Trip Tucker frowned as he stared at a schematic of the Archive's power grid. Several sectors of it were dark, but most of them glowed with normal intensity. He reached out and traced a path through the tangle of tunnels. There was no doubt in his mind that the power surge was done on purpose. The odds of having the primary, secondary and teritary pathways overloading at precisely the same time...Trip didn't have to ask T'Pol about that.
Which reminded him...he flipped his communicator open. The response was immediate: "This is Commander Phlox."
"This is Lieutenant Commander Tucker. How're you guys doin'?"
Phlox dropped his voice to a whisper. “Charles, I'm at Power Transformer Six. According to the records from the secondary records, the power surge originated at two points. This is one of them; Transformer Nine is the other.”
“Aren't Six and Nine on opposite ends of the capital city from each other?”
“Indeed. If what Lieutenant Trace and I are seeing is correct, the energy was built-up over a certain period of time before the failsafes collapsed and the energy flooded the Altarran computer network. There are multiple protocols in place to prevent such a build-up from happening in the first place. Even if it happened, there should have been some sort of early warning system.”
Trip shut his eyes and said some choice Nausicaan curses in his head. “So it's definitely sabotage. All the safety programs and the warning systems failing at the same time?”
“The odds of that happening at the same time are small,” Phlox agreed. “The Technological Upkeep Guild has sent a copy of those records to Constable Virax and to Consul S'Kal. We are now trying to restore power city-wide. I will keep you updated.”
"One other thing, Charles, did you receive the coded message I just sent to Enterprise?"
Trip was about to answer when his PADD beeped; he read the short text message: Ship's security compromised; priority one to the captain. Warn her. His eyes flickered towards Virax as he responded, "Just got it, Phlox. The Cap'n already knows about it and she's workin' on it."
Phlox sighed in relief. "Thank you, Charles. As I said, I will keep you updated. Phlox, out.”
Trip flipped his communicator closed just as Constable Virax motioned him over with a data pad. Trip nodded at the lanky Altarran constable, but tried to keep his neutral expression. Virax reminded him of a smarmy snake oil seller; the man was so confident of his skills as an investigator that it made Trip's skin crawl.
“I understand Su'charu Phlox just sent you some information about the power surge. It fits neatly into my timeline of events.”
“Really?” He tried to keep the sarcasm out of his tone as he accepted the PADD. He frowned at the indexed sequence: the energy build-up was detected an hour before the Enterprise Away team beamed down to the planet. The Altarrans at the Transformer Stations immediately enacted the safety protocols that should have contained the problem. Forty minutes later, those protocols failed, and the capital city began losing power.
Fifty minutes later, that energy roared back through the system like a tsunami wave, overloading the junctions. Transformer Six, the closest to the Main Archive, blew first. Transformer Nine, several seconds later. The surge slammed into the Main Archive computers faster than anyone expected.
“This wasn't an accident,” Trip muttered to himself. “Too many coincidences.”
“That was my thought as well, and hearing Su'charu Phlox confirm it...we haven't had such an attack in a long time, Armsman. We are trained to respect others and uphold our values. This is an aberration.”
He raised a hand at Virax's defensive tone. “Whoa, I wasn't accusing you of anythin', Constable. I'm pretty sure most Altarrans follow the rules, but it looks like we have a group that doesn't. We've got to find them and stop them before they hurt someone else.”
“Agreed, Armsman.” Virax took a deep breath and added, “Forgive me. We are proud of our service to the people, and this incident is an insult to that pride.”
Trip nodded in sympathy. “I hear you, Virax, and I understand how you feel. Is there any way to figure out who were on duty at the Transformer Stations at the time of the energy surge?”
“Yes, yes, a list should not be difficult to procure.” He tapped his data pad and scrolled through the information Phlox had sent him. “Ah, there we are. Five technicians at each station, plus four Armsmen for security. Nine Transformer Stations, that is eighty-one total.”
“Okay, let's check the whereabouts of each one, and if we can find one, we talk to 'em. Somebody has to have seen or heard somethin'.”
Virax whistled low in his throat. “Then let us get started.”
Without the Altarran network, Trip and Virax spent most of the day tracking down people on the list. Most of them had been on duty at the time of the power surge, killed at their stations when the safety protocols failed. Nine of them were currently at the main hospital; Trip contacted Malcolm and asked about the status of each one.
“Without the computer network, I'm going to have to do a personal check. I was about to go on my rounds anyway; give me an hour and I'll report back to you, Lieutenant Commander.”
“Be careful, Trip. Reed, out.”
Trip frowned at his friend's last words. Be careful. Malcolm suspected something was wrong too; he probably had seen something at the hospital. Too many things were wrong, and Trip's concern for the safety of his crew doubled. First Phlox, now Malcolm.
He had to talk to Hoshi, and fast.
“Su'charu, look at this. There is a discrepancy in the rosters for Transformer Stations Six and Nine.”
“What? Isn't your network supposed to prevent mistakes like that?”
Virax chose to take his question literally. “Yes, which is why this disturbs me.” He pointed at the list on his data pad, and Trip saw the problem. Five names were marked with 'location unknown'.
“That is strange,” Virax said. “Perhaps they had taken ill for that day, but that would have been noted in the computer. Their section leaders have the responsibility to know their team's whereabouts at all times.”
“Yeah, seems pretty suspicious, doesn't it?” Trip ran his finger down the names. “Four of the five are members of the Technology Upkeep Guild. Wait--” He glanced up at the Constable, “---aren't Commander Phlox and Lieutenant Trace working with 'em?”
“Yes.” Virax buzzed in concern. “Perhaps you should make sure Su'charu Phlox is safe.”
Trip flipped open his communicator again. “Tucker to Phlox.”
There was a brief silence, then an unfamiliar voice stammered, “Is...is this the Human Armsman? Forgive me, I do not know how to use this device properly. Can you hear me?”
“This is Lieutenant Commander Tucker. With whom am I talking?”
“This is...Technical Assistant V'Lan, Are you searching for Su'charu Phlox?”
Trip checked the names on his screen. V'Lan was part of the Technological Upkeep Guild, so he would be currently working with Phlox. He turned his attention back to V'Lan. “Yes, I am. May I speak with him, please?”
“Forgive me again, Su'charu, but he is currently in the power conduits with Chief of Technology Nanuch puzzling out the problem with the power load. He and his assistant believe they may have found a solution, but they must check to make sure it will not damage the network any further.”
Trip's brow furrowed at the words. It sounded like something Phlox would do; the Denobulan was cautious about working with unfamiliar technology like the Altarrans'. Yet there was one major problem with V'Lan's explanation.
Neither Phlox nor Trace would entrust their communicators to someone who wasn't from Enterprise. Trip was very strict about that rule; a lost communicator on an unfamiliar world could cause all sorts of problems, including cultural contamination.
Which means they're in some sort of trouble.
Virax flattened his lips in response and demanded, “Ah...this is Constable Virax. I wanted a report from Su'charu Phlox himself, but since you answered, you will have to do.”
V'Lan stammered, “I-I am not sure how much information I can provide for you, Constable.”
“Nonsense. You are a Technician, are you not? Surely you can explain what your team has done so far.” Virax flipped open his his own comlink. “Can you hear me, Technician V'Lan?”
“I can, Constable.”
“I am recording your report. Please proceed.”
Trip mouthed, Keep him talking. He walked a few feet away and switched frequencies. “Tucker to Enterprise.”
“Ensign Wales, sir.”
Trip nodded at the voice of Jon's gamma shift chief. “Ensign, I need you to pinpoint the origin of an audio transmission. Quiet-like.”
There was a pause, then Wales answered, “Understood, sir.”
“Transmitting the freq to you.” Trip pushed buttons on his communicator. “Y'got it”
“Tracing it now, sir. Stand by.”
He glanced up at Virax, who was still listening to Technician V'Lan's long-winded babble on conduits, power transfers, and other terms. The Constable nodded as if he understood, but Trip saw his eyes begin to glaze over. Trip stifled a chuckle; he saw the same expression on non-engineers all the time, even the Captain.
“I have it, Lieutenant Commander. Sending the information to you now.”
“Thanks, Ensign. I owe you one.”
“Deduct it from the three I already owe you, Lieutenant Commander. Wales, out.”
Trip nodded at Virax, who all but sighed in relief. The Constable interrupted the technician's monologue with, “I appreciate your cooperation, Technician V'Lan. Please tell Su'charu Phlox to report to Lieutenant Commander Tucker at his earliest convenience.”
V'Lan panicked at the coldness of Virax's tone. “I apologize I was not much assistance--”
“I won't take up any more of your valuable time, Technician V'Lan.”
“I live to serve, Constable.”
Virax looked at Trip and nodded. “Did you locate him?”
“I think so. Does this look familiar at all?” He transmitted the information Wales had discovered to Virax's data padd; Virax glanced at it and his eyes narrowed in response. Trip nodded in confirmation and added, “V'Lan's not in Transformer Station Six. He's in Omega Sector of the city, but that's about as far as we can pinpoint his transmission.”
“There is nothing there of interest to a Technician. Why would he be there?”
“Don't know, but if he has no business there, he shouldn't be there in the first place,” Trip pointed out. “Omega Sector's where they have their Training Centers, right?”
“For some of the our youth, yes. That's where we are gathered and conditioned to fulfill our stations in life.” Virax looked up at him. “I shall take you there.”
Travis tapped the final links to the Enterprise's computers and the memory box, while T'Pol adjusted them from her PADD. A sense of dread nagged at him for some reason that he couldn't define. Arkava's words and her behavior in the marketplace bothered him. He wasn't a translator, but he knew fear when he saw it, and Arkava was terrified.
There had to be something he could do to help her. No one should have to live under that sort of fear. As a child, Travis saw many cultures, many customs, but none as stifling as this one. He tried to keep an open mind, but the more he learned about the Altarrans, the less he liked them.
Not all of them are like the Constable or the High Consul, he reminded himself sternly. Most are just trying to live their lives and earn a living. It isn't your place to tell them how to run their society.
But if it proved to be a danger to Enterprise, that meant they were involved by default. It was a thin line to cross, and there wasn't a Starfleet handbook to handle First Contacts like these. Travis stifled a chuckle; that was why Captain Sato's crew was out here to begin with.
Awkward didn't even start to describe their situation. He thought, And that's why they sent you out here as Earth's first representatives. Sometimes you can't avoid awkward. Doesn't make it easier, though.
The Ready Room bell chimed and interrupted his musing. “Enter,” he said.
Kov stepped into the Ready Room and the door closed behind him. “Commander Mayweather, I must speak to you.” The Vulcan had changed into fresh Healer's greens, but exhaustion still lined his face.
“I thought Doctor Reed ordered you back up to Enterprise for some rest, Kov.”
“That was eight hours ago, Commander, and I am functional. I contacted the hospital where I had assisted, but the surgeon said that my services were...'no longer needed'.”
T'Pol frowned from her PADD, her amber-golden eyes puzzled. “That is highly unlikely, Kov. There were many casualties and it is illogical to refuse the assistance of another trained doctor.”
“That is what I said as well, but they reassured me that Doctor Reed has the situation well under control, and they had every confidence that it will stay that way.”
Despite his worry, Travis managed a smile. “Nice that they have that much confidence in Malcolm's abilities, but that still sounds odd--”
Kov nodded in agreement. “Indeed. I do not wish to cast doubt on Doctor Reed's competence, but even he must rest himself. I am concerned for his welfare and if the Captain was aware--”
As if summoned, Hoshi Sato walked into her Ready Room. Travis jumped at the sheer coincidence, but Kov didn't seem surprised. The captain looked exhausted, and there was a tightness to her lips that didn't bode well. She glanced at Travis, then T'Pol and Kov, then at the memory box.
“Captain?” Travis asked formally.
Hoshi shook her head and answered, “Consul S'Kal is hiding something, Travis. Jon's still on the surface with him, touring the hospitals and the shelters. They seem to have everything under control, so they've asked Lieutenant Cutler to return to the ship as well, Kov.”
“That is highly illogical, Captain--”
She held up a hand. “That's what Malcolm said too. Phlox is making progress on restoring their network, but I think the Altarrans will dismiss him as well when they're back up and running.”
Travis made a face. “You mean we're helping them and when we're done, they dismiss us without so much as a 'thank you'. That's gratitude for you.”
Hoshi nodded at him. “Trip asked Ensign Wales to trace a transmission for him; it could be significant.”
T'Pol activated her PADD screen and it came up with a cheerful glow. “I have accessed the memory chip, Commander. It is a file containing both audio and video. I'll have to tie in the Universal Translator matrix...done.”
“Shall I leave, Commander?” Kov took a backward step towards the door.
“Stay put, Kov, I might need your insight. Play the file, Lieutenant,” ordered Travis. “I want to hear this.”
The speakers came alive with musical Altarran, overlapped with Standard English. “My name is P'lanrra, of the Artisan Level of Society. I do not have much time...they will be coming for me soon, and I will forget.
“I have undergone the procedure three times. I am not sure if I will survive a fourth. Each time, they wipe the truth from my mind, give me a new name, a new station in life. Sometimes I catch glimpses of previous lives; other times, they return full force. In those cases, it drives one mad. The mad ones...disappear.
My true name is Ren'treis. I was transformed into Gh'rrta, then into Banarriea, and now I am P'lanarra, the supposed daughter of a woodcarver. In the future, who knows? I record this on this memory chip, as a remembrance of who I was, who I am now, who I will be in the future.”
There was a pause, then the screen lit up again with images. They were dark, jumbled, chaotic...and then the screen went blank.
Travis shivered, although it was warm in the Ready Room. He looked at both Vulcans with a grim expression. “The woman who sold me the box, Akavra, said she was from a woodcarver's family. This 'P'lanarra' was probably someone who was placed in Akavra's family after her memory got wiped.”
“Consul S'Kal bragged to Jon that Altarra had been peaceful for years. Now we know why." Hoshi scowled."They arrest any 'troublemakers', wipe their memories, and give them a false identity.”
"And what do the Altarrans definite as 'troublemakers'?" Kov asked, his voice tight. "Those who do not follow the established rules? They violate the sanctity of another being's mind for their own purposes. If this were on Vulcan, the ones responsible would be severely punished.”
“That's true, but we aren't on Vulcan," Hoshi pointed out.
“But obviously it is not always successful, and once that is discovered, the person must undergo another memory erasure. I am not overly familiar with Altarran brain chemistry, but multiple erasures will still cause irreparable damage.”
It was T'Pol's turn to shudder. “Indeed. I doubt the general population is aware of such procedures. Most are content to follow their society's edicts and live in relative peace. Commander...the Boomers have traded here before, yet there have been no reported trade disputes?”
He searched his memory, and the horrible feeling in his stomach doubled. “None that I can remember hearing about. But if we're right, it could be that no one can remember even filing one.”
T'Pol narrowed her eyes and said slowly, "The Altarrans are paranoid of others stealing their technology, specifically their data network. Commander Phlox and Lieutenant Trace are assisting in rebuilding that, and Lieutenant Commander Tucker is investigating whoever is behind the attacks..."
Another chill came over Travis and he glanced sharply at Hoshi. "They'll be privy to some of the Altarran's information and I doubt the Consul will allow them to return to the ship with that knowledge."
“I hate to be the one to remind us all...we have no definite proof that the Altarrans have used their mind erasing techniques on non-Altarrans,” Kov spoke up, though his features reflected his distaste. “The Consul's government will most likely deny they would do such things to their own people. It is our word against theirs.”
Hoshi winced at the reminder. “Starfleet and the Earth Council are highly interested in trading with the Altarrans. This information could destroy First Contact talks before they've actually begun. We need to tell Jon, Malcolm, Trip and Phlox.”
“Recall them to the ship, Captain?” Travis asked. “That'll tip off the Altarrans that something's wrong.”
“We might not have a choice, Travis--”
Ensign Wales's urgent tone erupted from the comm speakers. “Wales to the Captain! We've just lost communications contact with Altarra!”
“What?” Hoshi turned and went out to the Bridge, with Travis and the others close behind her. She stood behind Wales's shoulder. “All communications, Ensign?”
“Yes, ma'am, all frequencies. I can't reach Doctor Reed, Commander Phlox, or Lieutenant Commanders Tucker or Archer. The entire comm net is down on their side; our array's working perfectly.”
Hoshi swore under her breath and said, “That means we can't monitor any of our people down there. Ensign, get me Starfleet Command and Admiral Forrest.”
“Can we beam back down there, Captain?” Travis asked from the science station.
Hoshi nodded. “Get an Away Team together, Travis. Take Kov with you.”
“Yes, ma'am.” He immediately joined Kov in the lift.
Kov remarked, “I do not like this at all, Commander.”
Travis pressed his lips together in agreement. “Neither do I, Kov. Neither do I.”