I appreciate both of your comments. Instead of waiting to build up the eventual confrontation between Tai and Helen, I decided to just go for it early on. And I wanted to put all of Helen's fears out there so that she doesn't come across-hopefully-as a bad person. And I wanted her fears to also mirror some of Tai's own doubts. As Gibraltar said, some of the other crew are probably thinking some of the same things and I wanted that doubt to be out there to weigh on Tai's mind as the story goes forward. And as CeJay said, the Erickson crew and Tai definitely need to continue getting to know each other and perhaps that will allay the mutual concerns...or add to them. Read on to find out.
By birth and occupation, Lt. Ramlo was not one to be swayed by emotion or superstition. However they deeper they traversed into the dead ship, his trepidation multiplied. He was glad that Shashlik was with him. She walked quietly at his side, her compression rifle at the ready.
But even with her there, he couldn’t quite shake the feeling of dread resting on his shoulders, and wiggling into his thoughts. Each body they passed, as burned out a husk as had been the corpse they had found on the bridge, only confirmed his suspicions that something wicked had befallen the crew.
Something so terrible that they had preferred self-immolation. “I still can’t believe it,” Shashlik’s voice squeaked through his helmet’s receiver. “That an entire ship would commit mass suicide,” her helmet shook. Ramlo was surprised, pleasantly so, that his concerns were so transparent. Even though they were no longer together, the simpatico between them remained, an ember of a fire that could perhaps be rekindled in time.
“I stand by my hypothesis,” Ramlo said. “The proof is growing incontrovertible,” he declared. “My readings indicate that most of the corpses were incinerated, from the inside out.”
Shashlik stopped and faced him, a ghastly expression on her face. “But why? How could they do that to themselves?”
“As opposed to being shot or stabbed,” the Arkenite didn’t mean for his reply to sound so flip. Along the way Shashlik had first discovered a few dead bodies that had been sliced open with blades or punctured with projectile weapons. Their tricorders even picked up faint disintegrator static, so the unfortunates had been set upon by assailants with a variety of weapons, none that could be traced to a definitive source. Among the few disintegrator markers the devices had noted were Type 3, usually used by Klingons, Breen, or Romulans, Eminian sonic disruptors, or banned Varon-Ts’, so the culprits could have been anyone.
“I would have preferred facing a warrior’s death, on my feet than taking my own life,” Shashlik stated, a note of disgust clouding her concern about the fate of these travelers. “It would have been far preferable.”
“From your cultural perspective,” Ramlo couldn’t help but point out. Despite all of her admirable qualities, her physical strength and strength of purpose, her compassion for her fellow crew aboard Erickson, and her sharp military mind, Ramlo often found her cultural bias disappointing. Shash often felt that everyone should think or feel like she, or the Kaylar did, and the universe was just simply too big for that. It was an ongoing debate between them.
“So you agree with this mass suicide?” Exasperation was heavy in her voice.
“I didn’t say I agreed, or disagreed, but perhaps these people took what they felt was the best option, as opposed to being butchered,” Ramlo answered. “Perhaps it was the most logical course of action.”
Shashlik snorted, “Now you sound like a Vulcan.”
“Well you do know I spent several years at their Science Academy,” he pointed out. The Kaylar leaned in close enough so that he could see her roll her eyes.
“I know, I know, you love to tout that don’t you?”
“No, I was just saying,” Ramlo replied, feeling a little defensive.
“Yes, you went to the intergalactically prestigious Science Academy,” Shash shrugged her broad shoulders, “well why you were learning how logical it was to kill yourself, I was surviving real life and death trials to earn my place among my clan.”
“As I have heard before too,” Ramlo allowed a wearied tone into his voice. “Are you going to regale me with another tale of how carried an egg unbroken in your mouth while you battled mountain devils and winged raptor-wolves while making your way unaided through the Ingarr Mountains?”
“Well, it was an amazing feat,” now Shash felt a little sheepish. “And I did it without food or water, wearing only a loincloth.”
“Thank you for that visual at least,” the Arkenite smoothly injected. It took the warrior a moment to catch on. Then she cuffed him hard on the back, almost knocking him over.
“Still the same old slime snake you are,” the security officer continued laughing. “After all this time, you still amuse me.”
“A good thing, I guess,” Ramlo ventured.
“Why yes Ram,” Shashlik peered down at him again, “because I don’t think you want to be on the opposite side of my laughter.”
“No, I’ve seen the results of that,” Ramlo replied, “I’m happy where I’m at.”
Ensign Roland Fryer frowned as he scanned the data rolling across his screen, sent from the Oyekan. “How did you pick up this warp trail?”
“More like a reconstruction,” Ensign Karen Kittles replied, a satisfied smile on her face. “While waiting on Lieutenants Ramlo and Shashlik to return or make their next report, I isolated all energy signatures that were not naturally occurring in the expanse. It’s been the proverbial needle in the haystack, but I think we’ve got the escape routes leading into the expanse for the monsters that attacked the ship.”
“No, you’ve got it,” Fryer said, his furrowed brow smoothing out again. He smiled, “Good job Karen.” The fair, freckled woman smiled, and Fryer’s heart skipped a beat. He tried to recover by getting back to business, “We need to inform the lieutenants about this.”
Kittles’ smile dimmed. “I’m not so sure we should do that,” she answered, prompting both Roland’s eyebrows to shoot up in confusion.
“Well, this is all just speculation, and I don’t want to take them away from their investigation.”
“But this is something that majorly impacts that investigation,” Fryer pointed out, not sure why he would need to, with Karen of all people.
“Maybe,” she replied, “however this could just be totally unrelated traffic.”
“Yeah,” Fryer riposted, “you don’t believe that either.”
“You’re right Roland, I don’t,” she admitted, “However, you know what they say about me on the ship, how I’m a kiss ass and a ladder climber, well, I don’t want to play into that by jumping the gun.”
“Or is it that you don’t want to make a mistake that might derail your career choices?” As much as Fryer liked the beautiful, red cornrowed woman, he was never one to hide from the truth. Karen glared at him, a pinched expression marring her beautiful features.
“That’s not it at all,” she shot back.
“Okay,” he shrugged, unconvinced, “Then I think we should inform the lieutenants.”
“No,” she shook her head, “Let me look into this.”
“You know the captain told us not to go into the expanse.” He pointed out. “And what do you think defying her orders are going to do for your ambitions, whether you find something or not?”
Karen shrugged, “If I find nothing, no harm, no foul, and it will just be between us, but if I do verify the warp trails, I could see me getting a commendation for original thinking.”
“You’re delusional, you know that right?” Fryer pointed out, hoping to splash the cold water of reality onto his colleague.
“Look Roland, it’ll be a quick in and out, I promise.”
He shook his head. “Hey I’ve heard that before.”
“You’ve probably used that line before on one of your many suitors,” she smiled at him, a lascivious gleam in her green eyes. The temperature suddenly increased in the shuttle’s cabin. Fryer resisted the urge to tug at his mustard collar.
“I wouldn’t say that,” he managed, after a big gulp.
“Roland, I would,” she remarked, “and others say the same thing.”
“I’m not, no joke,” she said, “I’ve heard that you’ve sent a few hearts fluttering around the ship. It’s made me curious to see what all the fuss is about.”
Roland tugged on his collar, unable to resist any longer. “You know this isn’t working Karen.”
“Yes it is,” she replied, punctuating it with a musical laugh. “I promise it will be quick, and once I have confirmed that they are actual warp trails, I’ll be back, and once we’re back on Erickson…”
“I should back you up,” Fryer said, pulling his last card. “What if the Tholians are involved? You can’t handle them on your own.”
“I don’t think even two shuttles could deal with a Tholian warship,” Kittles said, “and I definitely have no problem with discretion being the better part of valor. If anything, if there are Tholians hiding out in the expanse I can warn you, the lieutenants, and Erickson in case they have an ambush in mind.”
“Not buying it,” Fryer insisted, “I’ll go with you.”
“And risk incurring Shashlik’s wrath?” Kittles asked. “I don’t think so.”
“Good point,” Roland replied. He sighed, “I know I’m going to regret this but do it quick, and Karen, please be safe.”
“Back in a flash,” she promised before signing off. Out of his port window he watched the Oyekan break away from the shuttle and zip into the expanse’s coruscating gases.
Whatever happened going forward, Roland just knew that his own life had just had a major turning point, and he just hoped that Karen got back before the oppressive finality of that thought fully seeped into his consciousness.