you can do no wrong just... dooms you to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.
"We've grown up a lot since those days."
Clug drank enough wine to kill a small elephant, wiped his hand over his mouth and turned to me, burping a little as he began to speak. "Shut up Human! All you ever do is talk and talk and talk! Do you ever stop talking?!"
It occurs to me now he'd actually been doing this for the entire time I had been speaking, pausing only occasionally to smack his hand hard across his forehead and let out a blood-curdling guttural roar that would echo across the entire bay.
Eventually he did settle down though, muttering something murderous under his breath and returning his attention to his rosé.
"Didn't anyone tell you it's rude to speak over people, with your mouth full, and while burping... And screaming... Go and do something honourable to make up for it!" I said with a smile.
"The highest honour is to die in defence of your ship." he growled at me with pride.
I looked over his little yellow pod covered in ground-in filth, and fitted with uneven modifications that were barely holding together. "That will do nicely then."
We drank a lot. There was no blood-wine, and the replicators on the station appeared only capable of cheese. I was given a drink that tasted adequate, and had the time of a warrior, except nobody was beaten to the ground. I was advised several times against it. Humans have no stomach for battle, or anything fun.
I don't remember much, but woke up feeling that Ma'a'H and myself are now friends for some reason. I suspect the alcohol was tainted, but I will attempt to comply with this new arrangement and see if there is a basis for it, or if I've simply been poisoned. If it is the latter, honour dictates I kill him where he stands.
We met for breakfast at the bar. The barman was there and made a comment about how my head felt. I checked my ridges with my hand, and they felt no different to usual. I wondered why he would say that, and why discussion of my ridges seemed such an oddly familiar topic. When he said it, I was alarmed and prepared myself inwardly for combat. It was strange, and less exhilarating than I would have imagined.
Ma'a'H joined me and ordered something weak and unsatisfying. I demanded that they kill something and bring it to me in a bowl of its own bile. Or better yet, just bring it to me as it squirms.
The barman asked if we still intended to head for Ipho 6. He said it was an inferior destination. He said it looked pretty in the guides, and made an enjoyable family retreat for those that could afford a cruiser designed specifically for that region, and didn't mind waiting. But we, with our custom built pods, would fair better heading towards the galaxy centre.
I ate some of the creature he had presented me. It was too dead for my taste. I told him I would visit Ipho 6 regardless. I would see for myself the ancient ruins within, which it had transpired were even older than people had imagined.
He laughed for some reason, and warned us to be careful, as the way was dangerous, and there were many hazards that would impede our journey. Anomalous warping and bending of space was well documented in the region, and external transmissions would often be impeded. Familiar features and landmarks would vanish without explanation, and power would deplete erratically. He said it behaves the way no galaxy does.
So our decision was made.
Fortunately for him, Ma'a'H agreed. Perhaps there is more to him than just talking a lot, and possibly wearing make-up.
Today was a disaster. Well, not a total disaster, and not really for me. We left the station without incident... not that there are many incidents you can have while simply leaving a station.
We made a lower than usual warp-burst, and cruised for an hour and a half. We only managed warp 4.
I dropped out of warp as my field collapsed, and my little pod streaked back into the darkness of space, which to be honest is a lot more daunting than ripping a tiny hole in subspace and hurtling through it at velocities your brain can barely comprehend.
There was no sign of him. Clug was nowhere to be found. I used my sensors and set them to maximum, but with sensors as good as mine, I might as well have opened the door and waved around a long white stick in an effort to find him. Consequently I found nothing moving at warp. I decided to change my sensors to scan for a metallic mass in the hopes he still was one, and not a debris field floating around in the vacuum with sticky bits of Klingon all over it.
Then, with a flash he appeared, streaking along beside me.
I was relieved! He was too far to see visually, but I could see the flash, and my proximity sensor caught him and showed the scan of his vessel.
I opened communication and asked what had happened.
He sounded concerned. He had had a power fluctuation and his charge was all used up. That shouldn't have happened unless he had poured all of his available power into his four warp-sustainer motors in an effort to go faster than me, which of course I knew was exactly what he'd done.
I called him some names, but then he told me he'd literally run out of charge, and life-support was going to fail in another hour.
That was meant to be a redundant system. It was virtually impossible to make it fail, even if you were trying to breath in freezing conditions while terminally flatulent.
We were still moving at a significant velocity, so I scanned the maps for somewhere or something that could help us. There was nothing I was confident we could reach.
Now I was getting worried.
My sensors were still scanning for metallic objects, and seemed to have actually locked onto something.
There was a ship up ahead. At least, it was something that looked like a ship. I told Clug to scan it and feed back what he could.
My scanners limped over the job of probing the object, and listlessly reported that it was a ship of some kind. Clug confirmed there were no life-signs, but that it had an oxygen atmosphere we could breathe.
We turned and headed straight for it.
I did some quick calculations. We would reach the object in 45 minutes, but the course correction would use the very last of Clug's power. He would have to breathe the stale air in his cockpit while the temperature dropped, but I was confident he'd make it to the ship before the situation turned critical.
He wasn't keen, but we both knew he had only two other choices—suffocation, or freezing to death.
I headed off at maximum and reached the ship in just a few minutes. I began scanning it more closely. It was a Federation vessel—not Starfleet, but definitely of Human origin. It wasn't on my limited records, but looked old to me. Very old. It was listing helplessly but powered. At least there were some lights shining out from behind the windows.
I manoeuvred to the rear and found the shuttle-bay access. By now I was hailing the vessel constantly on automatic, but was getting nothing back from them. I switched my hail to talk to the main computer. It was online, but only barely—the basic functions were operational, but it had no navigation or weapons.
At this point, it wasn't a major concern. I just wanted to get Clug aboard so we could fix up his pod. The last thing in the world I wanted was to explain to his family that their son's remains were floating around somewhere in space looking angry, and slightly confused, through a Workbee window.
Also, his pod had all the beer on-board.
The computer accepted my verbal command to open the shuttle-bay doors, and they shuddered to life before me. The glowing yellow light behind the shutters meant the interior was airtight. It looked like we were going to make it...
Blue is not a good colour for a Klingon, but that was roughly what he was when he finally came aboard. He greedily sucked down lungfuls of air as he shivering openly, his teeth chattering behind his huge leathery lips.
I had used the tractor beam to tow him aboard. The transporters looked to be in working order, but I have no idea how they work. I was just as likely to turn him into a Vulcan as to get him safely aboard.
He growled from the shuttle-bay floor where he'd slumped down beside his pod.
"I'm not sure we're better off." I told him. "This ship is deserted. Federation crews don't generally desert a perfectly good ship for no reason."
Clug said something that sounded suspiciously like his own name, still gasping at the thin air.
"They don't often throw surprise parties either. It's not your birthday, is it?"
He hefted himself up, and reached into the pod to the spot below the chair where I kept the battery pack for the redundancy system that keeps my life-support system running reliably. He pulled out three lumps of ominous-looking metal, and jammed them together with a loud clank to form a hideous weapon.
"I have this to keep me alive." he said, grinning with notable menace in his fierce little eyes.
Clearly Klingons have a poorer understanding of irony than Americans. I drew my own weapon. I carried a tubular type-1 phaser, factory rigged to fire a heavy stun blast, but not capable of delivering a lethal charge.
I didn't want to accidentally vaporise my date, while drunkenly confusing it with my toothbrush. This was a concern Clug didn't share, and as I noticed his grinning, chipped yellow teeth, I realised that it wasn't a concern for at least two completely different reasons.
He laughed at me. "Are you going to fight them with your lipstick?"
"And who are you going to fight on a deserted ship?" I retorted.
He opened his lips to say something, and then just turned away, hefting his ridiculous weapons and heading for the door.
"We will search this vessel." he said.
"I have a better idea, if not better then at least not so overwhelmingly stupid."
He gave me a suspicious stare over the barrel of his Klingon cannon.
"Why don't we repair your pod, charge it up, and head back to the base. We can report this ship, and someone else can come and search it; somebody who's actually qualified, and knows what the hell they're doing. Ideally, someone who's not an Engineering student with an inferiority complex that he compensates for by carrying around a weapon so big that he can barely lift it, or a middle-aged travel-writer who specialises in writing sarcastic nonsense about places where he failed to get any attractive women to go to bed with him."
Clug turned to me and frowned thoughtfully.
"You mean... somebody not us?"
The Human flew erratically. It forced me to do something very clever to avoid crashing into his slow-moving pod, but after doing it, my own had run out of power and I was stranded in open space. He seemed set upon abandoning me, but I was able to discover an abandoned vessel and ordered him to go there and wait for me.
He complied, of course.
I heroically transferred all of my power to my thrusters and made the trip without life-support. A lesser creature would have perished in the attempt, but I was able to do it without issue.
I left my pod proudly, and began the task of finding out where we were.
I decided caution was our best approach. We were not equipped to properly search the vessel, given that I was a warrior engineer with little armament, and he was a mere Human equipped only with a love of hearing his own voice.
I took out my small defensive weapon, in case we were attacked. Ma'a'H said he believed the ship was abandoned, but he was deeply afraid because he was not sufficiently skilled to make that assessment, and there could be things aboard that might hurt or scare him.
He begged me to search the ship on his behalf, while he crawled back into his pod and cowered like a small baby.
I asserted that the best course of action would be to recharge my pod, and head back to the station so we could report this abandoned vessel.
He began to cry.
Eventually, I decided that I had no choice but to calm his fears by acceding to his wishes. I left him in the shuttle bay while I went in search of the bridge.
Apparently Klingon head ridges do have a function. The thick bones serve to protect them from having to hear what people are saying, and from having to process the information to help them make rational decisions. It also seems to serve as a warning to females, but that's just based on my observations aboard the Ophiuchi.
To be fair, his loudly yelling at them and demanding they initiate mating rituals in the dining hall during dinner did a fair job of warning them in its own way.
I insisted Clug wait in the shuttle-bay until his pod was ready so that we could leave together. This had about the same result as me stripping myself naked and dancing around the floor while singing a Ferengi love song to my favourite pet goat. He turned and left, laughing openly, and saying he was going to explore the ship alone, and that I could do as I wished.
I wished to leave, without him if necessary, and the thought did cross my mind.
I held my ground for a few long minutes. I gritted my teeth. I rolled my little defensive-phaser over in my hand thoughtfully. There was literally nothing to be afraid of, but the barman's words played heavily on my mind. The internal scans of the ship suggested there were no people on board. Added to that, the craft was essentially sound with no damage, and no sections without life-support.
I actually laughed to myself as I realised that, while on this stationary vessel, I was likely many hundreds of times safer than I was aboard my pod.
Why not explore a little?
After a few minutes my mind was made up. I secured my pod, locked it with my voice commands, and left for the rear hatchway. It hissed open with a judder and I went off into the corridor. It was gloomy, little more than bare grey metal joists with plain panelling bolted on. There were colour-coordinated tubes running along the edges, and the walls were peppered with occasional signs. With the door at the rear of the bay, and the bay pointing backwards, I had only to walk forwards before I'd come to an elevator or staircase. With that thought in my mind, I realised I was heading for the bridge to meet up with Clug after all.
The lights flickered and there were patchy areas still in virtual darkness, the shadows swallowing up the corridor in front of me eerily. It was a disconcerting experience, and I was glad to have my phaser in my sweaty hands as I gingerly edged forwards into the gloom. I had altered the factory setting some time ago. This little phaser could burn a hole through a Borg cube if it ever needed to.
A door beside me hissed open.
I peered into the grey room and even called out. Nothing but the echo of my own voice. I smiled at my own foolishness. My feet carried me in, powered by a force of pure curiosity. There was a little food laid out, some of it half-eaten, and cutlery still in place on some of the trays. On some tables, chairs were neatly pushed back, in others they were clumsily scattered around. The crew had left in a hurry and yet there was no red alert, no emergency seemed to have happened. I reached out for a bread roll. It wasn't stale, and was likely no more than a few hours out of a replicator.
I was nervous and don't mind admitting it.
I remembered stories of the Marie Celeste, an ancient ship discovered with the crew missing, no sign of them ever found, and the mystery never solved.
Was I walking into a ghost story? Was this to be recorded as one of the great unsolved events of modern history. As a travel-writer I was intrigued, excited even.
I headed back to the corridor, reminding myself that the story was yet to have an ending, or a beginning, and that the latter was the cause of the entire crew to vanish, and the former could possibly be me joining them. Excitement quickly turned to trepidation.
I closed the doors.
They hissed but remained open.
I set all of the doors to manually force closed, and they all shuddered back into place. I wondered if there was a malfunction, some electrical problem that had compelled them to leave.
And then it happened. I heard a noise, a cry like a child being hurt, a scream that chilled my blood and sent an icicle of pure dread coursing up through the bones of my spine.
I stood for a few seconds in dreadful silence, my gaping mouth dry and the sound of my heart beating through my eardrums. I swallowed and edged forwards. The sound was hard to locate in the claustrophobic confines of the ship. I felt it best to go towards the bridge and find Clug. He might be a low-browed savage with the subtlety of brick to the face, but he was a low-browed savage with the subtlety of a brick to the face, a huge gun, and a propensity towards violence as a first means of defence.
Suddenly I wanted him standing between me and whatever that hauntingly evil sound was, and whatever unspeakably vile horror it had come out of.
My eyes were adjusting to the reduced lighting, and I could see with notable relief a pair of doors at the end of the tunnel, unmistakable access to a turbo-lift.
I pressed the button, calling for a lift, and turned back to see the route I had taken.
I thought, just for a moment, that I could see the shadows moving, reaching out for me from the terrifying darkness. I tried to believe it was my imagination, but the same clammy fingers of dread began their journey though my body. Then they moved again, a snaking tendril of shadow slithered out along the floor, stretching unnaturally towards me. I couldn't move. I was frozen with pure dread.
Had the darkness somehow come alive and consumed the crew? Was it still hungry?
I levelled my little weapon and fired it into the darkness. It spat out a flaming beam of flickering orange light. What I was firing at, I didn't know. There was nothing tangible there. This was no human form, this was something grotesque that I could barely understand.
The unmistakable hiss of the doors opening behind me brought the biggest relief of my life. I moved into the car quickly. 'Bridge!' I ordered and the doors slid lazily shut.
I was on my way.
I sank back to the far wall, my weapon still outstretched, pointing at nothing but the closed doors. My heart was dancing in my chest, my lungs were heaving, and I was light-headed with pure adrenaline.
After only a few moments, the lift doors slid open.
I was not on the bridge.
I peered out into the flickering light of my new environment. I could see a sign that said I was on Deck 2. My eyes rolled upwards to the ceiling. I was one deck below where I needed to be.
"Bridge." I said again.
It remained silent.
I opened up the LCARS display and switched on the verbal interface so the computer could speak openly back to me.
"The bridge is a restricted area. You do not have clearance to access that level." it told me.
Beyond me was another unexplored deck with who knew what hiding in the shadows. I didn't relish the possibilities. I stepped out, sweating profusely, but resolved to somehow get to the bridge as Clug had surely done. I locked the turbo-lift open and edged forwards, little by little.
I walked into the corridor, edging forwards, step by step, brandishing my phaser before me. My senses had never been sharper or more focused. My eyes took in every detail with special attention to the flickering shadows along the floor.
My back was to the wall and my eyes were forwards. I felt a sudden burst of pure fear as the doors behind me slid open automatically. I jumped back to the safety of the wall and slowly, very slowly, peered inside the opening.
Sweat was soaking through the clothes on my back. I felt the temperature dropping noticeably as the sweat cooled, and I felt a fresh tendril of dread.
I stepped into the room. It seemed to be a computer station, a place where the crew could access the mainframe for the whole vessel. At least... they could if there had been a crew.
Suddenly and without warning, a monitor on the wall flicked on, and there was the face of a man staring straight out at me. I knew it was only a computerised image, but still...
It startled me!
There was something deeply unnerving about it.
"Hello." it said with a wry smile. I peered at it dubiously, wondering if it really knew it was there. "There are three methods of accessing the bridge from this location."
I stepped back reflexively in shock. How did this thing know what I was trying to do? Had the shadows infected the computers of the vessel? Was it now following me?
I ran out like a frightened child, and didn't stop until I rounded a corridor, and couldn't see the computer station any longer behind me. I gasped for air, my head swimming, and my chest pounding.
I was at an engineering junction. From what little I could tell, it seemed to be the main power conduits access. I poked my phaser into the darkness before edging inside.
I suddenly realised it was an access-way I could use to climb up to the bridge.
The room was dark, lit only by a red emergency-light. I crept in and quickly scanned around for the tubes and ladders that would take me up to the next deck.
I heard a sudden groan, a horrible vibration from the very bowels of the ship, that rung up through the metal and echoed to the very top. It sounded like an old man waking up.
Perhaps that was exactly what it was.
Every fibre of my being wanted to be somewhere else now. Anywhere would do. An office with my ex-wife and her viciously inhuman brute of a lawyer—and second husband—would have been better than this.
I found what I thought was an access-way, with a ladder leading up to the next deck. I allowed myself a brief smile, before the computers around the office flashed to life.
"Initiating internal scan for intruders." they said out loud, as if warning me they were looking for me. I went up the ladder as fast as I could; faster than a Ferengi that had caught the scent of money twitching his nostrils; faster than a Vulcan could discount something thoroughly reasonable in the name of logic; faster than a Cardassian could be creepy and... blame someone else for something.
After a short climb, I staggered onto the first deck. The doors to the bridge opened with a hiss and I clambered through, shaken, and just the right side of utterly terrified.
Clug looked over as my dishevelled form blundered in. He lowered his insanely huge cannon and grinned lopsidedly.
"We need to get out of here!" I told him.
"What do you suggest?" he grunted back in his Klingon monotone.
"Let's get back to our pods, and get the hell off this ship!"
He slowly nodded his bony head. For a moment I was surprised, but then I realised something.
He looked scared too! More scared than I've ever seen him!
"I agree. Let's go!"
I left my cowering Human straggler and proudly made my way along the seemingly abandoned vessel. I remembered what the barman had told me about smugglers' vessels in the area. Perhaps there was nobody aboard, and perhaps there was. I was ready in either case.
I knew the shuttle-bay was on the main hull. I decided to explore just a little before I made my way to the bridge. Where there was a shuttle-bay, there was cargo, and there would be crew quarters. Something here would tell me what was happening.
I walked around for a few minutes, just looking for answers.
The crew quarters were empty. No people. The soft human beds were made, their soft human clothes were hanging in their lockers. Against the walls were industrial food-replicators. I threw some chairs aside and went over to eat.
"Food!" I demanded.
A list of options appeared on the computer terminal. Humans, they love to make everything so complicated. I just pressed everything and trays of food appeared—I took what I wanted. Some was acceptable, most was not. I ate my fill and left with the leg of an animal in my hand.
Perhaps the crew had run away in fear of something, and abandoned the ship. It seemed likely of Humans from what I'd seen. Afraid of their own shadows.
I stood in the doorway and peered into the darkness. I sensed I could see something move. I stepped back quickly and hefted my disrupter weapon in readiness.
So there was someone aboard!
This was a smuggler's ship after all. They must have been hiding in the walls, waiting for us. They clearly intended to attack!
I peered once more out through the doorway. To my surprise the doors shut closed, catching my nose. I roared like a true warrior as I caught the taste of blood!
I hushed myself quickly, remembering I had an enemy on my trail.
"Computer, lights out!" I ordered.
I tried to open the doors, but someone had manually closed them. They had tried to catch me in the crew quarters. I was too clever for them and overrode the lockout. The doors slid open easily.
This time I leapt back out and hid in the shadows. Only a few low lights were left in the corridor. I slid along in silence, a stealthy warrior ready to pounce on my foolishly unsuspecting prey.
I brought the long muzzle of my weapon to bear, and there I saw him. Just a glance as he was edging along towards me. The hunter hunting the hunter... Two warriors locked in silent battle.
I pointed the disrupter at the last point I had seen him.
Suddenly, a powerful phaser beam crackled out, nearly striking me! I pressed myself back against the wall and held my tongue. The weapon was potent, and put me at a disadvantage.
I waited for a moment. I could see no movement, but I knew that they were a stealthy opponent. I fired towards them.
They had no doubt recognised my superior skills and instincts. I ran along the corridor towards them, roaring like a Klingon. I made it to the end, to a pair of closed doors at a turbo-lift. The doors had been locked manually—I couldn't use it. They had escaped to the bridge, and locked me down in the belly of the ship.
I edged backwards until I found another set of doors. I manually opened them and slid inside. I was in a control-room of some kind.
"Computer! Lock doors!" I ordered. Getting to the bridge was now my main priority, more now than ever. From there I could take control from the smugglers, and seize the ship.
"Computer!" I shouted. The interface awoke and the face of a Human appeared on a monitor to speak to me. It said hello with a stupid smile. I feared it would make some kind of... small talk, so I spoke quickly.
"I need to get to the bridge and I can't use the turbo-lift!"
"There are three methods of reaching the bridge from this location." it told me. I pressed some buttons on the panel next to the face. Sure enough, there was a staircase, the Jefferies-tubes, and an emergency transporter in the cargo bay.
I grinned to myself. An emergency transport would catch them off-guard. I could be on them before they could even suspect I was coming.
I was in the cargo bay in mere moments. The transporter pad was a small round thing with a simple interface. I ordered it to send me to the bridge.
It refused, insisting I lacked authorisation. I did what I could to override the system. I accidentally switched off the lights in section 3 and reduced the temperature in decks 1 though 4 before I found the correct system and released it.
"Beam me to the bridge!" I ordered, and it duly complied.
I appeared, brandishing my weapon.
The cowardly smugglers had abandoned the vessel, rather than risk facing me.
I am brave, but I'm no fool.
I set the computer to scan for life-signs, and sat myself down in the Captain's seat at the heart of the bridge. I smiled.
The ship was mine!
A door creaked open behind me. I leapt to my feet, ready to do battle, but it was just my Human—Ma'a'H.
"We must run away, for this place, it terrifies me so!" he said, quaking in his boots, the stench of fresh urine thick in the air.
I told him we would take the ship back to the base, but he was too scared, and demanded that we leave.
I could not operate the ship without his assistance, so I had little choice but to comply with his cowardly whim.
The barman listened intently as we explained to him what had happened. He quite rightly observed that we needed a beer.
A beer and a jug of rosé with a straw in it.
"These are dangerous lanes." he said, tutting to himself, and shaking his head knowingly.
I took a swig of beer. "Security interviewed us for a whole hour."
He assured us that it was little more than a formality. The security crew were friends of his, and had earned his trust.
Clug sucked at his wine and glared at us both.
"We should have taken the ship. It should be ours!"
"Well I'm not stopping you!" I laughed. "I like exploring, but I draw the line at ghost ships with alien shadow-monsters."
"It was smugglers! They were cowards, hiding in the bulkheads!" Clug growled.
"I guess it doesn't really matter, so long as you're all safe." added the barman. I tended to agree with him. "You two seem the only ones left hungry. How about I get you something to eat?"
After a day like that, something to eat sounded pretty good.
I pointed to the Klingon. "Remember what you brought him last time?"
The Barman nodded his head.
"Anything but that."
"I will have something with a weak pulse. Bring its mate, and any offspring it has spawned." demanded Clug.
The barman just smiled knowingly, and brought us two more drinks.
"Sounds like you've earned these, boys. They're on the house! In fact everything is on the house. This is Federation space so everything is always on the house."
I looked over at Clug and he looked back at me.
"So where next?"
"My pod will need approximately 30 hours of repairs to be fully space-worthy. I also intend to revise the fitting of the life support system." he told me, growling through his pointy little yellow teeth.
I offered to help but the growling intensified until I couldn't help but laugh. I'd seen the other side of him now and it was harder than ever to take his posturing seriously.
"After your repairs?" I ventured.
"I will try again. Who knows what we'll find out there next time."
I sipped at my beer. The universe was a complex place full of all manner of life, and we'd barely scratched the surface with our understanding of it. There were dangers behind every star, discoveries to be made on even the smallest journey.
After all, that was why we were there.
I smiled and nodded. "Who knows indeed."
My memory of the day's events is poor. I awoke with a blinding pain in my head. Ma'a'H said I must have had my first original thought, and that he was very proud of me. After repairing my pod, we will head out once more into open space and resume our journey. The Human agreed to accompany me. I presume he will only take clothes that are befitting his gender this time. Whatever he decides, I can imagine how things could be worse.
Perhaps he is not really so bad after all.
Edited by Coal.
|Last modified: 09 Nov 2020