Previous Next

Just Breathe

Posted on Apr 23, 2021 @ 6:48am by Captain Michael Turlogh Kane

Mission: Black Sun Rising


(Continued from "Cybernetics Not Superpowers")

Captain's log, supplemental - our arrival in the Idium system has not gone exactly has planned; an anomalous reading has been detected from the gas giant's moon...


Location: USS Phoenix, impulse power, Idium system
Stardate: [2.21]0422.2245
Scene: Main bridge - deck 1, saucer section

Michael Turlogh Kane moved to the Ops position in response to Byte's announcement. Events had taken a sudden left turn - there was not supposed to be anything or anyone in the Idium system except the Phoenix. The gas giant did not support life, and the atmosphere of its solitary moon was dominated by the gases from the giant - hydrogen, helium, and some argon. Idium was inert, dead.

Except now, as he stood at Byte's shoulder and shared a worried glance with Ethan Dobbs, Kane could plainly see that the Phoenix's sensors were detecting an energy signature on the moon's surface. As the android manipulated the new HCARS system, isolating and expanding the reading into its own three-dimensional hologram, Kane looked at the signature's wavelengths and felt his stomach churn. The dips and valleys in the wavelengths were of nigh-uniform space apart - that in itself didn't mean anything, but they were tightly localised to a specific part of the moon's surface. On an otherwise dead world, that practically guaranteed artificiality.

A moment later, Byte confirmed his suspicion. The android indicated the holographic reading. {{It is a plasma energy signature from a starship, Captain. The frequency is specific to the warp engines of a Ferengi D'Kora-class vessel.}}

Kane glanced at Dobbs. "A Ferengi Marauder, crashlanded so far from home?" The Ferengi had joined the Federation in the Great Merger forty-one years ago and had given up their military fleet when they did. The D'Kora design was a civilian freighter now. "Can you identify it, Byte?"

The android's cornflower blue eyes were flickering across the data stream. {{Negative, Captain. However, it appears to be half-buried in a range of hills at these planetary co-ordinates.}} Another holographic display appeared in mid-air, showing a representation of the outline of the Ferengi ship. The front half was under ground, the stern exposed to the atmosphere. {{I estimate that its warp engines are functioning at less than ten per cent of its full capacity. Given how deeply underground the vessel has crash-landed, it may have been badly damaged.}}

Kane indicated the hologram. "Is there any indication as to how long the ship has been there?"

The android seemed apologetic. {{I cannot determine that with precision, Captain. I will have to make a guess.}}

Kane looked at Byte deadpan. "Mister Byte, I feel safer with your guesses than with most other people's facts."

Byte blinked, and it seemed to radiate pleasure like a praised child. {{Thank you, Captain. Then, taking into account the limited range of the plasma wavelengths from its engines, I will guess that the Ferengi vessel has been entombed in the moon's surface for longer than a decade. Furthermore, I guess that its power systems have been slowly degrading ever since it crashed.}}

"Could there be survivors?" asked Dobbs.

{{I will guess that - }}

Kane held up a hand. "You don't have to preface any more guesses, Mister Byte. Just answer as best you can."

Byte cocked its head like a bird. {{Yes. Yes, there could be survivors.}}

Kane nodded to Dobbs. Together, they moved to the centre seat. "Begin scanning for life-forms!" called the ExO.


Scene: Primary sickbay - deck 12, saucer section

Tulla Keiku narrowed her eyes. Slowly, she leaned down on her haunches, bringing her face right up to the mycology tank and setting her gaze on an even level with the bottom layer of substrate. Within the temperature-regulated tank, a thick of layer of replicated corn husks, sawdust, banana leaves, and paper lay sweating under a balmy heat. Just poking up above that substrate layer were the small white caps of several juvenile mushrooms. As she counted the fungi, Keiku's face split into a wide smile. "We've got life-forms!" she cried.

Her raised voice brought Sidney Bartlett out from his office. The older man had cleaned up after Kass's surgery and had changed back into his duty uniform, but his body language was still that of someone who had tiredly worked through a delicate, slow-burn surgery. As he came to Keiku's side, he wiped his brow with a handkerchief. "The children will be pleased," he smiled, nodding in approval as Keiku indicated the new growths.

The mycology experiment had been underway for several days now. John Tennant, the schoolteacher who ran a class for the twenty-one children aboard the ship, had proposed the project as a learning experience for the more scientifically-minded of his pupils, and Dr. Bartlett had readily agreed. The children involved had, under Bartlett's supervision, replicated all the materials, including the spore itself, and set up the tank here in sickbay. They had been so excited that they even listened with rapt wonder to Bartlett's mini-lecture on mycology, collectively oohing and aahing when he pointed out some interesting feature of fungoid life-forms, especially the fact that they could survive in environments that might kill off a higher life-form.

"A shame that the Vulgar Tribble has no staff," said Tulla, straightening up. "I wonder what Chief Bonviva could do with our new samples."

"There is only one way to eat mushrooms," said Bartlett sagely, leaning down for a closer look, "and that is fried in garlic butter. Take my word for it."

"Needs more gagh," quipped Tulla, turning away and reaching for the PADD where she was writing a report on Kass' surgery. When there was no answer, she turned back, catching her breath in fearful surprise. Bartlett was sagging against the wall, one hand on the tank, and his knees were buckling.

"Doctor Bartlett!" Tulla dropped her PADD with a clatter and grabbed the older man about the shoulders to prevent him from falling. He was wheezing, and seemed to be on the verge of fainting. "Alice! Alice, help me!"

At her shout, the senior nurse ran to her side. Tulla took one shoulder, Nurse Fallon the other, and together they helped Bartlett to a biobed. The CMO was breathing heavily and beginning to sweat profusely, taking big gulps of air, a pained expression on his face. While Nurse Fallon spoke soothingly to him, Tulla reached for a medical tricorder and ran a scan.

Bartlett was gasping. "It's... my..."

"It's your heart," said Tulla, brow furrowed as she read the data scan. "You're experiencing a heart attack. Lie down." She pushed Bartlett onto his back and activated the biobed's new HCARS system. Immediately, a light blue immobilisation field buzzed into life, keeping Bartlett from moving around. "Keiku to medical staff. Emergency in sickbay."


Scene: Bridge, as before

Kane listened intently as Byte continued to rattle off further data from the gas giant's moon. It stood to reason that the warp engine would have needed someone to maintain it all these years - perhaps to regulate its power output in order to maximise its lifespan. Since life was not possible on the moon's surface, the survivors must still be holed up in the wreckage, which they might have secured using a series of forcefields - which, in turn, would require constant power.

{{It is as we suspected,}} reported Byte. {{There are twenty-three life-signs on the moon's surface, all within the remains of the Ferengi starship. But, Captain, not all of them are Ferengi. I am detecting two Klingons and a Romulan amongst them.}}

Kane and Dobbs were looking at each other in amazement. "Are there any indications of crashed Klingon or Romulan vessels?" asked the ExO.

{{Negative,}} said Byte. The android swivelled in its chair, facing the centre seat. {{There is a standard nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere within the range of the plasma frequency - this means that the life support systems of the Ferengi vessel must still be operating. Furthermore, that breathable atmosphere extends to a radius of twenty metres around the craft itself, indicating that the navigational shield system may also be operational. I recommend we attempt to initiate communications with the craft, Captain.}}

"We don't know that they'd be able to receive us, Lieutenant," said Dobbs.

{{We do not know that they would not, Commander.}}

Kane leaned to one side and spoke to Mackenzie Procter at Tactical. "Open a channel, Lieutenant. If they can respond with full visual, let's see them."

A moment passed, then another. The seconds stretched out, and Kane felt his excitement begin to turn toward suspicion. Surely they'd want to -

"Receiving a reply, Captain," announced Procter.

"On screen, Lieutenant."

The main viewer winked. The long night disappeared, replaced by what looked like a small office. Kane's initial impression was that of a ready room somewhere. The image was zoomed in on the head and shoulders of a male Ferengi wearing a dirty silver-gray uniform that looked like a piece of vintage clothing. The Ferengi also looked old - his skin was brown and wizened like a walnut, his eyes were dark and beady, and his large, heavy ears sagged down either side of his head. He was not wearing any jewellery or any insignia of rank, and there was a sidelong smile on his face that revealed the pointed tips of three bodkin teeth.

Kane stood up and moved to the centre of the bridge, letting the Ferengi see him, and inclined his head in greeting. "I am Captain Michael Turlogh Kane, of the Federation starship Phoenix."

{{I am Domo, DaiMon of the Ferengi Alliance. Greetings!}} Domo's voice was thin and reedy, high-pitched like a cat's miaow.

Kane raised an eyebrow. "The Ferengi Alliance no longer exists, DaiMon Domo. It merged with the United Federation of Planets some four decades ago."

Domo blinked, but Kane couldn't tell if he was surprised or not. The Ferengi captain didn't seem overly perturbed at the news. {{Interesting,}} he mused. {{We have been somewhat out of touch on this moon, as you can imagine. What year is it?}}

Kane shot an amazed glance at Dobbs, and the ExO shrugged. "By the Federation's reckoning, it is stardate two-point-two-one."

Domo scratched his chin. {{Time has little meaning here, Captain Kane. This moon is a very special place.}}

"DaiMon Domo, are you suggesting that your starship crashed here over forty years ago? You are a survivor?"

Domo was looking at something off-camera, like he was only partially invested in the conversation. When he realised that he had been asked a question, his eyeline snapped back to Kane. {{Hmm? Oh yes. Yes, that seems right. There were not many survivors, I am sad to say. About two dozen, as it happens.}} The Ferengi seemed to be about to say more, then stopped.

Dobbs got to his feet and came to Kane's shoulder, drawing a thumb across his throat to get Procter to mute the conversation. "He seems distracted," muttered the ExO. "You'd imagine he'd be delighted at the prospect of a rescue. And he hasn't mentioned anything about the other life-signs. This is damn strange."

Kane nodded. Dobbs was right. He turned back to the screen, indicating for Procter to unmute. "DaiMon Domo, our sensors have picked up other life-signs within the hulk of your starship - two Klingons and a Romulan. Were you carrying them aboard your ship prior to your planetfall?"

Domo was pulling on the downy hairs that were growing from his earholes, like he had forgotten about Kane. Again, he seemed to snap back into the conversation. {{Klingons? A Romulan? Oh yes, yes! No, they came later and decided to stay with us.}}

The encounter was degenerating into the bizarre, and Kane couldn't figure out why. "Is there... is there someone else there that I could speak with? Perhaps someone empowered to make decisions on behalf of your group as a whole?"

Domo stopped playing with his ears. {{Why?}}

"Well, because I was going to offer to rescue your group," said Kane, wondering what the hell was going on. "You do want to go home, don't you?"

The response was not unexpected, but still startling. {{Captain Kane, we *are* home.}}


Scene: Sickbay, as before

When the call went out, it seemed like everyone with a degree in medicine turned up to sickbay. Tulla felt the weight of so many eyes on her actions - as Allison Samson and Aerdan Jos assisted at Bartlett's bedside, Suvek, Dr. Pauli and all the nursing staff looked on in worry.

The HCARS medical readout floated above Bartlett's body like a rainbow burst of colour and shape. Tulla quickly swiped away all but the most pertinent readouts, concentrating on Bartlett's vitals and cardiac readings. "Vasoconstriction of the aorta, entrance to the left ventricle."

Aerdan nodded, his own eyes roving over the available data. His antennae were sticking up rigidly, like they did when he was alert and concentrating. "I concur."

Allison Samson moved to the head of the biobed, where the control PADD was located. She keyed in a command. "Blood pressure elevated. Pulse is bounding. Recommend immediate suspension field."

Tulla nodded. As Allison inputted the command, a sky-blue sheen of light blanketed Bartlett's body. His eyes rolled up into his head as the suspension field halted his autonomic nervous system, rendering him unconscious and insensate. Immediately, a 3-D timer appeared in the air over Bartlett's body, counting down from thirty minutes - Tulla knew that the suspension field needed to be switched off by then or else risk long-term, serious damage to the CMO's vital systems.

Allison gestured to one of the nurses. "Tri-ox compound."

Aerdan came around the biobed and stood next to Tulla. On the three-dimensional representation of Bartlett's heart and surrounding blood vessels, the Andorian indicated the constriction of the aorta, just by the entrance to the ventricle on the upper left. "There it is. What's causing that? Sclerosis, do you think?"

Tulla shrugged. "Perhaps. He is in his later years."

The nurse returned with a hypo. Allison took it from him and injected the Tri-Ox directly into Bartlett's neck, keeping his body infused with rich oxygen even while he lay in suspended animation. She touched her palm to the CMO's forehead - it was clammy and damp.

Tulla ran through her options in her head. Normally, atherosclerosis in older people was minimised by regular courses of plant stanols, blood thinners, and targetted sonic therapy, where thin beams of specific-frequency sound broke up the plaque in a patient's arteries. She felt like the latter option was the one to go for here, but the proximity of the blockage to the heart itself might be problematic.

"What are you thinking?" asked Aerdan.

Tulla gestured to the readout. "There's less than an inch separating that constriction from the ventricle. We could try sonic therapy, but I'd feel a whole lot better about the procedure if we could gently prise the aorta apart at the same time. We'd need what, less than a centimetre? I think a pressor field could do that."

"Perhaps delivered by a medical nanite." Dr. Pauli stepped forward. "May I, Doctor Keiku?" He brought up a HCARS display and began typing into the air. An imagine winked up - a tiny robot, the shape of a blunted arrowhead, turning over and over in three dimensions. "We deliver the nanite directly to the constriction site. It initiates the pressor field, gently pushing the walls of the aorta outward, while our sonic therapy obliterates the plaque blockage. No need for invasive surgery."

Tulla checked the suspension field chronometer. Twenty-seven minutes. She nodded again. "Let's do it."


Scene: Main Bridge, as before

Kane tried to think about what could be wrong with DaiMon Domo, but he couldn't think of anything satisfactory. The Ferengi wasn't giving off any hostility, it was just that he was not as invested in the conversation as Kane anticipated that he would be. The Phoenix was being treated like a visiting guest, not as a saviour, and Kane was curious as to why that was so.

"Has your group been in the vicinity of the crashsite for the past forty years?" he asked.

Domo smiled. {{Yes!}}

"And what have you been doing? Why have you not tried to leave somehow?"

{{We know it is impossible,}} said Domo. {{The starship was too badly damaged upon its arrival here, and so too were the Klingon and Romulan shuttles that came here. We have life support, but critical systems - the inertial dampers, the transporters - are non-operational.}}

"Klingon and Romulan shuttles. I see," said Kane. "DaiMon Domo, we can beam you all up immediately and end your isolation on that planet. I know you think it is your home because you've been there so long, but no doubt you have families and lives elsewhere, yes?"

{{Yes,}} agreed Domo distractedly.

"So you wish us to beam you all up?" asked Kane.




Kane rubbed his forehead, rapidly getting exasperated. "DaiMon Domo - "

{{Why don't you come down here?}} said Domo suddenly. The notion seemed to come on him unexpectedly, but he quickly warmed up to the idea, brightening quickly. His grin widened, revealing two rows of misshapen needle teeth. {{Yes! You send a landing party down here and we can talk more!}}

Kane looked at Dobbs. "What do you think?"

The ExO frowned, but nodded. "It's a bizarre situation, but I don't think that we're in any danger. Something's definitely wrong with Domo, but that might be some sort of psychological thing after forty years of exile. I think we should try to solve the puzzle."

Kane thought it over a moment longer before acquiescing. "Alright, Commander. Prepare an away team. Take a doctor with you in case these people do require medical attention."

Dobbs moved to the turbolift. "Doctor Keiku, Lieutenant Dalziel, Ensign Maynell - report to transporter room one for away team duty!"


Scene: Primary sickbay, as before

The call came just as Pauli had finished programming the nanite. The tiny robot was embedded inside an enteric-coated capsule, so small it could not be seen by the naked eye at a cursory glance. But if you held it up to the light, and gave yourself a moment for your vision to focus in, then yes - the little nanite was there, the tiniest of tiny smudges against the transparent enteric.

Tulla muttered a curse when she heard her name on the comms. "Keiku to bridge. Medical emergency is ongoing. I'd like to stay here if possible."

It took a moment, but the new ExO disappointed her with his next statement. [[Negative, Doctor. Report to transporter room as ordered.]]

Tulla reached for one of the standby medkits. She cast a glance over the scene - Aerdan and Allison monitoring, while Dr. Pauli prepared to deliver the nanite to Dr. Bartlett's insensate form. The chronometer read nineteen minutes.

Aerdan smiled at her. "You've done good work today, Doctor Keiku. Your patient is in safe hands."

Tulla nodded, and glanced down at the mycology tank, where the tips of the white mushrooms were pushing their way up into the world. "This is all *your* fault," she muttered, and made for the door.


Location: Idium I-A, orbiting the gas giant
Scene: Marauder crash site

It was night on the small moon, but the gas giant in its sky made the ambience dull, not dark. Outside the Marauder's green shield bubble, the poisonous atmosphere roiled like a heaving sea. The moon's surface, its topography pitted with ancient impact craters, was a giant dead rock.

A flash of light. A feeling of coldness, right down into the soul.

Four cobalt-blue pillars of light split the gloom, accompanied by the whine of the transporter beam. Why the transport procedure should occur in tandem with a noise, Tulla didn't know, but she'd read something somewhere that suggested that the whine was a result of the displacement of matter particles. Where there wasn't much of anything a moment ago, now there were four Starfleet officers.

She looked around. There was a ramp nearby, embedded into the dusty ground, that led upward to an ajar bulkhead set into the Marauder's hull. The starship, enormous by comparison to the away team, stretched upward for hundreds of metres, but ahead of them, it was swallowed up by the rock of the hillside that it had crashed into. Nature, such as it was, had reclaimed the Marauder's superstructure years ago - now, there wasn't much telling as to where the hull ended and the rock began.

Swallowing a lump of worry, Tulla noted that the shield bubble's protective forcefield was quite close to the hull, not leaving much room to move around on the ground outside. It might have been the angle she was looking at it, or it might have been some weird light effect given off by the mustard gas giant hanging in the sky, but the shield bubble looked damn thin.

"Try not to worry," said Jonathan Maynell next to her. He had opened his tricorder and indicated the display. "Power signal is strong and clean. We're safe."

Tulla bared her teeth at him. "I'm not worried."

Ahead, Eve Dalziel and Ethan Dobbs were looking around. And there was something else.

Something on the hull was glowing dully, like matte paint with light shone on it. The effect was ubiquitous, and continued onward into the rock. Now, as Tulla squinted in the gloom, she could see a humanoid-sized hole in the rockface near the entrance ramp - a hole that might lead into a cave.

"Doctor?" called Dobbs. "What do you make of this?"

Tulla moved forward, opening her medical tricorder. As she reached Dobbs' shoulder, she could see that the dull sheen on the hull of the Marauder was a light layer of fungus and mould. Running her eye over the mycology, she saw that the fungal layer ran all over the Marauder's hull, persisting onto the rock itself, even disappearing down into the cave.

"Looks harmless," said Maynell. "Should we take a sample?"

"Don't touch it!" hissed Tulla. The others looked at her in alarm, so she placated them with a follow-up. "Some fungal spores are triggered by temperature changes in their proximity. If you get too close, you might set them off. Let me scan it."

"Why was this fungal mass not detected by the ship's sensors, but is visible to our tricorders?" asked Eve.

Tulla looked at her in askance. "I'm just a doctor. Maybe the sensors weren't calibrated correctly?"

"Unlikely," sniffed Maynell. "The tricorders use a much narrower frequency range. Perhaps a narrowed range helps speed up the process. But I'm just an engineer."

Eve held up her hands. "I was only asking."

The conversation was cut short by the sound of footsteps from within the hull. They approached the bulkhead. The away team stepped back, and a moment later, the diminutive form of DaiMon Domo appeared in the bulkhead. In person, they Ferengi was much smaller than he had appeared on screen, and his back was starting to stoop from his advanced years. He stood in the bulkhead at the top of the entrance ramp.

Domo took in a deep breath through his nose. "What a nice night. Take in the air, it does wonders for the constitution!"

Dobbs stepped forward. "I am Commander Ethan Dobbs, the Executive Officer of the starship Phoenix. I was on the bridge while you were speaking with Captain Kane."

"Yes!" Domo held up an index finger. "You are welcome!"

"These are the ship's officers," said Dobbs, indicating each in turn. "Lieutenant Eve Dalziel, ship's counselor. Doctor Tulla Keiku. Ensign Maynell, an engineer."

Tulla was reading the datascan from her tricorder, and her brow was furrowing under her forehead ridges. The tricorder showed a normal male Ferengi, but the physiology was off. The baseline EM readings from a Ferengi's brain, that should have had peaks and valleys like any other humanoid, were instead an easy-going, undulating line. "Commander," she said.

"It is good that more bodies have come to this place," said Domo. "We are in need of more."

Dobbs shook his head. "What do you mean, DaiMon Domo? In need of what?"

"More bodies," stated Domo. He still hadn't moved from where he was standing at the top of the bulkhead. "You and your officers are very welcome, Commander Dobbs."

"Commander," prodded Tulla.

"I'm glad to hear that," said Dobbs, "but we are confused as to how you mean it. Can we meet the other members of your community? Perhaps we might see how you have made a living these past forty years?"

"Yes," smiled Domo. "Come aboard."

"Commander," said Tulla.

Dobbs looked at her. "Doctor?"

Tulla showed him her tricorder. "The DaiMon is infected with a mycological life-form," she said. "This fungus that we see growing here? It's inside him."

Dobbs looked at Domo in alarm. "DaiMon, I - "

"Your doctor is quite right," said Domo, still smiling benignly. "Everyone here lives at one with it."

"By it," said Eve, "you mean this.. fungus?"

"Oh yes," said Domo. "It is in us, just as it is now in you."

Tulla's heart leaped, and she quickly began scanning the away team. Kahless' bones, they had been breathing in the spore since the moment they had beamed down here! The shield bubble would have turned the whole place into one giant mycology tank - there was no escape.

Dobbs, Maynell, and Eve all looked at her in worry, while Domo smiled his maddening smile from the top of the entrance ramp. At last, Tulla lifted her head from her tricorder. The microscopic fungus spores, invisible to the ship's sensors but visible to the tricorders, was already present in the lungs and respiratory system of every member of the away team.

"It's true," she said. "We're all infected."


NRPG: What have we gotten ourselves into? The infected away team have to figure out what's happening before - well, before *some*thing happens, right? But they can't return to the ship and risk spreading the infection - even though the transporter beam might (miiiight) be able to isolate the spores during the beam-up, what if it can't? No, best thing for now is to have a look-see through this strange crashed ship and its weird inhabitants.

Meantime, if you're on the ship, you'll probably be worried about Dr. Bartlett's health. His fate is in your hands. That's on top of the shenanigans in Engineering, the cyborging of the MCO, and the clamour for sensor time by the Science Department...

Jerome McKee
the Soul of Captain Michael Turlogh Kane
Commanding Officer

"He speaks an infinite deal of nothing!"
- Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice", Act 1, Scene 1.117



Previous Next