Herroton City. Herroton. Governor's office.
29th November, 2151.
"Calm yourselves, please, calm yourselves!" Governor Trex slapped his hand against his desk, the noise drawing attention to him. "I would hear what Doctor Phlox has to say!"
As the hubbub died down, Phlox cleared his throat. "Thank you Governor. As I was saying, the residue found in the Main Chamber is Denobulan blood. It looks---" He broke off as those gathered started yammering excitedly again, waiting until Trex once more silenced them. "It looks most likely that the blood is that of the missing guard, Velen, though we can not establish that with one hundred percent certainty."
"Why not? Archer asked, leaning forward in his chair.
It was Locke who answered. "The sample was contaminated. Probably something leaked from the barrels used to hide the blood stain."
Archer nodded and sat back. He glanced around the room. Apart from himself, Locke and Reed, the only humans present were Smith and Soong. The rest were Denobulans, all those who'd visited the Enterprise for the tour, plus Phlane, and a couple of others he'd not been introduced to. The news of the grisly discovery had clearly upset and disturbed many of those present.
Councillor Vrok stood. "Commissioner Tovan," she said, "I'm sure we all would appreciate it greatly if you could assure us that all precautions are being taken?"
"Precautions? Well, my people are all on standby, we have all the usual patrols going on..."
"But surely," she broke in, remorselessly, "There must be more to it than that? With a murderer on the loose---"
"Murderer?" said Smith, incredulous. "Surely you can't be accusing Doctor Halliwell of murder?"
"That is what the evidence points to." said Vrok.
"No, it isn't." Archer said simply. He reached down, picked Porthos from the floor and sat him in his lap. Vrok was clearly annoyed by his statement, so he spent a few moments stroking his dog, letting her get impatient as well. "Is there a body? No. Do we have witnesses to a murder? No. Is there a known motive for Halliwell to kill Velen? No.
"Now, what we do have is a variety of unusual, even suspicious, circumstances. We have a blood stain. We have the fact that it was hidden, deliberately hidden. And we still have two missing men. Something has happened, but we don't know what. It may be murder, but that is not the only possible explanation and it would be rash and foolish at this stage to assume that is the case.
"Given the fact that we do not know what is going on, it would be wise indeed to take, as you put it, precautions. I realize I'm a guest here, with no actual authority, but might I suggest, Dr Smith, that all work within the site is suspended, at least for the time being?"
Smith did not look happy, but after moment he nodded. "Probably a good idea."
"And that will free up the security staff there to reinforce the ones here in the city." Archer added. "Would that reassure you, Councillor?"
Vrok nodded. "I wasn't asking for myself, of course. My concern is for the good citizens of Herroton." she said, sounding as if she meant it, and sat.
"Good idea, Captain." Tovan said. "But wouldn't that leave the search party undermanned?"
"Or would you just prefer to get us amateurs out of your way?" Phlane asked, acidly.
Trex cleared his throat. "I'm certain the Captain had no such intentions in mind."
She waved a dismissive hand. "Yes, yes, don't mind me. I'm just grumbling."
Trex stood and walked out in front of his desk. "Well, those are the developments so far. If anything else comes up my office will keep you informed. Thank you for attending on such short notice, I know you all have busy schedules, so I shan't detain you any longer. Now if you'll excuse me I have some matters to discuss with our guests. Tovan, Phlane, could you remain please? You too Phlox."
The rest of the Denobulans left. For a moment it looked like Vrok would argue, then she thought better of it. As the door closed behind her Archer's communicator whistled.
"Excuse me." he said to his hosts, moving to a corner so as not to intrude on them. "Archer here."
"Captain, Hernandez here. Partridge wants to run some observations on the rest of this star system. Says it might be vital, but, typically, refuses to go into any details as to why
Archer frowned. "The rest of the system? What 's gotten into her head this time?"
"No idea sir, but she seems quite worried. Already spent an hour monitoring the sun. Any way, she can't make all the observations from our current position, we'd have to move out of orbit for a few hours. Oh, and she wants to send a probe or a shuttle to the moon. Pick up rock samples or something.
"Just hold on a second Maria, I'll check with the Governor."
Trex thought it over then called down to the Command Centre, informing them that Enterprise had permission to leave orbit temporarily, and launch an expedition to the moon.
"OK, Maria, you should be getting the appropriate permissions shortly." Archer said.
"Ah, yes sir. It's coming through now. We'll let you know when we break orbit
"Understood. And let me know if you get a straight answer from the professor. Archer out." He turned the communicator off. "Thank you Governor. I have no idea what the Prof...oh! What the devil's that?"
Trex turned. "Ah! Captain, allow me to introduce you to a friend of mine. This is Redmane." He opened the window. "He's a mahwee, one of the native species of this planet."
"Clearly anthropoid." Locke mused. "Certainly mammalian. Definitely primate. Strong resemblances to both the gorilla and the orang-utan. A little closer to the latter than the former....are you sure this is safe Governor? It clearly possesses tremendous physical strength."
Reed spoke softly. "Nobody be alarmed, but I'm drawing my side arm."
"That's not needed, Major." said Trex. "There's never been any history of dangerous activity. And Redmane here is a regular visitor."
"Very good sir." Reed said, in apparent agreement with Trex, though Archer noted he kept his gun drawn, held down by his side unobtrusively.
The mahwee seemed curious about the newcomers, though a little wary. Then his gaze caught Porthos, and a look of clear fascination spread across his hirsute features. He crouched down for a better look. Nervous, Porthos drew back slightly and whined. Redmane also moved back, and if Archer was any judge his expression showed disappointment at the dog's reaction.
"They're a fascinating species, Captain." Soong said, keeping his voice low. "There's never been a full study of them, but even anecdotal reports show a high level of animal intelligence. Even perhaps reasoning ability, of a limited kind."
Trex nodded. "You should see the structures they build. Out in the forests they build nests from wood and other plant life. But those who live in the city use anything they can find, all the stuff we no longer need. Packing crates, pallets..."
"Anything they can get their hands on." Phlane put in. "Construction on the new hospital wing was delayed for days after all the doors went missing. They'd been left on site over night, and by the morning were spread all over the city. Took us ages to track them down."
Redmane hadn't moved from his spot, but was now leaning forward, holding his hand out, making slight "oooh-oooh" noises. Cautiously Porthos approached, until he could sniff the mahwee's fingers. Then he gave an experimental lick. Redmane smiled, a very human looking gesture. Slowly, so as not to startle either animal, Archer crouched and stroked his dog. After a moment he took his hand away, and was delighted to see Redmane imitate his actions. Despite his musculature he was very gentle, and Porthos' tail was a blur.
Archer stayed close as the two animals played, just in case the mahwee got rough. From the corner of his eye he could see Reed move to a spot from where he could get a clear shot if needed, and felt slightly ashamed to be reassured by that.
There was a buzz from the intercom. Reluctantly Redmane put Porthos down and clambered out of the window.
"He always leaves when the intercom sounds. Perhaps he realizes it means I'm busy and can't spend more time for him." Trex said. He picked up a fruit from his desk, called to Redmane, then threw it to him. The mahwee caught it gracefully then skittered away across the rooftops. Trex turned back to the intercom. "Yes?"
"Commander Tucker and Lieutenant Sato have arrived sir."
"Ah, good, show them in."
The two officers entered, both carrying cases. "Cap'n, Governor...everybody. How you all?" Tucker said.
"So, Trip, what have you been working on?" Archer asked.
"I'll show you in a minute." He removed a laptop from his case. "Hey, Governor, can I use this big ole' display screen o' yours?"
"Certainly. Go right ahead." Trex said.
Tucker tapped at his keyboard. "Ah. Can't make a connection. Shoulda' realized, the two systems aren't compatible. Well I guess you'll all have to crowd round my screen..."
Smith started rooting through his own case. "One moment Commander...as humans on a Denobulan world, we've occasionally faced this problem. I should have...ah, here. This will have the necessary protocols." He handed over a small object, a dongle, that clipped into the appropriate port on Tucker's machine.
"Thanks, Doc. Looks like this'll take a minute to install...Hoshi, why don't you tell 'em all what you been doin'?"
"I've been going over the records, communication logs and the like." Sato said. "Trying to figure out exactly what causes the communication problems."
"We've been assuming the mineral content in the walls was interfering with the signal." Smith said.
"And you're probably right." Sato nodded. "Now these distress beacons of yours, they work on a narrow band, one which seems to be degraded by a relatively minimal amount. All the same, there's no way to modulate it enough to carry a message. It's either on or off. So we make that
"I don't see---" Phlane began.
Archer did see. "Morse code. You turn it on and off in specific pattens, carry the message that way."
Sato looked slightly nonplussed, she'd been hoping to make that revelation herself. "Right. The beacons aren't designed to be rapidly turned on and off, they'll need to be modified. Give me some time and I can fit them with keypads. Just type your text message in, it'll automatically translate for you then transmit. Not as good as full voice communication of course..."
"But a lot better than we've got at the moment." Soong said. "Lieutenant, you're a genius!"
She looked away, jaw clenched.
"Got it!" Tucker exclaimed. The wall mounted screen hummed into life. A mesh like collection of lines appeared. They were short, mere hyphens, but collected into long strands.
Tovan furrowed his brow. "So what is this then? Hmm?"
"It could be a map of the tunnels." Phlane suggested. "Wait. No, that can't be it. This is all straight lines and right angles, not like the network down there."
"Actually, you were right first time. It's a very simplified representation, not o' the tunnels themselves, but of the lightin' rig down there."
Tovan stood, went to the drinks cabinet and poured himself a large tumbler. "The lighting rig. Does that help?"
Archer rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully. "It might do. Trip, is this just a representation of the location of all the lights?"
"Then would it be a record of power usage?"
Tucker leant back and grinned. "You just won the coconut cap'n. That's precisely what it is"
"Is that important?" Reed asked.
"And what's a coconut?" asked Tovan.
Tucker smirked. "Because power's so limited down there, each o' the lightin' rigs only comes on if there's someone nearby. So we can use these records o' power expenditure, to see which lights came on..."
"And that tells us where people were." Reed realized.
"For instance. This is this mornin', 'bought the time we were down there." On the screen one section glowed brightly. "That there's the main chamber. It's always on. But up there, those four segments? Doctor Smith, were you an your team in or around section two, chamber E, at that time?"
"Yes, we were."
"What's that?" Trex asked, pointing. A segment had flared into life near the bottom of the screen.
"Movement?" Archer asked. "Was there anyone else down there?"
Phlane shook her head. "According to the guards, only Doctor Smith and his team were in the tunnels at that time. No one else had entered."
"Not through the main entrance." Sato said. "Didn't you say only a fraction of the tunnels were explored, and fitted with lighting? Maybe it's someone at the edge of the grid, just entering the sensor zone."
Smith said "No. that section, it's well within the explored area. A room with only one entrance. There's no way anyone can get in without setting off the lights in the connecting tunnels. And look, it's deactivated now."
"There's another one." Tovan said, waving his tumbler at the screen.
"Could be a fault." Tucker suggested. "no offence folks, but from what I saw it didn't 'zactly look the most reliable system."
"Possible." Phlane said. "It'd explain why the power expenditure was a bit higher than usual recently. If things are going wrong and turning lights on where they're not needed, things'll get expensive."
"OK, so we can keep track of movements in the tunnels." Archer said. "Trip, you got the data for the day they disappeared?"
"Of course, cap'n" He tapped at his laptop. "OK. This'll be just a couple o' minutes after Halliwell arrived on site. We know that 'cos we got the footage from the elevator, and that's time logged."
For a long moment nothing happened. Then a trail began to snake across the screen,
"And here we go." Sato said softly.
They watched it move jerkily forward. A line would form, two, three, maybe four segments long. Then the rearmost one would fade away. "The lights turn themselves off after about twenty seconds, if there's no movement." Phlane explained. "They're not arranged at precise intervals, which I'm guessing explains the uneven progress of the display. In the real world Halliwell was probably setting a steady pace."
"How long would it take to reach his destination?" Archer asked.
"About ten minutes, for Carl." Smith replied. "He keeps in shape."
"Hmm." Archer mused, noting that Smith said 'keeps' rather than 'kept'. "Trip, can we speed this up a bit? We'll watch it real time later, but for now, let's cut to the chase."
"Sure thing, cap'n."
Now the blip began to race towards the chamber. Suddenly another segment flared into life, right in Halliwell's path. Yet it had faded from view before he reached it, and he continued on his way without incident, passing through a complex interconnected junction. Within moments he had arrived at section four, chamber D.
And then another segment triggered. Or rather, the same segment that had done so before.
"Must be a faulty light." Tucker said, uncomfortably.
And that's when a second segment activated. Right next to the first. And a third. And a fourth. The first faded, but yet another showed now. A line, a trail, identical to the one left by Halliwell...leading away from the chamber he was in.
Reed leapt to his feet. "There's someone else down there!"
"Impossible!" Smith insisted. "That's a section of tunnel! I've been through it dozens of times. There's no way in or out except at either end." He pointed a wavering finger at the screen. "Certainly not halfway along!"
Then another trace appeared, in the same spot. "What the hell?" Tucker exclaimed.
This trace turned in the opposite direction, towards Halliwell. It's progress stalled when it arrived at the junction, waiting so long the trail of lights faded leaving only one constant blip. It moved off.
"It's going the wrong way!" Sato realized.
Soong pointed. "Look at that one! It's heading for the main chamber." As he spoke it disappeared into the permanently illuminated section
Smith was shaking his head frantically. "A glitch in the system." he muttered. "That's all it is, a glitch in the system."
"Yeah, well, your glitch in the system seems to be hunting Dr Halliwell." Reed said darkly. "And I think it's found him." The second trace, having initially missed the correct chamber, was now approaching it from a different angle.
Archer found himself leaning forward in his chair, breathing heavily. He forced himself to remember that this was not happening now, it was the past, and the events he was watching were already decided. All the same he felt his fingers digging into the arm rests.
The trace entered the chamber. Then it began moving rapidly back along it's original path. Very rapidly. The light in the chamber went out.
"What happened?" Tovan asked. "Why is there only one?"
"Pause it!" Archer ordered. He stood and moved closer to the screen. "You see here? When Halliwell was entering, his trace was three segments long in this section. It's four now. I'm guessing he's running, and whatever was down there with him is after him."
"Close enough that it's trace merges with his." Reed said. "Far enough behind to reset the timer slightly."
"Impossible!" Smith breathed again.
Archer returned to his seat "Right, carry on Trip."
At the accelerated speed it took moments for the elongated blip to reach the main chamber. The tunnels returned to their quiescent state. No one watching spoke, keeping vigil for events already passed. Then a patch of light showed someone exiting the main chamber. It retraced it's steps, at a steady, assured pace, until it reached the length of tunnel from which it had so mysteriously appeared. It's progress halted. One by one the following traces faded from view.
Then it, too, vanished.