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Chapter 9

“Carlson, boost the flow, the mix still isn’t balancing out.”

“Sir, if we do that we risk rupturing-“

Lieutenant Commander Elaina Seurer pounded her hand on the console. “Don’t give me that, Chief. I’m not stupid.” She glared at him before turning back to the table-like computer interface that they were bent over. “I’m manually regulating the anti-matter flow, so just boost the matter flow normally and we’ll get this worked out.”

The non-com made an annoyed sound in the back of his throat before tapping a few controls. On the display, Seurer saw the matter injectors had opened, but only fifty percent. She looked up again, catching his eyes. He shook his head, sighing, then tapped a few more controls. “Matter injectors opened to full. Your show, Commander.”

“Thank you.” Seurer watched the flow carefully, tapping her own controls at precise moments to make sure the matter/anti-matter mix that was forming ten feet to her left didn’t turn into a warp core breach. “Chief, begin rotating the crystal matrix.”

“Aye sir.” There was an alert, and the Chief looked up quickly. “Matter flow is exceeding that of the anti-matter, Commander. Loss of containment-“

“Keep rotating the matrix.” Seurer frowned, working the console quicker now. But, she had planned on this happening; she had at least half a minute before she’d even consider shutting it all down again. “Alright, start easing off the matter flow injectors, we should be reaching stabilization in a few seconds.” She didn’t bother looking up; she could practically feel the man’s gaze on the top of her head, disbelieving. It didn’t bother her though; she knew what she was doing.

Ten seconds later, the warp core was thrumming with life again, the powerful heartbeat of the Akira-class starship. Elaina afforded herself a small smile as she looked over at the Chief. “You were saying?” Chief Carlson just shook his head and walked off to a wall console in silence.

Since the fight for their lives only hours ago, Seurer and her engineers had been working quickly to repair the ship in case she was ambushed again. They were finally able to take the core offline long enough to repair the few damaged injector assemblies, and had finally been able to stabilize the core and bring it back up to full power.

Elaina sighed, running a hand through her unkempt hair. It wasn’t the first time she had had to put the stubborn ship in its place in the years she had been aboard. The problem hadn’t even surprised her; she had expected it, prompting her to make it one of the final repairs she had done to the ship.

There had been one strange event, however, that she hadn’t expected. For a brief period, the illumination in the engine room had gone dark, and then flickered bright blue for a few disorienting seconds before finally returning to normal. After the second time, she had sent one of her technicians, a young technician named Decoste, into the Jeffries tubes to find the problem and fix it. She hoped it was only an issue with the lighting; she could spare one technician to fix a problem that small. Anything larger and she’d need to reassign a team that was needed for damage control.

Still, that had been almost thirty minutes ago now. The crewman should have at least checked in and reported his findings, no matter how insignificant they were.

“Bridge to Engineering.”

Elaina rolled her eyes; it was St. Peter calling. “This should be good.” She tapped her commpin and replied tersely, “Seurer here, go ahead Lieutenant Commander.”

“Commander, what’s your status down there?”

Elaina paused, taking in a deep breath. Regardless of her personal opinion of the woman and their “relationship,” it would have been suicidal for her to blatantly disrespect the woman in front of her own engineers and whatever crewmembers were on the bridge in earshot. She sighed, doing her best to hide the annoyance in her voice for being “checked up” on. “All fine down here, ‘sir.’ We had a slight hiccup with our lighting, but my technicians isolated and fixed the problem.”

She could hear a gravelly voice in the background talking to Jessica in confusion. “I didn’t detect any problems.”

Seurer smiled and shook her head. She recognized the voice; Ensign M’Ral, an operations officer and one of the few new recruits to the ship that she liked. “Well, don’t worry too much, Ensign. It’s been taken care of. Just waiting for Decoste to get out of the Jeffries tube now.”

There was a gasp behind her, and then more commotion as a few engineers began raising their voices to each other. Elaina turned around to see what was going on.

Two technicians were struggling to drag a man out of a Jeffries tube. She recognized the man; it was the crewman she had sent to fix the lighting. His head rolled from side to side, uncontrolled, as the other technicians finally freed him from the access hatch and laid him on the ground. “Shit - what happened? Where was he?” She was only met with more confusion and shouting as she hurried next to the man. His eyes were open wide, as if he had seen a ghost, and his mouth looked as if he was shouting for help. She tapped her badge, forgetting for a moment that she was already using it. “Medical emergency in main engineering, I’ve got a man down!”

===


Ten minutes later, Seurer was in the Chief Medical Officer’s office with St. Peter and the on-duty doctor. The three women stood silently around the desk.

Jessica swallowed the lump in her throat. “What happened, Elaina?”

Seurer shook her head. “We were bringing the core back online when the lighting went on the fritz. Just started flashing blue everywhere. It happened a second time, so I sent Decoste to try and fix it while we kept on with the core. We didn’t have the problem again, so I figured he had taken care of it. It wasn’t until you had called down that two of my other technicians found him and pulled him out.”

Jessica looked distant for a moment, then shook her head to try and clear it. “Doctor?”

The human doctor picked up a PADD from the desk and activated it. “Crewman Decoste had been dead for about ten minutes when he finally arrived. There was nothing I could do to resuscitate him. His neural energy was completely drained.” The woman shook her head. “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

Seurer frowned. “There’s nothing on board that could do that, not even accidentally.”

The doctor nodded. “I know.” She shook her head. “I just don’t know what to tell you. It shouldn’t be possible.”

Elaina shook her head and huffed in frustration. “My man didn’t just up and die randomly, Doc. Something killed him.”

“Ceram detected a spike in triolic energy just before I called down to you.” Jessica crossed her arms over her chest. “It was located in main engineering.”

Seurer looked confused. “Triolic? There is nothing on the Rafale that would emit any amount of triolic energy. It’s too dangerous.”

Jessica nodded. “Something else is going on here.” She looked up at Elaina. “Work with Ceram and his team, try to isolate the source of the energy. I want to know how it got on the ship and how to get rid of it, preferably before the Hirogen come back.”

===


“Still no luck?”

The large, nose-less alien shook his head. “No, Commander. I am still unable to raise the Rafale and alert them of our situation.”

Gamma Tunarj stepped silently through the engine room, until he was right behind the man wearing the earring and the yellow uniform. He was hunched over what looked like a large table, where a top-down depiction of the small Starfleet ship was displayed.

“I might know why.” The young human with the shaved head and line of hair on his lip popped his head out from a hatch in the wall, causing Tunarj to jump slightly in alarm. He hadn’t seen the younger man disappear; who else was missing from the group of Starfleeters? “Whatever they were doing to the communication relay, it’s rigged like a Christmas tree in here. I think, if they even did manage to get power to the relay, they would have burned the whole thing out in a heartbeat.” He pulled himself out of the maintenance hatch and stood, brushing off his pants. “We won’t be able to call for help.”

The officer wearing the gold uniform cursed, shaking his head. “What about the distress call?”

“Gamma, I am behind the male guarding the entrance.”

“Automated, and it uses an emergency transmitter that is hard to tap into. I might be able to make it work if I had a few days to play with it.” The young human looked around and shook his head. “This ship is older than my abuelita. I wouldn’t even begin to know where to start.”

“I have the female in my sights. Give us the signal, Gamma.”

Tunarj frowned, took two deep breaths, then tapped a device on his belt that would send the signal to his hunters to strike. Then, he watched his target, waiting for the chaos to begin.

===


Dossu shook his head. “Do your best, Sonia. We need to -"

There was a bright flash of blue energy on the other side of the warp core, where the entrance to engineering was, followed closely by the telltale whine of an energy weapon discharging. He heard a shout from the assault officers, and phasers firing back. One of the assault officers’ voices sprang from his communicator, sounding as if he was in close quarters combat. “Hirogen hunter! Guillary’s down! They’ve got cloaks!” There was a sickening thock sound, and the channel went silent; Obruz could still hear the commotion faintly as the two fought out of sight.

Wirstowx raised the business end of his cannon to the ceiling and peppered the upper landings with phaser blasts as Nizeri and S’Tel rushed to get behind the three men. Next to him, Obruz saw Sonia raise his hand phaser and fire as well.

There was a sharp pressure in his back, and Dossu suddenly felt as if an arm had clamped around his neck and pulled him back, threatening to strangle him. He felt his feet lift up off the deck and kicked wildly as the invisible limb slowly took form. He felt himself carried backwards.

“Hold your fire, or your commander dies!”

Sano screamed behind him, and Wirstowx and Sonia both turned, their weapons pointing at the hunter that had taken him hostage. Wirstowx stared calmly at Obruz and the Hirogen holding him, his heavy-weapon held steady in front of him. Seymour, in contrast, was wide-eyed in shock; he held his phaser out at arm’s length like it was going to burn him, and Dossu nervously noted the young officer’s hand was shaking wildly. Whether out of adrenaline or fear, he wasn’t sure.

“Drop the weapons,” he heard the Hirogen hiss behind him, and he felt the arm tighten around his neck. Obruz gasped and kicked more wildly as his vision darkened around the edges.

Sonia’s hand jerked again before he powered off his phaser and tossed it to the ground. Next to him, Nizeri and S’Tel did likewise with their own small weapons. Wirstowx stood unfazed, continuing to stare the hunter down.

The alien’s grip around his neck tightened more. “I won’t repeat myself,” he warned. Obruz struggled for breath, unable to break free from the strong arm that held him in place. It was getting harder to focus, but he found it odd the Hirogen had even warned his away team off.

He didn’t kill me; he wanted to use me for leverage. Dossu tried to open his mouth to speak, but could only manage a small, frustrated hiss of air. He doesn’t want me dead; he needs me for something. Or, he’s a coward. He laughed a little inside, despite himself.

Wirstowx unexpectedly relaxed, standing straight and letting his cannon point away from the Hirogen. He nodded. “Mr. Kunicki, you may fire.”

“What?-!” The Hirogen stumbled forward suddenly, releasing Obruz to let him stagger forward, gasping for air. A second energy blast sounded in the room, sending the large alien spinning into the deck.

He slowly lifted himself off the floor and rolled over, blinking rapidly from the feeling of two successive stun blasts. He shook his head and put his hand down to try and push himself up to standing when he finally raised his head.

Wirstowx was standing over him, his phaser cannon’s emitter centimeters from the Hirogen’s facemask. The Oza shook his head once. “Do not move, Hirogen,” he threatened.

The Hunter sat back down, staring nervously at the weapon hovering close to his face.

Obruz coughed one final time as he caught his breath and slowly stood back up. He grabbed the hand Kunicki offered him as he found his footing. “Thanks Allen,” Obruz said, nodding at the man. He did a quick glance to make sure the away team was all accounted for, coming up one short. He had also counted one extra Hirogen; the massive alien was lying flat on his face a meter or so in front of him, spread eagle as if he had fallen from the ceiling. Either Wirstowx or Seymour had managed to fell the hunter in their wild firing, he decided as he stretched his neck side to side. “Guillary?”

Kunicki shook his head. “They sniped her first; I don’t think she made it.”

Dossu turned in time to see S’Tel turn and hurry to the opposite side of the warp core to check on the second assault officer. He closed his eyes and offered a silent plea to the Prophets; Guillary had been one of his officers that followed him from the Merveille, and a friend. Please let her be alright, Prophets.

He opened his eyes and stepped forward to stand next to Wirstowx’s aimed weapon, glaring down at the Hirogen hunter. “I’m Lieutenant Commander Obruz Dossu, of the starship Rafale. Who are you, and what are you doing on this ship?”

The Hunter shifted his gaze from the cannon to the Bajoran, doing his best to remain defiant. “I am Gamma Tunarj. We came aboard to investigate this ship in the Great Bloom.”

“What did you do with the crew?”

Tunarj rolled his eyes and did his best to laugh derisively. “You should know. It is a weapon you were creating that this crew unwittingly released. Or, perhaps they were your test subjects, hmm?”

Dossu narrowed his eyes and leaned forward, doing his best to intimidate the alien. “What weapon?”

“Phantoms of light. They would be formidable prey for even the best hunter. They killed this crew, and most of my hunting party, including my Alpha.” The Gamma shifted forward in his seated position, lowering his voice. “I can imagine what the Romulans will think when they hear of this new invisible army, these living weapons, that your ‘peaceful’ Federation created.”

“’Phantoms of light?’” Nizeri asked, stepping next to Wirstowx. “What exactly did you see?”

“They were not there, and then suddenly the command center of this ship was filled with them.” The Hirogen looked off to the side, remembering the scene. “They lifted the mightiest hunters I have known - including my Alpha - in the air as if they weighed nothing until they stopped struggling. And then, the…monsters…disappeared again, letting my kin drop to the floor, dead.” He looked back at the three officers. “What have you done? What madness did you create?”

Obruz shook his head. “We didn’t create anything.” He looked at his fellow officers, immediately concerned. “But I think it’s safe to assume that we’re all in danger.”

===


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