15 Ghost in the Machine
"Can you trace the command?” Grif asked her over the com, while Sublieutenant Vexa monitored his determined pace through the corridors on her bridge station visual display.
“I am attempting to do so now. So far I am unable to determine from which station the command originated – or even which ship.” Vexa continued her command pathway analysis of the Perseus auxiliary transporter systems, which had automatically synchronized with Voyager's, shortly after Perseus arrived at Alpha Centauri C. It was one of several minor system glitches possibly resulting from residual chronoton activity, which the Perseus Trial was designed to expose; perhaps merely the transporter recognition protocols of Perseus' automated systems; but in light of the previous incident, Vexa refused to leave such matters unchecked.
had to sync both ships' auxiliary transporters. I've never heard of any protocol for it.” Grif ignored the crewmen passing him while he concentrated on recalibrating a tricorder.
“As I suspected. However it never hurts to ask.”
“I guess that's kinda your specialty, huh.” Grif came to a junction and turned right. “Commands and switches.”
“Chief, you have made an incorrect turn.”
“Negative, Vexa. I've got something to pick up first.” He looked up at the nearest visual pickup and eyed Vexa from her screen. “You can call me Grif you know.”
“As I shall, if I am not on duty.”
“Oh, I see. And you don't go off duty, do you.”
Such an obvious statement of error indicated the possibility of that curious human linguistic habit, irony. How humans managed to ascertain whether statements were intended or deliberately misleading was still something of a mystery for her. She tried an equal measure of inexactitude: “It is a statistical improbability. However, not entirely impossible. Curious. I can find no discernible command pathway or workstation. The command seems to be coming from the computer network itself.” Vexa scanned the bridge, but everybody was busy with their own analyses and ship systems checks. From her monitor, Grif opened a hatch and retrieved – a phaser rifle. He resumed his determined pace towards his own answers. He had picked up holoemitter activity on deck four, amidships, in the deuterium fuel pod storage bay. In all likelihood they were both chasing minor malfunctions, or “glitches” as the humans liked to call them; for Vexa, logic simply stated a need for rational confirmation. For the Chief, it was something called a “wonky vibe”. Whatever that
She regarded the Chief, exiting a turbolift on deck four. His outburst at the inquiry was most...illogical. The security of Starfleet by far outweighed the consequences to the career of any one officer, particularly a neophyte. Emotions – so primitive, so illogical, so unpredictable, and so – dangerous.
The Chief glanced at her, armed his phaser rifle, and entered the bay.
The visual link switched to an overview of the deuterium pod storage bay. Great tanks occupied nearly every square meter of the darkened, vapory bay; the forced-matrix cortanium-stainless steel cryostasis pods each maintained at least sixty-two thousand, five hundred cubic meters of deuterium slush at 13.8 degrees Kelvin. A heavy phaser blast would almost certainly result in the instant fatal dissolution of any biological matter that happened to be standing in the flow. Grif inched forward on high alert, scanning the darkness with his rifle's beacon.
“Reading a magnetic-resonance ten meters ahead.” Grif disappeared in a fog of cryo-vapor. “I...see something. The resonance has a slight fluctuation at six hundred nanometers of the radiometric spectrum. I think it's cryostatic interference. Whoa!”
Vexa watched her monitor intently but couldn't make him out. She increased the environmental filtering of the storage bay; but only a small amount of the vapor cleared. She made out his form, reaching out to a deuterium tank. “Vexa, do these tanks have some kind of insulation that interferes with scans?”
“Negative. The pods are insulated with alternating parallel and biased layers of foamed vac-whisker silicon-copper-duranite. Your tricorder should be able to penetrate them.”
“That's the problem. Think I've found it, whatever it is. Aggh! It's cold.”
“Chief, I advise -”
“Standby, Vexa. I see a hazy shape... What, is that
She watched the Chief through the vapory fog; he reached out to the tank again.
“It's a...no! It's impossible!”
“Chief Grifahni, report.”
The Chief's next report - was a scream.
“Chief! Chief!” Vexa's shout shocked the bridge crew. Commander Paris ran to her station.
!” Chief Grifahni shouted.
Through the haze of the cryo-vapor she watched Grif stare in horror at his arm, now lodged inside
the cryostatic tank wall.
“Grif! Shoot the holo-emitter!” Vexa shouted. “Chief! The emitter!”
“I...can't...move!” he cried.
The tank flickered. For an instant, Vexa thought she saw a glowing figure - sitting inside
the tank. “Grif you have to decompile the hologram!”
With a wrack of pain Grif drew up his rifle with one hand and fired at the holographic emitter.
The deuterium tank before him flickered, and vanished.
The glowing figure appeared to be female. She was perched cross-legged in what appeared to be sitting meditation.
“That's impossible! You're not real
!” Grif shrieked, immobile. “Vexa! I'm...turning...to...!” He fell, silent, and hard.
The figure twitched her head. Power fell throughout the ship.
Vexa slammed down the intruder alert indicator.
“Vexa, report!” Commander Paris demanded of Vexa.
“Grif is down! An intruder, Sir! She appears to be – communing with ship systems!”
The figure glowed whitely and twitched her head again. Multiple alerts sounded on stations around the bridge. “Sir, systems are fluctuating all over the ship!”
Captain Tuvok activated his chair's panel. “Lieutenant Tiroj, internal scans.”
The Boslic lieutenant at Ops tried several commands. She raised her hands in helplessness. “I can't make sense of these malfunctions, Sir.”
“What is that
?” Ensign Shir pointed his fingers - and antennae - to the main viewer.
The starship Voyager appeared to distort in places, and erupt in bright plasmic light.
“Some kind of subspace field is forming around the Voyager, sir. Or at least...part of it?”
Captain Tuvok scanned the bridge. “Lieutenant Munich. Open a channel to Voyager.”
The human com officer shook her head. “It's no good, Sir. I can't get through. I don't exactly know why, Sir.”
Vexa turned to her monitor. Grif was still frozen. She tied her console into his tricorder. The tricorder began to scan.
On screen, the intruder cocked her face – to Vexa. Then disappeared in a dazzling momentary shimmer.
- And materialized in Tuvok's command chair. Suddenly the entire bridge crew dematerialized in the bluish glow of the ship's transporter fields.
Vexa rematerialized on the transporter pad of Voyager's cargo bay, with the other bridge crew. Captain Tuvok scuttled to the controls. Commander Paris opened the emergency hatches and retrieved four phasers, meting them out to the Captain, and Lieutenant Commanders Bessek and Tiroj.
Silently, they all stepped back onto the pad. The Captain activated the controls and jumped on the pad with them.
Sublieutenant Vexa found herself back on Perseus, on the secondary bridge. Her first impulse was to run to the visual comlink – but Captain Tuvok commanded their attention:
“I am unfamiliar with the species of the intruder. Have any of you a familiarity?” Nobody answered. “Whatever the motives of the intruder, whether to destroy the Perseus, or perhaps steal it – we must first determine how many there are, and capture them as quickly as possible. The security of the entire Federation could be at stake. Sublieutenant Vexa.”
“Any information you could provide would be most helpful.”
“Sir. The intruder came aboard and concealed herself in the deuterium pod storage bay utilizing holographic subterfuge. There have been two illicit transports aboard in the past several days; one for the intruder, and the other for, presumably, the fusion generator. It is likely the intruder is alone aboard ship. Further speculation is unsubstantiated.”
Lieutenant Commander Bessek took Vexa's arm. “How do you know all this?”
“Chief Grifahni had access to the tactical station for approximately forty seconds during the slipstream trial.”
The Ktarian Lieutenant Commander scowled. “I don't believe it. It's impossible. I scoured every security system and report myself!”
Vexa turned to Captain Tuvok. “I didn't believe him either. Yet here we are.”
She didn't anticipate being alone. She hurried through the flashing corridors of a power crisis. On her way to the transporter room, Sublieutenant Vexa turned a corner and stopped short. Several crew stood frozen in the corridor. A male Haliian Ensign stared catatonic, his face a frieze of wonder. She reached up and touched his face. He was warm, alive – and utterly unresponsive. She hurried on.
“Vexa to Chief Grifahni. Grif!” She entered the transporter room and activated the station. Site-to-site transport was engaging and disengaging like a heart constantly moving blood. Vexa felt the thrum of transports like a current in her own heart, despite her intellectual focus. She had been trying to reach Grif since she left the secondary bridge. “Grif!” She activated the visual pickup and scanned the deuterium pod bay. She saw Grif on the floor. He was moving.
“Grif! Chief Grifahni Jace! On your feet, soldier!”
“Unnh. What. Hap-pened.”
“I am currently unable to come to you. You must come to me. I'm in transporter room two, two decks below you. Are you able to move?”
“I don't know what happened, but – yeah, I think so.”
“Time is of the essence, Chief. The Captain and First Officer are on their way back to secure the bridge from the intruder. I am currently attempting to regain control of transporters. Curious. The synchronization with Voyager's transporters is active. Crew are being transferred from Perseus to Voyager. I believe she wants this ship for herself.”
“Well she can't have it.”
“That is not all.” She enhanced her scans of the area around the ships. “Voyager is shrouded in subspace fluctuation and unknown energy particle activity. I cannot get a clear reading.”
“What is wrong with the crew??” he asked.
“Unknown. The crew is being incrementally beamed off ship.” The site-to-site transport cycled up. “ You must hurry. I do not know how long we have before we are incapacitated and beamed away.”
The transporter room door whooshed open. “Are you you?”
Vexa turned. “What a puzzling question. Were your mental faculties damaged?” she asked, in genuine concern.
“You're you, alright.” Chief Grifahni stood beside Vexa and checked her scans. She resisted the urge to touch him. She interrupted herself: “I have bypassed sensor lockouts utilizing transporter molecular imaging. Systems are malfunctioning and locking down out all over the ship. Crew are being transported to Voyager.”
“Perhaps you will recognize this.” She enlarged the molecular scan she had been analyzing.
“Is that - ?” He looked at her.
Her eyes indicated agreement. “Trellium fusion.”
“Where is it?” Grif adjusted the settings on his phaser rifle.
“Uncertain. It is concealed within a dispersal of some kind of TPS interference, which I have never seen before. However I have localized the source somewhere forward between decks six and eight.”
“Can you access a visual link to the bridge?”
“Negative. Those systems failed in the initial attack.” Vexa tapped a few keys. “However I can now display a graphical representation of the molecular imaging scan of bridge surface area.” She activated the system.
The image of the bridge appeared, somewhat mediated in brighter colors; or was that the iridescence of the intruder? For now she could not be certain.
Grif poked the image. “She's operating systems without even moving! What is that, some kind of telekinesis?”
“I saw myself turn to ice. I felt
it. I was as good as dead.”
She paused, to regard the Bajoran security chief. “It was...requiting to see you alive.”
He looked at her and chuckled. “I don't know what that means.”
Suddenly the workstation shut down. Vexa slapped the interface. The transporter hummed with more site-to-site transports. There would be little point in disabling it; the system had dozens all over the ship. She headed for the corridor. “Not this time.”
Grif called to her from the door. “Well what can we do? She's overriding systems all over the ship!”
“Not the ones she doesn't know about yet.”
On their way through the flickering corridors they passed more crew in various states of unconsciousness – standing motionless, laying where they fell, down on their stations, their faces frozen like half-buried statues from Vulcan's archaeological record – trapped instants of emotions, seemingly random, from surprise to curiosity, confusion to wild-eyed terror. Careful not to disturb them, Vexa and Grif navigated the decks alert for the ever-present trace of the transporter hum. Vexa dispassionately cataloged their emotions while her own heart pounded out its heightened rhythm, her senses alerting her in the extreme to every insignificant sound and movement.
Suddenly, with that sound that made her heart jump, the crew around them started disappearing in transporter fields.
“Run!” Grif called. She did not need to be told. While she was certain she could control her outward behavioral responses to the emotional impulses welling up inside – she rounded every corner, headlong into specters of her irrational imagination. Racing forward, despite her survival instinct - and desire to scream.