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“Some of the most beautiful things in the galaxy are also the most dangerous.”

“What was that, Captain?”

“Nothing.”

The Captain and First Officer of the USS Dionysus were looking at the viewscreen. In front of their ship, a deadly but gorgeous plasma storm raged in the depths of deep space. The helmsman, Lieutenant Brax, sat in awe of the wondrous display of nature’s fury. They had picked up a distress call from a Bolian freighter while they were on a routine survey mission only a few light years away. It appeared to be caught in the storm, but they weren’t answering any hails. The sensors couldn’t get a clear enough reading to detect life signs, and transporting wasn’t an option. Maneuvering the big Galaxy-class starship into a position to assist wouldn’t be easy, either. The Captain decided on a third option.

“Lieutenant Brax, Commander Rozan, meet Doctor Selak in the main shuttlebay,” ordered Captain Dantes.

The two bridge officers got up from their stations at helm and ops, respectively. They nodded at the two command officers, and headed for the turbolift.

“Main shuttlebay,” Rozan told the computer.

The turbolift began moving, and before long the pair were in the main shuttlebay. The Chief Medical Officer was already in the Rhine, a Danube-class runabout. A craft small enough to maneuver through the field of unstable plasma outside, yet strong enough to survive any stray hits they might take. The Doctor was seated at the starboard aft station. Brax took the helm, and Rozan sat beside him.

Rhine to Bridge, we are ready to depart,” Rozan stated.

“You are clear for departure,” came the voice of one of Rozan’s subordinates.

The shuttlebay doors opened, and Brax eased the runabout off the landing pad and into space. He piloted the small craft deftly toward the plasma storm.

“I’m taking her in,” Brax announced.

The runabout crossed the threshold of the plasma storm and began to head for the coordinates of the Bolian freighter. Their sensors were down, so Brax had to rely on his keen sense of direction to remember where the freighter was. At the same time, he had to ensure the ship remained safe. The ride was a bit bumpy, so Rozan was about to adjust the inertial dampeners when Brax asked him not to.

“I need to fly by feel in here, visibility is poor and the sensors are useless.”

Rozan nodded and left the dampeners at their default setting. There was a great swirl of colors outside, but Brax was too occupied to notice the beauty of his surroundings. An arc started to form in their path, it would hit the runabout almost instantly. Brax reacted without thinking, he rolled the runabout 90 degrees to port and pitched down at a 45 degree angle from the path of the arc. They just missed it. The second time they weren’t so fortunate. A bolt hit them from starboard. Brax had no way of seeing it, but they all felt it. The runabout jerked violently to port. Without sensors, it was difficult for Brax to determine how far off course they were. The gasses outside were in such a state of flux that Brax wasn’t even sure which direction the Dionysus lay in, let alone the Bolian freighter. He kept his concerns to himself, however, and adjusted his heading using only intuition. He hoped the proximity sensor was still working, as that was the only way they’d know if they reached the freighter. They could be in the plasma storm for weeks if Brax wasn’t able to pinpoint the freighter. He turned to the Commander.

“Is there anything you can do to get me sensors of some kind, it’s not going to be easy to find that freighter.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

Rozan fiddled with the console in front of him, attempting various frequencies, bandwidths, compressions, and a variety of algorithms. Finally, he came up with a plan.

“This runabout is equipped with several Class-1 probes. I think if I can modify three of them to emit a subsonic pulse, and do the same to the runabout’s sensors. We can send out short-range pulses and listen for a return. It’ll be crude, but it should be enough to triangulate a solid object.”

“Sonic pulses? Sounds like sonar. Sound needs an atmosphere,” the Doctor chimed in skeptically.

“Sonar, yeah, and we’re surrounded by gasses as well as plasma, they should be able to carry low frequency sound.”

“Intriguing.”

Rozan set about making the modifications to the probes, while the Doctor lent a hand in making modifications to the Rhine’s own sensors. Brax kept the ship as still as he could while dodging the occasional discharge. He found a fairly quiet place in the storm to wait to launch the probes when Rozan was ready. Before long, Rozan returned from modifying the probes, and launched them in three directions to begin a triangulation procedure.

“Probe one is picking up a solid object, bearing 010 mark 191. Adjusting other probes to close in on the source. We should move the runabout in closer.”

“Aye, sir,” Brax responded.

Brax set the course and began to move the runabout toward the reading. Soon the subsonic pulse of all three probes and the runabout were picking up the same object. They were still a bit far from it, but they were closing on the source along with the probes.

“Got it!” Rozan exclaimed.

“I see it.”

The Bolian freighter came into view through the window at the front of the runabout. Brax slowed down and maneuvered into docking position. He engaged the clamps and extended the docking seal.

“We’re docked, Commander.”

Rozan nodded and attempted a scan of the interior.

“I’m not getting a clear reading of the interior, recommend EV suits until we’re sure they have atmosphere and gravity.”

The trio donned their EV suits and climbed into the airlock. Lieutenant Commander Rozan was the first to go. The three men were all armed, just in case. They didn’t expect any trouble, but they couldn’t be certain. Rozan opened up the hatch to the Bolian freighter and they entered the ship. The artificial gravity net was working, and life support seemed to be functioning, although the lights appeared to be offline. Doctor Selak got out his tricorder and began to scan the interior of the vessel while the other two drew their phasers and checked the immediate vicinity. They found no trace of life.

“I can’t be sure if the tricorder is working, but I’m not picking up any life signs,” the Doctor stated. He tapped a few buttons on his tricorder, “if I’m reading this correctly, there appears to be an unusual radiation signature aboard the ship. It doesn't appear to be dangerous, but I recommend minimizing our exposure. We should split up and search the vessel for survivors before returning. I suggest we not remain here longer than needed.”

Rozan signaled his agreement, and the three split up to search the ship. Lieutenant Brax was the first to see something, but he couldn't be sure what it was. He scanned the area with his tricorder. He could have sworn he saw something moving, but the tricorder registered no bio signs, nothing but that strange radiation. There was a jolt to the ship, followed by a bright flash and a shower of sparks as a power conduit took a direct hit from a plasma discharge. The lights on Brax’s EV suits went out, and his tricorder went dead. He tried signaling the other two officers, but to no avail. He heard the clattering of metal hitting the deck, and he swung around to face the noise. There was another jolt, another discharge, and more sparks. The brief moment of light let him see what had caused the sound. A Bolian was shambling toward him. A wave of fear washed over the Lieutenant. Suddenly, power restored to his suit and he could see the Bolian moving closer. His mouth appeared to be bleeding, and he looked to be in bad shape. He scanned the man with his tricorder, but it sensed nothing from him but that inexplicable radiation. Whoever, or whatever, was coming toward him did not register as alive on his tricorder. He activated his external comm.

“We’re here to help, we’re from a Starfleet vessel just outside the plasma storm, we picked up your distress call.”

The Bolian responded by screaming and lunging at him. Brax reacted quickly, firing his phaser at the man and knocking him back. This only seemed to anger the Bolian. He charged Brax again. Brax fired again and the Bolian halted long enough for Brax to up the setting. He set it to the highest stun setting and fired again. The man went down, but to Brax’s surprise, got right back up. Brax increased the setting to maximum and vaporized the Bolian. Brax signaled his two crew mates over the comm.

“Brax to Selak and Rozan, I’ve had a run-in with what might have been a member of the crew... I think. I had to vaporize him to get him off me.”

There was no response, so he tried again. And again. After several tries to reach them, he scanned for their comm signals. He picked up Rozan’s signal first, and set off in search of him. It didn’t take long to find him, or what was left of him. Three Bolians were surrounding Rozan. His EV suit was torn open, as was his stomach. His guts were partially strewn across the deck, and partially in the mouths of the Bolians. Brax vaporized the three Bolians without a thought. He tried to reach the Doctor again, but all he got was static. Without warning, he felt an incredible urge to take off his helmet. Without thinking, he did. He immediately smelled the stench of rotting flesh and the after-scent of vaporization. He tried to put his helmet back on, but instead he tossed it down the corridor. Slowly, the scent of rotting flesh subsided, and all he could smell was Doctor Selak. He dropped his equipment clumsily and began to walk towards the scent of Doctor Selak. He could barely control his legs. He shambled forward at a slow but steady pace. From out of nowhere, two Bolians joined him in the search for the Doctor. At some point, Brax’s eyes had grown strangely adept at seeing without light. He moved on instinct. He felt an incredible hunger, and somehow he knew that only the Doctor could satisfy him.

He found the Doctor in one of the cargo bays. There were no lights on the Doctor’s EV suit: all the power was drained from his equipment. Several dead Bolians lay at his feet, their heads bashed in by the metal pipe the Doctor was holding. Brax suddenly felt overcome with rage. The Bolians and Brax rushed the Doctor, who saw their movement at the last moment. He swung the metal pipe with all his might and managed to bash the head of the Bolian to Brax’s right. The Bolian to his left made a terrible scream, and Brax was unable to stop himself from doing the same. The hollow screams echoed through the empty cargo hold. Brax and the remaining Bolian lunged at the Doctor, and tore at his EV suit. The Doctor struggled, but Brax and the Bolian overpowered him. They were soon through his suit and uniform, and the strong scent of fresh food filled Brax's nostrils. Selak made an unholy scream, and Brax and the Bolian replied with a horrible, screeching scream of their own. Despite Brax's focused willpower, there was nothing he could do to keep from tearing through the Doctor's flesh and gathering a handful of intestines. The Bolian and him feasted on the Doctor. As they ate, Brax’s consciousness drifted away. He felt a sense of floating, he looked down and saw himself. His body was still eating the Doctor, but he wasn’t looking through his own eyes. He could still taste the Doctor's gore. There was a bright flash as another power conduit erupted in a shower of sparks, and then everything went dark. All Brax could feel was cold. He saw nothing, heard nothing, eventually the taste of fresh blood faded from his mouth as well. He tried to look around, but all he saw was black. Then, even the sense of cold faded. One final scream echoed through the hollow chamber, and then there was nothing.

Ensign Damian Fleming

Helm Officer

USS Mercury

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