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Part of USS Al-Batani: 001 – Uncertainty at Alim and Roosevelt Station: 001 – The Hunt

13: The Irtok Incident

USS Al-Batani - Captain's Ready Room
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Just cross the bridge and walk in. Ensign Caroline Walton forced herself to step out of the turbolift, crossing the bridge, hands carefully folded behind her back. When she reached the door to Captain Enigma’s ready room, it hissed open, and she stepped inside.

The captain was sitting behind her desk, holding a disruptor pistol in her hand and gazing at it. Ominous. She looked up the moment Caroline noticed the pistol.

“Ah,” Captain Enigma said, quickly setting the weapon aside. “I was just… remembering. Some rather unpleasant days. Don’t worry; I’m not going to shoot you.”

Empath, Caroline reminded herself. That would make this even more harrowing. “I wouldn’t ever think you would, Captain.”

“I appreciate your faith,” Enigma said dryly as she rose and moved to the sofa, taking a mug of foul-smelling Klingon coffee from her desk as she went. “Get a drink if you would like and join me? You’ll be spending a lot of time in here; you’ll need to become comfortable being here.”

Caroline nodded and made her way to the replicator. “Milkshake. Strawberry. Double whipped cream.” The dessert appeared in an extravagant glass, and Caroline took it before joining Enigma at the sofa, sitting at the end of it. “You wanted to see me, Captain?”

Enigma sighed. “I wanted to answer your question. But I expect that will come with its own unpleasant memories, for you.”

Caroline looked down into her milkshake, catching some of the whipped cream on her spoon and tasting it. The replicator does good whipped cream. “Irtok.”

Enigma nodded. “Tell me.”

Caroline closed her eyes, setting the shake on the small table beside the sofa. “It was my cadet cruise. We arrived at a planet… Captain, do you have clearance for this?”

“T-X-03 clearance,” Enigma said. “Which I believe exceeds yours.”

Caroline laughed. “By only a little.” Somehow, she wasn’t surprised the captain had temporal clearance. “Irtok IV, an uninhabited planet. We’d received a garbled Starfleet distress signal. Captain Korchev sent a team down… I was assigned to get experience with ground operations, and because my specialty in particle physics could be useful.”

“There was a crashed ship,” Enigma said. “Radiating exotic radiation, including chroniton particles.”

Caroline sighed. “The ship was Starfleet, but nothing we’d seen before. I pulled partial logs, and those explained why. It was from the twenty-seventh century, an early test of a temporal drive. Something had failed, and the ship fell to our time, its engines disabled. Most of the crew was killed in the jump through time; what remained was killed in the crash. But the Premonition’s arrival had weakened subspace, and another ship appeared.” She opened her eyes, looked at Captain Enigma’s face. “They were Starfleet, too… from another universe. And they were…” She searched for the word.

“Evil,” Enigma said softly. “They were from a place we call the Mirror Universe. Crossing between the universes is rare, but has happened enough times that we do study them.”

Caroline drew a breath. “They beamed to the Premonition. They wanted its technology. We outnumbered them, but they were ruthless, skilled soldiers, and they had someone with them. She was a Rish, Captain… have you ever seen a Rish?”

Enigma nodded. “Served with one on Sovereign. She was small… only about three meters long. Took growth inhibitors to avoid growing too big for the corridors. And she was a scientist.”

“Mercy wasn’t a scientist,” Caroline whispered. Teeth, claws, feathers… eyes as alien as they were intelligent. A beast from our earliest mammalian ancestors’ nightmares. “She killed three of our officers within minutes of arriving. They’d blocked our comms, so we couldn’t call the ship for backup or transport. I escaped through the Jeffries tubes, but Mercy… the Rish; the others with her called her that – simply ripped deck plating away to pursue me. Somehow, I managed to get to the engine room.” Mercy’s side hitting the huge, reinforced doors. The doors bending, starting to buckle, under her weight and strength, even before her crewmates arrived.

Enigma’s hand rested against hers, and Caroline became aware that she was seeing the captain through a sheen of tears. She reached up to wipe them away, but Enigma stopped her. “It was frightening,” Enigma said. “It’s okay to remember that fear.”

“I set the temporal core to overload,” Caroline said. “Just put as much antimatter into it as I could. Then I used the emergency transporter to get out, to get to the other side of the planet. I still felt the ship blow, even from there.” She forced her hand to relax, to stop squeezing the captain’s. “All I could think… I had to keep them from getting the technology. That was all I could find to do. Captain Korchev was angry… he said I’d sacrificed the lives of my crewmates, destroyed something Starfleet could have benefitted from… he had me transferred off, with a negative recommendation. Wanted to do more. Wanted to court martial me.” Caroline shook her head. “They were all dead already, Captain. The dampening field kept us from calling the ship, but we still had short-range comms. I heard most of them die. The ones I didn’t… they weren’t responding. They were dead.”

Enigma nodded, releasing Caroline’s hand, then spoke quietly. “You did the right thing, Ensign. That’s why I wanted you. You were put in the most difficult position a young officer could find, a no-win situation more trying than any test the Academy has ever devised, and you made the choice that fit Starfleet’s rules and values, the one that kept incredibly powerful technology out of the hands of one of our most dangerous potential adversaries. Korchev was wrong, Ensign. You did the right thing, and the woman who will do that is a woman who should command one of our great ships. I want a part in getting you there.” She smiled a little. “You’re going to make an appointment with the ship’s counselor once we finish at Alim. You’re going to serve as my yeoman, help me think through the troubles Al-Batani will face. And one day, you’ll command a starship of your own, and people will know exactly the officer you are.”

Then the captain grunted as Caroline fell against her, tears falling freely. “Thank you, Captain. Thank you.”