|Responding to a distress signal from the IKS T'Acog, the crew of the USS Pathfinder find the Vor'cha-class battle cruiser adrift in Federation space. With war already erupting between the Federation and Klingon Empire what the crew finds unfolds into a plot far more insidious than they could ever imagine.|
Expanded Universes Characters:
Adult Language, Adult Situations, Character Death, Violence
Star Trek Online: Pathfinder
07 Apr 2014 Updated:
23 Aug 2015
This is the first novella in a planned series that I began for Camp NaNoWriMo April 2014. This story is set in the year 2409, during the Federation-Klingon war, and in the Star Trek Online expanded universe. Star Trek is copyright CBS Studios/Paramount, and no copyright infringement is intended. Many thanks to Mick who graciously serves as beta reader for this project, and thanks to everyone who encouraged me along the way.
1. Prologue by RogueJawa
2. Chapter 1 by RogueJawa
3. Chapter 2 by RogueJawa
4. Chapter 3 by RogueJawa
5. Chapter 4 by RogueJawa
Shouts turned the morning to chaos as two warriors slammed a lieutenant down on the examination table. The convulsing Klingon was the first of five on board the IKS T'Acog to be brought into the infirmary and the other four were not that far behind, with Lieutenant Logruk, the T'Acog's chief medical officer, on their heels. The two immediately stepped back but as Logruk came up behind them he shoved them forward with his shoulder, forcing his way around them to get to his equipment.
"Hold him, you worthless sacks of targ dung!" he shouted at them, voice gruff with annoyance. "How else do you expect me to get him restrained?"
Both warriors gave him begrudging looks but clamped their hands down on the officer's shoulders and arms in an attempt to steady him on the examination table. As large as they were it took all of their strength to keep him in place. The burly, thick necked Klingon thrashed violently against the table; the metal heel of his boots left dents in the surface and the scrape of metal upon metal echoed into the corridor. Logruk shoved between the two warriors and slammed his hand down on the table's controls to active the restraints. He ran a medical tricorder across the lieutenant's cranial ridges then looked up at the display on the wall.
Logruk cursed the outdated equipment in frustration and slammed the tricorder down on the table. The display was a mess, synapses firing without any order, it was like his mind was being erased. It did not look natural and he did not know why. Infirmaries, even on a Vor'cha-class battle cruiser, were geared for patching warriors up and putting them back into the fight as quickly as possible, not for research. For a warrior like Logruk, who believed fighting diseases was just as important as strangling the life out of an enemy, it was infuriating.
"Hold them, all of you!" he growled, tired of seeing everyone standing around while the other four patients thrashed on their tables. Each subsequent scan revealed the same result. All of their synapses were on fire, but he did not understand why. As he reached to take a blood sample there was a roar across the room. Both warriors holding the first patient had let go and backed away, their lips curled in an enraged snarl. Logruk shoved around the group and pushed between them.
"What's the matter with you cowards?" he growled.
Logruk was stopped in his tracks when he looked at the lieutenant resting on his exam table. The seizure activity had ceased and another activity had taken it's place. Before disbelieving eyes his patient's features were starting to transform. His cranial ridges grew more pronounced, his face morphing into something grotesque and formally known only to Klingons in their nightmares. In mere moments the well known visage of their tactical officer had been transformed into something that resembled Fek'Ihr; the very demon from Klingon myth that guarded the gates of Gre'thor. Logruk had heard rumors that the Fek'Ihri from the time of Kahless had returned, but he had dismissed them as superstition.
Perhaps there was truth to the myth after all. Similar shouts of surprise followed and without even needing to turn around he knew what was happening. Logruk took the samples and hurried to his lab, leaving his staff and security staring in disbelief. The sudden lull was short lived, he had very little time to put the samples in the scanner before chaos once again swallowed the infirmary and intensified. Upon hearing the renewed sounds of battle Logruk stepped out of the lab to find his former patients wrestling with the warriors and medical staff left to guard them, and one by one they all began to fall with convulsions.
One of the fallen, his senior nurse, had barely hit the deck plating before his attacker spotted Logruk and charged. Determination set in, he would die on his feet like a Klingon should instead of fall prey to an honorless, infected fate. He turned to run back into the lab and missed being knocked to the floor by the Fek'Ihri by mere centimeters. As the creature recovered he searched the room for anything he could use as a weapon. At first he spotted only loose medical equipment, none of it heavy enough to function as a proper weapon, but then his searching gaze fell upon a panel covering an EPS conduit. He could hear the Fek'Ihri charging behind him as he grasped at the panel to pry it free. A flicker of shadow triggered his warrior instinct and he dropped to the floor, allowing the myth made flesh to slam into the wall. He was doing his best to keep the Klingon turned Fek'Ihri at a distance.
Logruk rose into a crouch and bared his teeth in a feral snarl, the rapid beating of his heart pounded in his ears like a drum; its tune was that of bloodlust. When the Fek'Ihri rose and charged him again Logruk grabbed a tricorder from the table. With it clutched tightly in his hand he stepped to the side and thrust his right arm out, slamming the device into the devil's face. The casing shattered and the beast roared in rage. Logruk dove behind it and a vicious grin spread upon his face. When the Fek'Ihri hit the wall it dented the panel, perhaps just enough for Logruk to get his rough fingers behind. Behind him the demon was rising to his feet and Logruk grasped at the panel to try to pull it free.
Bellowing with an enraged roar Logruk finally ripped the panel from the wall and swung it at his foe as the beast approached from behind. The sheer exhilaration of fighting for his life had left the physician's eyes glazed with anticipation of the kill. A snarl curled his upper lip and he charged his foe with the panel, driving him into the wall and shoving hard enough to drive the dull edge deep enough into what was once one of his friends to severe his spine. He left him there, at least half of him, impaled into the bulkhead and hurried from the infirmary into the dimly lit corridor. The physician did not know what madness was gripping his fellow crewmen but it only took a little observation to see it was spreading with close physical contact. In the corridor warriors rushed past him and into the infirmary in an attempt to gain control of the situation. The reality was that it would only worsen it.
"Back you petaQs!" he growled at the warriors rushing toward the fray, which soon spilled into the corridor itself. "You are only going to spread the disease!" he shouted.
"Quiet you coward!" shouted Betor, son of Ral, the T'Acog's first officer when Logruk emerged from the crowd in front of him. He backhanded the stocky physician into the bulkhead and spat on him. "We are aware that the Fek'Ihri have somehow managed to infiltrate this ship and you run? Get back in there and get our wounded back in the fight."
"Bah! You ignorant fool! You do not understand," Logruk argued, straightening up from the bulkhead. He did not get to finish his thought as one of the infected leapt over the throng of Klingons, and knocked the first officer down to his knees. Logruk wasted no time and continued down the corridor to an airlock.
Behind him the bitter sounds of battle grew closer. By the time he had reached the airlock and its storage lockers more warriors had met the demon Fek'Ihri in combat. As their bodies fell to the deck, and blocked the junction of the two corridors, more of his brethren took their places. He now considered all of them fools. As Logruk began climbing into the environmental suit a Fek'Ihri rose from the hoard and upon spotting him charged down the corridor. Logruk turned with the helmet in hand just in time to see the demon hurtling at him. He pulled the helmet down, locked it into place, and the suit immediately filled with a self-contained atmosphere. Strangely the Fek'Ihri who had been bearing down to him came to a halt and simply stared at the dark metal helmet and polarized face plate that had once been the head of a Klingon. The beast's crazed eyes became hollow and it seemed to look past him as though he weren't there, then it turned and began heading back the way it came. Logruk found this most curious indeed.
The might of the Klingon Empire on board the T'Acog was rendered impotent in less than two hours. Soon the only noise was the muted rattle of the environmental systems and his own breathing inside the environmental suit. Logruk had seated himself on the floor outside the airlock and watched with unadulterated hatred as one by one former Klingons arose as Fek'Ihri. He wondered if this was happening all over the Empire, if this was how the rumors had been started. Though he had bested his fellow combatant in the lab the ship had been lost. Defeat left a foul taste in his mouth, and he wondered if perhaps Betor had been right. Whether he died fighting them or died of boredom in the environmental suit he was a coward and a failure who would be damned to Gre'thor. The infirmary was too outdated to properly analyze what had taken over his comrades.
As self-hatred began to awaken the drumbeat of battle in his heart Logruk stood up, and decided to remove his helmet. "Today is a good day to die," he thought, even though it was suicide. He decided that he would die fighting the horde and perhaps by some miracle he would die with what little honor he had left. Logruk then touched the clamp releasing his helmet just as the deck shuddered beneath his feet. If he was not mistaken the engines had just come online. Curious, he turned to look at the Fek'Ihri horde behind him and noted that none of them were moving. Logruk was left to contemplate who had engaged the engines if these beasts still stood there like mindless automatons.
He narrowed his eyes behind the faceplate, resealed his helmet, and set off down the corridor. As he approached the horde they gave no indication that they knew he was there. As a test to their indifference, and out of necessity to pass, Logruk pushed into the horde and began making his way to the turbolift. To his surprise the Fek'Ihri still did not move and Logruk soon reached the lift without incident. When the turbolift arrived he stepped inside, turned to face the corridor, and activated it.
The lift jolted to a stop and the doors opened to reveal a deserted corridor. The crew had no doubt rushed to the upper levels to meet the threat. He considered them brave, but he also considered them foolish. In spite his own moment of suicidal ideation he thought there was little to be gained from simply throwing yourself at a foe until it relented. He grunted to himself, feeling justified in his thinking, and turned right to enter main engineering. Logruk approached the master display and began punching at the controls with imprecise motions due to the bulkiness of his gloves. More than once he growled in frustration, but he intensified his focus on the task at hand when the lighting dimmed to signal the battle cruiser had engaged its cloak.
"What in the name of Kahless," he swore upon finally pulling up the helm controls.
According to the display the T'Acog had just crossed into Federation space. He swore and slammed his padded fist onto the console; none of it made any sense. One thing was clear, he saw no way for this to benefit the Empire. The Federation would not fear the Fek'Ihri, it would not incite the primordial rage in them that it would incite in the citizens of the Empire.
Logruk hurried to a nearby equipment locker and when he returned he was holding a disruptor. He moved deeper into engineering in search of the cloaking device. When he found it he removed the access panel and leveled the disruptor at the components inside. Logruk fired three shots and as smoke and sparks erupted from the bulkhead the lighting returned to normal. He turned and began firing at console after console, if the Fek'Ihri wanted a ship they would have one that was helpless or he would kill them all trying. Alarm klaxons began to sound throughout the T'Acog yet even then the Fek'Ihri didn't come for him. The battle cruiser shuddered and fell out of warp, seemingly adrift. Logruk turned to the one good console and began transmitting a distress call hoping it would be answered.
Edit: Fixed issues with odd characters being displayed in place of quotation marks.
In the darkness Deputy Director Kirom reflected that his office was considerably cooler than the conditions he was accustomed to. He could have raised them to Vulcan normal but he saw no logical reason to make his subordinates uncomfortable when his mental discipline was more than strong enough to compensate. With steepled fingers the aging Vulcan, his hair starting to tint grey, sat on the metal plated floor in front of his austere desk. His legs were folded beneath him and his posture was perfect. Before him was a single flickering candle that served as the focal point for his meditation. Kirom had no distinguishing marks and his uniform, made of a polyalloy weave, was black and provided no identification with regard to rank or affiliation. His pants were simple and his jacket long sleeved, both form fitting, with a flap across his chest.
"Come," he said suddenly, having sensed the presence of a subordinate outside his door before the chime even sounded.
The doors opened and a human man named Jeremy Shiloh, young by comparison, hesitantly stepped inside. He was clearly put off by his superior's uncanny ability to sense his impending arrival, but smartly he said nothing. In the dim light he could just make out the hawk-like features of the Vulcan sitting in front of him. The flickering light from the candle cast shadows that gave his superior an infernal appearance. Even though demonic superstition was centuries in the past he was still left feeling ill at ease by the Vulcan's guile. He held his position and the Director soon opened his eyes.
"Lights," Kirom said while snuffing out the candle. Immediately the lighting intensified and revealed the stark nature of his office. The elder Vulcan stood with ease and grace, then picked up the candle and walked to his desk. After sitting down he put the votive in a small wooden box off to the side, the only object on his desk, and looked up at the agent expectantly.
"Specialist Theta-Two signaled he was in position and ready to begin," he reported. "We should expect him to arrive in the next two days if everything goes to plan."
"How do the rest of the teams proceed?" he queried.
"Alpha, Beta, and Sierra teams are nearly complete with the automation process. Omega team's having difficulty integrating some of the older systems on the last batch. We misjudged the commission date," Shiloh replied. "Gamma team experienced an overload on several EPS conduits, they're going to use replacements from non-critical systems and utilize a holograph to mask it from sensors."
Kirom considered the report for several moments before replying. His fingertips remained steepled, elbows resting on his lap. "How long will it take Omega and Gamma to overcome their respective setbacks?"
"Gamma team has advised only a two day setback, but Omega team believes it will take them at least three weeks," he said, clasping his hands behind his back.
"The time frame Omega has given you is unacceptable," Kirom said, his tone neutral. Even though Vulcans were said to be emotionless he somehow managed to appear displeased. "Plans that have existed for years have already been set in motion. In two weeks' time we will launch the greatest operation this organization has ever known, and stabilize the Federation's power in the Alpha Quadrant as a result. Omega will find a solution in that time."
He knew better than to argue with the Deputy Director. In his opinion Omega Team's mission leader should have been here explaining their shortcomings, but that was not how the hierarchy functioned. He dipped his head in acquiescence to his superior's demands. The tone of the mission did not set right with him and evidently it showed on his face because Kirom arched an eyebrow. He swore the Vulcan's piercing gaze would tear him apart at the subatomic level.
"Permission to speak freely, sir?" he asked.
"Sir, I've given a lot of thought to the task at hand. The mission profiles are no doubt intricate and have required no small amount of planning," he stopped for a moment to consider whether he should continue. "Are we sure that we're not going a step too far?"
Deputy Director Kirom raised both eyebrows. "By we am I to assume you mean you, or do other operatives feel this way as well?"
"It's only a feeling. I simply mean to ask," he began, but was cut short.
"Your feelings are irrelevant and illogical," Kirom stated simply. "The Federation is fighting a war on multiple fronts. There are enemies the Federation is, as of yet, not even aware they have. It would be illogical to face them all at once. A surgical strike is needed so that the Federation can better direct its resources as opposed to having them scattered across multiple front lines in the quadrant. Do you not agree that it is better to defang the predator sitting on your doorstep, leave them crippled and dealing with their own internal issues, so that you can direct more of your resources to even deadlier threats?"
"Yes sir, I suppose you're right," he conceded.
"Of course I am. Inform Omega Team Lead that his time frame is unacceptable," Kirom ordered.
Once Shiloh had bowed his head and left Kirom scrutinized the spot in which he had just stood. He considered whether or not the conversation they had just exchanged was harmless or if there was some ulterior motive. If he were human his gaze would have been narrowed, and as he wasn't his expression simply remained passive. After deciding that he had given the young man a considerable lead time he looked up.
"Director Kirom to Security," he said.
The communication system chirped a reply, "Sir?"
"Agent Shiloh is to be dealt with," he ordered. It was only logical. "You know the procedure."
Shiloh was still considering the Director's words several minutes later when he stepped off of the turbolift. It was a compelling argument, insane, but certainly compelling. He had been involved in counterintelligence operations that were compartmentalized, but this one was done so to the extreme. He had been on the barebones station, which was essentially a large, skeletal dry dock facility with living quarters, for two months now and he barely knew anyone he worked with. He was told to expect it but it still unnerved him. Rarely was he acknowledged by anyone in the corridors except those who reported to him. There was no starship traffic as the facility's nearest star system was entirely uninhabitable; all demon class planets.
When he rounded the corner of a junction the station's computer scanned his biosigns and the door in front of him opened. It happened so smoothly that he did not even need to slow down. Ahead of him his surroundings were just as barren as the corridor he left. The ceiling, walls, and floor in the entire station were a dull grey. In this room it was only broken up by a central holographic display and several holographic LCARS consoles interspersed throughout. As he did every day he offered the Omega Team Lead a friendly smile that was not reciprocated. All he knew about his coworker was that he was a Tellarite with very little in the way of personality and an engineer.
"Good morning, Omega," he said.
The Tellarite looked up from his console and snorted in response. He lowered his head and resumed working, muttering, "I will never understand why you are so jovial."
Shiloh raised his shoulders in a shrug. "I don't see any need to be rude. We're all stuck here together, and even though we work in secret I don't understand why we can't be cordial to one another."
"You are wasting my time," he responded gruffly. "Do you have anything intelligent to bring to this conversation or not?"
"Oh, yes," he replied. By now he was used to the Tellarite's rough people skills. "Director Kirom informed me your time frame was unacceptable. He wants the problem solved immediately and expects you to finish on time with the other teams."
"Well, as you humans say he can want in one hand and," the Tellarite stopped when the door opened again. There were very few people who had access to this wing of engineering laboratories and dry dock platforms.
Behind Shiloh four tall men, all roughly the same age and at least five years older than he, had entered the room. Everything about them was virtually identical save for the color of their hair and their facial features. They were all human and wore the same black polyalloy weave uniform as Shiloh, their hair was shaved in exactly the same manner, and each of them carried a handheld phaser on their right hip. The two closest to Shiloh startled him when they grasped him none too gently beneath his arms.
"Agent Shiloh, on order of Deputy Director Kirom you're to come with us for debriefing," the man in the back and to Shiloh's left elbow said with a stern tone.
"Debriefed? What in the hell are you talking about?" he argued. He tried to pull his arms free and step away from them but the men at his sides only tightened their grip. "I haven't gone anywhere to be debriefed about!"
"Deputy Director Kirom has ordered you participate in a debriefing," the man at his left repeated the statement.
Shiloh continued to struggle and the Tellarite watched with an expression that could have bordered on pity. He smartly lowered his gaze back to his console and pretended he did not see the now damned human standing there. Having never been debriefed himself he had still heard stories and none of them were pleasant. The fourth man, who stood behind Shiloh and to the right, unholstered his phaser and pressed it to the young man's back. His struggling ceased immediately and they began to drag him out of the room. Shiloh was beginning to look desperate, but Omega stayed true to character and continued to pretend he did not see him even as the doors slid shut. They were aware of the risks when they took the assignment.
The corridor which the Director's security goons dragged him through had been strangely devoid of anyone else. They stripped him of his uniform and were not gentle when seating him as he let out a grunt when he was slammed down into a stark metal chair. It left him momentarily stunned and provided them the time they needed to restrain his wrists and legs, not that he could have put up much of a fight anyway given how outnumbered he was. They left him sitting there alone without a word. The lighting overall was dim, one source directly above him was just a little brighter than the others. He was sure it was for psychological effect. With no chronometer he had no idea how much time passed before the doors opened again.
A woman in her mid-thirties entered. She was tall and supple, dressed in the same uniform as the others, and her dark hair was twisted back into a tight bun. The woman regarded him with faux warmth in her dark eyes. He was certain she was a Betazoid. Her hands were clasped in front of her as she approached and she sat down in an identical chair opposite him. Judging from her calculating expression she was determining how to best proceed.
"Jeremy Shiloh," she said, stating his name simply.
"Y-Yes," he answered.
"Who do you work for?" she asked him.
"What are you talking about?," he replied, his pulse quickening. "I work for the same place as you."
"Who do you work for?" she repeated.
Jeremy Shiloh screamed.
Edit: Fixed issues with odd characters displaying in place of quote marks.
The look of annoyance Teeghan Rhys, captain of the USS Pathfinder, and one of the youngest commanding officers in Starfleet, was trying to hide was in direct proportion to how tight her dress was. Which meant at this moment she felt like someone was trying to stuff her body through an annular confinement beam without deconstructing her molecules first. Rhys kept smoothing her hands along the white, pearl adorned bodice that threatened to compress her insides to half of their normal size as if that might somehow help. Despite her protests Counselor Sefara had insisted they dress as period appropriate as possible, and since she wanted to be a good sport Rhys had relented. She had not anticipated that getting ready for this holodeck excursion would take longer than any other event in her life. Sefara helped her tie the bodice shut, which she regretted because she was certain if she had tried to do it herself it would be considerably less tight, and helped her get her hair in order.
It was a lot of preparation for someone like Rhys, who liked to look nice but preferred to keep things as simple as possible. She was an attractive and confident woman, but in the Victorian garb she wore with her chestnut hair gathered up and cascading down her neck like a waterfall she looked absolutely stunning. The style fully revealed the exotic trail of light brown spots that trailed down her neck and shoulders and gave her away as a Trill. She didn't feel stunning, she felt constricted. When they reached the entrance to the holodeck Rhys adjusted the bodice by running her thumbs between the confining fabric and her body. She was almost certain there would be indents in her skin for weeks.
"The more you mess with it the worse it is going to feel," Sefara said through idle observation.
"How in the hell did the women on your planet survive this?" Rhys complained.
A smile graced Sefara's Mediterranean features, framed by long, thick ebony hair, and made them glow. She looked down at her own dress which was done in the same style as her captain's but in gold and seemed to think about the question for a moment before finally saying, "Shallow breathing."
"If I breath any shallower I'll be visiting Dr. Damar in sickbay," she rolled her eyes and tried to straighten the torturous garment, hoping that would provide some relief.
"And telling him what treatment to provide," Sefara quipped.
Rhys shot the counselor a questioning look, one eyebrow was sharply arched. She looked down at the dress grumpily but stopped messing with it. "I'm getting better."
"Computer," Sefara said while giving her captain a knowing smile. "Load program Sefara twenty-three."
"Program loaded. You may enter when ready."
The two ladies stepped into the holodeck and left the twenty-fifth century behind them as they were swallowed up by a Victorian-era ballroom. Its polished floor reflected light from the improbably high ceilings, in the distance a grand double staircase led to a balcony where participants could linger without disturbing those on the dance floor. Classic instrumental music added a perfect tone for the scene as attendees, who Rhys assumed were lords and ladies of ancient Earth, who danced in front of them with computer generated perfection.
"This is your idea of letting your hair down?" Rhys questioned Sefara while taking in their ornate surroundings with raised brows. She certainly liked the music, Rhys was particularly fond of the cello. Learning to play was a skill she had always meant to develop but had never found the time for.
"I find the music soothing and the motion of the dance steps helps me concentrate," Sefara explained. "Focusing on the movements helps me to direct my mind toward a single problem."
"My father used to take me fishing," Rhys said as they stopped on the edge of the dance floor proper. The smile on her face grew fond as she glanced at Sefara. "He got the idea from a captain he served under during the Dominion War. I guess he used to take his son fishing on Earth, there was a holodeck program with a bridge they would fish off of together. I enjoyed the quiet, and getting to put my feet in the water."
"You sound as if you were quite the tomboy growing up," Sefara said, watching couples dance past them. On the periphery of the ballroom she spotted two gentlemen studying them, both quite tall and undeniably handsome. The computer did not disappoint. She dipped her head to them with a polite smile.
Rhys considered her comment for a moment before answering. "I grew up with three older brothers. I think that behavior translates no matter what culture you come from. I learned to stand up for myself, and I learned to like the outdoors, but I don't think it made me any less of a woman."
As the two women turned and began walking along the edge of the ballroom the gentlemen who had been observing them approached from behind. On closer inspection there was a slight difference in height between them, though neither could be considered short, and both were dressed in Victorian finery. The taller of the two had blond hair with a sculpted mustache, his companion was dark haired and clean shaven.
"Might you ladies be inclined to dance?" Blond asked, respectfully and lightly touching his hand upon the middle of Rhys's back to gain her attention. His companion hovered at Sefara's side with a genial smile.
The touch startled Rhys and prompted her to turn to face him. She opened her mouth to comment but made no sound, she was taken aback by how handsome a man the computer had created. That was the problem though, he was computer generated. He wasn't real, yet she found herself smiling cordially and the urge to slip into character took over. Rhys offered her hand, which he promptly took, and she watched him lay a kiss upon her fingers. "I would love to dance, my lord," she said, perhaps overplaying it a bit.
"Enjoy yourself, Captain," Sefara said as the dark haired stranger swept her away into the crowd.
Rhys smiled at her dance partner as he took her hand in his, touched his hand to the small of her back, and turned with a step onto the dance floor while pulling her along with him. She placed her hand upon his shoulder and made eye contact, though her steps were considerably less sure than her gaze. Ballroom dancing was not her forte but she was certainly going to do her best.
"Captain?" He asked, gazing down at her. "A strange name for a woman, for surely you are not captain of any vessel."
Rhys arched a brow, their attitudes were certainly period. She smiled though and let him lead her through the crowd, each step becoming easier than the last. "A jest between friends," she said. "My name is Teeghan, what's yours?"
"Thomas," he said, his smile too charming to be anything other than computer generated. "Sir Thomas Nelville III. You dance very well, Lady Teeghan."
He was almost certainly programmed to say that because she knew she was dancing horribly. Rhys found it difficult to see him as anything other than a hologram and lose herself in the fantasy. Men were simply not this perfect, and she wondered why the computer did not create them with inherent flaws. He had not stepped on her feet once and she had lost count of the number of times she had stepped on his toes. She looked across the ballroom and spotted Sefara talking with her holographic beau and giving him a demure look. Rhys knew she would have told her to relax and accept it for the fun that it was. Her train of thought was suddenly derailed when her dance partner shifted positions to put his face in her light of sight.
"Oh, sorry," Rhys apologized. "I was just thinking. What were you saying?"
A real man may have been slightly put off. Instead this too-perfect illusion gave her an alluring smile and clutched her tighter, then he dipped her back far enough that her cascading hair nearly touched the floor. He locked gazes with her, his stare intense. "I said your beauty was ravishing and you dance wonderfully."
Rhys held his gaze for a moment and tried once more, in all seriousness, to find enjoyment in the illusion. Instead she began to laugh, loudly, and her head fell back even further. The bewildered look her holographic partner gave her made her laugh even harder, and when she realized the music had stopped and everyone was staring at her she began to shake in an uncontrollable fit of snickering. Sir Thomas straightened up with her and continued to look confused as she pulled away and clasped a hand over her mouth. Upon noticing Sefara approaching with a concerned look she started to wave her off and get her chortling under control.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Rhys exclaimed. "It's just so funny. He's so fake!"
"What do you mean I am fake?" protested the hologram. "You have a very peculiar sense of humor, Lady Teeghan. It is not polite to insult a member of court."
Rhys swallowed back rising laughter and tried to look at him with a serious face. "You're right. Of course, I'm very"”" she said, trying to apologize, but she lost control and began to giggle almost like a child. When she saw Sefara staring at her with a raised brow she swallowed back her giggling and placed a hand on her friend's shoulder.
"Counselor, I'm so very sorry," she said.
Sefara finally cracked a grin and chuckled, "You are right, they are a bit too perfect, but I find it all in fun."
"I do not understand!" Thomas protested louder. "You say I am perfect as if it is a bad thing."
Before Rhys could reply and attempt to sooth his ego a red alert klaxon began to sound in the corridor. Her first officer's gruff voice interrupted them overhead. "Red alert. Captain Rhys to the bridge."
"I'm sorry, Counselor. I'm going to have to cut this short, but thank you for the diversion," she said, still grinning. Sefara dipped her head, looking amused. Rhys turned and left the holographic ballroom at a brisk walk, answering loud enough for the internal comm system to pick her up. "Rhys to bridge, acknowledged. I'm on my way."
The last thing Commander L'Gran expected to see when he turned upon hearing the turbolift doors open was his commanding officer in a Victorian gown. His long tail stopped its slight twitching and the dark furred Caitian studied her with an arched brow. One by one the bridge crew followed suit and most activity stopped. It didn't go unnoticed by Rhys. She looked from station to station and held up the hem of her dress so she didn't trip on it while walking down the two steps to the center of the bridge. L'Gran was standing between the two seats placed in the exact center and stepped slightly to his left as Rhys approached.
Kai Joval, the Pathfinder's operations officer, and Ikari Tanaka, her tactical officer, were staring not so much out of rudeness but because they had never seen their captain wearing anything so ostentatious. Ensign Addison Rae McKenna, fresh from the Academy with brilliant red hair, turned in her seat to see what everyone else was staring at and despite L'Gran's hard stance on proper decorum said, "That's a gorgeous dress, ma'am."
"Thank you, Ensign," Rhys said easily as she stopped in front of her seat. She returned L'Gran's look with an arched brow of her own and then glanced at Tanaka and Joval. "What do you gentlemen do in your time off? Haven't you ever seen a woman in a dress before?"
"My apologies, Captain," Tanaka said quickly, his eastern accent respectful. Joval joined him as the two looked down at their respective consoles.
"Well, what've we got?" Rhys said, her expression lightening with a goodnatured grin as she looked at L'Gran.
"We received a distress call from the IKS T'Acog," L'Gran's rough voice was part baritone and part rumble. The sound sometimes reminded Rhys of a pet she used to have. "We have altered course to intercept."
"Stand down red alert," Rhys ordered while turning to look at Tanaka, then McKenna at the conn. "Take us to yellow alert and maintain present course. Time to intercept?"
"Sixty minutes at warp nine, Ma'am."
"Captain," L'Gran interrupted, taking a polite step forward as he always did when he gave her counsel. "We are currently at war with the Klingon Empire. It could be a trap, are you certain going to yellow alert is wise?"
Rhys took a breath and turned to stare at the main viewer, watching the stars flash by as the ship hurtled through space. She put her hands on her hips and considered his advice carefully before speaking. "Mister Joval, anything on long range sensors?"
"Not much, Captain," he said, scrutinizing his console. "They appear to be adrift, but the readings I'm getting are inconclusive. There's been some kind of energy discharge but we're too far out for the sensors to distinguish what kind, and the extent of the damage."
She pursed her lips and then looked at L'Gran, "You're right. It could be a trap, but they could also be seriously hurt. Lieutenant Tanaka, maintain yellow alert but raise our shields. I'm going to my quarters to get out of this torture rack. I want all senior officers to convene in the conference room in thirty minutes, notify Command and get me everything Starfleet Intelligence has on the T'Acog."
L'Gran nodded his head, satisfied with their compromise and stepped to the side to allow Rhys clear passage to the turbolift. She patted him on the shoulder as she went past, saying, "If you register a phaser discharge that's just me trying to get this damn thing off."
As much as she enjoyed holodeck excursions Rhys was certain she would never wear a dress like that again in her life. She was still aching by the time she and her senior staff had gathered in the conference room, and she had resisted the urge to scan herself with a medical tricorder to make sure every organ was in its proper place. But at least she was back in uniform; she had left the charcoal and light grey jacket undone, exposing the red turtleneck underneath. Rhys sat down at the head of the angular table with L'Gran on her right and the Pathfinder's second officer, and chief engineer, Lieutenant Commander P'rek Shen on her left. The tall Andorian had a serious, almost standoffish, demeanor on first glance but was as loyal to his ship and captain as they came. Beside him were Lieutenant Commander Kai Joval, a brilliant young man of South African descent with an easy smile, and Doctor Damar Elias, the chief medical officer, whose nose ridges showed his proud Bajoran heritage and precision trimmed dark beard suggested a man who was meticulous about his life. On L'Gran's right sat Lieutenant Kai Tanaka who stopped looking at the pinpoint trail of stars out the observation windows and focused all of his attention on his fellow officers.
"What do we know about the T'Acog?" Rhys asked, looking at each of them in turn while leaning back in her seat and crossing on leg over the other.
"Not nearly as much as we'd like," Joval answered in his distinctive accent. He turned his chair to the right so that he faced Rhys while speaking to her, one hand clasped in the other, while leaning nonchalantly to the right. "It has a crew of fifteen-hundred and an impressive record dating back to before the Dominion War, but we don't have any information on it dating after the Klingons broke from the Khitomer Accords."
"Sensor data suggests their engines are down, but we will not know more until we get closer," L'Gran said, looking from Joval to his Captain. He watched her, gauging whether or not he should press a more tactical approach. She was a stubborn humanitarian and he viewed it as his duty to be her less trusting counsel. "Captain, we could be heading into a trap."
"I agree, Ma'am," Tanaka added. "There could be an entire fleet of Klingon ships waiting for us under cloak."
"Or they could genuinely need assistance," Shen countered with a shake of his head. "The Empire and the Federation fight openly. If they wanted to ambush a Federation starship they could just cross the border under cloak and do it directly, none of this laying out bait. It stinks of cowardice."
"It wouldn't be the first time," Joval offered, looking from Rhys to Shen and the others.
"No," Shen said, shaking his head vehemently. He straightened, squaring his shoulders in a standoffish fashion while crossing his arms over his chest. "It is just as likely their cloaking device has malfunctioned. Perhaps a catastrophic failure in engineering. I know Captain K'lagh, he is an honorable warrior and this is not his style."
"You've met him, then?" Rhys said, turning to look at Shen with a raised brow.
He nodded an affirmative. "Once at a summit on Cardassia, after the reconstruction. He was on the panel discussing the adaptation of the transwarp technology we learned about upon Voyager's return, and again, much later, at a bat'leth tournament."
"Ah, I remember that conference," Doctor Damar piped up, scratching his beard with his right hand. "I met a very handsome dabo boy there, took me for a lot of latinum and ran off with an Orion, but he knew how to give a massage."
Rhys stared at Damar and couldn't help but raise her brows at his candidness. Damar was never one to be shy about his adventures, she should have come to expect it now. She smiled at his ability to make a conversation random and looked at each of her staff in turn. "I know that we need to be cautious, but we also need to be mindful that they could genuinely need our assistance."
"After the last two months we've had the last thing I want to do is wind up in another fight," she added, looking at L'Gran, then Tanaka and Joval. "Keep the shields up, keep your eye for anything funny on the sensors."
L'Gran let out a rumble of uncertainty, stating, "We may not have a choice in the matter."
Rhys opened her mouth to respond but was interrupted by a chirp from the comm system. "Bridge to Captain Rhys."
"Go ahead, Ensign," she answered, looking at the group as a whole.
"Captain, we're coming up on the T'Acog."
"Take us out of warp, we're on our way. Rhys out," she said, while pushing back her chair. Rhys stood and looked at each of them, then began walking to the door. "Let's get to it, gentlemen."
As they filed out behind her Tanaka paused to let Shen, whose height dwarfed him, walk past him. He looked at him a moment as he did and then followed him out. "Commander, I did not know you liked bat'leth tournaments."
Shen cast him a furtive look, then he grinned. "One never knows what they will have at hand to beat their foe with, Lieutenant. Best to be prepared."
Edit: Fixed formatting issue (I think).
Even though Kyle Malone had been on board the Klingon cruiser for a little over a month he still could not get over the stench. He was known as Specialist Zeta-Two to his superiors, and on board the T'Acog he was known as Lieutenant R'Kag, or rather he had been known as Lieutenant R'Kag. Once the infecting agent, knows as BNK95, ran its course he was able to shed his disguise and not a moment too soon. He had almost begun to forget what he looked like in a mirror. Malone, a human of average height with short red hair, shoved the dead body of Captain K'lagh out of the raised, center command chair just to hear the satisfying thud it made on the metal grating that passed for a floor. The captain and two junior officers had made their last stand on the bridge. Disguised as he was Malone had little difficulty in finishing them off with a disruptor blast to the chest. He could have let the horde do it but then he would have to put up with them standing in the way on the bridge.
He sat down at the helm and took a moment to familiarize himself with the interface. Malone hated Klingon technology. It wasn't intuitive, they made things much harder than they had to be. He snorted with disdain and muttered, "The only good Klingon is a dead Klingon."
Malone turned in the seat and gave the captain's dead body a solid kick in the back. "Isn't that right?" he asked, then laughed to himself. When he turned back to the helm he took a moment to lock the controls out from everywhere but the bridge and set the course he had painstakingly memorized. Prior to this assignment it would have taken him precious minutes, which he did not have, with tricorder to translate the controls that he needed to engage the warp drive. He was no good with languages and learning Klingon had been difficult, but thankfully his superiors did not utilize him for his verbal skills. "It's a miracle these idiots ever developed faster than light travel," he complained.
Moments later, with a course set for Federation space, the battle cruiser's warp drive came to life. Malone got up and walked to the tactical station. From there he engaged the cloak, the interior lights dimming as he did so, and then dropped onto the seat and put his legs up on a railing. A few hours from now he was going to be enjoying a bacon cheeseburger, no more disgusting Klingon food that still moved when it went down. He was certain his tastebuds were irreparably damaged. Malone was about to indulge himself with a nap when the lights suddenly came back up to full intensity. Seconds later he was thrown from the chair when the cruiser lost attitude control and dropped out of warp. Alarm klaxons began to blare, drowning out the pained grunt he made upon slamming into the deck.
"What in the hell?" he asked, receiving no answer of course. He pushed himself onto his hands and knees and made his way to the helm. Still reeling from the shock of being flung into the deck he had to pull himself into the chair because his shaky legs would not cooperate. Malone punched up a status display and discovered the engines and the cloak were offline. "Obviously,' he thought to himself. While he tried to get a more detailed report from the computer and stop the ship from tumbling with maneuvering thrusters he performed an internal sensor scan. Pulling up a detailed report was the hardest. He decided he didn't have time to translate, not now, it would at least have to wait until he stabilized the ship.
When the results of sensor sweep came back he decided it was going to have to wait even longer. Somehow one of them had survived; he was reading a Klingon life sign in engineering. With the ship returned to relative stability, relative because it was still drifting under its own inertia but no longer tumbling, he got up from the helm but waited a moment to test the steadiness of his legs. Satisfied, he walked to Captain K'lagh and took the ceremonial d'k tahg from its sheath on his belt. Malone then pulled his disruptor from its holster and headed for the turbolift.
It took longer than he anticipated to make his way through the herd of genetically altered Klingons than he thought it would. Malone cautiously stepped off the turbolift, holding the disruptor ready and the d'k tagh, a Klingon knife, perpendicular to his arm. He saw nothing when he looked up and then down the corridor. With quiet steps he began crossing to the entrance to main engineering. If the survivor was inside and the arrival of the turbolift had not already alerted him then Malone did not want to do so with a misstep. He crept to the angular, open doorframe that led into main engineering and pressed his back to the wall. Carefully Malone looked around the corner and narrowly missed having his face melted by a disruptor blast.
"Come and fight me openly, petaQ!" Logruk spat.
Malone swore under his breath. He did not have the luxury of firing blindly into engineering. If he struck the warp core it would mean death, and he was not going to die because some Klingon bastard did not have the decency to join his brethren. He leaned around the corner once more to see if he had a decent shot but jerked back, blinking his eyes. The blinding flash of a disruptor bolt striking the durasteel near his head left him temporarily blinded. In the next instant he felt himself being tackled onto the hard deck plating, the wind getting knocked from his lungs, and he felt the sting of a meaty fist cracking him square in the mouth. One arm instinctively went to his stomach but the other he brought up to his face in an attempt to deflect the rain of blows falling on his head.
"You call this open, you coward?" Malone challenged, his voice slurred from a lacerated, swelling lip.
His world spun when the Klingon yelled with rage and hauled him up by the fake house sash he wore. Logruk had discarded the helmet after sweeping engineering to make sure there were no Fek'Ihri. His eyes were bulging with rage and bloodlust as he stared into Malone's pale face, snarling with sharp bared teeth. Logruk hurled the human down the corridor and then stalked after him.
Malone tucked when he hit the deck plating and continued forward in a controlled roll, eventually landing upright on his knees. He looked up in time to see Logruk raising a knee to his face, and he barely got his arms in the Klingon's path to block it. The impact jarred him to the bone but adrenaline allowed him to shake it off. He flipped the d'k tagh in his hand and drove it through the environmental suit and into the joint of the Klingon's ankle. He heard Logruk howl in pain and barely had time to withdraw the blade and roll out of the way before the burly doctor crashed onto the deck plating.
It gave Malone the few seconded he needed to recover and that kept him from being driven back to the deck again when the enraged Klingon fought to his knees and lunged for him. Human and Klingon became locked in a struggle, neither willing to relent. Logruk was snarling like a rabid animal and Malone let out a grunt of pain, he was certain the Klingon was going to snap his right arm at any second. Malone refused to give, pushing as hard as he could for as long as he could against Logruk's left arm and the disruptor he held in that hand. Finally, Malone's own left arm slipped free and it gave him the opening he needed. He plunged the blade into the Klingon's kidney. He watched his foe's eyes widen with shock, heard the disruptor clatter to the floor, and then Malone drove the heel of his palm as hard as he could into the Klingon's jaw and knocked him unconscious.
Malone pushed the Klingon away, the d'k tagh still in his back, and panting for breath he fell backward. Knowing that inaction could mean his death Malone summoned the last of his strength and pulled himself into a standing position. As he caught his breath Malone watched the Klingon lay there for what felt like an age while gripping the bulkhead to steady himself. When he realized the Klingon wasn't going to move he suddenly registered the repeated beep of a sensor contact coming from engineering. Malone made his way inside to one of the few consoles that was not a smoking ruin and started pulling up the sensors. Shutting down the distress call was easier, but once the sensor display came up he would immediately regret doing so.
Malone cursed under his breath while scanned the report. A vessel was approaching, Intrepid-class, and he read off the transponder to himself, "USS Pathfinder, NCC-92864." The console began to beep again and he glanced to his right, the starship was hailing them repeatedly. This changed things considerably; he had to hide.
Edit: Fixed some formatting issues. Hopefully.
Rhys is the first to emerge from the conference room and the rest of the senior officers file out behind her to take their stations. She stops in the center of the bridge with her scrutinizing gaze settled upon the main viewscreen. It displays a Vor’cha-class battle cruiser suspended in space and listing to port with its two pronged bow aimed down. Against the background of space with its nacelles darkened and running lights off the green hull is virtually indistinguishable from black. Without sensor input serving as a visual aid they would likely see no more than a dark patch of space where stars are absent.
“Report.” Rhys takes a few steps forward until she’s standing behind the helm, her hands co
me to rest on either side of Ensign McKenna’s chair.
Having been one of the first to take his station Joval’s fingers were already dancing across the console as he pulled up sensor logs, there is a deep crease across his brow as he frowns. “I’m reading traces of disruptor fire in their engineering section. Their shields and weapons are powered down, main power is offline.”
L’Gran moves from his position near the tactical station to his own seat where he glances over a status display. “Life signs?” His voice is rough.
Joval doesn’t answer right away. He turns his head slightly to check another sensor reading, his puzzled frown now borders on suspicion which becomes evident in his voice. “I’m not sure, Commander. I’ve got a faint Klingon life sign in engineering and I swear that for a moment I saw a single human life sign, but it might just be radiation interference from the weapon discharge.”
“There should be over a thousand people on that ship, we’re only getting two life signs?” Rhys asks.
“I’ve never seen sensor readings like this, Captain.” It wasn’t a confession Joval wanted to make.
Rhys looks over her shoulder at him. “What’s your best guess?” she asks patiently.
The crease upon his dark brow becomes deeper and his lips thin while he compares sensor data. Finally he looks up at his captain at a loss. “They’re fluctuating, Captain. They appear to be in some kind of stasis.”
“Unless a Klingon and our human sensor ghost have incapacitated a crew of a thousand I guess that rules out mutiny,” L’Gran says, shifting his attention to Rhys.
Torn between the need to help whoever was alive on that ship, enemy or not, and concern for the wellbeing of her own crew Rhys begins to tap her fingers on the sides of McKenna’s chair. Her gaze is unwavering as it sizes up the viewscreen with the critical eye of a trauma surgeon, the only problem is the projected image gives considerably less information than a live patient. She turns and starts walking back to her seat. “Open a channel,” she says.
The tactical console chirps as Tanaka enters the appropriate commands. “Channel open.”
“Klingon vessel T’Acog,” she says while taking her seat. There is an edge of authority in her voice that surprises even her. “This is Captain Teeghan Rhys of the Federation Starship Pathfinder, we’ve received your distress call and would like to render whatever assistance we can. Please respond.”
She looks over her right shoulder at Tanaka who shakes his head to signal they’ve received no response of any kind. With her gaze settling back upon the viewscreen she gives it another shot, this time with more warning. “Klingon vessel, you’re in violation of Federation space. Respond immediately.”
Tanaka shakes his head again and she makes a signal for him to close the channel. Once the task is completed he looks up at her and says, “Still no response, Captain, but they have stopped transmitting the distress signal.”
“That’s damned peculiar,” Rhys says, shooting a skeptical look at image of the Klingon ship on her main viewscreen. A sense of uneasiness starts to build within the pit of her stomach but it doesn’t reach her face.
“Well at least now we know someone is aware we are here. Are their communications offline?” L’Gran asks.
Tanaka’s gaze sweeps his console and he studies the sensor reading mirrored from operations. “They do not appear to be, Commander,” he says with a shake of his head.
Crossed legs and the motion of drumming her fingertips on her chair arm give the impression of a woman comfortable with the decision before her when nothing could be further from the truth. She wanted to go over there and the urge to do so is just as strong now as it was when she first took command. Recent history tells her exactly how that scenario would play out. “Commander L’Gran,” she says with barely reluctance that is barely restrained, “take an Away Team to investigate.”
Having prepared for another argument L’Gran took a moment longer to respond than he would have liked. He was used to her being headstrong; he meets her gaze with a sharp nod of respect. “Aye, Captain,” he says, tapping his combadge. “Doctor Damar meet me in Transporter Room Two.”
“Mister Tanaka, you’re with me. Assemble a security team.” L’Gran motions for Tanaka to follow as he heads to the turbolift at a brisk walk. Tanaka nods his head and steps away from his station while a relief officer takes his place. Rhys looks at the ensign now at Tactical to the viewscreen.
“Reopen that channel,” she says, and once she has confirmation Rhys looks back at the screen. “Klingon Vessel, this is Captain Rhys of the Pathfinder. I’m sending over a team to see if we can render any assistance. They are not your enemy.”
The ensign shakes his head to indicate no response and Rhys’s shoulders rise with the beginnings of a frustrated sigh. “Hail them until someone answers.”
Damar Elias waited in the corridor outside Transporter Room Two with three security officers lined up behind him. The slim Bajoran physician was performing a final check on his med pack while they waited for the rest of the team to arrive. His hand pats the left side of his waist to make sure his tricorder is in its proper place when he sees L’Gran and Tanaka rounding the corridor, then he closes the med pack and slings it casually over his shoulder. If you didn’t know him the smile Damar gave L’Gran and Tanaka could be construed as smug but his blue eyes were vividly welcoming. “Commander, Ikari,” he says, his tone relaxed.
“Doctor.” L’Gran greets him with a nod of acknowledgement. The transporter room doors part as L’Gran approaches them and he immediately heads inside. Close behind him is Tanaka whose greeting is a respectful dip of the head and silence, Damar didn’t expect much more from the private and reserved tactical officer. He wanted to make it his mission to break Tanaka out of what the doctor considered to be a shy shell but no opportunity has presented itself.
Damar and the others fall into step behind them and once they are inside prepare to take their positions on the transporter pad. Chief Pearson, a very tall and striking older woman with short ruddy hair, was studying the controls. “Sensors are saying the engineering deck is deserted except for one Klingon,” she says. “Disruptor discharge has started to dissipate and I’m not showing any other radiation hazards. I can put you right outside their engineering bay if you like, Commander.”
“Joval was getting some curious sensor readings on the bridge,” L’Gran says, “is there any indication of contaminants in the air?”
“I’m not showing anything sir, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything present that we can’t detect.”
L’Gran turns to Damar who nods his head; his golden gaze immediately befalls the rest of the away team. “Suit up.”
The light generated by the transporter fades away and leaves them in comparative darkness. What light remains causes a reflection in the faceplate of their EV suits and adds a few seconds to the time it takes their eyes to adjust. L’Gran and Tanaka are the first to switch on their shoulder lights, casting bright beams of white into the haze. Evidence of disruptor damage is obvious and any console fires appear to have burned themselves out. Security immediately begins to sweep the area and take up defensive points while Tanaka, who also holds a phaser in one hand, and Damar open their tricorders.
“Life sign over here,” Damar reports while stepping over a piece of console that was blasted loose in the exchange of fire. He starts making his way through the haze.
L’Gran taps his combadge. “L’Gran to Pathfinder.”
“What have you found, Commander?”
“There has definitely been a disagreement aboard, Captain,” he says while looking around, his eyes alert for movement. “Doctor Damar is making his way to the single life sign we have been able to verify and we appear to have engineering secured, but we also seem to be the only ones here.”
“Acknowledged. Don’t get caught with your pants down.”
“Aye, Captain,” L’Gran says as the channel closes.
“Commander, I’ve found him,” Damar calls out.
L’Gran turns and spies Damar’s light across the bay, halfway to one of the corridors flanking engineering. He steps over debris and makes his way there. As he gets closer it becomes easier to see the forms of both the doctor and an injured Klingon through the smoke. Damar is leaning next to a burly Klingon lying prone with a dagger in his back; L’Gran takes note of the fact the Klingon is wearing an EV suit sans helmet, apparently they had the right idea.
Damar finishes a sweep with sensor he holds in his hand and looks up from his tricorder. “No energy burns, blunt force and penetrating trauma only. I need to get him to Sickbay and stabilize that wound, a centimeter up and to the left would’ve hit an artery and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
“What about contamination?”
“Nothing the tricorder can pick up, Commander,” Damar says. “We can transport directly to isolation.”
L’Gran hesitated. There were many reasons the Klingon could have been in an EV suit, but if he died then a major piece of the puzzle went with him. He nods and steps back to give Damar room to work.
“Damar to Sickbay,” he says, tapping his combadge. “Erect a containment field around Trauma One and begin isolation precautions.”
“We’ll be standing by, Doctor.”
He taps his combadge again. “Damar to Transporter Room, two to beam directly to the containment field in Sickbay.”
As Damar and his patient dissolve in a swirl of light L’Gran turns his attention to the rest of engineering. He makes his way to Tanaka who is studying a working console near their arrival point. “L’Gran to Pathfinder, Doctor Damar has returned to the ship with a survivor. We are going to expand our search of the ship.”
“What have you found, Lieutenant?” L’Gran asks as he reaches Tanaka.
“Not much, Commander. The distress signal was both activated and canceled from here. It looks like main power was taken offline deliberately. All command functions appear to still be active. I have begun uploading the engineering logs to the Pathfinder.” Tanaka looks up at L’Gran, wishing he could provide better answers.
“Good work, Mister Tanaka. I am sure Joval and Shen are eager to study them. Any sign of our human sensor ghost?” L’Gran watches as Tanaka shakes his head no, his attention turns to the three members of the security team covering the exits who also shake their heads. If L’Gran were the superstitious type the eerie feeling would have been overwhelming. “What about the other signs we could not identify?”
“They are concentrated toward the core of the ship. No readings on the bridge, the first two decks, or anywhere below us,” Tanaka says, checking his tricorder. “I am picking up sparse readings on the deck above us.”
“Set your phasers to heavy stun,” L’Gran orders while he motions for them to follow.
The utilitarian lift that took them one deck up was a tight fit for five Starfleet officers in EV suits, L’Gran couldn’t imagine many Klingons fitting onto it at one time. When the doors open their suit lamps cut into the darkness to find the deck in a state similar to engineering minus all the particulate in the air. There are signs of hand to hand combat but no weapon discharge. L’Gran is the first to step off of the lift with his phaser held ready, he is followed by the three members of Tanaka’s security team and then Tanaka himself who brings up the rear.
Only the sounds of their boots upon the deck plating and the quiet hiss of their EV suits keep them company. Even if this was the first Klingon ship L’Gran had ever set foot on he would know something was out of place. As they round the corner he spots a tall, hulking form in the distance and signals those behind him to stop.
“This is Commander L’Gran of the Starship Pathfinder,” he says after switching his audio to external. “Are you injured?”
When the figure doesn’t respond he switches back to internal audio and spares a glance to Tanaka. “Anything?”
“Their biosigns are a little clearer, but the tricorder is still having trouble recognizing them,” he says. “Its vital signs are minimal.”
L’Gran let out a growl under his breath. His attention was now refocused upon the figure in the distance, only his sharp eyes could clearly make out another beyond that though he was certain Tanaka’s tricorder was picking it up. He motions for them to follow and carefully they approach the unwavering figure in the distance. As L’Gran edges around it and the figure’s features become clearer his eyes narrow. Reflecting off his faceplate is the horrific visage of a Fek’Ihri Ravager.
Nothing Klingon remains of the flattened face that is pale and bordering on yellow. Three spikes project from either side of the cheekbone while five spikes that alternate between thick and thin, with the thickest in the center, project up from the tapering head and form a sort of crown. The beings eyes are sunken, lidless, and without any discernable iris. As his gaze sweeps down long limbs he takes note of elongated fingers ending in wicked talons; they rival the length of the dagger protruding from the back of the Klingon they recovered from engineering.
“What in the hell?” L’Gran says.
“I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Tanaka ignores the commentary from one of his officers and glances from his tricorder to the Ravager then back again. He shakes his head. “Nor have I, Ensign, not in person. However were we in Japan and were the folk tales my grandmother shared to be believed I would say we are face to face with an Oni.”
“An Oni?” L’Gran repeats.
“Yes, Commander, a sort of demon from the old folklore,” Tanaka explains. “The readings appear to grow more concentrated the closer we get to what I suspect is their medical bay.”
L’Gran taps his combadge. “L’Gran to Pathfinder. Captain, you are going to want to take a look at this.”
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