Chapter 3 <cont'd>
"We are secured from warp speed," Lightner announced from Flight Control.
Lar’ragos slid into the executive officer’s seat to T’Ser’s right, his expression tightly controlled as he struggled to find a way to address what he found to be an unacceptable security risk to ship and crew.
He leaned in towards T’Ser, whispering, “Can I have a moment alone with you in the ready room, sir?”
T’Ser was typing shield configuration settings into the abbreviated console in her chair’s armrest, and answered without looking up. “We’re less than five minutes out from the nebula, Commander. Can it wait?”
“No signs of Voranti craft in sensor range, Captain,” Verrik announced from the Tactical station behind them.
“Can I safely assume there’s also no indication of Galaxy?”
T’Ser inquired, an unaccustomed edge to her voice.
Verrik replied dryly, “I would have found any such signs worthy of mention, sir.”
It was obvious T’Ser was not going to give Lar’ragos a private audience in which to air his grievance, so he pressed in a low voice, “Are you really giving Donald free reign to tinker with the engines?”
“I don’t intend to have this discussion in public, Commander,” T’Ser answered in an equally subdued tone. She finally raised her head and directed a query towards the Engineering station where Ashok was seated. “How are we holding up, Lieutenant?”
Ashok turned in his chair to address the captain. “Not well, sir. The increased strain on the warp reactor from our high-speed run has contributed to a worsening of the structural micro-fractures in both the reactor core housing as well as the transfer conduits. Our dilithium crystals are also very close to failure.”
T’Ser’s jaw set as she considered that. “And if we’re forced to fight?”
“I would recommend torpedoes over phasers wherever possible, sir. Less strain on the warp reactor that way. We’ll also have to be careful not to abuse our shields, as that would have the same effect.”
A wry smile graced T’Ser’s lips. “I’ll tell the Voranti to take it easy on us, but no promises.”
Shanthi called out from the Science station, “We are now entering the transition boundary of Nebula NGC-7492. We can expect a significant decrease in sensor range and acuity. Speed will be limited to three-quarters impulse without shields.”
T’Ser nodded her understanding of these operational limitations. “Mister Shanthi, deploy your sensor-net probes.”
The aft torpedo launcher disgorged twenty sensor relay probes that fanned out in all directions. These would parallel the ship’s course and serve to boost Europa’s
sensor capabilities in the nebular miasma.
Lar’ragos addressed Shanthi as well. “Science, with the limits on our scanning range, how long would it take us at three-quarters impulse to completely search the entire volume of this nebula?”
Shanthi cast a glance over his shoulder at the El Aurian. “Roughly seven months, sir, give or take a couple of weeks.”
Lar’ragos looked to T’Ser, batting his eyelashes with exaggerated enthusiasm. “Well,” he said, “this should be fun.”
T’Ser ignored him, silently hoping for a miraculously quick location and retrieval of their fellow starship. It was the kind of prayer, she realized, that was seldom answered.
The light had returned to his eyes, and the easy, confident smile she’d once so adored had returned to his lips.
The Baron reached up a hand to touch the device that now adorned the back and sides of his head like a technological laurel wreath.
“At last,” he breathed with renewed vigor. “It has been too long.”
Ramirez frowned, still uncomfortable with the idea. “The device is too new,” she protested. “We can’t know all the dangers, the unforeseen side effects it might have.”
He stood slowly, appearing satisfied to find his legs steady and strong. “All the more reason to do this sooner as opposed to later, don’t you think?”
“The neural buffer is a crutch,” she reminded him sternly, “not a cure.”
“But what a crutch,” the Baron exclaimed. “To be myself again, if only for a short while, is a blessing. It’s invigorating to feel the hate in my hearts and the venom in my marrow again!”
“It’s too soon,” Ramirez pressed. “The attack on the other ship failed. Give me a chance to make Starfleet suffer again before you confront him. He’ll have no choice but to see their blood on his hands.”
“There’s no time, Liana,” he said with remarkable gentleness for one whose hands had committed such hard-hearted deeds. “I have to see his face one last time. I have to know the smell of his fear, the taste of his desperation!”
“It isn’t worth the risks,” she reiterated.
“I say otherwise.” He moved towards the transmat device.
Ramirez knew better than to push any further. The neural buffer had restored much of the Baron’s memory, though how long it might sustain it was anyone’s guess. Every other exterior construct they’d tried had eventually fallen victim to the tapeworm. Cloned tissue, cyber-shells, neural-heuristics, even a positronic matrix had proven no match for the Sentinel’s gleefully sadistic retrograde weapon.
And despite the seeming success of the buffer, restored along with his memories had come his arrogance and his thirst for melodrama. She realized only too well the penalty for pressing him beyond his tolerance. His punishments had been extraordinary, even to someone as inured to suffering as she’d once believed herself to be.
“What may I do to assist you, My Lord?” she asked submissively.