Literary Challenge #40 : Redux
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Join Date: Feb 2013
03-31-2013, 11:09 AM
Literary Challenge #36: The Haunting of Deck 13
On October 21, 1805, the fleet of the British Royal Navy, under the Command of Admiral Lady Horatia Nelson, engaged the combined fleets of France and Spain off of Cape Trafalgar. What ensued would be the most decisive naval engagement in the whole of the Napoleonic Wars.
Splitting her fleet into two long columns, Lady Nelson sent her ships forward in a pincer attack against the French and Spanish battle line. The tactic effectively broke up the enemy line of battle, and before long the French and Spanish ships found themselves isolated and cut off from one another, battling desperately against the more coordinated British vessels. Smoke billowed from the discharges of hundreds of cannons as ships on both sides unleashed devastating broadsides into one another. Bows broke, rigging was torn asunder, and men were either smashed apart by cannon or shredded by wooden shrapnel as the thunder of the exchange echoed far into the Spanish mainland.
At the height of the battle, Lady Nelson's flagship,
came under fire from no less than four Franco-Spanish ships of the line. Her crew suffered horrendous losses as the proud ship was battered and shot full of holes, before the French seventy-four
closed the distance, eager to capture Lady Nelson and her flagship. As the two warships exchanged broadsides, they became locked, their masts entangling, but before the French could attempt to board, the British
came up on the
starboard bow and raked her with cannon fire, forcing the Frenchmen to break off. The
was saved, but not before an opportunistic French sniper put a musket ball through Lady Nelson's left shoulder, felling her.
And so it was that Britain's greatest hero was dragged below decks by her crew, the ship's surgeon sadly declaring that there was nothing he could do for her. Gravely, the
's captain, Sir Thomas Hardy, leaned over the dying admiral. "Lady Nelson...is there anything we can do?" he asked.
Weak from blood loss, Nelson looked up at her flag-captain. "Take care of my dear Lord Hamilton, Hardy," she managed to say, "take care of my poor husband. Kiss me, Hardy."
Solemnly, Hardy leaned down as Nelson closed her eyes...
There was a sudden beep.
"Captain Nair to Ensign Saan."
Neazri Sann, Science Officer of the
U.S.S. Da Vinci.
opened her eyes and gave an irritated sigh before slapping her comm badge. "Sann here."
"Ensign, we need you on Deck Two. We're experiencing a...phenomenon...that we think you should take a look at."
She sighed again. As ever, the universe and its myriad scientific mysteries had the worst possible timing. "I'll be right there, Captain. Sann out."
The Trill sat upright, brushing herself off and ignoring the fatal musket wound that she was supposed to have, much to the astonishment of the assembled officers of His Majesty's Navy. "Right! Sorry to abandon you gentlemen," she said, pulling off her bulky admiral's coat and sash and slinging them across her shoulder, "but I'm afraid I shall have to retire from this battle. Do send my compliments to Admiral Villeneuve."
Sir Thomas Hardy (whom Sann had programmed with the likeness and physique of the 21st-century English actor of the same name) looked befuddled. "What? But...Lady Nelson..."
"Shush, Hardy," Sann cut in, raising a finger to the captain. "England expects every man to do his duty. Now please let this woman go do hers. Computer, end program."
And with that, the lower deck of
vanished, replaced by the familiar polished black walls and yellow latticework of the holodeck. Shaking her head to herself, Sann and turned and walked through the main door, returning to the rigours of real life.
Because of the seeming urgency of the call, Sann hadn't bothered stopping by her quarters to change. As such, she attracted more than a few stares as she walked through the ship wearing the white shirt and leather breeches and boots of the nineteenth century, with her brown hair done up in a short ponytail reminiscent of the era, and Admiral Nelson's coat and sash slung unceremoniously across her shoulder. Thankfully, the walk to Deck Two didn't take long-- the
was a small old ship with only two actual decks, and not much walking space between either. The Miranda-class light cruiser had been in service since before the Dominion War, and Sann liked to imagine that she heard the bulkheads creak with age every time she walked past. Not that that would ever happen of course, as between Starfleet's regular maintenance and the updates that Captain Nair had implemented, the old girl was still fresh, modern, and structurally sound. Most officers would have considered assignment to a relic like the
to be demeaning, but not Neazri. If anything, she was quite happy to be serving on an old ship like her instead looking at it in some orbital museum.
Every one of Sann's hosts, she reflected as she walked, had been defined by their passions. Tandru Sann had loved flying Peregrine fighters, engaging in arm wrestling competitions in mess halls, and fighting Jem'Hadar in melee combat. Lennia Sann had loved abstract paintings, operas, and Cardassian stalactite sculptures. Chendral Sann had loved wine, women, song, and haggling with his customers over prices. Neazri herself had two diverging love affairs-- astrophysical and biological science, and all of the mysteries of the universe that could be explored therein, and the rich and quirky history of the planet Earth. The new and the old, intertwined in the obsessions of an eccentric girl from Trill Prime.
In a short while, she reached the main aft hall of Deck Two, and was greeted by the sight of a large cluster of ochre-shirted security personnel, standing on guard and looking particularly uneasy. Captain Nair was standing in their midst, conversing with Ensign Virek over a matter of seeming importance. Captain Arkos Nair, the only Korda serving in Starfleet, was a man of medium height and build, and...well, Neazri supposed he might be considered handsome by his race's standards, although Nair's grey-blue skin, vestigal, tendril-like swirls at the corners of his cheeks, and the long, bony ridges on either side of his bald head had always made Sann think of a cross between a Bolian and a Jem'Hadar. She wouldn't deny that Arkos was an effective Captain, though. He had a good-humoured, easy nature with his senior officers that belied a quick-thinking, rational mind suited for command. It also helped that Arkos had an eager curiosity for the universe that mirrored Sann's own, though the expectations of command meant that Arkos often got into trouble for this curiosity.
Noticing Sann, Arkos gave a quick nod to Virek before turning to face her. "Ah, Sann, glad you could--" He trailed off when he noticed Sann's unusual attire, and raised an eyebrow. "Gender-swapping Human history again?"
Neazri smiled and gave Arkos an innocent shrug. "What can I say, I've always been fascinated by could-have-beens," she replied. "At least I wasn't being Nikolette Tesla again."
Arkos grimaced. "Please don't remind me," he groaned. "Adim complained enough about you 'borrowing' the DCM coils for that role." He inclined his head, motioning for Sann to follow him, and the two of them headed down the hall, flanked by Ensign Virek and his security detail.
"So, what's the situation, Captain?" Sann asked as they walked down.
"Well, as you know, at least two hours ago, we passed through that polaric ion field that turned up from out of nowehere on our scanners," Arkos replied. "Incidentally, I still expect that report from you by the end of the day."
"Noted, sir," Sann replied with a nod. "The initial readings I got are pretty fascinating." So fascinating that she had spent a full hour in the main science lab poring over them with a glass of kanar, before finally convincing herself to take a holodeck break before she drove herself crazy.
"Well, anyway, after we passed through it, we experienced a few power fluctuations on Deck Two," Arkos continued. "Nothing too serious, or at least, that's what we thought at the time. It was only after the fluctuations ended that we started getting...odd reports."
Neazir raised an eyebrow. "Odd reports?"
The Captain nodded. "Ensign T'Nar reported seeing the silhouette of a humanoid figure walk through a wall near her quarters. Twenty minutes after that, Security got a frantic report from Ensign Park about a ghost wandering the aft hall."
Sann almost stopped in her tracks at that point as she gave her Captain a bewildered stare. "A...ghost, sir?"
"Those were Park's words. He said that the figure appeared human, was dressed in antiquated Human clothing, and seemed oddly white and transluscent. Anyway, to get to the point, we've found the ghost and have it cornered in the aft hall."
This time, Sann actually did stop in her tracks. "Wait, wait, wait...sir...you cornered a...
She knew Arkos Nair to be firmly opinionated that spirits, demons, gods, angels, assorted other celestial beings did not exist. To hear him talking candidly about a ghost was alarming in and of itself.
Arkos turned and gave Sann a nonchalant shrug. "Well, until you determine what it is, Ensign Sann, that's the word I'm going to be using," he replied calmly. "As silly as the term is, it fits. We found the apparition wandering the halls with no discernable purpose or pattern, but after it passed through more than a few walls, bulkheads and very surprised crew members, it stopped at the end of the aft hall. As we speak, it's still standing there right now, and as far as we're able to tell, it wants to communicate."
This entire case seemed more and more bizarre with each passing second. Arkos had been right to call it a 'phenomenon' in his initial summons. "And did you communicate with it?" she asked.
Arkos' shoulders sagged slightly. "Well, I tried to," he admitted. "Unfortunately, it didn't seem to like me. It called me a 'flat-head' and a 'chump' and told me to 'beat it.' Incidentally, I don't suppose you know what any of those phrases mean, do you Sann?"
Sann's face reddened. Not only did they have a seemingly non-corporeal humanoid figure wandering the ship, but one that used Twentieth-Century American slang. "I...think I do, sir."
The Captain's face brightened. "Good!" he replied with a smile, clapping his hands together. "That's why I brought you down here, Sann. Seeing as you're the ship's resident expert and afficionada of human history, I figured I'd let you have the honour of trying to talk to it. And maybe in the process, you can use that brilliant scientific mind of yours to determine what it actually
At that moment, Sann's stange day had officially become even stranger. Her Captain had essentially ordered her to go talk to a ghost. "This is...unexpected, sir," she said. At that point, though the 'Science Officer' part of her brain switched on, and she remembered the proper protocol for a situation like this. "I'm going to have to request that you initiate standard quarantine procedures if you haven't already, sir. We don't know what it is that we're dealing with, or what kind of effect it might have on its surrounding environment."
"Already ordered, Sann," Arkos replied with a nod. "If you want, I can wait for some EVA suits to be brought down from Sickbay."
Sann shook her head. "Thank you sir, but the...ghost...might go through another wall by the time the suit arrives," she said, before adding with a smile "Besides, we don't want to keep our guest waiting."
Arkos gave her a quick nod, and took a step back-- a wordless signal for Sann to proceed. If Sann was honest with herself, she was more than a little excited by this opportunity. In her experience, the more bizarre a case was, the more likely it was that there was a wholly rational, and very intriguing, answer behind it. Besides which, she was a scientist: dealing with the strange and the inexplicable was all a part of the job description.
As Sann rounded the corner, she saw another cluster of security personnel directly ahead, forming a living barrier in the hall. As she approached, she saw the figure that the team was staring down, and, for a brief few seconds, stopped and gaped.
The figure was...or at least, appeared to be...a Human male, somewhere in his forties, with a tall and lean build. He wore a simple white shirt and a black pair of pants with a matching suit jacket, the pockets of which he had stuffed his hands into. He was leaning against the wall in a laid back, almost belligerent posture, staring down the security team as though daring them to try something. But what Sann immediately noticed was that he was completely devoid of colour: beyond the black and white of his outfit, his coarse, ovoid face was a collection of various greys. Between that and the odd, shimmering quality to his form, he gave off the impression of an image from an old black-and-white film.
Something about him also struck Sann as familiar. His hair was thin and slickly combed, and his eyes had a cold glint to them. He had an aloof ruggedness to him that dangerous, and yet at the same time oddly attractive.
"Geez, do you gorillas know how to make a guy feel welcome, or what?" he said aloud to the security officers. He had a voice to match his face: flat and nonchalant, with a rough-around-the-edges New York accent that carried with it all of the grime and grit of that city. "I told you I wouldn't cause no trouble, so what's with the long faces? Did I insult your mothers? If it makes ya feel any better, I'm the one feelin' like a schmuck here right now."
Taking a deep breath, Sann reminded herself that she had a job to do, and moved past the ochre-shirted officers. "Stand aside," she ordered. "The Captain has given me clearance."
The closest security officer gave her a curt nod. "Yes, ma'am," he said, before he and his compatriots stepped aside to let Sann through. At this, the black-and-white oddity raised an eyebrow, but otherwise remained visibly unimpressed.
"Finally, some action around here," he muttered, straightening up a little as he looked at Sann. "You the one in charge of this tin can?"
"No, the one in charge is Captain Nair," Sann replied patiently, "the man who you insulted and told to leave. I'm Ensign Neazri Sann, Science Officer of the
U.S.S. Da Vinci.
"Funny name. Sounds a little European." The faint edges of a smile crept upon the man's lips, and his coarse face seemed to soften a bit. "I kinda like it." Slowly, the man drew one hand free from his pocket, and pulled out a small white box. As he effortlessly flipped the lid of the packet open, Sann instantly recognized it as pack of cigarettes-- narcotic cylinders that had been extremely popular in Earth's Twentieth century. Pulling one of the tiny white sticks free, the stranger extended it to Sann as though in offering.
She had read enough of the history of the tobacco industry to know bad a cigarette would be to a joined Trill like herself. "Sorry, I don't smoke," she said with a shake of her head.
The man looked a little disappointed. "Ah, well, nobody's perfect." He stuck the cigarette in his mouth, produced a lighter and proceeded to take a drag from the stick. Curiously, Sann didn't notice any smoke emerge when the man exhaled. "So that fella's your Captain, huh? Interesting forehead condition he has going on. He should probably get that looked at."
Neazri was about to explain to the man that Captain Nair wasn't human, and so didn't have a 'condition,' but decided not to complicate this conversation any more than she had to. "Is there any way I can help you, Mr..."
Her voice trailed off abruptly when the cold realization hit her, then and there, why this man looked so familiar. His face, his voice, his mannerisms, the way he casually took a drag from a cigarette, and even the fact that he was in black and white...it all clicked into place.
The figure made no reaction to the name. "Yeah, what's it to you, sweet cheeks?" he asked, taking another drag from his cigarette.
Sann's mouth fumbled a reply. "Sorry, I've...never met a...Hollywood celebrity before," she managed to blurt out, the historian in her going giddy with excitement.
Something about Sann's awkward reply must have struck a chord in the...entity...that appeared to be Humphrey Bogart, as he gave her a warm smile. "Aw. Well, dere's a first time for everything, Miss Sann," he replied. "Unfortunately, I think I left my pen back home, so I won't be giving out any autographs today."
"That's..." Sann realized she was not acting as a Starfleet officer ought to, and regained her composure.
Think science, Neazri, you came here to solve a problem
. "Aside from me saying that I thought you were great in
The Maltese Falcon,
Mr. Bogart...I'd really like to know what you're doing...here. On our ship. Out in the middle of space."
Bogart gave her an innocent, nonplussed look. "Oh, I didn't mean to bother nobody," he replied casually. "I was just passing through."
Neazri frowned at the comment. "Passing through?" This, and her inability to smell any tobacco from Bogart's lit cigarette, piqued her curiosity. She quietly pulled out her tricorder and began to run a full diagnostic on the black-and-white that stood before her.
"Yeah, I was in the neighborhood, and so was your ship," Bogart replied. "I wanted to see if there was any familiar faces aboard." He frowned, suddenly, as Sann's tricorder passed close to his face. "Hey, watch it with that gizmo, lady. Don't start any funny business, you understand?"
"Don't worry, Mr. Bogart," Sann replied calmly, "I'm just scanning you. You're the last person I'd want to start funny business with, believe me." Readings began to pop up on the tricorder's screen, giving Sann a full layout of the entity's composition. Some of the results confirmed Sann's suspicions, while others surprised her. Slowly, an idea began to form in her head as she took in the data."You said you were looking for familiar faces?"
Bogart nodded. "Yeah, that's right. An old friend of mine left me a message a while back, said he wanted to meet up. I was checking to see if he was still around." A look of bitter disappointment crossed the movie star's face. "As far as I can tell, though, he ain't here. He's forgotten about old Humphrey. Rotten way to treat a guy, I tell ya."
Sann gave a slow, understanding nod as she folded the tricorder. "I see. Well, Mr. Bogart...it could be that that that old friend of yours is still around somewhere," she suggested. "It's just...he might not remember you so well."
The Bogart entity frowned. "Not remember me? What kinda guy sends a message and then forgets about it?" He took an another, angry drag from his cigerette. "What a heel."
"Don't be so hard on him, Mr. Bogart," Sann said. "It's probably been a long time since that message was sent. I'm sure that old friend of yours would be happy to make amends if you just gave him a second chance."
Slowly, Bogart's expression softened. "You know...you might be on to something, kid." A slow smile lit his coarse face. "I think I'll stick around for a bit, then, and see if I can't find out what that friend of mine is up to nowadays." Holding his cigarette between two figures, he raised his hand in passive gesture to Sann. "Maybe we'll bump into each other again at some point. Here's looking at you, kid."
And then, in the blink of an eye, Humphrey Bogart vanished into thin air.
Behind Sann, the security team instantly sprang into action, searching and securing the area. Captain Nair stepped into the foreground, looking understandably confused. "Sann...what just happened?"
She turned to face Arkos. "He's gone, sir, but...I think I now know what our 'ghost' was."
"Yes, you seemed to know him by name," Arkos said. "Care to explain?"
"He was...or at least had the likeness of...Humphrey Bogart, sir," Sann said. "A famous film actor from Earth's Twentieth Century. And I think I know why he looked that way."
Arkos gave her a quiet nod, a signal for her to go ahead an explain it to him.
She popped upon her tricorder, and turned it around so that Arkos could see the readings it had collected. "I was detecting a heavy amount of electromagnetic radiation when I scanned him, sir," she explained, "along with a high concentration of photonic particles. He was also generating less than one-tenth of the mass of a normal human being."
Arkos raised an eyebrow. "Are you saying he was some sort of hologram?"
"Yes, and no sir." She folded her tricorder. "The readings match some of the data I took from the photonic ion field we passed through. Consider though, that...Humphrey Bogart...appeared to us in black and white, looking exactly the way he did in Earth's early cinema. Colour generation technology was very limited up until the late 1940s, so most of Bogart's movies were in black and white. Now, consider as well the fact that when the Humans began heavy use of radio and television in the 1940's and 1950's, they inadvertently sent waves of electromagnetic information outwards into space. Electromagnetic information, sir, that is still travelling after all of these years."
A look of understanding dawned on the Captain's face. "Are you suggesting, Sann, that someone else has picked up these signals?"
The Trill nodded. "It's wholly possible, sir. There could be some form of sentient life in that polaric ion field that recieved all of those signals a long time ago. That's why the 'ghost' appeared to us as Humphrey Bogart, sir, and mentioned having recieved a message. It was literally replying to a centuries-old signal!"
"And was communicating to us in a physical form it thought we might recognize!" Arkos finished. "That's why he didn't want to talk to me. I look nothing like the original senders of the message, whereas you can pass for Human." The Captain smiled. "I'll notify Starfleet of what happened. When they give us the go ahead to attempt further communications, we'll head back into the ion field to see if we can contact this lifeform again. Congratulations, Ensign. You've just established first contact with...well, a movie star."
Sann laughed. "Of all the polaric ion fields in all the solar systems in all the quadrants in all the galaxy, we had to stumble onto his."
Arkos frowned, and raised a puzzled eyebrow. "What?"
Sann grimaced. "Er, sorry sir, you wouldn't get the reference. But I'd be happy to make help make the necessary preparations for contacting these entities again. "
The Captain nodded. "I think we'll be needing your historic knowledge again quite soon. Dismissed."
Nodding, Sann headed off towards her quarters, resolving to change back into her uniform and start watching as many old film extracts as possible. Inwardly, she hoped that if they did make contact with the polaric aliens again, then the next one she talked would be Claude Rains...