There were always the Jefferies Tubes.
One thing standard about any starship was the need for near-constant maintenance and, despite the proliferation of various automated repair systems employed on Federation vessels over the years, nothing saved you from sometimes having to go directly to the source of a problem with your own two human (or Vulcan, or Bolian, or what-have-you) hands. And so, there was a network of spiderwebbed tubes between the inner and outer bulkhead, as well as between the levels of the various decks, intersecting at major junctions of importance and then branching off again like plant scilia through a starship’s superstructure.
And there were other uses for these little-frequented maintenance areas as well. Uses that Helen Anderson had explained to her daughter many times. While other children came home from school and played or finished homework, Arrhae i-Srathem e’Anderson t’Asenth received private tutelage in everything from Starship design to hand-to-hand combat.
Arrhae to her intimate family, Asenth to the outside world, and e’Anderson only to an elect few who knew her mother’s true heritage, hers was not an ordinary experience of childhood. Helen’s idea of parenting seemed to grow stricter the older her daughter got, as if some shard of glass had worked its way into her heart and built a slow callous around what should have been a center of love and care.
But, for all that she had felt angry and defiant during her mother’s perpetual grooming, Asenth now found the skills as invaluable as learning to swim on a planet covered in water.
She waited in the cargo container until she felt the distant thrum of the warp engines kick in through the inertial dampening field. The inside of the container’s lid, held open just a notch by the slim blade of her knife, let in both air and light. She squirmed into a better position between the replicator gel packs and placed the soles of her boots against the inside of the lid, then, with a great heave, shoved the metal lid up and away. Her breath caught in her throat as she listened for any interested parties coming to explore the sound of clattering metal, but it seemed that luck was on her side.
She scrambled out of the container, hesitated, then, picked up the lid and replaced it. She might need to use that trick again later.
The Raven-class starship’s cargo bay was impressively large for the size of the craft, and Asenth had never spent time aboard a Starfleet ship before. But she did remember the standardized outlines that her mother had made her learn, as well as the holo-maps of common deck layouts. The cargo bay lighting, off-blue when she had first blinked up at it, now slid slowly into a whiter, hotter range, more fit to see by. If she stayed there for too long, someone would inevitably check to see why the lights were on. As it was, she felt certain there would be other ways for them to figure out that someone came aboard in the cargo. The trick was to be well away before they made that discovery.
She slipped her knife back into the sheath in her boot, and headed for the cargo bay’s far wall, where the hatch for the Jefferies tube stood invitingly. She tapped the control panel, half expecting there to be some sort of lock in place, but the hatch slid open with a whoosh, exposing her to the somewhat cooler metallic air of the tube. Then, she crawled inside.
Three days passed, during which Asenth nursed growing regrets for her hastily-made decision to sneak aboard the USS Mogrus. She found it possible to navigate easily enough via the tubes, but always with a sense of anxiety that reminded her too keenly of another time, in the not-too-distant past, when she had been forced to hide from probing eyes.
She stole a blanket, twice crept into an unused crew-quarters to use the little personal replicator to make herself food and drink, but her sleep came in fitful and disturbed gasps on the hard tube floor. Twice, she barely avoided being seen by a member of the small crew, and she felt certain that her luck would soon run out. Surely, there must be internal sensors that looked for just such a thing as an unwanted intruder. Try as she might, any lessons from her mother on that subject were closed to her tired brain.
But then, somewhere toward the middle of the third day, her restless routine exploded in sound and action.
“Yellow Alert, Yellow Alert. All hands to stations.” The Starfleet computer’s disembodied voice echoed through the Jefferies tubes, tinny and distorted. Asenth sat bolt upright, her blanket falling from her shoulders. Startled, she accidentally scattered the bowl of pretzel bites she had been eating, sending them spinning off in all directions across the tube’s smooth floor.
She was just scurrying over, trying to recapture the wayward snacks, when a deep shudder vibrated up through the metal floor into the flesh of her hands. She closed her eyes and felt it again, stronger this time. This was followed by a faint tug behind her navel, a slight alarm from her inner ear, the faintest moment of free-fall as one might have within a dream.
The lighting strips, which had gone yellow a moment before, now blinked over to a bright blood-red. A distant alarm blared momentarily, then went still.
Combat. She had never been in a space battle before, but she could guess and decipher the clues. Red Alert she knew, and that meant trouble. The shuddering in the deck plating was what happened with something impacted a starship’s shields, causing a kinetic feedback through the emitter array.
Images flashed through her mind. Remans, monstrous and howling, charging through the streets of her quiet mining town home. People screaming. Bursts of green lightning leaping from rooftops as Legionaries opened fire on the crowds. She found it hard to breathe, to think, and for several long moments could only concentrate on gasping for breath.
Another shudder, much sharper this time, brought her mind back to itself. Again, her inner ear sent off a panicked alarm as the feeling of suddenly falling off a cliff intensified, then vanished, leaving Asenth feeling sick enough to vomit. Not bothering to pull her blanket and foodstuff along with her, she began crawling with all possible haste toward a junction where she knew a LCARS interface could be accessed.
She fairly fell through the hatch into the junction, slammed her palm into the computer panel to bring the screen to life. A large RED ALERT icon appeared in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, then various data displays for the important relays, conduits, and panels that passed through this particular part of the ship. Asenth ignored them all, instead bringing up a readout of the total ship’s status.
Everything came through in a stream of numbers and letters, part military acronym, part code, part English. She peered through it, struggling to make sense of the flow. Shields were low… that was the indicator for the phaser bank recharging… that was an intruder alert.…
Her breath caught. Intruder alert. She tapped that section of the screen and brought the alert into focus. Two different points on a schematic of the ship appeared.
One on the bridge… and the other right where she was, deep in the bowls of the Jefferies tubes.
Two Reman soldiers lay dead on the floor of the Bridge alongside Maria, who bore a nasty red gash along one side of her face. Red emergency lighting pulsed as Shavar deftly piloted them in a complex series of maneuvers designed to shake off target lock. In the captain’s chair, hair looking more wild and white than ever, Allan gripped the arm-rests and roared, “Countermeasures!” as two more torpedo signatures lit up the tactical map displayed on the viewscreen.
Muninn slipped the phaser back into her holster and ran for the tactical console, drawing on somewhat faint memories of combat simulation classes at the Academy. The USS Hastings had encountered trouble a fair few times, but during those, she had been safely in sickbay, dealing with the repercussions. And she had never imagined something like this. The little Mogrus was dwarfed on the tactical console screen by the sheer mass of the attacking ship, which the computer could only identify as one possible configuration. A D’deridex-class warbird, the largest and most deadly warship ever conceived of by the Romulan Star Empire.
“Uh… countermeasure systems are firing. Shields can’t take much more of a beating!”
“Just try to keep them shifting, we don’t want more of them beaming aboard.”
Muninn keyed in the intruder alert screen and pulled up the internal system map of the Mogrus. Her eyes narrowed as she took in the information there. Two alerts registered, one some seven minutes earlier on the bridge, and another… well, that’s odd. She dug deeper into the data, tension growing. One Romulan life-sign, female, authorized boarding three days ago.
Three days ago marked their departure from Starbase Bravo. One Romulan female life-sign? She pulled up a security feed from the cargo bay, ran it back to their arrival. Watched as a young woman slipped from the interior of one of the supply crates they had been standing with when they were beamed aboard. Muninn closed her eyes and pressed her fist into the chrome edge of the control panel. Asenth. Somehow, the clever Romulan girl had learned where they were going and had found her way aboard.
“BRACE FOR IMPACT!”
Shavar’s shout gave Muninn barely enough time to grab hold of the console and keep herself from being flung to the floor by a wild fluctuation in the inertial dampening field. The whole ship shuddered like a rock slammed by a hammer. For a microsecond, she felt the horrible tug of their ship’s intensely shifting velocity in the very core of her bones. She pulled up the tactical readout again.
There would be moments only before more Reman warriors beamed aboard, and there would be far too many to fight. Their only hope would be surrender, clearly. As Starfleet officers, they, at least, had some chance. But Asenth? A Romulan teenager might be lucky for a swift execution.
“Computer, remove all prior boarding records and delete using total write-over method. Then clear the current Romulan passenger for unrestricted ship access and remove all internal alerts for her life signs.”
Asenth felt the shields buckle under the strain of a new wave of disruptor fire. She closed her eyes and held on tight to the walls as the ship rocked violently, shuddering beneath the sudden impact. But then, it ended. Instead of a wall of flame leaping out from all sides, she felt only the quiet calm of the ship at rest, followed by a distant descending hum as of some great electronic machine slowly dying.
Then the emergency lighting kicked on as the ship’s main power died. Asenth let out a little squeak, involuntarily, and then blinked as the junction’s LCARS screen flashed a sharp white. A moment later, a video message flickered to life.
Muninn. The counselor looked frightened. Her hair pulled free of its normal bun, like ragged red threads about her head. She leaned in close to the screen and whispered, her words hurried and frantic.
“Listen, Asenth, I know you’re going to be frightened, but I have a job for you. I don’t know how you got aboard, but you’re the best hope now. I’ve made the computer list you for full access, but everything else will be shut down to secure the computer core once we’re boarded. You need to get to main engineering and find the emergency distress beacons. Their loading system is located there, and you’ll be able to fire it. But you have to wait. Wait until you’re sure the ship is safe. Until you’re sure”—the line went staticky, the video sputtered, froze, and died.
Asenth huddled up to it in the gloom, and hugged herself, imagining horrible faces coming for her from out of the dark.