Wednesday, November 08, 2006

My ST:TNG Novel Drone - Chapter Eight

Drone: Chapter Eight
by Paul Darcy

Geordi decided he had explored as much of the ship as was possible for him to do, now that the ship had started to move again. He sincerely hoped Riker would return in the rescue shuttle before the alien ship drifted too far from where it was now, or worse, if its storage bay was filled. Conserving energy and waiting for Riker was his only option now. He would return to Data and see if there was anything else he could do for his friend. He and Data would also need to be ready to leave immediately.

It took Geordi almost two hours to arrive at his starting point and he had anxiously thought himself lost a couple of times. Only after he had located the crystal conduit he had tampered with to amplify his communicator was he relieved, and from there found his way back to Data.

Unaffected by the ship's slight movements, Data lay still as a mannequin. Scanning Data for any more signs of deterioration, Geordi discerned that Data showed no worse a condition on the tricorder than before. And when Geordi still detected Data's unmistakable aura he was further reassured.

Sitting down, Geordi spent his waiting time reviewing his tricorder readings and drawing conclusions. He was almost positive that this was a mining ship. The evidence seemed obvious: The high power plasma laser for cutting through asteroids, and unlucky ship's hulls, the powerful shield system to repel possible asteroid collisions, the huge storage area for extracted metals.

But a few questions still bothered Geordi. Could this actually be a Borg vessel? The basic ship design appeared to be Borg, but it seemingly had no Borg on board, or at least none Geordi had detected with his tricorder. And he encountered no Borg or any life forms at all during his excursion into the ship’s interior and storage area.

Another nagging mystery was that upon first approaching the vessel their shuttle sensors had detected only limited ion drive capability. The Borg had a complete warp technology. Its signature could not be undetectable even through all of the radiation interference, which lead Geordi to the obvious and disturbing question; how could this ship have travelled so far undetected with only a limited ion drive? Maybe this was a remote Borg vessel dropped off by a mother ship and sent out to collect heavy elements for whatever purpose served them? The similarities in technology were certainly too close to be coincidence, but the discrepancies tugged at his reason.

After a period of thought an idea suddenly hit Geordi on the head. What if this wasn't a Borg ship at all. The Borg was the galaxy’s assimilator of technology. It was very possible that this ship belonged to an entirely different race altogether, one the Borg had preyed upon and possibly destroyed. That could explain quite a bit, but not all.

Geordi was nudged out of his thoughts by an awareness of the vessel beginning to move more determinedly now. It had no inertial dampers and he found himself pressed against the beam he had been sitting next to. Movement could mean Riker had returned with a shuttle, or the ship was leaving.

He tried his communicator and got static as a response. Damn, he thought to himself and waited for the inevitable watching the asteroids spin by through the gap in the outer hull of the alien ship he and Data had first entered through.

* * *

Barclay rubbed at his tired eyes and studied the results of his diagnostic tests on the shuttle’s circuits. They appeared to be intact and would function as well as a manufactured shuttle, as far as he could deduce. It had taken all available engineering staff to figure out how to link the holodeck emitters to the cargo bay transporters so that an almost fully operational, and mostly polymer, shuttle could be brought into existence in a flash. It was quite remarkable he thought.

He started drifting off when Argile's voice woke him up. "Mr. Barclay? Does everything check out?" Argile was standing on the ramp leading into the shuttle while Barclay swivelled in the main control chair in the front.

"Yes, sir. I've just checked the last circuits and everything is operational and should withstand vacuum flight." Barclay rose from the chair and walked over to Argile and handed him the tricorder which he had used to scan the circuits. Argile received it and started checking the figures himself. Barclay could here Argile call the captain as he left the shuttle bay and yawned upon reaching the corridor.

Barclay found the nearest turbo lift and entered it, calling for the crew quarter's deck. The turbo lift began to move and Barclay's eyes watched the lights blinking by as the levels were passed. They had a hypnotic effect on his tired brain. If only he could lie down for an hour or so.

The turbo lift doors swished open and he made himself walk out onto the living quarter's deck. He quickly checked the time and found that the shuttle had taken a little under four hours construct. That had to be some kind of record. The rescue operations would be under way immediately again, and Barclay hoped that Data and Geordi would meet with no further disasters and make it back Okay. Right now he had another concern. Where was he. Oh ya, the tricorder reconfigured to detect Theta radiation below the bands normally emitted by agrav units.

He found himself standing in front of Data's quarters though he hadn't remembered walking there. He really did need some sleep soon. The couple of hours he managed to get last night were not taking him very far today. He wondered at these times how Geordi had managed it. He could recall Geordi in Engineering for what seemed like days without a rest during a crisis situation. He didn't think he could take that kind of pressure and still function. With a sigh, he pressed the access code to Data's quarters and the doors swished open. The interior was dimly lit and he stepping inside.

He saw Julie-Anne and Spot curled up together on Data's sofa. They looked so peaceful. Barclay wished he could join them, but with a determination to end his work so he could get some rest, he went to Data’s workstation and sat down. The tricorder was undisturbed from when he had left it. He wasn't sure if Julie-Anne would try to configure it in his absence, but it was obvious that she hadn't.

He asked for more illumination so he could see to work and noticed Spot lift her head and flash an inquiring look his way. The cat's movements and the increased light brought Julie-Anne out of here sleep also. Spot jumped to the floor and arched her back then settled down to lick her paws. Julie-Anne, seeing Barclay through sleepy eyes, yawned then grinned.

"Hi, Mr. Barclay. Did I sleep long?" Julie-Anne certainly hoped not. She had to find Apur before he was damaged or caused any more harm.

"Well, its been about four hours since I left,” Barclay said stifling a yawn, “so you couldn't have slept more than that. Anyway, I am going to make the final adjustments and them we can begin looking for Apur." Barclay started fiddling with the insides of the tricorder, concentrating as best he could through his foggy brain. He made a few errors and had to reroute circuitry, but after ten minutes he had the job finished.

"Well, I think that should do it," Barclay announced.

Julie-Anne, who had come and watched Barclay do the finishing adjustments smiled broadly. It would not be long now and Apur would be safe back with her. Julie-Anne was worried about Apur and then realised the time. Her parents would probably be worried about her if she didn't come home for supper. She had better call.

"That's great,” said Julie Anne, “so this will now detect Apur? I have to call my parents first though then we should look for him immediately."

Barclay nodded agreement and Julie-Anne went to Data's personal terminal on a table and called up her quarters. Her father answered. "Oh hi, Julie-Anne. Are you going to be home for supper, it’s almost ready."

"Ah, well I can't Dad.” said Julie Anne. “I'm with Mr. Barclay and he is showing me how to adjust tricorders. It’s really fascinating and we are in the middle of it. I can just eat here and then be home later, Okay?" Julie-Anne smiled as sweetly and innocently as she could.

"I guess that's Okay,” her father said, “but don't be home any later than nine. See you then, love you." Her father looked a bit concerned. His daughter was growing up faster than he would have liked, but he knew you couldn't hold on forever.

"Thanks, Dad. See you and Mom then. Love you too." Julie-Anne broke the connection and turned back toward Barclay. He was standing, tricorder in hand scanning in various directions. He noticed she had finished.

"We can scan an area of almost two decks,” Barclay said. “Just what we thought, It’s not great, but it should be good enough."

"Should we start at the access hatch to the Jefferies tube, where Apur fouled up your work?" asked Julie Anne.

Barclay could think of no better starting point. "Sounds good. Let's go."

He led the way out of Data's quarters followed by Julie-Anne and Spot. Julie-Anne stopped and picked Spot up. "You have to stay here,” said Julie Anne. “Data will miss you if you aren't here when he gets back.” She gently placed Spot back on the floor and shooed her into Data's room. The door swished shut and Barclay and Julie-Anne headed for the Turbo lift.

Barclay knew the shortest route to the access hatch and they arrived there quickly. Julie-Anne held her breathe as Barclay flipped open the tricorder and began to scan. She watched his face for any signs that he had located Apur and was disappointed when his expression showed more signs of a frown than a smile. He shook his head and said, "there is a signal here but it is so faint and dissipated that it is almost unreadable. We need to take a guess as to where Apur would have gone." He looked at Julie-Anne hoping, because she had made and programmed Apur, that she would supply the best guess.

"Where do these Jefferies tubes lead?" Julie Anne asked. She needed a bit more information but probably it would do her little good. Apur could go anywhere he thought he wanted to for reasons of cleaning up as she had directed.

"Well, they provide access all the main systems of the ship,” said Barclay. “They go virtually everywhere." Barclay realised what he had said was true. Access to all the main systems of the ship. That could really be disaster if this Apur decided to reorganise the main feed ratios for the warp engines. But there were so many safeguards. He had regularly checked all the safeguard systems himself. They wouldn't fail, but Apur could still cause a rash of minor difficulties.

"Well we could start by following down this corridor along the Jefferies tube and see if the radiation increases." Barclay was trying to give Julie-Anne some hope though he wasn't too sure himself. The tunnels lead everywhere. He was wondering if he would need to go into the tunnels himself and search. He didn't know if he could stay awake long enough for that.

Barclay walked down the corridor with Julie-Anne beside him when Ensign Delong came from opposite direction. He looked quizzically at the pair and Barclay quickly said, "So you see Julie-Anne, that by reading this display here you can tell the constituent composition of the corridor walls and this readout will give you a thickness in millimetres." He stopped talking as Delong passed out of range. He hadn't really given any thought to what he would say if Riker or Picard happened to meet them in the corridors. They would be sure to ask what it was they were doing and he didn't know if he could face them down with a lie. They had to find Apur soon.

After about ten minutes Barclay noticed a spike in his readouts. "Look at this,” he said. “I think we have found where Apur has gone. This is an access tube that slopes downward to the Engineering decks and main Deflector and shield array couplings. This must be where he was headed. If my guess is correct we can come out on deck sixteen and pick up the signal again there."

They raced for the turbo lift and were soon on deck sixteen. Barclay had been correct and it wasn't long before they could easily trace Apur's path. The closer they got the more worried Barclay became. They were approaching the main shield array and that was where the radiation appeared to be the strongest. "This way, hurry,” Barclay said. “I think I have pinpointed him."

Julie-Anne and Barclay rounded a curve in the corridor to be greeted by a shower of sparks and the beginnings of a load alarm klaxon. It looked like the entire shield array was erupting in pyrotechnics. This was definitely not good. Apur, Barclay detected, was just inside the Jefferies tube opposite.

The array had stopped sparking, it was automatically shutting down as part of the safety measures. Barclay immediately assessed the damage. All of the isolinear chips had been rearranged. He could barely hear Julie-Anne calling Apur's name down the hatch. The sound of the alarms was drowning out her voice. He worked feverishly at the array waiting for the inevitable bark of Riker. He was too tired for all of this, but he had no choice.

* * *

Picard's communicator came to life. "Argile here, sir. We have done the impossible. The shuttle has been recreated in the holodeck in every detail adhering to every specification of our non metallic design. We then downloaded the entire simulation into the main engineering computer. We had to partially alter our largest cargo transporter to enable it to replicate a complex and large object, but it worked. Another Starfleet first, sir." Argile was expressly proud of himself and his engineering staff and held nothing back in showing it.

Picard was pleased as well. "Excellent work Mr. Argile. Riker will be down to you immediately." Picard turned his communicator off and signalled wordlessly to Will who responded immediately.

"Doctor Crusher, shuttle bay two on the double." Riker dashed from the bridge single mindedly.

Moments later Riker reached the shuttle bay. He marked the fact that Crusher was there ahead of him and smiled to himself. Argile was there with a technical crew doing a few last minute checks, running the shuttle through some flight simulations to confirm some specifics. He turned as Riker strode across the bay. "Commander, the shuttle is as ready as can be,” Argile said. “We haven't done all the tests we could, time as critical as it is, but as long as you don't get in a dogfight with a Romulan ship I'm sure it should hold together all right."

"It will have to do,” Riker said. “Good work, Chief. The time saved could me the chance to save two lives. Lets get moving. " He gestured for Crusher and Tomlin to enter, then followed himself. He gave a thumbs up to Argile as the hatch closed. The inside was virtually a duplicate of any of the other shuttles. He admitted to himself that the construction of the shuttle didn't rest to easily with him. Completely built by a replicator, not manufactured and tested to Starfleet specs. The concern didn't show on his face.

He waited till Argile and his crew were clear of the docking area then requested clearance. The wail of the shuttle bay door open siren sounded and Riker steered the shuttle toward the opening. In a matter of seconds they were in space, flying to the aid of their friends.

Riker took it much easier than the first flight to the silent relief of the doctor and Tomlin. He wasn't about to overload a prototype shuttle and jeopardize the entire mission. "Riker to bridge, we are clear of the Enterprise and entering the asteroid field. Estimated rendezvous with alien vessel in fourteen minutes. Riker out." Their signal quickly faded. They would be out of range in a few moments.

"Understood, Will,” Picard said. “Return as quickly as you can. And, be careful." Picard felt better now that something was being done again.

Worf broke through Picard's thoughts, "sir, the probe has alighted on the nearest asteroid and is proceeding to drill for samples. We should have some results in twenty minutes or so." Worf monitored the probe for any signs of problems and found none.

"Very good, Worf let me know the minute we have any results. I'll be in my ready room if needed. Mr. Worf, you have the bridge." Picard began to make his way across the bridge when the automatic red alert klaxon began. He stopped, rubbed his eyes, and returned to his chair.

"Mr Worf?" He said annoyed as if his few minutes of peace were not allowed him. "Have we been struck by an asteroid? Enemy fire?"

"Neither, sir. Internal malfunction of the main deflector arrays. All shields not responding." Worf checked other related systems to see if they were okay. They were. "Isolated to shields only, sir."

Picard touched his com badge, "Engineering, what is going on with the shields?"

Argile responded immediately, "We aren't sure, captain. We will know if a few moments. It looks like the main deflector array has been reconfigured and shorted out."

Another voice cut in. The sounds of static and sparks could be heard as well as his voice. "It's, Barclay, captain. It will take some time to explain. I need to reinstall the isolinear chips and recycle the array."

"What the hell. Barclay is this another one of your experiments? Report to the bridge, now." Picard had about enough of Barclay's incompetence for one mission.

"I can't leave now, captain. I'll be up as soon as I stabilize the array."

"And not a moment later. Picard out." Picard sat stonily back in his command chair. "Ensign Mahoney, can you maintain our position and avoid any asteroids?"

Mahoney checked his latest scans. "I believe I can, captain."

"Then, ensign Mahoney. Make it so."

* * *

Riker and Crusher and Tomlin near the site where the alien vessel was last recorded. "Where is it?" Will said to nobody in particular, checking the coordinates again to make sure he was at the correct location.

Tomlin checked his readings also. "This is the exact spot we were last time, sir. The vessel must have moved. I've tried communications but haven't got a response yet."

"That would mean the ship is out of range or else they are shielded behind one of the asteroids in the area,” Riker said. “Let's try flying behind a few and see if anything shows up."

Riker kicked in the shuttles drives and shot forward to the nearest asteroid and began to come about to the other side. All were tense. They knew that time was not something Geordi and Data had in abundance.

* * *

Geordi became aware of a further increase in movement. A ship this large should not have been able to manoeuvre as quickly as it did. The ion drives must be more powerful than he thought. The vessel was banking and coming about. It had been in motion for about ten minutes and appeared to be slowing.

The vessel was stopping rapidly now, and a short time later came to a complete stop. A low rumbling sensation was felt through the floor, and Geordi could see a faint increase in ionization toward the area of storage chamber. If he didn't know better, he would say the plasma laser was charging up and about to fire.

"Geordi to Riker, come in please. If you can hear me, stay clear. The ship is about to fire its plasma weapon. I repeat stay clear." Geordi didn't know if what he had said would do any good, but he hoped it had.

* * *

Riker came around the far side of yet another asteroid. Crusher was the first to see the vessel, a few seconds before Tomlin registered it on the sensors. "Will, over there," Beverley said pointing and Riker could see the bulk of the vessel looming toward them.

Fresh debris form a blasted asteroid could be seen floating about the ship, some pieces still glowing from plasma fire. The ship was just rotating when Geordi's voice came in weakly over the communications channel. "Geordi to Riker, come in."

Riker was glad to hear that voice. "We are here, Geordi. Get yourself and Data out now. We will come in a close as possible and ....."

Riker's words froze in his mouth and the rescuers stared in stunned disbelief. The alien vessel had appeared to shrink down to the size of a singularity, then winked completely out of existence.

Riker and the rescue party were alone with the drifting rocks.

Data and Geordi and the alien vessel were completely gone.

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