Check out our latest Fleet Action!

 

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

Go Your Own Way – 15

Drapice IV
February 2401
1 likes 506 views

‘Are we sure that a Thoron generator,’ grunted Winters as he hauled the device onto the sack truck, ‘will affect the facility’s sensors?’

Dashell watched with a hint of guilt as the young doctor wrangled the foot-high metal device they had replicated and constructed aboard the Watson. Manoeuvring heavy objects was not one of his strengths. ‘I’m not sure of anything, Doctor,’ he admitted. ‘I can confirm that the right level of Thoron emissions interferes with Cardassian and Dominion sensors as much as Starfleet. But who knows how this technology works. Let me take that.’

Winters looked relieved to let Dashell steer the sack truck down the landing ramp back into the dust of Drapice IV, as if the hardest work hadn’t been done with the heavy lifting. They had spent some time calculating the emission rate necessary to obfuscate the life signs, and ended up extrapolating a device rather larger and more powerful than the hand-held medical equipment adapted by the Maquis of decades past to hide from Starfleet sensors. ‘Let’s hope the premise itself is sound,’ he sighed and followed Dashell back into the bright morning sun.

The metal of the sack truck squeaked as the repulsor equipment adapted to the rocky terrain of the basin. Dashell directed it to the sealed ancient doors and began to fire the generator up. ‘Let’s see what happens.’

He gave it a minute of the generator humming before he hit his combadge. ‘Dashell to Harkon.’

Here. What’re you doing out there, Commander?

‘Testing our hypothesis. Can you read our life signs on the Watson’s sensors?’

There was a pause. In the background he heard the distant squeaking of Harkon moving her chair between stations in the cockpit. Then, ‘Nope. Not getting a thing. Not even of your combadge, so the communications system is a bit cranky at getting a message from nothing.

Winters sighed as he regarded the still-sealed door. ‘So much for that idea.’

‘Hold on,’ Dashell told him. ‘Harkon, can you detect the Kingfisher’s crew still?’

Let me… hang on. There’s something – let me boost the power.’ A beat. Then, ‘Yeah. Sorry. Still seeing them.

‘Blast. Thank you, Lieutenant.’ Dashell ended the call then ran a hand through his hair and regarded the chunky device they’d cobbled together. ‘That Maquis trick was usually for hiding small groups. They’d modify the devices they were carrying and evade tricorders. We’ve probably as much as quadrupled the area of effect, but…’

‘Not enough to reach the crew below.’ Winters regarded the doors with a sigh. Then he gave a gentle scoff. ‘Well, it’s obvious what we have to do about that, isn’t it?’

‘Doctor?’

Winters tapped his combadge, his own slow, delighted smile arising. ‘Winters to Harkon. How much progress have you made with the drilling plans?’

Uh… Outer rock of the cliff face seems fine, I’m still trying to run analysis on the construction of the passageways and chambers inside so we can safely breach them without bringing the whole thing down – but screwy sensors aren’t making that easy -’

‘You mean to say,’ said Winters, eyes gleaming as he looked to Dashell, ‘you could get us a lot closer?’

A beat. ‘Ohhh. You got it, Doc.


It took the better part of another day to plan the exact dig route and then replicate and assemble the equipment to do so. The plant was designed to be operated by one person, with others on comms and sensors to help monitor progress and safety, so in the end they strapped Harkon into the framework with the drill attached and selected a spot twenty metres away from the door to pierce the rock face.

‘Five metres in. Then another ten metres down at a forty-five-degree angle,’ Dashell reminded her as they ran the final checks. ‘Then a pivot forty-five degrees left and down, and you think we can get, what, within twenty metres of the life signs?’

‘That’s about as good as it gets before I’d want more equipment to reinforce the route we took anyway,’ said Harkon, strapping on the goggles and gloves and other safety gear she needed to drive this device into the cliff. ‘And at that point we should probably get Riggs down.’

‘I think you can handle this yourself, Lieutenant,’ said Dashell firmly. He was rewarded with a small, pleased smile – a subtler yet more sincere emotional display from the normally ebullient pilot – and stepped back to let her work.

The digging took three hours. The sound echoed across the basin like rolling thunder, and Dashell could only be glad there was no sign of local life coming anywhere near them in case they thought the mountain was awakening in all its rage. They had to wait for Harkon to emerge before they could lower the Thoron generator into the passageway cleaved into the rock, lashing it to cabling before easing it down as smoothly as possible. As a jerry-rigged piece of equipment, it could have been more resilient.

Winters made a face as he regarded the newly-dug passageway. ‘I do hope locals don’t come up here. Or this will confuse them.’

‘There are ways to fill it in,’ said Dashell. ‘And this is not the worst Prime Directive breach Drapice is in danger of, by the captain’s reports.’

Harkon tapped her tricorder as the cable drum stopped rolling. ‘That’s maximum. It’s right at the bottom. Do you want to do the honours, Commander?’

Winters sighed anew. ‘Let us hope this works.’

She elbowed him. ‘Come on, Doc. A little hope goes a long way.’

‘As a medical professional I find hard work goes further.’

‘Let’s see,’ said Dashell gently, raising his own tricorder, ‘if we can’t reap the rewards of both.’ He tapped the command to remote-activate the Thoron generator.

There was a pause as Winters studied the sensor readings. Then he nodded. ‘I’m not picking up life signs from below any more.’

‘So either that worked,’ mused Harkon, ‘or against all expectations it actually killed the away team -’

‘That’s hardly something to joke about, Lieutenant,’ said an aghast Winters.

‘Humour also helps with hard work and hope,’ came another gentle correction from Dashell, but his eyes were on the door, and he let out a slow breath. ‘And the last is all we have at this exact moment.’

‘Or else,’ said Harkon with rising apprehension, ‘we just boiled away a day’s work.’

Not quite, Dashell wanted to say. They had still gotten close to carving a physical access point into the chambers, even if it would take more work and time. But it was time the crew of the Kingfisher maybe didn’t have, and they’d have to bring down Riggs to handle this final, delicate piece of excavation, which would take longer, and –

Krrrrrrr.

With the sound of metal scraping on stone like it had a thousand times before for a thousand years, the doorway before them rumbled as the doors themselves slid open.

Hell yes!’ Harkon whooped and fist-pumped in jubilation.

Dashell coughed at the smell of stale air. ‘They cannot be in good condition down there,’ he said. ‘Wait here, Lieutenant. Doctor, with me.’

‘I wait here?’ Harkon protested as Winters grabbed his medical bag. ‘No fair.’

‘You wait here,’ Dashell reiterated carefully, ‘in case we lock ourselves in there again. And then you get Riggs and break down the walls.’ She accepted that.

Winters stayed close to him as they entered the passageway down. At once Dashell’s breath caught, not for the smell of the air but the smooth masonry work he could see on the paving slabs below them, on the walls around them. Most of this had been built out of the rock face itself, using local materials, but the reinforcements in the passageway, the fixtures of the doorway controls on the inside – blinking, and with symbols of a language he didn’t understand – were of a design and nature he did not recognise.

‘Vorkasi,’ he mused, thinking of Valance’s report from this Lieutenant Beckett. But he pressed on and lifted his torch as they descended into the narrow darkness. ‘Hello!’ he called after a moment’s apprehension. ‘Crew of the Kingfisher! We’re here to rescue you!’

At first his voice echoed into nothing. Then, thudding heartbeats later came the creak. ‘…we’re here!’

They found them – all six of them – in a chamber off the passageway down that bore those same eerie hallmarks of sophisticated construction on a pre-warp world. They had plainly been on emergency rations for days and were running low on their stocks, weak and pale and desperate, but they were all there, and all uninjured. At once Winters swept into action, checking they were fit to be moved and instructing for them all to be helped up to the surface, which took a little time with Winters’ spindly figure and Dashell’s weak leg, and their reluctance to bring down Harkon.

The commanding officer was Lieutenant Yorin, a Rigellian who looked still somewhat hale and hearty and assisted in getting his people back into daylight. But once he’d been checked over by Winters and guzzled gratefully on a ration bar and some water, he was most intent on returning with Dashell to the passageways.

‘We’re lucky you found us down here,’ Yorin said plainly as they descended back below. He had a slow manner of speaking that made him sound ponderous and non-urgent, but there was an intensity to his dark eyes as they regarded Dashell, and the Bajoran assumed he was not returning at once to his prison for no reason. ‘But days down here gave us some time to study.’

‘Our captain found Lieutenant Beckett and is looking for Doctor Frankle, and I’ve heard what happened up to you being locked in here. But how did this happen?’

Yorin shook his head. ‘Come with me,’ he said and led Dashell down the passageway to its end.

Dashell was a veteran of many digs. His earliest scholarship had been on the history of his own people, so he was familiar with the wonders of ancient civilisations, aware so-called development or sophistication did not move inevitably forward. Some people who had built wonders Starfleet could only dream of had done so millennia ago. While he could understand Beckett’s report that these Vorkasi had maybe been no more sophisticated than modern technology, he was not so convinced when he set foot in the main, central chamber. It took great technology not to carve it out, but to integrate the defence systems of this place into the rock itself, build in an almost seamless way with the stone and resources of the immediate area. That the Vorkasi had done so in a place they did not need to hide meant something, and Dashell wasn’t sure what.

But then his attention was drawn to the container in the centre of the chamber, made of carved stone and metal set into it, piping snaking across the paving slabs to connect to it. Open, inside shone a display system which he again could not begin to figure out, and the circular inset where something – this circlet – had once sat.

‘Ensign Alikar was down here with Doctor Frankle. From her report, he just… opened it. For no good reason,’ Yorin rumbled with disapproval. ‘That seemed unlike him, despite his eagerness for discovery. Alikar woke us up, but Lieutenant Beckett was on the Kingfisher and we thought it might start a fight if he stood against Frankle. We came down hoping to resolve this without escalating.’ The Rigellian scientist shook his head. ‘Instead, Frankle sealed us in here. So we set to work trying to understand the systems, because we weren’t sure it could get any worse. Not when a day passed without Beckett breaking us out.’

Dashell approached the container and gingerly ran a hand along it. It was too cool, much like the metal doorway, and the light fixtures Starfleet had brought down here cast the dark metal with an odd hint of purple in certain angles. ‘What did you find?’

‘We cannot understand the Vorkasi language still,’ sighed Yorin. ‘We need our Rosetta Stone moment for that. But we can understand some components at least, and that was easier once the box was open and we had access to its systems.’

Dashell nodded. ‘This seems to have a whole interface on the inside.’

‘More than just the circlet, this is the heart of this facility here.’ Yorin gestured to a display. ‘That appears to be the readout of a scanner system. It looks like it has been cycling for thousands of years, though we’re not yet sure enough of the length of a cycle to be sure how long. There is certainly a database storing the data. And here.’ He extended a long finger over another readout. The other screens had scrolling displays Dashell did not understand but seemed active, alive. This one was static. ‘This is some sort of emitter, but it does not seem to have been active.’

Dashell hummed. ‘Our Lieutenant Thawn is a Betazoid and reported sensing some telepathic presence here, and in the vicinity of Doctor Frankle. The possibility of telepathic possession has been raised.’

Yorin paused at that. ‘Lieutenant Beckett is a little fanciful,’ he said at length, accurately guessing how that idea had been ventured. ‘But there is too much evidence of telepathic influence over Doctor Frankle to doubt it. That would also explain some of our gaps in understanding this technology. We have almost no technology which interfaces with telepathy. However, possession…’ Yorin shook his head. ‘I cannot confirm anything. But there is no indication we could see of this database storing a consciousness. Nothing akin to the data feeds we might see in a transporter buffer, for instance.’

Dashell nodded. ‘Assuming they would record such data in a comparable way, but – it’s a more than valid point, Lieutenant. Thank you. You should head to the surface and rest. We’ll help your crew recover and let Captain Valance retrieve Doctor Frankle.’

‘Of course.’ Yorin inclined his head. ‘Thank you, sir. If you need our assistance to study this further to try to aid your captain, please say. But I am not sure we have the facilities to begin to understand such technology. It would take a fully equipped and briefed team of specialists, and we are anthropologists more than archaeological engineers.’

‘I will look further, and report to the captain,’ Dashell confirmed with a sigh and stayed put as the echoing footsteps of Yorin’s retreat to the surface faded. Not for the first time, Dashell stood alone in a chamber where he could feel the weight of thousands of years of mysteries bearing down on him. It was less common, however, for him to feel the apprehension of threat. Of malice.

‘You were scanning,’ he mused at the control system. ‘Watching. Recording. Waiting. And then ready to do something with whatever you found. Surely you weren’t waiting for Frankle. Surely this wasn’t the plan.’ Dashell bit his lip. ‘What were you made for?’

Comments

  • I love the familiar and the unfamiliar that permeates this story - there's a bit of Stargatey feel to it, but so much more of the characters and their unique relationships. I enjoy the slowly unfolding mystery with some helpful background as we get a picture of the device, the room, and the mystery - there's not a current threat but there's so much more to possibly discover that pushes me as a reader to keep reading. Also, that last paragraph? I love the punch of it - it feels like there should be mysterious theme music playing over that last line. Loved it!

    February 27, 2023
  • I’m loving this story! There is the more ‘action’ thread with chasing down Frankle and the more ‘cerebral’ with the cave dive, rescue and now examination. I’m also really getting a neat feel for your new Pathfinder characters and enjoying just how deep they feel for newish characters. There are layers here I can’t wait to read and enjoy. Your attention to detail continues to inspire and teach me how I can change things up with my own writing.

    March 22, 2023