Lahn stopped, abruptly turn to the counselor and frowned. “I don’t want to talk to you about my feelings. I want to find out who is shitting on my bed.”
The counselor went a shade pale. “Of course you are upset, but perhaps we should discuss this without being crude –“
“Crude?” Lahn asked with a sarcastic air? She resumed pacing. “The entire act is crude. Someone shit on my bed. I realize this is not exactly something that went into the fabled logs of the greats like Kirk and Picard, but you can bet if someone shit on Captain’s Picard’s bridge –“
“I mean, yes, finding excrement is upsetting –“
Lahn stopped again, and slowly looked her up and down. She sighed. “Look, Lieutenant –“ Lahn began pausing, prompting her for her name.
“Talah. Lieutenant Kay Talah.” She smiled brightly, then stopped when she realize Lahn wasn’t smiling at all.
“Lieutenant Talah. Are you really ships counselor? I mean, the Curare is a Mercury class, so usually too small for…”
“I’m Chief Nurse.” Talah replied matter-of-factually, with a slight emphasis on ‘Chief’.
“I…see.” Lahn said, her brow slightly furrowed. “You didn’t…” Lahn groped for words. “Did you start out as an Ensign or are you part of that program that starts out advanced Academy graduates as Lieutenant.”
Talah’s response was sullen. “I graduated in the top ten percent—“
“Right. Okay, Lieutenant, let me explain the semantics to you. When it’s a sample in sickbay, its feces. When its going through bio-molecular conversion, its effluent, and when its in the fresher, its excrement. But on my bed, its shit. Someone shit on my bed. They continue to shit on my bed, and will probably shit on my bed in the future. I want it to stop.”
Lieutenant Talah flinched with each curse. “Perhaps, Captain” she said carefully, “this is something you should bring to security.”
“I have. Perhaps you could review the report?”
“But Captain, I’m not sure why I—“
“Because you can’t. There is none. I sent a sample down to sickbay, but of course they didn’t get back to me. Its almost as if security is perfectly happy to let this Mad Shitter roam free.”
The Counselor blinked. “Mad shi--” She started to repeat, then stopped.
“If you did a DNA analysis, you could tell me –“
“I’ll take my results to security.”
Lahn rolled her eyes. “Haven’t you been listening? They won’t do anything about it.”
“I’ll be happy to speak to the first officer about this.”
“Happy?” Lahn asked in a clearly unconvinced tone.
Lieutenant Talah bit her lip. “I’ll be relieved not to have to discuss this with you any more.”
“Well, that’s honest. Lets go.”
She looked up at Lahn, taken by surprise. “Go?”
“Lets go talk to the first officer right now. Or the Captain.”
“I’m not sure we should go right now…Perhaps an appointment..”
Lahn was already out the door, and leaned back in to look at Lieutenant Talah. “Why, because you’re worried that I’ll find out the Curare has been taking a roundabout route to the Jenolean Sphere?”
Talah picked at her nails sullenly. “I’m not involved with navigation.“
“Now who’s hiding something? Let go.”
Lahn watched Talah consider out and out refusal, but while Lahn wasn't The Captain, Lahn was a captain. Refusing without a solid reason still had repercussions, even in a depleted, desperate Starfleet and captains had to be dealt with. Her options were to deal with Lahn herself, or let Captain M'Resh deal with Lahn. In these matters, the safer option was to let captains deal with captains, so she demurely followed Lahn down the hallway to the turbo lift.
Mid-way, the turbo lift lights switched to a low red.
“You’re supposed to go back to your quarters.” Talah said quietly. She knew she had to say it, and expected to be ignored.
Lahn held up a finger to silence her. “We just cloaked.”
“How do you know?”
“The engines have a different sound. The lights means that you stop all high energy work as well. Sensors go in passive mode. Energy emissions are minimized. Which means…” Lahn stepped into the turbolift and barely allowed Lieutenant Talah time to get on. “M’Resh isn’t just meandering, he’s hunting.”
As much as Lahn didn’t like M’Resh, she admired the efficiency of his bridge. The stations were brisk and precise, relaying to each other in calm, even tones, even as the scene in front of them was pure chaos. Lahn silently left the turbolift, taking in the tactical situation. On the screen, she recognized the USS Taurus -- a Jupiter Class Dreadnought, and nearly the last of her line. Its shields shimmered brilliantly as it was repeatedly hit by the four circling Quas Cruisers. For every shot the Taurus was firing, the Iconian cruisers were firing two and three back.
“The Taurus is sending a distress signal, Sir.” Communications reported to M’Resh, who sat at the edge of his chair, his tail flicking with agitation.
“Sensors indicate they are down to 78% crew, and have lost warp drive.”
“Prepare weapons to go online, and to disengage cloak.” M’Resh said.
Lahn edged closer to the command platform. She forced a clinical tone “Unfortunately Captain, there’s nothing we can do here.”
M’Resh slowly turned to Lahn, his fangs slightly exposed. “You’re supposed to be in your quarters.”
Lahn remained unmoved, her face stony. “And you’re supposed to be heading to the Jenolean Sphere.”
“We are rendering assistance in response to the Tauraus' distress call.” He said in a tone that would take no further argument.
Lahn ignored the tone, and kept her voice low of the Captain. She knew arguing with him put him in a tricky position, and she avoided it as best she could. “There are four Quas cruisers, lightly damaged from engaging the Taurus. We are outnumbered and out-jouled.”
“We have the element of surprise.” M’Resh said with an air of satisfaction.
Lahn blurted, “We are a Mercury Class. Not only are you disregarding orders, you’re committing suicide.”
Despite her attempts to keep the exchange between her and M’Resh, the other stations had grown eerily quiet. The officer at tactical flicked an uncertain gaze toward Lahn. The doubt of engaging the cruisers were palpable amongst the bridge officers, clear to everyone but M'Resh.
“Sensors indicate the USS Taurus is down to 68% crew. Their shields are failing.”
“Have transporter teams prepare to pick up escape pods.” M’Resh said, ignoring Lahn.
Lahn clenched her jaw, watching the weapons play across the flickering shields of the Taurus. “Hit their warp core.”
The tactical officer said, “The Quas cruisers have almost full shields around their warp cores.”
“Not the cruisers. The Taurus.”
The bridge went silent as M’Resh returned his attention to Lahn, and responded in a barely contained snarl, “You’d have us fire on our own side? What kind of —“
“They are already dead!” Lahn said, exasperated. “If you’re determined to get into this fight, then that’s how you win it. The warp core detonation will deplete the shields of the cruisers, and you hit the one that’s weakest in the aft shields with cannons and a heavy torpedo. If you make it breach as well, you’ll cripple at least two of the others. The Taurus is gone, Captain. If you are going to make it mean something, then do so.” She jerked her thumb back toward the limping dreadnought and the cruisers closing in for a kill. “Look.” She pointed more vehemently and said, as if the mere reception of photons to the retina wasn’t enough, See!”
M’Resh snarled. “You and I have different views of victory. Nurse, since Captain Lahn will not go back to her quarters, stun her and hold her in sickbay until this is over. Mr. Talbot, prepare to de-cloak.”
Lahn turned to Talah, who already had her phaser out. She looked almost apologetic as she fired before Lahn could say anything.
* * *
I awoke in sickbay. The restraints crisscrossing my chest and legs prevented me from being flung across examination chamber when inertial dampeners had gone offline. Everything unsecured had been tossed about violently – including Nurse Talah. She’d had struck the wall head first, and her body followed as inertial allowed until she was crumpled far passed any natural posture. Strands of her thick black hair were stuck to the wet, crimson splatter. Emergency power provided a dim, flickering light as system failed, were automatically re-routed, and failed again. The air was thin and I took deep breaths, each one punctuated with a hot, angry pinch along my ribs.
“Activate the Emergency Medical Hologram.”
The Curare was equipped with a Mark IV EMH, which assumed the gender of the caller. Unlike previous models, she was as efficient as she appeared. She didn’t need me to state any emergency, she simply knew one when she saw it, gathering as much information as they could from the shipboard interfaces and local vital signs. She ignored the scattered medical equipment on the floor and immediately undid my restraints. She briefly regarded the tangled form of Nurse Talah and scanned me with a tricorder.
The EMH noticed my glanc toward the tangled mess and shook her head. “I’m sorry, She’s gone.”
“See to her.”
“I will. But after you are taken care of. I only have two hours of emergency power left.”
I slid off the bio-bed, my shoulders and hips aching from the restraints. My ribs reported a much sharper, deeper pain. “How long was I out?
“Almost an hour. Engineering is trying to get main power back online." She stared straight ahead and blinked as she gathered what information she could from the ship. "There are many hull breaches. Some of them severe. Damage control is working on keeping structural integrity from failing completely.”
I took another deep breath, as deep as I dared.
“You have two cracked ribs. It will take a moment to find a bone splicer.”
"I'm re-prioritizing. We're leaking atmosphere."
She consulted her tricorder while I walked the walls. “The atmosphere is at 70% of nominal.”
My circuit led me to a thin hiss from doorway. A small console next to the door flashed an EV warning. The doors were designed to seal in the event of a hull breach, but the door frame was twisted so the seal was imperfect. “Can you put a containment field here? And use what power you can to generate atmosphere.” I found a working console. About a third of the ship was shown in grey – its condition was unknown. What was known was bad enough. Most major systems were offline, with the ship venting more atmosphere than it could replicate, and no power for shields to seal the breaches. The largest hull breach ended almost at sickbay’s doorstep. Communications – even internal communications were out, with every nano joule of energy being used life support and structural integrity. Enough of the ship was intact enough that if I could work my way though the wall via an access panel, I could get to facilities on the other side, and with luck, get to EV lockers.
I turned back to the EMH who was beginning to pull Lieutenant Talah’s remains from the wall. “That will have to wait. Transfer all your power to maintaining that containment field and generating atmosphere.” The EMH winked out without protest. Talah’s corpse settled back in place. I ransacked sickbay for tools. I would have given anything for a proper plasma cutter, but high energy scalpels and saws would have to do. Spanners for bone would have to hold conduits apart long enough for me to pass. I slowly turned the Lieutenant’s remains and cleaned off the bloody phaser, and took the EMH’s tricorder.
I prepared for surgery. The access panel and wall-space beyond was my patient, but I was the one that bled. More like a butcher than a surgeon, my incisions were hasty, jagged work. I hacked, sawed and pried my way through the innards of the ship, an eye toward the tricorder that recorded the dwindling power supply in sickbay. I forced my way through openings as soon as I could -- sharp corners, hot wires and jagged edges be damned. Each scrape and slice inspired me in exploring Tellarite and Klingon curses, and I surprised myself at my creativity at both when an overhead conduit burst, creating a small mist of white hot metal that peppered my uniform and skin while I was sandwiched between narrow wall plates and conduit held apart by the last of the medical spanners. Occasionally, I stopped and spent precious seconds straining to hear beyond the occasional click and hum of nearby systems to hear someone – anyone. The familiar rumble of the engines was absent. My progress was glacial. I was three quarters the way to the next service area when the containment field lost power. In another hour, the air would be too thin to breathe. I hacked at system in front of me with renewed fervor. Kill them all, let Engineering sort it out.
I staggered out of a jungle of conduit and components, bloody and dazed. Momentum carried me to a door sealed to protect the atmosphere beyond. I keyed the override and slid through. As the door slid closed behind me, I clutched my side against the painful tug that came with each ragged breath. The cuts and burns were superficial – and I regretted I hadn’t grabbed a dermal re-generator. When I was steady enough, I got my bearings. This new section was small, but stable enough and with atmosphere. Ruptured conduits kept me from scanning from lifeforms outside of the section, but the tricorder detected another life-form. I clambered through collapsed struts and buckled corridor toward it.
As I stepped over a strut bent almost double from inertial shear, I almost stepped on him. His leg was pinned against the floor by the strut, unnaturally twisted, but didn’t appear broken. The fallen strut had probably held him in place when inertial dampeners gave out. Good luck, I suppose, but luck like his I could do without. His eyes opened slowly and he weakly focused on me. His face, despite his waxy pale complexion was familiar. He was in security. I’d seen him in the mess hall and once or twice on duty.
“Captain?” His voice was a whisper.
His pant leg smoked as I sliced it open with a scalpel. “A captain. Not The Captain.”
“Please, just agt me out of here.”
I prodded the skin of his calf. It was tight and waxy, and chilled even my cold Trill hands. “No can do.” I said, even and medical tricorder over his leg.
“No, no, you lift, I’ll push.” He weakly placed one hand on the strut and braced the other behind him. He shoved, and lucky for him, the strut remained firmly in place.
“I lift, you push, and you die. You know about crush injuries--” I glanced over the strut to look at his collar. “Ensign?”
“Just lift…” He tried to get leverage and push against the strut until I pushed his hand away.
“The blood in your leg hasn’t been circulating for hours. Your blood is toxic. If I lift the strut, all that toxic blood rushing back will kill you before I could beam you to sickbay -- even if I could beam you to sickbay. Its not a good way to go. Ever sit wrong and your leg goes to sleep and then you get up?”
He simply stared at me.
“Hurts, doesn’t it? Well, lifting that strut will be about a thousand times worse.”
That seemed to register. “What do we do?”
I glanced at the tricorder, then looked again. Despite the situation, or maybe because of it, I laughed.
“I looked again, shaking my head, reading his name off of the sample report. “Ensign Barnes?”
“You’re my mystery shitter?”
He just started at me, not comprehending. Slowly his eyes went from the tricorder to my brief smirk, and back. “O-Only once. Lt. Flor was first. I-I was drunk.” His eyes went to my phaser.
“At ease, Ensign. Being an idiot isn’t a capital offense. Not that giving you a couple of kicks for good measure is off the nav-plan.”
“I’m very sor—“
“Shut up. You’re sorry you got caught. Why?”
He started to answer when the hallway suddenly shifted. “What was that?”
The hallway shifted harder, and I crouched to brace myself. “The structural integrity field is re-asserting itself.”
“That’s good, isn’t it?” he asked, his knuckles white on the strut across his leg.
I consulted the tricorder, looking for a map or schematic of the ship. “Its good if this hallway is where its supposed to be, but if its not, or its in the way of something else, this could get messy. We should get out of here.” I found the map, which made me add, “Soon.”
“Soon? As in—“
“As in the hallway will tear itself apart and we’ll be EV without a suit, soon.” The whole hallway shuddered, and I heard faint hissing. “That soon.” I drew the phaser, setting it to its tightest beam, set to cut. “Look. I probably don’t have enough power to cut through the beam and the heat conductance would kill you long before I finished. If I cut your leg, the phaser will cauterize the wound, and give me time to get you to sickbay.”
He looked at me desperately as the entire hallway groaned. “Please…”
“Damnit, this isn’t personal and there’s no other way! You stay here, you die. I lift that strut, you die.” A series of panels buckled.
I looked at his face. Was it delirium? Exhaustion? Or simply giving up? “Do it.” He said, his voice scarsely a whisper.
I aimed carefully. If I hit the pelvic bone, he was dead. We all probably were anyway. “Are you feeling like this is your lucky day, Lieutenant?”
“Do you remember if you tucked on the left or right side this morning, because….well, just think of Andoria.”
As I aimed, I wasn’t sure if he laughed or sobbed.
A side door opened, and there was a squad of red. “Drop the phaser, Captain!”
“The corridor is going!” I shouted to the bridge officer who had been at the tactical station.
“DROP THE PHASER, OR I”LL VAPE YOU WHERE YOU STAND!”
I let the phaser drop from my fingers. I knew the drill all too well and clasped my fingers slowly behind my head.
He gingerly grabbed the phaser, and gestured to two crewmen. “You. You. Get that strut off him. We have to get out of here.”
“Don’t do—“ I protested, but knew from the commander’s glare I was pushing my luck and that his phaser wasn't set to stun. He shoved me through the doorway. My ribs responded with a series of wet pops that flooded my eyes with white spots.
Dimly aware of staggering down the hallway, I wondered how the ensign found the strength to scream so loud.
* * *
Once sickbay could hold an atmosphere, and those that could be treated were, it was where I chose to sulk. I left the EMH to its duties, and the other flesh and blood occupants didn’t mind my company – they didn’t say anything when I asked.
Captain M’Resh arrived after a while. He walked from form to form on the biobeds. Some were burned, others twisted. None of them would move again. I leaned against Nurse Talah’s bed. The EMH had straightened her out to an almost presentable state.
I let him look around before he spoke. "Captain, Some of my people believe that when our lives are finally over, we are confronted by an assembly of our hosts, and together, they judge us on whether their lives were spent well. I never knew how I felt about that idea of judgement, but, as a Captain, it was something I kept in mind."
“Moments like these, ” M’Resh said quietly, “The hardest part being a Captain.”
“Are they?” I asked. M’Resh looked at me, his fangs slightly distended as he heard the disgust in my voice. But I didn’t feel like stopping. Those assembled around us would not ask for decorum. “How many did we you save off the Taurus?”
“The Taurus was destroyed.”
“That wasn’t my question.” I snapped. “How many?”
“I came down here to pay my respects, butcher, not to argue with you.”
“You could start with respecting them while they were alive. You saved no one from the Taurus. You cost your ship thirteen lives. For a crew of fifty, you are decimated twice over. We only survived because they left us for wreckage. The Taurus was lost to the Iconians, but this – this is your handiwork. “ He started to speak and I pointed down to Talah’s body. “Look at her.”
“You have no—“
“Look. At. Her.” I stared at him hard until he finally looked down. “She was your chief nurse. She graduated in the top of her class. She picked her nails when she was nervous and hated saying the word ‘shit.’ You spent her life like you were throwing strips of latinum at a dancing girl, and got even less for it. Oh, maybe you’ll put up a plaque in the mess hall or maybe you’ll have a drink at Quarks and tell all those weepy-eyed drunks how hard it is to be a captain while Starfleet takes what’s left of Lt Talah and Ensign Barnes and delivers them to someone they mattered to and gives you some more toy soldiers to play with.”
“You have no right—“
“You disobeyed orders. You jeopardized this mission. You grossly misjudged a tactical situation and you crippled your ship and you got people you are responsible – people you have a duty to – you got them killed.” I thought I’d be yelling, but I wasn’t. If M’Resh had not been catian, born with interlocking incisors instead of molars, I would have expected him to be grinding them in fury.
He wasn't. He looked down at what was left of Talah sullenly, overtaken by a deep quiet, his shoulders slumped.
"We’re going straight to the Jenolean sphere, where we’ll repair and re-equip. You will take me where I need to go. When I need to go. No diversions." I left him to the remains of his crew in sickbay, to salvage what he could.