short update. I'm just finding it difficult to write at the moment.
The Ziggurat Interior.
1st December 2151.
A casual observer might have been impressed at the speed with which Corporal James readied her weapon when she heard footsteps in the corridor. She, however, was not. Her movements were jerky, imprecise, her posture rigid, and her finger pressed tightly against the trigger. She cursed, forced herself to relax, correctly place the stock to her shoulder, and adopt proper trigger discipline. She hated to admit it, but her encounter with the creature had left her rattled. Or maybe it was the pain killers. "Armed Marine! Advance and be recognised!" she shouted.
"Marine Pathfinders!" came Major Reed's voice. He turned the nearest corner, holding his weapon across his chest, a position that was non provoking but allowed him to quickly bring it to bear if need be. "It's just us, Corporal, all present and correct. How are you doing?"
"Fine sir." she said automatically as the others arrived. "Captain Archer, both Doctor Locke and Commander Tucker wish to speak with you ASAP."
Archer nodded briskly. "Good. I want to see them. So are you sure you're alright? You took quite a battering."
She smiled, casually tapping a couple of buttons on her wrist-comp."I'll live sir. Did you find anything interesting on that communicator?"
"Oh yes. Very interesting. I'm just not sure how useful it is. Problem, Malcolm?" The latter was directed to Reed, studying his wrist-comp intently.
"Ah...no sir, no. Just general data...you know how it is."
Archer regarded him steadily and went "Hmm." Going "Hmm" was, with the right expression, a surprisingly versatile means of communication. It's very imprecision was useful, as it made the listener interpret it in their own way. He'd picked the skill up from his diplomat father, developed it over his career, and honed it to a razor's edge in conversation with the Professor.
Reed cleared his throat then turned to his troops. "Right. Tipping, you stink to high heaven, so take over guard duty here. We don't want you offending the nice ladies and gentlemen." He ignored Tipping's muttered complaint. "As far as we know there are no more hostiles, so let's not take chances with the civilians." He barked out orders, assigning Marines to bodyguard duty. Archer was not surprised to see that James got to look after Partridge.
As the Marines rushed away to their assigned tasks, Archer kept close to Reed. "So..."
It was a conversational gambit just as good as "Hmm". Reed hesitated, then inclined his head towards the stairs. They started to descend, and he held up his wrist-comp so Archer could see. "These things monitor our life signs. James shot me hers on a private frequency."
Archer looked at the display. "So what does it mean?"
"Well, I'm no expert, but I'm guessing this wobbly line going up and down means she's still alive. In this case though, the medium is the message. Rather than inform one of our medics, she sends the data to me, covertly. That means she's worried about her health, though not enough that she wants treatment. She's still in the game, but not at her best. And she doesn't want it known by everyone. That's fair enough, we've all got our pride. So, I've given her a job where she can still be useful, but is pretty low risk."
"Guarding the Professor."
"Right." Reed nodded. "Can you think of anyone less likely to seek out trouble?"
They had reached the bottom of the stairs. "She doesn't have to." Archer said wryly."It usually finds her." Looking around he saw Locke and Partridge, now with their bodyguards, at the base of the stairs to the entrance door. The two infected Denobulans were lying on the bottom step under silver thermal blankets. Partridge waved as she saw them. Archer waved back, heading in that direction.
"I'd appreciate it if you don't keep what I've said confidential, Captain." Reed said.
"Of course." Archer said. "And I'm sure Hoshi will too."
"Naturally sir." Hoshi purred from behind them.
Reed jumped and spun, rifle at the ready, to be confronted by a knowing smile and a raised eyebrow. "Dammit Lieutenant, don't sneak up on me like that! I could have shot you!"
"Sorry Major, but I didn't sneak up. I just followed you down the stairs. Didn't you hear me?"
Archer chuckled. "I've often wondered if she's descended from ninjas, she's so quiet. But there's no point in asking, she'd say 'no' either way. Phillip, how are they?"
Locke waited in silence until they got closer, studying the readouts of his equipment. He stood with a grunt and pressed his hand to the small of his back, pressing against a sore spot. "Not getting any worse, for now. With Partridge's help I synthesised an antiviral agent. Along with the drugs I've been giving them we've got this thing stopped, but it's a temporary measure."
"How long?" Archer asked.
He shrugged. "A few hours, a day maybe. After that point the infection will start to spread again."
Sato leaned over the recumbent Denobulans, concerned. "Can anything else be done to help them?"
"Not with the equipment we have here, no."
Partridge offered a reassuring smile. "Don't worry Hoshi, the hospital in the city can handle this."
"Assuming the hospital's still operational." Reed said.
"Then, Mr. Reed, we shall have to offer the Denobulans use of our state of the art facilities on the Enterprise." she said brightly. "Shan't we Johnny?"
Archer nodded. "Of course Professor. OK, Phil, keep 'em comfortable for the time being. I should see what Trip wants. You better come too, Hoshi."
They, followed by Reed, Partridge, and James, made there way to the centre of the circular structure. There Tucker and a couple of his crew were darting back and forth, comparing hieroglyphs on various parts of the wall. Trooper Cross, acting as Tucker's bodyguard, saluted as they entered.
"Hey, Cap'n, c'mon in. The whole thing's gettin' mighty active over the last ten minutes or so." He pointed to the nearest wall, where symbols danced and swirled.
Archer looked round for Porthos, who he spotted apparently asleep on Tucker's discarded jacket. "Have you made any sense of all this?"
"Some of it. This section here's fairly obvious, if you're an engineer. Power flow. See here? Looks to me like that there's the input, from the environment. An' now the city too. An' here we have some sort of internal distribution network. Mus' be conduits o' some sort roun' here, probably under the floors. Also, some form of energy storage, a capacitor maybe, where it all builds up until there's enough to use."
Partridge leant forward, looking where he had gestured. "You know, I'd wager quite highly that the room we were in was one of these storage areas. Those translucent columns with the pink glow...some form of plasma containment system, though quite unlike anything we use."
"How much would you wager?" asked Sato.
"Why? Do you think I'm wrong?"
"Sounds interestin', must have a look later. But look here Cap'n. The next section. Now you tell me that isn't a bar chart o' something."
Archer shrugged. "Well, it is
a bar chart, pretty obviously." Four bars, the ones on the right, were full. A fifth was nearly full, and a mark at the baseline next to it suggested the presence of a sixth. The runic symbols that they were beginning to recognise as the Builder's written alphabet flanked the chart, occasionally flickering into new messages.
"Right, now lookit this." Tucker pointed to the power flow section. "That circle there. I figure it's a graphical representation o' the amount of energy bein' stored in one of the capacitors. Now, if you pay real close attention, you'll see---"
"---it's growing." Archer said.
"Right. Now it's about, what, twenty centimetres across? If it keeps doin' what it's been doin'...any second now...There!"
In the blink of an eye the circle shrank to almost nothing. Simultaneously the fifth column in the bar chart shot up to maximum, and the sixth column went to around twenty percent.
"Uh-oh." said Sato.
Archer pointed to the chart. "How long 'till it fills in?"
Tucker grimaced. "It doesn't seem to be a steady progress, far as I can tell, but based on averages....about fifteen, maybe twenty minutes."