Captain's Log, Stardate 345245
The Da Vinci has been dispatched to the Delta Voltanis cluster after recieving reports of a surge in Orion pirate activity in the region. We have been giving standing orders to seek out and, where possible, to eliminate Orion raiders, as well as to determine the location of any pirate bases. Given the sheer size of the Delta Voltanis cluster and the large number of gas belts, asteroid fields and isolated planets in the region, we anticipate that this latter task will be exceptionally difficult. My only hope is that we ourselves do not go from being hunters to hunted...though that will be if my crew and I don't die of boredom first...
"All probes report negatve activity, Captain," Ensign Farim said at the operations console. "Just the usual cosmic dust, background radiation and occasional asteroid chunk. If there are any Orions out there, then they're hundreds of light years beyond our probes' scanners."
Leaning back in his captain's chair, Arkos had to suppress the urge to yawn. It had been the same story for the last six hours today. No Orions, no sign of pirate activity, not even the fragmented ghosts of warp energy signiatures. Nothing. The Da Vinci, and the five other ships of Task Force Rake, had been chasing ghosts, whispers and rumours for four days running, and they had barely even covered a fifteenth of the vast, hundred-thousand-light-year expanse of the Delta voltanis Cluster. And all they had had to show for it, he thought bitterly, was the mapping of hundreds of light years worth of empty space and lifeless worlds in this sector. Starfleet time well spent.
"Thank you, Ensign Farim," he replied, keeping his voice engaged and chipper despite the soul-crushing boredom he felt. "Any news from the other ships in the task force?"
The Bajoran woman shook her head, the motion causing her elaborate earring to jingle slightly. "Negative, sir. The Stephenson, the Alacrity and the Turing all report negative contacts, as usual. The Sally Ride should be forwarding a report in the next twenty-minute interval. The Hokkaido and the Shallash did detect and intercept a ship earlier, but it turned out to be a Pakled freighter with a malfunctioning navigational array. Apparently it took Rear Admiral Graav roughly ten minutes to figure out as much from their captain."
Arkos suppressed the urge to chuckle. He immediately found it sad that, in the entirety of this mission, the only real highlight so far had been the mental image of the irritable Tellarite admiral losing his patience with a slow-witted Pakled. That was, he reflected grimly, probably going to be the only remotely entertaining thing he would experience in the next few days, weeks or months.
The only real reason why this mission was even going on was because Starfleet stategists had mapped the latest string of Orion pirate attacks, and had concluded that there had to be an Orion base somewhere in Delta Voltanis. If the pirates were out there, however, then they were either so deep in the cluster that it would take weeks to find them, or they were staying just out of the Federation's sensor net, laughing at Starfleet idiocy all the while. Arkos had initially protested being assigned such an utterly futile task (Ensign Saan had called it the mission 'Sisyphean' in nature, though Arkos had no idea what that meant), but since the orders had come from Starfleet Command, his protests hadn't amounted to much. As far as Starfleet was concerned, a centuries-old frigate like the Da Vinci was the sort of mundane, dilapidated ship that they could shuffle off for for menial jobs like this-- even though, in Arkos' humble opinion, neither his ship nor his crew were 'mundane' or 'dilapidated.'
"Understood," he muttered. "Prepare to take us into warp as soon as the probes return, heading zero-mark-five-one-two."
"Aye sir," Farim nodded. Arkos had to give the dark-skinned Bajoran woman credit: even in the face of sheer and utter boredom, she did her duty smartly and efficiently. Come to think of it, Arkos thought with no small amount of pride, so did all of his crew. They were a resourceful, efficient and loyal bunch who deserved far more credit than Starfleet ever gave them. Once this tedious job was over, he figured he owed them all a shore leave trip to Risa, if he could make the time.
K'Nera glanced at him from her First Officer's seat. "Well, look at it positively, Captain," the Andorian woman said. "No news means no Orions jumping out at us."
Arkos gave K'Nera a weary look. "Maybe so, Lieutenant, but Starfleet won't let us off this assignment until we get some results," he replied. "We're going to be stuck here for a long time, the way things are going." He turned back to the viewscreen, and its view of the endless amounts of nothing before them, and rested his chin on his fist. "At this rate, I'm beginning to wonder if I did something to make Admiral Quinn angry."
K'Nera raised an eyebrow-- an action whih one of her antennae mirrored by perking up somewhat. "Well, there was the stunt you pulled when command of the Hadrian was up for grabs..."
He flashed her an annoyed look. "Lieutenant, for the last time, it's not my fault that my PADD's autocorrect system accidentally altered the Admiral's name into a Rigelian swear word."
The Andorian woman grimaced at the memory. "Well...regardless, Captain, I'm sure this operation won't go on for too long. Starfleet can't keep us holed out here forever." Her mouth turned down a little in an uncertain frown. "Right?"
Arkos didn't reply. He was reminded, uncomfortably, of a Human religious concept he had once heard of called "Purgatory." Although he didn't believe in anything so ephemeral as a soul or afterlife, to a man like him-- a person who, quite proudly, thrived on discovery and on sating his curiosity-- this dull mission was a very close equivalent.
He decided, at that point, to check up on the ship's status. Again. He knew that this would be the eighth time he had done so today, but there was little else he could do to keep his brain energized on a mind-numbing mission like this. The fact that the entire Task Group was on high alert meant that he couldn't go to his quarters or the holodeck for some R and R, as they could, theoretically, be attacked by Orions at any moment. At this point, though, Arkos would have welcomed an Orion attack-- it certainly beat sniffing dust clouds for hours looking for them.
He tapped the comm badge. "Bridge to engineering, how are the engines holding up?"
"Pretty well sir." The Chief Engineer, Adim, sounded pretty cheery on the other end, though that, Arkos thought bitterly, was because the lucky skunk got to deal with hands-on work and ongoing maintenance instead of sitting on a Captain's chair all day. "All systems are functioning at optimal levels. We did have some odd data fluctuations on the main computers a few minutes ago, but I set Ensign Gupta on it, but it turned out to be a minor glitch that he managed to fix in no time."
Arkos nodded silently, even though Adim couldn't see the gesture. The Da Vinci was an old ship, a centuries-old Miranda class which was, ironically enough, the predecessor of the more modern Sabre-class U.S.S. Da Vinci that served as the flagship of the Corps of Engineers. Diligent and continuous maintenance by Starfleet repair teams and by Arkos and his crew had kept the old Da Vinci in prime operational condition, but the ship's age still meant that there was still the odd technical quirk here and there. Arkos sometimes liked to imagine the old ship fidgeting grumpily with the more modern computer systems and equipment that had been affixed to it recently, and complaining bitterly about all of this newfangled, overly-complicated technology.
"What about the engines?" Arkos asked, his gaze drifting to a distant nebula in the viewscreen. "We'll be passing few some of the local gas belts soon, and you saw our sensor analysis of those clouds."
"Shouldn't be a problem, Captain," the Andorian Engineer replied. "I've enhanced the capacity of our RCS accelerator and put some extra diburnium plating on the nacelles to compensate for any tetryonic radiation we run into."
Arkos leaned back a little, smiling. "Really? Just a simple compensatory measure? I mean, I'm not questioning your judgement, Chief, it's just...I would have tried something less mundane. I would have set up a particle conversion field through our deflectors and used outside radiation to bolster our engines."
He saw K'Nera give him a tired glance, as though to say not this again. It was a running joke between Arkos and Adim: Arkos would always suggest unconventional and inventive approaches to solving engineering problems, whereas Adim would always counter by falling back on tried-and-tested practices. The debates between the two engineers usually sailed over the heads of the rest of the bridge crew, sadly.
"Oh sure, if you want to risk blowing out the deflector with radiation feedback," Adim countered. "But if we did that, then I sure as Shran's blade wouldn't be fixing it if it did blow out. That would be your screw-up, not mine."
Arkos chuckled. "As long as the ship's systems are working in top order, Adim, I'll ignore that seditious comment of yours."
"Of course, sir. I'll keep you posted if any--"
Adim was cut off, at that point, as the comm feed suddenly buzzed, crackled, and then descended into a serpentine hiss of static. Frowning, Arkos leaned up in his seat. "Adim?" He tapped his communicator again, but found even more static. "Adim, come in!"
There was no response. Only garbled, voiceless sound came back over the intercom. He turned to Neazri Sann, the ship's Science Officer. "Report!"
"There's some sort of interference over the comm system," the Trill responded as she tapped at her console. "Whatever it is, it's not electromagnetic in nature. I'm trying to localize the source..."
Then abruptly, the static ended. In its place was spoke a voice. Or rather, many voices, all speaking together in a deep, bass sound that seemed to make the entire bridge vibrate.
"Sulla eshul zann nal ganna hass nuur rashaal suun vaa..."
Goosebumps crawled across Arkos' neck as he heard the words vibrate in his bones. Something about the voice, the incomprehensible words, and the sheer, alien tonelessness of it caused his gut to twist and made his eardrums hurt. He realized, with sick horror, that he had heard these words before. He had heard them almost a month ago, from the lips of a captured Borg drone. A Borg Drone that was, as far as he knew, under the control of something other than the Collective.
"Cut the feed!" he shouted, bolting upright from his seat. "Initiate all electronic countermeasures immediately!"
"Yes sir!" Sann tapped at her console. Several negative beeps came back, and Sann was left staring aghast at it. "Sir, it's not getting through! Something's blocking my efforts!"
The blood drained from Arkos' features at the words. There was a brief, two-second period of darkness as the lights overhead flickered ominously.
"...solla shuud maab daas rassa eun forr gaan..." the legion of voices droned on.
"Computer!" he suddenly shouted. "Initiate full system lockdown and ECM override, authorization Nair Epsilon Five!"
And with that simple override, the voice stopped. The lights stopped flickering, and the bridge descended once more into silence. Taking a deep breath, he turned back to his crew. "Status report!"
"Sir...half of our systems have been locked out," Farim responded. "Most of Deck Two is unreadable...and I'm not getting any feedback from Engineering, either."
He cursed under his breath, before whirling around to his First Officer. "K'Nera, send a security detail down to Engineering immediately. Get everyone out of there!"
"Manual override isn't working!" Ensign Gupta should as he tapped frenziedly at the engineering maintenance console. "I can't shut it off!"
Adim swore in very colourful Andorian as he made a similar discovery at the console controlling the main warp drive. The entire screen was fizzy and blank, the familiar ochre rectangles and labels replaced by barely-comprehesible static. In the background, that damned voice continued to drone on and on like some sort of countdown to destruction. Which, if he couldn't shut the warp reactor off, it would be, very soon.
He glanced up, momentarily ignoring all of the engineering personell who, on his orders, were evacuating the room. In front of him, the bilious blue light contained within the hourglass-like warp energy container began to swirl even faster.
"Nirrun raas sakkla blad joll gann sorr cannad..." the multitude of voices droned all around them, resonating within the engineering chamber like some ghastly choir. Whatever this...thing was, it had completely corrupted all of the computer systems down here in engineering. He couldn't raise the bridge, he couldn't shut the warp engines off, he couldn't even close the damned automated doors to spare the rest of the ship.
Damn it all, he decided, he would have to do this the hard way.
"Chief!" Gupta shouted as the Human finally strode away from his terminal. "We can't fix anything, not like this! We need to get the bridge and tell everyone to abandon ship!"
Adim glared at his subordinate. "I helped turn this ship from a coolant-leaking rustbucket back into a proper modern cruiser, Ensign," he growled. "I'm not giving up on the Da Vinci so easily! Now help me initiate the manual core dump. That's an order!"
One of the crucial upgrades the Da Vinci had had installed, thankfully, was a manual release for just such an occasion as this-- a pair of simple switches on either side of the warp core which, when unlocked and thrown, would trigger release mechanisms that would shunt over-active warp energy out into space so that it wouldn't fry its own ship. Given the number of hostile races out there who used particularly nasty virus technology, Starfleet had figured, quite wisely, that low-tech safety measures were needed on all of their ships."
Gupta knew better than to argue with Adim. Nodding, he raced towards the opposite end of the core. Striding to where he knew the catch release would be-- a small metal alcove set into the side of the core plating-- Adim deftly pulled out the key that only he and Gupta had copies of, slid it across the alcove and pulled it open to grab at the switch handle within.
All around him, the booming voices continued to drone from...from...now that Adim thought about it, he had no idea where they were coming from. What he did know, though, was that he could feel the sound vibrating in his bones and in his skull. Something about it seemed wrong, like it was seeping into the core of his very being in a very bad way.
"...SHUUN GANN SURRAD NAR KAAL DRAAS NOR ETTAN SAAAD...""
"On three!" he shouted, hoping that Gupta heard him on the other end of the room. "One...two...THREE!"
He pulled the switch.
The ensuing core dump caused the entire ship to shake violently as raw warp energy was discharge violently from the ship's upper exhaust port, expelling forcefully out into space where it widened and dispesered outwards like some strange, majestic aurora. Power fluctuated all along Deck Two as one of the ship's main power sources was vented-- just before auxiliary power kicked in, keeping mundane features such as lights and life support back online. The Da Vinci was now a dark and silent shape floating dead out in space, but its crew, at least, was alive.
Picking themselves off the floor after they had been caught in the ship's violent seizue, K'Nera and her security team proceeded onwards to engineering. They had already passed by most of the Engineering crew, who had relayed all that had happened: the warp core had been out of control, and Chief Adim and Ensign Gupta had stayed behind to prevent a catastrophe.
Obviously, K'Nera thought, the fact that they had lost main power meant that the two of them had succeeded...but her sensitive hearing still heard the multi-voiced droning carrying on over the shipwide comms, barely audible but still there. She'd been on the Khitomer when it had been boarded by the Borg at Vega Colony, but even the relentlessly march of those cybernetic abominations hadn't been as frightening as this mysterious chant that had so omnipresently grafted itself to the ship's systems. Her skin crawled as a thought came, unbidden into her head: the ship is haunted.
The main door to engineering was wide open. Motioning for her team to follow, K'Nera took a deep breath, drew her phaser and walked in. The inside of Engineering was dark and stygian, save for the uncertain flicker of auxiliary lights emitting from damaged outlets. And the voices...the damned voices were louder here, forming a deep, bass echo in the background.
"Chaan druu hraas yiind ellm sokk raab..."
Her antennae twitched. Wait a minute...there was another voice...not as loud, and less synthesized...coming from further ahead to her right...saying something. "Chief?" she called out. "Adim, is that you?" Pulling out a flashlight, she thumbed the emitter and shone a light in that direction.
Adim was lying there, sprawled back-first against the warp core. K'Nera nearly jumped, but was reassured that he was still alive when she noticed that Adim's lips were moving. Her comfort ended there: Adim's lips were moving, yes...in a nonstop, mumbling stream of words echoing the voices that boomed from the intercom.
"...shadda zall konn vlaa..." Adim said, staring out at K'Nera with milky eyes. "...kraan suud yulla gaan..."
To be continued...
Aaand, just as a head's up, it will probably take me a while to get to the rest of the story. This is because I've hit something of a stumbling block, as I can't figure out how to get the story from Point A to Point B without boring the readers (and more importantly, myself) to tears. Hopefully, I'll figure something out.
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