As the whirlwind of flames died down, the smoldering hulk of the once pristine vessel lurched out at a steady crawl. Its hull was pocked with hull breaches, and the surface now bore a layer of thick grime and ash. Its visible warp nacelle flickered on and off with ease as whatever energy the core had left manifested itself in the form of tendrils wrapping coyly around the damaged nacelle.
“Survivors?” Christopher asked, that being the very first thing that came to mind in the aftermath of the explosion.
“None,” Keller said solemnly.
“What about the ship?” he asked next.
“It sustained heavy damage to the outer hull and stardrive section, however, it does not appear to be in any eminent danger of a warp core breach,” Bator reported. “Furthermore, there is breathable atmosphere on all decks.”
As Christopher slowly cast his gaze upon Commander Harrison, every officer on the bridge knew what he was about to say. They needed answers, and unless the Tamarians had prepared them a silver platter, the only way to get those answers was the visit the ship.
Harrison was already halfway out of his chair before Christopher had even parted his lips. “Have fun, Commander,” he said simply. “See if you can find out where the Tamarians got that ship—and what exactly they were trying to do with it.”
“As you wish,” he replied before marching toward the back of the bridge.
Within a few minutes, Harrison had rounded up his away team of Lieutenant Bator, Commander Tompkins, Doctor Hartman and himself, visited the transporter room, and beamed to the Tamarian ship. They materialized on the bridge moments later.
First and foremost, it was dark. Only the emergency lights were functioning, giving way to the thick smoke that had inundated the command center, and little else. The sheer volume of it made Harrison gag, but as he wafted the smoke away from his nose, the feeling subsided.
He turned to Tompkins, who was already buried in his tricorder analysis. “Well?” Harrison inquired.
Tompkins turned toward the back of the bridge. “The adjacent corridors should provide us with a less toxic atmosphere,” he said. “A plasma conduit ruptured the EPS manifold in here,” he explained, not that Harrison cared at the moment, but at the very least, it was good to know they weren’t sucking down nitrogen tetraoxide or something worse.
Slowly, Harrison and Bator followed Tompkins and Hartman through the thick, soupy smoke into the back of the bridge, through the doors, and into a much clearer corridor.
“Aside from that, there’s almost no damage to the ship,” Tompkins said once they were situated. “The ship appears to be repairing itself automatically.”
Harrison frowned, growing more and more suspicious of the situation with each passing moment. “I didn’t think the Tamarians were that advanced,” he said curiously.
Tompkins readily nodded his agreement. “I don’t think they are, either. Look at the text on the panels—it’s not Tamarian,” he said, directing Harrison’s eyes toward the blocky, alien text adorning each of the panels.
“I don’t think this is a Tamarian ship. Changing starship designs is one thing—changing languages is another,” Harrison decided after a moment, now convinced they were not on a Tamarian ship.
Despite the simplicity of his conclusion, Harrison quickly discovered that more questions were created than solved by his deduction. He was never fond of such missions, and to his chagrin, they seemed to crop up all the time.
Hartman slowly approached the Commander. “So if this isn’t a Tamarian ship, then where the hell did they get it from?” she demanded. “Ships-R-Us?”
Harrison grinned. Many Starfleet officers had a very direct approach to things, however, in all his years in Starfleet, Harrison noted that they all paled in comparison to the directness of Sarah Hartman. While the others may have been direct, it seemed to Harrison that they came of sounding rather annoying. Hartman, on the other hand, was down right condescending. But when it came down to it, when she spoke, it was never without reason. This was no different.
But as he considered the Doctor’s question, Harrison found he was still at a loss when it came down to answers. “I wish I knew,” he admitted. “But I’m sure we’ll find out all in good time…”
“It would be helpful to ask one of the crew,” Hartman said, piquing Harrison’s interest. “But they don’t appear to be here anymore,” she continued.
Hartman offered her tricorder to Harrison. He drew her hand and the scanning device toward him and carefully examined the data. “There’s not a single life form on the ship—dead or alive!” he said in awe.
Bator’s shadow suddenly loomed over the tricorder as he examined the data from afar. “We saw the Tamarian Captain on the bridge before the explosion,” he said slowly. “He’s not there now?”
“No,” Hartman reaffirmed. “They’re all gone.”
“This ship has a minimum crew compliment of about seventy,” Tompkins said as he folded up his tricorder and joined the group. “They had to have gone somewhere.”
Harrison sighed. “The Tamarian Captain mentioned some sort of failure. Maybe they found this ship and decided to take it for a test run, when things turned awry. They knew they were doomed, and abandoned ship.”
Bator glanced at the tricorder. “It looks as if all the escape pods are accounted for,” he said.
“Besides,” Hartman interjected, “only a moron would abandon ship in the middle of a transwarp conduit. Escape pods would be shredded apart in seconds, if that.”
“And the Tamarians aren’t stupid,” Harrison muttered. “So the question remains: Where did they go?”
In conjunction with the rest of the group, Harrison pondered the question long and hard, but to his apparent consternation, no answers fell from the sky. He was at a complete loss as to an explanation—a situation he disliked very much. But the investigation would press on.
“Bator,” he called out, “bring over a few security teams and secure the ship.”
The Phobian nodded his acknowledgment before stepping away from the group to contact the Starlight. As he did so, Harrison took a step closer to Tompkins. “We need to find the ship’s logs,” said Harrison quietly. “Maybe that can shed some light on the situation.”
Tompkins nodded appropriately as Harrison turned to Hartman. “Doctor, we don’t need you anymore.”
She smiled humbly. “I’ll remember you said that,” she said flatly.
Upon receiving word from Commander Harrison that their mission to the alien vessel was nearing completion, Captain Christopher called for a meeting of the senior staff to see what exactly they were dealing with.
When he heard from the Commander that they had found several of the ship’s log entries, Christopher was marginally excited by the prospects of progress. But now, as he sat before the Tamarian Captain on the view screen, whatever hopes he had were immediately quelled by two factors, one being the annoying sound of the Tamarian’s voice, the other being the nearly incomprehensible words accompanied by his voice.
“Tokath at Stilnar, his eyes wide. Arlek, the mountain, in winter! Tokath: the Sea of Bertal, Shaka, when the wall fell. Geshua at Andrul, the city Andrul; Khuzani’s army, their arms wide. Drevan, his eyes red, his face black. Dathan, at El-Adrel, in winter.”
“Computer,” Christopher called out suddenly as the words began to numb his mind, “freeze playback.”
He pinched the bridge of his nose in a futile attempt to alleviate his growing headache, and swiveled his chair to face the rest of his staff. They all wore the same blank look he did.
“I wonder what all that means,” inquired Lieutenant Johnson as he stared curiously at the unmoving Tamarian Captain.
“From what I could tell, it didn’t sound to good,” said Harrison.
Drayge readily agreed. “From what I know of Tamarian language, many of those statements indicate failure and defeat. And if my memory isn’t mistaken, Dathan died at El-Adrel.”
Christopher had been thinking along similar lines, however, up until that point, he had been using his lack of knowledge regarding Tamarian language to let himself believe he had interpreted the data wrong. With that possibility now sailing out the window, Christopher expelled a long sigh and turned back to the Tamarian Captain. “So whatever the Tamarians wanted to do with this ship, was obviously a complete and total disaster,” he inferred. “Do we know where they got the ship yet? Or where the crew went?”
Christopher surveyed the eyes of each of the crew sitting before him. They were all blank. He couldn’t blame them. He, too, had been examining the data and had come upon the exact same conclusion—or lack thereof.
“Well, these logs could be the key to unlocking this mystery,” Christopher said slowly. “Drayge, you and Commander Harrison appear to be having a blast deciphering these logs. I want the two of you to continue that terribly exciting task. Lucas, I want you and Kendall to go back over there and see if you can determine where the ship came from. It has to have sensor logs or something that can give us a hand.”
Christopher carefully surveyed the remaining officers for questions or concerns. Upon seeing there were none, he motioned with his hand toward the doors. “Dismissed.”
Christopher remained seated as the others hastily filed out of the room—everyone except Rachael Meyer. Christopher frowned at this strange lapse in her behavior, as she was usually leading the pack out of the room.
But upon closer analysis, Christopher realized there was something wrong with Rachael. Her eyes were glassed over, and she appeared to be in a trance of some sort. “Rachael!” he called out in an attempt to bring her out of it.
“Rachael!” he repeated, with similar results. Before trying a third time, Christopher slapped his comm badge. “Christopher to Hartman, get back in here, now!”
* * *
Rachael Meyer stood in the middle of a bustling hub of activity. It seemed to be the bridge of a starship. Spartan in design, but glorious in its execution. Every panel seemed to shimmer in the warm, ambient light, and the crew, though fuzzy and distorted, pecked away at the controls with relative ease.
After a few additional moments of cogitation, Meyer eventually recognized it from the Tamarian Captain’s logs as the bridge of the alien craft. Upon closer analysis of the crew, Meyer noted that there were indeed Tamarians manning the controls.
They worked happily, not even noticing her presence when she came up from behind and peered over their shoulders. Meyer couldn’t even begin to translate what she saw on the screen, but it really didn’t matter.
One by one, the Tamarians began to tremor and squirm. Several grabbed their heads in pain as their veins throbbed violently. Then, the screams and shouting began.
Meyer looked around, helplessly at the Tamarians. Without medical instruments, there was nothing she could do for them. Not that she thought anything was possible in the first place. As the Tamarian beside her fell to the ground, Meyer hastily knelt down beside him to get a better look at what was happening to them.
She firmly gripped his shoulder and laid him on his back. That was when her eyes betrayed her. It wasn’t a Tamarian face she was seeing, but a human one, though hardly recognizable amidst the welts that seemed to plaster his face.
Meyer couldn’t help but scream. Though she knew it was her obligation to help, Meyer couldn’t fight the instinct to get away from him. Why was he here? Where were the Tamarians?
Meyer blinked, and suddenly realized she was no longer on the alien ship. Instead, she was in the more comfortable surroundings of a Federation starship—a Steamrunner class vessel whose crew was in no better shape than that of the Tamarian ship’s.
Again, Meyer was petrified. “What’s going on?” she called out.
But the crew didn’t respond. In fact, from what Meyer could tell from her isolated position, they were all dead—or enjoyed sleeping in awkward positions.
Suddenly, the room started spinning. Colors blended together, lights streaked and ship’s dead crew seemed to disappear in the commotion. Meyer crumpled to the floor like a house of cards and buried her head into her knees as a flood of voices filled her mind.
When Rachael finally opened her eyes, she found herself planted firmly on one of the bio-beds in sick bay. The Captain and Doctor Hartman loomed overhead, gazing at her with terribly concerned looks on their faces.
“Are you okay?” asked Christopher quietly.
Rachael closed her eyes for a moment to assess her situation. “I think so,” she decided after a moment.
“What happened?” asked Hartman next.
“I had a… vision,” said Meyer hesitantly, for want of a better word. She knew not exactly what she had just experienced, but it was definitely not the average daydream. But this fact in itself brought on an entire slew of additional concerns.
“I thought Marians were latent telepaths,” mused Christopher aloud.
“So did I,” muttered Rachael.
They both turned to Hartman with curious glares. She shrugged. “To the best of my knowledge, no Marian has had a telepathic experience in centuries.”
“What did you see?” asked Christopher.
Meyer rubbed her eyes wearily. She knew what she saw—Tamarians and Humans, all of them dead or dying. But she didn’t know how to interpret those images into something more meaningful than a bad dream, despite her training.
Even so, Rachael forced herself to relay what she had seen. “I was on the alien ship,” she said slowly. “There were Tamarians everywhere—they were dying. When I went to help one of them, everything changed. They weren’t Tamarians, they were humans. And I was on a Steamrunner-class starship, not the alien ship…”
Even as she spoke the words, Rachael felt the story sounded silly. But as she glanced up at the Captain, he was obviously not humbled by her tale—instead, to her relief, he seemed to be taking it quite seriously—as was the Doctor.
“How many Steamrunner-class vessels are in the fleet, here?” Hartman inquired.
Christopher thought for a moment before answering, “Two: the Oregon and the Alexander.”
Meyer expelled a long sigh. “And if my vision was any indication, one of those two ships is in grave danger…”