Chapter 13

U.S.S. Aldrin

Idran Terminus, Gamma Quadrant

22:24 Hours, February 3rd, 2380

Stardate 57092.935662

 

One more pull. That’s all Kelley thought it would take. But it was also the ninth or tenth time she had thought that while trying to wrench open the hatch in the deck of her stalled turbolift. After spending an entire shift in a shuttlecraft maneuvering the new subspace relay into place, the last place she wanted to be was stuck in an even smaller space. But the power had gone out with a deck-vibrating boom, and now she was stuck. Four dim emergency lights lit the darkened turbolift from their mounts near the deck.

The hatch did have a handle, set into the deck, but it had sheared off after the third pull. She stepped back over the hatch, straddling the square in the deck, and inserted her fingers in the crack between the hatch and the deck. Kelley knew she wasn’t strong – she was short for a Human and bordering on unhealthily skinny, and though fit to pass Starfleet’s standards, she simply didn’t have the strength to easily open this hatch without a handle to grab onto.

She steadied herself over the hatch, counted to three, and then pulled with every bit of strength she could muster. Every muscle in her body strained and burned, but not until she felt her shoulders starting to separate did she stop. She released the hatch and dropped to the deck, breathing heavily as she pushed back and rested against the lift’s closed door. She had already tried the door, but thanks to safety protocols it wouldn’t open between decks. Not that it would have done her much good, all that she would have found on the other side of the door was the smooth curved wall of the turboshaft.

Kelley glared at the stubborn hatch and saw in the dim light that she had managed to pull it open a little over a centimeter. Ignoring all the protests of her stressed body, Kelley struggled up from the deck. She again stood over the hatch and reached her fingers around its edge. She found handholds inset in the edge of the hatch and quickly readied herself to pull the hatch right out of the deck.

She exerted every reserve of energy she could summon and the hatch slowly rose, groaning as she drew it up from the deck. The hatch stopped resisting at about twenty degrees open, but Kelley was still pulling hard. The hatch freely swung as she stumbled back and it slammed open on the deck between her legs. Kelley grinned and stepped forward, standing astride the open hatchway and looking down through its meter-square opening. She was greeted by a dark turboshaft, barely illuminated by three columns of emergency lights running its height.

Kelley suddenly wished she had tried a different method of escape. At least twenty meters separated her from the bottom of the shaft, far enough that one slip was instantly and almost certainly fatal. Realizing that she was still standing over a pit several decks deep, Kelley jumped back, retreating to the shallow alcove that held the door. After catching her breath, she took a step forward and examined the edge of the hatch opening. Her eyes landed on a red-painted ladder rung, the first of several that would cross the bottom of the turbolift to the shaft walls.

Recalling the simulation training from the Academy, Kelley lowered herself to sit over the edge of the hatch opposite the rung. As her legs hung down through the hatch, she slowly leaned forward, bracing herself with hands on the deck, until she could reach out and grab the rung. Kelley took a deep breath and pulled forward, dragging her haunches across the deck until her body fell through the hatch. Her body swung down underneath the lift, and feeling her fingers slipping, she quickly reached out for the next handle, and then the next, working her way across the bottom of the turbolift car in just a few seconds. Kelley reached out and grabbed onto a rung of a ladder recessed into the shaft’s side and hurriedly kicked her feet forward, finding purchase on the ladder.

Kelley hugged the ladder for several seconds, working to bring her breathing under control. This had been easy at the Academy, not so here where there weren’t holodeck safety protocols to save her if she slipped. Her calm somewhat reclaimed, Kelley slowly stepped down the ladder until she reached the closest deck, indicated to her right by a thin glowing strip at the base of the door. She carefully reached out with her right leg, cautiously tapping with her boot the narrow strip of decking that would have bridged the space between the open turbolift and the corridor. It was fifteen centimeters wide at best, barely enough for Kelley to fit her foot sideways.

She could tell that she was trembling, both from exertion and fear, as she shifted her weight towards her right leg. Moving slowly, Kelley released the ladder with her left hand, slid her arm across the shaft wall, and reached across her chest to grasp the edge of the doorway. She took several deep breaths as she shifted her right foot further along the ledge, and then pushed off from the ladder, bringing her left side safely to the ledge while quickly reaching out and grabbing the opposite edge of the doorway. She hugged the door, her chest and stomach pushing off it with each labored breath.

Her hands felt only smooth metal as she ran them down the doorframe, searching for the manual release lever. Kelley stood back up and slid her foot across the ledge, feeling the tread of her boot catch on the small grab handle. Still holding close to the door, she looked down at the handle, “You have got to be kidding.”

Kelley nervously bit her lip as she let go of the right side of the doorframe and slowly pivoted on her feet so she could crouch down to reach the lever. The fabric of her uniform audibly brushed against the door as she slid down alongside it. Her shaking body only made matters worse as she paused, realizing the maneuver was pushing her left foot and her center of gravity off the ledge. After several more deep breaths, she reconsidered and started to stand, but the force exerted by standing back up pushed her left boot off the ledge. Despite reaching out to re-grab the right side of the alcove, her right foot gave way and she quickly slipped over the edge of the ledge.

Her forearms and chin caught on the ledge, slamming her head back but halting her plummet to certain death. Kelley groaned in pain and rolled her hands into fists. Ripped from her chest, her combadge bounced of the shaft walls before quietly hitting the bottom. Her jaw ached and blood poured from her opened mouth. She searched the bulkhead below with the tips of her boots, but couldn’t find a foothold. She looked up to the turbolift sitting overhead, imagining the power coming back on and the lift descending on her as she hung there helplessly. Even though safety protocols would have prevented such an incident, the thought was impetus enough for her to spread her arms out in an attempt to push up and get her whole body back onto the ledge. As she was spreading, her right hand slipped over the grab hole for the release lever.

Kelley froze as she considered her options. Chances were she wouldn’t have the strength to get herself back up onto the ledge, and she knew she didn’t have it in her to hang off the ledge by her arms for however many hours it took for somebody to come and find her. She nodded to herself, “Okay,” and slipped her fingers into the slot, found the lever, and twisted her wrist up to pull. The door unlocked and snapped open.

Before Kelley could look out and determine where she was, the higher pressure turbolift shaft decompressed into the opened doorway. Kelley’s long blonde hair whipped across her face as she stretched her arms into the opening and clawed into the carpet. Kicking and yelling, she pulled herself forward until she was able bring her knees up into the doorway. Successful, Kelley flopped face-first onto the deck, and after giving herself a few seconds of heavy breathing pushed up on her elbows and craned her neck to look ahead.

She immediately recognized the small three-meter-square cabin as the airlock into the shuttlebay. Kelley dropped her head and groaned, back where she’d started three hours earlier.

 

00:39 Hours, February 4th, 2380

Stardate 57093.158094

 

Clark ducked under a fried meter-long plasma junction propping open the door to Engineering-A. Most of the consoles in Engineering had been restored to working order, with a small team of officers feverishly working at each. The warp core, previously thrumming with energy, was dark, its transparent casing gently reflecting the glow of the consoles and emergency lights. Clark quickly walked towards the core, turning right into the corner occupied by the Chief Engineer’s office. It was a raised triangular platform ringed with deep consoles; the long side facing the warp core was open so the occupant could observe the warp core and work throughout Engineering. Vorik sat in a low-backed chair, his attention focused on the screen in front of him.

“How’s it going?” Clark asked, peering at the complex series of numbers scrolling on the screen.

Vorik’s fingers danced over the console. He spoke without looking away, “Fractal encryption codes are very complex; it will take me some time to lock out the entirety of the Aldrin’s systems.” The screen flashed ‘Environmental Control Codes Encrypted’.

Clark nodded and tapped a few commands into a neighboring console, pulling up the view from the Aldrin’s forward visual sensors. The Dominion fleet was hovering several kilometers away, well within transporter range and close enough that Clark could identify even the smallest attack ships. “What have you locked out so far?”

“Environmental, navigation, propulsion, shields, warp drive, and weapons,” Vorik recited. “The joined computer cores should be secure in approximately twenty seven seconds.”

“What’s left of it,” Clark quipped. Vorik’s engineers had managed to link the remnants of the two computer cores, one scavenged and the other halved by the explosion, joining them as a single core capable of running basic functions like life support and sensors. But even with the self-organizing behavior of the gel packs it had proven difficult to get much more capability than that in the short time.

The computer beeped and Vorik reported, “Main computer encrypted.”

“Isolate both computers and take them offline,” Clark ordered.

Vorik broke his gaze from the console, turning to Clark and simply prompting, “Captain?”

Clark pointed a hand at the sensor display, “I don’t know what they’re waiting for, but my gut tells me we don’t have much longer before the boarding parties start beaming aboard.” As the words left his mouth Clark realized that vital spaces like Engineering would be among the first the Jem’Hadar would attempt to secure. He absently patted the hand phaser on his hip, “I want to make it as difficult as we can for them to unlock this ship.”

Vorik simply turned back to the console and began entering more commands. After several seconds he announced, “Secondary computer isolated.” The quiet whir of the atmospheric recyclers slowly died.

The hair on the back of Clark’s neck stood on end as a new subspace hum filled the air, quickly followed by the vertical aqua and purple light streaks of a Dominion transporter. The streaks quickly resolved into six tall Jem’Hadar soldiers. Clark’s phaser was already in his hands and he fired on the closest Jem’Hadar before it had even fully materialized.

The Jem’Hadar fell to the deck with a smoldering hole in its chest. Clark dove behind a console dividing Vorik’s office from the rest of Engineering. Twin disruptor beams pierced the space Clark had occupied just a spilt second earlier. The station behind him exploded, hurling small bits of heated shrapnel against his back. Phaser and disruptor beams crossed between the Jem’Hadar and the other engineers.

Vorik was suddenly at Clark’s side as disruptor fire destroyed his console. He grabbed the phaser from his own belt and said, “The primary computer has been isolated.”

That instant saw every console in Engineering go dark. The weapons fire stopped a second later. Clark carefully pushed back from his hiding place behind the console, his eyes not adjusting quickly to the darkness. He suddenly felt the hot metal of a recently discharged disruptor pressing against the back of his skull.

The deep, hoarse voice of an elder Jem’Hadar growled from behind him, “Move and die.”

 

00:45 Hours, February 4th, 2380

Stardate 57093.159234

 

Kelley yelled out in exasperation, her voice echoing as it bounced off the distant bulkheads and overhead of the shuttlebay. Every door, access port, and ventilation grate leading out of the shuttlebay was not just closed, but locked and unwilling to be coaxed open. She slumped against the side of one of the shuttles docked around at the shuttlebay’s center core and sighed. The normally brightly-lit cavernous space was dimly illuminated, with a good portion of the light at the aft end coming from the control room over the center aft space door.

She slapped the side of the shuttle and looked down at the name painted near that hand: Carpathia. Sitting in front of her was an identical shuttle named Atlantis. As a pilot she had a certain fondness for shuttles – they were certainly more fun to fly than a hulking starship. Movement at the top edge of her field of vision caught her attention; she looked up to see figures entering the control room. Kelley squinted against the bright light and gasped as the figures sharpened into Jem’Hadar. She immediately dropped down and crawled across the deck, sliding up against the port side of the Atlantis, her back to the control room.

Thoughts raced through her head as she struggled to figure out what to do next. She slapped her chest, her palm finding bare fabric, and then recalled the sound of her combadge hitting the bottom of the turbolift shaft. Kelley closed her eyes and dropped her head back, resting it on the shuttle’s cold hull. Her eyes snapped back open with realization, “A shuttle.”

Kelley slowly stood, keeping her back against the Atlantis, reaching out and feeling for the exterior hatch control. The small palm-sized panel illuminated as her hand passed over it, and a quick press caused the neighboring door to drop back a few centimeters and slide out of the way. Kelley eased herself towards the open doorway and peaked her head inside, “Computer, leave the lights off and be quiet.” The shuttle responded with a simple and quiet trilling tone. Kelley stepped up into the shuttle, which as commanded stayed dark instead of following the default behavior and activating the lights as she entered.

In the darkness Kelley moved to the back end of the shuttle, finding the equipment lockers and pulling out a hand phaser. She checked the levels, finding it fully charged, and then started back towards the open door. Kelley froze when the shuttlebay door directly in front of her shuttle opened and a pair of Jem’Hadar soldiers entered. As they sniffed the air, Kelley dropped behind the forward pilot’s console, peaking over the edge. Two more Jem’Hadar exited from the door, followed by a group of ten Starfleet officers with their hands held on the back of their heads. A third pair of Jem’Hadar brought up the rear.

Kelley’s heart beat wildly as she weighed her options. She knew she was a decent shot with a phaser, but in a contest of decent Starfleet shot against six bred-for-battle Jem’Hadar, Kelley knew she’d be lucky to take down one of them before she was killed. As the Jem’Hadar gathered in a line in front of the Starfleet officers, Kelley rolled the phaser’s discharge level to maximum and stood.

She paused at the doorway, looked down at the dark pilot console, and then rushed into the chair and called, “Computer, emergency power-up. Full power to phasers!”

The sound of high-powered polaron beams resounded through the shuttlebay as the Jem’Hadar coldly executed their prisoners, not even making them face away. The bodies of ten Starfleet officers fell onto the deck.

The Atlantis roared to life. The impulse reactor and warp drive cycled on as the anti-grav plating lifted the multi-ton shuttlecraft off the deck. The graceful double-arched pilot’s console lit up as Kelley’s fingers danced across the glossy surface.

The Jem’Hadar turned around to face the noise of the shuttle and paused, seemingly uncertain what to do. One raised his rifle and took aim.

Kelley pressed the phaser control and swept her hand across the weapons area. The Atlantis responded to the command by unleashing a sweep of phaser fire across the Jem’Hadar. Even at its lowest setting the Atlantis’s phasers vaporized the Jem’Hadar and scorched the bulkhead behind them.

Between the noise of the shuttle and the display of phaser fire, Kelley knew the Jem’Hadar in the control room had to be aware of her presence. She pushed the controls forward, easing the Atlantis away from its berth and turning it so the nose pointed towards the aft control room. As expected, the handful of Jem’Hadar had taken aim, pointing their rifles through the square windows.

Kelley’s hand hovered over the phaser controls for a second. She reconsidered and tapped a series of numbers into the console, “Computer, acquire a transporter lock on the Jem’Hadar in the shuttlebay control room and beam them to these coordinates.”

The female voice of the shuttle’s computer coolly responded, “The entered coordinates are outside of the U.S.S. Aldrin environmental zone. Do you wish to proceed?”

Kelley couldn’t help but grin. She’d joined Starfleet to fight the Dominion, but had never gotten the chance. The war was over, but here she had opportunity, “Proceed.” The transporter at the center of the shuttle hummed to life as the Jem’Hadar disappeared in a wave of sparkling aqua energy. They resolved at a point a kilometer to the aft of the Aldrin, quickly suffocating in the vacuum of space.

 

00:47 Hours, February 4th, 2380

Stardate 57093.159614

 

“Your hour’s up,” R’Mor said. Unable to do anything with the dark ops console, she’d moved to the captain’s chair. She pushed her foot off the back of the ops arch and slowly spun the chair. The Dominion fleet still sat dead ahead on the viewscreen, having stopped their approach at just a few kilometers distant.

Toq’bae laughed, “Does that mean we both lose?”

“Do you want to lose?” R’Mor dragged her boots on the carpet as the chair’s momentum kept it spinning.

“Not really, I’m a sore loser.”

R’Mor planted her feet on the deck and stopped, facing the science station. She looked over her shoulder at the viewscreen, “Fifteen minute extension?”

Toq’bae looked over his console, “Are you taking over or under?”

“Under.”

Toq’bae squinted at the viewscreen, “I’ll take that bet.”

The hum of transporters filled the bridge. As the bright aqua and purple streaks of Dominion transporters appeared, R’Mor jumped to her feet and grabbed her phaser off her hip. As she brought the weapon up a Jem’Hadar hand wrapped around the phaser body and crushed it, then pulled the broken weapon away from her loose hand.

With a Jem’Hadar standing right at his station with a rifle aimed squarely at him, Toq’bae slowly raised his hands over his head, “You win.”

R’Mor cautiously turned to face the Jem’Hadar that had disarmed her, “Great.” The soldier whipped his rifle around, smacking the butt into the side of R’Mor’s head.

 

00:52 Hours, February 4th, 2380

Stardate 57093.169564

 

Kelley desperately worked at the controls of the Atlantis. Moments after her victory over the Jem’Hadar, the entire shuttlebay and control room had gone dark, and if the shuttle’s sensors were correct, the entire Aldrin was powerless. She had a shuttle at her command, but with no power in the surrounding ship there was no way for her to open the doors and escape.

Her only option was to blast her way out through the space doors, but she needed to do so while dealing as little damage to the Aldrin as possible. Satisfied with the plan she’d formulated, Kelley piloted the Atlantis around so it sat squarely in front of the middle of the three aft space doors. Taking a deep breath, she pressed the console and the Atlantis’s phasers fired, giving just enough power to obliterate the door without so much as dinging the deck below or control room above.

As the shuttlebay rapidly and violently decompressed through the newly-opened hole, Kelley entered a new set of commands into the console. She ordered, “Computer, override and activate the Carpathia and upload program Kelley Beta Phi.”

“Overriding.” Behind the Atlantis the Carpathia barely came to life, the only evidence being the glow of the console inside. The Atlantis’s computer prompted, “Program initiated. Control lock authorization required.”

“Kelley Tango Seven Bravo,” she said. The computer responded with a chirp.

Kelley looked forward through the blown-away door, noticing the trio of attack ships moving to investigate and blocking the path to the wormhole. With the confidence of a seasoned pilot, she pushed the Atlantis to full impulse and rocketed through the doorway. The Atlantis shot out under the Aldrin’s twin catamaran hulls, with Kelley quickly turning the shuttle to arc up through the open space between the engineering hulls, saucer, and weapons pod.

The attack ships reacted almost instantly, moving forward to intercept the shuttle. Polaron beams streaked by as Kelley yelled, “Emergency warp, heading 009 mark 298!” The Atlantis responded by banking sharply and jumping into warp.

It took only a few seconds for two of the attack ships to catch up. Blue torpedoes flashed past the Atlantis. Kelley deftly steered the shuttle into sweeping curves. Despite the significantly more powerful warp drive systems on the attack ships, they couldn’t keep up with the maneuvers. In a straight-line race it would have been no contest, but with the right pilot at the controls the nimble shuttle could easily outrun even a full-size starship.

Attack ships slowly fell further and further behind as Kelley executed increasingly complicated maneuvers, finishing by executing a two billion kilometer loop at Warp 9 – fifteen hundred times the speed of light. The attack ships simply couldn’t make that tight of a turn at that speed and fell out of sensor range. Kelley leaned back in her seat, her heart pounding and a proud grin spreading across her face.