Chapter 4 <cont’d>
Transporter Room 3, USS Europa
T’Ser was standing in the transporter room when Lar’ragos and the last of the recovery teams beamed back from the shattered wreck of Galaxy
. Their personnel had been aboard the ship for over seventeen hours, and the physical exhaustion they evidenced was clearly exceeded by the emotional toll the ghoulish mission had taken on them.
They wore EVA suits that were spattered with gore and caked with all manner of unpleasantness. One young security specialist was gagging as she removed her helmet, while an engineering ensign was sobbing uncontrollably as his friends led him out of the transporter room.
Most telling to T’Ser was the expression on Lar’ragos’ face as the El Aurian pulled off his helmet. After all the man had seen and done in his four-hundred plus years of life, his eyes still managed to convey the trauma on display aboard what remained of Galaxy
T’Ser gave Lar’ragos a moment to compose himself before ordering, “Report, Commander.”
Lar’ragos straightened and seemed to give T’Ser his attention, though the look in his eyes still appeared light-years away. “Whatever hit them, it was very sudden and it doesn’t look like Galaxy
had an opportunity to respond. Fully half of the saucer-section is open to vacuum, and although the warp core didn’t breach, it’s leaked enough radiation to make the entire stardrive section uninhabitable.”
“The crew…” T’Ser pressed. “It was as bad as they say?”
He nodded dully. “Yes. I don’t know what they used, but it defies all known laws of physics and conventional medical science. It seems everyone below Deck 3 was affected.”
T’Ser’s expression hardened. “They were eviscerated?”
“Uh… no,” Lar’ragos stammered, touching a clenched fist to his lips to push down his rising gorge. “Turned inside out would be a better description. They were inverted somehow, some of them completely, others only partially… but nearly every single one of them was still alive, and suffering beyond imagination.”
“How is that possible?” she exclaimed, more to herself than to him.
“No idea,” he said, making a disgusted face as he caught a whiff of something yellowish and glistening that was smeared across the breastplate of his EVA suit. “Captain, permission to get out of this damn thing and burn it?”
“Granted,” she murmured distractedly, stepping aside so he could exit the compartment.
Dark thoughts intruded as she considered the decisions she’d have to make in the coming hours. Despite Europa’s
ample medical resources, half their medical staff had been left behind to assist with the recovery efforts at In’Drahn station. Those that remained aboard had been overwhelmed by the sheer number of grotesque injuries resulting from the attack on their task force’s flagship.
Every square meter of unused space aboard Europa
was being used to house stasis tanks, in which the horribly disfigured Galaxy
crew members were stored until greater medical resources could be brought to their aid. Construction of the stasis units had required the dematerialization of most of the new engine’s components, so short were they on replicatable matter stores.
Ashok’s initial assessment had been that stardrive portion of Galaxy
would have to be scuttled after all recoverable supplies and equipment had been removed. The saucer section might be salvageable, but as it was limited to travel at impulse speeds, it would prove more of a burden than an asset.
T’Ser turned to leave, but before she could step through the parting doors, she paused and glanced back at a science technician, the last remaining crew member from Pava’s recovery team. The man fought to wriggle free of the last piece of his environment suit, collapsing backwards clumsily into a seated position on the transporter pad as he threw the suit sleeve across the compartment to crash against the bulkhead. Oblivious to the captain’s presence, he cradled his head in his hands as he struggled to come to terms with what he’d witnessed.
She wanted to stop and say something reassuring or comforting to the young man, but T'Ser feared that anything she said would sound trite coming from someone who hadn’t been aboard that charnel house of a starship. Utimately, T’Ser realized, she was the person that had sent him and the others over there.
She walked out in silence, lost in her own mordant thoughts.