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 come 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.”