Kov, son of Kuvak, would never have dreamed about serving on a Terran starship. He had been more than willing to go into Exile with his fellow Vulcans. In fact, he had looked at it as a reprieve from the veiled looks and remarks he'd endured his entire life. Instead, fate put him here. He resigned himself to simply make the best of what he was given.
“Cargo Bay Two is this way, Doctor,” said Lieutenant Liz Cutler. She pointed in the right direction. “Over to your right.”
“Yes, thank you, Lieutenant,” he replied gratefully. This ship is a maze! I'll never find my way around here. All of his misgivings vanished as the cargo bay doors opened and he saw injured crewman on the deck. Kov hurried to the nearest patient's side. “What has happened?”
“Anti-grav sled collapsed when the power went out. One of the crates tumbled off and hit him on the head.” The crewman looked close to tears himself; he was young, so painfully young. “I think it was just a glancing blow, but those crates are heavy.”
Kov nodded as his fingers gently probed the man's skull. His Healing training emphasized the possibility of not having electronic scanners at hand to make a diagnosis. Nevertheless, he gave the injury a once-over with his scanner, just to be sure.
“He has a concussion. How long has he been unconscious?”
“Several minutes. I tried to keep him awake, but I couldn't do it.”
“He needs to be in Sickbay. Crewman---forgive me, I don't know your name---”
“Crewman Tesserby, keep an eye on him. Make sure his airway is clear. I will attempt to find a way to transport him to Sickbay.”
Kov convinced two other men to help Tesserby carry the unfortunate man to Sickbay. Without power, they could not use a grav-sled. He went from person to person, administering to cuts and bruises and making sure everyone was accounted for. The quartermaster had a broken ankle; Liz used whatever she could find to splint it. Kov was impressed at her ingenuity in a crisis situation.
“I will help you, Chief Dierna. Please, remain still.” He swung a startled Chief Dierna into his arms; the chief was at least five inches taller than Kov, but Kov's Vulcan strength was more than enough to carry him.
“Ah...this isn't necessary, Doctor---”
“On the contrary, Chief, you cannot walk on that broken ankle, and I cannot treat it here. Logic dictates that I transport you to Sickbay in the fastest possible manner. Please do not worry; it will be all taken care of.” His matter-of-fact tone brought smiles and a few chuckles from the rest of the Cargo Bay crew as Chief Dierna flushed scarlet in embarassment. True to his word, Kov walked out of the Cargo Bay as quickly as he could.
Crewman Gray bit his lip as he turned to Liz Cutler. “You do realize the Chief's never gonna live this down?”
Liz smirked and answered, “I know.”
“It's not too bad, but I'd rather be safe than sorry. Crewman Reitman, do you need assistance to get to Sickbay, or can you walk?”
“I'm pretty sure I can walk, Doc---” Reitman tried to get to his feet and promptly sat down on the deck again. “At least, I think I can.”
Malcolm clucked his tongue and shook his head. “Lieutenant Kelby, will you help me?”
Richard Kelby nodded as he and Malcolm guided Reitman back on his feet. After a quick discussion with the medical corpsman, Malcolm sent them on their way. “Thank you, Lieutenant.”
“Not a problem, Doctor---” Kelby broke off as a shadow flickered on the upper Engineering deck. “What was that?”
Lieutenant Anna Hess pointed at a corner of the catwalk. “Over there, near the secondary EPS modulators!”
Phlox reached over to the intercom. “Security to Engineering---”
“The coms are dead, Commander,” Ensign Mike Rostov interrupted from the other side of the deck.”I tried to page Lieutenant Commander Tucker. Nothing's getting through.”
“Don't move, Anna,” Phlox warned. “It doesn't appear to notice you are there, but if you move---”
Hess nodded shakily, her blue eyes fixed on the shadow that hovered off the deck less than twenty meters away from her. It appeared vaguely humanoid, but its features were obscured, as if someone had taken a giant rubber eraser and smudged the details. It didn't touch the EPS modulators, but a thin black thread snaked its way through the air and attached itself to the console.
“What's it doing?” Kelby whispered hoarsely.
“It appears to be draining energy directly from the EPS grid,” Phlox murmured. “Power drops all over the ship. We have to get whatever it is away from the modulators before it drains us completely.”
Malcolm had his medical scanner in his hand and was taking readings of the entity. He frowned as he tried to make sense of what he was seeing. Bloody hell, it's as if it isn't even there, like there's a huge hole and the energy's flowing into it...The tendril that was attached to the modulators began to vibrate and pulse like a violin string plucked by an invisible bow, yet it was strangely silent.
“It's moving away from the modulators,” Hess reported, her tone eerily calm, “heading toward the starboard side.”
“Commander, power levels are back to normal,” Rostov echoed from the status board. “It's stopped siphoning off energy from us.”
The shadow halted, then seemed to turn and “look” at the various members of the crew. Malcolm shivered as it lingered on him; it felt like some creature had reached out and grazed his skin with claws of ice. If the being had a mouth, it would have been twisted into a cruel smile.
What are you? Why are you doing this? Malcolm hadn't expected an answer and it gave him none. Instead, it simply gathered itself and went through the bulkhead, disappearing quickly.
Utter silence fell in Engineering. Finally, Phlox whispered, “What was that?”
Malcolm shook his head. “I don't know, Commander, but whatever it is, its intentions are definitely not friendly.”
Hoshi held an emergency staff meeting in the Conference Room on D deck. She listened to Phlox's and Malcolm's description of the sighting in Engineering, and Travis's issues on the Bridge. Trip told the others about the incident in the Armory that morning; T'Pol's eyebrow lifted clear to her hairline at his words. Kov simply looked bewildered at it all.
“Has there been any more sightings of this...entity?” she asked.
Trip shook his head and replied, “No, but I've got Security teams stationed at all critical areas of the ship, including Engineering, the Armory and Sickbay. Whatever it is, it isn't here to borrow a cup of sugar.”
Hoshi saw movement from her right and saw Phlox's grim expression, which looked out of place on the Denobulan. If Phlox was concerned, it was a serious matter. “Indeed, Lieutenant Commander Tucker. My Engineering staff and Doctor Reed watched it as it siphoned off energy directly from the the EPS grid. If it manages to drain the ship's power below a critical level, then we will be in dire trouble.”
“Think we can talk to it? Get it to leave us alone?” Travis asked.
“I had the distinct feeling it wasn't inclined to listen,” Malcolm answered in a quiet voice. “It simply took what it wanted and left.”
“I concur,” Phlox said. “It had no interest in the people in Engineering, only the EPS grid.”
Hoshi narrowed her eyes as she thought over their options. Then she asked, “Trip, is there any way to reconfigure the internal sensors to track this?”
He nodded. “We should have some record of its energy signature from the security cameras in Engineering. It shouldn't be too difficult.”
“Do it. I want to know the minute it shows up on the ship again.” She glanced at Jon, who'd been quiet all this time. “Lieutenant Commander Archer?”
Jon frowned; since she'd addressed him by rank, he knew she wanted the opinion of her comm officer, not the diplomat. “I was just thinking...Travis, Keshwa is still outputting a lot of energy on its own, right?”
“Yes, and it'll keep doing it for a long time, in the form of gamma rays and other spectral radiation. Just because it's contracting doesn't mean it's dead. Yet.” His last three words brought out groans from Jon, Hoshi, Trip and Malcolm, and baffled looks from T'Pol and Phlox.
“Then why isn't it getting its energy from Keshwa? Why latch onto our EPS grid?” Jon continued. “It's got a source of available fuel right there.”
“I dunno. Maybe it doesn't like the taste?” Trip mused.
“Maybe,” Travis said. “It could be the changes in the star isn't suitable for its needs anymore, like milk that's gone sour. What do you do? Go find a fresh source of milk.”
T'Pol's brow wrinkled in confusion, then Kov leaned over and explained the analogy to her. She nodded once, then said, “Then perhaps if we find a viable star of a similar type and class in a nearby sector, it may find it more to its liking and leave our ship.”
“That sounds like a plan, Lieutenant.” Hoshi quickly brought the meeting to a close. “Travis, find that star. Trip, I still want you to reconfigure the internal sensors. Keep Security on standby and ready to react at a moment's notice.”
“Yes, ma'am,” Travis and Trip chorused, and T'Pol nodded in agreement.
“Phlox, keep a close eye on the engines and the EPS grid. The last thing I want to happen is to completely lose power so close to a dying star..”
“Of course. I will be quite vigilant, Captain.”
“Malcolm, Kov, I want Sickbay prepared for any eventuality. Jon, transcribe our logs and records into an emergency buoy for Starfleet. I hope we won't have to launch it, but if anything happens, I want Admiral Forrest to know what's going on. Lady and gentlemen, dismissed.”
Everyone scattered to their respective duties, but Malcolm stayed behind. Kov raised a questioning eyebrow, but he waved a hand and called, “I'll be there in a moment, lad.” Kov nodded and left the room.
Hoshi raised an eyebrow at him and asked, “Is there something wrong, Malcolm?”
He hesitated for a moment before raising his eyes to meet hers. “May I confide something to you that may be pertinent to our situation?”
She frowned at his words. “Why didn't you bring it up during the meeting?”
“Because it's something that I cannot quantify or prove with hard data. It was what I felt from the entity while I was in Engineering with Commander Phlox.”
Hoshi gazed at him, then nodded. “Go on.”
“It felt like an endless black hole, cold and unfeeling, and all the energy from the EPS grid couldn't warm it one bit. I swear, it turned and looked at me---though it had no eyes---and if it had a mouth, it would have worn a cruel smile. I've never felt anything like it.”
She met his gaze, but said nothing, and Malcolm held his breath. Finally, she said, “So you think it's definitely hostile.”
“That was my impression, yes.”
“In that case, we need to find a way to get it off this ship as soon as we can.” She nodded slightly at him. “Thank you, Malcolm.”
“You're welcome, Captain.” He sighed in relief. “I should return to Sickbay.”
“Of course.” As he turned to leave, she interrupted, “Just one thing---”
“If you...feel this thing again, let me know.”
He nodded. “The very minute, Captain.”
The doors closed behind him, and Hoshi stared at them long after he had left. She thought about what he'd said and shivered despite herself.
“I think I've found a star suitable for our purposes, Captain.”
Hoshi glanced up from the viewscreen and looked at her. “What've you got, Commander?”
Travis tapped his controls and her screen lit up with the information. “Yamara's a supergiant, type A2-1a , 1.6 solar mass, 1.8 solar radii, 20 on the luminosity scale, strong hydrogen lines, temperature 8500 Kelvin...” As he rattled off other bits of astronomical data, Hoshi caught Trip's expression from the Tactical station.
Trip had a look of awed bemusement on his face. Travis sensed it and glanced over his left shoulder at him. “What?”
“Wow. I couldn't decipher that code even if you paid me to.” That remark brought a grin from Jon at the Communications station and a chuckle from Hoshi. “You got a Ph.D in astronomy, Travis?”
“From the University of Alpha Centauri, and working on one in astrophysics from McKinley University on Luna,” Travis replied in a distracted voice.
Jon blinked in surprise and T'Pol looked at him with an expression of newfound respect, Hoshi grinned a Trip's mouth fell open. Travis hardly noticed their various reactions.
Hoshi reviewed the star's specs. “It's-what?-eighteen hours away at warp three?”
“Eighteen point three five hours, Captain,” T'Pol said.
Shee nodded in approval and said, “All right, plot the quickest way to get there, Lieutenant, just in case we have to get there in a hurry.”
“Yes, Captain.” She turned to do just that, but her console only buzzed in response. “Captain, helm is unresponsive. We are drifting.”
“Stabilize our position, thrusters only.”
“Compensating.” T'Pol's hands danced over her console. “We are still being pulled by the brown dwarf's gravitational field; I am adjusting our position to slow our drift.”
Hoshi pounced on the comm. “Engineering!”
Phlox responded, but his voice was distorted by static. “Power is down thirty-two percent, but only certain systems are affected---”
“Navigation, helm control, wrap drive, impulse, external communications, our shields are down to thirty percent---” Trip confirmed, all business again. “Life support is unaffected---” The ship shuddered abruptly, then pitched hard to starboard. He grabbed the edge of his board, as bodies went flying over the Bridge. T'Pol didn't; it was as if she was glued to her seat.
“Our orbit around the star is deteriorating, Captain.”
“How long until we're caught in Keshwa's gravity well?”
“At this rate of acceleration, twenty minutes.”
Travis swore under his breath as he did his calculations. “The radiation will kill us faster that that. T'Pol, if we can angle our descent another five degrees, we could buy ourselves some more time.”
T'Pol nodded and tapped her controls. “Done, Commander. Our descent has slowed, but not ceased entirely. I will need to make constant corrections.”
“Do it.” Travis scowled at a reading on his board. “Watch that stellar debris. And I'm detecting a build-up of gamma rays. I think the star's about to blow off some steam, and our drift will put us right in the middle of it!”
Trip stiffened at something on his console, then muttered, “There you are, you bastard---”
“Our energy-draining 'guest'?” Hoshi asked grimly, as she turned to face him.
“Yeah, it's on E Deck, halfway between Sickbay and the upper level of Engineering, but it isn't moving. It must be tapping into a port there.”
Travis interrupted, “That's a major power conduit connecting the two. If Doctor Reed was running any medical equipment, it won't work, and it'll explode once the energy back-up floods the circuit. It could take out the entire deck.”
“Phlox, can you engage the failsafes leading into Sickbay?” Trip cut in.
Phlox's voice was even more distorted, but they all understood him. “I'll have to do it manually; remote failsafes aren't functioning properly.”
“I'm gonna meet you there with a security team. Tucker, out.” He glanced over at Hoshi. “You stay put, Captain. If the grid overloads, I don't want you anywhere near it.”
She bit back a retort. He was right; she was the captain, and she had no business putting herself in danger. But there were people on E Deck, including the ones in Sickbay, the Mess Hall, the upper deck on Engineering...and it won't matter if we get sucked into the star or get hit by a wave of stellar radiation.
“Jon, send a intraship announcement and tell all nonessential personnel to evacuate E Deck.” She nodded at Trip to go ahead; he ran to the lift and disappeared into it. Jon's message echoed on the intraship channels and she knew her crew would leave as directed, except possibly one. If Malcolm had any patients in Sickbay who couldn't be moved, he would stay with them.
“Keep track of our guest, Travis. If it moves, I want to know about it. T'Pol, keep us from being pulled in, however way you can. ”
“Yes, ma'am.” Travis quietly activated a side program he'd been working on, one that would analyze the energy signature of their unwelcome visitor and formulate a possible counter to it. He kept a close eye on the internal scanner feeds from his station's link with Tactical.
Who are you and why are you doing this?
Malcolm Reed was asking the same question. The Sickbay doors refused to open, and a second later, the entire room was plunged into darkness. He made his way across to his office mostly by touch, and fumbled for the emergency torch in his desk drawer. His fingers brushed against it, and he activated it, breathing a sigh of relief at the cone of light.
“Doctor Reed?” called Lieutenant Elizabeth Cutler. The nurse's voice echoed eerily in the blackness.
“Here. Are you all right, Liz?”
“Yes, but we've lost all power. None of the equipment's working.”
“Bloody hell. Kov?”
The Vulcan doctor still sounded shaky, but he replied, “It doesn't look like any of our patients are negatively affected, yet. I am monitoring Crewman Dwyer and Chief Dierna.”
The quartermaster griped from the bed. “No need to babysit me, son. Tend to the others first.”
“John, be quiet,” Liz admonished him. “Kov, I need ten cc's of thamoseline---
“Right away, Lieutenant---” A popping noise interrupted him and the lights flickered. A panel behind the imaging chamber sparked briefly as a nearby computer fizzled with an unholy screech. The bank of lights over the counter burst in into a halo as the bulbs exploded.
Malcolm's reactions kicked in before his mind caught up with himself. He grabbed Liz and pulled her under the safety of the nearest worktable. They were showered with more sparks as other equipment were hit by the power surge. After several minutes, the emergency lights winked on and bathed the room in scarlet light. Cautiously, he peeked over the edge of the worktable, but it was silent.
“Everyone all right?”
Many voices answered him in the affirmative. Malcolm stabbed the intercom button with a finger. “Reed to the Bridge---”
Liz's eyes widened, then she said in a low, urgent voice, “Doctor, over there.”
He looked to his right and saw the indistinct form hovering a few meters from the imaging chamber. It circled it slowly, as if curious, then extended a thin sliver of energy to the cylindrical piece of equipment. The line pulsed briefly, then the alien withdrew it, as if it was a towing cable after a successful dock. It straightened itself, and Malcolm thought it seemed brighter, more robust. The tentacle vibrated faster and this time, he could hear a distinct chiming noise in the background.
“Holy crap,” breathed Dierna.
“Indeed,” Kov whispered back.
Slowly, Malcolm reached for the medical kit on his belt and took out a scanner. Without taking his eyes off the entity, he activated it and set it to scan. It beeped quietly, but it didn't react.
“What's it doing?” Liz whispered. “It's not moving.”
“I don't know,” he whispered back. He didn't dare lower his guard, for he could feel the edge of hostility being focused directly on him, just like in Engineering. Why are you doing this? Why won't you leave us alone?
The being shifted slightly, as more screens above the imaging chamber went black. Malcolm jumped as another row of overhead lights blew out, and several pieces of stainless steel surgical tools went flying over his head, crashing against the opposite wall. Its humming noise increased into a high-pitched squeal, like a banshee, rising and dipping in time with its pulses.
“It's throwing a bloody temper tantrum!” Malcolm swore through gritted teeth. It reminded him of his sister Madeline as a child, who would put up such a fuss when she didn't get her way. Luckily, she outgrew that stage, but it seemed this entity was still in it.
Kov ducked to avoid a tray of equipment thrown at him. “Doctor---”
Malcolm managed to get to his feet and shouted, “That's enough! Stop it!”
The entity jerked as if he'd physically struck it, then let out a wail that nearly sounded human. It gathered itself and deliberately turned its back on them as it melted into the nearest bulkhead. Immediately, the lights came back on, and the Sickbay doors opened to reveal the dark corridor outside, illuminated only by the emergency lights. Malcolm recognized the tall form of Trip Tucker, followed by Phlox.
“You two all right?” Trip demanded. “The doors were stuck---”
“We're unharmed, though our visitor decided to have one hell of a temper tantrum before Doctor Reed yelled at it,” Liz said.
Trip raised his eyebrows in surprise. “You yelled at it, Malcolm?”
“It was throwing scalpels and depressors around like toys around my Sickbay,” he shot back, irritated. “I gave it a clear talking-to.”
Phlox was already at the main power relays to Sickbay. Malcolm turned as some members of medical staff began to arrive with more injured crew. He, Kov and Liz immediately went into triage mode, while Trip contacted the Bridge.
“We've regained helm control when the entity left, and not a moment too soon,” Hoshi said, “but navigation is still inoperative and every critical system's running below optimum.”
“No offense to Travis, but I think gettin' out of this system's startin' to look better and better.”
“So do I, but both warp and impulse engines are still out. We aren't going anywhere.”
“Travis managed to get some readings on it while it was preoccupied. Once he analyzes the results, we might be able to find a way to combat this thing. I'll let you know when he's done.”
“Sounds good, Captain. Tucker out.” He glanced at Phlox. “Phlox, how bad is it?”
The Denobulan clucked his tongue as he surveyed the damage. “We'll have to replace some of the failsafe circuitry from the EPS grid, but there doesn't seem to be anything we can't handle.” Phlox nodded at Lieutenant Hess.“Anna, get started on this right away. I'll need to get back to Engineering and see to the warp and impulse engines.”
“Yes, Commander, right away.”
Phlox glanced at Malcolm, who was listening to the exchange. “You were fortunate that I was able to manually redirect some of the energy from the surge, Doctor, or you, Doctor Kov and Lieutenant Cutler would be 'crispy cretins' by now.”
Trip winced as Kov raised an eyebrow at the unfamiliar expression. Malcolm smirked and asked, “Mister Tucker?”
“Uh, it's 'crispy critters', Phlox. 'Cretins' are an entirely different thing.”.
Phlox brightened and nodded his gratitude at the correction. “Ah, thank you, Charles.”
Malcolm took out his scanner and switched screens before giving it to Trip. “I took some readings of the entity while it was still here, both before and after I, ahem, yelled at it.”
Trip nodded as he accepted it. “Travis will appreciate it. 'Kay, Doc, I'll let you do your job and I'll get to doin' mine. Oh, and remind me not to piss you off.”
Malcolm's smirk grew a tad wider. “I will, especially around the time for your yearly physical, Mister Tucker.”