(continued from above)
He immediately saw the cause of Anit’s fright. One of the charred, twisted bodies on the floor of engineering had grabbed hold of the ensign’s ankle. Horrified that someone could have lived through that kind of injury, John dropped his rifle and rushed over to the fallen engineer.
“I’m sorry sir, I just--” Anit stammered, sounding embarrassed but still badly shaken.
“Don’t worry about it,” John cut him off. “Just find a medkit. Now.” Anit rushed off to comply with John’s order as John knelt down beside the injured officer – a Tellarite, he could see, based on the half of the man’s face that wasn’t burned beyond recognition. The rank insignia on his collar indicated he was a petty officer first class; probably a specialist of some kind, John guessed. He looked up at John, his eyes surprisingly focused for someone in his condition. The clarity that comes when you know you’re about to die,
John thought ominously, before shoving the thought aside.
“What’s your name?” he asked, as he visually assessed the man’s numerous injuries.
“Herk,” the man wheezed. “You don’t know what you’re doing,” he added bluntly, in between gasps for air. “Drag me over to that console before your incompetence kills everyone on this ship.”
John was oddly encouraged to see that the man’s uniquely Tellarite charm hadn’t been lessened by his injuries. “We can’t move you,” he replied calmly. “Your injuries are too severe. As soon as we have transporters back online, we’ll get you to sickbay.” He was fairly certain there was no way any of that would actually happen before Herk succumbed to his injuries, but he didn’t want to sound as pessimistic as he felt.
Herk coughed. “You krught
,” he spat derisively. “I’m going to die long before that happens. Don’t you think I know that?” He paused to take a labored breath. “But I’m not dead yet,” he added defiantly. “Now … drag me over to that console and I’ll … try to make sure you don’t make us into flotsam,” he said, his words punctuated with wheezing. He coughed again, and this time, a bit of blood trickled from the side of his mouth and disappeared into his thick, singed beard.
At that moment, Anit returned with the medkit. He looked down at the Tellarite’s broken body and then over at John as if to ask, ‘where do I start?’
Herk turned his head, wincing as he did. “Polyadrenaline,” he said hoarsely. “60 ccs.” Anit looked at Herk in surprise, then looked back to John for confirmation.
John stared down at Herk for a long moment. Pumping the engineer full of polyadrenaline would buy them some time to work with him, but it would also probably result in worsened injuries or eventually, even his death. John didn’t particularly want to have to make that choice. The problem was, the Tellarite was right -- John didn’t really know his way around an engine room. Herk did. He could risk Herk’s death and maybe have a shot at saving everyone, or he could try to stabilize Herk for the long-term and lose the ship in the meantime. Grimly, he nodded at Anit. “Do it,” he said in a terse voice.
Anit fumbled with the medkit until he managed to open it, then pulled out the hypospray and the appropriate cartridge. He pushed aside Herk’s beard and pressed the hypo to the part of the engineer’s neck with the least amount of damage. Herk jerked violently for a moment, then instantly seemed to perk up. He nodded at John, wincing again with the effort. “Let’s go,” he said.
John and Anit each took one side of the Tellarite and tried to be gentle as they lifted him and half-carried, half-dragged his stout body over to the EPS controls. Herk remained stoic through the rough transport – or at least stoic for a Tellarite.
“Ignorant as tube grubs, and just as skilled! Yet you’re in charge here,” he complained bitterly to the two young officers. “If you don’t kill everyone on board it will be a miracle.”
John tried not to take the older non-com’s weakly voiced words to heart, even as his cheeks flushed bright pink behind the faceplate of his helmet. “You’re not helping,” he told Herk a little more harshly than he intended. “Why don’t you save some oxygen for telling me how the hell to get this mess cleaned up, all right?”
Herk only grunted in reply. He groaned as they laid him in front of the open console so he could see the innards of the intricate machinery.
“Do you want painkillers?” John asked him.
Herk grunted again. “No. Clouds the mind. Need to think. Can’t feel much anyway,” he admitted. John nodded. He had no idea if the man was telling the truth or just trying to be a hero, but even if it was the latter … well really, they could use a hero right about now. He didn’t press the issue.
“Light,” ordered Herk. John made sure his headlamp was flooding the small cavern of the EPS control center with light. Herk reached up as if to try and make the repair, only to discover that he really couldn’t move more than a few centimeters. He winced hard and gritted his teeth to keep from crying out.
“I’ll do it,” John said quickly. “Stay still. Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”
The Tellarite tried unsuccessfully to nod, and locked eyes with John. “Do exactly
as I say.”
John held his gaze and nodded. “I will.” He turned to Anit. “While I’m doing this, check the others to see if anyone else survived, then look through that medkit and see if you can find anything else to help treat Herk. I know we don’t have computer access but there should be a first aid manual or something in there.”
“Yes, sir,” Anit replied, and rushed off to check the others.
As Herk haltingly – between wheezing and coughing -- directed John in making complex adjustments to the intricate systems, John was careful to follow his instructions to the letter. He was grateful now that his own first repair attempt had failed, and that he hadn’t had to try and figure it out himself. This was definitely above his skill level. He decided that if he made it through this day, the first thing he would do upon his return to the Tesseract
was ask Maren to get him some additional training in engineering.
After a couple of minutes, Anit returned. “No other survivors,” he reported. John had expected as much – he was amazed even Herk was alive. Not that he thought he would be for much longer. Even as the Tellarite was directing the repairs, he seemed to be fading fast. John had already had to shout at him once to get him to keep his eyes open and focus.
“Understood. Hurry up and find that manual,” John said. Anit dug through the medkit until he found a pocket-sized PADD. He activated the screen. “Got it,” he said, and started scrolling through the contents. With his gloved fingers, manipulating the tiny interface was obviously a chore, and John could hear him whispering a steady stream of Hindi curses under his breath as he searched the database for information that might help them keep Herk alive.
When the repair seemed tantalizingly close to done, Herk’s instructions suddenly stopped coming. “He’s unconscious,” John heard Anit say over the comm. as he was turning turn to look for himself.
“Wake him,” John said without hesitation. “I need him to finish this.”
Anit pulled out a medical tricorder and scanned the Tellarite. “His vitals are destabilizing,” he announced. “I don’t think we can just wake him up.”
“Give him another dose of polyadrenaline then,” John snapped. “I need him awake, now
, or we’re all going to die.” The tricorder started to beep – that ominous sound that Anit and John both knew was a sure sign of an impending death. “Do it now,
Anit. That’s an order.”
Anit quickly complied, and Herk once again jerked wildly as his eyes flew open. He gasped for air. The sight was disturbing, and Anit cringed. John didn’t feel any better about the situation, but they were running out of time. Radiation levels were rising by the minute, and the EV-suits could only withstand so much. If they were going to get power restored, it was now or never.
“Stay with me, Herk, okay?” John pleaded, looking into the dying man’s eyes. “Everyone’s depending on you to tell me how to fix this.”
Herk blinked, disoriented, then seemed to remember where he was and what he had been doing. He slowly turned toward the EPS control hub again, smiled slightly, and then closed his eyes. “You’re done,” he grunted, sounding deeply satisfied. “Insert the power cell and start her up.”
John took a deep breath and held it as he followed the non-com’s order. All at once, various consoles and other equipment started flickering to life. Across the room, something exploded in a shower of sparks, and instantly, John could see where the radiation leak was coming from – a ruptured conduit on the other side of engineering. The computer’s voice – an otherwise welcome sound – came back to life, issuing warning after warning about the dire state of the systems on the ship.
“Warning – hull breach. Warning – structural integrity is failing. Warning – plasma radiation is at critical levels. Warning – environmental – ”
“Computer, cancel audio warnings!” John shouted irritably, as he stood up to get a better view of the situation. “Activate a level ten containment field around …” he checked the schematic of main engineering on the console in front of him -- “engineering section B-9.” John breathed a sigh of as the computer contained the leaking radiation behind a force field. He quickly turned his attention back to the console to try and figure out how to get the other critical systems working again without losing power to the containment field. He noticed that the computer was already automatically allocating power to certain systems. Without him having to touch a thing, hull breaches on two decks were sealed off and the structural integrity field was reinitialized. Thank God for good programming,
he thought with another relieved sigh. Next, environmental control.
He waited for a hopeful second to see if the computer would manage that, too, but when it didn’t, he went straight to work. It was like a giant puzzle, trying to figure out where the different systems tied into each other and what could be activated or rerouted without disturbing something else, and it required his complete focus. Unfortunately, the shrill beep of the medical tricorder again interrupted his concentration, and he turned to look at Anit, bent over Herk.
“He’s dying,” Anit said tersely. He took a set of cortical stimulators out of the medkit. “I’ve never actually used these outside a holo-simulation,” he admitted nervously.
“It’s no different than the sims,” John told him, trying to sound reassuring. “Just do exactly what it says in the manual.” He forced himself to turn back to the console. He wanted to help Herk, too, but there were God-knew-how-many civilians left on the Sol
who needed fresh air more than Anit needed an extra set of hands.
Why isn’t this working?
he thought to himself in frustration as he tried unsuccessfully again and again to reroute enough power to environmental control to get the air scrubbers working again on all decks. He finally realized there just wasn’t enough power being routed around the ship to run life support to every level, and decided to compromise. The only place on board big enough to hold everyone was the cargo bay. That worked out well, John decided, because if they decided to abandon ship, the escape pods were right there, in the adjacent shuttle bay. He rerouted all life support to the cargo bay and then routed all remaining power to the lights, doors, and ship comm. system. As soon as he was done, he tapped the combadge he had affixed to the outside of his suit. “Quigley to Par.”
The young Bajoran sounded relieved almost beyond words. “Good to hear your voice, sir. We’ve got limited emergency power up here now.”
“I know,” John replied, forcing himself to ignore the sounds of Anit trying to revive Herk behind him. “Listen to me. Make a shipwide announcement. Get everyone to the cargo bay. You’re acting XO. Try to keep everyone calm. See if you can get a team together to sweep the upper decks for injured survivors. Do we have sensors?”
There was a pause, then Renn’s voice came back. “Very limited, sir. I can tell you we’ve got survivors on all decks, but I can’t tell you much more than that. Radiation’s getting in the way.”
“Acknowledged,” John replied. “See if you can raise sickbay and get Dr. Duggal to bring anti-radiation treatments down to the cargo bay. I’ll be there as soon as I can. Stay in touch.”
“Yes, sir,” Renn answered.
“Quigley out,” John said. He turned to check on Anit’s progress. The ensign was staring down at Herk’s limp body, looking a bit shocked.
“Ensign?” John asked.
Anit looked up at John and shook his head sadly. “He’s gone.”
John blew out a breath he didn’t realize he had been holding. “Shit.” The news stung him badly. It wasn’t a surprise. It really wasn’t. But Herk was the first person John had ever lost under his direct command, and it suddenly hurt to breathe.
“I tried three times,” Anit explained. “He was just … gone.” His voice was a little shaky.
“You did the best you could,” John said automatically. He wasn’t sure he believed it himself, but he knew he had to do his part to reassure Anit.
“No, no, we didn’t,” Anit replied, voice rising slightly. “If we hadn’t done that second poly-”
John cut him off. “Stop it, Anit. We don’t have time for this. There’s no use second-”
“But we killed him!” Anit interrupted angrily. “We killed this man to save our own asses!”
John took a deep breath and blew it out. “Yeah. Yeah, maybe we did,” he conceded angrily. “No ,” he corrected himself suddenly, “that’s exactly
what we did. Welcome to Command. We did what we had to do. If we hadn’t done that, we’d still be at square one. Thanks to Herk, we now have enough power routed through this ship to have a shot at saving well over a hundred people. But if we don’t suck it up and move on right now, it’ll never happen. The cargo bay has life support. Everyone else is still sucking smoke and chemicals.” He pointed to the lifeless Tellarite lying on the debris-covered floor of engineering. “That man didn’t die so you could sit here worrying about whether it was ethical to use him. He died so all those other people would live.”
Anit stared down at Herk for another moment before shooting John a withering glare. He looked utterly unconvinced.
“Pack up the medkit and bring it along,” John ordered him, ignoring the ensign’s dirty look. “Let’s go.”
Anit nodded quietly and followed John’s order. Together, the two men took one last long look at the destruction in the engine room before heading for the cargo bay.