Prologue: Beginning of the end.
July 18th 2162
150 years ago.
Galix typed away on his keyboard. The clatter of the keys had become so familiar to him that he ignored the sounds as he communicated with his friends on the screen in front of him. The internet had become a way of life for Galix and his friends, as it had for the people all around the world. On here he could be anyone he wanted to be. He could make up a name for himself, he could change gender, he could lie about his age and his looks. The net gave Galix the chance to talk to people anywhere and not be inhibited by shyness, inferiority complexes or loss of words.
The computer was in Galix's bedroom. This allowed him to get up in the morning and to log straight onto the computer. The arrangement also allowed galix to log off his computer and go staight to bed in the small hours of the morning. It really didn't matter what the time was in the outside world - Galix could log onto the system at anytime and always have someone to talk to. this was one of the things that had made the internet popular. Very popular.
"Galix - time for school!"
His mother always shouted up to him to get ready and to go to school. It really didn't matter. She never chased up whether he had even got out of bed, let alone put on his uniform. The truth was that attendences at school was dropping. No one went there anymore. Anything you needed to know, it was on the net. Social interations were conducted more and more in the virtual world and less and less with the real world.
"Galix - get ready - i mean it!"
The voice was coming from the bedroom. Galix could hear the tapping of her fingernails on her own keyboard in the room. More threats, but still threats that were not followed up by action of any kind. Just like the threats about what will happen if he didn't tidy his room up. Galix couldn't remember the last time he heard his mother doing the housework.
Galix looked around his bedroom. Junkfood packages littered the floor, making progress from the bedroom to the bathroom difficult. The shelves were covered in a layer of dust so thick that the computer program boxes were illegible. Galix betted that the garden was more like a jungle by now, the lawns having never been mown and the flowerbeds left to nature. Galix returned to his typing and carried on.
Outside, the streets were deserted. Cars were parked by the sides of the road where they had been left. The pavements were abandoned. No one could be seen outside of their houses. Gardens were wild and the hedges and lawns all taking over.
This was the beginning of change for the planet. None of them knew where it would lead them.
18th July 2312
The fog of unconsciousness swirled around. Images drifted in and out of focus. Time was suspended, history irrelevant. So many events to choose from, mostly from recent events. Some memories were older, but not that much older.
"Don't worry, Kara. We know it hurts and we will do all we can to get you better".
The feminine face that uttered those words was a picture of pain. The pain of a parent. The image sharpened and realisation provoked - it was Kara's mother, standing next to Kara's father. What hurt more? The pain or those words? Sometimes we all say things in the hope they can come true, but the pain is deep when the important things promised do not come to pass.
The scene repeated again a couple of times.
"Don't worry, Kara. We know it hurts and we will do all we can to get you better".
What caused the pain? What caused promises to be made and broken?
The sky was blue. There were memories of birdsong and the dampness of the ground underneath.
"I'll be your friend forever, Kara". Candles, balloons and...
What was that? A disjointed memory intruded into the recollection. A face of a blonde girl flashed up for a second, too brief to recognise.
The cold earth was back. Birdsong. Kara couldn't move. The image blurred and sharpened, alternating. Kara didn't know where this was, except it was someplace on her home colony. Home...
The bright light shone in Kara's eyes, almost too painfully bright to look at. The light alternated between each eye, dancing across the lenses for a reaction. The pain was the element that joined these memories together, Pain was the ever-present companion for Kara and this was the disjointed diary of this association.
"Will she be okay?"
The question asked by.... Kara couldn't remember, some girl, was poignant and enquiring. The look on Kara's parents said it all - she wasn't going to ever be alright again. Not really.
"..we will do all we can to get you better".
Beds. Monitors beeping and the pained look on her parents' faces. Those were the most common memories in Kara's mind. The coldness at the back of the head and the ache, that constant nagging ache. The headache that would never shift again. Ever.
After beds always come memories of those tests. Everyday, for what felt like a lifetime. Memory tests, reaction tests, languistic tests and other tests she couldn't remember. Each test had shown what Kara could or couldn't do. After a time, Kara could remember everything. That was one of the consequences of the surgery. Every minute, every day of recuperation could be recalled in detail. This added only to the pain. Friends that began to shun her, alienate her as a stranger.
Kara had to rebuild her life. Every aspect. The result was that by the time Kara had relearned to speak and to do all those social things that makes us all human, her friends had all but left her behind. Who had time and the patience for a wounded friend when there were boys and other things. Friendship meant being there for a friend through the bad times as well as the good, but how many of the friends had kept to this fundamental 'rule' of friendship?
"Will she be okay?"
The scene shifted again to the hospital smock, the strangers in white milling around. The blur of movement and distorted memories. Monitors beeped. The warmth of anaesthetic taking effect. Darkness. Sparks of light. Darkness once more.
"..we will do all we can to get you better".
Kara woke up. Sweat beaded her forehead and gave her body a sheen. She hated dreams, they were all the same. The memories flooded back of the lost friendships, of the hurtful exchanges of words and the looks of pity. Tears welled in the eyes of Kara, but she refused to cry. She had done more than enough of that. The back of her head hurt. Even before her fingers instinctively moved to the source of the ache, Kara knew what it was.
The warm sonic shower refused to budge the ache, but it did shift the sheen of sweat from her. Kara smoothed through her red hair as the water did its magic, waking her for another day on the Sheffield. Kara put on her uniform, sliding her long legs into the trousers. The sciences grey undershirt slid painfully over Kara's head, causing a wince as she brushed her hair from the neck of the undershirt as she straightened her top. The jacket then followed, being clipped firmly in place and locked tight with the clasp on the grey shoulder strap. The lieutenant insignia shone in the light of the quarters as Kara checked herself in the mirror before walking out.
There was a meeting today and Kara wouldn't be late. She was punctual now. Like a clock. Lieutenant Fox headed for Sickbay. Another dose of painkillers would be prescribed, as they always were. They could never dull out the whole pain, they never could. The source of the ache was also the one thing that would be effected by the drugs. The doctors and nurses always unsed that understanding expression, the one that says "I empathise with you, I know what pain you are going through". They didn't. They really didn't.
Kara Fox's life would never be the same again. It would never be complete.
"..we will do all we can to get you better".
Nathaniel Hawkins always liked to arrive early for meetings. It was a force of habit he had nurtured since his Academy days and it was hard to shift. Surprisingly this time he had been beaten to the room by his Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander Ilani. The Deltan was busying herself around the room, preparing it for the meeting. Her head was lowered as she concentrated on typing in information to the PADD built into the desk.
"I thought I was the one who was always early for meetings?"
"Not today, Captain. I had some details that I was working on in Intelligence and wanted to run through a few things before the meeting started. I knew you would arrive early, so I waited here'.
Even when things were serious, Ilani spoke in a soothing, almost melodic manner. Deltans were very emotional beings and their empathy meant that they could judge the right thing to say for the moment far better than humans managed to.
Hawkins moved over to where Ilani was seated. There was something sensual about the bald head and deep blue eyes. Hawkins reminded himself that it was the pheromones talking again. He positioned himself over Ilani's right shoulder and looked down at what she was working on.
Commander Hawkins could see that there was a sociological breakdown of the Nirophia Corridor area of space. he was familiar with these displays from using them most of his Starfleet career. There were various races listed, amongst them were the Sha'kurians, Hydrans and Klingons. For the latter races there were all sorts of reports on current fleet movements, political developments and such like. For the Sha'kurians there was virtually nothing. the race was an enigma. Only the Klingons and romulans had encountered them in First Contact situations - ie border confrontations - and things hadn't gone well for either the Klingons or the Romulans. clearly this was a race which had some kind of advantage.
Ilani was using a version of the idionomothetics equipment which the Sheffield was virtually unique in possessing. 'Idionomothetics' was the study of how an individual effects society, and how society effects an individual. The system used statistical analyses of the relationships between the individual and those around them. These relationships would be rated in importance and then the relationships of those acquaintances would themselves be analysed and so on. What was developed was a picture of the relationships around an individual, and how the person you were studying influenced those around them, and vice-versa.
With Starbase 77 now being taken seriously, the corridor needed to be studied in close detail. All of the races with interests in the corridor had to be identified and their intentions decided upon. Starbase 77 had existed for decades, but the station had been low-profile. With the aftermath of Tomed, that had changed and now Starfleet Command had deemed the corridor to be important enough to redirect supply to Starbase 77, and allocate Commodore Maxwell Buckingham there as her commander.
Hawkins had assigned the social sciences department to begin to re-examine the Idionomothetic data for the last half-decade. The assassination of Chancellor Azetbur had not been satisfactorily predicted. There had been data suggesting Azetbur wouldn't last, but the successor had not been predicted accurately. In fact, most of the potential successors had themselves ended up dead. That was a confusing element. Hopefully Ilani and the social sciences department would help clear up the mess. The data in Ilani's hand wasn't about the klingons though - well not exactly.
"What's the problem?" asked the Captain.
Ilani's fingers played over the desktop PADD. The display shifted to the 'South-west' corner of the display. The familiar black of neutral space was replaced by the green of Klingon Empire. The display then zoomed in until a system loomed large as life on the monitor. The computer then overlayed the image with names and data. It was Ch'ramak.
"Ah". Commander Hawkins realised what the issue was. "Our assassin from Nimbus III theory. What have you discovered?"
"Actually, it's what we don't know that concerns me. The system was annexed by the Klingons, the Federation Council washed their hands of the situation when their protests fell on deaf ears. Internal politics, so the councillors proclaimed in hindsight. What happened after that we do not know. In the interests of peace, the Federation has not been monitoring the Klingon Empire as much as used to be the case".
"So we just don't know?"
"I have Starfleet Intelligence searching through their assets and seeing what they can - discreetly - find out for us. As far as I can tell, this is a former farming colony that has now been turned into a regular Klingon gulag and mining hellhole".
Hawkins thought for a minute. He rested his hand on Ilani's shoulder. "Good work, commander. Stay on it".
"Captain." the tone from Ilani was as much a question as a tone designed to stop Hawkins from walking away. Lieutenant Commander Ilani had spent a few weeks thinking over the question, and now was as good a time as any to bring it up.
Ilani seemed to compose the words in her head for a second, then she raised her head from the data she was examining. "I have to ask you a question, Captain. Of a personal nature".
Hawkins thought for a second. Ilani was a deltan and there were many things that she could well have picked up on since she joined the ship. As his First Officer, Hawkins decided it was best to trust her instincts and find out what the question was. He showed her his palms and said simply "Ask".
"I know it is not my place to pry, but as your Executive Officer I have to ask about your having friends aboard this ship which may compromise your objectivity. I have sensed that when the issues of Sean O'Reilly and Judith Peers come up, you are very awkward about the issue. Now it is actually quite normal for humans to be awkward around relationships - especially of a special nature," Ilani looked Hawkins rather directly in the eyes as she said those last words, "and I am wondering if it is wise for the situation to remain as it is."
Hawkins knew he had no way of denying the situation. It had been an issue that had been raised when Judith Peers had first joined the ship five years ago. It hadn't really been a problem except for the last year or so. Peers had begun to develop a relationship with the Chief engineer, and friend from the Academy, Sean O'Reilly. The Chief Engineer had been there at the Academy when Hawkins had first seen Peers, and that made the current situation all the more painful and destructive. Recently, at Hawkins recommendation, Judith Peers had been promoted to Lieutenant Commander and was now the head of Social sciences, replacing Hawkins as his successor. This had created a destructive dynamic between Peers and O'Reilly and the relationship was now in the final throes of destruction. Hawkins had said a quiet word to the two officers to keep it out of sight, but Ilani was a Deltan. She knew Hawkins had more involvement in this than just two officers under his comand arguing.
Hawkins turned to face Ilani. "I have had this debate with more people than I care to count, commander. I selected Mr O'Reilly and Commander Peers five years ago because I was the executive Officer of this ship and I was asked by Captain Okigbo to find the most capable officers that I knew about. Peers and O'Reilly were exactly that. Yes, both of them were friends from the Academy - and Peers more so than just friends - but I felt that I was mature enough as an officer to have people onboard without letting my emotions compromise my decision-making. I still believe this is the case."
"You never expected to end up with two friends getting close together, becoming lovers, and then blaming you when their relationship broke down."
Ilani had Hawkins on the ropes, but he refused to acknowledge where that road would take him. "The relationship of O'Reilly and Peers is not my business as long as it does not disrupt the day-to-day running of this starship. If it does, I will be the first person to have one or both of them re-assigned away from this ship. Right now we need the best people for the job on this ship. Peers and O'Reilly are the best. I understand that you are concerned, but I think this is just a phase in the relationship they are going through. If the rscuttlebutt is correct, I would say that in the next month or so this issue will be resolved."
"What about your feelings for Peers?" Ilani let her empathic revelation hang in the air for a second, giving the Captain a chance to respond.
"Mine?" Hawkins almost snorted a laugh. "We parted ways a long time ago, Commander, and there's been a whole lot of water under that bridge since then. I brought Peers onboard as a friend looking out for the well-being of an old friend trying to rebuild her career. I haven't tried to rekindle old times, as people said at the time of my initial decision. Peers' career since joining this ship has vindicated my decision, and continues to do so."
Hawkins walked over to the synthesiser on the far wall and selected a tea.
Ilani sensed she was as far down that conversation as she was liable to get today. She changed the subject slightly. "How are you finding your yeoman?"
Hawkins sipped at his tea. The question almost made him splutter the tea down his uniform. "Well I have to say that I am not used to having someone else running around on my behalf. You certainly chose an efficient one."
Ilani smiled, breaking the tension of a moment before. "Jana Petersdottir was the best choice from a dozen candidates. Her record in the past might not have been very positive, but since her assignment to the U.S.S. Ballard she has shown considerably improvenment. I happen to be a strong advocate about redemption, and this will be the best assignment for her to do just that."
Hawkins was listening to every word that Ilani was saying, sipping on his tea. "I have to say there were a few issues raised by her service record, but her performance so far has been excellent." He finished his tea. "I have to get some data from social sciences. Keep me appraised about the Ch'ramaki situation." Hawkins paused as he was about to leave the room, "And if the Peers/O'Reilly situation becomes a problem then I will sort it. We can get another Chief Engineer, but a replacement for Peers' skills would be hard to find - even you cannot deny that. It'll work out."Hawkins departed the conference room, with the doors swooshing shut behind him. "You hope so. And I hope you're right." said Ilani to the empty room.
The Ch'ramaki have been annexed by the Klingons for half a dozen years and have been resisting every day of that time. For the Ch'ramaki to have assassinated Koord, their capabilities have been enhanced - probably from outside influence. The Ch'ramaki are a proto-Klingon farming civilisation and guerilla warfare is a new skill which they have learned well.
Today is the beginning of our assignment to the Nirophian Corridor - the line of neutral space that runs adjacent to the Klingons, Hydrans and Sha'Kurians - providing the Federation with a shortcut into unexplored space. The Sheffield is one of the largest resident Starfleet ships in the corridor and this is the first planet we are scheduled to examine. With the corridor being a low-key area during the cold wars, there is plenty of 'unfinished business' outstanding here. This is first on the list. This is where I start exploring in true Starfleet style - this is where I'll find out if Captain Okigbo was right...
The meeting room on the Sheffield was crammed full on division heads and senior advisers. Flanking Commander Hawkins was his Executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Ilani and his Yeoman, Petty Officer Jana Petersdottir from Iceland. Hawkins had found the notion of a yeoman hard to get used to. A yeoman is like the personal secretary for the Captain, assisting in the administrative duties of the Captain where they can. A captain is a busy person, and assistance allows the commanding officer to be in more places than they otherwise would have time to be.
Lieutenant Commander S'sana sat alongside Ilani. S'sana had been thinking long and hard over what had happened to her on the last mission. For a quarter century, S'sana had been away from her family - and her culture. Now it was back in her life, she was having to re-evaluate herself. S'sana sat with a handful of PADDs, role as Operations Manager meaning she had to be prepared for all eventualities.Also around the table was Sean O'Reilly. Sean, from Kilkenny in Ireland, was the oldest friend of the captain on the ship. The friendship had recently been put under strain with O'Reilly dating Judith Peers, the former girlfriend of the Captain. Whilst Hawkins had kept out of the sitution, it had gotten 'complicated', as others had warned. With Peers being promoted to Lieutenant Commander, this strained the relationship to breaking point.
Judith Peers was sitting away from O'Reilly - possibly a sign of the current personal situation. As always, Peers towered over most of the people in the room. Judith was from Fife in Scotland and had been offered a job on the Sheffield in 2306. Having excelled in those five years, earning a promotion to science officer and mission specialist in social sciences. Peers straightened the PADDs on the table in front of her and casually flicked her hair straight, without thinking. Once everything was in place, Peers looked towards Hawkins for the meeting to begin.
As usual, Lieutenant Kara Fox was sat and ready for the meeting to begin. There were no notes in front of her, no PADDs, nothing. Everything Fox needed was committed to memory. Fox turned aside to Judith Peers and they discreetly discussed the mission - and a few personal metters - in a quiet voice. This managed to distract Peers from whatever she was thinking about and she immediately began to relax.
The eldest person in the room was Master Chief Petty Officer Kissunguaq. Kissunguaq had been persuaded to sign on for another tour by Hawkins. Kissunguaq was an inuit indian and had started his enlisted career as a crewman on the U.S.S. Hood under the guidance of Lieutenant Commander Richard Hawkins - the Captain's father. Kissunguaq - mostly referred to as 'Master Chief' as people had difficulty pronouncing his name - had learned the ropes under the guidance of Richard Hawkins, and now the son of his mentor had asked him to serve one last mission with him. Commander Hawkins' knew that Kissunguaq's experience would prove useful, both for the officers and enlisted men on the ship and himself.
Kissunguaq sat in his Master Chief uniform, almost identical to the officer uniform in all respects except of the enlisted silver insignia on the chest. The cuff insignia denoted that Kissunguaq had served longer in Starfleet than anyone currently on the ship, having survived 5 year missions on the Essex and Hood. Master Chief had lost many of his friends in those 10 years, but had learned many lessons in how to survive.
The meeting started on time with Commander Hawkins conducting the briefing. He stood in front of a display of the Nirophia Corridor, the display zoomed in to a system with one planet in the centre of the image. The world was green and very Earth-like. Around the display of the planet, various displays from what looked like previous missions gave descriptions of the atmosphere and chemical composition of the planet itself.
"System K-713-2133 and a planet that records have just as exciting a title for. This world has been of interest to the Federation for a while, but there hasn't been the resources to investigate."
The display zoomed out fractionally, adding the adjacent Xythis system to the screen. A green dot with matching writing identified Starbase 77. The Captain continued his introduction.
"Starbase 77, formerly Science Station Delta-Three-Eight, has been operational now for a considerable period of time. Far longer than is readily admitted in public. The station engaged in various monitoring operations during the various Cold Wars in the area. During this time, the very existence of the station was kept very low key. Supply ships would visit the station, but no 'unauthorised excursions' were permitted. Due to this policy, nothing unusual was logged about the planet we are currently orbiting. Checks were made to see there was no spy stations on the planet, and some observations were made that indicated there was a pre-warp civilisation on the planet. No studies were conducted. This has therefore been 'unfinished business' with Starfleet for some time. Now that Starbase 77 has been established, Commodore Buckingham wants these worlds that haven't been studies to be examined thoroughly."
The display zoomed in again on the planet. Somehow K-713-2133 was very impersonal a description for such a beautiful world. Displays from a recent examination of the planet were flashed up, superimposed on the image of the slowly rotating planet, the clouds in the atmosphere slowly swirled and changed configuration.
"As you can see, U.S.S. Implacable sent a probe over to the world two months ago, and no life was detected."
"A war?" asked S'sana.
Hawkins raised his palms vertical "We don't know. There's no obvious use of BANC weapons."
"Excuse me, Captain. What are 'BANC' weapons?" asked Cadet Vanessa Tolis.
"Biological, Antimatter, Nuclear or Chemical. There's no evidence of these - at least as far as the probe could tell. Commodore Buckingham has ordered us to investigate."
Cadet Tolis sat back in her chair. It was unusual for her to not know technical facts - after all, as a cadet at Starfleet Academy she was a student of industrial archeology - combining her father's interest in archeology with her mother's interst in engineering and mechanical devices. Her presence in this meeting was Ilani's way of teaching the trainee what it was like to be an officer, and to learn from what she saw and heard.
Cadet Tolis was a redheaded human from one of the Federation's many colonies. She was a Cadet (1st Class) which meant she was only a few months away from final graduation from Starfleet Academy. Vanessa, or 'Nessa' as she liked to be known, had gained grades which were sufficiently impressive to reach the attention of Lieutenant Commander Ilani and she put forward Cadet Tolis for experience on U.S.S. Sheffield. Nessa's historical knowledge would prove useful for the upcoming mission, especially this planet.
Hawkins continued the briefing by passing the proceedings to Lieutenant Commander Ilani.
Ilani stood up and gestured to the globe.
"At the time that Starbase 77 was still Science Station Delta-Three-Eight, there was a civilisation on the planet below. Intelligence scans taken over the decades revealed a technological level approximately two hundred years behind our own. Over the last century, satellites were deployed over the planet, causing all Starfleet vessels to take a wide berth round the planet. Recently, we have become aware that there has been a sharp reduction in activity on the planet. Mr O'Reilly."
Ilani nodded to Lieutenant O'Reilly to resume the meeting. O'Reilly smoothed his brown hair as he took over. The planetary displays changed to power diagrams and schematics. O'Reilly looked around the room but seemed to skim over Peers.
"These readings were taken by a probe and our sensors as we approached the planet. There are a number of curiousities about these readings. I'll summarise 'em here."
O'Reilly pressed a button on the desk which highlighted specific elements on the displays.
"The power readings which we got from the planet are very specific in nature, and unusual. Note how the cities themselves are still emitting low levels of energy, but this is localised to small readings in the urban areas and mostly hotspots in what appear to be large buildings in the centre of towns and cities - possibly government buildings or public buildings. Scans of the internal arrangements are inconclusive. The satellites are still active, as are their control stations on the ground - suggesting the comms systems of this planet are still operational. The power generating systems are still operational, including this.."
The display focussed on a sophisticated building.
".. a prototype anti-matter reactor. Close level scans reveal moving metallic objects - droids, apparently."
O'Reilly passed the meeting back to Hawkins.
"I want two away teams to initiate a study of this planet. I want one to beam down here in the capital city, and another to beam down here."
The image on the display split into two as Commander Hawkins spoke. On one side of the display there was now a scan of the capital city from space, detailing the houses and hospitals. The right hand side display featured a dome with some miscellaneous framework and cylinders dotted about. It was this right hand image that Hawkins now spoke of.
"As Mr O'Reilly stated, this appears to be an antimatter reactor. The scans we had suggested the world was at a technical level equivalent to the twenty-first Century on Earth. Intelligence sugests this is either a testing facility for the development of warp drive, or it is possibly a reactor for the powering of cities. I want you, Mr O'Reilly, to lead the team to the reactor, whilst I'll take a team to the capital to look around. Be careful. There apparently aren't any of the humanoids alive on the planet, but there are animals roaming wild. Some of these are certainly large enough to cause concern. Any questions?"
Hawkins looked around the room.
"No? Very well. Ilani, Fox, Hirst, Harper, Peers and A'Ochak you are with me." Hawkins paused for a second and then added, "You are with me too, Cadet Tolis. Mr O'Reilly your team is your discretion. Dismissed".
A gentle breeze wafted though the garden, causing the branches to gently sway. The tall grass was tipped with seeds and symbolised this wild garden, left to nature. The trees and hedges that had once lined the garden were now concealing the same garden and house that it served.
The house itself looked as if it had been there for centuries, untouched by human hand - or any other. The tiles on the roof were askew in places, and the occasional window was broken. Remarkably, where the windows were intact, the curtains were still in place as if awaiting the return of the owners.
It was on this scene that the away team materialised. Commander Hawkins, in his burgundy field jacket, looked up at the house from the roadside. The road itself had small bushes growing up from cracks in the tarmac, the pavements themselves had been encroached upon by once-tidy hedges. Instinctlively, Hawkins pulled out a tricorder and began to scan the area, focussing his attention on the nearby house.
Cordoning the away team perimeter was the security team. Lieutenant Jonathan Hirst led his division and acted as a minder for the captain. The security team consisted of three - Hirst and two enlisted security guards - Faith Harper and Drew Johnson, both in their security armour. Hirst had a tricorder out, scanning for the local lifeforms and any obvious dangers.
Judith Peers joined the tricorder trend by scanning the area as a whole. Peers realised that, given a few more decades, this area would be completely engulfed by nature. Trees were now growing from inside houses and apartment blocks. The roadways were being broken up as bushes and trees forced the old tarmac apart. Cars lay rusting by the side of the road, as the telegraph poles and streetlamps lay at awkward angles from countless gales and storms.
The Grazerite Doctor A'ochak scanned the buildings for lifeforms. Finding none, he began to look at some of the wildlife that had begun to take over. Lurking almost inconspicuously in the background was the gaunt figure of Crewman Tal Reno. Reno appeared to be in a world of his own, running his hand near the wall of the house and muttering in his native Betazoid. It was as if Tal were living someone else's life as he followed the wall, round the corner. After some pulling away of bushes, he had found the door.
Judith Peers wandered over to where the Captain and Lieutenant Fox were stood.
"Notice anything, Captain?"
"The grass needs cutting?" joked Hawkins.
"This is very organised abandonment. No signs of hurrying off, no doors ajar or signs of cars abandoned or burnt out. It is just as if everyone just got up and left".
"Like the Marie Celeste." commented Hawkins to no one in particular. Then adding, "It seems like Mr Reno has found a door. I think we should make a house call".
Faith Harper probed into the house, narrowly beaten into second place entering the building by Tal Reno - still tracing the walls of the building and muttering to himself as he walked in. The door opened with a creaking sound of a door that had not opened for visitors in decades.
Inside was a time capsule. Dust covered everything - carpet, walls, decorations and lightshades. The hallway of the house was recogniseable, the coatstand still hanging motheaten remnants of coats of varying sizes. As Reno's hand ran over the outer coats, so one suddenly fell on the floor in pieces.
Harper holstered the phaser that she instinctively had drawn at the noise. Taking a steady breath, she put the phaser away and carried on looking around for signs of trouble.
Next through the door were Hawkins and Peers. Both appeared to be like children in a toyshop as the social scientist in them both took over. This was a culture that was new to the Federation - and they were both the first to start studying the lost culture. This was what had drawn them both to Starfleet.
"Mid-to-late twenty-first equivalent, by the look of things." commented Peers.
"How do you know that?" queried Hawkins.
"No television in the lounge - just the home mainframe computer". Peers ran a tricorder over the computer and furrowed the ridge of her nose slightly. "Still active too. Curious".
Tal Reno had, by this time, disappeared upstairs. The stairs creaked ominously as his boots clumped and the bannisters wobbled.
"Just you be careful going up there, mister!" warned Hawkins.
Reno was in a world of his own. The feelings were here, all around him. Couldn't the others tell? Like shadows and echoes, he could feel the presence of the family that had lived here. The feelings were curious, alien, and it was taking time for him to accustom to the sensations. Yet, at the same time they were familiar to him.
The bedroom was in a bad way. Decades of neglect had caused the tiles in the roof to have shifted and compromised, allowing the rain to flood into the attic space and eventually to collapse the ceiling in the bedroom. The rain had dripped in and caused the wallpaper to come away from the wall. The computer was incredibly still on - presumeably the system was either protected against the damp, or had been lucky.
Tal Reno could sense the former occupants, especially a boy. He could not put a finger on where they were, and why he could sense them so strongly, but their presence was certainly palpable in the house.
Doctor A'Ochak had come into the house and the rear of the house was his destination - the kitchen. Once in the room, A'Ochak reached for his ever-present medical tricorder and began to scan the kitchen table and the cupboards. A large cupboard to one side grabbed his attention and he looked inside. The medical scanner whirred as A'Ochak played the device over the cupboard, examining the readouts on the tricorder.
Hawkins and Peers continued to explore the lounge. This was the heart of any house, and the configuration of the lounge spoke volumes about the former occupants. The focal point of the lounge tended to reflect the most important aspect of that family for socialising. For twentieth century houses that would have been the television or radio. Here it was the household mainframe computer. Hawkins was no engineer, but Kara Fox was soon looking at the computer. The language was new - both the letters on the strangely-configured keyboard, and no doubt the underlying computer programming language as well. this would take time to crack. Fox grabbed her tricorder and set to work.
The lounge was dominated by three strange reclining chairs, all next to the mainframe. A dusty sofa was leaned against the wall, but it was the three chairs that were central to the room. All look well used, although the layers of dust made that particular judgement problematic at best. The back of the lounge was a dining area, although it seemed strangely devoid of anything on the table. The dining area was dark from the 'garden' that had now blocked out the back windows.
Outside the front window, Hawkins could see Hirst and the other security guard roaming around - ensuring there would be no surprises. This was a random house that Hawkins had selected from one of the estates outlying the capital city on the main continent. This was a random snapshot of the civilisation and Hawkins felt this was a good way of gettinga first impression of a race, rather than examining the government buildings. This was the raw persona of the people, not the pomp and circumstance of authority.
"Found something, Lieutenant?" Hawkins asked Fox.
"Possibly. It would appear the mainframe is still operating after being neglected as long as the house has been. It seems to be running just one program, but the complexity and structure of the program is confusing my tricorder. I've never seen anything like it." Fox turned to face Hawkins as she spoke the concluding sentence.
Hawkins pondered. "One program? Why abandon your house and leave the computers running? Nothing else on except the computers. Hmmm."
"You missed another point, Commander." Peers interjected.
Hawkins raised his eyebrows. "I did?" He half-joked.
Peers gestured on the mantlepiece and around the room. "None of the photographs or trinkets have been taken. This house was left unlocked and all of the family pictures are right where they probably were placed by the families. This house was therefore either abandoned in a great hurry or the occupants left not wanting to take anything with them."
"Why close the door behind you and why leave the house tidy if you are in a hurry to leave? and why leave your precious family possessions behind if you were abandoning the house?" Hawkins said, voicing his thoughts.
"Did anyone see ships leaving the planet?" Fox asked the room.
Ilani shook her head. "This planet was last believed to be working on fusion power and possibly a rocket capable of solar system travel. Abandoning the planet would be beyond the technical resources of this world. The last scans suggested global warming and heavy atmospheric pollution consistent with the usual heavy industry found at this technology level."
"Then where did they go?" Hawkins mused for a second. He then turned to Peers. "Commander, if you were going to look for the last refuge of people, where would you look?"
After a pause, Peers replied. "Hospitals and religious centres".
"It would appear we will need Doctor A'Ochak to help us find a hospital."
A vast sphere dominated the skyline. Weathered by the years and neglect, this sphere housed the mystery that the crew of the Sheffield were to address. The facility was vast, covering over a square kilometre. Around the site, droids wandered around, maintaining the aging structure.
The blue transporter effect filled the air, adding an azure glow to the plants and structures. Six figures appeared from the glow, solidifying into existence.
Lieutenant Sean O'Reilly led the away team. The 37 year old Irishman had graduated in the Class of 2297, the same year as Nathaniel Hawkins. The two officers had gone through the Academy together, effectively grown up together. Now the friendship was at a crossroads. O'Reilly was a man of strong emotions - passionate but with a fiery temper. With the recent developments in his personal life, O'Reilly had been quite a firebrand officer.
Lieutenant O'Reilly had chestnut brown hair and hazel eyes. O'Reilly exuded charm and was quite the ladies man before he met Judith Peers the second time. Hawkins, as Executive Officer, had brought Peers onboard as his deputy in the social sciences department. O'Reilly had found contentment for a time, but now the dream was over. Life on the Sheffield ahd gotten complicated for O'Reilly, and he knew he had some difficult decisions ahead. As he led this away team, his thoughts were as much about his future as about the mission.
Accompanying O'Reilly on this mission were Ensign Lodra, a Bolian engineering specialist in power generation systems - especially antimatter/matter reactions. Lodra was as talkative as he was talented. Even when a system was working at full efficiency, Lodra would still try and see if there was a more effective way of achieving the same results.
Ensign Tom Price was the deputy security officer. Tom was from one of the colonies of the Federation: Deneva. Tom was a new graduate from Starfleet Academy and this was his first assignment. Tom was eager to impress and, in some respects, was like an eager younger brother to Lieutenant Hirst. This would be Price's first away team for real, outside of simulations and Academy field training.
Even greener than Price was Cadet (1st class) Nessa Tolis. Tolis is the one who had spoken out at the team briefing, being rewarded by a place on this away team. Like Ensign Price, Nessa was from one of the many colonies which made up the Federation. This was her final year at the Academy, and she still wore the flame red undershirt of a cadet. This was Nessa's field experience before she would graduate and have to find her own feet as an officer. The best way for someone to learn a skill, Ilani would argue, would be to practice those skills in the real environment.
Nessa Tolis was an expert in industrial archeology. This assignment was perfect for her, and Nessa's first real foray into industrial archeology besides that trip with her father to Derex IV. Cadet Tolis wore a standard officer uniform, just without any rank insignia. This allowed her to look and feel like an officer, and escape the cadet jumpsuit for a time. Nessa eagerly unstrapped the tricorder from her shoulder and started to scan the building and the droids.
The remainder of the away team was made up of enlisted personnel from the security and engineering divisions. As with the first away team, the security detail, led by Ensign Price, formed a perimeter around the rest of the team to protect them from the local wildlife. The engineering team immediately started to analyse the facility as it stood.
"Not a space facility, Sir, at least not in the current configuration." observed Tolis.
"Agreed. It seems to be a power station." replied O'Reilly.
"A first generation antimatter power station, by the looks of it." noted Lodra.
"Late 21st century equivalent," added Cadet Tolis, "whilst Earth was developing the first warp ships, this race was developing the first antimatter power stations. I wonder why..?"
The group approached the sphere, the central dominant feature on the site. The dome resembled similar features on nuclear fission reactor power stations on Earth in the 20th century. The sheer scale of the sphere dwarfed the party. The concrete walls were greened from mossy growth and the surface was cracked and aged from the erosion of storms and winds of over a century.
"Price, Harper: secure a perimeter whilst we investigate in here." ordered O'Reilly. "Lodra, what do you make of this place? Tolis? what do you make of this?"
Nessa joined O'Reilly by a large dusty display. There seemed to be a mix of terminology and diagrams with bars in blues and purples.
"Seems like a power distribution graph, doesn't it?"
Nessa nodded. "I'd say so."
Lieutenant O'Reilly pointed at a different part of the display. "If that is the case, then what is this part of the display?"
O'Reilly liked to challenge this new addition to his team. He liked to test their knowledge to see how impressive they really were.
"Coolant temperatures and the cooling system status board, by the looks of it. I saw similar things on Idrana VII." Nessa tidied her red hair behind her ear as she ran her finger over the display, her lips mumbling as she thought outloud "And looking at this display, I would say that it needs some work on it."
"That's what I was gonna say. Better keep an eye on this I think, whilst the Away Team is down here. We don't want this overheatin' on us whilst we're here."
O'Reilly followed the main display, scanning with his tricorder and then tapping on some of the buttons, changing the display to one of the station and the power distribution lines. The curious thing was that the power seemed to be concentrated into a handful of areas in the major city - and the system appeared to be running near maximum available power. Whatever this station was powering, it was energy intensive.
Lodra scanned the sphere interior with his tricorder. He swept his arm across the vista of the site, his blue hands grasping the tricorder.
"The technology would seem to be the equivalent of an early warp reactor for a Daedalus or Bonaventure class starship. The system appears to be operating automatically with just those droids here to maintain the site."
Price interrupted him. "Speaking of droids, those seem to be getting closer. I think our presence has triggered a defence mechanism."
The security Ensign and his security team formed up a cordon as O'Reilly looked around for an exit for the group.
"There!" pointed O'Reilly at the door. "Move it!"
Security specialist Faith Harper took point as the group retreated from the droids. O'Reilly had been monitoring the droids as they first approached the power station. The droids were busy maintaining the station and appeared to ward off the local wildlife. Evidently no one decided to program the droids to tell the difference between the wildlife and humanoids. The Lieutenant realised that the security team could probably defeat the droids, but at this point the status quo of the planet and remaining buildings needed to be maintained.
Ensign Price and the security team followed on from behind, covering the withdrawing engineering team as they made their exit from the dome. A short sprint saw them safely to the perimeter of the site. A cursory glance showed that the droids had discontinued their pursuit.
Lodra turned to O'Reilly. "Their seems to be one main location for the power - I am copying the data to Away Team one. I cannot determine what the structure is that the power is being directed to."
"It could be a shelter." offered Nessa.
O'Reilly shrugged and then added "Team one will be able to confirm once they get to those co-ordinates."