By Christina Moore
“What are you doing here?”
Vulcan linguist Lt. Dareth had just walked into Engineering for the third day in a row. Luther Kincaid stopped him as he was coming in.
“The same thing I was here for yesterday, Kincaid. And the two days before,” he answered. “Following the captain’s orders and trying to translate the ant’s transmission.”
Kincaid was aware of the nickname the crew had unanimously dubbed the creature they had encountered three days ago. Laughing, he joked, “You mean the great Dareth ain’t figured it out yet?”
The Vulcan’s eyebrow winged up for a brief moment in a manner typical of his people. Then the eyebrow dropped and his eyes narrowed. “Obviously not,” he replied.
Luther Kincaid was continually surprised by Dareth’s displays of emotions. Even though it happened somewhat regularly, it still struck him as odd and out of place—Vulcans just weren’t supposed to do that. “Hey, I was just asking,” he said finally.
“Well don’t,” Dareth replied, brushing past the older man and moving further into the main engine room.
Jennara Stadi, who’d been waiting for Dareth’s arrival, shook her head bemusedly as her friend approached. “Why don’t you like Kincaid?” she asked once Kincaid was out of earshot.
Dareth had worked with Luther Kincaid before, on the U.S.S. Devoreaux. They hadn’t gotten along then, and there had been no change in the intervening years. “Now Jennara, whatever makes you think I don’t like him?” he asked, feigning ignorance.
Stadi chuckled. “Oh, I don't know. Maybe it’s the fact that you never seem to have anything nice to say to him. Or maybe it’s that you look at him as if he’s not worth the air he breathes. Of course, it could be that I don’t even have to consciously read your emotions whenever he’s around or mentioned. Disgust pours off you in a deluge,” she told him.
Dareth allowed a smile to slowly form. As they sat at the consoles that had become theirs for however long it took to translate the message, he replied nonchalantly, “Or it could be because I’ve already told you that I think Luther Kincaid is a sniveling little weasel.”
The Betazoid woman shook her head as they reviewed their progress so far, or rather their lack of it. “Gee, Dareth, tell me how you really feel,” she jibed as they set to work.
After a brief review, Dareth said, “Why don’t we go through random combinations of all the translator algorithms in the computer’s database one more time? If that doesn’t work, then perhaps we ought to try some, shall we say…non-regulation methods?”
“Might as well,” Stadi replied, a knowing grin on her face. She knew Dareth had methods that would make some of the more rule-restricted Starfleet officers blush. “I don’t think Captain Hale’s going to care how we get it done as long as we actually do it.”
Dareth spared her a glance even as he was commanding Adrian to run another sequence. “Come now, Jennara. You’re not getting—dare I say it—frustrated, are you?”
Stadi laughed. “Who, me? Never.”
“Captain Hale to the bridge.”
Serutian Hale jumped at the sound of Tanis’ voice over the intercom. Setting aside the service report she’d been reading, she walked out of her ready room and onto the bridge, coming to a stop by the command chair. “Report, Lieutenant.”
With Stadi down in Engineering with Dareth, Lt. Tanis Auryn had been given control of the bridge. “We’ve picked up what appears to be a distress call, Captain, originating about three light-years from our current position. Only we’re not sure it’s a distress call. Adrian and Ensign Reda have confirmed, however, that the signal’s frequency matches that of the ant we encountered three days ago,” the security chief reported.
Hale turned to her operations officer. “Is it the same ship, Ensign?” she asked.
“Unknown, Captain,” Reda replied. “It’s too far out of range to make that determination.”
“It is definitely the same type of ship as the one we met before,” the ship’s Interactive Computer Personality, Adrian, added.
“Okay, then. What makes you think it may be a distress call?” Hale continued.
“We only picked up an audio transmission, a one-minute pattern of clicks and whistles repeating at thirty-second intervals,” Tanis replied as she returned to her station.
Hale thought briefly about what steps to take next. The last time they had encountered the ant-like species, they’d been fired on with no provocation and warned—or so they thought. Dareth had yet to translate the short message they’d received from them that day. She could only be thankful that one ship was all they’d seen thus far, considering their weapons capabilities. They’d studied all the planets in the first star system on their list with no other interference, and only one had been inhabited.
Still, if the signal they’d picked up was in fact a distress call, it was their duty to respond and aid the ship’s crew if possible. Besides, they might be able to create a peaceful relationship with these creatures if they were able to assist a ship of their fellows.
“Lt. Tanis,” she called to her tactical officer, “put us on yellow alert and weapons on standby. This time we’ll defend ourselves if they take aggressive action.”
Taking the command chair at last, Hale spoke again. “Lt. McPherson, lay in a course, warp five. We might make a new friend yet. Hale to Stadi.”
“Stadi here, Captain.”
“We’re en route to investigate a possible distress call from an ant ship. You and Dareth need to step on it. We need to know how to talk to them.”
1130 hours, Briefing Room
“They call themselves the Colony. And the message was indeed a warning.”
Serutian Hale raised an eyebrow. “It’s taken you three days to tell me something I had already figured out for myself, Lieutenant?” she asked the Vulcan man standing at the other end of the table.
Dareth returned her gaze. “Yes, Captain. Of course, I had to use more than three hundred forty-seven translator algorithm combinations to achieve even a rudimentary understanding of their language, which is impressively complex—a person less skilled than I would have taken much longer to complete the task.”
Hale suppressed a grin at the bold confidence in his skill. “Fair enough. So what were they warning us about?” she conceded with a nod.
“Basically, that this is their territory and that we have no business being here,” Dareth continued. “I’ve also managed to translate the signal we picked up, which is your average, run-of-the-mill distress signal. Much like a standard greeting, only in a different context. All it says is that their ship is in trouble and they need help.”
“They sound like a simple people,” Gillon Marcan said.
“Indeed, Doctor. Have we been able to determine if it’s the same ship we met with the other day?” Hale asked.
Azlyn Reda nodded. “Sensors say she is,” she reported.
Curious, the captain thought. “How long until we reach the Colony ship?” she queried.
Finley McPherson answered her. “One hour.”
“Are there any other ships in the area?” asked Stadi.
Ensign Reda shook her head. “Negative, Commander. Though I think it’s safe to assume that System One is on the edge of their territory. I mean, I would think we’d have seen more than one ship in three days if this were an actively patrolled area.”
“A reasonable assumption. However, I recommend remaining on alert status, Captain,” the first officer agreed.
Hale nodded. “Agreed. They’ve attacked us without provocation before, and they’re likely to do it again. Especially when more of them show up who might think we’re the ones who attacked their ship, if that’s what happened.”
“Captain, with your permission, I would like to organize and run a couple of battle drills before we get to the Colony ship,” suggested Tanis.
“Granted, Lieutenant. On that note, dismissed everyone.”
Ensign Elspeth Simmons grunted as she opened the Jeffries tube hatch located at Deck Four, section 15A. Lt. Comm. T’Rae had sent her here to investigate an anomalous power fluctuation coming from the communications node at section 15C. The power output regulator is probably just out of alignment and in need of a little tweaking, she thought to herself as she swung the hatch open.
Ducking inside, the young ensign saw that someone else had beat her to the job. “Sorry, I didn't realize the commander had sent someone to fix this already,” she mumbled, preparing to back away.
“Aw, she didn't send me, per se,” Luther Kincaid replied. “I just heard her talking about it and decided I’d check it out since I was in the neighborhood. But you know, now that you’re here, perhaps you could help me. I’m still having a little trouble with it.”
Simmons clamped down on a sudden feeling of unease. What was there to be afraid of, anyway? She knew Kincaid from Engineering, had been working with him for more than two months now. Though he was a little strange, he was relatively harmless. So stop being silly, Elspeth, she told herself, and with a shrug and a smile she didn’t quite feel, picked up her tool kit and climbed into the tube.
“Now, let’s see if we can figure this thing out,” Luther Kincaid said jovially as she joined him.
Kincaid shut the Jeffries tube hatch with a nod, dusted his hands off and picked up his tool kit. With a wide smile, he headed off to his quarters for lunch.
He was suddenly quite hungry.
Paloq Rejan stepped out of the turbolift onto deck four in a huff. He knew it was childish of him, but he was hopping mad at Ensign Simmons for delaying his lunch break. After Journey’s first launch, he had approached the ship’s operations officer, Azlyn Reda, in the mess hall, just to ask if she’d like some company. He’d found her to be rather witty, and had liked her instantly. In the short time they’d been serving together, the two of them had become fast friends. He and Reda had made plans to have lunch together again today. Only now he was going to be late, because Simmons suddenly didn’t know how to answer the comm.
Reaching section 15A, Rejan threw the latch on the Jeffries tube hatch and jerked it open, a vicious striding on the edge of his tongue. What he saw, though, brought the angry torrent of words to a halt before the first even had a chance to coalesce in his mind.
His blood suddenly running cold, the Pacifican reached up and hit his commbadge. “Rejan to Security. Get down to deck four, section 15—and I mean right now. Bring the captain with you.”
The first thing Serutian Hale had done upon looking into the unseeing eyes of Ensign Elspeth Simmons was to slam a fist into the nearest bulkhead—narrowly missing Rejan’s solar plexus. To his amazement, the punch didn’t faze her in the least, and he could tell she’d hit the wall pretty hard. He was also surprised by her use of a Cardassian vulgarity.
“Hale to bridge, all stop—all flakking stop! Adrian, sound General Quarters. All hands, this is the captain speaking: Non-essential and off-duty personnel are hereby restricted to quarters until further notice.” Turning to her chief of security she added, “Lieutenant, I want to know what the hell happened here.”
Her eyes glittering like jewels, Hale stalked away, Rejan following silently on her heels. Tanis, though in her element as an investigator, silently wished it had happened under different circumstances. Hitting her commbadge, she addressed the intercom system. “Tanis to all Security personnel. Report to the security briefing room immediately.”
After having a holo-imager replicated and brought down to her by the assistant chief of security himself, Tanis gave him orders before crawling into the Jeffries tube and taking pictures of Simmons’ body. She then had it transported directly to Medbay for examination, instructing Dr. Anil that under no circumstances was anyone to be let into Medbay except for extreme emergencies, unless it was herself or the captain. Nor was anyone in there to leave until otherwise instructed. She then sealed each access point to that particular Jeffries tube with her highest level security code, planning to come back after meeting with her officers to do the scene sweep personally, and went to the Security office on deck three to meet with the rest of her team.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a situation,” she began. “One of our fellow crewmembers, Ensign Elspeth Simmons, has been murdered. Since we haven’t been to a starbase in more than three weeks and a planet in three days, the chances of the perpetrator being someone other than a member of this crew are extremely slim. It could even be any one of us. Until we have evidence suggesting otherwise, I want security personnel posted at all vital areas of the ship—Lt. Saller has handed each of you specific orders already. Per the captain’s orders, anyone who is not on duty is to be in quarters. Anyone caught violating that order is to be placed under arrest immediately.”
The Bajoran woman looked at each officer in turn, sure in her heart as she looked into every pair of eyes and saw the same sense of anger and betrayal that the killer was not one of her security team. “Also, as there will be regular security sweeps on every deck, if anyone is found to be working in an area outside of their department, such as at a corridor access panel, they are to have a PADD with work orders on hand. Jeffries tube access is off limits until further notice unless it is an extreme emergency. All department heads will receive a memo with detailed orders shortly. That’s it for now, unless the captain hands down any further orders of her own. Until we figure out the who and the why, none of us is going to be getting much sleep. To your posts, everyone.”
With firm nods and words of acknowledgement, the team of officers dispersed. Tanis walked into her office and called up the duty roster arranged by Evan Saller to see which departments individual officers would be posted in. She briefly considered having an officer posted at every turbolift, but that might be a little extreme. Unless the killer stole a shuttle or beamed out into space, where were they going to go? Silently remarking her approval for Saller’s organizational skills, she switched off the monitor and went to the equipment locker to retrieve a crime scene kit, keeping the holo-imager with her in case she needed it for anything else, and headed back to Simmons’ place of death. As soon as she finished there, she would go to Medbay and check on the progress of the autopsy.
Stepping into the turbolift, Tanis was surprised when the ship’s ICP addressed her. “Excuse me, Lt. Tanis?”
Tanis looked around before belatedly realizing it was the computer that had spoken to her. Damned if I’ll ever get used to a computer speaking when not spoken to, she thought. “Forgive me for being rude, Adrian, but I’m a little busy,” she said, then ordered the lift to take her to deck four.
“I’ve no doubt of that—I understand there’s been a murder. Ensign Simmons will be missed.”
Tanis nodded her head sadly, even though she was essentially alone. “That she will. And when I catch the SOB who did it, I swear I’ll—”
“I can help you find him.”
Adrian’s words sank in just as the turbolift stopped and the doors opened for her to disembark onto the appropriate deck. She’d just put one foot over the threshold, but quickly drew it back. “Adrian, shut this door,” she commanded, and as soon as he had done so asked, “What do you mean you can help me find him? And how do you know it’s a him?”
“Obviously, I don't know if it was a he or a she. I simply used the masculine pronoun for the sake of argument.”
Tanis resisted a growl. After all, she’d left that one wide open—though who knew a computer could be such a smart ass? “Get to the point, Mr. Microchip.”
“My point, Lieutenant, is precisely what I said. I can help you find the perpetrator. If this was a spur-of-the-moment crime, the killer will have likely left bio-matter that can be traced back to him. Or her. However, there also stands the possibility that whoever did it thought to cover their tracks, spontaneous action or not.”
“I’m well aware of that, Adrian,” the lieutenant retorted. “You still haven’t told me precisely how you can help. I would like to get the crime scene processed sometime today.”
“My apologies, Lieutenant. How I can help is by tracing commbadge activity all over the ship for the entire day. Or for a shorter period of time, if you wish. I would naturally concentrate my efforts on deck four, and the Jeffries tube in sections 15A through 15E in particular,” Adrian explained.
Tanis Auryn's eyebrows shot up, and her eyes turned toward the car’s ceiling. “You can do that?” she asked, unable to hide her surprise.
“I can. Would you like me to?”
“Of course!” she sputtered. “For that matter, don’t even wait to see if I find any physical evidence, do it now!”
If Adrian had had a body, he would have smiled serenely and nodded. “I will begin at once.”
“Captain Hale and Lt. Tanis, please report to Medbay.”
Myrian Anil sighed sadly as she looked down at the pale face of Elspeth Simmons. She hadn’t known the ensign personally, but the girl’s death still cut to the quick. The Romulan had been forced to battle tears of anger as she and Haiakauna had performed the autopsy.
“I just don’t understand. Why would anyone on this ship want to kill one of their—one of our—own?”
Anil looked up and tried to smile reassuringly—a hard thing to do over a member of the recently deceased. “Why is the universal wonder, Milo. Even when we know the reason, we still won’t know the why,” she told him.
“That is an intriguingly philosophical statement, Doctor,” her assistant observed.
“I’ll have to explain it to you sometime,” Dr. Anil told her as Hale and Tanis walked in.
Serutian Hale’s expression was a facade of strength. Anil could tell the shock of Simmons’ death was weighing heavily on her.
“Report, Doctor,” Hale commanded, unable to take her eyes off the still form on the surgical table.
Anil nodded. “Ensign Simmons died of a broken neck—death was instantaneous,” she informed the newcomers.
Hale’s face remained impassive. “I see. Not that a woman can’t do it, but that suggests to me that her killer was more than likely a man. And we only have thirty-seven of them on board.” She glanced up briefly at Alpha Shift’s medical technician, who was male. “No offense, Ensign.”
“None taken, ma’am,” Haiakauna said. “But…there’s more.”
The Trill’s gaze locked onto him. “What do you mean, ‘there’s more’?” she asked.
Haiakauna handed her a PADD with the results of the autopsy. Even as the captain was perusing its contents, he said, “Our examination revealed that Simmons was sexually assaulted and sodomized prior to her death.”
Both Hale and Tanis drew in sharp breaths as they both examined the findings. “Any hair or fluid samples left behind?” Tanis asked.
“Unfortunately, and not very surprisingly, no.”
Tanis Auryn snorted in disgust. “I should have known we wouldn’t get that lucky. My sweep of the Jeffries tube also turned up nothing,” she told them. “The killer was at least smart enough to destroy the physical evidence. Right now I’ve got Adrian filtering through all the commbadge activity on that deck to get to who was in the tube with Simmons before Rejan found her.”
“The computer? It can do that?” asked Haiakauna.
Tanis glanced at him. “Yes, apparently he can. I checked in with him right before coming here, and he said he’s almost got the tube isolated from the rest of the background signals. It would seem there’s an incredible amount of activity on deck four at midday.”
Adrian spoke at the moment. “Adrian to Tanis.”
“Tanis here. What have you got?”
“Internal sensors and my tracking program have determined that Crewman Luther Kincaid was in the Jeffries tube at section 15C prior to and immediately following Ensign Simmons’ death, and that both he and Simmons are the only two crew members who visited that particular section in the last twenty-four hours. Correlating that with the approximate time of death, which was recently listed in her medical file, the probability that Mr. Kincaid is the perpetrator is ninety-nine point nine-nine percent,” Adrian reported.
An almost sadistic satisfaction flowed through the security chief’s veins. “Didn’t think of everything, did he?” she said with a smirk. “Where is he now?”
“Luther Kincaid is on deck four, crew cabin four-zero four-C.”
Her smile was triumphant as she drew her phaser and headed for the exit with Captain Hale on her heels. “Tanis to Security. Meet me on deck four.”
Evan Saller, Tate Owens and Captain Hale stood with Tanis as she used a security override command to let them into the four-person enlisted crew cabin unannounced. Elspeth Simmons’ killer, alone in the small quarters, had the audacity to be affronted by their intrusion.
“What the hell are you doing?” he cried indignantly.
Tate Owens, after holstering his weapon, stepped around his superiors to throw a right hook at Kincaid’s jaw. The blow landed squarely, impacting with enough force to lift the older man off the floor. He crashed over the coffee table, and Owens was on him again nearly before he hit the deck.
“Ensign Owens, stand down!” shouted Hale, even as Tanis and Saller moved to intercede.
Owens stopped short of throwing another punch. Instead he drew his phaser again and pressed it to Kincaid's throat. “You are so lucky I’m a Starfleet officer,” he growled, then shoved the other man’s head against the floor. He kept his weapon trained on Kincaid until Tanis and Saller had picked him up and put him in restraints. Then he turned to the captain.
“Forgive me, Captain. I know better, but once I saw him, I couldn’t stop myself. Elspeth was my friend.”
“Lt. Tanis and I will discuss it with you later, Ensign,” Hale replied, then walked over to where her chief of security stood with Journey’s first prisoner.
“You almost got away with it,” Tanis was saying.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Kincaid lied.
Tanis didn't bother to suppress a smirk. “Oh, sure you do. Clever of you to clear both the Jeffries tube and Ensign Simmons of all traces of your DNA, but you forgot one thing.” She plucked his commbadge from his chest and waved it in front of his face, then looked at it as if it were the greatest thing since sliced bread. “Gotta love inventions, Mr. Kincaid. Our friend Adrian was able to track you down because of this nifty little piece of technology. He used internal sensors to filter through all the crew chatter and electronic activity and was able to pinpoint you as being in the Jeffries tube on deck four immediately before and after the death of Ensign Simmons. And—oh, this is the best part—you and Simmons were the only two people in that particular Jeffries tube all day!”
“I tell you, I have no idea…”
“Save it, Kincaid,” Hale spat. “You’re under arrest for the rape and murder of Ensign Elspeth Simmons. Lt. Tanis, take this disgrace to the brig.”
“Yellow alert. Hail them.”
“No response, Captain,” Ensign Reda reported. “Sensors are showing severe damage to their vessel.”
After Luther Kincaid had unceremoniously been placed into the brig, Captain Hale had ordered a stand down from General Quarters and resumed their flight toward the Colony vessel. She hoped they might be able to come to some sort of understanding with these creatures before they had to turn around and take Kincaid back to Earth for his murder trial, though if she were honest with herself, she was half-expecting a trap.
“What kind of damage?” asked Stadi.
Reda consulted her readings. “There doesn’t appear to have been a fight, Commander. Whatever happened to them started on the inside. There’s a large hull breach on the starboard side if the ship, and the breach ruptured outward.”
“Lifesigns?” Stadi prompted.
The ensign shook her head after a moment. “None, Commander. With a hole the size of the one on their ship…” For emphasis she put the image up on the viewscreen. “There’s no way anyone could have survived.”
The bridge crew stared in obvious curiosity at the gaping maw on the side of the derelict Colony ship. “Any signs we’ll be receiving company any time soon?” Hale asked.
Lt. Evan Saller was manning the tactical station while Tanis was down in Engineering, personally supervising the study of the communications node from which Luther Kincaid had been sending an encoded message when Simmons happened upon him. “Negative, Captain. Sensors aren’t picking up anything within range,” he answered.
“Maintain yellow alert just the same.” Hale turned to Stadi. “Awfully strange, don’t you think, that none of their own people have responded to their distress call?”
Jennara Stadi nodded soberly. “I’ll admit I’m not completely comfortable with the situation,” she replied.
What was she going to do now? Hale wondered. Both she and her first officer had admitted to feelings of discomfort concerning the lack of response from the Colony. Were they not concerned as to the well being of their people? Should she go ahead and investigate the derelict ship or head home now?
“Captain?” Stadi asked, looking concerned.
Hale blinked at the sound of the Betazoid’s voice and turned to her. “Sorry, I was thinking,” she replied at last.
“Should we send an away team over to the Colony ship or set course for Earth?”
“Take an away team over there. If we’re going back to Earth this soon, we might as well take something useful back with us,” Hale told her.
1400 hours, Briefing Room, en route to Earth
“We may have more than one problem on our hands,” Hale began ominously. “Luther Kincaid has not only killed one of our officers, but he’s been in contact with the Colony.”
“With the assistance of Mr. Dareth, we were able to determine that Kincaid has been sending transmissions to someone within the Colony for the last three days,” announced Journey's chief engineer.
“He was successful in masking his communications with background noise,” added Ensign Reda. “He would send his transmissions in the early hours of the morning, generally between 0100 and 0300. At that time of day, a signal as low as he was using would easily be missed.”
“How exactly did you know he was doing something?” Stadi wondered aloud.
“As Ensign Reda just stated, Kincaid had previously maintained a routine of transmitting between 0100 and 0300. Today, he obviously grew overconfident in believing he would get away with transmitting in the middle of our busiest shift, neglecting to take into consideration how closely Engineering and Operations monitors energy readings, even the most minor,” T'Rae replied.
“Which he ought to have remembered, considering Engineering’s where he was assigned to work,” put in Praeger.
“Indeed, Lieutenant,” T'Rae conceded. “As a custom during first watch, ten minutes prior to noon a ship-wide scan of energy output readings is performed. That is how we discovered his signal. He was in the middle of conducting one of his covert conversations,” she went on.
“What were they talking about?” Hale asked.
“The conversations from the last three days consist mainly of his reminding his contact of precisely how he knew him. They were once acquaintances, though they haven’t seen each other in many years,” Tanis said.
“How is that possible? I don’t even think Starfleet’s heard of the Colony,” remarked Praeger.
“I’m hoping to find that out once I interrogate Kincaid,” was Tanis’s reply.
“What about on the Colony ship? What did you find out over there?” Hale asked.
“Not much, I’m afraid,” Stadi replied. “The explosion that caused that hole in their starboard side was caused by one of their impulse engines—it exploded. Dareth is still translating the computer records we managed to download to see if we can determine why, and he’s also going to develop a translator matrix so that we can talk to them if we encounter them again. And as far as we could tell, their only similarity to the Insectoid Xindi is their appearance.”
“As Dr. Marcan observed this morning, the Colony do indeed appear to be a simple people,” Finley McPherson added. “The layout of their ship is nowhere near as complex as Journey—actually it’s a lot like that of an ant colony on Earth—and their equipment is pretty basic as well. I think a ten-year-old could learn to fly that thing in a matter of hours.”
“However, a number of their technologies are similar to our own. The Colony has transporter capabilities, as well as powerful weapons,” T’Rae put in.
“I’d say,” McPherson replied. “Those weapons took down our shields by fifteen percent with only three shots!”
“I don’t think anyone’s forgotten that, Lieutenant,” Hale said. “All the same, we'll remain on yellow alert. Just because their people haven’t responded yet doesn’t mean they won’t, and when they discover that we were on that ship, they may just come looking for us. I want continuous long-range scans for any sign of an approaching Colony ship. Dismissed.”
As her officers filed out to their respective posts, Hale went over in her mind the information they had learned. One of her crew had known about the Colony and kept it from them. He then began communicating with them on his own, apparently to garner trust, and he had killed to protect that secret. She envied T’Rae her ability to repress feelings of guilt. According to T’Rae, his overconfidence had been his downfall—but Ensign Simmons had been the one to pay the price for it. On the one hand, if it hadn’t been for Simmons, they might never have known about Luther Kincaid’s connection with the Colony until it was too late. On the other, they’d now lost two crewmembers, and if they got into a fight with the Colony, they were likely to lose more.
“A credit for your thoughts, Captain?”
Hale jumped. She hadn’t realized she wasn't alone. “Doctor, I didn’t know you were still here.”
Gillon Marcan smiled lightly. “I noticed. Where were you just now? You didn’t look like you were anywhere in this quadrant,” he said.
“Vulcans have it so easy. They have the ability to feel, and choose not to. Most other species, yours and mine included, have the ability to feel, but probably couldn’t stop ourselves from doing so even if we tried.”
Hale looked out the window again. “Today, losing Ensign Simmons—looking into her eyes and seeing that she was dead. Finding out someone Starfleet trusted, someone I trusted, someone on this crew had killed her…I don’t know. It was like being in a dream, a really bad dream.”
Before Marcan had a chance to reply, Hale was called to the bridge with the news that a Colony ship had been picked up on long-range sensors.
“At our present speed, they’ll catch up to us in two hours,” her first officer told her.
“Speedy little buggers, aren’t they?” the Trill asked bemusedly. “Maintain course and speed, McPherson. We go any faster and it’ll look like we’re running away.”
“But aren’t we?” Tanis asked.
Hale turned to her brother’s fiancée and flashed a grin, then looked at the approaching ship on the viewscreen again with a serious expression. “Not yet.”
After that it was a waiting game, and before anyone had realized it, the two hours were up.
The Colony ship was right behind them.
“Shields up!” Hale cried a spit second before bright yellow beams flew across the short distance between the two ships, connecting with Journey’s shields.
“Return fire! Target their weapons array!” the captain cried. The deck pitched as weapons fire rocked the ship again. Hale noticed with grim satisfaction that Tanis was quick to give as much as they got. “Is that translator matrix working yet?” she growled.
“Negative. Dareth is still—wait! It just came online!” Reda called out.
Sparks and smoke flew from a station on the back wall of the bridge even as Lt. Tanis announced that their shields were down to seventy-three percent, and that only minimal damage had been done to their pursuers. Hale told her to fire a full torpedo spread, then called out, “Open a channel!”
Reda carried out the order after ducking away from a shower of sparks. “Channel open, Captain.”
“Colony vessel, this is Captain Hale of the Starship Journey. Cease your attack! We want no quarrel with you!”
A few heartbeats passed before they received a broken response. “—ney, you—our brethren. We come—you!”
As if there was a need to emphasize their intentions, the phased plasma weapons of the Colony ship opened up with another barrage. “We didn’t attack your people!” Journey’s first officer responded. “We don’t know what happened to them!”
The Colony ship’s only reply was to continue firing at the little Federation vessel. Tanis and Reda continued to call out damage reports—shields had dropped to fifty percent, microfractures were forming in the hull at various points, and casualty reports were coming in a steady stream from Medbay.
“Bridge to Engineering. Can you give us warp eight?” Captain Hale shouted over the whine of the alert klaxon.
“Bridge, T’Rae here. A large number of the engineering staff has suffered injuries. If we lose any more, we may not be able to keep us in warp speed at all.”
Luther Kincaid growled in frustration. They weren’t supposed to disable Journey before beaming him off the ship! Being tossed around his cell had already caused one head wound that still seeped blood—he just hoped the forcefield holding him in went down before he was knocked out cold. His guard had left him alone to go save his precious ship from elsewhere, and the lights had flickered twice. He was sure it was only a matter of time before the power was down long enough to—
As if on cue, everything in the brig went offline, including the forcefield generator. Knowing that the forcefields were on a separate circuit to prevent escapes during just such an incident as this, Kincaid threw himself over the threshold before the generator kick-started again. He was just in time, too, as the translucent blue energy barrier blinked on less than a second after his feet cleared the lip of the cell. For it to have been offline even the few seconds it was meant the Colony ship was doing fantastic damage. That thought brought a smile to his face.
Rising quickly, Kincaid made a beeline for the armory so he could procure a weapon. His commbadge, which he had reconfigured to beam him directly to his old friend’s ship with a simple voice command, had been confiscated, and now he was going to have to alter his plan. The commbadge would have enabled him to beam off the ship without immediate detection, but rather than waste time looking for it, he decided to go to the transporter room.
When he’d heard some of the crew talking about ‘ant creatures’ he suspected they’d run into the Colony. Kincaid then sought out what he’d thought was an out of the way, insignificant communications node from which to send messages. He hadn’t seen anyone from the Colony in a long time, though—and it had taken him the last three days to convince them that taking him off Journey would be beneficial to both him and the Colony. That damned Vulcan slave-driver, T’Rae, had gotten on his case again this morning about being just a couple minutes late, and then and there he had decided he’d had enough. So on his way to his quarters for lunch, he had hopped into the Jeffries tube for a quick word with his childhood pal, hoping to sway him into coming to get him today.
He hadn’t considered the possibility that he might get caught. Kincaid had been careful to transmit during third watch before today, but he figured a short conversation couldn’t possibly get noticed. He hadn’t figured on Engineering picking up his signal, let alone sending someone to check it out. Not that he hadn’t had his fun with Simmons before she died, but Luther hadn’t planned on killing anyone! The plan had been to make a clean break from this misbegotten ship during what appeared to be a random attack, and it would have worked if Simmons hadn’t scanned the comm node before he could stop her. She was smart enough to realize that someone had been transmitting from it, and the culprit was most likely the man who was sitting next to her—a man who just happened to be in a spot he wasn’t supposed to be in. Before the girl could back away or reach for her commbadge Kincaid was on her, muffling her screams as he raped her and then snapping her neck cleanly when it was over.
Luther had assumed that by destroying the trace evidence he was in the clear. How the hell was he supposed to know the computer could track crew movements by their commbadges? No problem, he’d told himself, even as they were putting him into his cell. He’d get out of here just the same. Right before Simmons had happened upon him, he’d gotten confirmation that the Colony was on their way.
It had been an easy thing to blame Journey for what had happened to the scout ship that had first encountered them. The Colony were such simpletons they were easy to manipulate, Kincaid mused, as he made his way slowly down the corridor. He was just counting his blessings that no one was around when he ran into someone.
“Luther!” Perry Grimaldi exclaimed. “How did you get out of the brig? And where did you get that phaser rifle?”
Kincaid grinned. “The wonders of technology, my friend,” he said glibly, looking the other man up and down.
“Say Perry—you ready to blow this joint?”
Grimaldi eyed him confusedly, and stumbled as the ship shook around them. “What are you talking about, Luther? We’re in the middle of a battle here!”
Kincaid rolled his eyes. “So? Let’s make a break for it, man! We don’t need these Starfleet fools!” he said, excitement in his voice. “Smart guys like us can do a hell of a lot better than this. With powerful friends like the Colony, no one will be able to stop us!”
Grimaldi grabbed him by the arm. “You mean to tell me you do know these people? You really did kill Simmons? Luther, are you out of your bleedin’ mind?!” he ground out through clenched teeth. “These ‘friends’ of yours are going to destroy the ship!”
The older man laughed, shaking Perry's hand off. “That’s the whole idea.”
He then aimed his weapon at him. “Now move.”
Grimaldi could only stare at him. “What are you doing?”
“I’m disappointed in you, Perry,” Kincaid said with disgust. “I thought you were tough. I thought you had it in you to be a force in this quadrant. Looks like I was wrong.”
He lifted the rifle higher. “Now let’s go.”
Perry Grimaldi didn't move. “What are you going to do, Luther? Kill me, too?” he asked derisively.
“Only if you force me to.”
Deliberately Grimaldi leaned back against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest. He said nothing.
“Damn you, you son of a—”
Moving faster than Kincaid could respond, Grimaldi came off the wall and delivered a roundhouse kick to Luther's face. Kincaid was knocked backwards and he lost his grip on the phaser rifle. Both men reached for it at the same time, their hands meeting on the cool metal casing. For an instant they looked into one another’s eyes, and on reading the same deadly determination, both knew that only one of them would be walking away.
In a blur they rushed each other, falling to the deck in a tangle of arms and legs. Though Journey continued to shake and rattle around them, they paid heed to nothing but each other as they rolled and wrestled across the small space, punching, kicking, and head-butting at every opportunity. Kincaid got a grip on Grimaldi’s head and gave a forceful shove against the wall, effectively stunning his foe. He rolled backwards and stood, picking up the lost weapon as he did so.
Laughing madly, he upped the setting and pointed. “You know something, old friend? I lied—I am going to kill you.”
Perry Grimaldi did not go quietly. He made a final, fruitless lunge at Kincaid, his cry of vengeance cut short by the phaser rifle’s deadly orange-red beam. His suddenly lifeless body was flung against the wall before dropping to the deck in a heap.
Humming a tune he had learned as a boy, Luther Kincaid put his weapon up against his shoulder and strolled away.
“Shields down to thirty-two percent! I’m reading minor hull breaches on decks four, five and seven!” reported a now-bleeding Ensign Reda.
“Engineering to bridge. We must reduce speed to impulse before we lose warp capability altogether!”
“We can’t afford to, T’Rae! The Colony ship is kicking our ass, and if we slow down they’ll destroy us for sure!” answered Hale.
Before either woman could say anything more, Reda broke in with, “Captain! Internal sensors just registered phaser fire on deck three!”
Without waiting for the order she knew was coming, Tanis Auryn slapped her commbadge. “Security to deck three!”
A few minutes later, Ensign Reda cried out again. “There’s an unauthorized transport in progress!”
“Reverse the beam! Get whoever it is back!” Hale ordered sharply, a niggling thought in the corner of her mind telling her she knew just who had left.
“No good—they’re gone,” Reda told her.
Hale made her way shakily over to the operations station. “Let me guess, to the Colony ship, right?”
Reda checked her instruments. “Affirmative.”
Tanis’s head shot up. “Security reports Luther Kincaid is not in his cell,” she called out.
Hale let loose a colorful Trill epithet. “Why does that not surprise me?” she said. “How did he even get out of his cell?”
“Captain Hale! The Colony ship is breaking off their attack! They're moving away,” McPherson called across the bridge.
“Are you sure?” Stadi asked.
Reda put the image up on screen. “Yes, Commander. They're going to warp…now.”
They all watched as the odd ship disappeared in a streak of light. “I suppose Luther wants us to thank him now,” Stadi said bitterly.
“Finley, full stop. Report,” Hale commanded, moving back to her chair.
Lt. McPherson ran her hands swiftly across the helm. “Looks like the warp engines are taxed from the stress of the fight, Captain. Engineering reports it’ll take four to six hours to get them up and running again,” she reported promptly.
“Hull breaches and microfractures have been sealed; shields are down to twenty-five percent. Turbolift two is stuck between decks two and three, one passenger inside. Repair teams have been dispatched.” Azlyn Reda hesitated on the next bit of information. “Uh…Medbay reports twenty-two casualties and one fatality.”
Hale’s head dropped into her hands. Damn! she thought angrily. “Who?”
When the answer wasn't immediately forthcoming, she looked up and over at the young officer sternly. “I asked you a question, Ensign."
Reda swallowed heavily, and tried not to look toward the engineering stations. Maria’s going to be devastated, she thought. “Perry Grimaldi, Captain,” she said softly.
All eyes turned to the rear of the bridge, where Ensign Maria Pantuliano had turned as white as a sheet. The girl looked at each of them blankly, mumbling under her breath, and without warning fell to the floor.
Stadi rushed over to her, the captain close behind. “She’s just fainted,” the Betazoid said.
“Get her to Medbay,” Hale said.
Repairs were under way, the Colony hadn’t been heard from for nearly an hour, and now they had two dead crewmen to transport. Because Journey did not have a proper morgue, the Biological Sciences lab had been turned into one temporarily—engineers had lowered the temperature in that room enough that the bodies of the dead would be preserved.
In Dr. Anil’s office were Hale, Stadi, Tanis and Marcan. He and Anil explained to the others just what had transpired on the bridge…and why.
Perry Grimaldi had been Maria Pantuliano’s fiancé.
“How did he die?” Hale asked.
“Petty Officer Grimaldi was shot in the chest at pointblank range with a phaser rifle on high,” Anil replied. “One setting away from vaporization.”
“One is missing from the armory,” Tanis added. “Kincaid must have wanted a souvenir, and Grimaldi got in the way. Those phased plasma weapons the Colony has caused power fluctuations all over the ship that the forcefield generator apparently couldn’t keep up with. Just a few seconds afforded him enough opportunity to get out of his cell.”
“But why kill Perry? They were friends, from what I’ve heard,” Stadi wondered.
“When the two of them ran into each other in the hallway, Grimaldi must’ve tried to stop Kincaid, and was killed as the lieutenant said—because he got in the way,” Dr. Marcan said simply.
The expression on Serutian Hale’s face was dark. “What about Petty Officer Pantuliano? Is she going to be alright?”
“A loss like this is naturally devastating, Captain. It’s going to be rough for her for a while,” the counselor replied.
Stadi glanced out at the sedated ensign in Medbay’s treatment area, thinking of the sister she had lost seven years ago, and the dear friend she had lost just two months ago. “Yeah, very rough,” the Betazoid said.