Indri triggered the contact on the transporter, causing a tall, somewhat square, dark haired individual to materialize on the transporter. Before the man could react, Captain Uhura took the lead. "Doctor White, I presume?"
He nodded, bowing slightly. "At your service, Captain."
"I have my chief engineering officer, my chief science officer and my chief communications officer waiting for you, if you are ready to give us an idea of what well be doing."
"Ready and eager, Captain. If youll take the lead?"
Uhura, Indri and White stepped into the turbolift, then quickly shifted to the Ready Room, where Drevan and TSoral sat waiting. Indri sat next to the Andorian, Uhura taking a chair next to the Vulcan communications chief, gesturing White to take a seat. "Doctor?"
"Mark will do, Captain. Im not all that attached to my fancy title."
"Very well, Mark, will you fill us in on what you are up to?"
White nodded, looking at Indri primarily. "Im sure youre all aware of the current energy generation system, catching interstellar matter and converting half of it to antimatter, which is either stored or reacted with matter to generate energy."
All around the table nodded.
"I figured that would be the case. Even though the system is efficient, it still involves handling antimatter, which is clearly not exactly the safest thing to be doing. What Im trying to do is to bypass all of that: instead of turning matter into antimatter, then using the matter-antimatter reaction to produce energy, Im looking at taking the matter directly to energy. What well be doing is going to an uninhabited planet, setting up the system to make this all happen, and seeing if it works as predicted."
Drevan shook his head. "I couldnt tell you exactly what, at least off the top of my antennae, but it sticks in my craw that this violates some conservation law."
White looked pleased by Drevans remark. "Exactlyit should, under normal circumstances. In the current understanding of matter, theres something equivalent to a binding field that holds the energy in discrete packets as matter, and that has to be conserved, in some sense. You all are aware, Im sure, that its hardly that simple, but its close enough for the purpose of the explanation. What Ive done with this is managed to create an environment where thats conserved, but converted into usable basis field energy. If this works, itll simplify star ship design considerably: no more need for an antimatter containment flask, no more field systems to handle delivering antimatter to the reaction chamber, no more of a lot of other hardware, just plentiful energy."
"No disrespect intended, Mark, but would you mind letting us look at the design, and the math behind it?" Indris brow was deeply furrowed. "Its not like I dont trust you, you understand. Its just that, well, if Im going to have to help build this thing, Id much rather have an idea as to what in space Im doing. Im sure you understand."
"I do indeed." White turned to the Vulcan. "My understanding is that you are the ships chief of communications, Madame. My data storage device is in my luggage, happily holding the information he wants. If I might impose on your kindness?"
"Of course. I should like to take a look at it myself. Although I am a communications officer, I am not unfamiliar with the area."
The researcher nodded with approval. "I should be most appreciative of a Vulcans take on my work."
"Is this at all along the lines of Doctor Shengmins efforts, Mark?" Uhuras concern was clear in her voice.
"Not at all; Diegos off on a whole different angle than I am. Since hes the one that suggested the Hyperion and your crew would be the best folks to help me, Im willing to guess that youre the ship that rescued him."
"Well, who rescued whom is open to debate." Indri stared at the ceiling. "Other than that, youre on the money. When did you last see Doctor Shengmin?"
"Couple of months ago. It was only two, maybe three months after they finished the tissue regeneration, and he was looking good." White pretended to inspect his nails, briefly. "Read that, as good as you could expect. Theres a reason why he does research rather than work as a model, okay?"
"Were all glad to hear hes back to as close to normal as he ever gets. Either way, it doesnt sound like theres a lot of risk of this repeating what happened with Shengmins efforts." The captain was both amused and relieved; it showed. "It was, ah, a difficult issue altogether for us all. Lets get back to your project, Mark. Has the planet youre going to do it on been picked?"
"No, Captain. I sort of hoped you folks would work with me on that, and then we could clear it through the bureaucrats. Im thinking an airless planet, probably about the size of Mercury give or take." The scientist rubbed his chin pensively. "Something with a bit of gravity, so we dont have to anchor the assembly to the ground, really. Even something the size of Earths moon would do."
The Bantu turned to her chief engineer. "Indri, Im sure you have a mountain of questions."
"Of course, but Im hoping looking at the math and all will answer most of them quickly. Running Bear and I will pour over it tonight, after we eat." The engineer turned to face White. "How large of a volume are you planning to convert to energy, Mark?"
"If I have my way, about ten or fifteen picograms." He shrugged. "Just enough, basically, to prove the principle and to be able to measure the output precisely enough to tell if the efficiency is up to grade. That, and to see if there are any unexpected pitfalls."
"Then youll be handling it from the ship?"
"Itd probably be better to do it from a simple enclosure on the surface, and handle the triggering and sensors by wire rather than broadcast." White furrowed his brow. "You have to understand, Indri, this is supposed to be super secret or something. Idiotic, if you ask me, but then I suppose Id rather not have the Klingons or the Romulans or someone using it as a weapon if it works, so maybe not as silly as it looks. The more sane side of all of this is that if there is a lot of energy on the loose, and I want to shut the thing down, it might be easier to do that by wire than by subspace relay. The risk of noise interfering is less."
"Ive learned to humor the higher-ups, Mark," Uhura intentionally kept her face non-committal, "so Im sympathetic both directions. Is there anything else that you need us to know, or that any of you want to ask?" Her question was met with an assortment of negations. "If not, then lets get to work. Drevan, if youd see about getting a system nearby selected and approved? Indri, TSoral, both of you look over the mathematics and the designs. Mark, if youll come with me, Ill escort you to your quarters. Im willing to bet that your belongings will be there already."
Indri nodded. "Running Bear will have seen to that, Captain. Mark, Ill be looking for that file."
"Good. Maybe you, TSoral and I can talk it over, and maybe this fellow Running Bear will be willing to bear with running over it with us."
Uhura groaned at the pun, got up and led Doctor White out the door.
Doctor Eletto collected the beverages hed ordered, and turned toward the seating area in the forward mess hall, looking for a quiet area to sit. It was Thursday, and as always, he planned to spend an hour or so with TSoral, studying all things Vulcan. Having selected a reasonable looking area, he moved toward it, noticing that the Vulcan communications officer had arrived, punctually as always, and was coming toward him. As they sat across from each other, Eletto placed the chilled birkeen water before his friend, keeping the iced tea for himself.
TSoral nodded her thanks for the beverage. "Good evening, Doctor Eletto. Your mental signature suggests that you have a burning question to ask. Is it concerning the Vulcan language, culture or history?"
To her surprise, the Human flushed slightly, pausing for a moment before responding. "Ah, actually none of the above, TSoral." He fumbled with the contents of a pocket, as if flustered by being caught. "I was wondering whether youd had a chance to look over Whites file, and if you had, what you thought about it." His face clearly announced that he hadnt actually asked the question that was on his mind, but TSoral decided to let it be.
"I have; I am somewhat surprised to see that youre curious about it."
"Not so much the science as the possible medical consequences if it goes sour, really." Eletto took a swallow of his tea. "I suppose the most likely thing that could happen, if things go wrong, is that absolutely nothing will happen. Now, thats not going to make any real demands on medical. Other things could happen, thoughthings that might require a rapid medical response, thats what Im concerned about."
"I see." She thought for a moment or two. "I agree that the most likely scenario is that nothing will happen; other than Doctor White becoming frustrated at the failure, I see no problems with this. The most likely outcome, I think, is that there is a reaction that lasts briefly, generating a significant amount of Basis Field energy. A prolonged or a self-sustaining reaction remains possible; the chances of a reaction that goes out of control is negligible, though non-zero. In all of these, there is the potential for a proportion of the energy being released in the electromagnetic spectrum, potentially engendering radiation injury." Her brows knit briefly, then her face relaxed into its usual impassionate expression. "It would seem to be the obvious risk."
"I guess Id figured that much; the tricky thing, to me, is the Basis Field energy. Is there anything particular about that? Any other things I might not have anticipated?"
"I do not think so. The Basis Field energy, unless properly stored, will usually rapidly decay into other forms of field, occasionally into particles, depending on what pattern is available about which it can fall into symmetry. Unless there is a huge release of energy, however, the probability of enough particles being generated to produce a radiation risk is trivial to negligible at the worst." TSoral canted her head to one side. "That you are attempting to anticipate is a very logical behavior, one that is very Vulcan. It seems that your studies with me are having a salutary effect on your Human behavior."
"Thanks, I think. Whatve you got in mind for this evenings lesson on things Vulcan?" Even a Vulcan could tell that the Human was trying to change the subject to something more comfortable, hoping that she wouldnt realize he hadnt asked the question that had been on his mind. "Language? History? Culture?"
"A little history and culture both, Doctor. It seems a good time to study Surak, the founder of the philosophy that dominates Vulcan culture."
The chief medical officer of the Hyperion stepped out of the turbolift onto the engineering deck. Indri looked up from the bench he was working at. "Hi, Doctor MBenga. Something broken down in Sickbay?"
Running Bear joined the conversation. "Well, Im feeling fine. How bout you, boss?"
"Never better." He turned to face the physician squarely. "To what do we owe the honor of your presence, Doc? Dont tell me weve got another epidemic of Rigelian Fever to handle."
"You remember that, do you?" MBenga chuckled. "Im betting that Elettos never going to forget it, either. His fingers must have been smoking from handling the hyposprays so much. Its not an epidemic, old friend. Its just me doing the other half of my job: personnel safety."
"Sounds like TSorals been blabbing with Eletto, who put a bug in your ear, causing you to go sic Hardav on Drevan, then take what theyd said and come down here to pick on Running Bear and me. Hows my guessing going, Keme?"
"Right on the money, sonny. I have to log that Ive talked to you about your plans for rescuing White if something goes wrong." MBenga shrugged. "This is what I get for letting my staff fraternize with all the wrong people, I guess."
"Or all the right people. Be that as it may, Running Bear and I have been kicking it around a bit, and what weve decided to do is to stay locked on to Doctor White, and beam him up at the first hint of trouble." MBenga looked like he was going to speak, but Indri raised one hand. "Before you say it, I realize that theres a time lag between here and the surface, but itll only be a splintered fraction of a second; were going to be using a scrambled subspace communications system. On top of that, Ive got Drevan and a couple of other folks from the science section working on a program to update the values of the constants White had to estimate experimentally, based on what we observe, then make a projection about the range of possible results that will be occurring over the next three to five seconds. Ill be making the call to beam White up based on the projections, not the occurrences."
"Which basically means, as I understand it, that youll be reacting a second or so before anything happens, right?" MBenga rubbed his chin pensively. "Pretty good going, if so."
"Its not exactly that simple." It was Running Bear this time. "Even a variation of a half percent or so in a couple of the constants White is using could take this from fizzling to going completely out of hand in no time flat. All we can really claim is that well be reacting fast enough to keep the man from getting poached." He scratched the side of his head with the handle of the tool he had been using when MBenga arrived. "To be technically correct, youre going to have to be able to claim that youve inspected the habitat were going to be putting down."
"Unfortunately so. Drevans located a rogue planet thats at about five Kelvin surface temperature and gotten approval to do the experiment on the surface. I really want to see what youve got for heating and insulation on that thing."
"Over here, Doc." Indri pointed to a small enclosure surrounded by a half dozen or so engineers hard at work installing hardware. "On the inside, its about two and a half meters in any direction; theres got to be a half meter of insulation on the sidesone layer is vacuum flask insulation. If hes in there more than a couple of hours, were going to have more trouble with getting rid of the heat than with him freezing."
"I dont want to hear that, Indri. Ill pretend you didnt say it."
"Oh, dont worryhes only going to be in it ten, maybe fifteen minutes, and weve got systems in place to bleed off the heat; at a five Kelvin outside temperature, that is not going to be a huge challenge. Well have it all hooked up and ready to run before we beam him down; all hell have to do is trigger it, watch for a couple of minutes and then shut it down. The life support will have enough go juice to keep him fine for twelve hours. Itll be a pushover."
"Why so much excess capacity, Indri?" MBenga stared at the systems being affixed to the outside of the small habitat.
"Because no matter how much Indri wanted me to, I couldnt pare the system down any smaller." Running Bear grinned. "Itd be more work to cut it down than its worth. Nothing wrong with a major margin for error, I guess."
"I guess not." The physician shook his head, not sure whether to be amused or confused. "At least I can honestly log that Ive done my job, here, and that youre doing yours. How soon are you going to have all of this together?"
"Four hours, tops. Why?"
"Eletto is already planning to be ready to handle radiation exposure, starting treatment at the transporter deck." MBenga furrowed his forehead slightly. "Hes not expecting to have to handle any, you understand, but just in case, hes planning on being ready. Dont blame him; I should have been the one to think of that. Its that Vulcan woman hes hanging out withshes starting to get to him." The physician chuckled. "Either way, sounds like were covered, and that Eletto wins the privilege of missing a little sleep. Serves him right for starting this."
"Soonest back to it, soonest done, Keme." The chief engineer turned to his bench again. "This is the heart of Whites system right here. Deceptively simple, but if it works, its going to revolutionize space flight."
MBenga started toward the turbolift. "No kidding. And Ill be able to say I was part of it all happening."
The engineers just rolled their eyes and went back to their task, MBenga catching a turbolift and doing likewise.
As he materialized inside the small habitat prepared for him, Doctor White concluded that he was thankful not to suffer from claustrophobia. Other than the small console in front of him, the walls were featureless. Stepping forward, he tripped the communications switch. "Mark White here, Hyperion. Hows things up there in orbit?"
"We are in stable position above you, Doctor, ready for you to initiate the reaction." In the austere setting of the habitat, Uhuras voice echoed slightly. "At your convenience, Mark."
"Here goes." He looked the display over, finally triggering the device. One section of the display showed a cameras eye view of the reaction; little or nothing was visible, initially. Slowly, a small area of brightness formed, coincident with two meters on the screen registering a rising generation of energy. Satisfied, White reached over to another contact, intent on shutting things down. "Looks good, Hyperion. Weve learned what we came here to learn. Im going to shut this thing down. Ill watch as the field decays away, then come back." He tapped the contact.
To his surprise, the reaction didnt damp down; instead, the tiny bright dot began to grow rapidly, with almost exponential speed. Even as he tripped the communications switch, the camera display went out, presumably because the camera had been damaged by the energy release. "Hyperion, its gone self-sustaining and its out of hand. Get me " Before the scientist could finish his sentence, the sparkle of the transporter had begun. " out of here now!" He looked around, realizing that he was on the transporter deck.
"How are you feeling, Mark?"
The man turned, seeing Eletto, mediscanner in hand. "A little scared, but otherwise not bad. The reaction looked like it was going to get way out of hand when you beamed me up. It must have damped down after all."
"It got out of hand, Mark." It was Running Bears voice. "There must have been a half a kilo of matter converted into Basis Field energy before it finally died out, and I thought Id never get you to materialize."
Whites eyes widened considerably. "I hope this is a joke."
"Its not." Eletto looked at his scanner, then back at the scientist. "It looks like you got an unacceptably high dose of hard X-ray and soft gamma radiation in the split second before you were brought up. You need to come with me to Sickbay. And were going to need to run a load of tests to make sure that youve not been harmed by the interference the Basis Field energy may have caused in the transporter beam. Other than the radiation effects, I dont see anything major, but there are plenty of small things that could have happened that will end up killing you. Youre not going to be allowed to take any chances on that score."
White nodded, appreciatively. "Im not eager to take any chances, anyhow. Have you got anything back from Drevan on his analysis of the data that was generated?"
"No, not yet; I figure that can wait." Eletto gently took White by the arm. "You need checked out first. Come along."
Running Bear watched the two disappear into the turbolift, then triggered the wall communicator. "Engineering. Indri?"
"At your service, Running Bear. Did White survive the transporter?"
"Yeah, but that has to have been the most harrowing half hour at the transporter controls Ive ever experienced. I thought he was a goner a couple of times." The Native American brushed the sleeve of his uniform across the sweat on his forehead. "Eletto seemed to think he was pretty much unharmed except for a little radiation injury that probably happened before the transporter triggered. Whats the status of the habitat we created?"
"Its molten slag. From the way it melted through the oxygen and nitrogen snow it was sitting on, Im guessing it must have hit over a thousand degrees Celsius before the fields became too diffuse to sustain the reaction." Indris voice clearly showed signs of his having been under major stress. "Ive already talked to Drevan; he wants to do a more careful repeat computation, but the preliminary results indicate that there is no way to set up the reaction without it getting dangerously out of control. Itd make a wonderful doomsday weapon, if you didnt mind creating a supernova and probably getting vaporized by it. That fails to appeal to me, somehow."
"Suddenly, Im back to being in love with the matter-antimatter reaction; as dangerous as antimatter may be, it sounds a whale of a lot safer than what White had going down there." Running Bear shook his head. "Guess its probably time for me to head back down there and compare notes with you."
Uhura turned to Science One. "Drevan, what are you finding on your data analysis on Whites little experiment?"
"Confusion, frankly; it almost looks like theres a large field of energy still present near the planet. Request permission to send in a set of sensor probes to get a better idea of whats going on."
"A set of them? Why not just one?"
"I want to get this thing from four different angles. From what I can tell, theres an incredibly complex internal structure, and if the appearances are accurate, Im not going to be able to unravel it with less than four probes. We dont have to send in any of the fancy warp probes; simple impulse probes will be more than enough, Id say." Drevan looked back to his console. "Weirdest thing Ive seen in years."
"Send out the sensor probes, then." Uhura turned to face forward. "Is there anything you can put on the forward screen?"
"Ill try." Drevan tapped on the console in front of him. "The probes are out; itll be a moment or two before theyre in position. Heres what weve got."
On the viewscreen in front of her, Uhura saw the airless planetoid, with a small area of blurring at one point, upon which the probes were rapidly converging. "Can you increase the magnification on that, please, TSoral?"
The image on the screen enlarged dramatically, the area of blurring almost filling it. Just outside of the edge of the area of blurring, the probes stopped briefly, before moving into the blurred area. Drevan sat up a little straighter. "That wasnt in the program. They were supposed to hang just outside the thing."
Before the captain could respond, TSoral turned to her. "Captain, we are being hailed."
"On screen, then."
"It appears to be audio only, Captain, on radio frequencies rather than subspace. Overhead?"
"Overhead then." Uhura stayed facing the mainviewer, watching the blurred area coalesce into a progressively more organized shape.
"Greetings, Hyperion. I want you to bring me aboard, please."
There was something about the voice that seemed familiar, but Uhura couldnt quite place it. "It might be appropriate to identify yourself."
Suddenly, the field took on the shape of a Human faceMark Whites face. "You can call me Mark, Captain. I am, in some sense I have not yet the wisdom to express, as much Mark White as the collection of matter you have on the ship is. Now, do be a nice lady and let me come on board. It would probably be best if I entered via your shuttle bay."
For some reason, Uhura found herself unaccountably uncomfortable with the request, indeed the whole situation. "This is a rather odd situation, Im afraid. Exactly what are you?"
"It would appear that I exist as the energy field you so kindly sent probes into; it is using their circuitry that I am able to communicate with you." There was a brief pause before the new version of Doctor White continued. "The best I can judge, I am a product of the massive energy release on the planet below interacting with the transporter beam; I appear to be an energy-based duplicate of the man. I really must insist that you take me on board immediately, Captain."
The hair on the back of Uhuras neck started to stand up; there was something in the tone of the voice that she simply did not like at all. "Im afraid the situation is quite unprecedented. Youre going to have to be patient." She gestured to TSoral, indicating that she wanted the pickup on her voice silenced.
"I do not have to be anything, Captain." On the screen, it was clear that the face, probes and all, were approaching the ship.
"Tucker, shields up. Drevan, trigger the self-destruct circuit on the probes. Marsden, on my signal, Warp Four out of here."
"Captain, captain, dont waste my time or your own. I have already disabled the self-destructs on the probes."
"The shield generators are using energy as if theyre putting up a full-strength field, Captain, but Im not registering any field in place." Tucker was clearly thoroughly puzzled.
"Warp fields wont generate, either." Marsden looked like he was considering kicking the console. "This just isnt right."
"TSoral, let Indri know whats going on. Put me back on voice." She paused briefly before continuing. "Whoever you are, whatever you are, Im assuming that youre the reason that the shields wont form, and the warp field wont generate. As far as I am concerned, that is a hostile action on your part, which means you are not welcome aboard this ship."
"Captain, allow me to be blunt. I was not asking for your welcome. I am asking to be taken aboard your ship. I am not interested in quarreling with you. Unless you are interested in picking a fight that you cant possibly win, I suggest that you do as you are told. Open the shuttle bay doors now, and let me in. You will take me to Earth immediately. Have I made myself clear?"
"Quite clear. The answer is No. Am I equally clear?" She shifted in the command chair, leaning slightly forward as she spoke.
"I think youll find it prudent to change your mind."
TSoral straightened slightly. "The entity has closed the communications channel, Captain."
"He, she or it beat me to the draw." She sat, thinking briefly. "Drevan, conclusions?"
"Not a lot to say; clearly, the conclusions this entity has drawn concerning its own existence are extremely likely to be correct. The fact that things started happening when it snatched the probes suggests a prudent course of action, Id say."
"Agreed. Tucker, I want you to lock phasers on each of the four probes and reduce them to ions. Now."
"With pleasure, Captain!" Tuckers hands flew across the console. Energy spat from the ship, hitting the being and achieving nothing. "Wonderful. This critter seems to be able to absorb the energy. Request permission to use a spread of photon torpedoes, Captain."
"Dont waste the resources, Joe." Uhura leaned back in her chair, deep in thought. "Itll probably just absorb the energy without harm. We need something smarter than that. Lets see if we can get out of here with impulse engines."
Marsden complied; on the screen, the rogue planet drifted away, but the effigy of Mark Whites face followed them without trouble.
"Drevan, is there some debris we can dodge through and try to lose this thing?"
"There sure is, Captain. Jim, heres the coordinates. Make tracks!"
"Hows about I dont leave any tracks, so were harder to trace?" Despite the wisecrack, the helmsman focused on his task, entering the field of large-scale debris and starting a zig-zag pathway, jumping from being behind one fragment of failed planet to another.
Uhura nodded appreciatively. "With a little effort, perhaps we can lose this creature and warp out of here. Well have to put the area under quarantine, if we do."
"Captain, we have incoming." Marsden looked up. "About a ten meter diameter asteroid is accelerating at us."
"Deal with it, Tucker." Phasers flashed, vaporizing the incoming mass. A second asteroid, somewhat larger, appeared on the screen only to be subject to the same treatment. Uhura shook her head. "Nice try, but its not working. Get us somewhere open, where theres nothing much to throw at us." She turned to TSoral. "We need to outwit this situation. I want Indri and Doctor White in the ready room in ten minutes, TSoral. You and Drevan will be joining us."
"If I may suggest it, perhaps someone from Sickbay needs to be there, too, Captain. I do not think that there has been time to be sure of Doctor Whites status after the difficulties with the transporter. Perhaps Doctor MBenga or Doctor Eletto?"
"Mmm...Better make it Eletto, TSoral; I dont want to be distracted from business."
Marsden turned from the helm. "Were in the clear, until Junior thinks of something new."
Uhura looked around the ready room, seeing various expressions of concern on all the faces other than TSorals expressionless Vulcan visage. Behind White, Doctor Eletto stood, a mediscanner in one hand, his other hovering near the medikit on his belt, clearly more concerned about his charge than about the crisis with Whites doppelganger. Indri and Drevan were on either side of White, with TSoral next to Drevan. She turned to Doctor White. "We need some creative thinking here, folks; the first thing I want is some insight into what you think this energy being is thinking."
White nodded. "I can tell you exactly what he is thinking, Captain. For some reason, I seem to be acutely aware of his thought processes."
"Good. Thatll be invaluable."
"His basic goal is to get to Earth, and he sees us as being his tool to do it. He feeds on energy, and plans to drain Earths power resources selectively, blackmailing the planet into serving his will. Its simple enough: if somewhere fails to comply, the power grid goes down for them. Imagine, say, San Francisco with no power, or New Delhi, or Beijing." Whites brow furrowed. "The panic would be unbelievable. In the heat of summer or the cold of winter, the loss of life could be devastating. Hes still nebulous as to whether or not hes interested in reproducing himself, which would involve a major energy release interacting with a transporter beam, as happened with me or us, depending on how you want to take it. As to what hes going to do next, even hes not sure at the moment, but hell think of something."
"Give us some input on his vulnerabilities, would you?" Drevans antennae and eyes both focused on the man.
"None that I can see; all of our weapons involve delivering either kinetic or electromagnetic energy to a target. From my doubles standpoint, thats food. Well just make him stronger with whatever youve got." White rubbed his chin pensively. "As best I can tell, the drain on his energy reserves caused by using the impulse engines on the probes was significant, but bringing the asteroids at us was what really cost him."
"Logically, we could expect to drain his reserves dry moving around with the impulse drives, then." TSoral canted her head slightly to the right. "That assumes, of course, that he will choose to follow us. If he chooses not to follow us, our problem is still solved."
"Unless he does what hes planning to dotether himself to the ship." White shook his head. "Ah, no. Hes doing it as I speak."
Eletto looked up from his mediscanner. "I dont mean to be butting in, folks, but I think we need to get Mark back to Sickbay before this discussion gets much older. Seems to me that if Mark can tell us what his doppelganger is thinking, then the doppelganger knows what hes seeing, hearing, thinking and all that. The street almost certainly goes both ways. TSoral, your opinion?"
"Your logic is impeccable, Doctor." She turned to face Uhura. "There is no reason to assume that the process duplicated Doctor Whites katra when it made his dual. Thus we have two minds connected by a shared katra. Pardon the literary reference, but it seems that Dr. White, here is Dr. Jekyll to his doubles Mr. Hyde. I am surprised that I did not think of the issue."
"I should have thought of it too, TSoral." The Bantu turned to Eletto and White. "Gentlemen, I think it is time for you two to go. Thank you for your insights, Doctor White, Doctor Eletto."
White rose, heading for the door, Eletto following. The others sat quietly, waiting. Once the door was closed, the captain returned to the original question. "Well, folks, Im open to ideas. Anyone want to guess whats next?"
"Hes not going to want to mess with the ramscoop, nor will he want to damage the Lemoyne-Briggs transformer; theyre too critical to the function of the ship. Without either of those, were essentially not going to be able to manage warp drive, and he wants to go places. If he tampers with the antimatter containment flask, the whole ships history, making it hard for him to hitch a lift wherever he wants to go. On those points, Id say were totally safe." Indri shifted somewhat in his seat as he spoke.
"Are those our only vulnerable areas?"
"Theres only one other area of vulnerability, Captain, and its a major one."
"What would that be, Indri?"
"Heat dissipation. Starships produce a lot of waste heat, not only from the activity of the various components of the ship, but from the heat generated by the beings in it. The ship cools itself by using a field system that shuttles helium around itself, super-compressing it at one end to around ten thousand degrees Kelvin, so that it actually rapidly radiates heat as electromagnetic energy. Its then brought around and allowed to re-expand, cooling and absorbing energy from the ship. Since the radiating part of the field has to be outside the ship, it is vulnerable. Everything else is inside the ship, and thus reasonably safe."
"How do you figure that, Indri?" It was Drevan, interjecting the question.
"Simple enough. If he could get into the ship with his fields, he could induce current in the necessary Duotronic circuitry and get the warp drive working without us." Indri shrugged. "That he hasnt suggests to me that he cant, because hes unable to get in, probably because the hull acts like a giant Faraday cage. Thats my guess, anyhow, based on the fact that he hasnt tried messing with ships circuits and the fact that the probes have a more open structure than the ship."
"Ill run with your guess. Is there a way we can hedge against his taking out the cooling system?"
"All we can do is buy time, Captain. We can rig something to do the same trick mechanically, but wed have to reduce our power use to keep things from overheating. Itll be make-shift at best, and Im not going to guarantee that he cant think of a stunt to defeat us pumping the heat out the hull somehow." Indri scratched his chin. "Im thinking it might be best to use multiple smaller cooling units, rather than one larger one; thatll make it harder to get in our way, and if needs be, we can cluster around them."
"It would be logical to address the issue of dealing with this entity." TSoral looked at Drevan. "Has anyone any idea as to how to do that?"
"I sure dont." Drevan curled his antennae slightly forward. "Im not even sure how hes holding together; he should be dissipating from a thermodynamic standpoint." He scratched between his antennae. "Hes probably making use of whatever the binding stuff was that White was talking about having found a way to get rid of without violating any conservation anything. What gets my attention is the fact that nothing was going on until he grabbed onto the sensor probes. Im wondering if theres a way we can get to those; maybe disabling them will disable him."
Uhura turned to her chief engineer. "Indri?"
"My guess is that hes got them slapped against the hull, probably in different places." He shrugged. "Wed need to double check their position, but maybe we could program a fast impulse maneuver to ram them hard enough to damage them. If nothing else, well teach him to keep a respectful distance."
"Much depends on what the entity is able to perceive and manipulate at the subspace level, Captain." TSoral allowed her eyes to flutter shut, as she often did when she was trying to concentrate on the mental signatures of others. "My perception is that the entity is unable to access subspace. Clearly, if the entity could access warp space, there would be no need to make use of the Hyperion to go anywhere. It is logical to assume that the entity would absorb any energy used for scans other than in real space; subspace scanning and communications are all we are likely to have."
"I can make do with subspace scanning if I have to." Drevan shrugged. "Its not like Im going to be given a lot of alternatives, and Im definitely not interested in feeding our outside adversary. Weve got enough trouble as it is."
"Im thinking that if we can localize the sensors tightly enough, maybe we could use a high-energy electromagnetic pulse to fuse the Duotronics into slag. If we work fast enough, and hit all four at once, we have a fighting chance." Indri turned to face the Andorian. "Can you do it, Drevan?"
"I can but try. No guarantees, man, no guarantees. TSoral, can you sense anything about the beings mental signature?"
"Only what seems to be increasing hostility, which is to be expected under the circumstances. I am suspicious that the entity will be cautious about putting White at risk, not being sure what will happen to him if his biological other self is damaged or destroyed. Sedating Doctor White and seeing what it will do might be a useful approach, while we are awaiting the results of Drevans scanning."
"Good thinking, TSoral." Uhura stood. "If nothing else, it might distract the entity out there. Unless anyone has anything else to offer, I think Ill go down to medical and see what they think. Offhand, Im thinking that since those probes communicate back to the ship via subspace, he may be able to hear us; Im going to assume that any internal communication or other circuitry-based activity will be audible to him. That means we do things face to face, not over the communications network. Drevan, I want you to localize the probes. Indri, create the pulse generators."
All headed toward the door, each to their specified task.
Eletto looked at the readings of the last scan. "Well, Mark, it looks like theres nothing amiss with you. You realize that what happened today is quite unprecedented."
"I believe that. You folks will probably publish this in some medical journal, I suppose." White shrugged. "Dont blame you if you do, either. This is interesting stuff, I guess."
"Thats as may be; we can think about that later. How are you feeling?"
The research scientist thought for a moment before answering. "Weird, I guess, and a little humiliated. I mean, I see you in front of me, but with equal clarity, I see the ship from outside, and I see into the mind of my double. What I see in my doubles mind is anything but pleasant; hes trying to figure a way to force us into his service. So far, he hasnt figured out a way of doing it, but Im sure hell think of something. That feels weird. As for humiliating, think it out. Im seeing a copy of me, unrestrained by social and legal convention. What Im seeing, I dont like, but I cant deny that its inside me. I guess I just restrain it, and my double out there is doing no such thing."
"Theres a monster in us all, Mark; yours just got loose. Youre not the first person thats happened to, and I guess you wont be the last; its just that yours is unique." Eletto helped White sit up. "For now, maybe it would be better if you lay low, though." As the physician was talking, Uhura stepped out of the turbolift. "Captain! To what do we owe the honor of your presence?"
"Something that weve thought up and want to try." She moved where she could look both the physician and the scientist in the face. "With the shared soul between you and your sort of double out there, the thought arose that we might be able to knock him out by knocking you out. No guarantee that itll work, but we thought it was worth a try, if youre amenable."
"I am. Its a reasonable thing to try, anyhow." White lay back on the table. "Doc, hit me with the knockout drops or whatever."
Elettos hypospray hissed against Whites arm. A moment or two later, the scientists head lolled to one side. The physician looked up. "Hes out for the count, at least for an hour or so. The next trick should be to see if his double out there is equally out for the count."
A wall communicator chimed. The physician reached over and triggered it. "Sickbay. Eletto here. Whats up?"
"Audio message for the captain, Doctor Eletto."
"Patch it through to me here in Sickbay, TSoral."
The voice of Whites alter ego came across the circuitry. "Really, Captain, that is lame, very lame. I had expected better of you. Sedating my material counterpart has no effect on me. If thats the best that you can do, I suggest that you take me aboard now."
"Forget it, buster." Uhuras face registered a cross between annoyance and anger. "Theres more up our sleeves than that. Gentle solutions first, then try the more aggressive ones."
"Such a thoroughly benign approach, and so very civilized." There was a clear tone of mockery in the voice. "I suppose that I shall have to step things up myself, since youre so totally sure of yourself."
"Your choice; your energy is limited, and we know it." Uhura gestured at Eletto, who cut the connection. She furrowed her forehead slightly. "I suppose we can wake up our guest, Giac, but wait until Im out of here before you do. Im off to see what else I can do to discourage that parasite." Briskly, she made her way out into the corridor.
Stepping out of the turbolift onto engineering, Uhura reflected on how much more convenient using the communications system was, in comparison to actually having to physically go to where people were to talk with them. She looked around, failing to see Indri. That was another advantage to the communications system. Looking for people was easier. The most likely place to find the man, she decided, was in his office; he was probably working on the design for the gadget to try to disable the probes. A few steps proved her right.
Indri and Running Bear were at Indris desk, the chief engineer holding a long flat metallic object the center of which he was moving in conjunction with repositioning of a hairline. The assistant chief engineer had a circular object that he was treating similarly, rotating the middle and a hairline. Silently, she watched the men as they manipulated the metallic objects, intermittently jotting numbers down and starting another round of what appeared to be calculations. Finally, she decided that the men were concentrating sufficiently deeply that she needed to interrupt. "Ah, gentlemen, Im assuming that youre working on some significant problem, like perhaps how to rid us of Whites double."
Both men looked up, obviously surprised by the captains presence. Indri took the lead. "Not exactly, Captain. Wed been working on the design of the gadget to disable the probes, but it appears that hes disabled the field cooling system, so were working on an alternative way of cooling the ship."
"I see." Uhura scratched her chin. "Im assuming that youd be using the ships computers for that. Im a little curious as to what those gadgets youre using are."
"Widgets that Eletto and I talked about once, a couple of months ago, ones hed learned about from his grandfather, Stalking Weasel." Running Bear made one last adjustment to the position of the middle of the circular object he was holding, then jotted down the result. "Theyre called slide rules; Indris a standard slide rule, and mines a circular one. Think of them as an early analog computer, and youre right on the button."
Indri shook his head in amusement. "As it turns out, I seem to remember you suggesting that we not use the internal communications systems, just in case old obnoxious out there could figure a way of snooping. Running Bear and I figured we probably would be better off not using the ships computers to do anything that we had in mind for dealing with him, either, just in case. Weve got it off doing something else. The slide rules are what were using to design the cooling units."
"And what would the computer be doing?" Against her better judgment, Uhura allowed her curiosity to get the better of her and divert her attention.
"Running Bear, what did you set it to?"
"Refining the design of another gadget Eletto dreamed up. You knowthe thing you can put on like an environmental suit, and have the strength of giants. A version of the life support suit Diego Shengmin wore when we picked him up."
"Okay, that makes sense." Indri turned back to the captain. "Its something that he might just think were planning to deploy against him, but that weve got better sense than to use. In reality, it would be more use for a construction or mining effort, really."
"Hopefully itll distract him, or worry him enough that hell get the probes off the Hyperion so weve a fighting chance of escape. He didnt weld those things to the ship, did he?"
"Doesnt look like it, Captain." The chief of engineering furrowed his forehead slightly. "Its be sort of hard to do, anyhow; youd have to scrape the surface coating off the hull in a pretty significant area, and that stuff just doesnt like being scraped off. I suppose you could vaporize it, but thatd take a whale of a lot of energy, and I dont feature him being willing to expend all that much."
"Let me know if he gets the probes off the hull, will you? If he does, we can try to outrun him on impulse." She paused briefly before going on. "Can he eavesdrop on subspace communications?"
The two engineers looked at each other for a moment, clearly unsure. Indri finally shrugged. "The probes were equipped for subspace communication, but mainly for telemetry. Did he contact us on a subspace frequency?"
Running Bear looked over. "That may reflect a preference for using the lower energy communications system, Boss. It takes a lot less energy to snoop on subspace than to broadcast on it." He turned to face Uhura. "Im willing to bet youve got something up your sleeve, Captain."
"I have an idea, anyhow. Look, the instant those probes are free of the Hyperion, you let me know, okay?"
"Promise. Weve got the specifications for the cooling units together anyhow; its just a case of making enough of them quickly enough to keep the rest of us from cooking." Concern was written on Indris face. "Its likely to get fairly hot before we can start the cooling. What Im afraid of is that Junior out there may be able to feed on the ships infrared emissions. The last thing I want to do is feed the creature. Hes enough trouble without our helping him along."
"Agreed. Ill leave you all to your labors."
Uhura moved to the turbolift, suddenly aware of the fact that the ship was already beginning to feel a little warmer. She put the sensation down to the power of suggestion and stepped into the turbolift, stepping out onto the bridge moments later. As she did, Drevan abandoned the command chair, allowing her to take her place. His movements were made with exaggerated care, almost as if he were feeling ill. Concerned she turned to face her science officer. "Drevan, are you all right?"
"More or less, Captain." Drevans antennae drooped slightly. "Its starting to get warmer in here. Even the usual bridge temperature is a little warm for me; Andors cooler than Earth, on the whole. Its gone up, oh, five or six degrees in here, and Im starting to feel it."
"That much? The cooling fields only been down a short while."
TSoral turned to face Uhura. "Quite correct, Captain, but the amount of heat generated by the Hyperions systems is quite considerable. The temperature on the bridge has risen by approximately five point seven degrees Centigrade in the last thirty-two minutes."
"At this rate, youre going to be the only person on the bridge thats comfortable, TSoral."
Drevan responded for the Vulcan. "Shes not going to admit it, but at the humidity were suffering, shes not going to be any more comfortable than the rest of us." He slumped slightly in the chair. "I just hope Indris got a good solution in the works. Im going to need it pretty soon."
Rather than respond, Uhura turned to her communications officer. "TSoral, open a channel to Fleet Commander Chekov."
Chekovs face filled the screen. "Privyat, Kyptin Uhura. Whats happening?"
"Were experiencing a bit of difficulty, Fleet Captain." The captain made a point to keep her face impassive. "It would appear that Doctor Whites experiment had unexpected consequences, and has generated a hostile entity that feeds on fields of essentially every kind. That includes the fields for warp drive. We are trying to resolve the problem, but we may have to use the corbomite device to self-destruct. I thought it was appropriate to give you advance warning now; we may not have time to when the time comes."
For a moment, Chekovs eyebrows raised, then resumed their normal position, which Uhura interpreted as his remembering the almost legendary bluff Kirk had pulled on the Enterprise years ago. The Russian nodded gravely. "I understand, Kyptin. I am confident that youll use all means at your disposal to ensure that you have tried every reasonable means at hand to resolve the situation short of destruction of your ship and the light year radius sphere around you." A small smile played across his face. "Is there any assistance I can render you at this point?"
"I would be concerned that this energy entity would assault your ship as it has the Hyperion, Fleet Captain. Your offer is appreciated, but the risk seems inordinately high. I will notify you immediately prior to detonating the device. Hyperion out." Uhura took a deep breath. "Lets just hope this works."
Drevan looked up from the Science One. "Well, he either is wise to the trick, Captain, or he cant hear you. It doesnt appear that hes moved any of the four modules. Maybe if we did something that made it look like we were up to something?"
"Do you have a suggestion?"
"Not off the top of my antennae, Captain. There are several possibilities, but all of them would increase the amount of heat generated in the ship, which is hardly a gamble Im interested in taking." The Andorian scratched between his antennae. "Well, other than selectively reducing power to non-essential subsystems, and shunting the power involved to somewhere he cant see too well."
For several minutes, Uhura pondered the Andorians suggestion. "Im not ready to do that yet, Drevan; given the rising temperature, hed probably interpret that as trying to stay cool. I..."
Before she could finish the sentence, Running Bear stepped out of the turbolift. She turned to face the Illiniwek Indian. "Youre bringing a report, Running Bear?"
"Were installing the first of the cooling units; in an hour or so, the rate of temperature rise should diminish significantly. With your permission, Indri would like to reduce power to all but the most essential systems, to reduce the amount of heat generated."
"Please do it. Im already starting to sweat. How soon will the cooling systems be in place?"
"In about two hours, max." The Illiniwek Indian wiped sweat from his brow. "Everyone in engineering is on the project. The trouble is that even with the cooling units in place, the temperature is not going to fall; itll stabilize a few degrees higher than our present status. That includes powering down all non-essential functions."
Uhura nodded. "At least it will stabilize, hopefully at a tolerable level. How are things going with the tools to disable the probes?"
"Something on the order of an hour after the last cooling unit is in place, Captain." Running Bear furrowed his forehead. "I just hope that it works; theres a lot of guesswork going on about this creature, and Id rather have something more solid to work with, frankly."
"So would we all, Running Bear, so would we all. The sooner youre back to the task, I guess, the sooner itll be done."
Nodding, the engineer made his way back to the turbolift, and back to his task. Marsden turned. "Requesting Captains permission to ask a rather unusual favor."
"An unusual request from you is hardly unusual, Mister Marsden. What is it?" There was skepticism written all over Uhuras face.
"Permission to remove my shirt, Captain." He pulled a long face. "Its soaking wet, and Im still hot. The humiditys got to be out of sight."
"We are at seventy-eight point four percent humidity; the current temperature is thirty-one point nine degrees Centigrade."
"Thank you, Lieutenant TSoral." The captain rolled her eyes. "Permission granted to all of you to adjust your attire in any way within reason to stay comfortable." Marsden and Tucker had their shirts of almost before she was done talking; Drevan was hardly slower. She turned to her communications officer. "TSoral, if you want to go to your cabin to change into something cooler, I can mind communications."
"Thank you, Captain, but for the moment, I am bothered more by the humidity than the heat. By Vulcan standards, the temperature is comfortable. If it would be to the captains tastes, however, I am sure I can take care of the bridge while you get into cooler clothing."
"You have the conn, TSoral. Ill be back shortly. Inform the rest of the crew that informal, cooler attire will replace uniforms until this crisis is over." Uhura got up from the command chair.
"Of course, Captain." TSoral moved to take her place.
Running Bear hefted the makeshift unit in his hand, staring at the inner surface of the hull of the Hyperion. "Double check our location, Cadet. There isnt a lot of room for error."
"Yes, Lieutenant." The cadet consulted his tricorder. "The device needs centered just here." A laser pointer put a dot on a section of hull plating almost directly above the catwalk. "There is at least a nine millimeter tolerance on the position, sir."
Running Bear pulled a wry face. "Lovely. I get to play monkey to get this thing in place. Its a good thing the area has a breathable atmosphere; Im not totally sure I could get there in an environment suit." He slipped the device into a pouch on his belt, studying the girders to which the hull plates were welded. "Shouldnt be too hard." He bared his feet, jumping up to a strut and grabbing it. "Keep your eyes on that tricorder, Cadet, and make sure Im dead on with this thing."
Running Bear swung his legs up, catching his feet in the open areas in the middle of the beam, carefully crawling toward the red dot. Once it was within reach, Running Bear meticulously centered the red dot on a mark in the middle of the casing, tripping a small switch when he was satisfied that it was properly in place. With patient care, he made his way back to the catwalk, looking at the cadets tricorder, his back to the device. "Were right on the money with the position, Cadet. Good work. Lets get out of here before it"
Running Bears sentence was cut off by the device unexpectedly exploding, spraying the area and both men in small bits of shrapnel. Bleeding from countless places, the engineer caught the wounded cadet, gently lowering him to the floor of the catwalk. He reached for his communicator. "Sickbay, emergency response to an engineering catwalk; follow the communicator for the location." Clutching the open device to his chest, the man lay down on the catwalk, slipping into unconsciousness.
Indri came out of the turbolift door into Sickbay at almost a run, seeing MBenga, Eletto, Davids and Webb moving from person to person in what almost appeared to be a well-choreographed ballet. Before he could shout to them, a hand was on his shoulder. "Let them be, Indri; you wont do Running Bear any favors by distracting them."
The chief engineer turned, seeing the captain in a loose fitting, light cotton shirt and a pair of shorts. "Captain! What are you"
She didnt let him finish his question. "I have five of my crew injured, Indri; Im doing the same thing you areseeing what I can learn about the damage done, when things are stable. That, and Im praying for a handful of miracles; none of them looked like they were in good shape. What happened?"
"All but one of the devices went off prematurely; the dilithium crystals suddenly overloaded and blew, as near as I can make out. The unit that didnt blow didnt even detonate. Theres no question in my mind that it was Junior out there that caused it." Indri looked toward the outer hull. "I hope he realizes what hes done."
The captains eyes narrowed. "Hes already made contact, Indri, crowing about his supposed superiority and our gravelling defeat at his hands, so to speak. All he knows is that he disabled the devices, injuring a few of the crew. He has no clue of the psychological significance of it, but I think I do."
Indri turned. "Hes signed his own death warrant, Captain. This is my engineering crew hes messed with, that hes injured. I should have listened to Running Bears plan; maybe he wouldnt be in Sickbay." As the engineer spoke, something in his face changed.
Hearing the voices on the other end of the room, MBenga looked up from where he was working and came over. "Captain, Indri, welcome. Davids, Eletto and Webb are taking care of the last of the wounded; except for one cadet thats going to have to be treated at a Sector General facility, theyll all be fine in a couple of days. If we can get that cadet to a hospital in the next three or four days, hell be fine, too, in a couple of weeks." MBenga took his eyes off Uhura, turning them on Indri. "Are you feeling all right, Indri? You dont look yourself."
"Im fine, physically." He moved toward the turbolift. "Junior out there doesnt know the trouble hes just created for himself." The Human stepped into the turbolift, turning to face the others. "And when Running Bear is back on his feet, its going to be even worse."
MBenga and Uhura watched the turbolift door close. She turned to face the physician. "Id better get Drevan down to engineering, Keme. Ive got the feeling engineerings going to want him."
Hearing the sound of a turbolift door open, Indri looked up from the scattering of circuit diagrams in front of him to see the ships chief science officer walking toward him. "Drevan, just the entity I need to see. Sit down and let me pick your brain on that pest out there."
"The captain was spreading the rumor that youd want to do that. As far as Im concerned, the crew here is my surrogate family, and you know how Andorians are about any assault on their family." He extended a data chip. "This is what weve got in terms of scan data, and its all of Whites notes. Theres bound to be something here that we can use against it."
Indri picked the data chip up and slid it into place, studying it carefully. "He looks like hes pretty dependent on the probes, Drevan."
"Thats how I read it, too. The real tip off is that he wasnt doing much of anything until he had all four of them. Seems to me that maybe he needs them to be able to sense whats going on around himself, as well as to be able to communicate."
"Good. If the probes are the key to the situation, all we have to do is disable them without putting ourselves at risk. Given that theyre powered by a charged dilithium crystal, all we have to do is drain the charge out of them, and hes effectively blind, deaf and dumband therefore harmless." Indri straightened up. "Running Bear was right; Shengmins little device is the key to getting rid of him after all. Thats turning out to be a useful little tool."
"I dont mean to be the fly in your ointment, Indri, but I have rather unpleasant memories of what it did to the Hyperion. I hope youve got something else in mind, because Im really unenthused about the ship shutting down around me." Drevans antennae curled a little tighter. "I may be blue, but Im not depressed, and certainly not suicidal."
"Dont worry about it; after that little faux pas, Running Bear and I installed an auxiliary power supply. Its not much, but its more than wed ever need to start up the ships matter-antimatter reactor." Indris eyes sparkled slightly. "Down here in engineering, we dont like getting caught twice by the same problem. Weve still got that miniature version of Shengmins system we rigged up for Bacchus."
"Thats all well and good, but can you rig a tap-off? Never know how much energy might have been pumped into the dilithium crystals while our backs were turned."
"Its already built in; Im figuring to bleed it off into the auxiliary power storage." Indri stood, stretching joints stiff from prolonged immobility. "I cant see where we can lose."
"Then whats this mass of paper over?" One of Drevans antennae elevated slightly. "Next years budget for Engineering?"
"Um, no. Just covering my back in case something I cant foresee happens." He looked down at the paper-strewn table, then back at the Andorian. "This whole mess is unforeseen, after all. No sense in putting all my eggs in one basket, right?"
Drevan chuckled. "Im with you there. How soon can we give this a try?"
"As soon as I warn the bridge and plug the gadget in, now that Ive got your input." Indri lifted the device, plugging a cable into one side of it. "Any way you can monitor whats going on out there?"
"Not with you pulling the energy out of the dilithium crystals on the ship, there isnt. You know that."
"Oh, of course; Im not thinking straight. Must be the heat, I guess." Indri walked over to the wall communicator. "Might as well let everyone know that were triggering the device, including the pest outside." He triggered the communicator. "Bridge. This is Engineering. About to trigger the device."
"Give us three minutes to warn the rest of the ship, so everyone can be ready. Uhura out."
Drevan moved to a readout, tapping on it quickly. "Looks like hes moving the probes off the ship. He must have been snooping. Whats the range on this thing?"
"Ive got it adjusted to be nearly an astronomical unit. He cant get far enough, fast enough with the drives on those probes." He looked at a clock. "Lets fire it up." Indri tripped a switch on the bazooka-like object he was holding; almost instantly, the ships lights went out. Confidently, despite the dense darkness, Indri moved to the emergency restart for the matter-antimatter reactor. Instants later, the lights returned and the sound of the impulse drives straining to move the ship as swiftly as possible filled the engineering deck.
Tapping on the readout again, Drevan shook his head. "Nice try, but it doesnt seem to have disabled the probes; they seem to have repowered."
"Drat." Indri moved back to the table littered with paper. "I guess its on to our next plan."
Uhura looked over at Marsden. "As soon as Indri lets us know that hes going to trigger that device of his, I want you to have the helm programmed to get us as far away as possible as fast as you can; maybe we can lose this creature. Tucker, take Science One; I want to know what happens."
TSoral looked up. "Message from Engineering."
"Bridge. This is Engineering. About to trigger the device."
The captain nodded. "Give us three minutes to warn the rest of the ship, so everyone can be ready. Uhura out." She turned to Marsden. "Get on it. TSoral, warn the crew."
Within moments, the lights went out, then returned. Marsden hit the control on the helm. Tucker looked up. "Well, Junior out there moved the probes off the ship, as I guess you expected he would. It looks like Indris little device didnt disable the probes; hes coming at us at an obnoxious pace." The man shrugged. "We havent lost him, anyhow."
Uhura shook her head. "It was worth a try. Marsden, you have the conn. Im going to get something to eat, and see if I can figure a way out of this mess. You might as well shut the engines down. We dont need the excess heat generation."
"Aye, Captain." Marsden tapped the control surface then moved to the command chair.
Uhura moved to the turbolift, walking on autopilot.
Once at the cafeteria, she filled her tray with a light meal and a beverage and found herself a table. Between the ships higher than usual temperature and the stressful situation, she found her appetite was hardly what it usually would have been. She was barely doing more than playing with her food when she heard a familiar voice. "Mind if I join you?"
She looked up, seeing Doctor White. "Youre welcome, Mark. Sit down, make yourself comfortable." The captain looked at the tray, almost brimming over with food. "The heat and stress sure doesnt seem to have bothered your appetite like it has mine."
The researcher smiled. "It takes a lot to bother my appetite, Captain. Frankly, Ive spent almost my whole life having to watch what I eat, trying to stay at a reasonable body weight. Given that it looks like youre going to trigger the corbomite device, whatever that is, and destroy everything around here, I figured that I can afford to eat freely. Ive never been known to walk away from a free feast, which is what the dietary system on your ship represents, at least to me." He shrugged. "Thats my problem, really; hyperactive taste buds. Never met a feed I could walk away from, at least not without a major struggle."
White chuckled at his attempt at humor, taking a bite or two as he did. "Although I have to confess, some of this may be Indris fault; you guys did something to my double out there, and hes feeling the energy loss, which I suppose is his equivalent of being hungry, and its probably affecting me, too."
Uhura nodded, putting a fork-load of salad in her mouth, chewing pensively. "Thats interesting, Mark. Looks like your double can sense subspace after all; you werent there when I brought up the corbomite device."
The scientist nodded. "Youre right, of course. My guess is that hes reading it through the probes. Either way, as near as I can tell, after your last stunt, hes worried but still confident of ultimate victory. If I understand things correctly, hes shifted to powering the probes directly, rather than charging up the dilithium crystals; I think he shattered those to prevent us attacking him that way again. He probably doesnt think that youll do the self-destruct thing."
"If it comes down to choosing between letting him enslave the races of the United Federation of Planets and protecting the lives of the crew of this ship, I have to choose to protect the U.F.P., Mark; its a pity that youll go down with us."
"I understand, Captain; Id rather die than let my evil twin out there enslave the other sentient beings in the galaxy." White put his fork down. "This is a result of my work, admittedly an unexpected result, but still one for which I feel very responsible. If you have to trigger the device, trigger it; dont let concerns about protecting me stop you."
"Thank you, Mark. Believe me, thats something that I plan to save for my last resort, but its good to know where you stand." She watched as White turned his attention back to the contents of his tray; she began to do the same. A smile played across her face. Quickly, she finished the last of her meal. "I need to talk to Indri, again, Mark, and I want to check in on the wounded down in Sickbay. If youll excuse me?"
"Duty calls, eh, Captain?" The research scientist stood as the captain did. "I respect that. I just wish there was more that I could do to bail us out of this."
"You may have done more than you know, Mark." With her enigmatic remark still hanging in Whites mind, Uhura headed to the turbolift and disappeared into it. "Engineering."
Moments later she walked out on the engineering deck, and moved to the chief engineers office. "Indri, can you replicate Whites device?"
"Built it in the first place, Captain; itll be no trouble." The engineer looked at her. "Considering the trouble the first one caused, Im not sure why I would want to duplicate it, but Im open to reason."
"Good. I have an idea." The Bantu sat down across from him. "I want to see what you think of it"
"TSoral, please get Fleet Captain Chekov." Sweat ran freely down the captains back as she spoke; the temperature on the bridge had risen significantly before stabilizing. It wasnt quite intolerable, but it missed that by only a narrow margin.
Chekovs face filled the forward screen. "You surprise me, Kyptin Uhura; you are out of uniform." It was clear that he had not only noticed the captains light cotton outfit but also the fact that all the men on the bridge were working bare back.
"Unfortunately, we have had our cooling system disabled by the energy being were up against Pavel." She wiped sweat from her brow to keep it from running into her eyes. "The bridge is a little warmer and stickier than usual."
"It is approximately forty point eight degrees Centigrade, Captain, with a relative humidity of eighty-two percent."
"Thank you, TSoral." Somehow, knowing the temperature and humidity made even less tolerable. "Under the circumstances, we have concluded that the corbomite device is the only available solution. We will be using it shortly after terminating this call."
"If youre sure you have tried all other avenues, Kyptin..." Chekov let the sentence die unfinished.
"You know me well enough to know I wouldnt sacrifice myself or my crew needlessly, Pavel, but that if Im pushed to the wall, Ill do that if its what it takes."
"Da, Nyota. What must be must be. Youve been a good friend; I shall miss you. Enterprise out."
Uhura took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. She turned to the Helm. "Mister Marsden, take us into orbit around the planetoid where this all started. Mister Tucker, has Indri loaded the device in the photon torpedo tube?"
"Excellent. Be prepared to fire on command. Drevan, you have the triggering sequence?"
"I have. I can trigger it any time after impact."
Uhura turned back to Tucker. "As soon as Drevan indicates the reaction is getting really rolling, I want the shields up to full power."
"Ill try, Captain, but the pest out there will just eat the energy, wont he?"
"Perhaps not." The Captains face tightened slightly. "Im counting on his being too distracted to do that. If hes not, were dead. Gentlebeings, I just want you all to know that youve been wonderful as a crew. If this goes sour, I just want you all to know how much Ive appreciated you. Mister Marsden, put us in orbit. Mister Tucker, on my command. Drevan, start the detonation sequence five seconds after impact."
Silently, the crew focused on their tasks. The captain looked back to Science One. "Is the being following us, Drevan?"
"From a respectful distance, yes, Captain."
"Marsden, make a run for the far side of the planet. I want the trajectory timed so that just as Whites double comes around after us, you can throw us into a Davids Sling trajectory that will throw us loose and you can cut power to the drives, so the energy can all go to the shields."
"Mister Tucker, time it so that gadget of Indris hits the surface just before this pest is over it." Uhura was becoming increasingly intense.
"Ill target a five second lead, Captain."
"Perfect. Make it all happen, people."
On the main viewing screen, the frozen planetoid grew from a small dot to a bloated planet with amazing speed. Just as it appeared that the Hyperion was going to ram the surface, there was a jolt as the torpedo launcher hurled the device at the planet, splitting in two as it flew, then it swept aside, the display almost blurring as the ship swept around it. "Drevan, I want to see whats happening with Whites double. Mainviewer."
Even as the scene became visible before them, the ship lurched to a halt. The effigy of Whites face was over the area the device had impacted, becoming more and more solid by the second.
"Incoming communications, Captain."
"I expected it. I trust the shields are up?"
"Full strength, Captain." Tucker looked at the display before him with some astonishment.
"For all the good thatll do us, Captain." The voice was Drevans. "Hes got his equivalent of a tractor latched onto us. Hes feeding on the energy that device is creating, and getting stronger by the moment. When it burns out, which I estimate will take about fifteen more minutes, hell be stronger than ever. It was a nice try, Captain, but it didnt work."
Whites voice boomed in the bridge, TSoral adjusting the volume almost immediately. "Captain, if you thought you could harm me this way, you are sorely mistaken. The meal is most appreciated. My complements to the chef."
"Ill tell Indri youre appreciative." She looked down at the chronometer in the arm of the command chair, then back up. "That was just the appetizer. I hope you appreciate the next course as well."
The sound of Uhuras voice was barely gone before the mainviewer went white; instants later, the Hyperion bucked like a wild stallion fighting a saddle. Of all the beings on the bridge, only one was unsurprised: the captain. "Damage report!"
"Shields are down to fifteen percent power or less; extensive damage to the hulls surface; Im guessing anything that wasnt battened down tightly has hit the floor. Turbolifts are mostly inoperable, but that appears to be due to emergency braking systems locking the lifts in place. Reports of numerous injured, but no casualties."
Almost as if she hadnt heard, she turned to Science One. "Drevan?"
"We blindsided him, Captain. The probes are vaporized. Im trying to localize the energy entity, but Im not finding him."
"Excellent. TSoral, I want Doctor White on the overhead."
Moments later, Whites voice came across the speaker. "Captain Uhura?"
"Correct, Doctor White. Mark, how are you feeling?"
"Ive got a splitting headache, and I feel like someone used me for target practice. Other than that, I feel tolerably well. Nothing that execution wouldnt improve, Im sure." From the tone of his voice, it was clear that his claims of discomfort were only minor exaggerations.
"I want to know what your double is thinking, Mark." Her voice carried a sharp edge of urgency.
Seconds of silence turned into one, then several minutes. Finally, Whites voice came across the overhead again. "No matter how hard I try, I cant reach into his mind anymore. There was a brief feeling of unbelievably arrogant pride, followed by utter surprise, and now, nothing."
"Thank you, Doctor White." The captain allowed herself to lean against the back of the center seat. "Thank you very much. I would appreciate it if you would make your way to Sickbay as soon as the turbolifts are working again, and have them look you over. Bridge out."
A cool breeze wafted from the vents of the air circulation system. "Drevan, have you found anything?"
"Nothing, Captain. Just the trail of ions left from the probes vaporizing. Both reactions on the surface have damped down. Best estimate, Id say just over twelve point seven kilos of matter became energy over about a thirty second period." Drevan looked up. "Brilliant maneuver, Captain. How did you know it would work?"
"I didnt, Drevan." Uhura stretched herself slightly, feeling the temperature of the bridge fall as she did so. "But it was the best idea I had. Basically, I tricked him into overeating. The second, larger energy release not only destroyed the probes, as I had expected, but the huge energy release seems to have disrupted the delicate balance of the fields that sustained him, as I had hoped." She looked down at herself, her clothes drenched in sweat, then back at her bridge crew. "It seems to me that Indri has the cooling system going again. Im going to get back in to uniform before I contact Chekov."
TSoral turn to Uhura. "Captain Uhura, Fleet Captain Chekov is standing by. He says he has a little mission for us..."
Uhura chuckled, looking down at her outfit. "Well, I suppose I shouldnt keep a superior officer waiting. Nothing like a little shock therapy anyhow. Forward viewer!"
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