Jessica stretched her neck, doing her best not to shiver at the same time. She had already had that happen once tonight, and she could swear she had whiplash from the resulting sudden movement while her neck had been locked up.
She sighed. Is this really what's it's like to die slowly? You go through thinking about everything you've done, move to everything you're going to miss and now...my discomfort right now?
I didn’t think dying would be this...boring.
There was a gentle knock on her ready room door. Jessica stood from the couch where she had been bundled up under a blanket and went to the door, pulling off her gloves. She gripped the seam between the doors and pulled. "You need to help me open these!"
With a grunt and much pulling, the doors finally parted. Jessica blinked a few times. "Yala! This is a surprise." No matter how many times she had talked with the Etamba, Yala always struck her as magnificently beautiful. Even now, despite the frigid cold that was discoloring her pale skin a deep purple and the heavy clothing she was wearing, the tall alien moved gracefully into the small office.
"I hope I am not disturbing you, St. Peter," she said, turning her head to look at the various objects in the ready room.
Jessica smiled, shaking her head. "Not at all, Yala. Please, have a seat," she offered, motioning to a chair near the couch.
The lanky alien looked down at the chair for a moment before looking back at Jessica. "I did not mean to intrude, Lieutenant Commander. I understand this is a very personal place for you, and an even more personal time as well." She slowly lowered herself into the chair.
Jessica nodded. "It's alright. I sort of got sidetracked." She rubbed her neck, grinning a little. "I'm not exactly used to this 'dying' thing. It's my first time."
Yala tilted her head to the side and flared her nostrils - a gesture Jessica had come to learn was something akin to being quietly pleased. "I am not, unfortunately. I have had the displeasure once this month." She shook her head, the sail behind her head flapping. "I know what you mean. It is easy to let your mind wander."
Jessica laughed a little. "What can I do for you, Yala?"
The Etamba leaned forward, pressing her hands together nervously. "I wanted to...express my thanks to you. I understand you gave the order to not jeopardize my world, but at the cost of the lives of your crew. That is...an incredible sacrifice." She closed her eyes. "I wish my people could know what you are doing for them."
Jessica shook her head. "There was no other choice. It wouldn't have been right." She sat back on the couch. "Besides, we're not dead yet. There's still time enough to get through this. And then you can go back to Etam and tell them, if you like."
Yala flared her nostrils again and dipped her head forward. "I would very much like that, but I am not a fool. I do not believe I will survive this mission. What was it Nizeri called it? A 'hunch?' I have felt it since I left Etam." She glanced out the small porthole behind Jessica's desk; the large gas giant Allebin V filled the view, and set in front was the moon Etam. "Still, I did not expect to see my world again, and here we are..."
Jessica smiled a little. "We'll survive; everyone."
Yala nodded again, still staring out at her world. "It is strange. My entire mission, for the last year, was finding you. I was so engrossed, I never looked at my planet the way I am now."
Jessica craned her head to look out the small window as well, smiling a little. "It is a beautiful sight. Even growing up on space stations, I always loved 'planet rises.'"
There was a pounding on the door then, and Jessica and Yala both turned to look as Obruz shoved the doors apart to step in. "Captain, you need to get out here now!"
Jessica was on her feet in a hurry, tossing aside the blanket she had been keeping warm under. "What's wrong now?"
Obruz glowered, practically spitting the name. "Sonia. His team is on the surface of the asteroid."
Jessica shook her head. "I don't understand."
"They're planting more explosives."
Jessica took in a sharp breath. "I told them to wait. Maybe they're preparing for when they do free us?"
Obruz shook his head. "I don't like it. The placement of the extra charges is too close to what's already been put in place. And they're hurrying around; they're on the clock."
Jessica's eyes widened and she hurried onto the bridge, Obruz and Yala close behind. She nodded to M'Ral. "Get me a visual on the away team, now!"
The screen came alive with static for a moment, slowly clearing enough that Jessica could see three figures in EVA suits scurrying about, carrying explosives crates and using phasers to drill into the rock. She shook her head. "Nizeri; bring up a display of the asteroid's rotation."
"Aye." There was a long moment before the Trill brought up the requested information. "Increasing speed of the model."
"M'Ral, overlay the placement of all the charges now."
A wire-frame covered the asteroid as green points of light appeared, showing where the away team had planted the explosives. The model continued to rotate, until Jessica finally ordered, "Nizeri, halt it."
The model stopped its movement, and the bridge went silent.
Jessica gulped loudly. "Nizeri, if they blow it when it's in this position..."
Nizeri bent over her console, working as fast as her cold hands and the power-drained computer would allow her. "There is a high probability the asteroid will break apart completely. Any pieces that do get caught in Etam's gravity will do little damage, if they don't burn up first."
"78-percent." The science officer grumbled a little. "The alternatives are not good."
Obruz leaned close to Jessica to whisper in her ear. "If this works, he'll never let you hear the end of it."
Jessica shook her head; Sonia's cockiness was the least of her worries now. "If this doesn't work..."
There was a flash on the viewscreen, and everyone on the bridge gasped in shock.
"Prophets..." was all Obruz - or any of them - managed to say in response.
Mosz stumbled on the rocky terrain, barely catching himself in time before his helmet could hit the ground. He breathed heavily as he pushed himself back up. "God, that was close."
"Are you ok?" he heard Alyssa ask over his helmet communicator. Mosz gave a quick thumbs up as he clambered back to his feet. The woman breathed out in relief. "That was close."
Mosz grabbed the handle to the crate he had released and lifted it again, following Alyssa and Timothy, who was leading the way with his tricorder, looking for a suitable spot for the last of the explosives. He stopped, fiddling with his tricorder for a moment. Mosz frowned. "What is it, Merv?"
Timothy stopped, turning around and glaring at the other man. "Would you drop the insult already, Mosz? We've been on the same crew now for over a year. Grow up."
Mosz shrugged, chuckling a little. "Whatever. What did you find?"
Timothy finished his scans and pointed to an area on the ground. "That should be a safe spot. Just, be careful; there's a patch of uridium a few meters ahead."
Mosz and Alyssa set the crate down and opened it. Mosz quickly got to work on the explosives inside, working to assemble the detonators and hook them to the bombs while Alyssa pulled her phaser rifle off her back and approached the spot Timothy had scouted out. She adjusted her beam and aimed. "Tricorder reading?"
Timothy checked to make sure the woman's aim was on target before nodding. "You're good; fire."
A beam of phaser fire bore into the rock, annihilating it with ease. Alyssa continued drilling while the geologist next to her monitored the depth of the hole.
Mosz finished assembling the last of the charges and sighed. "Alright, I'm good to go here. This should be the last we need to do. How's the drilling?"
Over his helmet speaker, Mosz heard Timothy curse as his tricorder alerted him. "This can't be right..."
"What?" Alyssa asked, continuing to fire her phaser.
"Under the regolith...I'm starting to get a clear reading...this can't be right though. It's impossible."
"Does she need to stop drilling?" Mosz looked up.
Timothy snapped his tricorder shut. "Hold your fire! Neutronium!"
The order came too late. The three watched as the ground below their feet fractured. Phaser energy erupted from under them, lancing Timothy in the foot. The man screamed as the phaser beam drilled up his leg and into his chest, before blasting out of his shoulder and the suit. He crumpled to the ground as more phaser energy sliced out at odd angles, the energy reflecting off the dense mineral.
Mosz fell backward as a lance of energy flew out in front of his face. "Get back to the runabout, now!"
Alyssa turned to flee as a final bolt of energy spewed out of the ground a few meters ahead of them near the patch of uridium.
It was close enough.
The uridium exploded, sending shrapnel flying everywhere. Alyssa and Mosz were pushed forward from the blast. Alarms blared in their helmets as their suits reported multiple punctures from shrapnel. Mosz felt a small piece bury deep into his side. He slowly picked himself up and grabbed Alyssa, pulling her forward. "Come on!" He tugged again before looking down.
The back of her suit had been shredded, exposing her slashed back to space. He dropped her arm and hurried forward; she was already dead.
Another alarm went off in his helmet as he called out, "Mosz to Guadalupe! We've got a situation!!"
"Mosz, what happened?! We just registered an explosion near your location!"
"Neutronium deposit, buried in the asteroid!"
The crate of explosives he had abandoned detonated. Mosz flew forward from the blast, watching in horror as the gleaming hull of the runabout filled his view. He slammed into the side of the ship, felt bones break. He was in agony when his faceplate finally shattered.
Seymour watched out the porthole as the second explosion occurred, and heard banging on the side of the runabout from the debris. "Mosz! Terry, dammit, answer me!"
"Neutronium?" Keith was bent over the tactical console, reading the data on the explosions. "That wasn't in any of our scans. Dammit," he hit the console with his hand. "If we'd known that I would have recommended waiting until we were a little more clear of Etam!"
The explosives expert glared at Seymour. "Tim's models are flawed; we won't be able to blast the neutronium. And if it's a large enough deposit under there, it'll survive and hit the planet!"
The runabout shook as more explosions rocked the asteroid. "What's going on?" Seymour asked.
"The rest of the explosives are detonating!" Keith shook his head. "Mosz had them rigged to explode in a preset pattern; the last explosive they were planting was the primary charge. They're following their sequence!"
Seymour sat down at the station next to the pilot's. "Thoobor, get us off the asteroid, now!"
The ship rocked as the asteroid violently broke apart. Tompson screamed, pointing out the main viewports. Seymour looked up just in time to see a large rock fly through the window next to him; his eardrums exploded as the viewports shattered and the cabin decompressed in an instant. The emergency shutters slammed shut as the ship spun. It landed back on the asteroid hard, and Seymour's head slammed into the console in front of him.
"The asteroid is tearing apart!"
"There's a massive amount of neutronium at the heart of the asteroid!"
Jessica sat down in her chair as the activity on the bridge increased. "Why didn't we discover that sooner?"
"The magnesite was interfering with our scans!"
"Projected path of the objects?!"
The viewscreen shifted to show a tactical display of the obliterated asteroid. Three distinct pieces floated among the rest of the ejected debris. The pieces sped up to show their paths; the smaller of the objects was going away from the planet. One of the larger pieces was traveling in a way that it would eventually hit the planet; the second was aiming right for Etam.
Jessica slammed her fist on her chair. "Engineering, I need the last of our power to weapons now!"
"Standby on that, bridge! We're not sure what's going on, but the power drain just subsided; we're bringing the core back online now! Expect main power in thirty seconds!"
Jessica shook her head. "The asteroid's been destroyed; I need weapons now!"
"Commander," Wirstowx called from his station as the main lighting flickered back on. Consoles that had been in a lower-powered state also came to life, and more of the officers on the bridge jumped to action to bring the ship back online. "The piece heading towards Etam is a large mass of neutronium; our weapons will be unable to destroy it."
"Damn." Jessica turned to M'Ral. "Tractor beam!"
M'Ral worked furiously, even as Nizeri called out behind him, "The asteroids have increased in speed. Estimate planet fall in five minutes!"
"Wirstowx, prepare for ramming speed!" Jessica pulled at her hair in frustration. "If we can cause another explosion to redirect it..."
"Engines aren't responding. The warp core is still not able to take us to warp speed." Wirstowx looked over his shoulder. "The most I can do is three-quarters impulse; full impulse in twelve minutes."
M'Ral hissed from his station. "The tractor emitter is frozen due to ejecta from the comet!" He turned to Jessica, his ears pressed back against his head. "We can't do it!"
"Speed increasing still!"
"Launch the Ronfaure!" Jessica looked at Obruz, who was standing from his station and moving to the turbolift as he spoke. "The runabouts have powerful tractor beams on them; we can at least try that, or maybe even the ramming option."
"Ramming won't work now, it's too entrenched in Etam's gas giant's gravity." Nizeri looked up in despair.
Jessica nodded to Obruz. "Get the tractor going, now!"
Everyone turned as Yala screamed. The alien pointed shakily at the viewscreen. The asteroid was beginning to flare as it entered the atmosphere of Etam. It streaked away from Rafale, curving with the planet to a point on the far side.
There was a long moment of silence. Then, the bridge crew watched in horror as a dust cloud sped back across the planet, followed by scorched earth and fires.
Yala let out a low moan, crumpling a little as she watched her planet burn. She covered her face and fled the bridge, moaning loudly in grief.
Jessica sat back in her chair in shocked silence. Nobody moved around her; everyone watched in silent disbelief as the planet below them died.