The streaking stars resolved into individual points of light as the USS Cygnus dropped to sublight velocity. Ahead of the ship, less than ten million kilometers away, was the object of their pursuit: the Crystalline Entity. They had effectively tracked the creature to an area of open space less than two light years from the Cardassian border.
Now they just needed to figure out what they were going to do…slay the beast, or attempt to reason with the life form.
“As soon as we are in range, get a weapons lock,” Erik said, not entirely sure as to whether or not it would do any good. “Auxiliary power to forward shields.“
Next to Larsen, in the center seat, Bane listened as his Executive Officer did what he was supposed to do, to protect the ship and her crew as best he could.
Forward right of the two officers in command of the ship sat Ensign Roberts, manning the Conn position. He manipulated his controls to be directly in front of the beast they were challenging, bringing the colossal ship between the Entity and Cardassian space. Whatever it was they were all planning, he hoped they would make it known soon.
“Aye, sir,” Lisald said front left. On his control panel, he tapped the power distribution network control panel, and sapped power from lower-tiered operations demands, then from science, and shunted all available warp power to the shields and weapons, meant for Lieutenant Carson to use, should he need them (and Lisald desperately hoped not). Then following the orders of the Executive Officer, Lisald opened up auxiliary power and directed all the available power there right into the forward shields. Lisald scarcely had a moment to wonder if the plan that he and Spangler came up with would work, or if they would be fighting for their very lives, and the lives of all the Cardassians that lay behind them, in the next few moments.
“Mr. Spangler, any chance we can communicate with it like the Enterprise claimed they could?” Bane was looking for any reason to not have to fire on it, and was looking to his Chief Science Officer for any options. If they could just -talk- to it, maybe they could do some good, and save a unique and beautiful life.
Spangler hesitated; it was a complex question that he had not nearly the time, or honestly the understanding, to answer completely. But, he had done his homework and replicated the Enterprise’s data logs as close as he could. “Sir, starboard long range sensor pallets have been configured pulse at it’s resonance frequency. If it should have worked then..” Albert trailed off, finally looking at his Captain. “I’m ready when you are, Captain.”
It wasn’t much to go on, but it was now or never. Even though the ships computer kept the Crystalline Entity perfectly centered in the frame that was the forward viewscreen, he knew it was getting close. He looked over to his Executive Officer. “Number One,” he said, oblivious to a famous Starfleet Captain calling his own First Officer that, in a way that told him without having to tell him to give the order.
From up front, Lisald added a bit of power from the last of his reserves to the starboard long range sensor pallets. He figuratively crossed his fingers, hoping for some sort of response.
Larsen gave the Captain a silent nod, acknowledging the unspoken order. The Executive Officer stood, his eyes fixed on the forward view screen, and pulled down the front of his uniform tunic. “Mister Spangler, initiate on my mark. Three, two one…mark.”
The Bridge was deathly quiet for what seemed like an eternity, but was actually just a few seconds. Everyone seemed to be holding their breath in anticipation. “Any change?” queried Larsen.
The Tactical Station anxiously awaited it’s commands, if, a computer terminal could be aware of such things. In any case, Carson stared incredulously at the Science Officer, thankful the moment was not yet on his shoulders.
The ‘message’ had been sent. A carefully arrange set of pulses, designed to to appear as intentional communication. “It, uh, knows we’re here. Port arrays are set to receive a similar return.” Spangler stared at his console, wondering how the hell he was to translate Crystalline Morse code into literally anything. The horror albert felt split equally between what would happen if the creature did not respond, or what he’d do if it did.
“Try altering the frequency and amplitude parameters of the pulses,” said Erik calmly. “We may need something more energetic to get that thing’s attention.”
“Careful,” Bane said, raising his hand and finger in the general direction of the Chief Science Officer, without taking his eyes off his own display monitor, reading the information as it came in real time. “We want to try and avoid the same mistakes the Enterprise made last time one of these creatures was encountered.” Bane knew it would be a balancing act at best. The fact they were up against a wall did not help matters.
Albert began to carry out the Executive Officer’s instruction, stopping just as his hand was about to touch the console. Looking up, the only direction he could find with some blank space to stare at briefly, his eyes tightened up in rapid thought. He immediately looked back to the view screen, and then the controls in front of him. Spangler’s hand skidded across to the other side of the terminal, narrowing the focus and increasing the resolution of the long range scanners configured to receive a response. It just occurred to him now, but maybe they were looking about this wrong.
It didn’t take long before data began streaming across the Science console. “We.. may have something..” Spangler raced to filter through the flood of numbers, until he found the something he was referring to. “Picking up a faint reading from the center of the entity.” Albert turned to his superiors, more confident in what he was seeing, activating the ‘message’ as an audible representation for the whole bridge to hear. “Listen. It’s copying the pattern we are transmitting.” The series of static pulses was not exactly musical, but had a rhythm that could not be coincidental. As the room listened in silence, Albert modulated the pattern in frequency and tempo. Moments later the entity did the same.
The Chief Science Officer couldn’t help but grin, “I think.. I think it worked.”
”Well done Mister Spangler,” said Erik, barely able to contain his excitement. He had been quite skeptical as to whether or not this was going to be effective; the Chief Science Officer’s efforts had renewed Larsen’s faith. “Now we just need to figure out how to convey something like ‘Please leave our planets alone.’”
At the Operations station at the front of the Bridge, Lisald couldn’t help but laugh. The quip from the Executive Officer and the small giggle from the junior Bajoran Officer helped to alleviate the tension on the Bridge by a considerable amount.
“Good work, Ensign,” Bane said, also smiling from the quip from the First Officer and the laugh from up front. “Please do tell it that we can provide it food until we can find it a place where it can feed without harming any civilizations,” he said, basically parroting what Commander Larsen had already stated.
The off-key tones resonated in Spangler’s mind; the reality of what he was witnessing, not just witnessing but playing part of history, was sinking in. The sense of wonder hit him, instilling a sense of pride he had never honestly felt as a Starfleet officer. It muddled his senses to everything else in the room, until he finally heard the words directed towards him and the familiar borderline panic settled back in. Albert looked back to Captain Bane, “Do what?”
Bane turned around to see his Chief Science Officer. “Let it know we have food for it, and to follow us out into open space. We will help it find a sustainable food source,” he said.
“Uh, Captain, there is a major spike in its intensity. I am not sure what this means,” Lisald said from the Operations station. As the words left his mouth, warning alarms started sounding at Science, Tactical, the Executive Officer seat, and Bane’s own display station.
No sooner Bane had turned his head back to the viewscreen, before he could take a look at his display, and before anyone else had a chance to speak, the deck tilted, hard, to the port side at a five degree angle. Anything that was not cold-welded to the superstructure throughout the ship, or had been braced, went crashing to the deck. An enormous bang crashed into everyone’s ears, the sound of energy weapons smashing into their shields. Sparks showered down from the ceiling, and in front of Bane and Larsen, the Operations panel exploded in a fountain of flying debris and flame. Another sound caught everyone’s ears on the Bridge, the unmistakable sound of guttural pain and distress. As the flame and sparks and smoke cleared, the Operations station was a smoldering hulk of its former self, and Lieutenant Lisald lay on the deck, singed, and the unmistakable pool of blood forming under him, flowing freely from the wound in his upper left chest.
“Good Prophets,” Bane exclaimed. “Evasive maneuvers! All stations, report!”
Erik Larsen had instinctively used his right arm to shield his face when the Ops console exploded, and now he was plucking shards of polymer debris from his forearm. There was a small amount of blood, but he most certainly had fared better than their Ops Chief. Acting as quickly as his legs would carry him, the XO dashed to the Science II station and rerouted Ops control there with a rapid series of commands. The stream of data from the ship systems was not good at all.
“Dorsal shields are down,” he reported. “Forward shields at twenty-seven percent and falling. Transporters are also offline, and main power is fluctuating…switching to auxiliary.“ He Keyes another series of commands, opening a channel to Sickbay. “Medical team to the Bridge.”
Bane bellowed over the cacophony of the klaxon blaring, Lisald screaming in pain, the First Officer issuing orders and other people on the bridge taking and yelling to issue orders to various parts of the ship. “Mr. Carson, defensive pattern Omega Nine! Return fire!”
“Aye, sir.” The Tactical Officer replied in a strangely calm voice, adrenaline surging to replace fear, his training pushing out uncertainty. James had already been shifting shield power forward, and the weapons were ready. “Firing!”
Angry reddish-orange beams of partially phased nadion particles lanced across space from the Cygnus’s main arrays, impacting and severing one of the creature’s branches. A brace of orange photon torpedoes pulverized that severed section to tiny crystal splinters. Several more shots from the phaser arrays did more damage, but apparently did not weaken the creature’s resolve. The Crystalline Entity stood it’s ground, even advancing 1,000 kilometers closer to the damaged Nebula class cruiser. But it did not fire it’s weapon, at least not immediately.
Grateful for the momentary reprieve, Erik Larsen issued another systems status report. “Dorsal shields are coming back online. Shields will be fully restored in approximately three minutes. Auxiliary power is holding for now, but transporters and warp drive are still offline.“ The XO paused for a moment. “Captain, after reviewing the work of Dr. Kila Marr and the Enterprise’s encounter with one of these creatures, I believe we can destroy this thing. I would need about ten minutes to realign the emitters of the deflector dish to emit a high amplitude continuous graviton beam.“
Bane mulled it for the briefest of moments. The Starfleet Officer in him didn’t want to have to destroy a life. The scientist in him wanted to study this creature in detail, to push the envelope of understanding and cooperation. But he saw Lisald on the deck bleeding, and knew that there were likely others across the ship. If they didn’t stop this thing now, everyone would be dead, and so would entire planets worth of population. He looked to his First Officer. “You’ve got five, Commander. Lieutenant Carsen, let’s make five minutes.”
Spangler’s eyes were transfixed on his injured friend. Over the course of mere minutes his emotions had ran their course; the scientific intrigue and raw excitement were now replaced with simple anger. The moment Lisald hit the ground, Spangler knew what must happen. He’d gone over the Enterprise papers more than anyone, including how the story ended. The Captain’s words were almost a relief.
“The emitters are already configured.” Spangler broke his gaze away from Lisald, turning to the Captain. He spoke in a low, but certain tone, “On your command, Sir. We’ll end this.”
Bane was relieved to no end that Mr. Spangler had an ace up his sleeve. He would have to remember that, and enter it into his service jacket as a special commendation. “Yes Ensign, make it happen,” he ordered. He was strangely calm, strangely at peace with the decision. They had attempted to communicate, attempted to come to a peaceful resolution, and failing that, had defended the lives of all the Cardassians just beyond the border, and who knows what else beyond that. He watched the viewscreen as the scene unfolded.
A low-pitched humming filled the Bridge as the emitter array began its activation sequence, rising in frequency until Erik Larsen could almost literally feel his teeth shaking in the back of his skull. The blue-green graviton beam shot forward from the main deflector dish, impacting the Crystalline Entity near its center. The mammoth cosmozoan halted immediately as if it had slammed into a sudden stop by a force field; for a long moment, the creature was motionless. After maybe five seconds, the creature began to visibly vibrate and was attempting to pull away from the beam. The vibrations quickly increased in intensity as the Entity attempted to make a final run at the Cygnus; the creature only made it 400 more meters before it exploded in a shimmering cascade of silicon crystal shards.
”Target has been destroyed,” said Larsen.
The bridge filled with an overwhelming silence. The fervor that came with the brief fight was suddenly replaced with nothing. The viewscreen had a lock on the collective attention of room; the cascade of disintegrating crystal invoking relief, horror, disappointment. Albert felt nauseous; his struggling to focus on a blurred in a near pinpoint focus on what he had just witnessed. What he had just done. Slowly, his field of view expanded as the ringing in his ear’s faded. As reality set back in, he remembered his friend laying on the deck.
The immediate threat subsided, he knelt by the injured Bajoran. Albert began rendering aid on the unconscious man, paying no attention to the rest of the room. He reached to activate his comm badge to call for a medical team, forgetting one had already been called. Before the words could come out, the medical team had already arrived, pushing the Ensign out of the way. Albert stood roughly, the adrenaline dump and subsequent crash slowing his comprehension of what was happening. The looks he was getting were not lost on him and as his mind cleared, he nodded to no one in general, before returning to his console.
The Captain watched as the pieces of what used to be a living creature slowly drifted off in all directions. He felt a strong sense of loss for its life, but he knew they had done everything they could to stop it, to turn it around, to do anything other than what it had done. While they had failed in that part of their mission, he felt confident that they had done what was necessary. They had used the same technique the Enterprise had used those many years ago, but this time because of very different reasons. He looked over to see Spangler walking away from his friend, clearly shook. He remembered a time that Albert didn’t really care for Vaat; he was glad to see that their service to this ship, to the crew, and to each other had cleared away whatever it was between them. He watched as Lisald was stabilized and carried in a hover-stretcher off the Bridge and to Sickbay. Hopefully he would recover. As the medical team was leaving, one of them looked over to Albert and nodded reassuringly, which made Bane feel better. He inhaled deeply, looked around at the shambles that was his bridge, looked at each of the remaining people here that were not hurt or otherwise went off to perform their duties elsewhere, and let out that breath heavily. “Mr. Larsen, lets head back to Deep Space 9. Also, see to repairs. I’ll be in the Ready Room notifying Starfleet. You have the Bridge.” Bane looked around one more time, stood and disappeared behind the door to his office.
END OF MISSION