The team had exited the cargo bay, only to find the halls of the stricken ship pitch black. Even with their palm-torches lighting the way, navigating had been difficult; it seemed crewmembers were lying on the ground almost everywhere, all of them having died in the same manner, all of their faces frozen in eternal terror.
Seymour Sonia had glanced down at the map on his tricorder for only a second when a hand grabbed his ankle. He screamed, dropping his tricorder as he fell onto his attacker, struggling to get free.
Sonia struggled, punching and kicking wildly. “Help!” He yelled as more limbs wrapped around him. He desperately thrashed on the ground, finally managing to free himself and roll away. He hit the wall of the corridor hard, fumbling for his phaser. He quickly sat up and fired.
“Seymour, what the hell is going on?!”
Seymour steadied himself, his back pressed against the wall and his phaser aimed at the unmoving body that moments earlier tried to eat him.
“Are you alright, Lieutenant?”
There was a small, firm hand gripping under his arm, and he startled, dropping his phaser and turning his head quickly to see who had grabbed him now. With a quick tug, the young officer was back on his feet, five flashlights all pointing at him or on the ground where he had fired only a few chaotic minutes ago.
“Well, that’s one way to find dead crew,” one of the assault officers commented.
Seymour bristled, clenching his hands into fists. “Not funny, jackass.”
“Aw, don’t worry, ‘El-Tee.’ Once we get power back, we can replicate a new set of pants for you…”
“That’s enough, Kunicki.” Dossu knelt next to the body, shining the light from his palm-torch on the face of the dead human. He shook his head before looking up at the doctor. “S’Tel?”
The hand let go of Seymour’s arm, and he realized then it had been the Vulcan who had helped him up. She knelt next to the Bajoran, taking out her own tricorder. Sonia shivered again; the air seemed to be a lot colder now, though if it was because he was coming off his adrenaline high he couldn’t tell. The pitch-black corridor littered with dead bodies certainly didn’t help the mood.
S’Tel closed her tricorder and leaned in closer to the body, checking the dead woman’s eyes. “It is the same, Commander.” She stood after a moment, and Seymour was certain he saw her wipe her hands on her trousers, a reaction he didn’t expect from the Vulcan physician. “No neural energy present in her nervous system.” She turned to look at Seymour again, causing him to look away, embarrassed. “Lieutenant Sonia, how are you?”
“Fine, Doctor. I’m fine.” He took a deep breath, forcing himself to look back up at her and nod. “Let’s not do that again.”
“Agreed.” Obruz was next to Sonia, the lieutenant’s dropped phaser in his hand. He thrust the phaser at the man’s chest, lowering his voice. “Don’t drop that again.”
“Alright, let’s move out. Wirstowx, take point for now. Seymour, keep us on the right track.”
The away team continued on in the darkness, the lights from their flashlights playing over the walls and the ground at their feet. Sonia made sure to pay more attention to where he was going, nearly missing a few turns on the map displayed on his tricorder.
After a few detours into the Jeffries tubes and climbing up a deck and a half in the turboshaft, the team found themselves at the thick blast doors of Engineering.
Nizeri frowned, passing her tricorder over the doors. “Of course, they’re sealed tight.” She turned to face the rest of the team and shrugged. “So, ring the doorbell?”
“Maybe one of Sonia’s zombies will answer it…”
“Shut it.” Seymour glared at where he thought Kunicki was in the inky blackness before looking at his own tricorder. He brought his palm-torch up, illuminating the wall first on one side, then the other side of the blast doors, stopping on a square section that stood out from the rest of the wall. “Access panel; there should be a manual release lever in there.”
Wirstowx pulled the panel off the wall with ease, letting it clatter to the ground behind him, and stepped aside to let Seymour inspect it better. Sonia reached in, grabbing a black handle. He pulled hard, and was rewarded with a hiss of atmosphere escaping from the doors as the seal broke. The massive engineering doors parted a few inches as the hydraulics released. Wirstowx and the two assault officers grabbed the doors and pulled hard, separating them enough for the team to slip in.
Engineering was just as cold and dark as the rest of the ship, and Seymour felt as if the darkness itself was pushing on him, making it harder to breathe. The odd sensation of breath on the back of his neck met him again as he entered the room behind the tactical officers, causing him to shudder in discomfort.
The male assault officer spoke up behind Sonia. “I think this place is creepier than the corridors, Commander.”
Sonia smiled; he was happy to hear the assault officers complaining for once, rather than giving him a hard time. The smile didn’t last long, however; the other man had spoken the truth. Main engineering definitely had a much worse vibe than the rest of the darkened hallways.
An alert behind him startled him, and he heard the tactical officers all raise their weapons and spin around in similar surprise. A palm-light came up to illuminate the source.
Nizeri was tapping her tricorder, looking perplexed as she took a scan of the area near the door. “Triolic energy waves, again.” She shook her head and pointed. “This can’t be good; the source is right in front of me, right here.”
Sonia pointed his own light to where the Trill had pointed. “There’s nothing there, Sano.”
“Thus, why this can’t be good.”
“Commander!” Guillary shouted from behind them. “We’ve got more bodies over here. I think this was the chief engineer.”
“S’Tel, Sonia.” Dossu called, moving towards the woman. Sonia followed, carefully watching his step as he moved closer. Obruz and S’Tel bent down over the body of a large, dark-skinned man, his face contorted in agony. Obruz looked back up to Sonia. “See if you can get power back up, Lieutenant.”
Sonia nodded and walked to the nearest console. He used his tricorder to remotely access the main computer; in no time, he was tied in, and the warp core began to slowly pulse red and blue in the dark room. Consoles and lights flickered as power was restored, and the team quickly shielded their eyes from the bright lights.
“Emergency power restored,” he announced, switching from his tricorder to the console. “I don’t see any damage to the warp core. Ah.” Sonia tapped the controls in front of him, bringing up some of the ill-fated engineer’s final reports. “They were rerouting all their power for something; propulsion, weapons, sensors. Whatever it was, they were throwing a lot of energy at something.”
Dossu moved next to Seymour to read over his shoulder. “But what is it?”
Sonia shrugged. “I’ll see if I can get into his log.” He called up the engineering logs, choosing the latest one to replay on the display in front of them.
The dead man’s face appeared on the small screen, looking tired and fearful. He was squeezing the bridge of his nose as the playback began.
“Chief Engineer's Log, Supplemental:
“We have been unable to block the triolic waves bombarding the ship or determine their source. The effect, though, is deadly. There have been twenty casualties already, and the sickbay can't keep up with newly reported cases.
“Captain Hawes has ordered us to reroute all remaining power to the communications arrays. We have to try to get a distress signal out...”
“A distress signal in the Rift?”
Sonia shook his head at the first officer. “They must have been very desperate. Or, hoping enough power in the comm-relay would have punched through the interference and to the nearest starbase.” He searched the computer for a record of the modifications the ill-fated engineer had attempted. “It doesn’t look like they managed much,” he said, skimming over the short list of work that had been finished. His eyes widened in shock. “They were about to adjust the relay to handle the extra power when the engineer and over half of his crew died.” He looked up, visibly shaken. “That was six days ago.”
Dossu shook his head in disbelief, looking around the small engine room. Seymour looked as well; the floor was littered with bodies, all of them looking like discarded rag dolls.
Discarded, terrified rag dolls, that even with the illumination restored looked no less horrific to him.
Gamma Tunarj sat silently, perched in the upper platforms of the engine room, watching the small boarding party below him. He had been watching them since they entered the closed space, hidden away in shadow and protected from view by his personal cloaking device. Next to him, similarly cloaked, he knew there were two other hunters. They were the only three survivors of the hunting party.
Tunarj reflexively turned his head toward the voice before remembering it had been piped into the speaker in his helmet. He whispered back. “Wait for them to show the weapon.”
“You saw the surprise on their faces. They are just as puzzled by the death of their people as we are.”
“Maybe they don’t know what happened.”
“They know what happened.” He narrowed his eyes, watching as the two more-heavily armed officers continued to pace around near the entrance of the engine room.
“Gamma, this is a waste of our time. We can take the information from them by force.”
“It would be better than waiting for them to mention it accidentally.”
“Or waiting for it to kill us, too!”
Tunarj took in a deep breath; his hunters were right. The longer they waited, the better the chances were that they would be the prey for whatever monstrosity was prowling the ship. He gripped his invisible weapon. “Very well. The two by the main door; they are armed to the teeth. Remove them first. Then the large alien. I will move to take their commander.” He looked down at the one wearing the dirty-yellow-colored uniform; since the group had entered the engine room, he had been issuing orders, and seemed to be the most important.
The two hunters responded in unison, “Yes, Gamma.”
Tunarj closed his eyes, hoping he had learned enough from his cousin Tajaln not to make the situation worse. Ancients, help us. “Begin the hunt!”