Drone: Chapter Nine
by Paul Darcy
The class one probe alighted onto the nearest asteroid. It took only a few moments for the phaser drill to protrude from its shielded compartment and begin boring a hole. The skin of the asteroid was made up of heavy elements emitting radiation left over from the nova of this sun's system. The phaser drill continued to penetrate deeper and deeper through the layers of the asteroid while the probe's computer collected the atomized material data by use of interferometry and x-ray instruments. This stream on data was then encrypted and the results signaled back to the Enterprise where it was filtered, analyzed, and relayed to Worf's con station by the main Enterprise computer.
Two thirds of the way to the core of the asteroid the drill encountered a rare substance, one which diffracted the phaser and hampered the beam's targeting system. Seconds later this thin layer of volatile material was penetrated and the phaser drill continued again unhindered. At four fifths of the distance to the asteroids core, the phaser drill encountered a much higher concentration of the same volatile substance. This time the focusing system was pushed well beyond its design limits and the phaser drill’s programing was unable to compensate. In its futile attempt to do so, the reflected phaser beam lanced backward from the volatile material, up through the drill hole where it then cut through the probe's casing to burn into the underlying circuits. The excessively high levels of radiation emanating from the inside of the asteroid finished the job of destroying now exposed circuits and the probe ceased to function.
Worf's concentration was mainly on the scans of local space, watching for any sign of the Romulans. With the Enterprise's shields inoperable, they were extremely vulnerable and he was making sure he would notice any possible threat immediately. It was not until a few minutes after the fact that he checked the probe's progress and was surprised by its abrupt and unscheduled end of transmissions. He tried to reestablish a link. When that failed he reported at once, chastising himself for not catching this problem sooner. "Captain, the probe has malfunctioned."
Worf tried an override of the probe's controls again, but still the link failed to happen. "The probe will not respond. It is completely dead."
Picard raised an inquisitive eyebrow. "Did we gather any useful information from the probe before it malfunctioned?" It was unusual for a class one probe to malfunction except under the most extreme conditions. His mind immediately searched for answers. The radiation? The asteroid itself?
Worf took a moment to review the probe's findings. "The readings are clear up until the time it stopped transmitting,” he reported. “It encountered heavy radioactive elements, consistent with our ships sensors readings, and," Worf hesitated a moment checking one particular readout more closely before continuing. "Sir, the probe's computer apparently tried to focus the phaser drill's fire but was unable to maintain control when it encountered a solid layer of crystalline dilithium. It would appear that the crystals reflected the phaser fire causing the malfunction. Most likely the probe was hit by its own phaser beam. Shall I send another probe?" Worf waited, switching his attention back to the Enterprise's scans again.
Picard mused aloud. "That is very odd. Dilithium is not a rare natural element. To produce it takes starlike pressures and a very precise crystallization process. Could it be possible that the nova explosion of this system's star and the subsequent destruction of the surrounding planets proved to be the perfect breeding ground for dilithium crystals?" Picard's question had been more rhetoric than directed at any member of the bridge crew. His brow furrowed in thought.
"Computer," Picard began, "hypothesis; Could dilithium crystals have be produced by the explosion of this system's class six white giant star upon collision with its adjacent planets?" As he talked he walked slowly across the bridge in front of his command chair, absently noticing his missing command staff.
A few moments later, the computer's pleasant female voice replied. "There is a point zero, zero, zero, zero seven percent probability that such an event could occur given the know parameters of this system."
That was an inconceivably low percentage to explain the crystals as having been formed by a natural phenomenon. Picard was eager for more information. "Computer, what concentration of dilithium would account for the radiation anomalies in the asteroid field?" Picard was most interested in the answer to this one.
"To produce radiation levels concurrent with those observed from the asteroids and surrounding space,” continued the computer voice, “a concentration of fourteen percent dilithium by mass would need to be present."
Picard suddenly saw some of the pieces falling into place. A concentration of this magnitude would be one of the richest finds in history and a treasure for any race that happened upon it. Why the Romulans were interested in this asteroid field was no longer a mystery, but how the asteroids came to possess fourteen percent dilithium certainly was.
Pacing back and forth in front of his command chair, Picard mulled over this new information. The realization that the asteroids were laden with dilithium was extraordinary. Statistically, the chances of dilithium growing in the asteroids was minute. Yet, here it was.
Picard had a decision to make now. Get back to an area to inform Starfleet of their find, of wait for Riker and the rescue shuttle to return. He addressed his helmsman to confirm his rough calculations. "Ensign, Mahoney. How long would it to take us to reach a section of clear space, transmit our findings to Starfleet, and return here?"
Ensign Mahoney took a moment to input the inquiry for the computer and get a response. "It would take us twenty seven minutes, sir."
Picard's next question was obvious. "How long before the away team is due to rendezvous with us?"
Mahoney had already requested that information and gave his immediate reply. "Just under five minutes, sir." That confirmed Picard's decision.
"Ensign, maintain this position until the away team returns,” Picard commanded. “Then, once they are safely on board head immediately to an area of open space."
A moment later Worf snapped rigidly alert and bellowed out a warning. "Captain, Warbird decloaking! One thousand meters to starboard."
Picard's reaction was immediate. "Red alert. Raise shields. Open hailing frequencies, Mr. Worf."
Picard strode to the space between the forward ops consoles, grumbling under his breath.
"Shields still inoperable, captain,” Worf said, “and the Romulans are not responding.” Worf consulted his sensor readings. “Sir, they are scanning our ship and the surrounding space. They may detect the destroyed Warbird. If they do....”
“Understood Mr. Worf,” Picard said. “Continue your hails and let me know if they do anything else. Ensign Mahoney, any sign of the shuttle yet?”
Mahoney checked all the frequencies for a transmission and all sensor sweeps to see if the shuttle signature was apparent. Nothing. “Captain, they have not called in yet , and they do not appear to be within our sensor range. They should be within range by now.”
“I think I know what may have happened.” Picard said. “If Will has seen the Romulans before they saw him he may be hiding in the asteroids. “
Worf spoke, “Shall I try to contact them?”
“No,” Picard answered immediately. “We can’t let the Romulans know we have a shuttle outside the ship. It would give them too much of an advantage. What we will do, since our shields are not operational yet, is open shuttle bay two door. Maybe Will will see and, using us as a shield, come in from behind the Enterprise and enter that way.”
“Aye, sir.” Worf made the necessary arrangements with a security team.
Once done, Worf punched a few more keys. " Sir,” he yelled. “They are powering up Disruptors” Worf paused a moment, the bridge crew held their breath.
Worf yelled again, "they have just fired."
The disruptor blast rocked the Enterprise and those on the bridge had a hard time keeping there positions.
Picard, recovering his balance, swatted irritably at his com badge, fighting hard to keep from yelling in anger. "Mr. Barclay! now would be a good time to restore our shields!"
* * *
Sub-commander Tralc confirmed his readings before speaking. “High preator, the federation vessel is the Enterprise. I have also picked up the traces on long range scans of the destroyed Warbird Rugan. It is behind the Enterprise but we are too far away for me to get any accurate readings. All I can tell for certain is that it is destroyed. Your orders?” Tralc sat with his hand close to the disruptor controls.
“I had suspected as much,” Krintac said leaning forward.
“High preator, the Enterprise is hailing us. And they have not raised their shields.” Krintac sat quietly, intentionally ignoring the hails from the federation ship. The trusting Federation, playing right into his hands. “Tralc, target their weapons systems and fire. Once we have neutralized their weapons, open a frequency.”
Krintac smiled as Tralc carried out his orders. He smiled as the green glow from the firing disruptors washed over him from the monitor.
* * *
“Apur!” Julie-Anne called again and again. But Apur continued to move away from her and farther down the Jefferies tube. She gave up trying to call him. The panel alarms were too loud and it was evident that Apur couldn’t hear her. She would have to chase him down and get close enough to him to be heard before he did any more harm. She looked back to see Reg working furiously on the panel and wondered how much trouble she had caused. She checked the tricorder again and noticed Apur was getting even farther away. Julie-Anne dashed down the corridor in pursuit.
During her chase, Julie-Anne received some surprised looks from crew personnel but had raced by them so fast they didn’t have time to stop or question her. Apur had continued on a steady descent towards the back of the saucer section and Julie-Anne had to use the turbo lifts several times to keep pace. Eventually she came to the doorway leading into shuttle bay two. She checked her readings again. If Julie-Anne was reading the device correctly then Apur was inside the shuttlebay. She steeled herself and walked up to the doors. They parted for her and she went through.
Inside she noted several crew members at work doing various tasks. None had noticed her enter and so she checked her tricorder again to see if she could pinpoint Apur’s location. From what she could tell Apur was at the back of the shuttle bay where a lot of storage containers were located. She looked but couldn’t see him. He would be in amongst the containers hiding from the crew members. She had to get over to him.
She slung the tricorder across her shoulder and proceeded to walk as inconspicuously across the shuttle bay as she could. The sudden red alert alarms startled her and she almost stumbled. All the crew members stopped what they were doing and one spotted her. The crew member came abruptly up to her.
“You shouldn’t be here,” he said. “Please return to your quarters. This is not a red alert drill, you could be in danger here.”
Julie-Anne hesitated not knowing what she should do. She was so close to Apur. She couldn’t leave him now that she had finally found him.
The crewman took her hesitation as confusion and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Come on. You have to go now.” He gently pushed her toward the shuttle bay exit and she went that way looking over her shoulder. Julie-Anne knew she couldn’t argue and headed reluctantly and toward the door. She looked back once more and the crew member had gone off to his post. She made a decision in that instant and bolted for the storage area and Apur.
Half way across the bay another alarm sounded in conjunction with the red alert klaxons and she noticed the main shuttle bay door opening. What was going on? Maybe they were going to launch shuttles? Just then she caught a glimpse of Apur moving behind a storage container. He was heading in the direction of the opening shuttle bay doors. She could see why as two crew members walked into the storage area. Apur was moving to avoid them. She hurried her pace but could see another crew member now heading into the storage area form another direction. Apur was being pinched off. She would not be able to reach him before one of the crew found him.
She was about to yell out to Apur, when in apparent confusion, he decided his only escape from detection was to pass quickly out the open shuttle bay doors. Julie-Anne watched shocked as Apur flew through the shuttle bay doors and drifted off into the asteroid field. She stopped and stared out the bay doors. Apur was now lost from sight. Tears started forming in her eyes when the Enterprise shook violently and she lost her footing and fell. The last thing she remembered was some storage containers heading her way. Then all was dark.
* * *
Riker could feel the shock of the encounter reverberating off of the entire away team. The doctor clutched at her blue smock repeatedly and Thompson just stared. What they had just witnessed was something that couldn't be readily explained. Q may be able to give an account of what just occurred to the alien vessel, but certainly none of them could. Theories of dimensional jumps were always discussed, but there had as of yet been no real gains in the area, yet here was what Riker could explain only as a dimensional jump. The terrorists of Praxis Three used dimensional jumps, but that was at a great cost to the humans using the dangerous technology. Many of them died from it. It also took incredible amounts of energy to jump even the mass of one human. To jump the mass of the alien ship would be phenomenal. The power required would have to be that of a supernova.
A few moments of needed silence between the away team passed before Riker spoke. "I’m not sure what we just witnessed, but let’s search the area for any traces of anything.” Riker spun the shuttle to avoid an asteroid and began a delta search pattern.
Thompson had regained control of his emotions and checked his sensor readings. "Commander, I am registering a ripple effect in the local space-time continuum. It's as though the ship just passed into a different time line. I can't explain it better than that." The doctor sat mutely and Riker scratched as his beard as he flew the shuttle directly into the space the alien ship had occupied.
"Any indication that the ship will return? " Riker was not hopeful.
"It's impossible to tell, sir.” Thompson said. “I don't know enough about the phenomenon we just experienced. This area of space registers as though it just appeared. A temporal patch in the space-time." Thompson was at a loss. This puzzle reminded him of Starfleet exams. Some of the questions had no solution, but were expected to be tried just the same. Character builders they were called. Thompson felt like his character was turning into quite a structure.
Riker made a few more passes through and around the area of temporal disturbance then checked their mission time. "We can't stay here much longer,” Riker said. “The Enterprise is expecting us and we are already ten minutes overdue. We can't risk them sending another rescue team." He got no argument form either the doctor or Thompson. There was nothing else they could do for the moment except return and report what had happened.
Riker directed the shuttle back toward the Enterprise at a slower pace than he flew it there. Somehow returning was not quite as pleasant a prospect as they had first envisioned.
Riker flew over a large asteroid, they should be within visual range of the Enterprise now. He was about to call in to the Enterprise to be cleared for docking when he stopped himself and veered the shuttle back behind the asteroid they had flew around. "So, we have company after all." Riker said, almost groaning the words with displeasure. They had all seen the Enterprise nose to nose with a Romulan Warbird.
The wreck of the Warbird came to Riker’s mind and he had an idea. "Since the Enterprise is shielded, we can't get to her.” Riker said. “Why don't we go see if we can do anything with the wreck of the other Warbird. Any advantage we can have against the Romulans I'll take."
Riker began upon a flight path that would stay clear of the Romulan Warbird engaged with the Enterprise and made for the crippled one. "Once we get aboard, Thompson I want you to go into engineering and see if you can get us any power at all. Beverley, I know you are not a computer specialist but see what kind of information you can download. I'll go to what’s left of the bridge and see if any of the ship’s systems are still functional.”
After several minutes of careful maneuvering, he shuttle pulled up along side the wreck such that they were shielded from view of the other Romulan vessel.
"All right lets get to work,” Riker said. “Everybody into an environmental suit. Our transporter won’t work so we are going to have to jump over." Once they were suited up and the shuttle was decompressed, Riker touched the controls to the shuttle door and it opened onto space and the crippled Warbird. They filed over easily and were soon heading towards their respective goals.
A shockwave brushed the crippled ship shaking it. That was either a plasma or photon blast Riker though. “I think we better hurry people,” Riker ordered.
If they didn’t do something quick it may be too late.