Wednesday, September 27, 2006

My ST:TNG Novel Drone - Chapter Five

Drone: Chapter Five
by Paul Darcy

A deathly silence pervaded the bridge of the Enterprise as the realization of what had just happened began to sink in. Geordi and Data, gone? Killed by the Borg? If so then the Borg had changed tactics, opting now for complete destruction instead of assimilation. Or was this an entirely new threat from a race as yet unknown. Two crew members were gone in a instant. Those on the bridge wondered how much longer before this hostile vessel directly attacked the Enterprise.

Riker chose his moment and then spoke. "Red alert, all hands to battle stations." His voice had lost some of its sting. The captain did not object to the order. The red alert klaxon began immediately and the ship's crew sprang into practised readiness to the accompaniment of red strobing lights.

"Captain," Riker began, "I suggest we launch another shuttle immediately. Geordi and Data may still be alive. They were in environment suits when the attack occurred. Dr. Crusher and I could be in shuttle bay ..."

"No, number one." Picard cut his first officer off before he could finish. "We can't risk other crew members' lives right now." Picard looked angry, not at his first officer but at the predicament they were in. "We don't know what that vessel is, but we have more than ample proof that it fires without provocation. Our first priority is to inform Starfleet command of what we have learned." Picard turned to the helmsman. "Ensign Mahoney, move the Enterprise away from the asteroid field until we are beyond the range of this damned interference." Picard's shield of invulnerability was beginning to weaken.

Picard took a moment to gather himself, then turned and addressed Worf. "As soon as we are clear of the disturbance send all information to Starfleet Command on a priority channel." Worf nodded in the affirmative, unhappy to be leaving the possibility of battle and revenge, but he was a Starfleet officer and as such would follow the captain's orders.

Riker interpreted the message between Picard's words. If the Enterprise didn't withdraw and send a message to Starfleet before they encountered this hostile ship, they may never get another chance. The captain was right. Starfleet had to be informed, but that did not mean the order hadn't grated on him nonetheless.

"Sir, we can't just leave Geordi and Data." Despite the captain's orders, Riker was willing to take a shuttle in himself to retrieve Data and Geordi if necessary. Damn it, he just wouldn't believe they were gone until he had absolute proof.

"I said nothing of leaving them, Will." Picard was shuffling through his options. "Our first priority is to warn Starfleet. We also need to repair our shields. If whatever destroyed the shuttle finds us and attacks while we have no forward shields." Picard didn't need to explain further. "Immediately after that we will return and mount a rescue, not before." The captain stood rigidly, obviously not liking the solution but finding himself with no other options for the moment.

Mention of the forward shields gave Riker an immediate avenue to vent some of his pent up frustrations. He slapped his com badge angrily. "Mr. Barclay." The sharp edge in Riker's voice had returned and then some.

"Yes, commander," came Barclay's panting reply. Barclay sounded like he had just run a marathon.

"Any progress on those shields?" There were days when Riker could fully enjoy Worf's callisthenics program. Today was turning out to be such a day. Perhaps he would substitute a few of the adversaries with simulacrums of Barclay.

"I've just arrived at the site in the jefferies tube on deck twenty three." Barclay crawled the last few feet and looked at the work he had remembered doing only hours before. "I don't believe this," he mumbled quietly to himself, but his voice carried over the open com channel to Riker's waiting ears.

"What is it, Mr. Barclay?" Riker clenched his fists, sure he wasn't going to like the answer.

"Somebody was here after I made the adjustments for the tests. The conduit connections have been rearranged. The main feed for the forward shields has been deliberately connected to the power couplings for deck twenty three and fourteen. When we supplied the power to the shields the couplings blew and the feedback must have travelled back to the shield grid and shorted it out. I don't understand who would do this. It was definitely not like this when I left it." Barclay was becoming slightly hysterical thinking Riker would falsely accuse him of incompetence.

"Are you saying somebody sabotaged your test?" Riker didn't sound totally convinced, though he said no more waiting for Barclay's reply.

"That is what it looks like, commander." Barclay began disconnecting the charred connections. "It was very neatly done though." Barclay added as an afterthought noticing how everything was arranged so orderly.

"How long will it take you to repair it?" Riker rubbed his forehead. He couldn't believe this. What was the saying; when it rains.

Barclay quickly assessed the damage. "It will take me about thirty minutes. You should have shields back then."

"See if you can do it in ten, Mr. Barclay. Our shuttle was just attacked and destroyed by an unidentified vessel in the asteroid field which may be heading this way." Riker gritted his teeth.

"Yes, sir. Fixing as fast as I can, sir." The news of the attack hit Barclay hard. Data and Geordi were on that shuttle. Had they been rescued or... Barclay didn't have time to think about it now. He had to get the shields operational in, nine minutes, or feel the wrath of Riker.

When Riker had finished conversing with Barclay, Picard turned to Troi and tried another angle. "Councillor, can you feel anything from within the asteroid field? Life forces, intelligence, anything?"

Deanna put a hand to her temple and strained her abilities to their utmost but after a few moments gave up. "I can't sense anything definite in the asteroid field, captain. It is as though whatever has been interfering with our sensors is partially blocking my abilities. But the interference is not intelligent or sentient. That much I am sure of. I thought I could feel Geordi's emotions, very faintly, after the explosion but I can't be absolutely sure." Deanna looked away from the captain feeling frustrated.

"Thank you, councillor. Let me know at once if you sense anything more." He gave her a reassuring smile as if to say that it wasn't her fault, then he walked to the upper bridge and stood beside Worf.

Picard spoke quietly. "Mr. Worf, have a security detail search deck twenty three, including the jefferies tubes. If there is a saboteur loose on this ship I want him, her or it found as soon as possible."

"Aye, sir." Worf's eyes gleamed. He finally had something tangible to grapple with.

Picard turned to the main viewer and watched as the asteroids faded into the distance as they made for a location free of disturbance to send there information to Starfleet and repair the shields. "Damn," he swore to himself and didn't care if anybody else had heard him.

* * *

Barclay was half way through his repairs when he sensed the Enterprise come to a stop. It was a subtle shift in the resonance of the jefferies tube and would not have been noticed by anyone less familiar with the ship's systems than himself. Most likely the Enterprise had moved out of the asteroid field and was waiting for him to finish the shield repairs. Riker would be waiting for his call. Barclay could picture his bearded face glaring menacingly in his mind, and he doubled his efforts.

Barclay had become so involved with his repairs that he didn't notice somebody else crawling up the jefferies tube until the person was nearly beside him. He jumped with a start. "Who is there?" Barclay had visions of the saboteur returning to the scene of the crime to find him here and eliminate him. He dropped what he was doing and looked down the tunnel, relieved to see an officer in a mustard-coloured security uniform with a tricorder, taking readings.

"Its just me, Johnston from security. Don't let me interfere with your work, lieutenant. I just need to take a few more readings and then I'll be out of your hair."

"Oh, well be my guest." Barclay had calmed down enough to begin his repairs again, while Johnston scanned the damaged sections with his tricorder.

Once Johnston had finished taking his readings and began moving back up the jefferies tube, Barclay overheard him making his report to Worf. He mentioned something about slight readings of theta radiation near the sabotage site before he moved out of Barclay's range of hearing. Barclay paid it no heed and continued to work solidly for another five minutes after which time he had finished restoring the conduit configuration to normal. He made one last check then called the bridge. "Barclay to commander Riker."

"Good news I hope, Mr. Barclay?" Riker's voice sounded very hostile to Barclay, though it might have been mostly his imagination.

"Ah, well, all the repairs are complete. You have forward shields again, same as before. The test, I mean, sir." He grimaced and started replacing the plates in front of the conduits.

"Thank you, Mr. Barclay. And please, no more tests today."

"Understood, sir." Barclay finished and made his way towards the exit. On the way he thought again about what the security officer had reported about theta radiation. I struck him that nothing in the tubes should have caused theta radiation. The power conduits, even though hooked up incorrectly and shorted out could not have caused that kind of radiation.

He searched his mind for any possible causes of theta radiation he could remember. He was just exiting the tube when he remembered. Theta radiation was generated from the specialized field emitters found on antigravity units. Did that mean somebody had brought and antigravity unit into the jefferies tube? What possible use could it be unless you were carrying something heavy. The sabotage work could easily have been done by crawling up the tube and rearranging the connections by hand. Unless it was done by a remote control robot? But it was done so neatly also. Surely a saboteur would have done the job as quickly and messily as possible so as not to be caught. His tired mind could make no sense of it. He could be completely wrong and didn't really want to report his suspicions to Riker until he had more concrete evidence.

Barclay replaced the jefferies tube access plate and moved off down the corridor towards his quarters. He was officially off duty now and the red alert had been reduced to yellow. They must be in no immediate danger and he felt that he could use a rest. Dealing with Riker had caused him a great deal of stress.

Barclay turned a corner and collided with a blonde girl. He caught her with one hand before she could fall. "I'm sorry, are you okay?" He apologised. He felt badly for almost flattening the girl. He noticed that she seemed distressed. Perhaps she was lost, he thought. Well, at least Barclay had no problem relating to children. He seemed to have more in common with them than adults, most of the time.

"I'm Okay," she said sincerely though Barclay could tell she was extremely distracted. And now that he thought of it, what was she doing on deck twenty three? There was nothing here for children that Barclay knew of.

"Can I help you?" Barclay asked and received a strange reply.

"Do you know where I can find Data? I thought he would be here fixing the problem with the ship. Is he?" She seemed to be pleading with him as though finding Mr. Data was the single most important thing in her life.

Her question brought back Riker's voice like the stab of a knife. Geordi and Data's shuttle had been destroyed. Had they survived? Barclay wasn't sure what kind of relationship this girl had with Data but surely telling her of his possible demise in the asteroid field would serve no purpose. He chose to tell her a half truth instead. "Mr. Data is off the Enterprise on an, extended mission into the asteroid field. Ah, I don't know exactly when he will return, but I don't think it will be for some time. Possibly days."

This news about Data seemed to crush her spirits. She visibly sagged. Barclay watched helplessly as her face screwed up into a terrible contortion and she began to cry. Barclay had no idea what to do. He was alarmed and taken aback by her odd behaviour. "Ah, I can talk to Data as soon as he returns for you, if you like." He tried feebly.

"I need Data to help me, now. He has to help me." Barclay understood her words though they were muffled through her sobbing.

Barclay decided to volunteer his services even though he was very tired. She seemed to desperately need somebody to help her. "I'll help you if I can. Please don't cry." He smiled down at her hoping she would stop. He hated when children were sad.

Her face brightened a little and her sobbing lessened. "I don't know if you can help me." Julie-Anne wasn't sure what to do. Could this officer really help her? Would he tell on her? She obviously couldn't find Apur by herself and Data would not return in time to help. She wasn't even sure he would have helped her anyway. Running out of options, she decided she would have to trust this officer. She wiped her eyes and looked up at him. He appeared harmless enough, and when she saw his inoffensive grin she felt reassured. His offer seemed genuine and sincere. Maybe he could help her find Apur. It was worth a try.

Julie-Anne wiped the rest of her tears away and confided in the stranger. "I've lost Apur and I don't know where he has gone."

Barclay immediately thought he had the solution for her. He touched his com badge. "Computer, can you tell me the location of a person named, Apur?"

After a brief pause the computer's female voice answered through Barclay's com badge. "There is no one on board the Enterprise by that name."

Well that wasn't much help. He knelt down to face the girl and realized he didn't even know her name yet. "I think the computer will need more information to locate your friend. Anyway, my name is Reg Barclay. What's yours?"

She answered quietly. "Julie-Anne LaSalle. My dad works in sickbay and my mom is a systems engineer working in stellar cartography." She offered.

Reg asked the obvious question. "Did you ask your parents to help you find Apur?" He suspected that she hadn't.

"No. They are both busy and I didn't want to worry them. You won't tell them, will you. Oh, please don't." Barclay could see she was becoming distressed again, almost begging him not to report this to her parents.

"Well then, lets try the computer again. Can you tell me Apur's last name, or is that his last name?" Reg was beginning to think Apur may be an invisible friend. Lord knows he had had many of those when he was a child and if he counted holodeck creations he suspected he still had a few now.

"No, he is just Apur." She answered and at that moment decided to confide in him completely. He hadn't called her parents right away and that counted for something. "Apur stands for Automatic pick-up robot. I created him. He is an android like Data, although he doesn't look like a person. He doesn't have legs at all actually, but he has two manipulator arms."

"You mean he is a robot?" Barclay was slightly amused and that was the wrong expression to have, he noted when she scowled up at him.

"He is not a robot." She said with conviction. "He is almost sentient. He can adapt and think. Robots just do what you tell them but Apur is different. I studied the way Data's neuro-pathways operate and made a neural net computer brain for Apur." Barclay wasn't sure if he should believe this girl or not. She didn't look old enough to be creating androids, let alone robots. But, there was something about her that made him feel that she wasn't lying.

And suddenly Barclay's tired mind assembled the pieces. The robot doesn't have legs; that would mean antigravity of course, and manipulator arms for manipulating and rearranging. Oh, no.

Julie-Anne could read Barclay's face and thought he was about to call somebody, maybe her parents. "Oh please don't tell anyone. I didn't mean for him to get loose. Just please help me find him before he gets hurt." She looked at Barclay with watery eyes and the beginnings and an irresistible little smile.

Suddenly, Barclay was faced with a very difficult decision.

* * *

Geordi tried desperately to manoeuvre the shuttle behind the nearest asteroid to avoid the approaching ship's weapons, but despite his quick reflexes and the shuttles high manoeuvrability they were no match for the speed and accuracy of the plasma beam fired from the attacking ship. The beam sliced into the port side of the shuttle separating the port nacelle from the shuttle and nearly penetrated through into the cabin before the shuttle flew behind an asteroid and out of the weapons line of sight. Geordi had diverted the shuttle's path just enough to save their lives for the time being, but not enough to save the shuttle.

"Data, are you all right?" Geordi yelled above the scream of the shuttles emergency sirens. Without a second thought Geordi quickly replaced his helmet, forgetting the shuttles controls, and Data with unhuman speed replaced helmet also. Data then reached out and touched the emergency beam-out controls, but nothing happened.

Before they could think of another solution, a second beam lanced out and carving straight through the hull and into the shuttle's interior. The air inside the shuttle decompressed violently. The control consoles of the shuttle exploded. Exposed circuitry showered the interior with bright sparks. Miraculously, the beam did not hit either Data or Geordi, but the heat created from it was intense. Their suits gave them some protection but it was evident they would need to get out immediately or be killed.

Data sprung to action amid the maelstrom. He moved in the now zero gravity shuttle by grabbing the walls and made it to Geordi's position. Once there, Data used his body as a shield for Geordi from the fires and explosions erupting from the consoles. The particle beam was meticulously cutting pieces of the hull from the shuttle and Data was forced to violently fling himself and Geordi out of harms way. If Data had not been as strong and fast as he was they would have been carved to death by the beam. Data spied an opening and with an incredible push-off launched himself and Geordi into the asteroid field through a breach.

Once outside the shuttle Data put his suit thruster on full and flew himself and Geordi away from the wreckage as quickly as he could manage. They were not quite far enough away when the shuttle exploded behind him. Data, with Geordi in front of him, could feel the impact on his backpack. Incredible heat washed across them and then he and Geordi were drifting out of control. Data very quickly realised his suit had been compromised and several of his lesser body functions damaged but he paid them little heed. His main concern was for Geordi's safety. "Geordi. Are you Okay?" At least his suit communication still worked, for now.

"Ah, I think so." Geordi answered groggily. " How about you Data, that was one hell of a ride." Geordi managed to get the words out though it was a struggle. He felt as though had played an hour of soccer, as the ball.

"Geordi, I believe that no serious damage has been done to me though my suit has been compromised. Yours appears to have taken damage though mine bore the brunt of the explosion. Are you sure you are Okay?" Data could see that Geordi appeared uninjured, but wanted to be sure.

After a pause, Geordi answered, "Ya Data, I'm shaken up but I think I'll be alright. I think the radiation shielding on the legs of my suit is burnt away. Let me look at yours." Data turned around and Geordi could see that the back of his suit was all but gone. There was no way to fix it in their current predicament. "Will you be all right in vacuum like this?" Geordi didn't know how much protection Data's android body would afford him in space and was concerned. His positronic brain might be damaged by radiation or freezing also. Data may be superior in many ways to humans but he wasn't invulnerable.

Data answered. "I feel no ill effects from vacuum, however prolonged exposure will eventually cause me to go into a stasis mode to safeguard vital circuits. For the time being the cold of space has frozen the fluids on my exposed areas and I am no longer losing fluid. That would be more harmful to me than freezing. Thank you for your concern Geordi, but I believe for now I will function adequately."

Geordi turned and read the gauges on his thruster control. "Oh no, my thruster pack is damaged and Its loosing power. We better decide which direction to go in, and fast." They didn't appear to have many choices.

Geordi and Data looked in the direction of the destroyed shuttle. The square vessel had finished carving it up and now used a tractor beam of some sort to haul in the selected pieces. The parts of the ship it seemed most interested in were the hull and nacelle connections.

"This is awfully strange Data. The Borg wouldn't do that. What possible technology could they gain from the hull of the ship, leaving all of the computer circuits behind?" Geordi awaited Data's reply which was not long in coming.

"Perhaps this ship is not Borg. It is roughly the same size and uses the same plasma laser, however, its behaviour is not of the Borg. You are correct in saying that if it is indeed the Borg, they are behaving very much out of character." Geordi listened to Data and then watched as the hull and nacelle connections were efficiently and quickly taken inside the vessel.

"Data, I don't think we have much choice. We certainly can't make it back to the Enterprise on one damaged suit thruster, and our shuttle has been completely destroyed. I say our only choice is to go over to the alien vessel and board it. Maybe try to talk to its owners. Its either that or wait out here until we get crushed by debris, or slowly die of radiation poisoning, or freezing. If I correctly recall the radiation readings we took earlier from the shuttle, that would give us about six hours out in the open before its lethal." Geordi could think of no other alternatives.

Data tilted his head a few degrees inside his helmet. "I agree. We should proceed to the alien craft and try to make contact. Maybe we could contact the Enterprise from there also. They should be warned of the danger this vessel poses should they attempt a rescue. Since the ship seems oblivious to us now, they appear to have been after the metal form the shuttle only. Perhaps that would explain the attack on the Tecton also. It definitely needs further investigation." Data looked at Geordi who nodded in agreement.

With trepidation the two approached the Borg like vessel. Geordi had the uneasy feeling that at any moment the plasma beam would fire and consume them, but it didn't happen. They managed to reach the exterior of the stationary vessel without incident.

It took some time of careful flying and investigation before a suitable entrance could be found. They worked their way between a set of girders next to extremely hot pipes on the exterior and made their way to the inside, none too soon. Geordi's thruster ran out of power.

After a cursory examination of the ship's interior it became evident that this ship was not likely to carry any life forms. Data confirmed that with the surviving tricorder from Geordi's backpack. No living quarters or any form of atmosphere were present. The sole purpose of the ship was unknown. It seemed to be merely a machine, and most likely one that was out collecting ore and minerals. The ship had one large storage area, mostly filled with metal that had been melted and formed into cubes and packed closely together. The storage compartment was nearly full and took up at least seventy five percent of the ship's total size.

"Wow, this is something. Data, this must be a Borg ship, only there aren't any Borg." Geordi stared around in wonder. It was just like the inside of a Borg ship minus the Borg and a few changes.

"I believe Geordi that this is not a Borg vessel. Although it configures to the Borg ship design by approximately eighty six percent, there are significant differences. For one, there appears to be no device to transmit or receive signals, and their is no form of drive at all. It has minimal thrusters for manoeuvring, but little else. It may appear to be a Borg vessel but I must conclude that it is not." Data's voice was beginning to slow down and lose its pitch. His movements became jerky and erratic.

"Data, are you O.K.? What's happening to you?" Geordi came over to were Data held the tricorder in his hands and looked at him through his visor. He was showing almost no heat at all and a thin layer of frost had developed all over his face.

"I am reaching a critical temperature at which I can no longer function. In approximately seven minutes I will automatically shut down to preserve my positronic circuits. I am sorry, but I have no choice." Data sat down slowly on a metal structure and continued to take readings with the tricorder until the moment that he shut down.

"See you in a while Data." Geordi said to himself. He looked around and tried his communicator, knowing it would be useless. "Away team to Enterprise, come in Enterprise." Geordi tried several more times but got nothing but static. He decided after a while that there was nothing he could do but wait for a rescue, so he went to look around, hoping to learn all he could about this Borg like vessel. He had never felt so alone in his whole life.

Geordi took the tricorder from Data's frozen hands and set it to scan for radiation. In a few seconds he calculated the danger. The vessel was shielding some of the radiation, but it would only prolong his life for sixteen hours. By that time his life support would run out anyhow. Great, now he could experience radiation death in a cold vacuum, with his best friend completely out of commission beside him. The Enterprise would be unable to approach this ship through the asteroids and any rescue attempt by shuttle would most likely end in disaster. Damn it. He had to find a way to reach the Enterprise. He scanned the rest of his ship with his Visor, but it revealed nothing of immediate usefulness to him.

This just wasn't one of Geordi's best days, and when the ship began to move, he felt it wasn't about to get any better.

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