by Noble Ire
Part One: Chance and Fate
Captains Log: Stardate 45792.3
The Enterprise has been removed from patrol duty along the neutral zone and dispatched to the Orion Gammalon system to an observation platform that has been monitoring an unusually large metrion nebula. Apparently the nebula has begun to expand around the remote station and we need to recover its recording equipment before the nebula engulfs it completely.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise –D sat in his chair on the smooth, contoured bridge. Around him various ensigns worked the controls, conversing with each other quietly. Jean-Luc stared out into the bridge monitor, watching the stars streak by. He enjoyed these calm reflective moments; they seemed to be coming more infrequently of late. The Enterprise always seemed to be exactly in the right place at the right time for something to go wrong. Not that he was complaining, he wouldn’t trade this post for even the admiralty. He was always on his toes and this time was no different, unexpected things had happened under even more routine missions.
On the platform above him, Chief Engineer Geordi Laforge and Lieutenant Commander Data were finalizing an appropriate transporter modulation for use near the nebula. “ Hmm, maybe if we couple transporters two and five together, we can increase the transportation range,” said Geordi, examining a representation of the nebula on the display screen. Data tapped a few buttons, entering the situation. “ That will decrease the time elapse of the Enterprise’s exposure to high levels of metrion by twenty five seconds,” Data replied, still looking at the display. Geordi entered the new data into his recording pad. “ All right, I’m going down to engineering. We’ll want to get that station’s information into the computer as soon as we get the core on board.” He walked to the turbolift as it opened. From it walked Commander William Riker, fresh from breakfast in Ten-Forward. Geordi gave the commander a nod of respect and continued past him into the waiting turbolift.
Riker took his seat to the right of the captain. “ Feeling better Number One?” Picard asked with a slight smile. The second in command had been recovering from a bought of Tammaranian flu which had placed him out of duty. It was remarkable, Picard mused, that even a mild, non-threatening virus could take one of the Federation’s best officers out of commission for days. Riker gave a little nod, a smile drifting across his face. “ Well, Doctor Crusher’s bedside manner is one of the perks of serving on this ship.” It was true; Beverly Crusher and her staff had treated nearly everyone on the ship, and had saved the lives of more than a few of them.
The two officers sat in silence for a few moments. After weeks traversing the depths of space, one ran out of things to talk about. Besides, Jean-Luc was one for small talk, at least not in the morning. Fortunately, the ensign at the helm, Pierce Picard remembered, broke the awkward silence. “ Entering the Orion Gammalon system sir,” he said checking the ship’s position on the terminal in front of him. The captain and Riker straitened up in their chairs. “Slow to impulse speed,” ordered Riker.
Picard watched the starlines shrink away, revealing the glimmering blackness of space, a faint shimmering in the distance. “Is that the nebula?” the captain asked, hunching forward. “Aye sir,” replied the ensign. “Magnifying now.”
The viewscreen changed, revealing an up close look at the stellar anomaly. Most metrion nebulae were very small and unstable, rarely larger than a small moon. This one however was vast, covering most of the systems western quadrant. It shimmered with minute gravimetric distortions and ion pluses. Some federation scientist had postulated a metrion field of sufficient size might be used to open a stable wormhole, facilitating exploration and travel throughout the galaxy beyond the capabilities of any warp capable starship. This is why a passing science vessel a few months previous, in order to try and chart the behavior of the unstable cloud, had dropped the small, automated monitoring satellite. Unfortunately, the cloud had begun to destabilize and expand threatening disable or destroy the drone. The Enterprise was to move close by, transport the entire satellite onboard, and depart before the dangerous metrion radiation began to affect the crew. A difficult maneuver, but the captain his crew was up to the job.
As the ship moved closer to the coruscating mass, Data reported from the science station. “The Enterprise will be in optimal transport range in five minutes,” he stated. Riker stood up and walked over to Data’s station. “How long can we stay in the nebula’s radiation field before the crew starts being effected,” he asked, looking over Data’s shoulder at the screen. The android responded promptly. “Even with our shields lowered for transport, it should take fifty seconds for the crew to start feeling any adverse effects.” Data typed in a few figures. “With shields raised, eight minutes. Sufficient time to retrieve the monitoring station and pass beyond the radiation field.” Still, Riker thought, it wasn’t a very wide margin of error. But he, like the captain, trusted the crew. Just in case though, the Doctor was standing by with radiation treatments for the crew.
As Riker walked back to his chair, the other helm officer, a Vulcan by the name of Lomout reported. “Entering the nebula’s radiation field. Transportation range in three minutes.”
Down in the main cargo hold, Transporter Chief Miles O’Brien was making some last minute adjustments to the particle reception pad. He much preferred using the personnel transporters on the main decks, but the Satellite was a bit too large. The Chief looked up as two engineers brought in the hoverlift they were going to use to transfer the observers core to engineering. Geordi was worried that the core had been corrupted by the radiation and wanted what was left of the information in the Enterprise’s protected electronic storage pathways before any more damage could be done.
Miles was about to back to his calibrations when he noticed Engineering Lieutenant Barclay on the other side of a stack of crates, a safe distance from the transporter. The chief shook his head. Barclay had been sent to help O’Brien with the last minute transporter modifications, but he hadn’t been much help so far. “Hey Barclay,” Miles called in his thick, Irish accent, annoyance tingeing he voice. “The transporter isn’t going to bite you ya know.” Barclay muttered something unintelligible and embarrassed, trying to make himself look busy with a data pad.
Barclay looked up, a faint red tone developing in his cheeks. “ I…. um, was checking the uhh…distortion levels from the nebula,” he said, still jabbing at the pad. O’Brien shrugged his shoulders expectantly. “Oh, um. The readings all check out. You’re clear to… um proceed,” with this, Barclay started to wander off toward the two engineers with the hoverlift, further from the transporter. O’Brien shook his head again sighing. Barclay was notoriously difficult to work with, even since his therapy with counselor Troi. At least no one called him Broccoli anymore, a name young Wes Crusher had come up with. The captain had ordered that stopped when he himself had let it slip in Barclay’s presence. The chief finished his last minute check and had walked to the control pad when he got the order.
Picard’s voice came over the comm, “You may transport when ready Mr. O’Brien.”
Back on the bridge, things started to go wrong. An indicator on the science display began blinking. Data analyzed it quickly. “Sir, I’m reading a surge in ionic activity emanating from the nebula.” On the viewscreen, the cloud of energized particles began to change color, shimmering from sliver to cerulean in a roiling wave. An alarm klaxon sounded. Ensign Lomout called from the sensor station. “ Metrion radiation levels rising exponentially.” Data worked the science station at lightning speed. “Dangerous levels of radiation in eight seconds.” Riker jumped to his feet. “Shields up!” As Worf, who was at Ops, punched in the command, the cloud began to boil, shooting out jets of matter, blocking the satellite from view. One of those jets was hurtling towards the Enterprise.
“Evasive action! Move us out of range!” ordered the captain, moving to the chair of the helm officer. The Enterprise dove under the roiling wave and preformed a sharp 160-degree turn and hurtled away from the collapsing nebula. The violent turn threw those standing on the bridge to the floor. Behind the fleeing starship, the stellar cloud continued to release massive streams on metrion particles. Then the jets pulled back, and with them rest of the nebula. The shimmering field swirled momentarily into a miniature spiral galaxy, and then in a blinding flash of light, the cloud disappeared.
Riker was helping Picard to his feet. He dusted himself of and stared into the viewscreen. “Report.” Data scrambled back to his consol and checked it. “I am not entirely sure sir. The nebula may have reacted in an unexpected manner when subjected to our transporters.”
Worf looked over his controls. “No structural damage. We were able to pass out of range before the radiation levels became dangerous.” His display blinked. “No reports of casualties.” Riker finished collecting himself, and then tapped his comm badge. “Chief, did you get the satellite before we raised shields?” There was no response. “Chief?”
Then a reply came, “No sir, I lost the probe but… well, you better get a security detail down here.” Riker and Picard exchanged dubious glances. It looked like the recovery mission was about more interesting, and on the Enterprise, interesting things rarely ended well.
Riker, along with Worf and a detail of armed security officers disembarked from the turbolift on deck 15, rushing through the halls towards the main cargo bay. The officers they passed in the halls, some still disoriented by the abrupt maneuvers, pushed out of their way. When the team came to the cargo bay door, they found it open, and moved inside. Several people including Chief O’Brien were clustered around the transporter pad, which did not, in fact, hold the science satellite. Upon closer inspection, it was evident that there were in fact bodies. Five humanoid forms lying on the platform. Riker sprinted over to O’Brien to ask what had happened, if there had been an accident among the crew, but he stopped dead when he got a closer look at the prone forms.
One at least was obviously human, a black-haired young man, perhaps eighteen years old. He was the most normal of the group. Next to him lay a blue-skinned humanoid alien woman. Instead of hair, she sported two shoulder length tentacles that sprouted from the back of her head. Across from the female sprawled the two strangest of the group, both more than two meters tall. One was vaguely saurian, brownish skin contrasting with the metallic plates it had plastered to its body. The other was similarly built, with reverse jointed legs covered in some form of armor. It had scaly gray skin, and its wide head seemed to possess no mouth. The final figure was a colossus of green and gunmetal, as tall as the larger aliens. It’s opaque golden face plate gave no sign of it was machine, man, or alien.
O’Brien, noting the commander’s presence, straightened up and approached him.
“What happened?” Riker asked bewilderedly, still staring at the presumably unconscious forms. The chief shook his head. He was obviously as confused as Riker. “I don’t know sir. I had engaged the transporter beam and there was an energy surge. I almost lost the signal when you put up the shields, but I got ‘em through,” O’Brien said, and then looked back at the pad. The security team as well as a few of the engineering staff was now clustered around the pad. A few of the officers had checked the pulses of the human and blue-skinned alien. They were alive, but their pulses were erratic. Someone called for Doctor Crusher. No one even got close to the other three. O’Brien looked back at Riker, giving a small shrug. “Of course, I don’t know who they are or how they got in the transporter beam.”
When Doctor Crusher arrived, she set about moving the beings on the pad to the med lab. They were able to transport four of them, but the fifth, the armored one, had to be moved via hoverlift. Something about its armor disrupted the transport beam. O’Brien wasn’t even sure how he’d been stable enough to enter the beam in the first place. When all of them were safely in the med bay, Beverly Crusher set about figuring out who or what they were.
Nurse Onigawa ran a medical tricorder over the blue female, who was lying, still unconscious on one of the med lab’s beds. “Her physiology is similar to a humans; warm-blooded, spinal column, nervous system all very similar. Looks like she just needs some time to wake up.”
Dr. Crusher was looking over the saurian in the metal armor. “Hmm, wish this one was that simple.” She flipped the tricorder she was holding shut in exasperation. “I have no point of reference for this one’s nervous system. Same with the other too.” She gestured to the gray-scaled alien on a nearby table. In both cases, Beverly had opted to leave their armor on. She had no idea what purpose it served in either case. It could be life support for all she knew. The fully armored one was even more difficult. The ships sensors had been able to detect a life sign in the midst of the metal and circuitry, but some kind of energy field was surrounding it, and the Doctor didn’t want to try and cut through it unless absolutely necessary.
She sighed and placed the scanner on an adjoining table. Well, I guess there’s nothing for it but monitor their life signs and wait for one to wake up. I can’t even figure out why he’s unconscious.” She looked over the black-hair human in mild exasperation. He was perfectly healthy as far as she could tell. There was no indicator of who he was on him, and he was only carrying a small, metal tube. The item, along with the other equipment found on his companions, had been brought down to engineering for analysis. “No molecular breakdown, no concussion, no unidentifiable chemicals in his blood stream. As far as I can tell, he’s just asleep.”
Beverly walked over to the med bay replicator and stated “Tea, hot.” The alcove hummed for a moment, and in a flash of light, a cup of steaming liquid appeared. The doctor sipped the beverage, looked at her patients again in a mixture of puzzlement and exasperation, and then headed for her office. “I’ll be logging their progress. Keep me informed if there are any changes,” she called to nurse Onigawa. The officer responded in the affirmative and went back to scanning the female.
Down in Main Engineering, the main conference table was strewn with items found on the Enterprise’s “guests.” Geordi Laforge entered the chamber, passing the pair of yellow-garbed security officers who were flanking the door. Ever since the transporter mishap, Worf had upped security all over the ship, especially around med bay and the engineering section. Geordi walked up to Data, who was examining a device found the saurian being, looked up. “Have you figured out what it is?” Geordi asked, taking the object from Data’s hands. It was large, almost to big for Geordi to hold in one hand. A smooth, bluish-green covering encased the object, shaped like an elongated, angular U.
“I believe it is a weapon, directed plasma judging by the discharge mechanism,” Data stated evenly. Geordi hefted it into a firing position, both hands supporting its opalescent form. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Did the computer come up with anything?” Data moved to a consul inset into the table. “There is no record in the computer of such a device ever being employed by a race encountered by the federation.” Geordi placed the weapon back on the table and picked one of the metallic tubes that had been found on the human and the blue alien. He examined it closely, his visor picking up faint emission from within it. Locating what looked like an emitter on one end, he pointed it towards the ceiling and pressed a panel on the side. A beam of blue energy erupted from the end, but instead of burning into the ceiling plate, it remained still, a spike of energy sprouting from the metal handle. Data approached with a tricorder and scanned the beam. “It seems to be hyper concentrated light energy. However, the energy is folding back on its self rather than dissipating.” Geordi averted his gaze, the blade beginning to his light-sensitive visor. “Perhaps it’s a cutting tool. A beam like this ought to be able to slice through solid duranium,” he said.
The other items on the table included the second beam-projecting device, a small communications unit, a large deadly looking implement covered in purple spikes, and the extensive armament found on the green-armored being. Two projectile weapons, several explosive devices, some Data had determined were primitive petrochemical ignition devices, and a deadly looking ten centimeter long serrated knife.
As Data and Geordi were trying to determine what material the plasma weapon was made out of, the Captain’s voice came over the ship’s comm. “Have you been able to identify any of the equipment yet engineering?” Geordi hit his insignia, “Well sir, we’ve been able to determine that whoever they are, they were carrying a lot weaponry. However, none of the devices are noted in the ships computer. But were still analyzing them sir.” The response came back a moment later. “Keep at it Mr. Laforge. Have a report ready for sixteen hundred hours.” Geordi looked at the table of strange and varied items and sighed. Give him a warp core failure any day. “We’ll have a report ready sir.”
Back on the bridge, captain Picard sat, waiting. After the incident near the nebula, the Enterprise had withdrawn to the outskirts of the Orion Gammalon system and was awaiting instructions from Starfleet Command. Picard had sent a report detailing the nebula’s unexpected collapse and what little they new of their “guests,” but due to Orion Gammalon’s proximity to several neutron stars and other disruptive phenomena, it would take several hours for the message to wend its way through the Starfleet communications network. In the meantime, all the captain could do was monitor the area where the metrion cloud had once been.
Evidently, the point where the formation had imploded had become choked with so much radiation that it was impossible for the pick up any accurate readings of the area, or for the Enterprise to approach safely within accurate imaging range for that matter.
Growing increasingly antsy, he gave bridge control over to Riker and retired to his ready room. Sipping a cup of Earl Grey tea, the captain decided to pass the time with some music. “Computer, Beethoven’s Fifth symphony in E major.” As the melody filled the room, the captain leaned back to reflect. The current situation was unsettling. Even though Captain Picard had more experience in first contact situations than any other officer in the fleet, they usually involved meetings in space or careful and well-planned contact on worlds nearing warp drive capability. This time was different. He had five sentient beings unconscious in his med lab, and at least three of them were completely different, unknown species. Such a predicament would make any commanding officer uncomfortable. What made it worse, neither he nor anyone else in his crew knew how are why they had arrived on his ship.
The captain’s thoughts were interrupted by the ping of the comm. “Captain, one of the guests is coming around,” Riker said, the element of excitement audible in his voice. “On my way Number One.” The captain shut off the music and moved toward the door. Now they might be getting somewhere.
There it was again. That metal disk. Just floating there, waiting for John to reach out and grab it, but as he did, he felt a sinking feeling, and the disc ballooned into a massive ring. The Halo. He was falling towards it, no time to react…
Spartan-117, code name Master Chief woke with a start, and quickly wished he hadn’t. His head felt cold and numb, like it was filled with ice. Maybe he was waking up from cryosleep. The Chief tried to remember where he was. Ah, yes, the last thing he remembered was being in the clutches of that monstrous alien thing, the Gravemind it called itself. He could remember being saved from a Covenant bombardment by the twisted creature, then being tossed and turned as it lectured him about the flood, the Covenant, and the entire universe. There was more, but he couldn’t clear his cloudy mind enough to think of it. Finally, the soldier regained enough of his wits to try and get up, but something was holding him down. He checked the heads-up displays that typically populated the interior of his helmet, but they were gone. All he could see was a bright light a white ceiling directly above him.
“Cortana,” he mumbled, remembering how to talk. “Cortana, what’s our situation?” For a moment nothing happened, and then a sharp pain split his cranium. The pulse of discomfort lingered for a moment, and then faded, leaving only a cool presence in his brain. The A.I.’s link with his mind. All of a sudden, his helmet HUD’s started coming back online, comm line, health monitor, shield status all appearing before his eye’s all showing acceptable readings. All accept the motion tracker, which was swarming with targets. The Spartan tried to rise again, but he was still restrained. Then Cortana’s voice came over his helmet’s internal speaker. “That was…unusual.” The feminine voice sounded bewildered, more so than Master Chief had ever heard the construct.
“What happened Cortana?” Master Chief asked again, growing more agitated as he struggled against what ever was holding him down. “The last thing that I registered was that flood creature telling you that we had to retrieve the index. I thought he was sending us to a Covenant ship,” she replied and then paused, evidently analyzing the surroundings. “But this definitely not a covenant ship. I’m picking up thermal readings typical of humans all around us.” That was very unexpected. Why would the flood send them back into human hands? “Are we onboard Keyes’s ship?” the Chief asked, confused. Cortana responded, “I’m not sure, my remote interface ability seems to be down right now… wait, there’s a human approaching our position.” A moment later, a black haired woman came into view, running some device the Chief couldn’t identify over his helmet.
“Why am I being restrained?” the Spartan asked, keying his external comm on with a thought. The woman jumped back, startled, dropping her device. Then he heard her calling someone and another woman came forward, her face filling his screen. “Can you hear me?” she asked with enthusiasm. An unusual question, why wouldn’t he be able to hear her? His status display told him he was not injured. “Spartan 117 reporting ma’am. I can hear you fine,” he responded in a crisp, formal tone. The woman seemed taken back with the clarity of his answer. “Why am I being restrained?” he pushed, again trying to rise. The woman responded, fidgeting with her red hair, “I didn’t know why or how you were unconscious, so the restraining field was put in place in case you started to spasm.” If he had really been out of it long enough for them to move him to an operating table, why hadn’t they removed his armor? A quick check of his shield status display gave him his answer, for some reason, it had been locked on. He shut off the invisible screen and felt himself slump down into the table a centimeter. “My am uninjured ma’am. If you would disable the holding mechanism, Cortana and I need to make a report to the commander.” The woman looked confused, “You know where you are?”
“This is the UNSC frigate In Iron Clad under the command of Miranda Keyes?” this was the only reasonable explanation; no other human craft had jumped into slipspace perusing the Prophet of Regret’s ship, and they were nowhere near UNSC space. The redheaded woman grew even more confused. “Well, no this is…” she paused looking over her shoulder. “The captain had better explain it to you.” The figure backed out the Chief’s range of vision and he felt his arms and legs suddenly free. The Spartan rose and assessed the room he was in. “This is definitely not any UNSC ship I’ve ever been on,” Cortana commented, still on internal speaker. Master Chief had to agree with her. Rather than the sharp angles, metal walls and fixtures and military notations that made up the interior of human naval craft, this room looked like a waiting area a spa resort. The walls and ceilings were gently curved, colored in soft shades of white, blue and tan. Above the carpeted floor were several beds, some of them occupied.
Stranger even than the surroundings were the men and woman who stood around Master Chief. Instead of the green fatigues of the marines or the drab, formal uniforms of fleet officers, these humans wore comfortable-looking black pants and vibrantly colored shirts ranging from red to yellow. One of them, a tall, bald man wearing a red tunic stepped forward and offered his hand with a small smile. “I am captain Jean-Luc Picard of the United Federation of Planets. Welcome aboard the Enterprise.” Protocol forgotten, the Chief stared at the man. He had never heard of such an organization. Was this a delusion, a covenant trick? In the back his mind, he could hear Cortana mumble, “Looks like were not in Kansas anymore.”
“… And when I reactivated, the Master Chief and I were in your medical facility.” Cortana’s shimmering female representation spoke from the main viewer in the Enterprise’s command staff briefing room, which possessed no holographic projector. Master Chief was sitting at the conference table, listening to Cortana’s abridged dissertation on UNSC history and how she had found herself aboard the Enterprise. For security reasons, she had skimped on most of the details, but Cortana had decided to at least explain to their impromptu hosts who she and the Spartan were. After all, they had not seemed to be hostile, but the Chief was still on edge, ready to retrieve Cortana’s transfer matrix from the Enterprise’s computer and defend himself at a moments notice. The introduction served another purpose as well; Cortana was covertly attempting to enter the ships mainframe and ascertain if the humans were being deceptive or planning to detain them. So far, she had come up negative.
The bridge crew watched the display in rapt fascination. Encounters with extra-dimensional beings were incredibly rare, even if most of the occurrences in Starfleet’s history had involved the Enterprise, so the situation had to be treated with the utmost care and attention. The artificial intelligence known as Cortana, which Data had tentatively analyzed as being far more advanced than even himself, had over the last hour passed on an account of humanity being pushed to the edge of extinction by a conglomeration of fanatically religious alien species known as the Covenant. She had given them a brief description of the Spartans, super warriors who were the last line of defense for the human race, one of which was seated at the table. Finally, the A.I. had explained how the soldier, known as Master Chief, had been sent to capture or assassinate the alien leadership, and had nearly died in the process. The Chief, with her in his armor, had been saved by a hideous creature of a parasitic species Cortana called the Flood and had been conscripted by it to stop the Covenant from inadvertently unleashing a device that would eradicate all life in the galaxy, including itself. She seemed to either not know how they had arrived onboard the Enterprise or was withholding that information.
When Cortana had finished, captain Picard, who was seated at the opposite end of the room, spoke up, “Fascinating. You said that this creature, this “Gravemind” teleported you to stop the Covenant from activating this super weapon?” It all sounded far-fetched, but the Captain had encountered far stranger. The representation of Cortana nodded. “Yes, but I don’t know why he would send us here. Perhaps our arrival here was a simple accident.” Picard frowned, thinking. If these two knew anything about the nebula’s collapse, they were withholding it. He would just have to see if anyone of the other beings still motionless in the med bay could divulge any answers.
Doctor Crusher, who was seated near Master Chief, addressed Cortana, “Did you recognize any of the others in the med lab before you left?” Beverly was perplexed by the status of her other patients, none of whom had so much as twitched since their arrival. “One of them is an Elite. The same one that was held with me by the Gravemind.” Master Chief had not spoken very much, preferring to let Cortana handle the introductions, so his measured, low voice was somewhat startling.
“Elites?” Riker questioned. The Chief still found it hard to talk to people who had never heard of the Covenant, and was still using code words and mannerisms that would be meaningless to the humans of this ship. Cortana explained, “Elites are the highest warrior class among the Covenant. They are brutal, efficient, and have a religious fervor to the point of insanity.” Worf let out a small growl, “I shall increase Security in Med Bay.” The Chief smiled humorlessly behind his mask. “Yes. Yes, you should.”
After Picard gave his own brief history, of the Federation and his ship. It seemed the human’s in it had had fairly easy time, with no major wars for years and a fairy stable political environment. They’re only potential enemies, the Cardassians and Romulans, were docile compared to the genocidal Covenant. After this briefing, Captain Picard rose. “Well, we have all had a long day. I have had quarters prepared for you, and someone will come by and brief you on its facilities. We can continue this tomorrow, when hopefully more of the others have awakened.” Master Chief graciously accepted his offer, and after picking up Cortana’s memory cube, departed the room. In spite of the fact that he did not know the true motives of his hosts, there was little he could do escorted by armed guards on an unknown starship without any hope of back up. The best course of action was to go with the flow and be ready for action if it was called for. As his old instructor Sergeant Menedez had put it, “Don’t rock the boat. But if you have to rock the boat, make sure it sinks.”
As the green-armored soldier walked away down the hall flanked by security officers, Picard turned back to his crew, “Any thoughts?” Deanna Troi, the ship’s half Betazoid counselor spoke up, “I couldn’t sense any deception from the soldier. I believe he is as confused about the situation as we are.” All throughout the conference, Deanna had remained silent, focusing her empathic senses on Master Chief, but she had been unable to uncover anything more than a faint feeling of curiosity. Worf grumbled, “I would still like to keep the ship at a guarded alert level. Until we know more about them, they are still a threat to security.” The captain nodded. “Very well. All we can do now is wait for the others to recover.” He turned to Riker. “Number one, keep the ship on its standard schedule. We don’t want any more rumors spreading through than are already out there. And all of you should get some rest. I would imagine tomorrow will be quiet busy.”
As Master Chief walked down the smooth, brightly light hallway, he noted the reactions of officers that he passed in interest. He expected that they would shrink against walls or dodge into doorways in an attempt to avoid him. Not that he wanted to be treated with fear, but he had come to expect it. Back amongst UNSC officers and even marines, even though he was a hero and had the admiration and respect of virtually every human in existence, those who actually encountered him in person were often unnerved or even downright scared by his armored alien appearance. This reaction was in fact shared by many of the people he passed, but not all of them. Some moved aside slowly, looking at his green armor with more fascination than animosity. A few barely even noticed the armor clad figure, pushing aside just enough to get by him and the flanking escorts. The Chief found the possibility that they were just plain braver than the men and woman he served with was farfetched. More likely, they were simply much more accustomed to seeing the unknown and it not trying to cave-in their faces with a plasma blast. Wistfully, he wondered what life would be like if the Covenant had offered an olive branch to humanity at their first contact, rather than summarily glassing the planet Harvest, the act of genocide that served as the begging to the decades-long war. But such flights of fancy were for philosophers and authors, and Master Chief was a neither. He was a soldier, born and bred.
After a short trip down a lift, his escorts halted, flanking a tan door. One, a broad shouldered man with thin, black hair gestured to it. “Your quarters sir.” The Chief approached and the door slid open, revealing yet another surprise. The room was very spacious, upholstered with warm fabrics and adorned with smooth, stylized furniture. A large bank of windows along one side of the chamber revealed a panoramic view of the starfield outside. “These look like an admiral’s quarters. You boys shouldn’t have,” Cortana drawled over the external comm. If the guide was alarmed by the new voice emanating from the Chief’s helmet, he didn’t show it. “These are regular guest’s quarters,” he said and then turned to a small alcove on the wall. “This is a food replicator. Just tell it what you want and it will make it for you.” He gestured across the room, “Down the hall is the bathroom. If you need anything else, Officer Keegee and myself will be outside this door. Goodnight.” The Spartan gave a nod of recognition and the man departed, the door closing behind him. Walking over to a low table, the Chief removed his helmet and placed it on the table. Then he stopped to consider. It would be difficult to rest still incased in his combat armor, but removing it would seriously hamper any defensive efforts he might have to implement if the situation turned bad. Then again, if they really wanted him captured or dead, unarmed and outnumbered, he really wasn’t going to get much farther with his armor than without it. He was brave, but not stupid.
With this in mind, he began stripping of the armored plating and the form-fitting body gel that held it together. As he was doing this, Cortana spoke up. “So your going to just leave me in here?” The Chief paused, half undressed and placed Cortana’s core cube on a computer terminal. A moment later, she was looking at him from behind a nearby display screen. He returned to stripping. “What do you make of the situation?” he asked the shimmering figure. “I really couldn’t say. These people seem to be honest enough, but I’d rather check for myself,” she said.
Master Chief cocked an eyebrow. “What did you have in mind?” Cortana grinned slyly. “Nothing serious. I had a look over their ship’s A.I. while we were in the conference room. It’s fairly advanced, but nothing I cant bypass. I just want to see if their records corroborate the story the captain gave us.” Master Chief was somewhat uneasy with the idea, but knew better than to argue with Cortana. “Just be careful. I’m not exactly in a position to blast us a way out of her if it gets to hot.” Cortana gave a small sniff, “I’m always careful.” With that, the image disappeared.
The Chief chuckled softly and finished laying out the pieces of his armor by the low bed. He really liked that construct, her personality quips and all. After a moment of analyzing the strange shower configuration, he stepped in. The warm water felt good, it had been days since his last one. After drying off, he eyed the replicator alcove dubiously. Instead, he reached for a ration pack in a compartment of his armor. He was quite ready to trust these people with his food. After a quick meal, the weary Spartan flopped onto the low bed. He sank into the soft material, and was deep asleep even before his eyelids fully shut.
Cortana flowed through the Enterprise’s internal network of relays and electronic grids, happy to once again have a little space to move around. The ship’s internal systems were quite different from those of the Pillar of Autumn or any other UNSC vessel she had occupied, but the construct adapted quickly. After going over the ins and outs of the network, she set to work. Careful to skirt the ship’s omnipresent computer mind, which was highly intelligent, but not built to repel a determined trespasser, she began to quickly examine the ships layout and specs. The USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D was apparently a cross between a science vessel and warship, flagship of the Federation’s fleet. It carried a complement of 1,012 engineers, scientists, officers, and to Cortana’s surprise, their families. No UNSC ship would carry civilians unnecessarily into potentially dangerous situations. Then again, the ship did seem to be built more for exploration than war.
In place of a slipstream drive, faster than light mode of travel of both humans and Covenant, the ship was propelled by something called warp drive. Cortana could delve deeper into the propulsion specs without risking discovery, but she made a mental note to return. The starship was equipped with a variety of proton and energy based weapon emplacements that were very different from both UNSC and Covenant technology. The ship also carried a high-powered energy shield array and a collection of matter-energy transference modules that Picard had called “Transporters.” Cortana was about to analyze the physics behind the fantastical devices when she detected a high priority comm signal in the ship’s system.
Intrigued, she tailed the signal to its source, the med bay. Tapping into a wall panel, she looked into the hospital room. In the chamber several people, medical staff by the look of their clothing, were clustered around a bed platform, blocking it from view. Frowning, Cortana moved through the system to the life support unit for the platform. It seemed that one of the aliens that she could not identify was coming around, the blue skinned humanoid. As the female’s heart rate increased, Cortana switched to an overhead monitor to watch.
“Turn off the restraining field,” Beverly Crusher ordered a nurse. She, along with several orderlies, was helping the alien woman up. Clutching here head, the female slowly sat up on the bed. The doctor got closer, “Are you all right?” The alien’s head tails began to swing back and forth slightly and she opened her eyes. “Hsta ginoa cammeya la?” The medical staff looked at her perplexed. Dr. Crusher picked up a tricorder and ran it around the woman’s head. “No sign of brain damage or concussion, at least as far as I can tell. What did you say?” The blue skinned woman looked into her eyes, also perplexed. She then spoke again in the strange, rhythmic language. Dr. Crusher sighed. “I guess you all couldn’t be as easy as the last one.” She then looked up a the ceiling, “Computer, begin running a universal translator circuit through the med lab.” The computer’s calm voice responded in the affirmative and Beverly turned back to her patient.
“Say something again please,” she asked. Although she knew the woman couldn’t understand her, she had to make her speak again. The woman cocked her head in confusion and began to speak again. The nonsensical words spilled over Beverly, but she knew that it was only matter of time until the translator began to pick up the language. She was about to encourage the woman to speak more when an aide spoke up from behind her. “Ma’am, one of the others is waking up.” Beverly gestured for one of the orderlies to continue speaking with the woman, and then moved over to the patient the other nurse had indicated. It was the large saurian looking being and he was beginning to move his head from side to side, letting out a low growl. She moved to where its head lay. “Can you hear me?” Instead of responding, the being glanced at her and began to struggle under his restraining barrier. “Its all right, I’m going to release your confinement field. Hold on,” she said as she worked at the controls. Alerted by the alien’s activity, the two security officers Worf had left to guard the med bay began to slowly draw their phasers.
With a faint whooshing sound, the field dropped, and with near lightning speed, the contained creature coiled up on its back and leapt off the table. This unexpected action caused Beverly and several aides to stumble back in surprise. The creature, now on its haunches in a corner swiftly assessed the room. Then its segmented jaw opened and let forth a low voice. “Humans.” Beverly put her hands forward in a sign of goodwill and slowly approached, “We mean you no harm. We were just making sure you had suffered no serious injuries.” The silver armored alien looked at her carefully and then continued to survey the room. Behind the doctor, the security officers had moved the bewildered staff farther to one side of the chamber and had their weapons pointed at the alien. One of the officers accidentally jabbed his weapon in a threatening motion. Startled by this perceived threat, the saurian swiftly reached for a weapon at his side, and realizing that there were none there, lunged forward with blinding speed. Beverly braced herself for the attack, but the huge beast brushed past her, instead targeting the officer that him. Before anyone could fire a weapon, the armed man was sprawled on the floor, cradling a shattered arm.
Before the alien could continue his attack though, he too found himself skittering along the floor, barley able to keep his balance. For a moment, Beverly thought that he had been hit by a phaser blast, but then the alien recoiled again, but nothing had hit him. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw the blue skin with her arm outstretched, focusing intently on the towering assailant. The beast growled and attempted to move again, but three beams of red light suddenly struck it. The uninjured security officer, along with two gaurds who had been posted outside the door were pouring phaser fire upon the beast. The beams did not strike their target however, and instead were met by a shimmering, slivery barrier that engulfed the alien, much like the one Master Chief had used. Behind the protective field, the alien began to advance upon the increasingly desperate officers. One of the men ordered an increase in firepower, and the glowing projections became brighter, but the armored creature pushed on.
The alien woman, seeing the fire line failing, launched her self at the aggressor with startling speed. She jammed a foot into the aliens back, and the surprise attack sent the alien tumbling forward. As he fell, the shimmering shield finally petered out and red beams began make contact. Amazingly, the alien was able regain his footing and stumble forward a few more steps before succumbing to the incoming phaser fire and falling to the floor. After the warrior fell, everyone in the room stood motionless for a moment, casting of the shock of the rapid battle.
After she had regained some composure, Beverly helped a security officer lift his wounded comrade onto a medical platform. Satisfied that he had sustained nothing more than a broken arm, she left him in the care of a nurse and turned to the collapsed alien, now surround by the weary guards. A quick look at her tricorder and the creature’s heaving chest told her it was alive, if unconscious. After she helped the men move it to a table and restrain it, she turned to the blue woman, who was sitting again on her bed-table, plainly exhausted. Judging by what it looked like she had done to help subdue the creature, there was more to her than met the eye.
Cortana had witnessed the entire incident from the safety of her ceiling display, and had watched with considerable interest. That was an Elite all right, and a skillful one at that. She considered awakening the Chief and alerting him that the Covenant soldier had come around, but thought better of it. It seemed the crew had adequately subdued the creature. Cortana’s attention was now focused on the other conscious alien, the blue female that seemed to possess some kind of telekinetic ability. This was yet another seemingly impossible occurrence that she would have to document and analyze. This day kept getting stranger and stranger.
Aayla Secura sat in a small, comfortably furnished room, watching the woman across from her with interest. Since awakening and dealing with the rampaging creature of a species she couldn’t identify, she had moved form one room to another, shunted by various humans and humanoids speaking in a tongue that definitely was not any variation of Aruebesh, galactic basic, she had ever heard. Most other people would have responded negatively to such an awkward situation, but Aayla could sense no hostility, so she decide to just go with the flow until she found a protocol droid or someone she knew.
Admittedly, she was confused to how she had gotten where she was. The last thing Aayla could remember was catching some sleep on a republic cruiser that was ferrying her clone strike group to the embattled planet Dussovan 2 to bolster its defenses. Then she had come around on a strange looking ship with a headache and minus her lightsaber. Fortunately, through some pantomiming, Aayla had been able to get her weapon back from her hosts. She patted the metal tube that was slung on her belt, thankful that at least something of what she knew had found its way hear with her, wherever here was.
The woman she was sitting across from was young, perhaps only a few years older than herself, dressed in a pastel body suit and draped in curly, black hair. She had been speaking to her for the last couple of minutes, and judging by her hand movements, she wanted Aayla to respond. She complied, even though she new they wouldn’t be able to understand one another. The Twi’lek gestured to herself, “Aayla Secura.” She pointed to the woman. “Deanna Troi,” the woman replied, seemingly understanding what she was getting at. Then the woman picked something of a nearby table and held it out to her. Aayla took the object, a pocket sized chrome box, and looked at it with interest. Deanna then gesticulated with a speaking gesture. Perhaps the box was a translator. Aayla began to speak into it, but its only response was a low beep. Deanna motioned for her to continue.
“What is this place? How did I get here?” the jedi knight asked, and the translator began to process the words.
This continued for over an hour, and both women were becoming quite bored, not to mention exasperated. Deanna had sunk deep into the comfortable chair she was seated upon, her eyes half lidded. Then suddenly, she started hearing words she could understand. “What did you just say,” she asked leaning forward. Evidently, Aayla had understood too. “I asking if this thing had done anything yet,” She smiled looking down at the device. “I guess it has.”
“Well, that’s a relief. Perhaps we can get somewhere now.” Deanna replied, placing her hands across her lap. “Maybe we should start with you telling me were we are,” Aayla suggested, sinking back into her chair.
Captain Picard sat in his ready room, facing down an admiral. Well technically they were about a thousand light-years apart, but the effect was the same. “Have you been able to communicate with any of your “Guests” yet captain,” asked Admiral Derado coolly, looking Picard straight in the eyes. Unlike most of the other admirals in Starfleet, Picard didn’t know Sampson Derado personally, and they had only met once at a diplomatic reception on Betazed, but the man’s reputation was well known. Derado was secretive, nasty, and unsocial, especially to those of lower rank. He was also well known for having his hands in all variety of classified and shadowy projects that were the domain of a branch of Starfleet intelligence and development known only as Section Seven. Not exactly whom Picard would have chosen to speak too, but at a month’s journey from Earth, his options were limited.
“Yes admiral, in fact three…well four of them have regained consciousness and are being briefed of their situation and questioned,” Picard answered, putting on his most diplomatic face. “I have sent you all information we know in my report.” The admiral raised an eyebrow. “Now, now Picard, you’re not trying to get rid of me so soon, are you?” This was actually precisely what Picard was trying to do, but he didn’t want it to be so obvious. However, before he could apologize, the image of Derado waved it off. “No, no, I know my reputation amongst the fleet. Your apprehension is understandable, but I am sure completely unfounded.” With this, the admiral smiled. Picard was no telepath, but he could sense that the thin smile was a disguise, hiding something out of place, perhaps even dangerous.
“Anyway Picard, your orders are to remain at your current coordinates and monitor the nebula’s collapse point. We wouldn’t want to lose a second of sensor data on such a unique phenomenon. I will be diverting a science vessel to your position so you can continue your patrol assignment. The ship ought to make contact in a week or so.”
The captain nodded. This was the response he expected, “Very well, admiral. And I will transmit any developments to you immediately,” Picard said, trying to smile. “Good, good. I look forward to speaking to you again captain. Until then, Derado out.” The view screen blinked to the Starfleet insignia and then shut off. Picard rose and paced unto the bridge. There was something wrong, something he couldn’t place. Then again, their had always been motives and methods of the admiralty that he didn’t understand. And admiral Derado had given him no actual reason to suspect anything was amiss. Picard pushed the notion to the back of his head. He wouldn’t let unfounded suspicions cloud his judgment, at least as long as they remained unfounded.
Sampson Derado turned of the comm unit and leaned back in his chair. It was only a matter of time until another of these nebulae had collapsed. Such occurrences were not as rare as he had he had tried to make Picard think. In fact, he had been aboard the ship, performing a customary inspection of its command crew, which had been the first to discover these phenomena. The chain of events had been very similar, the collapse, the botched rescue of a survey satellite, a transporter mishap. Of course, that time only one being had come through, but one had been enough. Derado couldn’t remember much off what happened immediately afterwards, but he and the visitor had departed the ship, before the tragic accident. A proton torpedo went off in one of the bays, triggering a catastrophic chain reaction. All hands went down with the ship, as did all of the ships sensor data and its logs. A real shame Derado mused, a real shame.
From behind him, a soft, almost silky voice spoke. “Good news I hope admiral?” Derado straightened up immediately, a simile drifting across his face. “Yes mistress, the Enterprise recovered five of them.” His hands played across the computer interface, bringing up the captains report. “Let me see them,” the voice again came, it’s source cloaked in the deep shadows that filled Derado’s dimly light office. The man typed in a few more commands, revealing pictures of each being, visitors Derado thought of them. Issuing form the darkness came a humanoid form, tall and sinister. Still only a vague silhouette, it peered at the screen from over the admiral’s shoulders. Its eyes stopped over each one, drinking their image in. Then it came to the last picture, the gray skinned being with reverse jointed legs. A small chuckle emanated from its mouth, a sound both enchanting and terrifying. “Yes. These are the ones I wish.” The shadow looked down at Derado. “I trust you have a ship nearby that can deliver them. One you can…count on.” The admiral swiftly brought up a map of Federation space and highlighted a ship. “The Columbus has served me well in the past. And it is less than a week from the Enterprise.” He looked up into the shadowy face expectantly. “Excellent. Send it at once, and retrieve these beings at all costs,” the voice came, a dark excitement tingeing it. “Of course Mistress, at once,” Derado said, turned back to the screen, eager to make the necessary orders. As he was doing so, a hand came from the darkness, a singe slender finger outstretched. It played across the Admiral’s cheek, moving form temple down towards his throat. He sank into his chair, a wave of pleasure overtaking him. Then the hand withdrew again into the blackness. As the figure dropped from sight, the voice emanated forth again. “You have done well Admiral. Very well indeed.” Then it was gone, leaving just a little man in his chair bathed in sweat, yearning for the touch to return but not knowing exactly why.
Last edited by Dalton on 2008-08-19 02:08pm, edited 1 time in total.