|Series||Star Trek: The Ongoing Mission|
|Stardate||81162.5 - 81164.3|
|Previous||Ghosts and Glaciers|
“So how’s everything aboard the Darwin?” Commander Dean Matthews asked.
“I spend half my time in command,” Commander Paul Walker smiled.
“I didn’t realise things had gotten so bad,” Matthews joked.
“What about you, don’t you get your fair share of the big chair?”
“Unlike you I’m not a glorified back-up captain. I’m still an operations officer, at least unlike on the Garren I get to sit down.”
“And unlike on the Garren there isn’t a sexy science officer standing next you,” Walker laughed.
“Can you imagine if we’d asked Captain Neeley for chairs?”
“I don’t want to. That woman scared me.”
“She scared everyone; anyway I’m due on the bridge. Same time tomorrow.”
“I love you.”
“Love you too,” Matthews and Walker always made sure that was the last thing they said to each other during their calls. They both knew the risks that came with the uniform.
“Captain’s log, stardate 81162.5, long range sensors have detected what appears to be a Federation starship which disappeared around twenty-three years ago. We’ve taken on a special passenger, an old friend and someone with a personal stake in the success of this mission.”
“Didn’t I always say you’d make a great captain one day Oren? You have a fine ship,” Admiral Jason Garrett, son of the heroic captain of the Enterprise-C, commented.
“I did enjoy being your first officer for a year,” Captain Oren Hassan smiled.
“You were top of your class for two years running, I’m sorry most of our time was spent looking for the Capitoline.”
“Admiral, I got to be part of an official mission, that’s every third year cadet’s dream when they’re on space training,” Hassan reassured him.
While Matthews had the bridge when Hassan was in his ready room, he was still sat at the ops station, “are you okay, sir?” Lieutenant R’Kal asked.
“I’m okay, Lieutenant. It’s just, there were seven hundred and fifty people onboard the Capitoline. Must’ve been hard on their loved ones,” Matthews replied.
“There’s someone in Starfleet you’re close to isn’t there?” R’Kal guessed.
“You’re perceptive, Lieutenant. My husband’s first officer of the Darwin.”
“Excuse me, Commander, did you say the Darwin?” Lieutenant Commander Nila Tarek asked.
“Sorry I overheard, an old friend of mine Vaan was made the Darwin’s security chief. I heard it has the most diverse crew in Starfleet history, is that right?”
“It’s true. Paul’s the only human onboard,” Matthews’ console started beeping, “I’m picking up a ship.”
“It’s definitely Federation,” Tarek reviewed the warp signature from her console, “accessing registry, NCC-82617, USS Capitoline.”
“Captain Hassan to the bridge,” Matthews summoned.
“Report,” Hassan ordered.
“We’ve found the Capitoline, sir.”
“Slow to impulse. On screen,” Hassan stood, letting Garrett sit in his chair. The image of a Vesta class starship filled the screen; she was in a stable orbit around a ringed planet, from the outside she looked as good as new. “Analysis.”
“All ship’s systems are fully functional, they’re just offline.”
“They weren’t attacked?” Garrett wondered.
“I’m detecting no weapon signatures, in fact I’m reading no damage of any kind,” Tarek reported.
“Life signs?” Hassan asked.
“Inconclusive.” Tarek answered.
“I’m getting an anomalous reading; I can only narrow it down to deck sixteen. It’s one of the few sections with minimal life support,” Matthews revealed.
“Captain there appears to be a contaminant in the atmosphere,” Lieutenant Vance LaMarche noticed, “I’ve never seen these types of readings before.”
“Number One, prepare your away team, use EV suits,” Hassan ordered.
“Aye, Captain. Commander Tarek, Mr LaMarche,” Matthews then tapped his combadge, “Doctor Cinera please meet us in transporter room one,”
“Acknowledged,” Doctor Lieutenant Commander Cinera’s voice came over the com.
Matthews was impressed at how despite the fact the EV suits were so bulky, they never impeded mobility, though he did feel slightly sluggish walking into the transporter room.
“Commander, I’ll be beaming your team a short distance from the readings and I’ll be keeping a lock on you at all times, the bridge is monitoring your life signs so I’ll be able to pull you out at the first sign of trouble,” Chief Petty Officer Svetlana Robau informed Matthews.
“Understood,” Matthews nodded, he then sealed the helmet of his suit, the away team did the same. “Energise.”
The lights on top of the suits’ helmets were of little help, the dust as so thick in the corridors of the Capitoline it was a fog. Each footstep was not unlike a meteor crashing into a planet. It was a ghost ship that had gone untouched for twenty-three years; somehow every detail was perfectly preserved. Matthews wondered what it was like before his team arrived, the stillness, the silence, nothing to disturb the dust, not even flickering lights.
“These readings appear to be a faint life sign,” Cinera noted.
“Can we localise it?” Matthews asked.
“Down here,” LaMarche pointed, “it looks like a science lab.”
The away team cautiously entered the abandoned lab, near the doorway they discovered the decapitated body of a lieutenant wearing the science division uniform of that time.
“Who was she?” Cinera asked.
Matthews activated the science console with a portable power pack, “according to this her name was Rellael, she was the science officer.”
“Something wrong, Commander?” LaMarche noticed Tarek was uneasy.
“It’s too quiet, something doesn’t feel right,” she looked around.
“This is odd,” Cinera said while scanning another body, this one intact.
“Doctor?” Matthews turned around.
“There appears to be some kind of fungal infection colonising a region near the brain stem…”
“Over here,” Tarek pointed out several large containers.
“This is definitely the source of the life sign,” Cinera confirmed.
“The fungus?” Matthews asked.
“It has a very primitive neural network, but these spore colonies are dying, new spores are taking root in the husks of dead ones but this cycle is finite.”
“So did these spores kill the crew?” Matthews wondered before suddenly the apparently dead crewman jumped up, his animalistic pounce knocked Matthews backwards. The crewman was hissing and growling as he tried to claw and bite through Matthews’ suit, “Commander!” he called to Tarek.
“Commander Matthews’ heart rate has accelerated,” R’Kal reported, the away team’s life signs were being displayed on the main view screen.
Stun, no effect. Kill, no effect. The only way to disable the frenzied crewman was to vaporise him.
“Cerberus to away team, do you need assistance?” Hassan’s voice came over the com.
Matthews, out of breath, tapped the wrist of his EV suit to open the channel, “negative, Cerberus. Stand by,” he closed the channel. “What the hell was that?” Tarek helped him up.
“I took some readings, this is disturbing,” Cinera’s face was deadpan.
“What have you found?”
“It appears that the fungal infection fully colonises the brain, amplifying its own weak neural network with its host’s brain tissue. It seems to give them motor skills and limited cognitive functions. That crewman didn’t register as alive.”
“Are you saying that he was the fungus?”
“Yes. They need to feed and spread in order to survive.”
“Sir, I’m reading an active data file here, it looks like the science officer’s last log,” LaMarche reported.
“Ensign Rockway, Ensign Kehr-Vin, stand guard,” the Human and Ursinoid security officers nodded and took up position by the door, “Commander Tarek, keep scanning, for that fungal signature, if we have company we’re getting out of here.”
“Understood,” Tarek replied.
Matthews activated the file, the image of Lieutenant Rellael filled the screen, “Science Officer’s log, stardate 58292.6, seven days ago we discovered an Andorian freighter on a direct course for a star, the crew was dead and we retrieved their cargo. That was our last mistake. I can’t explain it but our best quarantine efforts were futile. We found a planet that matched the fungus’ signature, but we were too late. This thing it gets into peoples heads, you can hear it, it speaks to you. They tried to die but it told them to feed so they stood. They must spread to feed. Not allowed to lie down, not allowed to rest. Must spread. Must live.” There was a pounding at the science lab doors; scratching, screeching, hissing, growling. Then they burst through, Rellael’s screams turned to static as Matthews backed away from the console.
“Commander, I think playing that log attracted some attention. I’m reading forty-seven fungal signatures approaching,” Tarek reported.
“We’ve outstayed our welcome,” Matthews tapped his wrist, “Cerberus. Energise.”
“I just keep thinking about that man’s face,” Matthews replayed the incident in his head, “there was no life behind those eyes, he was a mere beast.”
“And you literally felt his life being ripped away by Commander Tarek’s phaser,” Counsellor Lieutenant Commander Peilingoe added.
“That poor man’s life ended a long time ago,” Matthews shook his head, “it was just being that close to his nails, teeth and…”
“Maybe it was about you nearly making your husband a Starfleet widower.”
“It’s bothered me ever since we started this mission, all those people just disappearing from their families lives.”
“Does it bother you enough to resign?”
“No. We agreed we wouldn’t sacrifice our careers for our marriage, or vice versa. I guess I need to get to used to it, but that was really the first time.”
“Hassan to Commander Matthews and Counsellor Peilingoe,” the Captain’s voice came over the com.
Peilingoe tapped his combadge, “go ahead, sir.”
“Could the two of you join the senior staff in the briefing room.”
“On our way,” Peilingoe closed the channel.
“I’ve consulted with Admiral Bateson, we’ve agreed that we need to try and salvage what we can from the Capitoline. People, technology, logs. Anything. Commander Matthews do you feel you could lead another away team over there?” Garrett asked.
“Yes, Admiral,” Matthews nodded.
“Good. Take additional security with you, Lieutenant Shimura I want you to join the away team this team, use the portable transporter units, I don’t want to risk of alerting anything over there. Lieutenant LaMarche, I want you to stay on board the Cerberus this time, keep a close eye on things over there, under no circumstances can these fungal spores be allowed to spread. Even if the salvage operation falls through, Captain Hassan you are under special orders from two flag officers to scuttle the Capitoline.”
“Understood,” Hassan was unsure what to make of it, but he knew deep down it was the only viable option.
“Is it safe to beam onto the bridge?” Lieutenant Izumi Shimura asked.
“I don’t know,” Matthews answered honestly “but we can get out instantly if it isn’t,” he reassured Shimura. The away team attached the portable transporter units to the wrists of their EV suits, “ready phasers, this is an in and out job, we’re taking no chances.”
The away team materialised in a discreet corner of the Capitoline’s bridge, they crouched behind a broken console. There were dozens of infected crewman on the bridge, they had surrounded the three raised chairs in the centre, one figure stood in the middle.
“Commander, who is that?” Shimura whispered.
“I think…oh my god, that’s Lieutenant Commander Tam Garrett,” Matthews realised.
“The Admiral’s son. He’s their leader?”
“It certainly looks that way.”
Tam seemed disoriented, he was swaying from side to side, then he stopped and made several jolting movements. His hands burst, from under the humanoid skin came dark green claws, he used his claws to tear away the rest of his skin as if it were nothing but clothes. The creature that stood in the centre peeled away the last remnants of what had been Tam’s face. It was a fungal life form, bigger than your average humanoid, it let out a roar and the infected crewman bowed down to it. That was as long as Matthews was willing to stay.
Matthews materialised on the bridge and quickly removed his helmet, “Captain, those spores, they’re not just spreading…they’re gestating. They need to feed off an organic host as part of their life cycle.”
“It appears we’ve run out of time,” Garrett commented.
“Ready weapons,” Hassan took a deep breath, “stand by to…”
“We’re being hailed, audio only,” Matthews reported after returning to the ops station.
“What?! Open a channel.”
“Fly to spread. Fly to feed,” an ominous voice chanted.
“The Capitoline’s powering up; weapons, shields, propulsion,” Tarek reported.
“I think it’s time we gave these defensive systems a real test. Raise shields, deploy armour,” Hassan ordered. From bow to stern the USS Cerberus NX-91002 became encased in a solid armour shell which snaked its way down the ship’s hull. “Commander Tarek, fire phasers full spread.”
“Aye, sir,” Tarek complied. The Cerberus fired several shots but the Capitoline only returned fire with one phaser blast.
“Strange,” LaMarche reviewed his readings, “Captain, we need to avoid the Capitoline’s attacks at all costs.”
“You heard him, Mr R’Kal, evasive manoevres, pattern theta. Lieutenant what have you found?”
“Their phasers are being used to carry more spores; I’m not sure how well our shields can resist it.”
“What if we rotate the frequency?”
“The problem is without knowing more about the fungus, I just can’t say anything for certain.”
“Captain, we’d have a greater chance of avoiding the attacks if we separate the ship,” R’Kal suggested.
“Very well. Number One, mutli-vector assault mode,” Hassan agreed. The ship rocked slightly as the three hull segments detached. “Take us to a lower orbit,” he had a plan. The agile segments easily avoided the Capitoline’s attacks as they descended closer to the planet, “now, attack pattern beta four seven, target their engines,” each segment fired phaser bursts at the warp nacelles and impulse engines, there were bursts of electricity from them as they dulled to grey.
“Their down to manoevering thrusters, sir,” Tarek reported.
“Transphasic torpedoes, push them down into the planet,” the torpedoes rammed into the side of the Capitoline, the force of the weapons was stronger than the power of its thrusters and the ship fell into the atmosphere.
The Capitoline’s secondary hull collided with a mountain top, shattering its deflector dish, still building momentum it crashed through a forest then as it hit the ground it fractured. The nacelle pylons were flung off, the saucer and secondary hull were shredded as the ship rolled unevenly across the planet surface. The spores were home.
“I’m sorry about Tam, Admiral,” Hassan tried to comfort Garrett.
“At least I have something to tell his wife, Alisia, she’s still on Betazed. They have a daughter Veronica, she’s in Starfleet too. She was named after Alisia’s sister. I’d prefer to bring bad news than have them just wonder forever. If you’ll excuse me, Oren, I’ll be in my quarters, I think I’ve used your chair enough for one visit,” Garrett silently headed to the turbolift, no one had anything they could say.
Matthews threw his boots off as soon as he entered his quarters, his only thought was a call he needed to make.
Jason Garrett, Tam Garrett, Rellael, Craig Rockway, Kehr-Vin, Paul Walker
Morgan Bateson, Rachel Garrett, Veronica Garrett, Lisa Neeley, Alisia Stadi, Veronica Stadi, Vaan