Drone: Chapter Four
by Paul Darcy
The signal sent from the shuttle was weak and barely able to penetrate to the Enterprise. Worf's stentorian voice emanated from the upper command console. "The destroyed ship has been positively identified. It is the USS Tecton. Opening a channel to the shuttle. Transmission will be displayed on the main viewer as soon as the computer filters out as much interference as possible." After a few moments, the garbled and static filled transmissions appeared.
Riker leaned over the communications station next to Worf and watched the transfer of data. The computer had managed to unscramble the weak signal somewhat and what appeared on the main viewer was marginal. The visual and audio signals faded in and out. Despite the interference, it was painfully obvious that the USS Tecton and all her crew were dead. The ship appeared to have been dissected. Key components were missing altogether and the outer hull looked as though it had been peeled away in places exposing the innards of the ship to harsh vacuum.
Picard felt as though a heavy weight had just been applied to his shoulders. "My god, what happened?" He said to no one in particular, crossing one of his arms about his chest. His free hand moved to his chin. "Mr. Data, are there any life signs?"
The broken voice of Mr. Data came across the open channel. "I am reading no life signs captain." Data's voice sounded deadpan and matter of fact. Even though Picard knew Data could not experience emotions he felt certain Data did care a great deal. "Data and La Forge, is it possible for you to enter the ship and retrieve the computer logs?"
Geordie answered this time while Data tried a few more scans of the wreckage on different band widths. "You are breaking up pretty badly sir. I don't know if there will be too much left to retrieve. Data and I will have to use environment suits to enter the ship and retrieve the logs. We are reading no other vessels in the area, though our sensors are severely hampered. We'll take the shuttle in as close as possible then board her."
"Be as quick as possible Mr. La Forge, then return to the ship." Geordie's reply was all but cut off but it looked, from the nod of his head, like he was agreeing. The signal chose that moment to phase out very badly, then broke off completely.
Worf struggled with the visual and audio signals until he gave up in frustration and vented some of his anger with a verbal growl. "I've lost the signal again, captain. There is too much interference."
"Understood Mr. Worf, keep trying to get through." Picard faced away from the screen and tapped his communicator."Beverly?"
"Go ahead, captain." Came Beverly's immediate reply. She sounded anxious. So far the transmissions from the shuttle had only been viewed on the bridge.
Picard hesitated for only a second, but Will noticed. What Picard had to inform the doctor of was never an easy chore. "We have found the Tecton." Picard said slowly as though he didn't want to share the information.
Beverly answered before the captain could say more, "We are ready to retrieve survivors. Give us the coordinates and we will shuttle over right away."
Picard took a quick inhalation of breath. "That won't be necessary doctor. I'm sorry, there are no survivors. Data and La Forge are going to enter the ship and see if they can salvage the logs. Once they return we hope to have our answers."
Beverly did not reply and Picard did not expect her to.
* * *
Mr. Barclay stood in front of the main system's display in engineering. Across from him Ensign Roche did some last minute checks of the key shield systems. "Ensign, are the anodyne relays configured for the test?"
"All set, Mr. Barclay." Roche made one last check and stood by waiting for further instructions.
Mr. Barclay braced himself and clenched his fists once, then swatted his com badge a bit too roughly. "Barclay to the bridge."
"What is it, Mr. Barclay.," came back Riker's prompt response.
"Sir, I am ready to run the tests on the shields. I just, I, well, I would like to do them now, sir, if its okay with you. If you don't mind, sir." Barclay stopped talking before he rambled on any more.
Riker intimidated Barclay even more than the captain. Perhaps it was the beard, or maybe the height. Could be the weight Barclay thought and was brought back to reality by Riker's voice. "Go ahead, Mr. Barclay. What should we expect during this test?" Riker didn't like surprises, and his tone of voice demonstrated it. At least Barclay thought it did.
"Ah, well, a short test. Should only take thirty seconds. Shields will be modulated from fifty percent to maximum and back down again. There should be no noticeable effects." Barclay at least had confidence in the technicalities of the test. It should be straight forward. He felt fairly confident that nothing could go wrong. In fact, maybe if the tests proved positive Riker would be impressed.
"Then proceed, Mr. Barclay." Riker sounded distracted and annoyed to be bothered by the interruption, but Barclay felt better for having cleared this with the bridge first.
Barclay looked over at Roche. "Okay, lets do it. Engage shields at fifty percent."
Roche initiated the test sequence. Nothing appeared to be happen for several seconds and then the panel erupted in a shower of feedback sparks. Roche leapt backward avoiding injury. Reg's side of the panel had not erupted and he was furiously trying to see figure out what was happening. Lights flickered on and off all over the ship and two small explosions shook deck twenty three.
Barclay managed to get an estimate of damage before the inevitable call from Riker could come through. Two main power couplings had blown. One on deck twenty three and another on deck fourteen of the saucer section. As well, the main power grid for the forward shields had been damaged rendering the forward shield inoperative for the moment. This should not have happened. It should definitely not have happened. Barclay could not think of anything that could have gone wrong with what he had done. It wasn't possible.
The very annoyed and expected voice of Riker shouted from Barclay's com badge. "Mr. Barclay. What the hell happened down there!"
"I'm not sure, commander. It shouldn't have done that." Barclay felt like he was going into shock but he had to remain in control. There had to be an explanation.
"I suggest you find out very quickly. We don't have any forward shields right now, and in case you hadn't been informed we are bordering the Romulan Neutral Zone. Now get those shield back up and functional, now!" Riker had a way of stripping a layer of skin from your body with that voice thought Barclay.
"Ensign Roche, run a level three diagnostic of the shield systems and try re-outing the power coupling from deck twenty three. I'm going back to the jefferies tube to see if I can find out what caused this." Roche began the diagnostic as Barclay raced from engineering for deck twenty three.
* * *
Julie-Anne sat in Mr. MuClusky's class and racked her brains until they hurt. His monotone voice droned on while formulas sprawled across the classroom viewer. She was concentrating so hard on a way to find Apur that she hadn't noticed McClusky asking her a question until the third time. "Julie-Anne, do you know what the theoretical particle speed should be. Are you listening?" He glowered at her as only he could. That look could frighten small children or make them laugh out loud.
"Ah, sorry. What was the question again?" She hadn't the slightest clue what he was asking her. Flashing her most charming smile failed to produce the desired effect. McClusky wasn't buying it.
He was about to open his mouth again when all power died and the emergency lights flickered on. McClusky looked more annoyed than alarmed and quickly dismissed the class after consulting the ship's computer on the estimated time for the resumption of normal operations. It had told him: time unknown.
Julie-Anne was almost the first out of the classroom after the announcement from McClusky. She would have some extra time to find Apur now, wherever he was. She had decided the first place to search would be the deck she lived on: number seven. She searched as thoroughly as she could, calling his name quietly so as not to arouse suspicion, though she did receive some looks from passers by.
After a half an hour Julie-Anne realised it was hopeless. She had covered only half of this deck and what if Apur moved into an area she had already searched? The ship was far to large. Apur could be anywhere by now. But where would he go? She grew worried by the possibility that she would never find him by herself. Tears began to form in her eyes.
An idea suddenly sprang to her mind and she wiped her eyes dry. Data would be able to help her. He was a sentient android and would probably know where to find Apur. All she had to do was go to where Data was and ask him for his help. She had overheard when Mr. McClusky asked the computer where the trouble was located: deck twenty three. Data would most likely be there helping to fix the problem. She hurried off to deck twenty three will new found hope.
* * *
Worf ever diligent at his station was the first to notice his console report the presence of another vessel, just at the edge of sensor range through the disturbances. He immediately stopped trying to clear a channel to Data and La Forge and informed the captain. "Sir, a ship just registered at the edge of our sensor range."
Picard looked up, slightly alarmed. "A ship? What sort of ship, Mr. Worf?" The bridge crew stood quietly, hanging on the implication of the captain's question: the Borg?
Worf struggled with the console to get a definite identification. "Enhancing sensors in that vicinity" Worf stated. The bridge crew waited tensely as Worf struggled for a better reading. Finally, after what seemed forever, Worf announced. "Ship identified sir, it is a Romulan warbird. No life signs, and considerable mass missing from the hull and drive sections."
The announcement of a Romulan warbird in the area, dead in space or otherwise was still a cause for concern, but the crew breathed a collective sigh of relief anyway.
"It would seem Number One that the Tecton was not alone out here." Picard was not sure if he liked this new development, although he wasn't at all surprised.
Riker took the initiative. "Mr. Worf, how far away is the Romulan ship?"
Worf took only a moment to answer. "It is ninety seven kilometres off the port bow just inside the asteroid field and drifting outwards."
Riker turned to Picard, "I suggest that we send a team over to investigate the Romulan ship. It may contain all the answers we need."
"I don't think so Number One. It will be here for a while yet. Let's wait for Data and Geordie to return first. If this whole incident is the Romulan's doing I would rather know that before boarding one of there ships. And I wouldn't want our people snooping around inside that one as another Warbird uncloaks. Mr. Worf have you managed to reestablish contact with Data and La Forge yet?"
"Attempting to do so, sir. The interference is making this most difficult." Worf stabbed at the controls as though they were the heart of a Romulan. Picard and the bridge crew waited patiently while Worf attempted to get through.
* * *
"Well Data, let's go find out what we can. The transporters are useless with all this interference so we are going to have to do this the old fashioned way." Geordi said.
It took only a few minutes for Geordi and Data to fully suit up once the shuttlecraft was as close as they could manoeuvre it to the broken Tecton. La Forge depressurized the shuttle and opened the door. The suits Data and Geordi were wearing had built in booster packs for thrust and stability and one miniature tractor beam for manipulating large objects if the need arose.
Through there face shields they could see the blackened and roughly carved hull of the Tecton as though it had been peeled away with high energy plasma beams. Data used his tricorder to record their approach and analyze the burnt and twisted metal. "It appears to have been cut by a beam similar to the one used by the Borg." Data checked the display again to confirm his readings.
Geordi spoke to Data through his helmet communicator. "What do you mean by similar, Data?" Geordi made a few minor adjustments to his thrusters to bring him alongside the Tecton, next to a large breach in the hull.
"What I meant, Geordi, was that the residual ion and radiation residue readings of the hull closely, though not exactly, match the readings from the Enterprise's hull after the Borg attack. The variation could be due to the slight differences in hull composition, or a variation in Borg weaponry. It could also have been caused by an entirely new weapon belonging to a race we have not yet encountered." Data put away his tricorder and used his magnetic hand pads to grab the Tecton's hull.
Geordi looked at Data through his faceplate. "So what you are telling me is that you don't have enough information to say for sure."
"That is correct. Perhaps the Tecton's computer core will help." Together Data and Geordi moved along the outside of the ship and then entered the interior through the breach.
The inside of the ship was not in any better condition than the outside. The fires that must have raged through the computer consoles had destroyed most of the plasteel mouldings and walls. Geordi began to feel a bit nauseous when they met up with the first body, burnt yet frozen with most of the blood vessels burst on the skin. They travelled for a few more minutes through gaping holes apparently cut clear through the remains of the ship by a powerful beam and arrived at what was left of the bridge.
Geordi had a quick look around. "It must have been over pretty fast. Let's see if the computer will still operate at all." Geordi and Data plodded on magnetic boots to the main console. Once there Data directly linked his tricorder into the bridge control and tried accessing the core. He tried many settings, all of which failed to produce any results.
"It may be necessary for us to remove the log core and bring it to the shuttlecraft for analysis." Data looked at Geordi who replied with a nod and began to pry back the ruined main console to expose the circuits below. After a few cuts with a suit torch the main log core came away more or less intact. "I believe we should return to the shuttlecraft, our safety time has run out, we may be struck by an asteroid, or pulled into the gravity of a large one."
"I couldn't agree with you more. Let's go." Data and Geordi returned the way they had come and were soon safely back aboard the shuttle.
In the few moments it took the shuttle to pressurize Data had removed his helmet and had started to connect the main control of the Tecton to the shuttle computer for analysis. Geordi wasting no time to remove his suit, began to fly the shuttle back to the Enterprise. "Enterprise, this is the away team. Do you read me?" Geordi waited a few moments then tried again with no success. "Data, we are still getting an incredible amount of interference from this field. It seems to get worse the closer we are to any of the asteroids."
Data looked up from what he was doing. "I am still puzzled by the discrepancy between calculated disturbance level and our observable readings. It should not be so. Perhaps the asteroids themselves are highly reflective of radiation?" Data made a few more adjustments to a circuit he was using to connect the Tecton's control. A practised human grin spread across Data's face for Geordi's benefit. "I believe I have successfully retrieved the majority of information stored in the Tecton's logs. I am attempting to play them back now." Data touched a couple of keys on the console and the voice of captain of the Tecton was heard in the shuttle.
"Stardate 4316.34, captains log. We have discovered what could only be described as unbelievable. Inside most of the asteroids are extremely high concentrations of dilithium in its unrefined crystal form. At first we thought our strange sensor and high energy readings a systemic malfunction, but once we retrieved a asteroid sample and had it analyzed, well we were shocked and thrilled at the same time." Data stopped the playback and looked at Geordi. "Yes, that would explain the higher than normal radiation levels, since the crystals would channel and amplify the surrounding emissions. This is an extremely rare find."
Geordi looked at Data. "Data, do you have any idea what we are sitting in? This could be the richest dilithium find ever. This could benefit the federation significantly."
A static filled voice broke through there communications console. "Worf the shuttlecraft five. Come in please."
"We are here Mr. Worf." Came Geordi's reply. Geordi was just about to tell the Enterprise crew of there find when from behind a large asteroid a square vessel hove into view" No time to talk Mr Worf, we have company, a large square vessel is six kilometres off our port bow, leaving all channels open on automatic transmission."
The tension on the bridge of the Enterprise rose significantly. Picard looked back at Worf. "Mr. Worf how far our are they from us?"
"They are thirty seven kilometres inside the asteroid field. We will be unable to reach them." The scene on the main viewer was constantly breaking up but the crew could make out a squarish vessel approaching the shuttle. And as suddenly as those hazy images appeared the squarish vessel fired on the shuttle and sent it reeling. The entire crew stood shocked.
"Geordi to Enterprise. The ship has fired on us, beginning evasive ..." The picture broke up as the transmission from the shuttle abruptly stopped. Worf pounded his fist on the console in frustration.
"Damn it. Mr Worf what happened? Can you raise them again?" Picard stared at the screen in disbelief at what he had just witnessed. "No use captain. The signal has terminated at the source. Sensors indicate the shuttle has been destroyed."