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Part of USS Higgs: Hide and Seek and Bravo Fleet: The Lost Fleet

Hide and Seek – 4

USS Higgs NCC-79830
March 2401
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Calvin Armstrong’s fingers moved deftly across the surface of the console in front of him as he prepared to bring the warp drive back online. Three hours ago the Higgs took shelter in an asteroid field to escape from three Jem’Hadar warships. In that brief encounter, the Nova-class starship suffered moderate damage and her crew had spent their time in the asteroid field licking their wounds.

Those wounds were greater than the crew could completely repair on their own; a hull breach on deck four and buckling of the hull plating on the port nacelle would require a week, maybe more, in drydock to repair. For now, they focused on the repairs they could make themselves; restoring the internal and long-range sensors to full functionality, repairing the myriad EPS conduit ruptures the length and breadth of the ship and, as Calvin was about to do, bringing the warp drive back online.

As a drop of sweat fell from the tip of his nose, Calvin used the sleeve of his uniform to wipe his face. It had been getting progressively warmer for the past hour and a half, and he couldn’t find the reason. According to the computer, environmental controls were working fine. That’s a problem for later, he reminded himself as he primed the deuterium tanks and initiated the final startup sequence.

Calvin watched with a proud smile as the warp core slowly came to life. Within minutes the room would be filled with the familiar gentle hum of the ship’s heart beating once again while the deck plates underfoot would begin to vibrate imperceptibly.

“Good work everyone,” his smile evaporated as a wave of nausea hit him. He clamped his mouth shut and reached out to steady himself on the nearby console until the wave passed.

Ensign Sarrin, the young Trill engineer, looked at him with worry furrowing her brow. “Are you okay, Lieutenant?”

“I’m fine,” Calvin replied through gritted teeth. When he was sure he wasn’t about to revisit his dinner, he relaxed and let go of the console. “I’m not sure what that was.”

Sarrin quietly studied his face. “Perhaps you should visit sickbay, sir,” she suggested. “You don’t look well.”

“I said I’m fine,” But it immediately became clear he wasn’t. Calvin gripped the console again as another wave of nausea washed over him. He was unsteady on his feet, his free hand was shaking and felt faint. The last thing he remembered was the deck rushing up to meet him.


T’Nira entered the morgue to find Lieutenant Commander Mitchell standing over the body of Ensign Andreus McIntosh with unshed tears in his eyes. When the CMO had delivered the casualty report to Mitchell, he’d asked permission to view McIntosh’s remains and T’Nira had granted that request.

McIntosh was a recent Academy graduate who arrived at roughly the same time as the Commander and had quickly proven a popular member of the crew. T’Nira had found him an agreeable young man.

“He married his high school sweetheart last year,” Mitchell said. He sniffed and wiped the tears from his eyes. “They were expecting their first child.”

McIntosh had spoken to T’Nira at length of his excitement at becoming a father and asked her many questions about her own experience of parenthood. She was dubious that her experiences as a mother would be of much help to a human parent but she shared them with him and he’d listened intently. “I believe he was looking forward to being a father.”

“His wife went for her first fetal resonance scan last week,” Mitchell didn’t take his eyes off the dead Ensign as he spoke. “I had dinner with him a few nights ago. He was showing everyone the scan image and bending the ear of anyone who’d listen.” Mitchell sniffed again. “Now he’ll never get to meet his child, and they’ll never get to know their father.”

T’Nira watched as a lone tear rolled down Mitchell’s cheek before he quickly wiped it away with an angry sniff. “The Ensign’s death is regrettable, but he was aware of the risks when he joined Starfleet and willingly accepted them.” She told him.

He took a deep intake of breath and let it out slowly through his nostrils. “I’m sorry. I’ve never lost anyone under my command before, not like this.”  He cleared his throat and straightened and met T’Nira’s gaze. “I should make my report to the Captain.”

With Mitchell gone, T’Nira returned to sickbay. The two secondary biobeds were occupied by patients in critical but stable condition while Lieutenant Armstrong was being settled onto the main biobed by Nurse Oleer and Ensign Sarrin.

T’Nira picked up a medical tricorder as she moved to Armstrong’s side. “What happened?”

“I’m not sure,” Ensign Sarrin replied. “One minute he was fine and the next he looked like he was about to vomit. Then he fainted.”

Pointing the head of the handheld scanner at the engineer, T’Nira activated it and studied the readout. “I’m detecting an increased radiation level throughout the Lieutenant’s body.” She looked up at Ensign Sarrin. “Has Mister Armstrong been exposed to any radiation sources recently?”

“None,” Sarrin shook her head slowly. “He’s been coordinating the repair efforts from engineering.”

If Armstrong hadn’t been exposed to a radiation source, that left only one alternative: the radiation surrounding the Higgs. “Ensign, would you submit to a non-invasive medical scan?”

“Sure,” Sarrin replied with a shrug.

T’Nira reset the tricorder and pointed it at the young woman. The readings were consistent with T’Nira’s theory. “You are also showing elevated levels of radiation.”

“How is that possible?” Ensign Sarrin asked. “I haven’t been exposed to any sources either.”

T’Nira was already pressing a sequence of buttons on her tricorder to reset the scan and change the parameters. “We are currently in an asteroid belt with high concentrations of radiogenic particles.” She explained as she scanned the room. “I believe we have all been exposed.”

“But the shields are protecting us from it, aren’t they?” Oleer asked.

The readings on the tricorder suggested otherwise. “Apparently not completely,” T’Nira told them. “I’m detecting elevated radiation levels.”

“Then why haven’t the internal sensors detected it?” Oleer’s disbelief was odd, considering the evidence in front of them.

T’Nira didn’t have an answer for Oleer’s question, but having an engineer in the room proved fortuitous. “The internal sensors are offline for repairs.”

“Oh,” Oleer said, “that would explain it.”

T’Nira replicated a phial of hyronalin and loaded it into a hypospray before administering it to Armstrong. It would counter the effects of his radiation sickness for now but it was clear they couldn’t remain in the asteroid field much longer. 

“Monitor the Lieutenant until he wakes. I don’t believe he will suffer any long-lasting effects, given the relatively low level of exposure.” T’Nira told Olerr. “Computer, activate the EMH.”

The computer-generated doctor materialised in the middle of the room. “Please state the nature of the medical emergency.”

“The crew is being poisoned by exposure to radiogenic particles,” T’Nira told him. “Begin administering three ccs of hyronolin to the entire crew.”

The EMH didn’t move. “Isn’t that task better suited to a nurse?”

“Carry out my instructions,” T’Nira told him evenly.

The holographic doctor huffed but moved off to carry out her order. T’Nira often wondered why the engineers who designed these holograms always gave them such wearisome personalities. That, however, was a question for another time. She replicated several more phials of hyronolin to administer to the Captain and the rest of the bridge crew before leaving sickbay. 

When T’Nira arrived on the bridge, she was greeted by the sight of Lieutenant Commander Pezara in command. “Doctor,” the Bajoran greeted her cheerily, “what brings you up here.”

“Lieutenant Armstrong has presented with the early symptoms of radiation poisoning,” She told him. “I do not believe the shields are fully protecting us from the radiogenic particles in the asteroid field.”

Pezara shook his head dismissively, “The internal sensors would’ve picked up any increase in radiation levels onboard.” No sooner had the words left his mouth than the realisation dawned on him. “Except the internal sensors are offline for repair.” He bolted out of the command chair and moved to the science station.

Meanwhile, T’Nira retrieved the hypospray from the bridge’s emergency medical kit and began injecting the other officers on the bridge with hyronolin.

“Pezara to engineering, I’m bringing the internal sensors back online.” His hands furiously worked his console.

With Lieutenant Armstrong still in sickbay, it was left to the senior officer in engineering to reply. “Sir, we still need another forty minutes to complete repairs.”

“It’ll have to do as it is for now. Pezara out.” The Bajoran cut the commlink and brought the internal sensors online.

Pezara was the last to receive his dose of the anti-radiation meds. By the time he did, the internal sensors were confirming what T’Nira’s tricorder already had. 

The Captain needed to see this.


“McIntosh is dead,” Alex announced sadly as he handed a PADD to the Captain. “Two more are in critical condition.”

Matheson’s eyes widened. “McIntosh.”

“Yeah,” Alex’s voice was barely above a whisper. “He suffered fourth-degree plasma burns to eighty percent of his body. There was nothing T’Nira could’ve done.”

Alex winced as Matheson slammed the PADD on her desk. “Dammit!” The Captain pushed her chair back when she stood, forcefully enough that it hit the bulkhead with a loud bang. “What the hell was Forrester thinking, sending us out here?”

“These parts are needed at Galadkail Manor urgently,” Mitchell said, though he knew the Captain didn’t need reminding. “We were the only available ship close enough.” 

McIntosh’s death was eating Alex up. The younger man had become a good friend in their short time on board and he shouldn’t be dead, he had so much to live for, but blaming Tom Forrester wouldn’t change the reality or make them feel any better. Doctor T’Nira was right, life in Starfleet came with plenty of risks attached and McIntosh joined anyway.

“Bullshit!” Mathson shot back angrily. “The Challenger wasn’t much farther from Farpoint than we were. They could’ve picked up the engineers and parts and gotten them to Galadkail Manor a hell of a lot faster than we could.” She let out a frustrated sigh. “And that luxury liner he calls a starship is also armed to the teeth. But I suppose this mission is below the mighty Fleet Captain.”

Alex was quick to jump to his best friend’s defence. “That’s not how Captain Forrester operates. He doesn’t consider any mission beneath him,” he told her firmly. “Besides, the Challenger was tied up and they couldn’t guarantee they’d be done in time to get these supplies to Galadkail.”

“I should’ve known you’d take his side,” Matheson hissed.

Matheson’s words and the look of disgust on her face as she said them stunned Alex into momentary silence. “There are no sides,” he finally said as he struggled to keep an even tone, “My loyalty is to Starfleet and my duty is to the Higgs and her crew, a duty I take very seriously.”

The pair glared at each other. Alex knew that she’d only said that because of the pain and anguish of losing a young officer who’d quickly made an impression on the entire crew, but the accusation still cut him deep. It meant that on some level she believed his first loyalty was to Tom Forrester instead of the Higgs, the crew or her. If that’s how she felt, then why did she pick me to be her XO?

“If that’s how you feel, I’ll have my request for transfer on your desk once we get out of this,” Alex quickly added, “if we get out of this.”

Matheson didn’t reply to that, she just continued to stare at him. The tension between them was thick and neither was willing to break the silence. Her eyes bored through him, anger burning in her eyes while he was sure the hurt he felt was written all over his face. 

As the seconds ticked by, he had a chance to really study her. Matheson’s skin looked pale and clammy, which only made the dark circles around her eyes all the more obvious. She didn’t look well but before Alex could say anything, the chirp of the comm system and Lieutenant Commander Pezara’s voice broke the silence in the room. It was a welcome interruption.

Captain to the bridge.

Comments

  • Oh, snap! The conflict between Matheson and Mitchell was executed with pitch perfection. You've done such a good job of layering on the tension. Between the dead ensign, and the radiation poisoning, and the ship in such bad shape, the two of them were bound to be pushed to the brink. Matheson's guilt being all twisted up in her disagreeing with this mission IN THE FIRST PLACE is juicy as hell, but I love that the tipping point was those underlying questions of trust between them. And radiogenic particles have nothing to do with that. Lovely writing!

    May 26, 2023