Saturday, June 15, 2019

"Distress Signals"

Artwork by Eudarion. Text and story editing by Christina Moore.



First Officer’s Log, Stardate 54181.2

Aurora has completed her fifth patrol along the Motaabi Nebula today. So far, we haven’t seen any Blas Maraug activity, though I can feel my own restlessness and that of the crew growing with every day. The ship is on a constant Yellow Alert and with battle drills being staged every day, I’m quite confident that this crew is prepared for whatever adversity we may find, but even so, the tensions are building. I wish they would just attack and get it over with!

Of course, not all of this ship’s crew members are restless for something challenging to do. This long wait had given Lieutenant Vata and her engineering teams an extended shakedown time to fix the small problems with our enhanced sensors, regenerative shielding matrix, and quantum torpedo tubes.
_____

Personal log, Christine Keller, supplemental…

My new captain is just that—new. I doubt there is much that I can learn from him, seeing that I’ve been in Starfleet a year longer than he has. I know that he spent three years as a first officer under the command of Captain Collins and I suspect that he’s taking his death pretty hard. He’s left me to oversee normal ship’s functions and after the Serengeti incident, I intend to take full advantage of this opportunity to prove myself to Starfleet. Hopefully, there’s still a chance that I can bring my dream of achieving my own commander in the not too distant future closer to reality.

****

“Checkmate!” Zagora cried, jumping out of his seat at the table. “I won! Yes! I won!”

Ensign T’Liya, who was seated in the opposite seat across from him, raised her eyebrow at the overexcited officer who was now hugging Crewman Ceriss. The Orion had been cheering him on throughout the whole game. She hardly knew anything about chess and she was extremely elated to see that Zagora had beaten a Vulcan. She waited a second longer before she reached her hand across the three-dimensional chess board and picking up her king, moved it up to one level.

“I am sorry to cancel your post-game celebrations, Ensign,” T’Liya interrupted him, “but the game is not over.”

Zagora stopped celebrating and sat down in the chair again, analyzing the chessboards intently.

“I don’t understand,” Ceriss asked him. “I thought … you won?”

Zagora sighed, frustration building up in him as he realized that he had forgotten about securing the upper level. The Vulcan’s king still had another move. He now realized that he was even worse off. The Vulcan had tricked him into concentrating his pieces around his king while she began surrounding his king. He had been a fool not to see it.

“No, Ceriss,” he replied, quickly moving his king out of the trap that had grown around it. “It was a trick. I only thought that I had won.”

“A mistake that most Humans tend to make,” T’Liya commented as she moved her bishop down three levels, cornering Zagora’s king and ending the game. “I find that Human emotions often cloud their judgment and prevent them from seeing the whole picture. You were too focused on one aspect of the game, specifically my king since you sensed false vulnerability. You ignored my countermoves on the queen’s level and that eventually led to your downfall. It was… an intriguing game.”

Zagora was shocked and disappointed. Again, T’Liya had proven herself superior to him. It seemed to be a recurring theme lately. She was a Vulcan that did not mind the company of Humans—it was a chance for her to demonstrate how inferior Humans really were, but it was beginning to get on Zagora’s nerves. He vowed never to play T’Liya again in any sport or game.

The young science officer got up from the table just as Commander Keller walked leisurely into the mess hall, a phaser was strapped to her belt as all officers were required to wear while on duty now. She gazed around the room thoughtfully, looking bored but like she had something on her mind.

“How are you, Commander?” Zagora asked, walking up to her on his way out of the mess hall.

She smiled at him. “Fine, Mister Zagora. I trust that you’re doing as well?”

“A little bored, Commander,” he replied, “but I suppose that’s better than the alternative.”

“I know what you mean,” she replied, heading towards the replicator as Zagora, T’Liya, and Ceriss exited the Mess Hall.

“Commander Keller!” a Benzite crewman called out to her, walking up to her quickly as if she was afraid that she might run away.

“Verzan,” she said, recognizing the overexcited crew member as she took a sip of her tea, “how can I help you today?”

The Benzite smiled happily, taking a quick breath from her breathing apparatus. “I don’t mean to keep you from your duties, Commander, but I was concerned about the captain. I haven’t seen him in days. He usually stops by for awhile and orders a raktajino. Is he ill at all?”

Keller moved towards a table, motioning for Verzan to follow her. The Benzite pulled out a chair across from her and sat down.

“It’s nice of you to be concerned about the captain, but he’s fine. He just hasn’t been in here awhile,” she explained, taking another sip.

“I see. Well, I should make it a point to go visit him then. I should tell him to come to the mess hall more often. I think it boosts the crew’s morale to see the captain dining with them.”

“You’re probably right, but the captain doesn’t want to see anyone right now. He’d rather be alone.”

Verzan frowned. “That’s strange. He seems like a very open-minded person. He’s always been friendly before. Why has he suddenly changed?”

“How the captain runs this ship isn’t your concern,” she said, defending him as she finished her small cup of tea and rose from her seat. “There hasn’t been much need for the captain over the last few weeks.”

“I understand, ma’am,” Verzan replied before she headed back to her table.

Keller placed her teacup back into the replicator terminal and after instructing it to dematerialize, she walked out of the mess hall. She was worried about the captain herself. He had picked a bad time to isolate himself from the crew and the ship’s morale was starting to deteriorate. She knew that she would have to pay the captain a visit. She had known for days now but she had to put it off.

Now it was time.

****

The door chimes rang twice before its sound managed to cut through Bishop’s dark thoughts. “Come,” he replied, closing the old book that sat on his lap.

The door opened and Commander Keller walked into his quarters. The room was dark except for the glow of the lights on the bulkheads. Captain Bishop was sitting in an easy chair, facing the window towards the Motaabi Nebula, his red uniform undershirt open around the collar.

“Can I help you, Commander?”

“I came to ask you if you wanted to join me for a game of racquetball? I’ve reserved a holodeck for an hour. I figured you could get out a little and get some exercise?” she asked him, knowing that he would decline the offer.

Bishop gave her a half smile and turned back to the viewport. “That’s a nice offer, Commander, but I don't really feel like getting exercise. Thank you anyway. Besides, I believe it’s Commander Doyle who plays racquetball.”

Keller sighed. “Captain, what’s wrong? You’ve been locked away in here for days, and you haven’t said more than five words to any of the crew.”

“I’ll be on the bridge when I'm needed, Commander. Thank you for your concern.”

“You’re needed on the bridge now, sir. We haven’t seen any action since the battle with the Nelson. This crew is tired, bored, and becoming restless. They need something to do, rather than circle the nebula like buzzards.”

“You wouldn’t say that if you had seen what I’ve seen, Christine,” Bishop told her. “We lost sixteen people the last time that we ‘saw action’, and two others at the battle with the Nelson. Those weren’t just names. They were people. They had families, friends, loved ones, and they were stripped away from them in one moment of ‘action’.”

“I understand,” was her reply,” but that’s why we’re here. Those people knew the risks to their lives when they signed up. I regret their losses, but we have to move on.”

“I know. That’s what I've tried to do ever since that terrible night, is move on. Now, it seems as if things are standing still again. I’ve had too much time lately and I find myself constantly thinking about it. I tried to read this book,” he said as he brought the book that he was reading up to the light for her to read the cover, “but I haven't been able to get past the first chapter.”

“It sounds like you could use a distraction—any distraction.”

“I suppose you’re right,” he said, getting out of the chair and picking up the book. He walked over to the bookshelf on the wall and placed it beside two other large hardcover volumes. As he slid the book between them, the title of one caught his eye and he pulled it out to stare at it, intently for a long time. 

“That’s quite a collection,” Keller remarked.

“They aren’t really mine,” he replied to her remark. “None of these are really mine. It was all left to me by Nathaniel Collins. These were his quarters, his books, and his ship. I feel as though I’ve stolen it from him.”

“I’m sure you wouldn’t have it unless he wanted you to. You were his friend, weren’t you?”

“His best friend,” answered Bishop. “On the Ontario, we did everything together. And then after he was promoted and I was promoted, we only saw each other once in a while, like the odd times that both of our ships were at a starbase together. Of course, all of that changed when he got his first command here on Aurora. He wanted me as First Officer and we spent three years together, mapping stars and studying the worlds of the Aries Expanse—I was even the best man at his wedding. Then in one moment, all of that—his entire life—was gone.”

“I’m sorry, sir,” she began to say but she was interrupted by the voice of Clifford Doyle over the communications system.

Bridge to the Captain,” he said. “We’re receiving a distress signal from the cargo freighter Golden Express. They report that they’re under attack by a refitted Khymerian transport.”

“How soon can we be there?” Bishop asked him.

We’re twenty-five minutes away at maximum warp, sir.”

“Set a course, Mister Doyle. I’m on my way,” the captain responded, leading Commander Keller out of his quarters. “It looks like you got your wish, Commander.”

****

“Captain, we’re approaching the Golden Express’ position,” Doyle reported from Ops. “I’m not reading any other ships in the area.”

“Put the freighter on screen,” Bishop said, rising out of his chair and walking towards the viewscreen. The viewer displayed the damaged cargo freighter which had been nearly destroyed by the attack.

“The freighter’s structural integrity is down to twenty percent and there are several hull breaches, all of them in the cargo modules,” Doyle reported. “The ship appears to be derelict, but the environmental controls are still active on certain decks. Not all of the cargo holds are empty either. Sensors are showing several tons of uridium ore and data processors in the holds, along with some other compounds.”

“It looks as though the Blas Maraug weren’t able to finish the job,” Keller remarked. Uridium ore is valuable stuff.”

“Are there any lifesigns?” Bishop asked.

There was a brief pause before Doyle reported his findings. “I’m having trouble scanning the ship. The damaged engines are leaking theta radiation which is interfering with our sensors. It’s possible that there are people alive in that section but there’s only one way to be sure.”

“We’ll have to send in an away team,” Bishop concluded. “What’s the status of the Golden Express’ warp core?”

“It appears to be stable at the moment, sir, but due to the level of damage, I believe it’s beyond repair.”

“Nala,” Bishop called out as he headed towards a turbolift, “you’re with me. Have Doctor Lim meet us in Transporter Room One and prepare for theta inoculations.”

“Sir,” Keller objected to this sudden thrust into action, “don’t you think it might be wiser to stay aboard Aurora?”

“I don’t see any reason to,” he replied, earnestly to her concerns. “The Blas Maraug are gone and it’s a simple search and rescue operation. Besides,” he added, grinning as the turbolift doors closed, “I could use a distraction.”

****

Freighter Golden Express


The away team materialized inside one of the freighter’s corridors. The extent of the Blas Maraug attack was instantly revealed as they saw debris littered all across the floor. Bulkheads had been scarred with burn damage, blackened by fire, and the emergency lights flickered. The temperature was deathly hot and grey gas poured out of the damaged ventilation system.

“The engine room is down that corridor,” Bishop explained, pointing forward after he had examined the readings from his tricorder.

As a precaution, Nalarithren ch’Dalvis drew his handheld phaser as the three-person away team moved slowly through and around the wreckage towards the ship’s engine room.

“It sure it hot enough!” Doctor Lim exclaimed, wiping a drop of sweat away from his blue forehead.

“Are you kidding?” asked ch’Dalvis. “This place is cool compared to other places I’ve been forced to live.”

“The environmental controls are offline and the damaged warp core is producing a lot of extra heat,” the captain explained to them, examining his tricorder again as they turned a bend in the corridor.

“And plenty of radiation too,” Lim asked, who had just opened his medical tricorder. “The amount of theta radiation is increasing exponentially for every hundred meters. I can’t imagine anyone being able to survive for more than ten minutes close to the warp core.”

As the away team moved further down the ruined corridor they noticed the bodies of two Human crew members. One of them was lying face down on a pile of rubble, his entire left side of his body scorched by fire. The other crew member was sitting upright, his back pressed against the corridor wall and his hands were grasped around a piece of a titanium beam that had been thrust into his stomach. The crewman had a horrified expression on his face that sent a cold shiver down all three officers’ spines.

The expression was familiar to Bishop and he remembered the same look from his friend, lying on the floor of Aurora’s bridge at the bottom of a pile of rubble. He could hear his frantic voice calling to the others to help him move the bulkhead off of the captain.

“Nathaniel!” he had cried out, seeing the piece of bulkhead beside the captain’s chair. He had run towards it and begun pulling debris off of him. “Help me!” he had shouted. “We’ve got to save him!” 

It had seemed like forever before ch’Dalvis and Zagora had rushed over to help him. They had grabbed the large piece of titanium and gradually managed to lift it off of the captain, finding his bruised and bleeding body underneath. His face had been twisted into a horrified expression as though he had seen the beam come crashing down towards him but he couldn’t do anything to prevent it.

Bishop had pulled Collins’ body out of the wreckage and laid him out on the deck. There had been little hope that he would survive after that, but he hadn’t been willing to give up on him.

“Bridge to Sickbay,” ch’Dalvis said. “We have multiple emergencies up here!”

“Captain!” Doctor Lim called out, shaking him on the shoulder, waking him up from his flashback. The Bolian had noticed that Captain Bishop had been staring long and hard at the dead officer without moving at all. It was as if he was frozen in place. His eyes seemed to be far away, and indeed his mind had been.

“Are you all right, sir?” he asked him after he recovered and turned away from the dead officer.

“I’m fine, Doctor,” he replied. “I was just remembering…” Looking down at his tricorder readings again he motioned for them to continue. “This way.”

The away team moved further into the wreckage, following the captain’s lead until they approached another split in the corridor. Down one end of the corridor, it was silent and dark. The other end of the corridor was bright and it obviously led towards the engine room. At the entrance to the second corridor, there was a large beam that had crashed down from the ceiling, blocking their way to the engine room.

“Is there another way around?” ch’Dalvis asked, realizing that it would be difficult to get around the bulkhead.

“Theta radiation is still increasing, Captain,” Lim reported. “We can only remain here for another fifteen minutes until it reaches fatal levels.”

“Understood. Let’s just check down this corridor before we leave,” Bishop said, motioning towards the darker side of the corridor.

“Captain, I’m getting a lifesign!” Lim shouted, aiming his tricorder towards the blockaded engineering corridor. “It’s very faint and it appears to be emanating from down there.”

“I think we can make it through here.” Bishop closed up his tricorder and placed it back on his belt. He tapped his combadge and said, “Bishop to Aurora.”

Go ahead, Captain,” he heard Keller’s voice reply.

“We’ve located a lifesign deeper inside the freighter. We’re going to investigate it.”

Just remember, Captain, that you’re getting too close to the engines to transport you out safely. When you leave, you’re going to have to return to the transport coordinates.”

“Understood. Bishop out”

He walked over to the debris that had been piled up across the corridor and, getting down on his hands and knees, he crawled through a small opening underneath the beam. ch’Dalvis and Lim watched nervously while he pushed loose pieces of titanium out of the way. After a moment of struggling, Bishop made it across the blockade to the other side.

“I’m not sure if the hole’s wide enough for me,” ch’Dalvis said. It was obvious that the Andorian was a much bigger build than Bishop was.

“Don’t worry, Nala. You’ll make it,” the captain assured him after double-checking the stability of the pile with his tricorder. “You can widen the hole a little more.”

ch’Dalvis dropped down to the dirty floor and followed the captain through. Bishop wiped his soaking forehead with the sleeve of his uniform. Already, his gray and black uniform jacket had a stain on the front and he desperately wanted to tear off both the jacket and the red turtleneck underneath. He would wear only the undershirt, but the regulations prevented him from doing it while on an away mission. Instead he simply gave his forehead a second wipe.

By now, ch’Dalvis had stuck his head through the hole and his captain helped him out through the wreckage. Lim followed them, a few moments later.

“I don’t mean to be pessimistic, Scott,” Nala told him, “but we’re going to have a heck of time trying to get back to the transport coordinates.”

“The lifesign is down this way.” Lim took the lead ahead of them.

The away team moved further towards the engine room. The heat increased by degrees the closer that they got. Soon Lim stopped in front of a large cargo bay entrance.

“The lifesign is coming from in there,” he shouted over the hissing of the malfunctioning engine, spilling gases out into the corridor.

Trying the door panel, ch’Dalvis realized that it was jammed. “We’ll have to blast it open,” he shouted, stepping back and aiming his phaser at the oversized door, resetting it. “Setting eight should do the trick.”

The captain did the same and then the two of them fired an intense beam at the door’s opening, cutting a jagged, but sufficient hole in the door. Then the away team climbed through the cargo bay. Inside, they found the cargo bay to be a large two-story compartment, half-filled with cargo containers. The containers had been knocked around and many of them were lying on their sides, their contents spilled across the floor.

“I’m picking up the lifesign over there,” Lim said, pointing towards a pile of fallen containers. “It’s definitely Human.”

The away team members rushed over to the far corner of the cargo bay and found the body of a young female crew member curled beside two fallen and dented containers near a computer access terminal. Her body was bruised and she had burns, probably from the terminal. It appeared to have exploded, leaving shards of the console all across the deck.

“Her pulse is faint,” Bishop heard the doctor say as he examined her but his attention was immediately drawn down to the cargo bay entrance. As his eyes looked past the hole that they had blasted in the doors, he noticed a figure dash past it. Whoever they were, they moved too fast for him to get a clear view but he was sure of what he had seen.

“... Captain, I’ve got to get her back to the ship,” he heard Lim say. “She’s suffering from severe theta radiation poisoning. Her condition is critical.”

Ignoring the Bolian, Bishop whipped open his tricorder and scanned the area around them. “Doctor,” he asked, walking towards the cargo bay doors, “are you sure that you detected only one lifesign?”

“Yes, Captain,” he replied. “Is something wrong?”

Bishop thought for a moment before he double-checked his tricorder readings. They confirmed what the doctor had said, but there was still a chance that the theta radiation prevented his tricorder from being completely accurate.

“I’m not sure,” he finally said. “I thought I saw someone run by here just a moment ago. It must have been my imagination.”

“The heat is playing tricks on you,” ch’Dalvis warned him, heading back towards Doctor Lim and leaving the captain alone at the door. “We’d better get out of here.”

“Can you revive her, Doctor?” Bishop’s eyes were still searching for a sign of the person that he had seen.

Doctor Lim reached into the medkit that he had brought with him and took out a hypospray of cordrazine. He injected the drug into her neck and she uttered a low moan, slowly moving her head. After a few seconds, the woman opened her eyes and gazed painfully around her.

“She’s awake.”

“What? Who?” she began to whisper in an almost delirious state.

“I’m Doctor Jakta Lim, Chief Medical Officer of the starship Aurora,” he explained to the confused crewwoman. “We responded to your distress call.”

“Owww!” he screamed, painfully. “My body… it hurts!”

“Just lie still!” the Bolian physician said, sternly. “You’ve sustained third-degree burns to your hands and face. You’ve also got theta radiation poisoning but don’t worry, I should be able to repair the damage when we get back to Aurora.”

“What… what about the… the others?” she asked him, with pain in her voice.

“They’re all dead,” said ch’Dalvis, his antennae lowered with regret.

Lim glared at the Andorian with his light blue eyes. “That could have waited until we got back to the ship,” he whispered to him. “Let me do the talking.”

Bishop saw the figure again, standing further down the corridor. He was sure that he saw it this time. The figure appeared to be Human, wearing dark clothing and it had its back towards him. He strained hard to see him, but with all of the gas in the air, he was unable to make out much more. The figure suddenly vanished as quickly as it had appeared.

He was determined to find out who the figure was. Stepping out of the cargo bay, he began jogging towards the area of the corridor where he had seen it. As he neared the area, he saw the figure again—this time, much more clearly. He was standing at the entrance to Engineering, his back facing him again but this time, Bishop could see that the figure was wearing the black and red uniform of a Starfleet officer.

****

“I’ve injected her with a theta inoculation, but the damage may have already been done,” Lim stated.

“We’d better get her out of here,” ch’Dalvis said, moving to help the woman up. “What’s your name, young lady?”

“Isaaks,” she said. “Megan Isaaks of the Sopem IV colony.”

“Well, Megan, we need to get you off of this ship,” Lim explained, gently. “Can you get up?”

She shook her head yes, and grabbing ch’Dalvis’ outstretched hand, rose up to a standing position. Looking back, Lim noticed that the captain was no longer there among them. His eyes started to frantically search the room for him.

“Captain?!”

Gripping his phaser tightly, ch’Dalvis headed towards the cargo bay door and stepped out into the corridor to see if the captain was there. The Andorian didn’t see anything and returned back to the cargo bay, tapping his combadge.

“ch’Dalvis to Captain Bishop! Come in, Scott!”

There was no response for a moment until they heard Bishop reply. “ch’Dalvis, I’m all right. I’ve… I've found him!

“Found who?” he exclaimed, worriedly. “Where are you?”

I… I found out who that figure was. It-it was Nathaniel Collins. He’s… he’s here! I’m following him. Stand by!

“Scott, wait! What are you talking about?!”

There was no answer from the captain.

“ch’Dalvis to Aurora,” he said, tapping his combadge again. “Commander, we have a problem!”

Keller here,” she replied. “What do you mean?

“Well, we found a survivor and we managed to revive her but we’ve lost Captain Bishop, ma’am. He’s run off somewhere and my tricorder can’t locate him with all of this theta radiation. I tried to contact him, but he said something about finding Nathaniel Collins! I think the heat is really getting to him, Commander!”

“Not the heat, Lieutenant ch’Dalvis,” Lim interjected, scanning him and the security chief with his tricorder. “The Folazine 119. I found the compound in my patient’s bloodstream and according to these scans, we both have it too!”

Folazine 119?” asked Keller.

“It’s a rare and dangerous drug grown on Sopem IV, harvested from the Fola plant,” Lim said, reciting what he knew from his Starfleet Medical reports. “It’s a highly experimental drug right now. We don’t know much about it except that it can be used to cure the Sezori plague on Renthar II. I've been reading up about it since we arrived on the frontier.”

We managed to determine that the freighter came from the Sopem system,” Keller confirmed. “They were carrying a large shipment to Renthar II where there’s been another outbreak. What does it have to do with the captain?

“Folazine may cure the Sezori,” Lim explained to her, “but it can also be a hallucinogenic—most patients find out that it causes memory flashbacks so vivid that they actually believe that they’re there. The drug has also been known to make them see people from their past. If this ship was carrying some and it leaked or spilled during the attack, then it could have traveled all over this ship.” 

“Folazine is in a liquid form at room temperature, but it has a very low boiling point of about 40.5 degrees or so, I think,” Megan Isaaks said. “We have to keep it refrigerated during transport.”

“Why can’t the tricorders detect it?” ch’Dalvis asked her.

“In the intense heat, the Folazine has vaporized into a gas and bonded with the oxygen molecules in the air,” Lim added to the explanation. “The mixture of oxygen and Folazine can be inhaled like regular air. Our tricorders weren’t designed to scan for that, Commander, and the more that we inhale, the more intoxicated we become.”

“That’s why the captain thinks he sees Captain Collins.”

Then why haven’t you and ch’Dalvis been affected?” Keller asked over their combadges.

“We have, Commander, but some species are naturally more susceptible to the drug than other species are, like Humans. It will only be a matter of time before we exhibit similar symptoms.”

“We’ve got to find him and get out of here!” Nala said.

“And do it quickly,” Lim urged, checking his sensor readings. “That theta radiation will be reaching fatal levels in about five minutes.”

“Can you lock onto the captain?”

Negative,” they heard Clifford Doyle’s voice in the background. “The targeting scanners can’t get a lock through all of that radiation. You’re going to have to get him away from the engine room.”

“I’ll go after him,” ch’Dalvis said. “Doctor Lim is returning to the ship with Miss Isaaks.” The Andorian reset his phaser to stun and ran off down the corridor towards engineering. He was determined to find his captain and friend. Meanwhile, Doctor Lim and the young crew woman began to slowly head back to the transport coordinates.

The Andorian security officer had no idea where Captain Bishop could be, but he knew he had to be somewhere that was flooded with theta radiation or his tricorder would have detected him. He decided to try the engine room first. There was no choice but to go near it because he had to find his captain. Already as he slowly approached the room, he could feel the heat pulsing out of the engine.

He noticed something else moving down the corridor towards him. At first, he thought it was Bishop, but he soon realized that it was a much older Andorian man, wearing civilian clothing. It was his father standing in front of him, blocking his path down the corridor.

“Son, why did you abandon me?”

“No,” ch’Dalvis replied, astonished. “This is just a hallucination. You’re not real!”

“You left me to be slaughtered by the Cardassians so you could run off and be a freighter captain! Now you’re going to die here on this freighter, light-years from Andoria, all because you abandoned your captain, just like you abandoned me!”

“No,” he cried out, walking past him. “You’re not my father! Go away!”

The image of his father disappeared and he had been right. He ran down the corridor towards the engine room, remembering that he didn’t have much time left before the inoculation would wear off. By then, the theta radiation levels would be fatal and ch’Dalvis was now more determined than ever to find Captain Bishop.

****

Captain Bishop raced madly down the corridor and into one of the cargo bays that had been blasted open by the Blas Maraug. He had seen Captain Collins run down this way and hide inside the cargo bay. For some unknown reason, he felt compelled to pursue him. He entered the cargo bay and looking around, spotting his former commanding officer and best friend standing near a second hatch to the cargo bay. The man was wearing the same uniform that he had been wearing on the day that Bishop had watched him die on the biobed in Sickbay. He even looked the same too. Scott could tell as Nathaniel turned his head that he had scars and bruises all over his black and red uniform which was bathed in blood.

For some reason, it didn’t matter to him. It didn’t make sense at all, but it also didn’t matter. All he had wanted since that terrible night months ago was to see his friend alive again. And now, he was.

It felt like a tremendous weight had been lifted off of his shoulders. It was as if time had reversed itself and he had prevented his death. He felt happy and carefree. Perhaps happier than the day that he had graduated from Starfleet Academy.

As he exited the cargo bay, he saw Collins run towards the engine room again. Bishop jumped over beams and exploded conduits, rushing as fast as he could to keep up with him. However, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t keep up with him.

“Slow down!” he shouted, desperately as he began to lose strength.

Collins didn’t decrease his speed and even though he wanted to, Bishop didn’t either. He knew that for some unexplained reason his friend was real and alive. He wasn’t going to let him get away again. 

Desperately, he ran into another cargo by, closer to the engine room. The heat hit him instantly and the whole time that he had been running throughout the ship, he had been focused on Collins. As he entered the cargo bay, it was as if he was woken up a little from a hazy dream and began to realize how hot he truly was.

He spotted the bodies of three other crew members lying dead on the floor of the cargo bay. They had disruptor blasts on their clothing and they were holding phasers in their hands. They had obviously fought a valiant  battle with the Blas Maraug boarding parties and lost.

“Collins, stop!” he screamed with all of the available air that he had left, looking for his friend. Then he spotted the figure of Collins across the almost empty cargo bay, standing and staring at him.

“Scott!” Bishop heard a voice shout from behind him.

He spun around to see Lieutenant ch’Dalvis standing in the walkway to the cargo bay, his phaser in his right hand. The Andorian security officer looked worried but he was glad that he had finally found the captain. He ran towards him.

“ch’Dalvis to Aurora. I’ve found him. He’s in one of the cargo bays near the engine room,” he said after tapping his combadge. “We have to get out of here, Scott!”

“Stand back!” Bishop shouted, becoming extremely agitated.

All of the pleasure that he had experienced in realized that Collins was alive, it suddenly was gone and he felt as bitter as he had felt before. He pointed his phaser directly at ch’Dalvis, who had stopped dead in his tracks. Maybe he wasn’t able to rationally think about it but he knew that he couldn’t go with Nala. He had to stay and protect Collins so he could make up for letting him die.

“I won’t let you hurt him! I failed him once. Not again! Never again!”

“Failed who, Scott? There’s no one here!”

Bishop quickly turned to look back to see Collins standing in front of the warp core. He was now certain that ch’Dalvis was just trying to trick him.

Captain, it’s me, Commander Keller,” her voice said from the security officer’s combadge. She had been listening in on the conversation and she had decided to make an attempt to talk sense into her captain. “We need you to get out of there, sir. The engines are emitting large amounts of theta radiation. Now we inoculated you before, but it’s wearing off and the radiation is increasing. The radiation poisoning will become lethal soon. You need to get out of there now!

ch’Dalvis tried again when he realized that she wasn’t getting through to the captain.

“Look, Scott, it’s me, Nala,” he said, returning his phaser to its holster. “Don’t you remember me?”

Bishop looked at him and frowned.

“We used to serve together on the USS Ontario, remember? With Captain Collins? And remember that three-year mission that we went on into deep space?” He paused before adding, “I’m not your enemy. We’re friends, remember? I don’t want to hurt you. I want to help you. That’s what friends do. They help each other.”

ch’Dalvis waited to see if he was getting through to Bishop. The captain still had his phaser aimed at him but now the frown had gone away and he was smiling at him.

“Yes, Nala,” he said. “Look, it’s Captain Collins! He’s alive!”

Nala decided to continue, despite the fact that he was sweating profusely underneath the intense heat coming off the engines. “Because I’m your friend, Scott, I’m going to help you out,” he told hom. “If you stay here any longer, you’re going to die along with Captain Collins. Is that what you want?”

“No,” was Bishop’s adamant answer. “I have to stay! He needs me!”

ch’Dalvis snorted with frustration. “Look, Scott, I know that you blame yourself for what happened but there’s no reason to. You couldn’t have done anything that would have changed the outcome!”

“No.”

“He’s dead, Scott! Face the facts! He’s dead and there’s nothing you or anyone else could do about that!”

“NO!” Bishop exclaimed, angrily firing his phaser at the Andorian security officer. His vision was so blurred that he missed the shot completely. He dropped the phaser, losing his balance and falling backwards to the ground.

ch’Dalvis walked up to him and realized that he was unconscious. Not really knowing what had happened and not really caring either, he grabbed his body and ran out of the cargo bay away from the engine room.

“The captain has collapsed,” he reported over the open communications link with Aurora. “Probably from heat exhaustion. I’m heading towards the transport coordinates now.”

Understood, Lieutenant,” Keller responded.

Lieutenant ch’Dalvis was a strong, well-built Andorian but it was still difficult to carry Bishop’s unconscious body down the corridor in the hot, sticky air. Luckily, he had remembered to take a different route from Engineering so he could avoid the large barricade that he had barely been able to fit through before. Even with this alternate route, he still had to carry him down corridors that were littered with debris. At one point, he nearly lost his footing but he struggled on.

“Son, what are you doing?” he heard his father say.

Looking behind him, he noticed that his father was running after him, wearing the same old colonist clothing that he had always worn. “Why are you wasting your time with that man? Save yourself! You’re never going to make it by saving him. The only way to survive is by leaving him here!” said the hallucination of his father.

“You’re not my father,” ch’Dalvis replied, “but you sure complain like he does. Always trying to justify everything with reason, and never caring or trying to understand others. Only ever thinking of yourself!”

“You listen to me, Nalarithren!,” he snapped angrily at him. “I told you to do something and I expect you to do it! It’s for your own good!”

ch’Dalvis snickered as he struggled along. “You used to say that all the time to me. Finally, this time, I don’t have to listen to you!”

He focused his thoughts on getting farther away from the engines and ignored his father’s harsh words. As he neared a split in the corridor, he was about to take his best guess as to which one lead from engineering and out of the theta radiation when it seemed as though both of the corridors were starting to bend. The deck and the ceiling began warping and swirling around him. As he stared intently at them, he became both mystified and afraid. He knew that he couldn’t carry Captain Bishop and keep his balance, walking down the corridor. As he watched his escape route bending and swirling, he became extremely dizzy and soon collapsed on the floor.

As the swirling engulfed him and Bishop, he realized that it was part of the hallucination compound. That didn’t make it any less real and he found it impossible to counter the effects that it was having on him. The theta radiation was also beginning to affect his breathing. He coughed loudly, trying to breathe normally but he soon found that was impossible to.

Tapping his combadge, “I… can’t…” was all that the Andorian managed to say before he collapsed.

****

USS Aurora, one hour later


Bishop opened his eyes on the biobed and saw Doctor Lim smiling down at him. He wanted to jump straight off of the bed because he was so startled but the Bolian held him back, gently.

“You’re back aboard Aurora, Captain,” he said softly, forcing him back against the bed.

“What…? Where’s… Nala?” he asked in a state of confusion.

“Lieutenant ch’Dalvis is right here, Captain,” he said, gesturing to the biobed beside him. I just woke him up, a minute ago. We’re all back aboard the ship, sir. Even Miss Isaaks, the crew woman that we rescued from the Golden Express, is here.”

“Scott, are you all right?” he heard Nala ask him.

“I suppose so. What about Collins?”

“The Folazine 119 has been eliminated from your system, Captain. That’s what was causing your hallucinations. Captain Collins was never there.”

Bishop thought back for a moment about everything that had happened. “That was all a hallucination?” he asked, perplexed. “But it seemed… so… real.”

“Most hallucinations do, sir,” he replied. “We were lucky that you collapsed from heat stroke when you did and that Mister ch’Dalvis was able to get you far enough out of the radiation zone for us to lock onto you and beam you out.”

“What about Golden Express?” the Andorian asked the Bolian physician.

“The freighter’s been destroyed. Its engines were critical, and she exploded a few minutes after we beamed you two aboard.”

Bishop smiled, embarrassingly. “So, this time it was Nala who saved my butt,” he said. “I owe you one.”

****

“Raktajino,” Bishop ordered, standing in front of the replicator in the mess hall. Within seconds, a hot mug of Klingon coffee materialized on the platform before him.

“Captain Bishop!” cried out Verzan. She walked quickly up to him before he even had a chance to take a sip of his beverage.

“How are you, Crewman?” he politely asked the Benzite.

“Oh, just fine, sir,” she replied. “I can’t tell you how much pleasure it brings me to see that you’re fine as well. I must admit that I was worried when I hadn't seen you in here for a while. I’ve noticed that the crew usually has a much better attitude when their captain is up and about.”

“Really?” the Captain asked her, taking a sip of his raktajino.

“Oh, yes, most definitely, sir. I notice things that other crew members would never even think about. If you’d like, sir, I'd be happy to share more of my observations about the crew with you. I also have some suggestions that I think you will find…”

Bishop chuckled, shook his head, and moved past the Benzite woman, giving her a pat on the back. “Perhaps, another time.”

Verzan sighed as she watched as the captain walked over to a table with Nala ch’Dalvis was sitting, admiring the view of the nebula before she left the mess hall.

“It’s pretty mystifying, isn’t it?” Bishop asked him, taking a seat beside him that also faced the window.

ch’Dalvis looked up and smiled. “Yes. I find looking at it helps me focus my thoughts. I don’t know why something that is such a dangerous place is so beautiful.”

“Hopefully, some day, it won’t be dangerous anymore. We’ll flush those thieves and raiders back into the Aries Expanse where they belong.”

“Have you managed to locate that girl’s parents?”

“Yes,” he informed his security chief, “we’re on route to the colony on Sopem IV right now to deliver our survivor. After that, we’ll be escorting another shipment of Folazine to Renthar II.”

“And then?”

“Then we go where the solar winds take us.”

The two of them stared for a long time into the nebula’s mystifying glow before Nala spoke again. “You know, if think we all felt loss of some kind after Collins’ death. I think that’s why Marissa, Renee, Ivan, and the others never came back after the refit. They didn’t want to come back here.”

“I don’t blame them,” Bishop responded. “I didn’t either.”

“I’ve tried not to think about what happened, but he was such a good friend. We were like family.”

“He was, but I realize that I’ve been thinking about it too much lately. Obviously what just happened is a good sign of that.”

“What can we do about it?” Nala asked him.

“Maybe we shouldn’t be dwelling so much on what was lost—maybe we should dwell on what we still have. If there’s anything that I’ve learned today, it’s what good friends that I still have. Friends that are willing to risk their lives for me.”

The securing officer cracked a smile underneath the serious look that he had been showing the whole time. Usually, the Andorian wasn’t that serious. He had always been the type to shoot first and ask questions later. Fearless, brave, and always trying to make fun of any situation to keep everyone's moral up. This was a different side of him that Bishop hadn’t seen before.

“I meant what I said in Sickbay,” Bishop told him, his eyes still searching far and wide across the nebula. “I owe you one.



The End.

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