Part of USS Pathfinder (Archive): Go Your Own Way

Go Your Own Way – 13

Drapice IV
February 2401
0 likes 424 views

‘I hate to say it,’ said Harkon, sitting on one of the camp benches she’d dragged before the massive cliff-side metal door, ‘but if they’ve been stuck in there a week, aren’t they dead?’

‘The presence of life signs suggests otherwise,’ said Winters, but despite this assertion, he ran a nervous hand through his thick dark hair.

‘They should have supplies with them,’ said Dashell as he approached, unbuckling the tricorder from the holster at his belt. ‘It’s standard procedure.’

‘Pack supplies when going into a creepy underground facility of unknown provenance?’ Harkon’s eyebrows hit her hairline. ‘That… makes sense, actually. But how much?’

‘That’s the bad news,’ said Dashell. ‘Guidelines say to stow a month’s worth of emergency rations below working conditions like this. But they didn’t necessarily keep a month’s worth for most of the crew to be down there at one time. And they may not have followed guidelines perfectly. But we enter into uncertainties there. We know they’re alive, and we have to free them.’

‘Sure,’ said Harkon. Then, ‘How?’

Dashell looked at the doorway. The frame was a triangle in a solid black metal that did not look, to his eye, native to Drapice, sealed with double doors of the same material. It hummed with energy and he suspected the doorway itself housed the technology that had obscured it from sight upon their arrival.

‘It clearly has some protections,’ he mused, ‘as when we arrived, it wasn’t just hidden from sight but kept the facility hidden from our sensors. On the other hand, we could detect its energy emissions with our tricorders, and it wasn’t difficult to disrupt the cloak.’

‘You’re hoping,’ wondered Winters, ‘that it was designed to hide from a pre-warp civilisation and not equipment as sophisticated as ours?’

‘I’m trying to focus on what we know, not what I hope,’ said Dashell. ‘But yes, Doctor. It is a reasonable premise.’

‘You said it’s thousands of years old,’ said Harkon. ‘Any idea who’d have made it?’

He shook his head. ‘We know so little about even Romulan history in this region, let alone pre-Romulan history. The Kingfisher crew said there wasn’t much within – some chambers with technology they hadn’t figured out, and a central chamber with a container that seemed very sophisticated and they hadn’t opened.’

‘Who’s betting,’ Harkon murmured, ‘that someone opened the evil box?’

Winters’s eyes widened. ‘Surely nobody would tinker with -’

‘Starfleet Scientists have procedures,’ Dashell mused, ‘but we also have ego and curiosity.’ He advanced to the doorway and ran his hand along the metal. He thought it was a little too cool to the touch after sitting in the bright and direct sunlight of Drapice IV. His finger ran along the texture, the metal brushed but not perfectly smooth. Inscriptions?

He raised his tricorder to scan. ‘Even if something did wear away over the millennia,’ he mused aloud, ‘and even if we could recreate it, it’s unlikely to be in a language we understand.’

‘Every little clue can help,’ Winters pointed out.

‘Not meaning to put you on the spot, Commander,’ said Harkon, ‘but do you have a plan?’

He pursed his lips. ‘Not yet.’

‘Alright.’ She cracked open her water flask and had a swig. ‘I’m going to start throwing ideas around. We blast the doors open with the Watson’s weapons.’

‘This looks far too sturdy from our scans,’ said Winters. ‘We’d risk collapsing any internal caverns while leaving the doors untouched.’

‘Alright. We replicate some mining equipment and carve our own way into the passages.’

Dashell’s eyebrows raised. ‘That would take time I’m not sure we have. But by all means get to work on that idea, Lieutenant.’

Harkon looked suspicious. ‘Really? I’m not trying to be a pain in the ass by shooting ideas around, but you don’t need to get rid of the dumb pilot…’

‘I mean it.’ He turned to her. ‘I welcome this kind of out-of-the-box thinking. Your plan might work if this place has relied on secrecy for its primary protection. Several of us working on different avenues maximises our chance of success. You’re not wrong about deciphering ancient alien technology being out of your field, Lieutenant, but let’s make that a strength and put you to work on something that is.

‘I mean, neither geology or excavations are my thing,’ Harkon said with a shrug, ‘but I can at least run scans and check them against existing protocols.’ She tugged out a PADD and a tricorder, setting them on the bench. ‘Alright, sir. I’ll get to it.’

Dashell smiled. ‘Thank you. You know, Lieutenant, I really do appreciate you joining us aboard Pathfinder. Finding a helm officer wasn’t easy, I understand, when Lieutenant Hellman’s transfer fell through.’

Harkon went still at that. When she smiled, it was a little too broad. ‘Sure. Anything for the captain, right?’ she said, but despite initially looking like she would work with them at the doorway, she gathered her things and headed for the Watson.

Dashell exchanged a look with Winters. ‘Was it something I said?’

The doctor shifted guiltily. ‘Lieutenant Harkon wasn’t the captain’s first choice for helm?’

‘I – Kosst.’ Dashell swore as realisation sank in. ‘She didn’t know she was a last-minute addition?’

Winters drummed his fingers on the tricorder. ‘For some of us, the staffing situation on Pathfinder was a blessing. I would never have a posting like this if everything was normal. Nor would Kally. But Lieutenant Harkon isn’t a fresh Academy graduate. Is it so unreasonable for her to be offended to realise she only got the job because other choices fell through?’

‘It’s not.’ With a sigh, Dashell took an awkward step to sit on the bench. ‘That was thoughtless of me.’

Winters’s gaze flickered down, and Dashell knew he was checking on his bad leg. ‘Are you alright, sir?’

‘I’m fine –

‘I’m asking as a doctor who’s given you a full medical checkup. Not someone who’s about to fuss or underestimate you,’ came the gentle press. ‘How’s your knee?’

‘I am alright,’ Dashell asserted. ‘There’s been a lot of kneeling and rising on hard ground, but I’m not sitting because I need to. I’m sitting because I can, so I don’t need to later. I’ve worked with this injury most of my life, Doctor, I know my limits.’

‘Of course you do, sir,’ said Winters amiably. ‘But it’s not unusual to want to show yourself at your best with new colleagues.’

Dashell gave a wry, tight smile as he felt his muscles begin to unwind. He’d been on his feet a lot, and only now was anything starting to ease. ‘I promise to try and remember I don’t need to be defensive.’ Then he frowned and looked up at the doorway. ‘Need.’

‘Even if you want to, sir, it’s not…’

‘Why did the door close? It was open, not even visible, when the Kingfisher crew arrived. The caves were here, they took a look, they found a doorway deeper that they had to open.’ He wanted to stand, but forced himself to stay put as he thought aloud. ‘The Kingfisher’s records didn’t suggest any energy emissions at this point like we found when the cloak was up.’

Winters blinked at the change in tack, then turned to the door. ‘So the archway retracts into the stone along with the doors when they’re open. To be hidden.’

‘That suggests this is an emergency defence mechanism of some kind. Which means that something triggered it.’

‘Probably,’ said Winters, ‘someone tampering with this mysterious box.’

‘An anti-theft mechanism,’ Dashell agreed. ‘Lock the whole place down, trap your threat inside. Which means maybe someone can lift the emergency measures from the outside?’

‘There’s no controls. And no sign of any transmission or alert going off,’ said Winters. ‘Nothing to summon someone to investigate.’

‘So it’s likely an automated system. It might lift over time. But it might be waiting to be sure there’s no threat.’

‘You mean waiting for the people inside to die.’

‘Without any interface to access, it’s our best shot.’ Dashell creaked to his feet. ‘So let’s convince this ancient alien technology that everyone inside is dead.’

Winters blinked as the commander set off, and so had to hurry to catch up. ‘Uh. How, sir?’

‘Simple: we obfuscate their life signs.’

‘But we couldn’t detect their life signs when we arrived -’

We couldn’t from outside, because there was a dampening field. It’s very likely the facility’s internal systems were operating fine. And the good news, Doctor, is that there exist a myriad of ways to obstruct scans for life signs. Let Harkon keep with her plan – this might not work, after all. But it’s a start.’

It didn’t make for the most promising report when Valance checked in later that night. But it was a start, and a chance, and in the long experience of Dashell Antedy, all science needed was the mere whisper of a chance to make miracles happen.