Chapter 6

a a a

First officer's log.

I did manage to get a solid six hours of uninterrupted sleep. God knows how that happened. I guess if you're tired enough, you just will. Or maybe ... I don't know, I think I actually handled yesterday pretty well. Considering. It's not like I had to do anything really difficult like deal with royalty. Ha ha. Still doesn't feel like I slept enough, but it'll have to do. I'm starting to think I really should let Lara teach me her philosophy, or at least some meditation.

Sensor section has given me their detailed scans of the whole planet. There isn't a sentient soul down there. There are, however, several buildings, covering a couple of hectares on the shore of one of the northern continents in the temperate zone. The only sign of habitation on the whole world. At First I thought it might be the base camp for whoever's piloting that ship, but closer scans show the buildings to be in ruins, and without any kind of power. The rest of the planet is jungle, desert, oceans. Plants and animals. A fairly primeval place.

Well, since we're in orbit, I'll give first priority to checking out the shipwreck up here. Following that, and I guess depending on what we find, I'll take a team down to those buildings. I was never very good at mysteries. I hope something obvious turns up. It always does in books.

There's been no sign of the alien ship since the last attack. I have an idea about that. Maybe what we find on the planet will confirm it. Or maybe it'll just confirm that, yes, I AM no good at mysteries.

a a a

"Can we hold position without a tractor beam? I don't want to risk that alien ship detecting the energy output."

"Of course, Sir."

The colony ship Harrington's Home sprawled in orbit beside them looking like a corpse in an alley. It was fairly obvious that it had been hit by the same weapon that had hit the Breitling. Only the old Daedalus class ship was tiny beside an Excelsior, and a ten meter beam slamming into the unshielded cylindrical hull that was not even twenty meters in diameter had simply killed the ship outright. Decompression must have been total and instant in the aft hull. The hull had buckled from the impact, reminding McKinney of pictures he'd seen of dinosaur skeletons, their spine muscles contracted in rigor mortis till their heads were bent over their backs. The beam had hit aft of the neck, behind the nacelle attachment struts. One strut was bent wildly, the warp nacelle pointing off at a bizarre angle like a dead man's broken leg, some of its warp coils hanging in space by cables, spilled when the nacelle itself split in the middle. The other nacelle was nowhere to be seen. Probably long since fallen and burned up in the atmosphere. Suprisingly, the ship itself was in a high stable orbit, well outside the atmosphere, which was why it hadn't fallen in nearly two centuries.

The spherical primary hull looked intact. Possibly pressure doors had sealed it off before it too could decompress, saving the crew who were forward, who then sent the mayday. The mayday message had said they were taking the ship's boats – that's what they called shuttlecraft back then – down to the planet. Sure enough, the hangar doors were wide open on the stern, and the bay was empty.

"How the hell did they get to the shuttles from the front of the ship?" he mused. "They couldn't have had enough spacesuits for everybody to go through the voided hull at once."

Brancatelli, the tactician who had the morning shift, mused, "Remember those inflatable emergency balls? You could put maybe five people in one with a half hour air supply?"

"What," Medoff – back after a sleep break – said, "and the few people in suits dribble them back to the hangar?"

The A-shift helsman had reported to auxiliary control too, and had spelled Eng. Her name was Krowl, a petite, pretty German woman. "Maybe they brought the shuttle around front and spacewalked from emergency hatches," she postulated.

McKinney nodded and hmmed. "Medoff, is there any way to download their ship's log from here?"

She shook her head and gave him an apologetic look. "No, Sir. There's no power over there at all and no way to establish a link."

"I was afraid you were going to say that. Wait a minute – no power? What about that mayday signal, what’s powering that?"

"Um. I don’t know, Sir," she said. She apparently hadn’t considered that. Neither had he, as a matter of fact. It wouldn’t be unheard of for an emergency signal to have an independent power supply. But for a hundred years?

The largest open area in the Harrington’s Home’s primary hull was the bridge. Six people coalesced around its center in a swirl of sparks, floating a foot above the deck. When the transporter hum died away in the silence, McKinney pulled his communicator to confirm their arrival. The motion of his arm sent him rotating feet-up at once. It had been a while since he’d had zero-gee practice. There was nothing to grab onto nearby, so he shrugged and let himself drift while he called in. "Transport complete."

They’d been able to determine that the primary hull was still pressurized before beaming over. The air was stale, but breathable. They all wore breather masks just in case it was too thin. It was, in fact. One hundred years was too long to expect no leakage around airlock seals. At least they didn’t need spacesuits. There should be enough air in the remains of the hull to last the six of them for a couple of days, if need be. But need wouldn’t be. They were here for a purpose. Without ship’s main power there was no point in even trying to get the gravity generators going. Everyone started drifting about until they encountered something to grab onto.

One of the party lit a portable lamp and latched it’s magnatomic face to the ceiling, lighting the room quite well. Everyone pulled out flashlights nevertheless, to fill in shadows left by the single powerful light source.

The bridge was semi-circular, rather than the full circle favored by later designs. The front wall was windowed – a feature that startled McKinney at first. He was used to the huge main viewscreen of modern starships, but seeing the outside universe from a bridge through windows was something entirely new to him. The windows followed the curve of the ball-shaped hull, and the side walls came straight back. There was a back wall, and two corner walls forming a rough semi-circle formed of flats. There was a main viewscreen, but it was small and mounted above the windows. The walls were lined with screens, push-button controls and consoles. All dark and dead. It was quiet except for their breathing. It reminded McKinney of the minutes after the Breitling had been hit. Only this was … spookier.

There was a captain’s chair in the center, empty. The bridge had no raised area around like current ships. It saved space to have a low ceiling and one deck level. This bridge was not on the topmost deck like current designs, rather it was at the front of the spherical hull, halfway down. Helm and nav stations were where he was used to, right in front of the captain. Chairs stood at all the empty consoles, none of them even fallen over. Actually, they must have been bolted to the deck or they would be floating free.

One of the women had drifted herself over to the engineering console and was beginning to set up a power pack that connected to the console. She was fishing underneath for the connecting jacks.

"Uzimi," McKinney addressed the lieutenant. "What are the chances?"

"We’ll know in a moment, Sir."

"Lara?" He’d requested T’Lar come as part of the party. A biologist or medical personnel was routine on such a boarding party, and it may as well be a friend who made him a little more comfortable.

She was scanning with a mission-specific tricorder. She should be able to read all decks from here. "No sign of any organic matter aboard, Commander. No bodies. No foodstuffs."

Uzimi had her connections in and the portable power pack running. The engineering console’s lights began winking. Well, a few of them. None of the readout screens came on. Uzimi studied the console carefully. For some reason, they didn’t label the controls back then. McKinney guessed the operator had to memorize what button did what. Eventually the lieutenant tapped a series of glowing amber lights, and that seemed to make more buttons light up. She looked at him with a smile of accomplishment and nodded affirmation.

"Okay," he said to two other crewmen with more portable powerpacks. "Get to the computer core and see what you can do." The men had to pry the bridge door open to get out – no easy job in zero gee where you needed a firm countergrip on something that wouldn't move. They got it open far enough and drifted out, bouncing off the opposite wall awkwardly. Looks like everybody is behind on their zero-gee training, McKinney thought.

Medoff had asked to come along, saying she felt like she had an investment in the operation. McKinney asked her if she could find out where the mayday beacon was coming from. She spun in a slow pirouette in midair while holding a tricorder at arm’s length. "Ah!" she exclaimed. She was suddenly embarrassed that she couldn’t stop herself from spinning, and tried to keep the tricorder pointed in one direction while her body rotated. "Um. Crap. That way, Sir." She pointed aft. "About a hundred meters.

"The hangar deck," said Marco, the engineering technician. Marco had been the one person in engineering who had claimed a historian’s knowledge of Daedalus class starships. Not that McKinney had needed an expert to figure out that the hangar deck was a hundred meters aft of the bridge. Marco nodded "The recorder marker. It was housed in a bay under the hangar and ejected out of the stern. I guess they didn’t eject it."

"Wait," Uzimi said as she tapped a series of buttons. "Here, Lieutenant Medoff, this should bring up the comm console."

Sure enough, lights flashed and screens came to life. Though, while graphics appeared on the screen, no actual information was available. Borders and blank fields only. The rest of the ship was still dead. Medoff had already floated over to the console. Now she looked it over and shook her head. "Totally alien to me," she pronounced. "Oops, wait." She hit a key and a screen flickered. The words BOOTING PLEASE WAIT appeared. McKinney rolled his eyes. Well at least it looked like it might work. Lines of text appeared one by one. "I think… the main computer’s not functional yet of course, but the console probably has a record of whatever it did the last day." McKinney drifted over and looked at the button she’d pressed. It said "Help." From the text on the screen she scrolled to a line that read "Last record." Another menu appeared listing events by time hack for the last day that the system was active. She selected "Marker buoy" when she saw the words. A graphic picture of the buoy – a squat cylinder with three flat, triangular legs – appeared. The words ACTIVE appeared next to a text readout of the message that they were all familiar with. The next line beneath read LAUNCH FAULT. "Well, there you go," Medoff said with finality.

"Can you turn it off?" McKinney asked.

"Not from here. There’s no connection."

"Marco, how could it still be transmitting after all this time?"

"Let’s see, there would be a radioactive decay power source. But that wouldn’t last more than twenty years. The buoy would be plugged into the ship’s main bus while it was docked, but of course the ship’s power is dead. That would leave the solar collectors, which were certainly designed to last this long. But if it’s in a closed, dark launch bay, I can’t imagine how…"

McKinney snapped his fingers and pointed at Marco. It was just an expression of realization, but Marco froze nervously anyway. McKinney waved an apology for startling him. "McKinney to Breitling," he said into his communicator.

"Breitling. Eng here."

"Eng, take a look at the aft end of the wreck. We’re looking for the recorder marker launch bay."

"Stand by, Commander."

He imagined a schematic of the Daedalus class appearing on the main view screen as the Breitling’s maneuvering thrusters flared. Eng would have to find out where to look before actually looking. It took a few minutes for the huge starship to drift back.

"Got it, sir. It appears to be open. We have a camera on it… I see the buoy inside. There’s a blinking red light on top. Is that where the signal is coming from , Sir?"

"Yes it is. Thank you, Lieutenant. Out."

Well that was one mystery solved, anyway. The buoy’s solar collectors would get a good dose of sunlight here in orbit if the bay was open. He could only imagine the crew’s frustration that the tiny message buoy failed to launch. It may not have made it through the nebula, though. At that, it would have taken years to get out to the nebula without an FTL drive.

Uzimi had been at work routing power to the other bridge consoles that would give them the most information. The captain’s chair and the two control consoles came grudgingly to a semblance of life. Not all their systems would struggle up from their deaths, and a goodly number of controls and screens remained dark. The sensor panel on the portside bulkhead flickered and some lights blinked. The sensors themselves would never see light again, but McKinney had learned these last couple of days that a disembodied control station could still tell tales. The environmental control panel spat a staccato series of sparks when the power reached it, and an inspection panel blew off spectacularly. Uzimi cut power to that panel immediately and froze with a startled stare, watching to see if anything else happened. But that was all. The blown panel ricocheted off the opposite wall, but it had hit flat and that took all the momentum out of it. Marco managed to catch it as it drifted past him. He wedged it under the cushion of a chair to get it out of the way.

Other things floated in the air around them, but McKinney wasn't noticing them until now. Coffee cups. Dust and dirt. A pen. Nothing dramatic like body parts. He went back to not noticing them.

His communicator chirped. The technicians had gotten power to the main computer. It was booting up.

"Okay," McKinney said to everyone. "We want to retrieve as much as we can. Sensor logs, the captain’s log, communications records, navigation records. Anything that can tell us what’s going on here. Then we go back to Breitling and sort out what we can of these poor people’s story."

His people went to their work. It startled him for a moment to realize that he’d actually thought of them as his people. He felt ashamed that he was so presumptuous. They were Captain Dubronin’s people. He’d only been around them for a year, what right did he have to call them his people? He was in command, he felt, only on a technicality. If they could get themselves out of this situation, he fully expected to go back to being the first officer. It hadn’t fully hit him that there was no one to be captain when that happened.

What would happen? Would Starfleet promote him to captain of the Breitling? That scared the hell out of him. If he wasn’t ready yesterday, he still wasn’t ready today – what made anybody think he’d be ready when they got back home? More than likely, they’d assign a new captain. Well, not right away. The Breitling was certainly looking at a few months in spacedock to repair the big Goddamn hole through her hull. Would they have him supervise that, he wondered? The whole crew would probably be reassigned during that down time. He’d no doubt see Lara shipped off to another ship. That would depress the hell out of him. Would Lara think it logical to keep in touch? Probably not. He knew she considered him a friend, to the degree a Vulcan could. But once they went their separate ways he couldn’t imagine her feeling it necessary to keep in touch.

Starfleet would probably assign a new captain, and he’d be there on Breitling with a strange captain and a new crew, with no friends to speak of, remembering Captain Dubronin at every turn.

McKinney thought, if they got out of this, the best thing for him to do was ask for reassignment to another ship. Better yet, a starbase, they were safer.

Maybe he ought to just quit Starfleet altogether. What the hell good was he doing anyway?

Look around yourself, he thought. A dead ship, over a hundred people dead. Nobody even knew about it for a hundred years. Your own ship crippled, unsure about getting out of this. Will I get out of this, or will it be a hundred years before anyone finds the wreck of the Breitling in this little pocket of hell?

I don’t want to die out here.

a a a

"Is everything all right, Anthony?"

Elayna closed her bathrobe and sat up on the exam table. Half of sickbay had been lost when the alien weapon had devastated the ship, but, on the other hand, half of sickbay was perfectly intact. They’d lost the trauma centers and emergency rooms, and a selection of biological science labs. But the standard exam rooms and the operating theaters were all functioning almost up to spec. Doctor Alejandro had thirty badly injured people recovering in the one remaining ward, which had been designed for twenty. But he had graciously cleared an exam room so Doctor Van der Roll could give Princess Elayna her regular exam.

Van der Roll had been moody since this began. Elayna understood his fear and unease – she even shared it to a degree. She guessed she was still young enough that life and death situations didn’t hold the permanence that they implied to older people. She was also intelligent enough to understand this, intellectually, even if that didn’t make her feel any different about it.

"I’d like," the doctor began. Then he stopped and busied himself putting his examination scanners away.

"Anthoneeee…" she warned.

"I’d like your permission…" he withdrew a hypospray from his bag "… to give you a shot …" and again he couldn’t finish.

Elayna stared at the liquid in the phial as if she could recognize it. All she could determine was that it was red. "And…" she prompted, "this shot will…?"

Van der Roll sighed. It was clearly difficult for him. He looked at the hypo, then put it away in the bag. "No, never mind, Dear."

She grew angry. "Don’t you dare do that to me!" He looked stricken. He hadn’t meant to anger her. She continued, "Don’t show me something like that and not explain it." He looked frustrated. He was upset that he’d angered her. But he didn’t want to say any more. "Anthony," she said, more softly, taking his hand in hers, "Please tell me. I’m scared too, you’re not alone." Then she wondered what he was hiding – "It’s not the baby is it?" she asked, suddenly panicked.

"Oh no!" he said, suddenly aghast that he’d scared her. "No, no." He relented, and removed the hypo from his bag again. "This will ... this will delay ... the birth. It will give us a few extra days."

She looked at him in shocked surprise. Her voice descended into a harsh whisper. "You know the laws as well as I do. This is strictly forbidden! The birth must take place on homeworld, and it must not be artificially delayed. Anthony!" She snapped his name at him like a thrown vase.

"I know, Elayna, but…"

"No! I strictly forbid it! You are not to give me that injection. And you’re not to sneak it when I’m asleep or unconscious or… or.. whatever."

Now he looked truly hurt. "I would never!" he exclaimed.

She held his gaze in a firm stare nevertheless. She was very good at this part of her job – her determination was second to no one’s. "I never thought you would. But I never thought you would suggest this, either. If the antiroyals or the natives found out, it would be all they'd need. I want my son to rule fairly and legally, with no Sword-of-Damocles secret hanging over his head to cause him trouble in the future."

Van der Roll dropped the hypo back in his bag. And snapped the plastic case shut.

"I should ask you to destroy it, or give it over to Doctor Alejandro."

Now he looked at her with what she could clearly interpret as the fear of loss. He knew then that he’d gone too far even mentioning the idea. "Oh. Oh, Elayna, I’m so very … very sorry. I never meant… I was only concerned for the baby and you…" His eyes started to tear.

She sighed. She hated to have hurt his feelings, but she had to be sure. "I know that, Anthony. It’s not that I don’t trust you. But the very presence of that thing in your kit is incriminating." A tiny lie to help mend his feelings. She trusted him as far as any lifelong friend. But she was wise enough to know that people could be driven to do anything if they believed it was right, or the only way out of a jam. "Promise me you’ll have Doctor Alejandro dispose of it?"

He nodded, squeezing his eyes shut against tears, which escaped anyway and fled down his cheeks.

On to Chapter 7

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