“It’s not possible, S’Tel.” Nizeri quickly snapped her tricorder shut, silencing the device as she holstered it again. She shook her head in frustration.
The Vulcan doctor inspected her own tricorder for another moment longer before calmly closing the instrument and looking up at the Trill woman with her typically emotionless eyes. “Lieutenant Sano, I can assure you the readings were not falsified.”
Nizeri shook her head again and stood up, eyeing the dead Hirogen they had been studying. So far, the mission had been putting her through more stress than she had thought possible, not the least of it resulting from stumbling upon the dead Vulcan in the cargo bay. Since then, she had been terrified out of her mind on the derelict ship: even restoring power had done nothing to calm her nerves.
Even the light movement of air from the environmental systems was conspiring against her; she shuddered as she felt another light breeze blow on the back of her neck, as if a light hand was brushing against it.
“What’ve we got, ladies?” Sano glanced over to see Obruz come up behind S’Tel, looking concerned. Behind him, Sonia was still busy working on the communications relay, while Wirstowx and Kunicki stood watch over the captured Hirogen.
S’Tel stood and stared at Nizeri, prompting her to give the first officer her report; the Trill mentally cursed at the Vulcan for making her speak. “Whatever happened on the ship before we got here is still going on.” She pointed at the dead Hirogen on the ground, the one who had sniped and killed their female assault officer only a few minutes earlier. “The fall didn’t kill him.”
Obruz looked from Nizeri to S’Tel for a moment and back, waiting. “I’m going to guess that Wirstowx didn’t, either.”
S’Tel raised an eyebrow. “Actually, no. Wirstowx didn’t shoot him; Mister Sonia managed to land a hit on him, which caused this man to fall from his perch.” She tilted her head to the side. “Still, the phaser did not kill him, nor did the fall.”
“We determined he was in pretty bad shape, but he would have been alive and could have survived.” Nizeri took in a deep breath. “He died when our…friend…decided to take you hostage. All our attention was on him, so none of us saw anything strange.”
“What killed him, then?” Obruz crossed his arms over his chest, frowning.
Sano shot one final glare towards S’Tel before addressing the commander. “The Doctor and I have conflicting theories about the crew’s and his death.”
S’Tel raised an eyebrow as she calmly put her hands behind her, clasping them together. “I would disagree with your assessment. We are, in fact, in agreement on the cause of death.”
“It’s not possible, S’Tel.” Nizeri repeated, shaking her head again.
The Vulcan turned her attention to Obruz, effectively silencing the Trill science officer. “We’ve seen injuries like this before.”
Obruz glanced questioningly between the two. “We have?”
Sano rolled her eyes. “No, we have not. Starfleet has records of similar injuries. From about forty years ago,” she added, crossing her arms in front of her.
“When you have eliminated all other explanations, whatever remains, however unlikely…”
“Is the logical explanation,” Nizeri finished for S’Tel, sighing. Vulcan logic could be so frustrating sometimes.
Dossu huffed. “If you two are finished…what is going on?”
S’Tel addressed the first officer, for which Nizeri was thankful. “We’re certain the Warwick was attacked by an alien race first encountered by the Enterprise-D. They exist slightly out of phase with ‘normal’ matter, and utilize triolic energy to interact with beings out of phase from them.”
“These beings…you think they’re responsible for this,” Obruz waved his arms around the compartment, “this slaughter?”
“It’s not a matter of simple mindless killing, Commander.” Sano bit her lip anxiously. “These creatures - Devidians - feed on the neural energies of other organic life, especially humanoids.”
Obruz’s eyes went wide, and he made a loud gulping noise as he looked fearfully behind him. “I think I want to go back to the ship now.” He shook his head, turning back to face Nizeri. “So, the triolic energy readings from the cargo bay and just inside the door here?”
Sano nodded slowly. “If we’re right about this-“
“We are.” S’Tel interjected.
Nizeri took in a sharp breath and continued, glaring at the doctor. “It means the Devidians are still on the ship.” She motioned around them. “They could be surrounding us right now and we wouldn't even know.”
Obruz looked at Sano in alarm. “Which means we could be in danger.” He took in a deep breath, thinking for a moment. “We need to get back to the Rafale.”
Doctor S’Tel shook her head. “Commander, nothing is to say they aren’t already on the Rafale.”
Nizeri looked anxiously at Obruz. “We need to contact the ship and warn them. Now.”
“Captain to the bridge!”
Jessica looked up from the computer screen on her desk just as the lighting turned crimson and an alarm sounded, bringing the ship to red alert. She glanced out her ready room viewport, where the dark shape of the derelict Warwick hung in the green gasses of the Bassen Rift. She stood and exited her office quickly, making her way to the center of the bustling bridge. “Report!”
Ensign M’Ral stood from the center chair and offered it to the Commander as he stepped sideways. “Sensors just picked up the Hirogen battleship from earlier. They just entered our limited sensor range again, and it looks like they brought friends.” He motioned to the viewscreen.
Jessica turned her head and gasped, sinking into the command chair. On the screen was the massive form of the Hirogen battleship, flanked on either side by the slender, curved hulls of two Romulan Birds-of-Prey. She looked up at the Caitian, doing her best to mask her anxiety. “Have they attempted communications?”
If M’Ral sensed her fear, he didn’t let on; the feline shook his head. “Not yet, though from the attack posture they’ve assumed, I doubt they’re here to talk.”
St. Peter nodded, looking back at the viewscreen and trying to decide what to do. Despite her best efforts, she was only managing to come up with nothing, which caused her more distress.
Back at his operations console, M’Ral called out, “Now they’re hailing us.” He turned his head to look over his shoulder at Jessica. “It’s one of the Romulan ships.”
“On screen,” Jessica replied with a nervous squeak. She coughed, clearing her throat before the image of the five ships was replaced with the large, scowling face of a Romulan officer, the chain resting on her shoulders and hanging down the front of her tunic showing her station as the commander of the vessel.
She quietly regarded the Federation crew before finally locking her eyes on Jessica in the center chair. “This is the warbird Trinil. We have received reports of a Federation starship trespassing within a restricted area of Romulan space!”
Jessica stood indignantly, forgetting that she still hadn’t introduced herself. “Restricted area? We were ordered here as part of the joint mission between the Federation and the Empire to investigate thalaron levels in the rift! We’re supposed to be here!”
“We also have several subspace communications linking you to the disappearance of Hirogen squadrons conducting peaceful research in this vicinity.” The Romulan leaned forward, grinning viciously. “Prepare to pay for your crimes.”
“Peaceful research?! They attacked us!” Jessica shouted, but the channel had already closed. Fuming, she dropped back into her seat as the ships on the screen broke formation, preparing to encircle and attack the starship. “Helm, keep us near the Warwick, and don’t let them get a shot at the ship. Power up phasers and load torpedo bays.”
“Commander, we’re being hailed again.” M’Ral sounded excited. “It’s from the Warwick!”
Jessica frowned. “Put it through.”
There was a soft crackle, and then a few voices talking over one another before Obruz’s voice rose to quiet them. “Away team to Rafale, come in Rafale.”
“We read you, Obruz. What’s your status?”
“Commander, we’ve found no survivors of the crew, and only one survivor of a Hirogen hunting party that came over after the crew died.” There was more static, interrupting the Bajoran’s report. “…still on board, and on the Rafale, too. We have a plan to drive the remaining creatures off the ship, but we’re going to lose contact with you for a time.”
Jessica looked around the bridge, then back at the screen in time to see the battleship fire. Rafale rocked from the impact to her shields, and Jessica pointed furiously at the helmsman to get him to start maneuvering the ship. “Whatever you need to do, Dossu, do it! That Hirogen battleship came back with some Romulan friends; we’ve got our hands full. We’ll do our best to protect you.”
Obruz paused for a moment. “Confirm, Romulans?”
The ship shook as the Hirogen’s energy weapons collided with the Rafale’s shields again. Jessica grumbled in frustration. “Yes, Romulans! Now hurry up!” She pressed a control on her armrest to close the communications and turned her attention back to the replacement helmsman. “Helm, evasive maneuvers! Do I really need to order that with them shooting at us?”
The ship shook again, and a few consoles around the bridge flickered as the ship’s shields began to falter. Jessica gritted her teeth and turned around to the science console, where Ceram was still posted, bent over the station and hard at work. “Ceram, figure out what Obruz meant about ‘creatures’ being on the Rafale.”
The Benzite paused for a moment in confusion. “Who, exactly, should I be looking for on board?”
Jessica threw her hands in the air as she turned her chair back around to face the front of the bridge. “Hell if I know!” The ship bucked from another volley of weapons fire, causing those standing at the front of the bridge to drop to their knees suddenly. “Fire at will! I’m tired of playing with this bastard!”
Chaos was suddenly all around it.
It had found another target, one that would suffice to sate its appetite, when the blaring noise started. It was an awful noise, and loud, and caused it great discomfort to hear. Then, the ship began to quake as sounds of a new battle reverberated throughout the hull.
It was dangerous, too dangerous to be here. And the firing of the energy weapons was causing its portal to grow unstable. It would be impossible to open a new portal on its own; it would be trapped on the ship, able to see its prey, but unable to hunt any of it without the portal channeling the energy required to come into phase with the beings.
All around it would be food, but not a bite to eat. A hellish existence.
So it raced back to its portal and moved through, sealing the rift behind it. Even if it had left the portal on the ship, the battle would have either destabilized the portal enough to collapse it entirely, or the ship would be destroyed, leaving nothing for it to go back to.
It would wait for the scouts to return later, when they confirmed there was food again.