Part of USS Altai: Here Be Monsters

Bait and Switch

USS Altai, Computer Core, Engineering, Holo-Deck, Bridge
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[Deck Five – Computer Core Power Conduit ]

It knew they were searching. It skulked above, in a cavity amongst the conduits, listening. It overheard the crew below. It had been programmed with numerous languages and could understand their words

= Standby, we’ll drop the forcefield on the middle level =

The scans it had taken of their energy weapons had determined them to be a significant threat. Now was the time for utmost stealth. It performed a sensor sweep to analyze for it’s next move. There had been two computer centers when it was first activated but now it only found one. It continued scanning trying to find the second.

Suddenly there was a new target. It had not been there a moment before but now data streams and information flows danced across its receptors. They did have a second computer core!

It shuffled around in the conduit and scuttled quickly towards it’s new objective.

[Deck Five – Computer Core]

The forward compartment housed the primary eight hundred modules for the ship’s computer, each made up of hundreds of optical transtator clusters, each containing thousands of segments. All running faster than light nanoprocessors, with each module generating some six-hundred thousand kiloquads of capacity.

The modules were arranged around the outside of the compartment, an open grid catwalk ran across the middle level on Deck Five, with ladders going down to the bottom level on Deck Four and up to the upper level on Deck Six. Also on Deck Six was the System Monitoring room with controls to checked and adjust the core’s functions.

The Secondary core, with a further six hundred modules was located was located aft.

The room, kept cooler than the rest of the ship, was bathed in a soft bluish light and there was a steady humming-drone of the running processors.

As directed, McQueen swung onto the down-ladder and clambered down to the lower level, followed by Jefferson.

“Anything?” Astrid asked she looked around. There was nothing here. Perhaps the decoy was working.

=/\=Vogler to Van Der Luan, computer core is secure. No sign of our friend. What are our orders sir? =/\=

=^= Remain there for now Hazard team. We’ve not been able to find the intruder on internal sensors and we don’t know if it will take the bait of a holo-core. Bridge out =^=

=^=Understood. Vogler out.=^=

[Bridge]

Van Der Luan checked the secondary core had been shut down, the primary core was now running all major functions for the ship. The duty Bridge Engineer confirmed that had happened.

He found a few moments to clamber out of the rest of his EVO suit and resumed his place in the center chair. With all that had happened, he had not thought of what had happened to Streth and the others in the explosion. Now he had time to find out and tapped the arm’s communicator.

=^=Van Der Luan to Sickbay. Do you have an update on the Captain and other casualties? =^= Trying to keep the concern out of his voice.

=^=Sickbay here,=^= came the calm reply, =^=Captain and all casualties stable. It’s gonna be a while before they’re up and about though. Hey WAIT-=^=

=^=Commander,=^= Streth’s voice rasped through the com line, =^=They told me what came out of that rock. Get it neutralised. We need to find out who made it. You’re in the chair for now,=^= he coughed, =^=Doc’s not letting me leave.=^=

=^=Understood sir. We’ll take care of it. Concentrate on getting well. =^=

[Deck Five – Computer Core]

Beck and Cooper also found the opportunity to crawl out of their evo suits, though someone will likely find two piles of it in one of the turbolifts, as they had rushed to the Computer Core to get started. That of course was a bit ago and they had been transfering the data even before the Hazard Team reported no sign of the mechanical menace.

Beck was at one console while Cooper was at the other, both working on speeding up the transfer by compressing larger files ahead of the transfer process, with a program built in to uncompress them as soon as they reach the other computer core on the Don.

Beck checked the progress. =^=We are at fifty percent in the transfer. A few more minutes and we will be able to set up the surprise. It looks like someone had upgraded the Don’s receiver, normally with a relic like Don, it would probably have taken longer.=^= Beck grinned.

“Hey now. You be nice to Walker’s ship. Me, him and that entire team over there worked very hard to make her tip top.” Cooper smirked.

“Only teasing, Chief.” He chuckled as he resumed to compressing. He still had his tools with him, took the toolbelt from the evo suit so that he could get the modification done.

He looked over at the Hazard Team. “As soon as the transfer is complete, and I finish the modifications to electrify the core casing, we all will have to stand clear of the core, unless you want your hair standing up around a five inch diameter hole in your chest. Because if that mechanical bugger takes the bait, we have no clue if any of the electricity will spark off of it or not so best not to be near by when it gets electrocuted.” He warned them.

Astrid gave the core a queer look and stepped back even farther despite being over a meter away in the first place. “That uh… No, that is not something I would like to do. This does not appear to be a safe plan Mr. Beck.”

“As long as ya stand right where you’re at lass, you’ll do fine.” He winked and resumed his work.

“And if we have to move around to get our friend? Not ideal,” Astrid observed. “If it were up to me we’d track it down and eliminate it with phasers. Still, I suppose for something thought up by an engineer, and on short time it’s not bad. But, what if that thing has some sort of sensors? Wouldn’t it just… well, you know, avoid the EM field? Maybe even attack the control unit? I saw it cut through the deck like a hot knife through butter. It could compromise the console before we even realize what’s going on.”

“So we stay here not knowing where the damn thing is, or hope it comes here and possibly get fried along with it, if it does” McQueen observed wryly from the lower level, gingerly poking the muzzle of his carbine into any nooks or crannies between the modules.

Beck looked at them for a moment before returning his focus on the console display. “The bugger was heading for this computer core, that we were all certain of. One of my engineers went to a holodeck to set up a decoy, and from how long we have been in this core, doing this transfer, that bugger should of been in here by now. Am I right?” He looked at Astrid before returning his attention to the display.

“Seventy Five percent, we’re almost done. So, as soon as it realizes the decoy is what it is, it will surely head its way over here. And if by some chance it does realize that this is a trap, it just might expose itself long enough for you and your team to fry it with your phasers.

So it never hurts to have a back up plan in place and I’m confident you and your team will be just fine where you’re at.” He smiled at them before looking over to Cooper. “How is your end, lass?”

Cooper looked up when she realized he was talking to her before returning her attention to the console. “Think I have compressed all the large files I could find. The transfer should speed up from here.”

Astrid gave the core another weary look. “Okay people look alive. We may only have a second to react.”

McQueen and Jefferson took up position in the center of the lower level, backs towards each other, phasers pointing outwards, slowly moving to and for as they waited for something to happen.

[Deck Five – Holo Deck]

Kappler stepped inside the Holo Deck and found a control panel for the recreated computer core and quickly instructed it to begin a level one diagnostic. He pulled out his tricorder and examined the scene, then tapped his com badge and said, =^=Kappler to Chief Beck.=^=

“Ah, he got back to me.” He smiled. =^=What’s the word, Ensign?=^=

“Chief, the program is up and running. I’m going to make modifications to see if I can make the recreated core run hotter than the real core. If the bug responds to anything I’m doing, let me know.”

=^=Well as far as we know, lad, that bugger ain’t here so it likely on its way to you as we speak. So keep an eye out and don’t let it touch you.=^=

[Deck Five – Computer Core Power Conduit ]

It had scuttled along several ducts and conduits, moving slowly to avoid detection. Now it found itself in behind a maintenance access panel next to the room holding the second, more powerful computer. It engaged several programs and tested its data probes, an array of which were mounted on its fore-limbs.

A few moments later it was ready, the cutting beam lanced out, slicing a clean hole in the panel through which it darted.

[Deck Five – Holo Deck]

There was a clang and a rattle as the cut portion of the access panel fell on the deck. The insect-like device quickly scanned the compartment it was in. There was one Humanoid figure present. It ignored it and concentrated on the computer data, searching for the quickest way to plug itself into the system.

There were a series of modules arranged around the room. It scuttled to the closest one, extended several data probes on its head and jabbed it’s head into the module side.

It began receiving data, but it was not of the expected type, it was some kind of photonic energy. It did not know this species used holographic storage and it tried to adapt its probes to read the data streams.

[Deck Five – Primary Computer Core]

Suddenly her display started flashing and she looked up at Beck to see the same flashing glow on his face. “Transfer is complete!”

“Sure is.” He said as he started grabbing for his multitool and opened up one of the panels that had all the power connections he needed. “Stand clear, Cooper. It won’t harm us now but if that bug shows up and touches it, we will want to be clear of any arching electricity.”

“Would it help if we erect a forcefield between us and the core?” She asked.

“Well if we did, it might give away our trap to the bug. Nah, lass, we’ll be fine. I’m sure of it. Only thing that won’t be fine, is our core. Moment that bug touches it, it’ll fry the bloody thing, along with every data and function inside. Luckily we got emergencies, so we won’t lose complete function of the ship.” He said as he started rearranging some cables. “That should do it.” He said as he got up and went back to the console, tapping in some commands before tapping his badge.

=^=Beck to Bridge, the bug zapper is ready.=^=

=^= Bridge Copies, let’s see if it takes the holographic bait =^=

Astrid moved in closer to Beck, her voice pitched just high enough for him to hear, “Are you sure this is still a good idea Sir? Frying the computer seems like a very bad idea.”

Beck replied back in his thick scottish accent. “Well lass, if you manage to shoot the thing before it touches the core, then we’d be peachy. But we’re all thinking that this bug is the enemy and if it gets any critical data off of our core and manages to escape the ship, whoever our enemy is, will have a clear upper advantage against us. Quite frankly, frying the computer core is a very bad idea, but it’s worth the risk. Pretty much every Starfleet ship carries almost the entire Starfleet Database, which is updated periodically.”

He crossed his arms over his chest and frowned. “Pretty sure in history that there has been an Enterprise or two that had some alien copy the data off of their computer core. We need that data for a lot of reasons, but allowing a threat taking any byte of it, is not okay. So I rather fry this thing than let the bugger run off with our data. Besides, we got a backup now on the Don.” He smiled.

She frowned, “So, putting that all on me.” She shrugged, “Aside from Master Chief McQueen this team is as green as they come. So wet behind the ears they are practically dripping.. I’ll get them whipped into shape, but we are operating outside of their capabilities right now.” She shrugged, “This is your circus sir, I’ll do what I can with corralling your monkeys.”

[Deck Five – Holo Deck]

Kappler looked at the computer control panel and noticed an external data transfer. Had this happened while he was working on the real computer core, he wouldn’t have noticed. Requests for information from the main computer would be coming from all over the ship, but here he had adjusted the holodeck program to stop simulating these random requests. The only place a data transfer could be initiated was from within this room.

A cold chill ran down his spine as he slowly circled the core. There, almost camouflaged amongst the other technology, the device stood with one of its spidery legs inserted into an isolinear access port.

The ensign returned to the control panel and considered his options before stepping out of the room. He tapped his badge and said, =^= Kappler to Bridge.=^=

=^= Go ahead Ensign=^=

“Sir, the device is in the holodeck,” Kappler said, trying to keep the fear he was experiencing from registering in his voice. “It attached itself to the replicated core and initiated a data transfer. How should I proceed?”

It knew it was detected. Its sensors had detected the Humanoid’s gaze, lingering just long enough for the machine to know it had been spotted. Imperceptibly, it clicked and whirred, redoubling is efforts to extract anything it could. Except… There was nothing. No files. No coordinates. No data of any kind, just useless photons glimmering suspended in a medium of light.

Its leg retracted from the port. If this core contained nothing, the bug’s algorithmic processes compelled it to head to the next most powerful quantum processing unit. A leg raised, waving around, pinpointing the weaker computer core signal. If it was capable of experiencing frustration, this is what the spidery mechanism would have appeared to display as it wiggled its sensory “head” back and forth.

It’s close proximity to the holo-core was generating an level of interference that was unacceptable to the bug. Time was critical, and it could not afford another misdirection. It concluded, therefore, that the only way to ensure directional clarity was to eliminate this signal interference. In a display of lightning agility its legs sprung out from under it, propelling it in a single jump to the apex of the holographic core. It quickly located the main holo-emitter responsible for the deception, and a blinding beam of concentrated energy shot forward from the bug into the holodeck ceiling.

Warning The computer reacted immediately followed by a two-tone alarm, Power surge detected. Electroplasma circuit overload. Holo-emitters deactivating.

The holographic core fizzled out for a second, blinking back into being once, then twice, before its constituent photons appeared to scatter into an unfelt wind.

It moved faster now. Time grew short. Concealing itself was no longer a concern. It had a fix on a target now – the real target. As it cut back out into the Deck Five corridor, it ran across the ceiling above the head of the Humanoid who had been inside the holodeck.

“Sir, the simulation just shorted out,” Kappler said, his comms to the bridge still active. “I see it! It’s headed toward the aft wall of the holodeck in the direction of the real core.”

[Bridge]

“It did what!? Blew out the holo-deck and it’s heading back to the core? Gawdammit” Van Der Luan swore as the Tactical officer informed him of the holo-image collapse and the intruder’s current presence on internal sensors.

=^=Bridge to Hazard Team! It’s coming your way! Be ready! And Mister Kapler, get after it, I want visuals! =^=

=^=We’re in position,=^= Astrid replied.

[Deck Five – Holo Deck]

Kappler’s tricorder hummed as it scanned the object. =^= “Kappler to Bridge. It’s generating a low level scattering field. I’m getting some readings, mostly visual and external composition. Electro magnetic readings are distorted and I’m not able to pick up anything of the device’s internal structure. Sending what I have to you now. It’s reached the back wall and is cutting through now.” =^=

[Deck Five – Primary Computer Core]

McQueen swung around to face aft, weapon coming up to an aim point. Jefferson swung in along side him. Both of them staring at the entrance hatch and the smooth circular walls of the surrounded modules.

Astrid raised her rifle to the probable location that it would come through. She sensed more than saw that Korel was at her side braced for action. The banter between her and Beck forgotten. It was time for buisness, and all hands on deck.

Her only movement was her eyes as she scanned the surrounding area. Her ears listening intently for any tell-tell sign of it cutting through a bulkhead.

“Sir, do you have a phaser?” She asked Beck without looking in his direction. “If you are free, I could use another set of eyes.”

Beck raised a brow at her. “I got myself my handy-dandy plasma torch. I could just jump on it and burn its eyes out.” He joked with a grin. “Nah lass, you and your team are more trained with your weapons than we Engineers are. You’ll probably have a better chance at hitting a tick off of a horse without hurting the horse than I would.” He added more to his joke as he monitored the energy flow in the grid that was being pumped into the core casing.

Cooper shook her head. “Do you think it’ll still go for the core with all of us in here? Wouldn’t it think that maybe this is in fact a trap when it comes burning a hole into this room and sees so many officers just standing here like we’re having a picnic?”

Beck shrugged his shoulders. “If having all of us in here scares the bugger off, then G.I. Jane and her team here can chase after it, while we take a nice deep breath and relax. Then if it doubles back, the bug zapper will still be ready for it.”

Astrid sighed in annoyance. Still without looking away from scanning the core she drew her sidearm and extended it to Beck. “Sir, we may only get one shot at it. We can’t monitor every possible point it could show itself every second. Point it like your ‘bloody wee’ plasma torch and press the center button. G.I. Jane?”

There was no time for anyone to respond. A muffled clang signaled the bug’s entrance to the computer core housing as it sliced through yet more inches of duranium. The signal was dead ahead, and deep within its artificial brain it knew it was now or never. It exploded forward like a shot from an ancient cannon, racing across the room’s ceiling in a flash.

The armed figures in front stood between it and the target. Calculations coursed through its internal circuitry at quantum speeds, its trajectory was set. It leapt. In a split second the insectoid legs that propelled it forward splayed out around its convex body. They snapped forward together in mid-air. Now a dagger-like cone, it hurtled in a javelin arc towards the computer core and the humanoids that stood in its way.

Beck heard something unfamiliar and when he looked, the speed it was moving was insane and he only had a split second decision at this. “Everybody get down!” He shouted before he dropped himself to the floor as well. If someone could get a lucky phaser shot on it, grand, but it was heading straight for the computer core and he figured it be safer to be down on the carpet if and when the bug zapper zaps that thing.

Astrid drew a sight on the bug and fired. The phaser shot hit it, but with a glancing blow. The bug’s trajectory remained unaltered. Swearing under her breath she tried realign and fire again.

McQueen and Jefferson snapped their weapons upwards, but neither could fire as there were personnel above them in the line of fire!

McQueen dodged to the side to get a better angle, he let lose a shot but missed as the thing flew through the air.

It reached its target. Legs still pointed forward, it fell upon one of the computer core’s main interface panels. It smashed through the surface with a loud crack, sparks spewed from the torn circuitry and choking white smoke began to billow. It’s head remained visible, but its metallic dagger legs penetrated deep into the core. They whizzed and whined, tiny tendrils emanated from their whole length. They reached out, fusing to ODN lines, sucking up data from their surroundings. Insatiable, it absorbed all it could. A pulsating hum grew faster and faster into a high pitched whirr and its head-like sensory unit split open. A glowing protrusion, spinning, emerged from the top of the machine which had now bifurcated. Now one with the core, it prepared to transmit everything it had found. But there was nothing. A brief scan of the data revealed only junk, empty container files and meaningless brinary strings. An electrical buzz built up within the computer core’s cylindrical casing. Power fed from an external source built up into a humming crescendo. The last thing its occular sensors detected was a leaping arc of electricty that poured into its body. Its legs retracted immediately, attempting to protect itself from a rising internal temperature as its own power coplings began to overload. It hissed and smoked. Its grip on the core casing weakened until, after a few seconds had passed, it fell away. The burned metallic husk rocked back and forth briefly, and it was still.

Astrid sat on the deck leaning against the bulkhead coughing up the acrid smoke that filled her lungs. Her right elbow resting on her knee and her head between thumb and forefinger. Catching her breath and senses she crawled to her feet.

“Everyone report in.” Astrid shouted before succumbing to a fit of coughing.

=/\=Bridge to computer core housing,=/\= Streth’s voice echoed through the smoke, =/\=We’re reading a massive power surge. What’s going on down there?=/\=

Astrid was realizing the sharp pain in her chest was from some arcing electricity when the Captain’s voice cut through the haze. =/\=Our friend is neutralised sir. As far as the core….=/\= She looked it up and down, “That’s above my pay grade, but it doesn’t look good=/\=

Beck watched in amazement at how quick that bug moved, how it pierced into core’s interface and how in matter of seconds, the proximity of that mechanical spider had awakened the shocking trap that Beck and Cooper laid for it. Covering his eyes, he watched as it was hit by a bright arching bolt of electricity, his ears filling up with the hissing sound and watched as smoke filled the room in which they now breathe in. The moment Beck saw it hit the floor and not moving, was when he reached over to the console to disengage all power to the primary core, but just as he hit the button, a small arch of electricity reached out and hit his hand, causing him to cry out. He sat back against the bulkhead by the door as he held his hand, watching the console go dark as power was finally terminated by the command he gave.

Cooper came over to him, breathing into her sleeve as she checked his hand. “Are you all right?” She asked him, while she examined his right hand. It had a large circular burn on the back of his hand and on the palm of his hand.

Beck nodded his head. “Yeah, just hurts like hell.”

“It looks like a third degree electrical burn. Is your hand numb?” Cooper asked.

“My whole bloody arm is numb.” Beck told her.

Cooper nodded her head. “Your system took a nasty shock, is it just your arm?”

Beck pressed his left hand into his shoulder and towards his chest then back. “Yeah, just the arm. I can still feel my shoulder when I put pressure.”

Cooper smiled. “On the Don, electrical burns are pretty common when we’re out upgrading or retrofitting outposts and space stations. Some fear of nerve damage but they always get feeling back in their limb in a few hours. All you really need is to get these burns checked out.”

Beck smiled and then looked over at Astrid who was answering the bridge. After her remark about the core, he spoke up. =^=Beck here. Had to shut down all power to the primary core to, well obviously shut off the bug zapper. Didn’t want anyone to get too close to it while power was still shunting into it. But my best guess is, the core is likely to be fried. And if the emergency system is working properly, the secondary should be kicking on right about-=^= And with that, they could hear a slight hum and then the smoke in the room being filtered out through the ventilation until it was breathable again. Beck took in a deep breath and sighed, =^=And there we have it. Like nothing happened.=^=

Cooper smirked. =^=Cooper to Bridge. I’m going to take Beck here to Sickbay. He’s got some burns on his right hand but other than that, he should be fine. Then I’ll return to the computer core to disengage the trap and run a complete diagnostic on it. If you could send someone to grab that dead bug, I’d like to take it apart and see who owns it.=^=

Cooper then looked over to Astrid. “Want to dissect a mechanical spider with me?” She grinned.

She winced in pain, “Nah, that’s your job. I break it you fix it. Division of labor.”

Streth smiled slightly as their bickering came through his combadge. =/\=Acknowledged, Cooper. Vogler, get yourself to sickbay with Beck. Security team is en route to pick up the bug, they’ll leave it waiting for you in the main science lab.=/\= He had been watching their vitals from the operations station on the bridge. His own injuries ached a little as he let out a small sigh of relief, antennae drooping forward. He was tired. =/\=All of you, great work down there. Now make sure you get some rest. That bug’s not going anywhere – the dissection can wait until tomorrow.=/\=

It had been a busy day in sickbay, Streth thought to himself. Finishing the final system checks, he handed bridge control to gamma shift. The crew of the Don S. Davis had been hard at work, and no doubt some of them were now also finishing up from a hard day of photonic welding, duranium replication and isolinear relay spooling. Slowly but surely, Outpost 1-SZ was flickering back to life.