Chapter 6 <cont'd>
Their escape from Europa
proved far easier than Sandhurst had anticipated. Verrik collapsed the interior forcefields in sequence as the two made their way down the corridor and into an empty VIP stateroom, utilizing nothing more than a padd to circumvent the ship’s security protocols.
Sandhurst discovered that many of the escape contingencies he had put in place had been preemptively thwarted by Lar’ragos, presumably with the help of Shanthi and Ashok. However, Verrik suffered no such setbacks, navigating and bypassing Europa’s
subsystems with inexplicable ease.
Out the cabin’s viewports, the swirling tunnel of light through which the starship passed while at transwarp velocities vanished. The static starfield in its place suggested the ship had dropped to impulse speeds. Verrik tapped quickly on his padd, noting, “Security teams are responding to our location. I’m flooding the surrounding corridors with anesthazine gas.”
“Dare I ask who you represent and how you’re doing all this?” Sandhurst inquired.
Before Verrik could reply, the two officers dematerialized, regaining cohesion an instant later aboard Europa’s
captain’s yacht, Mediterranean
. Verrik slid into the pilot’s seat as he answered the query. “Suffice to say that I recognize the danger to the Federation posed by the more aggressive of the Amon tribes. I agree that it’s in our best interest to use your relationship with their species in order to force a confrontation between the two factions.”
Sandhurst lowered himself into the copilot’s seat, startled to realize that Mediterranean
was already navigating freely and was powering away from Europa
. The large shuttle jumped to warp as Verrik scanned the starship falling behind them. “I’ve temporarily incapacitated their warp drive and long range sensors. I’m establishing a sensor blind spot that will mask the shuttle from the ship’s sensors once they’ve re-established control over their compromised systems.”
Verrik felt Sandhurst’s gaze linger on him and finally looked up from his controls to return the commodore’s scrutiny. “Yes?”
“Lar’ragos indicated that he’d had the senior staff scouring the ship’s computer subroutines for any signs of tampering. Seeing as they located and disabled most of the little ‘cheats’ I’d put in place, how the hell did they manage to miss yours?”
The Vulcan’s smirk was very faint, but it was there nonetheless. “I’m not at liberty to say,” he replied guardedly.
“Where are we going?” Sandhurst pressed.
Verrik transferred the navigation controls across to Sandhurst’s station. “They’re your
people. You tell me.”
Main Bridge, USS Europa
Lar’ragos limped painfully onto the bridge, fairly collapsing into the command chair as he called out, “What’s our status?”
“Both warp and transwarp drives are offline,” Ashok apprised from the Engineering station.
“Long and short range external sensors are inoperative,” Shanthi called out from Science.
Chief Petty Officer Dunleavy manned the Tactical console behind Lar’ragos’ chair. “No sign of either Sandhurst or Verrik on internal sensors, Commander.”
Holding a hand to his woozy head, Lar’ragos muttered, “Have security and Marine personnel check that all our shuttles, escape pods and ASRV’s are in place.”
At Ops, Juneau reported, “Someone’s overridden our internal security lockouts and isolation subroutines, but I’m not detecting any invasive programming present in any of our systems.”
Dunleavy checked a series of updates scrolling across one of her displays. “I’m being informed by security personnel that the captain’s yacht is unaccounted for.”
“Find it,” Lar’ragos groaned, struggling mightily not to vomit as his head thundered.
Another update found its way to Dunleavy, who announced,“I’ve got a Marine squad in EVA’s that’s just cleared the commodore’s quarters. They report four injured personnel who are being transferred to Sickbay, and six others from an earlier response team who were apparently overcome by anesthazine gas.”
Ashok frowned at his own console. “I don’t see any indications that we’ve deployed anesthazine anywhere aboard. I’m reading positive seals on all the supply canisters slaved to the environmental systems.”
“We can’t trust anything our systems are telling us,” Shanthi answered loudly, ostensibly addressing Ashok, but offering the comment for all present. “I thought we’d ferreted out all of the commodore’s back-door programming, but there must have been a whole other layer, even more deeply embedded.”
Ashok stood from the Engineering console, surrendering the board to one of his subordinates as he moved to sit in the empty XO’s seat next to Lar’ragos. “Commander,” he said as gently as possible to the visibly pained El Aurian. “If Sandhurst gets away we lose the only person who understands our new drive well enough to repair it if it suffers damage or breaks down.”
A medic stepped onto the bridge from the fore turbolift and knelt next to Lar’ragos, running a hand sensor over him as the first officer considered Ashok’s words.
“Understood, Lieutenant,” he finally managed to say between waves of nausea. “Get down to the computer core and prepare a full shut down and system wipe. We’ll reload our operating systems from the protected archives.”
“We’ll lose all the programming modifications Sandhurst made to the propulsion and deflector systems,” Ashok noted grimly. “That means we lose our transwarp capability.”
“I know,” Lar’ragos hissed. “It’s either that or continue to be at Sandhurst’s mercy. He's already proved he can shut us down at whim.”
Ashok nodded curtly and headed for the ‘lift as Juneau called over her shoulder to Lar’ragos, “Sir, we’re getting reports from around the ship that people are seeing sublight starfields out their viewports. It looks like we’ve dropped to impulse speeds.”
“And this is what it’s come to,” Lar’ragos muttered sullenly under his breath. He craned his neck to allow the medic to inject him with a painkiller and anti-inflammatory for the concussion he’d sustained as he toggled the PA from his armrest. “This is the XO. All personnel, standby for emergency shutdown and restoration of all computer systems. There will be momentary interruptions in primary power and all LCARS functions.”
Cargo Hold, USS Masada
Edward Jellico’s ragged sobs had long since ceased to amuse her. To the contrary, his having eventually succumbed to her tortures only served to underscore her already low opinion of humans altogether. They were weak. Fragile. Soft.
She had visited all manner of cruelties upon him in the past weeks, many of which she herself had suffered at the hands of the Baron. After a period his considerable resistance had faded and he had been broken, at which point he no longer held her interest. Now she inflicted additional pain upon him for no other reason than she had nothing else to occupy her time.
Parlan entered the compartment, stepping past her to look up at the bloodied, torn, and barely recognizable form of Jellico as he writhed in the clutches of the suspensor field. The android cocked his head to look at her. “Long range sensors have detected Europa’s
sudden appearance a mere six-point-seven light-years from us.”
“Where did they come from?” Ramirez asked, suddenly showing the first real signs of life in days.
“Unknown,” Parlan replied. “There were no indications of a warp signature or any previous sensor contact with the ship prior to its unexpected appearance.”
“Perhaps they’ve got themselves a cloaking device, too?” she surmised.
“Perhaps,” Parlan allowed. Without preamble, he extended an arm and fired an energy pulse from his hand that vaporized the grievously injured Jellico, whose body vanished with a screech as air rushed to fill the void of his passing.
Ramirez wheeled on him. “What the hell are you doing?”
“I am eliminating the unnecessary distraction of your toy,” he replied in an aggravatingly reasonable tone. “Our master has been in enemy hands for weeks now, and you’ve made no appreciable effort to secure his release. In fact, you’ve done nothing more than poke at that pathetic captive. You will immediately assist me in recovering our master, or I will do so without you.”
“I am the Baron’s chosen successor!” Ramirez cried, her eyes blazing with neurologically induced conviction.
Parlan was unmoved by her passion. “Be that as it may, you have elected to allow him to rot in captivity. That is intolerable. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were stalling to avoid a final confrontation between you and your former crewmates.”
The anger behind her eyes dimmed with that accusation, and she blinked as if startled. “Ridiculous. That battle will be the culmination of the Baron’s long-held plans. It is to be his legacy!”
“Then let the battle begin, Liana,” Parlan coaxed, managing to make it sound like a plea rather than an order, but only just. “We have made preparations for exactly this contingency, and you well know our master was willing to sacrifice his life to see his dreams of vengeance fulfilled.”
Her eyes glistened with tears. “It… it is
hard, Parlan. To consign such a man to death, it’s like striking down a god.”
“I understand,” Parlan empathized, or at least he pretended to. They had both been programmed by the Baron, and Ramirez still didn’t know if Parlan could experience emotion, or merely mimic it. “Nevertheless, it must be done if we are to honor his memory.”
“It will be,” she said in a trembling voice, weeping openly now. “I swear it.”