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Episode 3: A Colony in Ruins

A colony in ruins, its atmosphere still burning. On the surface, its people are reduced to smouldering piles of bone and ash. Who could have carried out such a depraved and brazen assault?

Let the search begin

USS Santa Fe, Gamma Quadrant, Ohnia System
0400 Hours, August 2nd, 2399

Traipsing along the corridor of deck seven, steaming mug of Vulcan tea in her hand, the executive officer of the Santa Fe was sure she must have been hallucinating when she had received the summons to report to the mess hall at zero-four-hundred. Still, upon entering the mess facility, she was proven wrong. Stopping in her tracks and mid yawn, the Andorian was surprised to see several of the senior staff huddled around one of the larger tables. Lieutenant Noli sat nursing a raktajino, Zinn had his trademark Rigellian beets soup (the smell was atrocious), and the Counsellor was slowly sipping her way through a hot chocolate.

“So it wasn’t a hallucination, then?” sh’Elas frowned, dragging herself over the table and a chair that was suddenly, and very chivalrously, made vacant by the Chief Medical Officer.

“I thought it was a bad joke…” Vittoria looked up angrily from her chocolate beverage before staring back at its contents.

Javorian entered the room, padd in hand, the only real tell that he wasn’t his normal stoic self, ready for anything, was the fact that his eyes and face were still a bit puffy from sleep. Otherwise, he looked like it was any other day and he was getting ready to start his shift. Overhearing Vittoria’s comment just as he stepped into the room he gave her a knowing look, one that said he commiserated but wasn’t going to comment. Finding a seat he pulled it out, perched on the end of it, and sat his padd down on the table before him to await the captain’s arrival.

Unlike the rest of the Santa Fe’s officers, Commander T’Prynn arrived looking in pristine condition. Her brown hair scraped back in a long ponytail, her make-up perfect and her uniform looking like it had been freshly pressed. She had, of course, been on watch until summoned by the Captain, and thus, was the only one present that was required to be in uniform. Standing at the back of the group, with whom she was yet to properly gel, the Vulcan grasped her hands behind her back and waited for the Captain to arrive.

Dante looked like he’d literally just woken up. Bleary-eyed, short-cropped hair and beard both far from the normal level of neatness he kept them in, and he had the biggest cup of all of them in his hands, the cloyingly sweet scent of his heavily sweetened, and well-creamed coffee wafting before him. He was dressed in his uniform pants, and the uniform shirt, but his jacket was nowhere to be found, and he didn’t offer any sort of explanation as he located an empty chair, sank into with a weary sigh, and gave the whole room a bit of an upward nod of his head by way of greeting before taking a long swallow of his coffee, and then leaning back with his head hanging over the back of his chair.

Lastly, and mere seconds before the Captain, Lieutenants Udal and Prida wandered into the mess hall. They had rendezvoused at engineering for some systems analysis before making their way to the mess facility and were deep in conversation as they approached the gathered group. Udal waved as they reached the table and pulled out some chairs simultaneously.

Almost as if he had been waiting in the shadows until everyone else had arrived, Sebastian strolled into the mess facility and right up to the waiting crew. “Thank you all for coming at this late hour,” he smiled, nodding in thanks to a murmuring of “you’re welcome” from the bunch. “We don’t have much time, so I’ll get straight to it,” he began, folding his arms across his chest. “A few hours ago, I received new orders from Admiral Ryan. Just before midday today, we will rendezvous with the USS Scimitar, one of the Runabouts from New Bajor, and we will transport our patient to them. The crew there will pick up on our investigation. We have been ordered to then proceed to the Rhakar system and await further instruction,” he told.

Zinn knew what was coming the moment the Terran used the phrase new orders. A better man, a more professional man would have waited to speak to the Captain in private. Zinn was neither, not anymore. The Captain had barely finished speaking when he forcefully shot back, “You have got to be kidding. To move her now would be dangerous and counterproductive.”

“That’s why we aren’t going to do it,” Farrell smiled slyly, his gaze on the bald Deltan. “We have less than eight hours to find as much information as we can about what happened to that woman, to start a significant treatment plan for her, and get her involved in our investigation…”

“Forgive me Captain,” Tharia interjected as she sat forward on her chair, “but it would appear that we need to make Starfleet realise that whilst we are but a lowly frigate, we are the ones they sent out here for this very purpose. To remove us from the equation is folly.”

“There’s folly and there’s foolhardiness on one side, and there’s daring and calculation on the other.”

Almost as one, the senior staff turned their attention to the stoic looking Vulcan. Realising she had their attention trained on her, the Vulcan shifted her stance and elaborated further. “A quote, from a Sir Edward Pellew I believe. The meaning of which is simple; any action taken could be interpreted to be correct or incorrect depending upon the results. We must ensure that our actions fall on the side of daring and calculation,” the Vulcan remarked.

Dante gave the Vulcan woman a measured look, and then broke out in a wide smile. “Damn right,” he said, nodding and looking at the rest of the people gathered around the table. He agreed with her sentiment exactly. The orders were garbage, but they still had to be careful, and they had to make sure they achieved the goal in such a way that reproach would embarrass command no matter how badly they disregarded those garbage, yet direct, orders.

Watching as his team nodded in agreement with the Vulcan and her Flight division colleague, the Captain couldn’t help but feel a great sense of pride in these people. Here they were, dragged out of bed in the small hours, essentially being asked to reject their orders in the pursuit of something their Captain felt was right and just.

“Very well then,” he smiled, “I need you all to scour every piece of data, every sensor reading, every report and every log. We need evidence or we need a lead; we need something tangible to take to Starfleet,” Seb pleaded.

A collective nod from those under his command saw the Captain move on.

“We’ll meet in the observation lounge no later than eleven hundred hours. Dismissed.”

A murmuring emanated from the bridge crew as they began to disperse, Farrell and th’Zorati standing ceremony as the room was vacated. Time was precious, and time was against them. Hopefully the search would turn something up…

This World has Burned and I have Touched the Sky…

Gamma Quadrant, System Unknown
2399

72 hours before the attack…

Residential Dwelling On the Outskirts of Urban Center Ragnar District


A pale-skinned alien girl bolted upright as a cold sweat flooded over her fragile frame. An involuntary scream escaped her parched lips and reverberated through the small crack of the ajar door to her bedroom. Within moments a tall slender fiery red-haired female appeared in the doorway.

“Esma, illuminate lights. Dreyfus, are you okay, what’s the matter my child?” The dark edges of the room appeared as light crept into the child’s room. The girl blinked and looked up to her mother’s concerned face, her little fingers clinched to the fabric of her blanket.

“I had that nightmare again…” Her soft voice crackled under the weight of her worry.

“It is just a dream child. Some dreams let in the light while others cast shadows of fear.” The adult female sat carefully on the edge of the bed, her clawed fingers took the girl’s head into her palms. She pressed her forehead against hers and their noses touched. The embrace brought a slight smile of comfort to the child’s face. “You have nothing to worry about Dreyfus. I have given you life, you are a part of me, the best part. I would never let anything happen to you. Whatever be silly enough to try and take you from me; must first get through this!” With that the woman pounced to her feet, a slight smirk and a crooked smile, her hands formed fists as she swung them through the air. A belly laugh erupted in the child as the blanket fell from her grasp.

“Okay, okay you can stop…” The girl finally squealed.

“But, I’m just getting warmed up!” Her mother retorted as she switched to her elbows and delivered several swift awkward blows. Her eyes atlas softened as she returned to her child’s bed, she knelt now, eye-to-eye. “Listen, we have never been attacked since I have been alive, and I’m a lot older than you. Nearly 10 times in fact. It won’t happen, we have a lot of brave souls up there amongst the stars keeping an eye on us, ready to fight for our safety, just like I’d fight for you. We have a defence grid, satellite protection, the protectorate ship… We are well secured.”

The little girl nodded as she connected eyes with her mother, “I know… But when I see the fire wash over the planet it seems so real. I can feel the heat on my face, I can hear the cries from our neighbours…”

“Stop,” her mother whispered as she shook her head and moved in closer. “No one is coming. We are safe here, it will be many, many years before your soul touches the sky. And, if a fire starts I shall put it out. I promise.” She reached and tugged on the girl’s earlobe, “Come, get dressed, we shall take a walk through the garden, it will help you sleep…”

The girl nodded as she reached for a stuffed toy, a furry aqua worm-like creature with wide golden eyes, “Okay, but not without Esma!”


Aboard the Orbital Observatory Station Iris


A plump, grey-haired human sat relaxed back in his chair, his feet crossed and thrown over the top of his observation console. White powdered sugar coated his fingertips as he chomped on another jelly-filled pastry. “These freaking things are delicious! I can’t believe you have never tried that little Andorian sweet shop in the Ragnar District.” He rolled his eyes and looked over at his much slimmer coworker who was face and eyes into sensor readouts. “Come on! Just take one bite! One lick! Hell, one sniff! You won’t be disappointed! You look like a drowned rat, all you eat are fruits and vegetables and that protein synthetic junk the replicator pumps out! You could use a few pounds more for the ladies to hold on to!” His round belly started to laugh as the crumbs from his sweet indulgence rolled off his chest.

“I’ve told you before,” his companion retorted, looking briefly from the readouts that had held his attention for so long, “I only eat vegetables and stuff. My body doesn’t like all that stuff you shovel down your gullet every day,” he shook his head as his gaze returned to the computer console he was sitting in front of. “Besides, I like being able to see my feet without having to breath in…” he added with a dastardly smirk.

“My body certainly does,” he howled through a grin as he stuffed the last of the pastries into his mouth. He clenched his bloated belly, “There is no shame in my game, my feet know where they are going, I don’t need to trot about staring at em’…” He shrugged and he wiggled to a stand. He waddled over to the other man’s console. “How about we duck out a little early Slim? I have it on good authority that those two fine twins from Boston came in on the last transport for the month and are dying to go bowling with us again…” A sly grin formed on the edges of his lips, “What do you say? Us two stallions go and run in the wild?”

“Keep eating those pastries and we’ll be using you as a bowling ball,” the slimmer of the two smirked with a shake of his head as he stood upright and stretched his arms into the air. He had to admit, it had been quite a long day and they had been staring at the same old screens for hours – perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to get out of dodge for a while? “Alright, fine. But let’s do one last system run through before we go, alright?”

“Screw that! It’s settled, we’re going bowling! I’ll set the computer to sign us out at quitting time and I’ll get my coat!” He grinned again as his feet became lighter as he slid them across the floor, his hands raised in some awkward dance which seriously lacked rhythm. He stopped at the main computer console and tapped in his security code. “Computer activate, project Freed Wild Horses!” He unzipped his one piece and wiggled out. His whole form let loose and relaxed as he shed his work outfit and threw his coat over his shoulder. “Chuck and Boris hit the town, come on pal! We’ll run that check first thing in the morning!”

BEEP!?!

Chuck had just moved to grab his own coat when the loud beep stopped him in his tracks. He turned back to the console he had been monitoring and tapped away, bringing up a different screen on the main viewer. “That’s odd…” he mused as he continued to work on the machine. “That blip wasn’t anywhere near sensor range a few seconds ago,” he frowned as he looked back at his chubbier colleague. “Check your readouts, see what you can find,” he ordered of his workmate.

Boris moved swiftly to his own console, his face turned serious. Everything about this job was routine, every vessel which entered the system was well scheduled for arrival days and weeks in advance. Ships just didn’t wander in, and there were no expected arrivals until early next month. Boris lowered his head and blew a chest full of air out of his mouth to knock away any rogue crumbs and sugar off his console. His fingers passed over the control screen with urgency and speed very uncharacteristic of him. “It was here, now it’s not! My sensors don’t know what to make of it. It definitely came from grid 0.67, on the outskirts of the solar system. Do you think it was a ship? I’m not reading a warp signature, think it’s cloaked? The Romulans? Klingons? Shit! I’m sending the coordinates to the protectorate ship, have them investigate.”

“Protectorate has received and is moving to intercept,” Chuck revealed as he closely monitored the vessels progress. “And it’s gone aga… wait, it’s firing…” and as quickly as the unidentified vessel appeared, the protectorate ship, which had so ably watched over their precious world for decades, disappeared from their sensors.

The man swallowed hard as the anomaly avoided their scans again. “That’s no Klingon or Romulan ship…” Boris wiped his hand over his face which was no drenched in sweat. “Scan the debris for survivors and activate the satellite defence grid! I’ll contact planetside headquarters!” Boris reached overhead and flicked a switch as the COMM opened, “This is Boris Yacts, aboard the Orbital Observatory Station Iris, we are under attack! I repeat, we are under attack! This is not a drill! We are under attack! The protectorate ship has been destroyed! Please advise!?!” The man flashed a worried look to his comrade, as his own mortality sunk in. “Dammit! They are scrambling our communication signals. The planet isn’t receiving our message. The object is back, grid 0.54… 0.32… 0.13. It’s gone again. No its back!  It’s right on top of us!” The lights dimmed as another alarm began to ring out. “They’re on the station…in the shuttle port! They’ve cut secondary power!” Boris sunk in his seat as his heart began to beat harder, to him it seemed like it would rip from his chest. How he wished he was anywhere else. How he wished the Observatory Station had some line of defence beside two lonely, unarmed humans. Their faces faded as their consoles turned black due to lack of power. “Slim…”


Residential Garden On the Outskirts of Urban Center Ragnar District


The lanky female took in a deep breath, her nostrils flared as she took in the sweet air ripe with the scents from the mosaic of flora which surrounded them. “Isn’t this better Dreyfus? It is such a beautiful night, crystal clear.” The young girl simply nodded, as one hand held her mother’s and the other held Esma close to her chest. “I don’t know which is more beautiful, the blankets of flowers all around, the sprinkle of stars up above, or your pretty little round face…” She smiled down at her daughter, “Esma; play us a song, something soothing…” A soft melody emitted from the child’s toy, an instrumental, “Ah, yes… Precious Child of Mine, one of my favourite lullabies…” She squeezed her daughter’s hand gently as they walked circles around their small garden, the various bushes and trees cast shadows on their faces from the starry night.

After several minutes, the pair stopped abruptly as the child pointed her hand toward the sky, her finger stretched out. “Mother… Look… Is that a shooting star…?” The female returned her gaze to the sky as a fiery object passed over the horizon, debris appeared to crash to the surface in the distance. “Yes… I believe it is…” The mother lied as she reached down and scooped up her daughter into her arms. “Come, let’s get you back inside…” The object which shot across the sky was no comet, she had been aboard the Orbital Observatory Station Iris on several occasions and could recognize its unique architecture anywhere. Within moments the sky flashed bright as streaks of light shot across it. A burning ache awakened in the pit of the woman’s stomach as loud blasts rattled her ears, her calm demeanor turned to pain and she sprinted her child toward their home. The last explosion rattled the soil beneath her feet and the shock revertated through the air and hit the pair which knocked them to the ground. A nearby tree shot into flames as smoke circled them.

It took several seconds before the woman regained her wits, her face now covered in blood and dirt. She cried out as she got to her hands and knees to discover her child had been replaced by a burning, fallen branch. “NO! Dreyfus!!! NO!” Her cries evolved into wails as her physical pain was drowned by some darkness she could barely comprehend. “NO!” The woman cocked her head towards the house as she heard distant shouts in a language she couldn’t understand. The woman stood, as she eyed the child’s toy, Esma laid some distance ahead. She reached for it as she ran out into the open field beyond the garden. One leg hobbled in front of the other, her face solemn and blank. Tears rolled down her face, her face painted by blood and dirt. “Dreyfus… Dreyfus… Dreyfus…” she mumbled. She walked and walked for hours repeating her daughters name, until her blood was void of adrenaline and she fell some kilometers in the wilderness.

Twist in the Tale

Gamma Quadrant, System Unknown
2399

[Several Hours Earlier…]

Stood twiddling her thumbs whilst the Transporter Chief watched with curiosity, Ensign Kedam was beginning to feel nervous ahead of their great adventure. Where the hell was her partner in crime?

Skidding around the corner from the turbolift alcove, his lanky frame unruly as always, Robin damn near collided with a young woman in operations gold. Apologizing profusely over his shoulder he continued until he’d reached the transporter room. He had such a good head of steam going that the doors barely opened in time to keep him from slamming into them, and then he was there, finally. “I… Am… So… Sorry…” he gasped out, leaning against the transporter console and holding his side where a distinctly painful stitch had formed.

“You need to come jogging with me in the mornings,” the Cardassian laughed as she grabbed her colleague by the arm and dragged him up onto the transporter pad. “Alright, Chief! Two to transport to the Rhode Island, please,” the Ensign requested as she took her position.

Chief Petty Officer Tomkins, bearded and grumpy as usual, stood with his arms folded across his burly chest and glared at the younger Cardassian. “And what is the purpose of your visit?”

Nisha stood their wide-eyed and like a rabbit in headlights.

Robin effortlessly took control. “We are planning on causing untold mischief and shenanigans,” he replied with a perfectly straight face, and then pretended to glance at a watch on his wrist, and back to the man behind the console, with his eyebrows raised as if he was waiting impatiently.

“Wise ass…” Tomkins growled to himself before taking a step forward and moving his hands to the controls. “If you get in any trouble over there, I ain’t beaming you back…” he remarked with a sadistic smile before sliding his fingers up the controls. “Energising!”

Moments later the pair of junior officers rematerialized on the transporter pad of the Rhode Island. Robin had a bit of a stunned look on his face, and slowly turned his head to look Nisha in the face, eyes wide, “You don’t think he was serious, do you? About not beaming us back…”

“Well, if he is, I’m beautiful enough to worm my way out of anything,” she grinned as she skipped down from the pad before looking back at her companion, “not so sure about you though…”

Robin gave her a wicked side-eye. “I see how it is,” he said with a slight grin.

“But trust me, I flash these pearly whites,” he added, pausing to give her his cheesiest fake smile, “and give ‘em a little of this,” he went on, doing his best impression of puppy dog eyes, “and I might get a berth on this ship and never even have to worry about transporting back. Not sure what I’d be able to get you though… Might wanna make sure you work on using that pretty thing to your advantage.”

“If you’re staying here, I’ll take the nearest airlock and leave you behind…” she countered with the utmost sass before stepping towards the rather bemused looking Crewman at the transporter station. “Hey, Crewman. We’re here to see someone from your science department. Any ideas where we might go?” she asked confidently as she leant on the console with her right arm, looking up at the Terran.

“Ummm…” the poor soul looked like a train had hit him while he tried to find the words for her question, “deck three… section four…” he finally mustered.

Reaching out and clapping the man on the shoulder Robin smiled, “Thanks, appreciate that!”

Less than five minutes later they’d made their way to the appropriate section of the ship, and as they approached the doors Robin felt nearly giddy. “Well, it’s almost upon us!” he said, smiling widely at his accomplice.

“Calm yourself,” she shook her head. “If you blow this thing, I’ll beam you into space at the next available opportunity,” she told him with her trademark Cardassian smile before surging towards the doors and stepping inside. What she didn’t expect to see, although probably should have these days given Starfleet’s more inclusive recruitment strategy, was a pair of shorter beings. The first, noticeable by the elaborate piece of headwear on the back of their cranium (not to mention the sizeable lobes) was a Ferengi. The second? Bushy brown hair, a pig like snout and a grunt that would make the burly Transporter Chief on Santa Fe jealous could mean only one thing – a Tellarite. Both wore the old grey shouldered uniform, and neither looked as pristine and smart as the two officers from the Santa Fe in their teal-coloured shoulder patches and largely black numbers.

“Well, hello there,” Nisha stepped forward, immediately on the charm offensive as she approached the Ferengi first. “Ensign Nisha Kedam, from the Santa Fe,” she smiled as she offered out a hand. “This is my assistant, Petty Officer Robin Jackson,” she lied, not about his name of course, but his job. She’d always fancied an Assistant of her own.

Robin fell into the part smoothly, standing to Nisha’s side, looking as subservient as he possibly could, and not saying a word. Granted there were plenty of words he’d like to say. Plenty he planned on saying later, when they weren’t in a situation that could land them in a whole lot of trouble. For now, however, he would hold his peace.

“I knew they were going to send some people but didn’t think it would be so soon…” the Tellarite grunted whilst he watched his Ferengi counterpart make eyes at the Cardassian female. “I’m Norek Dar. This is my colleague, Brozic.”

“Well, hello Brozic,” Nisha flirted with the Ferengi, “we’re here to see if you fine gentlemen can help us with some enquiries? Do you think you could help us, Brozic?”

After so many years of living and working around humons, Brozic had finally grown used to females in clothing, and even being addressed directly by them, but their brazen flirting still discomforted him. Not that he minded, he was perfectly happy to be flirted with by a beautiful woman such as the Cardassian standing before him, but it still just felt wrong in some ways.

“We would be happy to help you,” he said, letting his eyes travel over her trim form, taking note of the snazzy new uniform they would hopefully be getting soon. “What can we do for you?”

“My assistant has a list of things we need,” she smiled, lifting her hand and gently to the Ferengi’s ear and employing a trick she had learnt from a friend a while back, gently running a finger across the rim of his sizeable lobe.

A rather ecstatic looking Ferengi took the Cardassian female by the hand and led her over to one of the aft consoles whilst Robin remained in a stand-off of sorts with the Tellarite, who was most upset at the intrusion.

But soon enough, the intrusion would be the least of all their worries…

[Sometime Later…]

“So, as you can see Captain,” the Cardassian pointed out as she leant over and pointed to a specific point on the data PADD to draw her commanding officer’s attention, “it’s taken a lot of analysis, but we think there is only one explanation for a signal like this.”

“It’s someone’s life sign Captain,” Petty Officer Jackson blurted out in excitement, before shooting off an apologetic look at the captain and his commissioned companion.

“Heavily masked by the radiation still present, but there is no other explanation for signatures like this ma’am,” Ensign Kedam grinned as she stood beside her blue-shouldered colleague.

Captain Sebastian Farrell spun ever so slightly in his chair, side to side, as he looked over the data he had been presented by the two junior officers from the science team. It was, he hoped, a breakthrough. “And you say the reason we haven’t detected this person before now is the radiation?”

“Yes ma’am,” Nisha nodded, her black bob of hair moving freely around her head, “the radiation levels are slowly increasing. They have masked the life sign for now, but we have no idea of when it will prove lethal to whoever is down there. We need to get to the Ohnia system and find them!” the Cardassian exclaimed before looking rather sheepish at her uncharacteristic assertiveness before the ship’s captain.

Sebastian couldn’t help but grin at the Cardassian’s outburst, or the subsequent look of shock on the Petty Officer’s face. “I entirely agree Ensign. Excellent work, both of you,” he finally responded, lifting his hand and tapping his commbadge. “=/\=Farrel to sh’Elas. Please report to my ready room,” he requested, all the while eyeing up the two science officers stood before him.

A few seconds later, the door chime rang out. At Farrell’s permission to enter, Commander Tharia sh’Elas stepped inside, her gaze sweeping the room and lingering on the two unfamiliar faces. “You wanted to see me, sir?”

“Ensign Kedam and Petty Officer Jackson have detected a life sign on the third planet in the Ohnia system. A life sign in trouble,” the man advised as he slid a data PADD to the XO. “They believe that there is someone alive on the planet, with their life signs being masked by the raising radiation levels.”

Picking up the PADD, sh’Elas quickly reviewed the data. The name attached to the initial analysis caught her attention. “Indeed,” she said absently as she considered the underlying data. “It would appear so. Albeit alive may be a very subjective term after a week of intense radiation exposure… Nevertheless, if this data came from Javorian’s analysis, I’d trust it with my life, Captain.”

“Since we are in agreement, prepare a runabout. I’ll take Lieutenant Noli, Lieutenant Prida and these two,” the commander of the Santa Fe told, gesturing to the two scientists, before adding, “the ship will remain here, to conclude its mission. The away team will report in regularly, as per protocol.”

Jackson and Kedam gave each a look of disbelief at the Captain’s statement. They were going to get to go on an away mission at last!

“Of course,” sh’Elas nodded before she glanced across at the ensign, “and congratulations on your first away mission, Ensign.”

“Thank you Commander,” Nisha smiled nervously at the sudden honor bestowed upon her.

“Very well then. Ensign, you will begin preparations for the away team. Make sure Lieutenant’s Noli and Prida know what’s going on,” Farrell directed as he rose to his feet and rounded the desk. “Use whatever additional personnel you require. This will be top priority, regardless of anything else going on.”

And with that, the Captain dismissed his young science team with gentle pats on the back of both officers. As they left their commander, sh’Elas followed in close pursuit and back to the bridge. The ship’s mission had taken another twist.

Significance Unknown

Gamma Quadrant, System Unknown
2399

Ever since she had earned the approval of the ship’s Captain, Nisha Kedam had pretty much regretted it. With Commander Travis aboard the Rhode Island with Doctor Carter, there was no one to lead the science team on Santa Fe so the responsibility had fallen to the Cardassian, but that meant the buck stopped with her on lots of the finer mission details. It had been her who had identified the life sign on the planet (along with her enlisted colleague of course). She had to put her feelings to the side, however, and focus on the fact that someone’s life was at risk.

In the time it had taken for Santa Fe staff to prepare a runabout, she’d worked out how long they would have to wait for a safe window in the radiation levels, so she’d had ‘her’ team prepare some slight adjustments to a number of EV suits which would allow them slightly longer exposure in the radiation-thick atmosphere. Now she stood in shuttlebay one, in her full suit, with her helmet tucked under her right arm, waiting for the rest of the away team to arrive.

Lieutenant Commander Zinn showed up first, walking as best he could within the confines of the EV suit onto the Flight Deck. Over his right shoulder his medical kit was slung, his new phaser holstered on his right hip and his EV helmet in his left hand. “Ensign Kedam.” He nodded in greeting. “Captain Farrell has put me in charge of the away mission, opting to stay behind. Are we the first to arrive for this party?”

“Yes sir,” Nisha nodded anxiously, her bob of black hair moving in time with her head, her eyes fixed on the doorway. With the Captain now remaining on the ship, she felt a little more at ease.

Entering moments after Zinn, Auru tugged at the EV suit, trying to make it sit more comfortably, helmet in her hand, hair hanging loosely down her back, as was her typical style. She would tie it back before she put on her helmet, but in the interim she liked the level of privacy that it afforded her. “If I’d been told EV suits would be part of this assignment I may have changed my mind about accepting it,” she said as she approached the group. “I don’t think we’ve met? Lieutenant Noli, relatively new girl.”

“Lieutenant Commander Zinn, Chief Medical Officer,” he motioned to himself with his right hand before motioning towards Kedam, “Ensign Kedam, Assistant Chief of Science. Welcome aboard.”

“Pleased to meet you both,” the Cardassian smiled as best she could, the nerves about the mission threatening to overwhelm her. “We’re just waiting on Lieutenant Rawlins,” she revealed, looking towards the Runabout she had requisitioned for the mission. “I’ve had the Perseus’s shields checked to make sure they will withstand the radiation in the atmosphere, but you might want to have a look, Lieutenant?” she suggested.

“I suppose it would be the prudent thing to do,” Auru smirked as she started moving toward the shuttle. “I usually like to wait until at least my second or third day on the job before I start going kamikaze and endangering the lives of those around me.” Her deadpan expression left it entirely unclear whether she was joking or not.

Whilst the tactical operations officer got to work preparing the Runabout for the flight to the surface, the Cardassian Ensign sheepishly made her way towards the Medical Chief, deciding now was the time to confess her sins. “Commander Zinn, sir, do you have a minute?”

“What can I do for you, Ensign?” Zinn asked. He’d never been comfortable around the Ensign for no reason other than she was a Cardassian, but she was a fellow officer, so he always worked to mask any discomfort he felt.

“I want to apologise,” she frowned as she looked down at the deck plating of the shuttlebay, pointing her toes and moving her foot from side to side as she spoke. It always worked with her father when she was a child, and she hoped it might here too. “I’m the reason you’re leading this away mission,” she revealed, before swiftly adding further information so that he couldn’t intervene until he had heard it all. “Given the nature of the mission, and the likely state of the survivor, if they are still alive, I thought it prudent to have you lead the team. So, I suggested as much to the Captain and… here we are.”

While he had assumed that he would be part of this mission, he was the senior physician onboard after all, his belief had been that it would be led by the XO, or the Vulcan second officer. He’d been confused, and a little dismayed, by the decision but there was little point in arguing against it. That the Cardassian Ensign had suggested he be the one to command the mission mattered little.

“You feel guilty because your suggestion has led to me being placed in command of this mission?” Zinn asked.

“Yes sir,” the Cardassian nodded slowly, “I wasn’t thinking about whether or not you would want to lead an away mission like this, sorry sir.”

Zinn smiled. “This is not your fault, Ensign.” He hesitated before patting the young officer on the arm. “Let me impart a little wisdom on your ass cause you’re young and, well, stupid.” He didn’t wait for the Ensign to object. “You may have planted the seed in the Skipper’s mind, but it was she who made the decision. Besides, while I would have preferred the XO to lead this mission, this is not my first rodeo. I’ll be fine. Nothing for you to feel guilty about.”

Nisha’s face lit up a little as some of the tension lifted and the cloud of gloom above her seemed to dissipate quite quickly. “Oh… well… that’s good to know, sir. Thank you.”

“Right, let’s get onboard and see where we are with pre-flight.” Zinn suggested, motioning for the Ensign to lead the way.

“Aye sir,” Kedam smiled, happily taking the few steps into the runabout and towards the cockpit. “Still waiting on Lieutenant Rawlins,” she spoke to no one in particular as she took an aft seat and began configuring the display for standard science procedures.

Zinn bit back a sarcastic reply to the Ensign’s statement of the obvious and instead moved to where Lieutenant Noli was working in the co-pilot’s chair. “Where are we, Lieutenant?”

“Without knowing where we’re going, what we’re doing or what we’re going to encounter, I’m gonna hazard a guess and say we’re golden. I don’t know about y’all, but I’ve got my EV suit packed in case of emergency,” she looked toward Zinn and winked.

Zinn snorted and smiled. “As good a report as I’ve ever received, thanks.” He moved to the free secondary console seat and sat down, waiting for Lieutenant Rawlins to arrive.

As if by magic, the sound of the shuttlebay doors opening drifted to the cockpit of the Runabout, but instead of the expected Lieutenant, one of his junior pilots arrived. Ensign Asrem Madux made his way into the craft and pressed the door controls, sealing the occupants inside. “Apologies for the delay Commander,” the Betazoid spoke as he reported to the Chief Medical Officer. “Lieutenant Rawlins sends his regards, but issues elsewhere mean he has sent me. I hope that is ok?”

“As long as you can get us there and back, I don’t much care who’s in the pilot’s seat.” He stood and moved to stand behind the pilot’s and co-pilot’s seats. “Let’s get moving.”

Asrem nodded and took his position at the helm of the Runabout, activating the LCARS control interface and taking a moment to adjust the settings to his preferred configuration for piloting. “Anything I need to know?” he queried, looking around the different officers in the group. It was quite an eclectic mix of personnel, he noticed. No command officer leading the team, no engineer, not even an operations officer. That was going to make things interesting. Just the way he liked it.

“The EV suits have been modified to allow us more time in the radiation down there but I’ll be keeping an eye on everyone’s levels and the moment I pull us back to the Runabout, you follow that order. Other than that, standard away team protocols apply.” Zinn told him in his most commanding tone, developed during his time with the Corps.

Asrem cracked his neck to the left and then the right before doing the same with his fingers. “Let’s get this show on the road…” he grinned, looking at the Lieutenant with a nod, and then back to his controls. “Automated door opening procedures commenced,” he reported, watching out of the cockpit window. Two hulking doors in front of them parted like the proverbial Red Sea of Earth, the gap widening enough so that he could take the craft out of the Shuttlebay at last.

“Engaging thrusters,” the Ensign declared, this time to no one in particular as he eased the craft up and off of the deck plating before it sped out and into open space. Once out there, he couldn’t help but smile at the beautiful Intrepid-class ship that sat just a few hundred yards off of the Santa Fe’s bow. Whilst the two starships engaged in a mission of importance, Lieutenant Commander Zinn would lead this mission. If only the runabouts occupants had anticipated the significance of the mission they were about to embark upon…

Medical Evacuations

Gamma Quadrant, Ohnia System
2399

“Dropping us out of warp… now.”

Stars that had previously streamed past their runabout at magnificent speeds suddenly slowed to a stand still as the craft came to a halt in orbit of the planet Ohnia III. What had, by all reports, been a lush, green world covered with all manner of flora and fauna was now nothing more than a wasteland. A burning wasteland. Even without using sensors, the devastation was clear for those aboard the Federation craft to see. Fires raged in the atmosphere and clouds, probably clouds of radiation, drifted across the entire planet.

“Interesting…”

Commander Zinn diverted his gaze from the main viewer, focusing on the Bajoran nearby. “What is it, Noli?” the Deltan queried, respecting the Bajoran custom of family name first when addressing her.

“Sensors have detected debris, approximately two hundred kilometers from the planet’s north pole. Putting it up,” the Bajoran told, tapping away at her controls and showing a visual of the debris on each person’s console. “According to my sensors, it would appear to have been some sort of orbital station. No life signs,” she added, pre-empting the physicians likely call for a search for survivors.

“What could have done this?” the Doctor whispered to no one in particular as he shook his head in disbelief.

“There are only two possible causes, but given the fact we have debris from some sort of facility out here, we can probably reduce it to one…” Noli spun in her chair, looking towards the  and the planet on the main viewer. “I think it is safe to assume foul play.”

Working from her aft controls, Ensign Kedam monitored the vessel’s trajectory towards the identified location of the signal and shook her head slightly as she adjusted the heading and sent it to the navigation controller. “Radiation levels are increasing and it’s making it difficult to keep a track of the signal. I recommend putting us down about a kilometer from the original location of the reading,” she informed, looking at the away team leader for confirmation of his orders.

“That’s a hell of a trek in all that radiation, EV suits or no.” He was sure she didn’t need that pointed out, but he wanted to hear her reasoning. “Not to mention that our pace will be slower because of the suits. There isn’t a suitable landing site closer to the signal?”

Nisha nodded slowly, and anxiously. “There is…” she reported, spinning in her chair to face her Medical counterpart, “but the truth is, we have no idea what to expect down there. I simply figured this site would give us a chance to prepare and adapt as we approach the source of the signal,” it was perhaps a little latitude she shouldn’t have taken, but she offered her reasons, nonetheless.

“There’s hope for you yet,” Zinn told her with a sideways glance and a smile. “Transfer the landing coordinates to the helm.” He turned his focus back to the viewports. “Asrem, put us down at Ensign Kedam’s landing site.”

“Sure thing Commander,” the confident young man smiled as he tapped away at the controls in front of him, the craft performing a steep banking manoeuvre as it changed direction and was pointed towards the planet below.

The burning, radiation covered wasteland below…

Ensign Asrem deactivated the engines with a sigh of relief once the Runabout Perseus made firm contact with the planetary hard deck. The flight had been relatively smooth, all things considering. “Okay people, you’re all good to go.”

Standing up from the aft science station, Nisha reached for the helmet that was on the floor beside her chair and lifted it up. Within seconds, she had pulled it over her head and locked it into position.

With a heavy sigh, Auru stood up and twisted her dark hair up onto the back of her head, pinning it into place before she pulled her helmet on and locked it in. “I suggest you all test your communications and suit functions before stepping outside. If there’s going to be dead bodies on my hands, I want them to at least be worth claiming.”

Zinn locked his EV helmet into place and raised the arm that held the suits control panel. He activated the onboard oxygen supply and comm system. “Check, check. Everyone hear me okay?”

“Loud and clear,” Auru responded before running checks on her own panel. “Oxygen is good, all systems appear to be intact and responding, no notifications of physical damage.” She grimaced as she patted her own hips. “You know, you’d think that after a few hundred years they’d design these things better, still nowhere to store a phaser!” Without waiting for a response, she headed into the back of the shuttle to access the small onboard weapons locker.

Nisha listened to the Chief Tactical Officer’s rant and smirked as she shook her head. “I hear you Lieutenant,” she spoke somewhat ambiguously.

“Alright, listen up.” Zinn slung his medical kit over his shoulder. “Let’s not forget that these suits will only offer protection against the radiation for a limited time, so we need to move and move quickly. Understood?” He looked from one to the other.

Auru slung a phase rifle over her shoulder and kept her phaser in her hand, sealing the weapons locker again before she turned around, fighting back the urge to roll her eyes, not that it would have been easy to see anyway. “Yes Mom,” she retorted with a cheeky smirk.

Zinn instinctively reached out and smacked the back of Auru’s EV helmet. “Button it or next time it’ll be my boot in your ass.” Having dealt with the Lieutenant the same way he used to deal with his Marines, Zinn pointed towards the door. “Lead the way, Lieutenant.”

Ensign Kedam smirked from inside her helmet at the Medical Officer’s retort to the Tactical Chief. She was going to like them both, for obviously different reasons, she was sure. “Forty minutes, maximum,” she added for clarification’s sake.

“You heard the lady. Forty minutes for a two kilometre round trip. Let’s get it done.” He was certain they would be able to achieve their mission objective, as long as they were able to maintain a good pace. “Noli, you’re on point. Kedam, you’re our guide. I’ll bring up the rear. Move out.”

Auru laughed as he smacked the back of her EV helmet and headed toward the door. “Forty minutes? Pfffft.. We can do it in twenty,” she said with a grin. “Everyone ready?” Releasing the hatch, she unslung her phase rifle and headed out the door into the world beyond.

Following closely behind, her glowing and beeping tricorder leading the way, Ensign Kedam couldn’t help but feel somewhat tense. A planet which had hundreds of thousands of people living on it had been reduced to a smouldering wasteland. It was tragic.

There was something deeply unsettling about hiking across land that had been utterly decimated. Despite the fact that there were no obvious signs of life, Auru felt like they were being watched, it was a sensation that made her skin crawl inside her EV suit. “Do we even know for certain if this person is still alive?” she asked quietly, not entirely sure why she felt the need to keep her voice down.

Shaking her head, Nisha picked up the pace a little to keep up with the Tactical Officer as she scanned the vicinity for any signs of the lifeform. “We have no way of telling at this point,” she revealed before elaborating further, “we were lucky to find the signal at all, given the radiation levels in the atmosphere. We only found it thanks to Rhode Island’s advanced sensor suite… we could get there and find the person dead, but even then, we may be able to get some hint as to what the hell went on down here.”

“I doubt we’re going to find anyone alive down here,” Zinn admitted grimly. “Not after so long in this kind of radiation. But Ensign Kedam is right, even dead, we may be able to learn something from whoever sent that signal out. The last act of a desperate person, one last glimmer of hope for them to cling onto during their final hours.”

“From what I can make out, the signal is originating near a cave network,” the Cardassian pointed into the distance. “It should be on the other side of the village… which no longer exists,” she frowned.

Zinn sighed. He was hoping to avoid the village that he’d seen recreated on the holodeck, but it seemed that wasn’t going to happen. Sure, they could go around the village but with the limited protection the EV suits offered, that would add unnecessary time to their journey. “Okay, let’s just get through it as quickly as we can.”

A sigh of acknowledgement and the Cardassian science officer continued to direct the way in silence as they took in the painful sights around them. With the camera on her EVA suit logging everything she saw, the younger of the officers felt no need to comment further. It would all be noted in that night’s personal log for sure.

After what seemed an eternity of traipsing through the now derelict and eerie village, the away team finally moved into a clearing. Through the haze, the Cardassian could make out what appeared to be the outline of some hills. “According to my tricorder, the survivor should be over there…” the Cardassian pointed in the direction of the signal, looking anxiously at Zinn for the briefest of moments.

Doctor Zinn inhaled deeply through his nose and let it out audibly through his mouth. “Well, here we go.” Taking the lead this time, he resumed plodding towards the source of the signal. Whether their questions would soon be answered, remained to be seen.

The deformed figure of Edme Kern lay silently in the crevice of a rock. Her feet were bare and blistered, her clothes torn and tattered. It was evident that she had not washed for several days. Blood and dirt had dried to her bits of exposed skin, her hair was matted with pieces of debris interwoven. Her skin almost appeared melted, tumours covered her body and she appeared wild and untethered. For days she had struggled to survive, her consciousness teetered on the edges of reality and insanity due to the radiation poisoning. Her oxygen levels had dropped and she fell into a coma-like state. In her hands she held a round piece of tree bark, she held it close against her chest as if it were a baby.

It didn’t take long for Zinn to spot the body of the woman lying in the crevice. “Over here.” He called, instantly activating his tricorder. Kneeling beside her, he was surprised when the device indicated life. “She’s still alive.” Zinn announced, unable to keep the surprise from his voice.

Ensign Kedam echoed the team leader’s actions, getting out her own tricorder and scanning the woman. “She won’t be if we don’t get her out of here. The radiation level is getting dangerously high.”

“How the hell…” Auru shook her head, moving into them. Slinging her phaser rifle over her shoulder, she looked toward Zinn. “We won’t be able to transport, we’re going to have to carry her back to the shuttle. Help me get her up, carefully.”

Zinn replaced his tricorder in the med kit and moved to assist the Security Chief in carefully lifting the woman off the ground. Gently he pried the piece of tree bark out of her hands and handed it off to Ensign Kedam.

Kedam dutifully took ownership of all the remaining equipment, ensuring she still had one hand free for her tricorder so she could guide them back to the Runabout. “We’re cutting it fine,” she told rather unhelpfully, and regretted it almost instantly.

“Thank you, Ensign Obvious.” Zinn snapped. “Can we communicate with the Runabout through the radiation?” He asked as he and Noli settled into the best way to carry the survivor.

Smarting at the Commander’s comment, the Ensign tapped away as best she could on her tricorder, dictating her actions as she went. “If I can run a modulation algorithm through the tricorder, it might be able to cut through the interference,” she told as she worked. It wasn’t long before she used the EVA suits communications array to try and contact the Runabout.

At first, there was nothing but static. Then, after a little finger magic, the channel cleared up enough to hear a voice.

“=/\=Away team, this is Perseus. Come in please?”

The CMO was relieved to hear the Ensign’s voice. “=/\=This is Zinn. Are there any sites closer to our position where you can set that crate down? We need to speed this extraction up.”

“=/\=I’ve been playing with the transporters,” the Ensign on the Runabout said excitedly, “I think I’ve done enough to get one person aboard at a time.”

Doctor Zinn could feel Noli and Kedam’s eyes turn towards him. “=/\=How sure are you, Ensign?”

“=/\=Sure enough to risk it,” the Ensign retorted quickly, “and it is the only way you are going to get aboard any quicker,” he concluded, with emphasis on the ‘only’ part of his message.

“Everyone’s a wise ass today.” Zinn grumbled before quickly coming up with a plan. “=/\=Okay, take Kedam first, then the survivor, then Noli and I’ll go last. Kedam, get the survivor settled into the aft section of the runabout and throw up an isolation field around her. I’ll join you as soon as I’m onboard.”

“Oh, sure…” Nisha frowned as she put her tricorder away, “scatter my molecules everywhere first if this goes wrong…” she shrugged as she made a space for herself away from the group for transport.

Within seconds, even though the transporter beam fluctuated a little during the process, the young woman’s voice came over the comm. “=/\=I’m safely aboard, Commander.”

“=/\=Glad to hear it.” He turned to Noli. “Let’s lay her on the ground carefully.”

Moving slowly and carefully, they lowered the near dead body to the ground. There was a moan of pain with the movement and Auru found herself apologizing, even though it was unavoidable. Finally, Auru stood up and stepped back, making sure there was a clear area for transport.

With the survivor lying on the ground, Doctor Zinn pulled out his medical tricorder and quickly programmed it to emit a signal for the transporter’s targeting systems to lock onto. “=/\=Okay, lock onto my tricorder and energise.”

“=/\=Energising,” the voice of the runabout’s pilot cut through the static as their patient began to dematerialize, and eventually vanished.

With the survivor safely onboard, the two remaining away team members could beam back. “You’re next, Noli.”

“For the record, I want it noted that you’re attempting to pull rank and make me leave first,” Auru retorted. “I’m supposed to be making sure y’all get back safe, but I suspect arguing with you is about as useful as a chocolate fireguard,” she shook her head. “Alright, get me out of here, before he smacks me again.”

The CMO watched as Lieutenant Noli dematerialised, leaving him alone. A chill ran down his spine. Whatever beauty this planet had once held was now gone; replaced by a cold, desolate world that would be uninhabitable for centuries. Doctor Zinn took one last look around the eerie landscape. ‘How did anyone manage to survive in this nightmare.’ He asked himself silently.

“=/\=Zinn to Perseus. Energise when ready.” Within seconds he could feel the dematerialisation process begin. The planet’s surface faded away and was replaced by the runabout’s interior. Lieutenant Noli was at the transporter controls this time with Ensign Asrem at the helm, preparing to launch.

When he was fully materialised, the first thing Zinn did was to remove the helmet of his EV suit. The sense of relief at being free of the goldfish bowl was great. Moving forward into the cockpit, he came to a stop behind the pilot’s chair. “Take us home, Ensign.”

Zinn watched the pilot work for a few seconds before turning and walking towards the runabout’s aft section to learn whatever the tricorder could tell him about his new patient.

Waking the Dead

USS Santa Fe, Gamma Quadrant, Ohnia System
2399

Sebastian nodded to several people he crossed paths with on his march along deck 6 until he reached the entrance to sickbay. As he crossed the threshold and entered the medical facility, he noted the somewhat unusual presence of two security officers keeping a beady eye on events as they transpired. Coming to a halt outside of the ‘range of annoyance’ for the CMO, the Captain watched intently as the medics worked their magic. He would, for now, bide his time until Doctor Zinn was ready to talk with him; the patient was the priority at present.

Treating this patient was no easy task. Her body was so thoroughly irradiated that she was actually giving off low levels of radiation. Not enough to cause damage to those around her but only as long as exposure was kept to a minimum. The EMH was doing the bulk of the treatment while a containment field was erected around the biobed to keep the rest of Sickbay safe.

Doctor Zinn stood with his arms folded, a large PADD held against his chest, watching as the EMH conducted another series of tricorder scans. He could sense the man’s presence but didn’t take his eyes off his patient. “You’re lurking.”

“Yes, I… I’d like… when you’re,” Farrell was slightly caught off guard by the Doctor’s statement and had to take a second to compose himself and offer a coherent response. “I’d like a report when you are ready, Doctor. I can wait.”

No sharp witticism? No barbed riposte? That wasn’t the Commanding Officer that he knew. Zinn turned, approached the Captain and quietly asked, “You okay?”

“Fine,” Sebastian nodded, his eyes betraying him somewhat as he looked at the Doctor briefly and then back to the lifeform, who he couldn’t really see much of. “What can you tell me Doctor?”

Zinn turned back to face his patient, folding the PADD into his arms once more. “She’s alive, for now.” He told the Captain. “For probably the first time in days, she’s resting comfortably.”

“What are her injuries?” the Captain questioned, stepping forward to catch his first real glimpse of the survivor. It took every ounce of his strength to suppress the gasp of shock that nearly erupted from him. Scarred skin, disfigured and burnt, she was far from the Human she was when she arrived on the planet, that was for sure.

Doctor Zinn wasn’t surprised by the Captain’s reaction to their guests’ appearance. “Yeah. It’s difficult to see.” He spoke softly so just Farrell could hear him. “The radiation burns and,” the first word that occurred to him was ‘disfigurements’ but he quickly decided on a softer one, “changes are only the beginning.”

“Every cell in her body is saturated with radiation and as a result, she’s now giving off low levels of radiation. That’s why we have the isolation field, why I’m limiting the time my staff spends working with her and why the EMH will be doing the heavy lifting on her treatment.” He reported, pausing to let that sink in before continuing. “There’s scarring on both lungs, which is causing breathing difficulties and there are a number of what look like tumours. We’re currently running a more in-depth analysis on them but I’m guessing it’s not good.”

“Can we talk to her?” the Captain asked as softly his gravelly tone would allow, looking down at the almost lifeless figure from behind the safety of the isolation field.

The CMO sighed. “I’d rather allow her a little more time to rest. But, I know how you Starship Captains like to get your own way,” he cast a sideways glance at the Captain and smirked, “so I will allow you five minutes.”

“Thank you Doctor,” Farrell smiled, nodding in both respect and thanks to the Doctor. Stepping forward, as close to the isolation field as he could get, the man wasn’t quite sure where to start until words just fell out of his mouth. “Hello there… my name is Captain Sebastian Farrell. Can you hear me?”

Edme remained motionless for a while, even when she heard the voice. Her mind would not allow her to interpret anything the Trill was saying. Her dried lips finally parted slightly, “Esma…” she whispered. Even though she was heavily medicated her entire chest burned as the single word escaped. She swallowed hard, but as much as she focused, she could not open her eyelids. Her bloody fingers on both hands reached outward against the biobed, her broken nails gripped into the fabric as she fought to awaken.

Farrell glanced at the Doctor for the briefest of seconds before speaking to their patient again. “Esma… is that you? Is that your name?” he asked, his tone as quiet and calming as he could possibly make it.

The fog from her head lifted. She finally gained control of her entire body, all at once, it was like a switch flicked on and had fully awoken her. Edma’s body snapped up quickly, without warning, her entire mass lifted from the bed and dashed across the isolation area in the direction of the voice. She brought up on the forcefield, her hands lifted to bang against it flat palmed. “ESMA!” The woman screamed in the Captain’s face. “ESMA! Where is ESMA?” Her pupils widened as her eyelids parted. She could hardly see, her vision was a blur and obstructed by flaps of deformed skin. She could only make out the alien’s silhouette.

Farrell held up his own hands and pleaded to the woman for calm. “Please! You must remain calm. We will help you as much as we possibly can, but you must stay calm and talk to us,” he appealed to the woman.

Edme fell to her bottom and wrapped her arms around her knees. She began to rock erratically as she sobbed pitifully. Tears rolled down her deformed face as she lifted her head to look toward the Captain, “Esma,” she whispered again, “Esma… please… Esma…” She now turned her eyes toward the floor again, she tried to steady her rocking as her eyes closed shut.

Sebastian turned away from the patient for a moment and took Commander Zinn by the arm, guiding him away briefly so they could talk in private. “So, I guess we know that she isn’t called Esma. Family member maybe?”

“Sibling, child, parent? Your guess is as good as mine.” Zinn mused quietly. He turned back and stepped towards the edge of the isolation field. “Computer, deactivate isolation field.” The computer beeped in response and the hum of the field ceased as it lowered the field.

The CMO slowly approached the woman and lowered himself onto his bum, wincing and letting out a sound as he did. Once upon a time he’d given superiors a hard time about making ‘old man noises’, it was rather disconcerting that he was now making those noises himself. Sitting beside the woman cross legged, he didn’t try reaching out to her. “Is Esma a person?” He asked softly. “Your child?” Given the state of distress she was in when calling out what they were still assuming was the name of a person, Zinn figured it was a reasonable first guess that Esma was the woman’s child.

The doctors’ voice fluttered around her head; but, it might as well have been the noise of a running stream as she could not fully comprehend his questions’ meaning. Edme slowly stopped rocking as the man approached her, she fixated on his COMM badge. She lifted her pointer finger, her fingertip was raw and blistered, her nails chipped and broken. A calmness washed over her as she moved her eyes closer to the man’s chest to see better. She placed her finger on his badge and began to trace it as she whispered, “Starfleet…” Her voice was hoarse; but, more gentle now, more articulate.

Zinn watched as she reached out and began tracing the commbadge. When she spoke, he glanced up at the Captain, sharing a hopeful look with him. “That’s right.” He told her, keeping his voice soft. “My name’s Zinn. I’m a Starfleet Doctor.”

Stood at a safe distance, the Captain watched in absolute awe as the Doctor made the connection he had been unable to. He hoped the physician would know all the right things to ask.

Edme blinked as she heard the man for the first time, she continued to look at the badge still not making eye contact. A few rogue tears rolled down over her face still. “Zinn…” she repeated. “I want Esma. Find me Esma, Zinn…” She began to look around down, she could just barely make out the outlines of her new surroundings. “Esma. Please…” Her voice was riddled with defeat and hopelessness.

“I’ll try.” Zinn reassured her gently before pushing himself off the floor and slowly getting to his feet, ignoring the protests of his joints. Walking back over to the Captain, he let out a frustrated sigh. “I’m no closer to figuring out who Esma is,” He said in a low voice. Running over the events of the away mission again, he hoped that some detail would come to him to help them connect with the woman.

It struck him that before he and Noli had lifted her, he’d removed a piece of tree bark that she had been holding, cradling even. “The bark.” At the look of confusion that the comment drew from the Captain, he continued, “When we found her she was cradling a round piece of tree bark, like it was precious to her. Maybe if we give it back to her, it may ground her to reality a little and we can find out who Esma is.”

At this point, the Captain had no better solution to offer and so, nodded in agreement with the Doctor. They had nothing to lose, after all.

Zinn moved into an adjacent section of the medical facility, a room with various storage lockers. He quickly retrieved the piece of bark, after making sure that touching it would cause no lasting damage to him, and returned to Sickbay. Walking past the Captain, he slowly lowered himself beside their guest once more. “You were holding this when we found you.” He told her softly as he held the bark out for her.

Edme reached out like a Ferengi for a lost bar of gold-pressed latinum and took the piece of bark into her hands. She examined it for a moment then turned it over, she had two small notches made in the underside which looked like eyes. “Esma, Esma!” She looked up with genuine pride in her broken eyes, “Thank you, thank you,” she repeated. She held it close to her chest then started to look around the room again. “Starfleet… Where am I?”

At this point, Sebastian took a gentle step forward and in the most soothing tone he could muster, he explained what he could to the woman. “You’re on the starship Santa Fe. We responded to a distress call from your planet,” he revealed as he crouched down.

The woman survivor looked up, “Distress call from your planet,” she repeated. “Yes… They attacked us…” she added before she looked away. With the piece of bark in her hands she reached down between her knees and started to tap the floor with it’s edge. Her head slightly cocked to one side as she started to hum. The melody was soothing, lullaby-like.

“Who? Who attacked you?” Sebastian probed, as gently as she could. What she had to say would hopefully tell her where everyone had gone.

“Who, I’ll tell you who…” She looked up with a wide grin, “They come nimble, they come quick. They open their eyes and shine pure darkness. They speak without a mouth. They appear and disappear at their whim. Their bodies come alive when the wind blows.” She reached up and touched her temples with both hands as she dropped the bark, “You’ve seen them! I’ve seen them! The galaxy has fought them. Foot soldiers. Ferocious like a Klingon. They are there! They are here. They are already here. Don’t you know? LOOK!” Her voice raised as panic washed her face, “Starfleet, they are HERE!” She screamed now as she buckled backward, her eyes rolled back to reveal the bloodshot whites of her eyes. Her whole body began to shake and convulse violently. Spit and blood splattered from the corners of her lips as her limbs trashed around. Only soft mumbles escaped her lips now.

Zinn moved to cradle her head as her body convulsed. “Ten CCs of improvaline.” He barked at Nurse Michaels. The young Petty Officer already had a hypospray in hand and loaded it with the requested sedative. He quickly set the hypo for the correct dosage and handed it to the CMO, who immediately pressed it against the survivor’s neck and injected the sedative.

Within seconds the survivor’s body became still and Zinn let out a sigh that was equal parts frustration and relief. “Help me get her back onto the biobed.” Together, Michaels and Zinn lifted the still unknown woman off the deck and carefully placed her on the biobed. “Step out.” Zinn instructed as he moved outside of the isolation field’s perimeter. “Computer, activate isolation field.”

Zinn stepped over to where the Captain was standing but said nothing. His heart was racing and his breathing, which had become heavy, was returning to normal. “I hope that was worth it.” He said, finally breaking the silence.

So, too, did the commander of the ship as they shared a tense moment before he turned and began to walk away. “Let me know when she is well enough to be revived again, Doctor. I have more questions,” he told coldly. Gone was the warm, sensitive soul of before. In its place, the almost frozen exterior he was known for.

He hoped the exchange was worth it too, for all their sakes.

Unwelcome Developments

USS Santa Fe, Gamma Quadrant, Ohnia System
2399

“The only things that can save me from the demons of my tomorrow is sleep. A rested mind will have the sharpness to make the kind of decisions that could be the difference between promotion and being fired. In my youth, I was the kind of person who slept all night and well into the morning, irking my mother no end. In my twenties I was up with the call of my alarm, reluctant and sleep-drunk. Now I cannot make it past three a.m. After a tumultuous few hours of vivid disaster-fuelled dreaming I am more awake than if a gunshot was fired by my ears. Commonly I remain in the inkiness, willing myself to return to sleep, unpleasant though it is. But I cannot. I can lie still, becoming more irate at my sleeplessness, or I can rise and start my day. I get a lot done before the sunrise: exercise, food preparation, cleaning. My personal organization is the envy of my friends; but I’d give it all away to slumber until breakfast…”

Sebastian slammed the heavy book shut in anger and tossed it on the end of his bed before throwing off the duvet, spinning on his bottom and letting his feet dangle over the side. Scrunching the hairy toes of his feet in the fluffy rug at the side of his bed as he clutched the mattress either side of his body, the commander of the Santa Fe let out a huff of frustration. He’d only been reading the blasted book because he had been in bed for nearly three hours without any sign of finding sleep, very aware that the so called demons of tomorrow lurked closer than he would have liked.

Slipping his feet into the nearby slippers, adorned with the face of some Earth character of fiction called ‘Shrek’ (the whimsy of Commander sh’Elas never failed to impress), the Captain hobbled out into the living area of his quarters, nearly walking into the glass coffee table in the middle of the room on his way to the replicator.

“Computer, warm milk, large,” he requested.

Truth be told, he knew exactly why he couldn’t sleep; the thought of what the poor woman in sickbay must have gone through to end up as scarred and disfigured as she had – her pain and suffering – was all the motivation the crew needed to try and figure out what the hell had happened down on Ohnia III.

He was almost back in his bedroom, sipping the warm milk gently when the internal communications array chirped and stopped him in his tracks. “=/\=Bridge to Captain Farrell,” the voice spoke.

Diverting his steps, the Captain walked to the nearby desk and pressed one of the buttons on the console, a single beep indicating that he could respond to the mystery voice. “=/\=Farrell here, go ahead.”

“=/\=Sorry to wake you sir, but we’ve got Admiral Ryan for you on subspace,” the voice told in its matter of fact way.

Sebastian let out a sigh as he placed the glass on the table top and moved around the desk to his chair. “=/\=Put him through down here. Farrell out.” As he adjusted his chair and got as comfortable as possible, given he was in his nightwear, the man with more than a five o’clock shadow was ready just in time for the screen to change and show the face of the Admiral who had dispatched the Santa Fe on its mission.

“I hope I didn’t wake you, Captain,” Ryan smiled sheepishly as he made note of the man’s evening wear.

“Not at all Admiral,” Sebastian shook his head slowly, “what can I do for you?”

“I read your report on the survivor,” Ryan frowned as he looked down briefly, ““I can’t believe she is the only survivor from that colony,” he added.

“We’re still working out theories of what happened, but so far we’ve come up with nothing concrete. Until we can stabilize her and see what she knows, we’re stuck,” Farrell responded, slouching back in his seat. “We’re maintaining position and continuing sensor analysis to support our investigations.”

“I know this is going to frustrate you Sebastian,” Ryan started, the use of the Captain’s name causing the man to bristle slightly, but he remained silent and listened to what was going to come next. “but you are going to have to pass on this investigation and your patient to the people on New Bajor. We hope they will have better luck managing her condition and offer her the kind of rehabilitation she needs. You have a new assignment.”

New assignment? They hadn’t finished this one yet and already they were being moved on. Sometimes, it was hard not to question the logic behind some of command’s decisions. And Sebastian should have known, given his many years of service.

“You’ll get more details tomorrow, but for now, the Scimitar will rendezvous with you in the morning and I want you to transport your passenger when it is safe to do so, then set a course for the Rakhar system,” Admiral Ryan told, looking off screen briefly which allowed Sebastian to make a quick note to look further into Rhakar. From what he could recall, it was a fair distance from where they were currently.

“Forgive me Admiral, but if I remember rightly, Rhakar is a long way south of here. Surely there are other ships nearby who could respond to whatever situ…”

“Of course there are, but Admiral Clancy has chosen the Fourth fleet for this next mission and thus, I have chosen the Santa Fe,” Ryan butted in, to express the apparent will of the Starfleet Commander in Chief herself. “Like I said before, I’ll have more for you tomorrow, Captain. For now, I advise you get some rest,” the Admiral instructed. “Ryan out.”

And just like that, before Farrell could protest further or seek any additional clarification of his orders, the uniformed man had vanished from sight. “Of course it makes sense to travel hundreds of light years when there are other ships in the area,” he fumed as he picked up his glass of milk and downed it before heading back into the bedroom.

Collapsing onto the edge of his bed, he performed the ritual of earlier, but in reverse; Shrek slippers off, scrunching toes in the fluffy rug before sliding his body round and laying his head on the pillow again, pulling his duvet cover over him.

Hoping that he could forget about the demons of tomorrow for at least a little while, he closed his eyes at last…

…only to open them a few seconds later with a startling realisation.

“Great,” he moaned, “now I have to pee…”