Authors: Mark Garland,Charles G. Mcgraw
Tags: #Science Fiction, #Fiction, #General
Commander Chakotay’s spirit guide had visited him many times in his dreams. Unlike the often arbitrary or chaotic dreams of others, the spirit guide brought clarity through visions that helped explain the world outside as well as the world within.
But it was not the guide that came into the mind of the commander tonight, finding him as he slipped deeper into his dreams. It was a ghost…
The entity had no true form, though like a strong, cool wind it made itself known. It drew closer, touching his unconscious fleetingly at first, as if unsure, or unwilling. But this seemed to last only a moment. The ghost began to change, enriched by the encounter somehow, and Chakotay sensed a certain excitement. Suddenly he saw into the ghost’s mind.
The images were less alien than the ghost that brought them. A beautiful world full of life, and graced with a vast, thriving wilderness. The world moved, passing his mind’s eye too quickly.
When the images settled again, they revealed a huge village nestled among the trees, a place populated by a vibrant primitive culture. He found details difficult to distinguish, but there were many things familiar about these people and their community, and Chakotay could not help but compare them to his own people, of perhaps a thousand years ago.
Their homes were fashioned from the materials they found all around them, as were their clothes, and he saw no signs of suffering or war.
But this vision too lasted only for a short while. New images of death and destruction rushed into the dream. A different place, perhaps, or a different time?
He saw the land split, saw oceans turn to steam and mountains spewing the planet’s molten interior upward into the smoke-filled skies. The world seemed bent on destroying itself and all that lived on it in a frenzy of earthquakes and fire. Then the ghost and the images were fading from the dreams, but they were replaced by a clearly understood message, one that echoed through the commander’s mind until it brought him shuddering into consciousness. As he sat up, the fateful pleas of the ghost seemed to radiate outward through his skull until they reverberated off the walls of his cabin. It was a desperate cry for help.
Chakotay looked directly at Harry Kim in the Ops bay as he entered Voyager’s bridge. The hiss of the turbolift doors caused the young ensign to look up from his operations and communications panels. Kim was the youngest, greenest member of the bridge crew. Voyager’s mission to the Badlands had been his first assignment, but he had already proven himself under fire.
“Status?” Chakotay asked him.
“We will arrive at the Drenar system in eleven minutes,” Kim reported.
Another ensign, who was carrying a PADD containing the updated Ops report, moved away from Kim, then handed the report to the commander.
Chakotay glanced briefly at the data. As he looked around the bridge, his gaze lingered only twice. Tom Paris, the young human lieutenant at the helm, regarded Chakotay with his characteristic, only slightly arrogant smile. Though he came from a family full of admirals, his expression was born of talent and experience, not ego.
Lieutenant Tuvok, the only Vulcan on the bridge, stood in the tactical bay to Chakotay’s right, and was at this moment paying strict attention to the screens and displays at his station—something he apparently believed had a higher priority than idle greetings. Which suited the first officer just fine.
Because Voyager was always in unknown, uncharted space, its tactical station was perhaps the most important on the ship.
Chakotay took a deep breath and decided all seemed to be in order, reassuringly so just now. He slowly exhaled, letting the lingering tension flow out of him. The dreams and visions of the night before still flickered in his mind, too real to let go of, yet clearly not real at all, and not worth dwelling on for now.
Only a dream, he told himself yet again, trying to shake off the images.
He had half expected to find some tangible evidence of his strange visions as he joined the day shift, so real were the images. He had already gone over most of the duty and sensor logs from the previous shifts, reviewing everything that had happened while he slept, but nothing out of the ordinary had turned up.
Chakotay stepped forward and down, then walked slowly about the bridge’s main, lower level, letting the dreams quiet themselves, absorbing the gray-and-black reality of the walls and railings, the strangely comforting electronic glow of many lit panels at the engineering and science stations.
“Six minutes, Commander,” Kim said.
“Very well. Captain to the bridge,” Chakotay called out, raising his voice to engage the intercom system. It was a routine stop, but one that Kathryn Janeway, captain of the Starship Voyager, had been looking forward to. She and Tuvok had devised a method of replenishing the impulse engines’ deuterium tanks, at least in theory. In just a few minutes they were going to put those ideas into practice.
A few moments later Captain Janeway strode smartly onto the bridge, followed closely by the Talaxian, Neelix. She wore her uniform trim and proper, her hair tucked up into a neat bun on the back of her head, no strand or thread or movement out of place. She stood in stark contrast to Neelix, whose short frame, oddly spotted face, scruffy wisps of orange hair, and bright, multicolored tunic made him seem somewhat clownlike in her presence.
They made an effective team, however: the eager, ardent and decidedly capricious alien was Voyager’s only guide in this part of the galaxy, and Janeway’s straightforward discipline, along with a certain measure of insight, allowed her to make good use of Neelix’s counsel.
Janeway, like her first officer, made a quick visual inspection as she stepped down and stood at ease near the center of the bridge, beside Chakotay. She folded her arms with a look of satisfaction. “Report,” she said.
“Three minutes to arrival,” Kim responded.
“It’s right where Neelix said it would be.” Paris glanced back, raising an affable eyebrow to the alien.
“Thank you,” Neelix replied cheerily, bowing briefly from the waist.
He smiled at the captain. “I think you’ll find the Drenarian system will provide the perfect opportunity to test your ideas. The system contains several gas giants, most with an assortment of moons that should make any captain happy as can be.”
“Thank you, Neelix,” Janeway answered him, adding a crisp nod.
She let half a grin slip before turning away. “Bridge to Engineering.”
The voice of B’Elanna Torres, Voyager’s half-human, half-Klingon chief engineer came instantly back, “Yes, Captain.”
“How are we doing?”
“We’re all set down here. Whenever you’re ready.”
“You haven’t explained exactly what it is you’re going to do,” Neelix said, tipping his head to one side almost birdlike as he awaited Janeway’s reply.
She hadn’t explained the details of the plan to anyone, really.
She had been a scientist long before becoming an officer, and she had a habit of forgetting that many of those around her did not possess those same credentials.
“We’re going to use the Bussard ramscoops to draw raw material from a suitable moon around one of Drenar’s largest gas giants.
We’re hoping several of them will have rich hydrogen-methane atmospheres. We should then be able to convert the collected material into usable deuterium slush—at least that’s what Torres and I have in mind.”
“A full description of the conversion process is available in the computer, should anyone wish to examine it,” Tuvok noted. “I can supply you with the file location.”
Neelix, for his part, made no immediate request.
“We have reached the coordinates,” Kim reported.
“Go to impulse,” Chakotay ordered.
“Disengaging main drive,” Lieutenant Paris said, touching points on the panel before him. The instant the ship dropped out of warp it slammed into a wall.
Captain Janeway found herself momentarily pinned beneath her first officer as the two of them tumbled to their left and were slammed down onto the deck. The ship lurched to the right then and shuddered violently, setting off alarms. The impulse engines howled as the lights dimmed and systems began to go down.
The captain’s head bounced off the gray-carpeted deck plates, and she felt her teeth bite into her tongue, tasted blood. She looked up into Chakotay’s eyes as he tried to regain his bearings and attempted to roll off her. Paris was clinging to his station, fighting to regain control of the helm. Behind her she could hear Tuvok wheeze as he thudded against something hard.
The ship lurched to the left once more, sending everyone tumbling yet again. Janeway managed to grab hold of the deck rail and steady herself briefly. She craned her neck and saw Tuvok still at his post, every bit as tenacious as Lieutenant Paris.
“Mr. Tuvok, report!” she shouted over the wail of the emergency klaxon and the onerous groan of the engines.
“We are caught in an intense gravitational field. I am attempting to determine the source.”
“That would be a help.”
“Captain,” Tuvok came back almost at once. “There seems to be a star, a small brown dwarf, dead ahead.”
“I’m attempting to compensate,” Paris called back. “It’s really got a hold of us.”
“There was no brown dwarf here before, I’m sure of it!” Neelix cried from the heap he had tumbled into just in front of the captain’s chair.
“And it’s only been a few years.”
Janeway looked at the main viewscreen, but even at this distance there was almost nothing to see. Yet as she looked more closely she began to notice the star’s outline, an apparent hole in space where the brown dwarf’s dark sphere blocked out the stars behind it.
“Transferring all available power to the impulse engines,” Kim said, following procedure perfectly.
“Engines at full,” Paris acknowledged. “It’s having an effect, but we’re still not breaking free.” He sat up, rigid in his chair, bracing himself as the lurching ceased—only to be replaced by a steady and rapid shaking that quickly threatened to rattle the starship apart.
“Systems failure reports coming in from all over the ship,” Kim reported, even before Janeway could ask.
The captain worked her way along the railing, hand over hand, toward her command chair. “Injuries?”
“Numerous, but all minor so far,” Tuvok replied.
“We’re too close. The star’s gravity is too strong,” Paris said, his voice straining in sympathy with the engines.
Janeway lifted her head and shouted at the ceiling.
“Engineering, can we go to warp? We have to get out of here.”
“Yes, Captain,” B’Elanna replied. “The upper matter-constriction segments shut down briefly. I’m reinitializing now. Just give me a minute.”
“We don’t have a minute.”
No one said a word for several very long seconds. The shaking grew worse, or it seemed to, as Janeway stood bent-kneed on the trembling deck.
“That should do it, Captain,” B’Elanna announced, sooner than expected.
“Mr. Paris!” Janeway snapped.
“Warp drives engaged,” Paris said, as the deck again suddenly tilted beneath their feet. Janeway’s grip tightened on the deck rail as Chakotay grabbed the chair behind him. On the viewscreen the dark circle began to move, but it did not go way.
“It’s still no good, Captain,” Lieutenant Paris said, glancing frantically over his shoulder. “We just aren’t pulling away.”
“Engineering, we need more power!” Janeway demanded.
“You’ve got everything we have,” Torres came back, her voice nearly lost in the background roar of the engine room.
Janeway turned to her officers. “Tuvok, Kim, divert everything to the engines, including life-support, do it now!”
In an instant the bridge went nearly dark, lit only by the dim glow of red emergency lighting. The ship pitched and shook again as yet another surge made itself felt. Janeway watched intently as the stars off the bow began to move, taking the dark circle with them. Again, they did not go far.
“We still can’t break free. We’re holding position, but we can’t keep that up for long,” Paris informed the captain, paying frantic attention to his console.
“Captain.” It was Torres in Engineering again. “I have a suggestion.”
Janeway’s eyes went wide, then narrowed as her mind came around to what was very likely the same idea. “Emergency flight rules,” she said.
“Yes,” B’Elanna answered. “We can add a minute amount of antimatter to the impulse reaction chamber. That might give us the extra power we need.”
“If it doesn’t blow us all up,” Chakotay added.
Janeway looked at him, one eyebrow going up.
He shrugged, guileless. “Don’t let that stop you,” he said.
“Do it!” Janeway commanded.
For a long moment the howl of the engines and the bone-jarring tremors that swept the ship continued unchanged, then B’Elanna spoke again, “Transferring antimatter… now.”
Voyager surged like a boat swept up on a passing wave.
“Hull stress climbing beyond maximum design levels,” Tuvok reported calmly.
Janeway looked at him only briefly. “Keep it coming, Mr. Paris.”