Well, I didn't get the entire thing done because the power was out most of the day, but it's back on now. So without further delay, here is the first section of chapter 7.
CHAPTER SEVEN (Act I)
The problem with phasers was that pressing the trigger was far too easy. Even a type-II hand phaser was capable of producing enough energy to vaporize just about anything it touched, and that energy could be unleashed, full force, with the mere touch of a button. As the single beam shot out from the phaser’s aperture and headed for its target, everyone present seemed to draw in their breath and hold it. Standing at such close range, the resulting impact was seemingly instantaneous.
John was very actively trying not
to think too much about the ultimate destructive potential of the weapon he was firing. He guided the small device with steady hands, slowly cutting through the twisted metal bulkheads currently blocking his path to the last three people T’Pring’s sensors told him were still alive and unaccounted for on the USS Sol
It was dark, but for his teams’ headlamps, the focused light emitted by his weapon, and the hot glow of the metal as it burned away under the phaser’s beam. He’d had Par Renn cut power to this section while he cut through the mangled alloy, but with all the damaged conduits and leaking plasma running through the ship, he didn’t know for sure he wasn’t about to blow them all to hell. It was a dangerous gamble – maybe too dangerous, like T’Pring had said – but there was no way he was going to leave three people for dead if sensors said they were still alive. So he offered up a small prayer that if something was going to go right today, this would be it.
To his relief, and the relief of his team, it worked. After several minutes spent slicing through the damaged wall and door, they had a hole big enough to fit a person though – even wearing EV suits like they were … and nothing had exploded. He sighed and exchanged a satisfied glance with Osar, the Bolian medic standing nearest to him.
“We’re in,” he told T’Pring over comm.. “Where are they?”
“Just ahead of you,” came the almost icy reply from T’Pring. She wasn’t at all happy about this little stunt, but after too much time wasted debating her over it, he had finally told her in so many words to “fuck off.” He had no idea what the consequence would be for that, and he frankly didn’t care. He was the one currently responsible for those three people back there, and he would be damned if he was going to let Vulcan logic and caution force him to “play it safe” when their lives were on the line. So he had ordered Renn to cut power to this area and divert some of the Sol
’s limited power to create a temporary force field between them and the rest of the ship. That way, even if he managed to get his team killed, at least everyone else would be safe.
Only he hadn’t
gotten them killed. Even though he knew it came down to either luck or divine intervention, a part of him still felt a tiny bit triumphant over T’Pring and her cold, analytical logic. She was reminding him of Icheb at his very worst, and it was beginning to drive him nuts. Actually, that was unfair. Not even Icheb would have argued against this rescue effort, no matter the risk involved – of that much, John was certain.
Slowly, he and his team made their way through the hazy, empty corridor behind the damaged bulkhead they had just cut through. There was no light, very little air, and the technician who kept giving verbal updates on what he was seeing on the tricorder he was carrying said the radiation levels were extreme. So basically, it’s just like everywhere else on this godforsaken fucking ship
, John thought wryly.
“Stop,” T’Pring said suddenly through the speakers in his helmet. “You’re there.” John stopped short and looked around frantically to see what she was talking about. He didn’t see or hear anything. The darkness seemed still, and their headlamps were doing a poor job of illuminating the smoke-filled space.
Then someone coughed.
Five heads turned toward the sound, and John’s stomach tightened as he saw the source of it. A human boy of no more than five or six sat slumped against the side of the corridor, barely conscious.
“Goddammit,” he breathed. “There’s a little kid in here.”
He walked up to the child and knelt down beside him, then shook him gently. “Are you okay?” he asked.
The tow-headed little boy, who looked familiar in a way John couldn’t quite place, fluttered his eyes and opened them. “Daddy?”
John’s stomach did another flip. “No, no. My name is John. I’m here to help you. What’s your name?”
“Bennett,” the little boy said, then started to cough again. John could see that there were already radiation burns forming on his pale skin. He nodded to the medic, who quickly knelt down and began scanning the boy with a medical tricorder. The grim look on the Bolian’s face told John everything he needed to know.
“Bennett, we’re going to get you out of here,” he promised. “But I need you to tell me where your family is. Who were you with? Where are they now?”
Bennett pointed at a nearby door. “In there,” he said, with some effort. “Mommy. Lucy. They’re stuck
.” At this, he looked like he might start to cry, and John bit down on his tongue to suppress the impulse to swear in front of the boy. Stuck.
That could mean a lot of things. None of them were good.
“Okay, Bennett,” he said. “This man’s name is Osar. He’s going to take you to the cargo bay and give you some medicine to make you feel better. And I’m going to go get your mommy and Lucy un
-stuck. Okay?” The little boy looked up at him with scared but hopeful eyes, and suddenly, John was sure he knew whose child this was. He was the spitting image of Adrian Keller, the Alpha shift flight controller. He knew Adrian had a wife and two kids. Bennett, Mommy and Lucy.
He had to once again resist the impulse to swear.
As the medic lifted the tiny boy and quickly carried him back toward life support and relative safety, John and the others forced the door behind him open. This time, John couldn’t stop himself from swearing aloud. Is anyone alive in here?
he couldn’t help but wonder, as he surveyed the scene in front of him.
The ceiling in this chamber had mostly collapsed, filling the room with twisted debris. He didn’t see a single thing that looked human. He turned up the volume on his external suit speakers as loud as it would go. “Mrs. Keller? Lucy?”
No reply was forthcoming, so he looked to the technician with the tricorder. “Got anything, Jacobs?”
“I can’t get a clear reading on anything,” the crewman muttered, fussing with the display in frustration. “Too much goddamn radiation in here.”
“T’Pring,” John said, “Can you get us any closer?”
“Negative,” she replied over the comm.. “On our sensors you appear to be right on top of them. There may be interference. Continue your search.”
“Acknowledged,” John replied. “Mrs. Keller?!” he shouted, and as he did, his pitch rose slightly, gaining a slightly desperate quality that made him wince when he heard it coming back in through the speakers in his helmet. He took a deep breath. Hold it together, Quigley
, he told himself. You fall apart now, it’s over.
After a moment, he heard a small sound, something between a moan and a whimper, coming from under the debris. He turned to illuminate the space. “Mrs. Keller? Lucy?”
“Here,” came the hoarsely whispered reply. “We’re here. Please help my daughter.”