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Part of USS Endeavour: All the Devils Are Here and Bravo Fleet: Blood Dilithium

All the Devils Are Here – 5

Derelict Freighter
November 2400
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Darkness broke with six gleaming beams of blue, then engulfed again the shrouded corridor and the newcomers alike. As the echo of transporter energy faded away, Cortez shattered shadow and silence both with a loud curse, a clattering at her toolbox, and the click of a torch.

‘Ow – Commander…’ Crewman Griffin threw a hand over his face as Cortez fumbled the light and it shone in his eyes.

Sorry,’ Cortez hissed. ‘Shoulda had the damn thing in my hand…’

‘Don’t worry, everyone, we’re very competent Starfleet officers, and we’re here to rescue you.’

Lieutenant Zherul’s voice shone with wry amusement, too low to be anything but a mocking aside to the away team.

‘Why do we always gotta be the ones on the creepy-ass ships?’ Cortez pressed, swinging the torch up and down the corridor.

‘I wasn’t there on the Odysseus,’ Thawn said faintly, not knowing why she was engaging with the chief engineer’s blowing off of steam.

‘Okay, sure, we got the creepy ship. You got to stop a storm with the power of science -’

‘That’s quite enough.’ Valance’s words were a whip cracking them back to focus, and the shrouded corridor of the derelict freighter shifted back to being their first priority. They’d fumbled and bickered because the whole place was thoroughly disconcerting.

Sadek had sent them Lieutenant Zherul, the nurse and paramedic trained for these kinds of first-response situations. Thawn thought that made sense, but the presence of Crewman Griffin, one of Kharth’s newest assignments, did not settle her nerves; he was young and he was green and this did not feel like the place he should be tested.

The beam of Cortez’s flashlight ran down the long, empty corridor, showing only worn metal and signs of life long gone. A heartbeat later, flashlights from Kharth, Griffin, and Valance joined it and swept the other way to find nothing new, the doors at the far end or along the bulkhead closed.

The snap of Thawn’s tricorder felt much, much too loud, as did the chirrup of its systems perking to life. ‘I’m still not picking up life-signs,’ the Betazoid reported a moment later. ‘But we’ve got moderate levels of theta radiation, enough to obscure my scans if anyone’s more than a section away.’

‘If we want a hope of figuring out what happened without finding a survivor or crawling over every damn inch of this place,’ said Cortez, ‘then I want eyes on their reactor chamber. Something must have busted in their transkinetic chamber if they’re not recycling all this radiation.’

‘Or,’ said Thawn, ‘they don’t have that technology in the Delta Quadrant.’

Cortez blinked. ‘Oh damn. Or that.’

‘Very well,’ said Valance, her voice so fine-tuned the taut strings might break if flicked too hard. ‘Kharth, Isa, head for the engine room. Thawn, Griffin, you’re with me, heading for the bridge. Maybe we can restore some systems and learn something.’ She glanced to Zherul. ‘Where do you think you’ll be needed most, Lieutenant?’

‘With this level of radiation and likely no meds, anyone in the engine room is probably way past help,’ the young Orion said with a wince. ‘I’ve a higher chance of finding a survivor with you.’

‘Stay in contact,’ Valance pressed the other team. ‘And report anything you find at once.’

‘I mean, anything important.’ Cortez’s nose wrinkled. ‘You don’t want me complaining about the reactor assembly on this last generation bucket-of-bolts -’

Isa.’ Valance’s voice was flatter, but, Thawn thought, not as harsh as it might have been two years ago. ‘Search. Assess. Report back. Less comedic banter.’

‘But comedic banter is how I don’t panic,’ Cortez whinged.

‘Don’t worry, Commander,’ Kharth drawled. ‘I’ll bring the mood right down. See you when we find something.’

It was worse to part ways, not just because it felt like there was safety in numbers, but because walking in opposite ways down the corridor meant Thawn could hear the footsteps of Kharth and Cortez receding, then echoing. Darkness did not materially impact acoustics of a chamber, but it affected how one heard anything, and on this dimmed freighter the gloom muffled and bounced the direction of any sound.

Valance had to use the emergency crank to open the next door, power dead to these internal systems. As she worked, Griffin looked at Thawn. ‘Can’t you just sense anyone aboard, Lieutenant?’

Thawn had to unclench her jaw to respond. ‘It’s telepathy. Not a tricorder.’

‘You don’t hear thoughts? Or you can’t read anyone’s mind?’ the young crewman pressed, undaunted. He was tall and wiry, a tidy package of boundless, youthful energy, and that was in some ways a comforting feature in a security officer, but this unbridled curiosity was less appealing to her right now. ‘Is it a limited range, or…’

‘It’s not really passive, like listening or seeing,’ she said slowly. ‘It takes focus to read a mind, and focus to communicate telepathically. Which means I need to know a mind is there. Sometimes I can sense strong feelings, but that’s dependent on circumstances.’

‘Like what?’

‘Not these.’ Valance’s voice was sharp again as she pulled the doors open. ‘And I want you using senses that will help, Griffin.’ Her flashlight, once she raised it, shone on another long corridor and a metal stairway leading up a deck. ‘This looks promising.’

‘Hello?’ Zherul called out, her voice echoing down the dark.

Thawn’s eyes narrowed at her. ‘What’re you doing?’

‘No, she’s right,’ said Valance. ‘If someone attacked this ship, they won’t have stuck around. If anyone’s here, they’re a survivor.’ She raised her voice. ‘We received your distress call. We’re here to help, we’re not raiders, we don’t want to steal anything. We have engineers and medics.’

But they were answered by nothing but echoes, and with a grimace, Valance led them up, Griffin falling to the rear. The stairs were the worst, flashlight beams bouncing along the passageway as they rose up the steps, but then the beam broke to an open chamber and Thawn found her shoulders relaxing an iota as they entered the bridge. Banks of consoles stood still and cold and dim, and a sweep of their lights showed no sign of life, physical or in the ship’s systems.

‘Can you do anything, Lieutenant?’ said Valance.

‘I can do many things,’ Thawn half-muttered, advancing. ‘But I’ll start with simple, isolated systems – the navicom. If I can’t reroute emergency power, I’ll see if I can spare some energy from my tricorder to boot it up.’

‘How do you know which one’s helm?’ said Griffin as she advanced through shadow towards a console. His voice sounded oddly tinny in the dark.

She hefted her tricorder as she approached a panel. ‘Universal translator.’

‘Oh. Oh, that’ll do it.’

A finger on the helm controls brought the panel flooding to a very dim life. It felt warmer, as if the darkness was cold as well as sound-distorting, and Thawn let out a slow breath. ‘It’s a reasonably responsive emergency system, then. Let’s see what we have.’ Alien systems in an alien language were not the easiest to figure out even with a translator, but within a minute she was tapping through the most immediate records of where the ship was and where it had been.

‘Travelling at Warp 5,’ she mused, almost thinking aloud rather than reporting. ‘No course changes I can see, no trajectory shift. That’s interesting, there was no computer or helm command to drop back to impulse. Their warp field collapsed.’

‘Engine trouble,’ mused Valance again. ‘But where’s the crew?’

A dark spot appeared on Thawn’s console, and she frowned at the glitch in the display’s lighting. Behind her, Valance hit her combadge to contact the rest of the away team.

Good timing,’ came Cortez’s voice, though it might have been coming from the bulkheads and sounded surprisingly sudden. ‘We just got to the reactor control and it’s a complete mess down here.

‘What sort of mess?’ Valance asked.

Scowling at the distracting conversation as much as at the computer glitch, Thawn tapped the dimmed spot on the display – only to smear it. She stared before realising this wasn’t a display light failing, and turned her finger over. Something had dripped on the console from above.

Something red.

A mess like someone took a hyperspanner to the whole thing.’ Cortez now sounded very distant. Thawn looked up into darkness. ‘And not like, if I wanted to take it apart. Someone went on a rampage and smashed these controls and systems.

Swallowing hard, Thawn shone her tricorder’s torch at the ceiling of the bridge, and found it went up, up to consume another deck, up to where work gantries stretched overhead.

Up to where a humanoid figure lay still, slumped over the gantry railing. Blood trickled down to drip from their boot.

Thawn screamed.

Her heart rate had not slowed much by the time they got the body down. Griffin eased the still form down onto the deck, and when he stepped back, his uniform and hands were stained dark with blood.

Valance looked at Zherul. ‘Lieutenant?’

‘I don’t recognise the species, but I only did prep on the major faces of the Gradin Belt,’ she admitted, kneeling next to the corpse and pulling a medical tricorder. ‘It’s a really diverse area.’

‘Aksani,’ Thawn said, her voice not sounding like her own, her eyes not leaving the battered mess that was the body’s head. She shrugged as she felt Valance’s gaze on her. ‘Beckett keeps showing off all he knows about Gradin Belt species.’

Valance stepped closer and though she didn’t reach out, her presence still felt like it steadied the deck. ‘Get the ship’s records up. If you can. I want to know how many people are supposed to be on this ship.’ She turned to Zherul. ‘How did he die?’

‘I’m still scanning, but my years of medical training tell me it was bad for his health when his skull was caved in.’

Thawn swallowed. ‘Do you think it might have been done with a hyperspanner?’

There was a pause. ‘Maybe. But it’s so messy it could have been a lot of things.’

Valance’s voice grew firmer. ‘Lieutenant Thawn.’

Thawn blinked. ‘Yes, Commander.’ Her focus snapped back to reality, and she turned back to the consoles.

‘Sweep the bridge,’ Valance instructed Griffin next. ‘I’ll watch the door and warn the others.’

I’m jerry-rigging things down here,’ came Cortez’s voice over the comms some ten minutes later. She had been her usual sanguine self about the discovery of a corpse. ‘Should be able to start venting the exhaust plasma and that might cut down on radiation, give our sensors an easier job? Or give us access to the power systems in the aft.

‘Understood,’ replied Valance. ‘Be careful, Commanders. It’s possible we’re not alone in here.’

Oh, it’s absolute change-of-pants time down here, don’t you worry. I’ve got my big, brave Kharth to protect me.

And I,’ came Kharth’s rather more dry voice, ‘have a phaser.’

Thawn clenched her jaw tight as the sounds continued behind her – Zherul assessing the body, confirming it was a day or so old, Griffin stalking the shadowed perimeters of the bridge, Cortez occasionally jabbering over comms in a manner which ostensibly told them the other team was still unharmed, but was also probably good for their nerves.

It wasn’t good for Thawn’s nerves, though, and there was a snap in her voice when she finally said, ‘I’m getting some systems back up, the plasma venting’s helping.’

Valance joined her. ‘How are internal sensors?’

‘I’ll reroute power and see what we have.’

Behind them, Zherul made a small noise of curiosity. ‘Huh, this guy’s got two livers.’

‘Lieutenant -’

‘Sorry, ma’am. Cause of death was blunt-force trauma to the head, like we figured.’ The Orion looked up. ‘This might be the first examination of a deceased Aksani Starfleet’s ever done?’

‘Save the academic curiosity,’ Valance growled, ‘for when you can do a full autopsy.’

‘And I would appreciate fewer distractions.’ Thawn jabbed at the controls. ‘I’m sorry, Commander, but that includes you, too.’ Valance lifted her hands in apology and stepped away, returning to the door to the cavernous bridge. It should have been a reassurance, but little was providing that at this point. Thawn worked her jaw as the silence only seemed to thicken the air, and her heart pinched with relief when she could finally say, ‘Internal sensors are online. Scanning for life forms aboard.’

The dots of five life-signs on the bridge shone on her screen just as there was a blood-curdling yell, and a shadow launched itself from the darkness to fly at Crewman Griffin.

‘There. Will. Be. Blood!’

Thawn all but threw herself behind the console as Griffin and the attacker went down in a roll of shadows. Light from anyone’s tricorders fell away to make jagged silhouettes dance across the bulkheads, while the glow from the few control panels she’d activated wasn’t enough to show more than an outline of swirling violence, the gleam of something metal clutched in a hand. There was a clang of impact on the deck, a more meaty thud, a pained yell that sounded like Griffin.

But Valance was so quick she might have teleported, and Thawn had never in her life been so glad to see the XO. One strong hand grabbed the attacker, pulling them back, and though they writhed and flailed, Valance expertly knocked blows aside before kicking their legs out from under them. They fell to the deck and Valance went down with them, pinning them down on their front, knee in their back.

‘We’re not here to hurt you!’ she called, despite having very capably done so.

You did this to us!’ screamed the figure, and in the shuddering lighting Thawn could see the whites of their eyes set into a pale, gaunt face. Spittle flew from their lips as they screamed and hollered, straining with all their might against Valance’s grip.

‘Crewman, are you still with us?’ Valance called sharply.

Griffin was rolling to his feet with remarkable alacrity for the amount of blood streaming down the side of his face. ‘Present!’

Zherul rushed forward, fumbling with her medkit. ‘I – I’ve got a sedative, Commander.’

Valance slammed the struggling attacker against the deck to wind them. ‘Use it! Thawn.’ Her head snapped up at the lack of response. ‘Lieutenant Thawn.’

Thawn’s eyes jerked away from the attacker. ‘Commander.’

‘Tell me if anyone else is on this ship.’

Bile was difficult to swallow as she moved back around the console, double-checking the scan of internal sensors. They swept across more and more decks as the other team continued to vent the plasma, but showed no more surprises. Behind her the attacker yelled and thrashed, and she heard Zherul’s struggle to get close, apply a hypospray. In a moment the yelling became a low moaning, and then there was nothing in the silence but everyone’s ragged breathing.

Zherul exhaled slowly, and turned to Griffin, whose hand was still pressed to his bloodied temple. ‘Let me look at that, Crewman.’

Warily he lowered his hand. ‘First away mission,’ he mused ruefully as she lifted her medical tricorder. ‘Hell of a thing.’

Thawn slumped against the console. ‘It’s just us, the other team, and him aboard,’ she said at last, but when she turned back to the bundle of suppressed violence on the bridge deck, she could not feel any relief. ‘He’s Brenari.’

Valance looked up, hair matted to her forehead after the exertion of the fight. ‘So?’

Cortez to Valance,’ came the chirrup of the comms. ‘We’re about to crack open the aft section. Any luck with scans?

‘We just had a crewmember try to kill Griffin, and we’ve had to restrain and sedate him,’ breathed Valance. ‘But scans say he’s the only one left aboard.’

I’m not surprised. We’ve found another couple bodies. Spread out. Look like they were beaten to death. You think he did this?

Valance’s eyes landed on the blood-stained length of pipe lying beside the Brenari. ‘I’d bet so.’ Over the comms they heard the hiss of doors opening, and then a series of oaths in both Spanish and Romulan. Valance scowled anew. ‘Commanders?’

Okay, so, this is the cargo bay, and, uh. They’re hauling dilithium,’ said Cortez.

Red dilithium,’ chimed in Kharth flatly. ‘Blood dilithium. Thawn, aren’t you supposed to have suffered wild paranoia and fear or something being near this?’

Thawn stared. ‘Oh,’ she said at last, and it felt again like her voice echoed in the dark bridge. ‘I suppose I mistook it for regular and reasonable apprehension at being on a creepy derelict ship with corpses and violent attackers.’

Fair,’ said Cortez. Her voice had gone up a pitch in that way it did when she was rattled and being glib. ‘That’d do it for me.

Valance looked down at the unmoving figure she still had a firm grip on. ‘You said he’s Brenari. They’re telepaths, aren’t they.’ Thawn nodded, and Valance hit her combadge again. ‘Valance to Endeavour. We’ve got a situation over here.’

Rourke’s voice burst back with enough tension to send Thawn’s gut into fresh knots. ‘Then whatever’s happening there, I’m afraid I’ve got to make it worse, Commander. A Devore warship just dropped out of warp.

Comments

  • This is gonna be a quick comment, but this entire chapter reminded me of that episode of Firefly where they find the derelict ship, the single survivor who goes all Reaver and all the badness that ensued. It also gives off classic sci-fi horror vibes. "There. Will. Be. Blood!" feels like it could have come right out of Event Horizon. You hit the classic horror notes, you hit them beautifully and threw just enough comedy in there to make the jump scare fantastic! Regular and reasonable apprehension indeed! And now for Space Badguys they can shoot!

    November 8, 2022