‘Diffusing the Situation'
Jex was leaning back in her chair feeling a little contented with how things had panned out. The bridge was secured and so too was engineering now. For her now was a case of sitting post until the search of the vessel was complete, even with the Kestrel docked to the vessel.
The small smile on her face was noted by the young and dashing looking Andorian at the computer consoles. "You did good."
Leoni blushed at being caught being smug with herself and at the compliment. Sitting alone in the Star Stallion with the hunky Andorian her mind wandered to thoughts she actually hadn't had for some time. Or more precisely, thoughts of her own that she hadn't had since she had been joined. Jex had a certain taste for the smart argumentative type, whilst Deodzi's eye for beefy hunks had almost landed her in trouble in her last year at the Academy. The sexual desires of the symbiont and past hosts had not exactly figured into Leoni's mind about what she would gain from the Joining!
"Thank you Keren." She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. Her ponytail bopped as she cowed her head and tried to stop herself coyly at the muscular but finely honed body of the Andorian. She had to keep her mind focused and on task. "I have to say it was a bit of a thrill but at the same time I didn't have that difficult a flight."
He generously offered a compliment. "Do not knock yourself. You navigated a subspace sandbar using momentum alone and thrusters."
"Well thank you again then." She cleared her throat and tried to clear her mind. "Cut it out Jex!"
"Sorry." She found herself blushing and embarrassed at speaking aloud. Inside, Jex was laughing whilst Leoni was cringing. "I was talking to myself I suppose."
His antennae twitched in bemusement and in confusion. "Uh huh. Life as a joined Trill sure must be confusing at times when talking to yourself is actually talking to another person."
"Yeah. Well it is and well it isn't. I guess it is hard to explain." She shrugged in a coy playful manner. "I know I've tried to explain it to Noah a couple of times and I gather from the blank look on his face that I haven't succeeded in doing that but confusing him further."
"Ha! It must be difficult for him to understand, especially as your boyfriend."
She nearly choked. "My boyfriend! Noah! Noah?"
"Oh right. I must have picked it up wrong."
"Nooooo. No offence meant but Noah? He's more like, like, like a kid brother. He's a friend. Nothing more than that. A really good friend. But a friend and that's that. What made you say that?"
"Nothing. I didn't mean to presume anything."
"Now go on tell." He pointedly tried to ignore her look but his eyes lingered on the rank of her collar. She noted that however and ordered him, "Forget the pips."
"Sorry. Ok then. My bad, I guess I just saw you hanging out with him so much and well I didn't quite get it. The being a boyfriend or being just a friend thing between the two of you."
"Why not? Sure Noah is sweet and funny in his own quiet way. He's gentle and caring and sometimes that means you want to shake him because he ends up worrying too much about things but he can't be knocked for caring too much."
Keren flashed a knowing smile. "Are you sure there isn't something more between the two of you?"
"What! Excuse me! Just because I can see the good qualities in him doesn't mean anything. For your information, Noah helped come to terms with being joined. When I came back to the Academy, I found it harder than I thought I would to reconcile who I was before and who I am now after Joining. He befriended me when I was struggling with that. Despite his own insecurities, he helped me to find a path between being Leoni and being Jex. He helped without knowing that he did. And he helped by becoming my friend."
"I suppose." He seemed a little unconvinced by the vocal protest.
In Leoni's mind, she could hear a whisper from Niesa that perhaps she did protest too much and that she didn't see what was right in front of her. Leoni bit her tongue from trying to silence her aloud. Meantime, Jex chuckled knowing that Noah was the honest to next-door type that Niesa liked and indeed had married and bore several children to. Deodzi cared not to comment on the matter. Her preferences were already made known. ‘Contain yourself Leoni, Deodzi, Jex, whichever one us wants to run our hand up his leg!' She cleared her throat again.
"I guess I reckoned the way the two of you spent so much time together that you were some kind of item."
"You reckoned?" She felt like flushing bright crimson. She channelled Deodzi's bravado to control her deportment. Leadingly she boldly asked, "So what you were checking us out?"
"Eh? No, no. It was something Mejal noted in the mess one day."
"Oh Mejal. Is she ... your ...?" She left of the trailing question.
"What? Oh no." His skin flushed a deeper blue. By way of explanation, he provided the information, "Mejal is Shen. I am Chan."
"Oh right. That means she is your wife?"
"No. That is not what it means."
"So she isn't your wife, she's your girlfriend."
"No. It is our sex genders."
"Oh. Sorry. I sound completely ignorant and stupid. Just a friend of mine one time was married to his Shen, so I mistakenly assumed..."
"No, no, we are not married. Not exactly. We are in a marriage bond. That is. We are part of a marriage bond together but we ourselves are not married to one another. She's just a very, very close friend. Merely that together we can make a baby with the cooperation of two others of course. Well for the two others who are married. As they say on Andoria, It takes four to make a baby."
"Ah! I think I see. Ok I don't see at all. Talk about family planning! As long as I've lived I never could get my head around the four sexes thing. I rather imagined some sort of big blue foursome orgy."
He laughed at the notion but didn't think the present was the time to explain Andorian reproductive functions. "Hey, don't knock it till you've tried it!"
"Hey, who says I haven't." He gave her a questioning look to which she only offered a mischievous wink and smile. In her thoughts, she knew that smile belonged to Deodzi.
"Hmm ... what is that?" He peered closer to his screen. The antennae on his head worried forwards as if they strained to better perceive what the screen showed.
"What is it?"
"A spike of energy in engineering." He punched up the sensor readings on screen to show her. "I got a momentary spike on the sensors coming from within main engineering. It isn't there now though."
She tried to get a better refinement of the readings to no avail. "Check in with Denora. The Kestrel's sensors may have picked up more. I'll contact the captain."
"Captain, it is Ensign Jex. I'm currently onboard Stallion One. We were still gathering sensor readings and detected a strange spike of energy in engineering. We don't know what it is."
"Fine."McGregor was limited in any further response but from the open comm. She heard him order Dexter to investigate with Submino. Jex toggled the comm. links and brought up the chief of security's and the Bolian's to listen in on their progress. She noted the tension in all of the voices that she overheard.
"It makes my antennae quiver when the top brass are angry at one another. It means one of us skids is going to pay for something that is not our fault and has nothing to do with us."
"You've a bad notion of the officers. Do you think all of us bad?"
"Not bad. Just more trouble than you are worth."
"Hey! Am I counted among that?"
He took a moment before he replied. "Oh I think you could be trouble. But maybe you might be wor ... uh oh ..."
"Did you detect another reading?"
"No. Something more troubling. Lt. Commander T'Vel's bio-feed has went dead."
Leoni asked shocked, "Dead?"
"Yeah." He studied the read outs quizzically. "Sorry, I mean to say we aren't receiving any information from it. It's as though she has detached it."
"Why would she do that?"
He shrugged. "One of my grandmothers once said that you can expect a Vulcan to be logical but you can't expect any of them to make any sense."
"Ensign Jex to Lt. Commander T'Vel. I repeat Jex to T'Vel. Stallion One Leader come in."
Keren offered by way of assistance. "Let me check there isn't some sort of failure in the system." He started running a systems diagnosis as Jex tried different channels to contact the second officer. "Systems check out. There's no issue with the hardware."
"So whatever the problem it lies with the Lt. Commander."
"That's my reckoning."
"McGregor to Stallion One, have you a reading on T'Vel?"
A surprised Leoni answered McGregor. She couldn't fathom how he knew something was up with the Vulcan. But she knew it caused her greater concern to the fact the couldn't decipher any system failure. "Negative, we're just after hailing the Lt. Commander to no avail. Her bio-readings have dropped off the system. We thought it might be some kind of malfunction."
No response came from McGregor. "What the heck?" Now Leoni was truly worried. Something was up. "Let's get a manual location on Lt. Commander T'Vel."
The Andorian could only but share her anxiety. He however showed a calm exterior as he bent over his computer console again. "I am screening for Vulcan life signs."
The small wait seemed an eternal agony. The longer they took to track the errant Vulcan down the more uneasy the Trill felt. In her gut, she knew it. Jex had lived too many lives not to recognise the signs of foreboding danger. "Any joy?"
"Yes." He did a double take at the screen with his head jerking backwards in surprise. "She's ... she's just outside." He turned to look at the open airlock with Jex.
"Lt. Commander!" Jex got to her feet as T'Vel entered through the hatch of the Stallion. She tried to explain her emotional reaction of relief and surprise to the placid Vulcan. "We were just trying to raise you on the ..." Jex trailed off as she noted the pointed carbine in the Vulcan's hand and T'Vel closing the hatch door. "What's going on Lt. Commander?"
* * *
The Sprite's Spittle
"What are you saying Molly?"
"The inoculation. It could have an adverse effect on her medication." She started after T'Vel hitting her combadge on the run. "Cartwright to T'Vel." There was no response. She pressed again, now worried. Her repeated calls went unanswered. Cartwright to T'Vel."
"McGregor to Stallion One, have you a reading on T'Vel?"
The concerned voice of Ensign Jex came over the comm. to the captain. "Negative, we're just after hailing the Lt. Commander to no avail. Her bio-readings have dropped off the system. We thought it might be some kind of malfunction."
McGregor did not bother to sign off from Jex but started to race faster after his XO. McGregor pressed his badge again and contacted the bridge as he chased after Molly. "Contessa, I need a location on Lt. Commander T'Vel."
Ney's response was curious. "Captaine?"
His reply was terse. In the situation, he hated having to explain himself. "She was on her way back to the ship. I want an exact location."
"She should be right in front of you."
McGregor and Molly looked down at the specialised black armour plated strap on combadge lying on the deck in front of them. Molly scooped it up by the straps that normally tied around a person's arm. "Get us a reading of T'Vel herself."
"Checking now." A long moment passed the radiation no doubt confounding sensors a little. Ney did not bother to suggest as much sensing that McGregor was not looking for excuses but answers alone.
"Dexter to McGregor and bridge."
"Not now Tac."
"I'm afraid it can't wait Captain, we have got ourselves a situation here in engineering."
McGregor puffed out a heavy sigh. He really didn't want to explain to "We already have a situation Caleb."
"Yeah well we got us a bomb." His words struck both McGregor and Cartwright. The two of them stopped in their tracks as Caleb added for effect, "And it's attached to the warp core."
"Yes Commander a bomb."
McGregor bit back a comment. He looked to Molly before replying. She nodded and started on her way in the opposite direction to McGregor who started back to engineering. "Evacuate the area. Get the Kestrel to remove to a safe distance. I'm on my way."
He started jogging harder towards engineering. "We can't do that or the bomb will go off."
"What do Eddie or Submino make of it?"
"I've got Submino with me and he is our best explosives expert and to quote he doesn't even want to sneeze in front of it. Gardner is ... is still processing it." McGregor could make out Eddie cursing in the background.
"I'm looking for options. Have them for me when I get there."
Ney chimed in from the bridge. "I've located Lt. Commander T'Vel on Stallion One."
A puffing Cartwright could be heard over the comm. as she changed direction towards the Stallion. "I'm on it McGregor."
What McGregor did not see was that Molly had unclipped her hand phaser as she did. But his response indicated he trusted she would do what might have to be done. "Sort it Molly. I'm nearly in engineering."
McGregor bounded into the room. "Can we lock onto it and transport it away?" As he careened into cramped and dirty engineering section, McGregor took in the security and engineering team from the Kestrel hanging back whilst a wary Caleb Dexter stood in front of a crouched and very still Submino.
The answer came from a harried sounding Submino. "Negative. It's booby trapped."
Dexter added further information. "It also detects plasma so when we tried to re-direct the plasma it primed itself. Hence Eddie's irritability."
"In other words, it's got a lot of redundancies built in. Hee, hee, you said booby Submino." Eddie Gardner was pacing the stretch behind them, rubbing his forehead frantically. "Eddie?"
He shrugged exasperated. "I'm thinking, I'm thinking." Eddie rapped his baldhead with his knuckles before rubbing it briskly in frustration with his hand.
"Think of something good." He approached the Bolian crouched before the bomb giving Dexter a wary glance to the side as he crouched beside Submino. McGregor studied the cigar shaped silver-tubed device. It seemed so small as to be of no threat at all. One could pick it up and put it into their pocket. "Well ‘ole Blue, what say you?"
The wisecracking Bolian whispered in response. "I think captain I'd like a transfer. When I say I don't wanna sneeze in front of it I don't wanna actually literally sneeze. Or fart. And I had beans for tea."
McGregor took the hint and whispered back, "You mean to say, it only took attaching a bomb to a warp core to stop you from farting Submino. I bet the lower decks wished we had thought of that sooner. Options?"
He shook his blue head. "It's a miniature device. There's not much to it at all but that makes it delicate. Its yield is not particularly big but the mix is potent." He looked up at the warp core.
"More potent than your passing gas?"
"Silent but deadly captain."
Dexter exclaimed, "Can we focus on the bomb at hand?"
"Lighten up Tac, we're having just having a blast." McGregor turned serious then as discussed options with Submino. "What if we eject the core and remove the possibility of any matter anti-matter explosion?"
Eddie interjected. "We can't do that! It won't solve the explosion problem. The engineering section will still go up. But mostly and worstly, any abrupt movement will make the motion sensors activate the bomb, so even the ejection system would set it off. That's why we can't have the Kestrel undock. We can't chance it."
The comlink between the captain and his first officer now chirped again. "Commander Cartwright, this is Keren ... ugh!"
McGregor looked up alarmed and clapped his combadge swiftly. "Molly?"
"I'm on it. You sort the bomb." McGregor could not help thinking to himself that he had more than one explosive situation on his hands. He stood up and rubbed his chin. He signalled to Dexter to not even query.
"How's it powered?"
Submino supplied the answer. "It has its own power source but it could run for months so we can't wait it out. There's also nothing to say the thing isn't on a timer either and counting down as we speak."
Gardner scratched his beard frustrated. "And we can't circumvent the power supply in case we trigger it."
"But we could zap it itself with an EMP! Short circuit the bomb." He clicked his fingers. "Contessa! I need you to prep a rat trap stat!"
"What is the target captain?"
"We are. That is, the Sprite is."
Eddie stormed, "Are you mad? You'll fry every circuit on the Sprite and the Kestrel! Again."
"Not if we shut everything down first. Prep it Contessa. Eddie can you shut everything down aboard the ship."
"It'll be a hatchet job! But yes."
"Do it." McGregor started running to the door. "Get your slobs on the Kestrel to do likewise."
"Dang. That means leaving it to Berkley."
"Just get it done and done fast Eddie," he declared from the door.
To his retreating back Submino asked, "What's up Captain? Don't you think the plan will work? Running out on us like this."
Caleb demanded of him, "Where are you going?"
"To defuse another situation. Contessa get a lock and ready to fire on Eddie's mark!" He ran out of the engineering section slapping his combadge. "Molly? Come in. What's the situation?"
"Damn it McGregor!" Dexter cursed and then ran after his captain.
Submino remarked candidly, "Is everyone fleeing a sinking ship or what?" Neither of them was about to rejoin his comment with a smart answer. Submino turned to the grouchy engineer. Eddie's lined faced was further creased with serious worry as he began hacking power systems. The Bolian's four stomachs felt uneasy at seeing such apprehension. "Is this going to work Chief?"
"I'll be damned if I know. We can only hope." Eddie didn't even bother to look at him going but continued accessing the computer system his team had just gotten up and going again. "We haven't time for this. Submino, start hacking. But be damned careful."
"I am. For starters, I'm holding it in."
Eddie started frantically talking to the crew in engineering on the Kestrel and speaking to Cutler at Ops on the bridge, even as he worked hand in hand with Submino. "Timing is going to be everything people. We can't power down too soon over here lest we trigger the device but we can't afford anything over loading in the EM pulse. And I didn't spend ages getting the Kestrel back up to scratch only for us to shoot ourselves in the foot with the rat trap. So Berkley and Cutler time the power down just right on your end. Take no chances. Once Ney has the rat trap fired, power down."
Ney's voiced crackled over an open comm. link. "Rat-trap ready Captain."
Eddie clapped his combadge. "Eddie here. Shut down in progress."
A moment later, "Rat trap firing."
The ship suddenly rocked. Eddie lurched and toppled atop of Sumino. The two of them cared not for the compromising position but looked at the bomb horrified. All went pale as the device lit up angrily with red lights but mercifully did not explode.
Eddie cursed. "What the hell was that?"
The voice of Contessa Ney echoed in the stunned horrified engineering. "Rat trap fired. Following projectile path. On course. Impact in fifteen. Kestrel systems powering down in ..."
"Ok the need to fart has passed," he drolly informed with Eddie still atop of him. He continued, grimacing as he said, "cos I think I near shit myself."
* * *
"We were just trying to raise you on the ... what's going on Lt. Commander?"
Leoni knew that upon being joined she would find there would be certain trade offs for becoming a host. However, part of the benefit of several lifetimes of experience would surely be the ability to remain calm in a dangerous situation. She had imagined that the symbiont would help her keep a level head and coolly aware of what to do. As she took in the sight of Lt. Commander T'Vel closing the hatch door with a degree of finality and with her carbine rifle hoisted and pointed at them, Leoni only knew that she faced deadly peril.
The Vulcan turned from the hatch and her cold eyes met the Trill's. As did the point of her raised carbine. If the sight of the Vulcan with a carbine was not in itself threatening, the sneer her normally impassive face bore was a give away sign that there was something seriously disturbed happening. Whilst T'Vel's eyes seemed deadened in some way, in another, it seemed as though the eyes were alive with some sort of crazed wild abandon. The sneer and the eyes bore a look of pure malice and contempt.
Keren fidgeted nervously in his seat as Jex asked again, "Lt. Commander?"
The carbine swung at Keren. "Desist." Keren raised his hands away from his weapons knowing that should he try anything she would shoot. The Vulcan almost seemed to smile as he accepted her control of the situation. "Launch this vessel."
Leoni's mind was still trying to play catch up with what was happening, even as the worldlier Jex fully grasped the danger of the situation. "Excuse me. Why?"
"This is Commander Cartwright to Stallion One. Come in Stallion One."
Keren barely moved to answer the call. "Do not answer it." The carbine was raised a fraction as warning not to answer the commander's call. "Do as I say."
Jex tried to clarify the situation. "Lt. Commander T'Vel. I don't understand why you are doing this."
Her voice was laced with arrogance and a clearly contemptuous tone. "It is most logical. I am taking this vessel. Comply."
"I can't do that." Jex now moved herself in front of the cockpit controls by way of demonstration.
"You will. Otherwise logic dictates that you will die."
"Cartwright to Stallion One!"
Keren knew the deadly tone in T'Vel's voice and grabbed at the communication controls and his weapon at the same time. "Commander Cartwright, this is Keren ..."
He only managed to get his phaser out of its holster before her carbine fired and Keren was flung back in his chair and over the console before collapsing to the floor motionless. The Vulcan's eyes widened with some sort ecstatic satisfaction from the act of violence.
"Agh." Jex raced forward to the prone Andorian but the Vulcan pressed the carbine's point to her head. T'Vel applied heavy pressure and bent Jex's head back with the force she exerted. Resolutely she stepped forwards forcing Jex backwards, guiding the Trill back to her seat. Her breath caught in her throat as she took in the still body of Keren and the brutality of T'Vel. She forced herself not to cry. She called on her reserves of experience from the Jex symbiont to help keep her comportment. "Why? What are you doing?"
"As to the why, I was explicit - no contact." She hissed. "The Andorian defied me. Now learn your lesson well. Undock this vessel."
The Vulcan roughly manhandled the ensign to face the flight controls of the Stallion. "Lt. Commander T'Vel. I don't understand why you are doing this."
"Comply or die." She jutted the carbine to the base of Jex's neck. Jex horrified looked aghast out the cockpit window with the gun to the back of her head.
"I can't - I won't do that."
T'Vel grabbed her chin in her long thin but powerful hand. "Then you will die." Her eyes seemed alight with hatred and fury. From her throat, she hissed out evilly, "All will die."
Leoni Jex sat transfixed and shocked at the enraged murderous looking Vulcan. "But ... but ... Lt. Commander T'Vel..."
The sneer disfigured the beauty of the Vulcan. She leaned in close to the Trill who flinched away. T'Vel stroked the tawny hair of Jex and caressed her ear as she lowered her lips to the ear. The spite in the voice was rabid with hate and loathing. "I am not T'Vel!"
* * *
The Sprite's Spittle
McGregor was getting no response from Molly or the Stallion as he ran frantically. "Ney!"
"Rat-trap ready Captain."
His answer was interrupted by his chief engineer's voice over the comm. in response to the bridge. "Eddie here. Shut down in progress." The ships lights darkened to emergency lighting as power systems across the ship started to go off.
"Wait. Can you get a lock on T'Vel?"
"Complete shutdown in ten seconds."
The ship rocked! He was too late. McGregor pitched sideways as he ran. He careened off the bulkheads but kept his momentum going forwards. Stallion One had escaped.
"Rat trap fired. Following projectile path. On course. Impact in fifteen. Kestrel systems powering down in ..." the link went dead as the system went down.
To the heavens he ranted, "Damn it Berkley!" He leapt through the airlock to where Stallion Two had made its breach. "Coulter!"
The youthful ensign answered, "It is Stallion One departing."
"I know it's Stallion One departing!"
Caleb followed on his heels just before the hatch sealed closed. He crashed into the opposite bulkhead. Through ragged winded breaths he demanded, "You knew?"
"That's why I'm on Stallion Two." Leaping into the cockpit seat beside Coulter, McGregor declared, "Go after Stallion One."
Coulter looked at McGregor apologetically. "I can't. Shut down is initiated."
They stared out the window as the Stallion plunged into darkness. The view afforded them to see the bigger picture. The length of the Kestrel plunged likewise into lifeless darkness as the Sprite began powering down too. Among the stars, the retreating form of Stallion One was seen making good its escape. One twinkling star however traced a line across the vista, arching round and bearing down upon the Orion ship. The rat trap torpedo sped towards its target.
From over his shoulder, Dexter lectured McGregor. "You better pray this works McGregor. For if that triggers the bomb we have no means of protecting or saving our lives."
Coulter started his estimated countdown. "Impact in five, four."
McGregor responded confidently. "It'll work."
Dexter replied, "It had best do."
* * *