Merlin Iavarone ran a hand over his time ravaged face. They were on their way home. While the Miranda Class, SS Kensington was nearly a hundred years old, it had successfully managed to make the run between Alpha Eridani and Qualor on time for nearly a decade. While there was faster craft that did the supply runs between the Federation Outposts that sat opposite the Demilitarised Zone, Merlin and his twelve-man crew preferred the civilian cargo run between the colonies, and after a year continuously on the run, they were ready for some much wanted leave.
“Helen what’s our ETA?” Merlin asked before he fixed his grey jumpsuit, he thumbed the small grime-encrusted identity badge that sat in the normal location of a Federation combadge.
The young Terran woman manning the helm console turned her seat and smiled at her grandfather. “At warp six we are still three days, and that is keeping the engines running at near maximum.”
“So we are going to need that overhaul then?” Merlin asked, Helen nodded. “Well in that case, Tovan, radio Ferosa and tell them we will be three days.”
The aging Rigellian nodded before he turned back to his console to carry out the order as Merlin stood from the raised centre seat to stand between the viewscreen and the front control consoles. He stood with his back to the rest of the crew and gazed out at the stars that sped past the ship. Unlike newer vessels, with holographic viewscreen’s, the Kensington had an old fashioned window, not that Merlin minded.
A young Bajoran manning the tactical console interlaced her fingers and smiled when an impressive crack emanated from them. “Well, personally, I am looking forward to our time off.”“Not all of us will have that luxury, Kirana,” the captain said before the communications console started beeping, as a unit the bridge crew looked at the Rigellian.
“There is an automated distress signal coming from the Netares system.”
Merlin’s expression changed. “Are there any Starfleet vessels in the area?”
Tovan inspected the screen in front of him, “Three, the Olympia, and the Kronstadt are patrolling the DMZ and the Yalta is resupplying Outpost K-12, but we are the closest vessel by far.”Merlin nodded, he knew what had to be done. “Relay the distress call to those ships informing them that we are responding and tag it in the log. Helen replot our course to Netares, maximum warp. Kirana, take us to Red Alert.”
The Kensington re-entered real space to the sound of alarms. “Well, that’s unexpected. Harrison, what is going on down here?” Merlin asked as he pressed the intercom button on his command chair.
“I don’t know what to tell you dad, the engines had it. For starters the dilithium matrix needs to be re-energised,” reported the chief engineer over warning klaxons and alert sirens.
Merlin frowned. “Could this have been avoided?”The captain could almost hear the disbelief in his son’s voice. “Dad, this is a hundred year old warp core. The fact that it hadn’t screwed the pooch before now was a miracle. But in my professional opinion, we are not going anywhere without new crystals at the very least.”
Merlin scowled before he turned to the helm station. “Take us into orbit of the planet the distress call originated from, the best thing we can do is lend what assistance we can.”
He turned to face Tovan. “Broadcast a distress signal to those Federation ships. Hopefully one of them can assist us when they arrive.”
“Aye,” Helen remarked before the ship slowly made its way towards the second planet in the system.
“Captain, I have tried raising the source of the distress signal, but I’m not picking up anything now, but there appears to be a settlement on the southern continent,” Tovan reported while he scrutinised his instruments.
Merlin turned and headed to the turbolift at the rear of the bridge. “Kirana with me, have Doctor Kingdom meet me in the transporter room, we’ll be beaming down as soon as we are in range, Tovan, you have the ship. I’ll radio up once I find out anything.”
“Of course, Merlin, I will keep the ship safe.”
Three white pillars rematerialized in a courtyard outside a large prefabricated structure. The only sound that was present was a faint howl of wind as it whipped between the small cloister of buildings. By all appearances, they were the only people on the planet.
“Steve, is your tricorder picking up anyone?” Merlin asked as Kirana slung her disruptor rifle over her shoulder.
Doctor Steven Kingdom looked down at the battered old pattern tricorder, he then smacked the side of it with his hand. “I’m picking up indeterminate readings in that communications building over there. But nothing to make up for the number of colonists for a settlement of this size.”
Merlin shrugged before he drew his old, Federation-issue phaser and gestured towards the reading the doctor picked up. “Well it’s a start.”
The three crewmembers carefully walked through the empty settlement, eyes peered at every corner, every shadow in search for any trace of the people that sent the distress call. They scanned rooftops and alleys, Merlin’s old Starfleet training, while four decades out to date still told him that something wasn’t right.“Shuttle,” Kirana reported as she pointed towards an older pattern shuttle that sat discarded just beyond a row of buildings. Compared to the settlement, the craft appeared new. “Federation Type Five. No warp drive. Short range at best, from here it looks beat up. Those things need mother ships.”
Merlin shook his head, as they approached the location that Dr Kingdom’s tricorder had indicated the life signs where, a large central administration building resided. “Things aren’t right here.”
Kirana unslung her disruptor rifle and hunched her posture slightly. “I don’t like this, is there a chance that this colony is long abandoned and someone forgot to turn off the lights?”
Merlin nodded slowly as they approached the open door, “It is possible, but we should still look. And if it is a false alarm, we need to deactivate the distress beacon.”
A sound within the building cause the trio to jump before they turned to Doctor Kingdom. The Doctor had already started scrutinising his tricorder before he shrugged. “I can’t tell you anything new,” he said, cursing at his antiquated equipment.
They approached the main door, Merlin thumped against the side of the doorframe. “Hello? Anyone here? There was a distress call from this settlement?”The automatic door to the building slowly slid open, a dishevelled man emerged.
“Oh yeah, thanks, we’ve been in that shuttle for weeks with failing systems. When we found this abandoned settlement. It was lucky that the transmitter worked.”
Merlin raised an eyebrow but otherwise appeared positive, “Lucky we were in the area, how many of you?”
“Just two, I don’t suppose you could give us a ride to the nearest populated settlement?”
The aging captain looked over to his tactical officer, Kirana shrugged, “Sure, we don’t have much but we can spare enough. What’s your name friend?”
The dishevelled man smiled before he stepped out of the doorway, “Christian, Jacob Christian,”
Merlin smiled as he pressed the communicator on his belt, “Kensington its Merlin, prepare to beam up the survivors.”
“Understood Captain, standing by.”
Merlin looked back at Jacob who was still smiling. “We have food, and a doctor to treat your injuries. We don’t have a lot but what we have, we can share.”
Jacob smiled, “That will be mighty appreciated,” he remarked before he looked back into the building, as two other equally dishevelled people, a man and a woman emerged.
“Kensington, six to beam up,”
Merlin did not have enough time to realise something was wrong before he felt something sharp jab him in the small of his back. The aging man looked down and saw the point of a blade poke through his chest. He gurgled before Jacob stripped the aging captain of his phaser, and used it to strike down the transporter operator.
Kirana reacted slightly faster. She drew her slung disruptor rifle, only to feel the warmth of a phaser blast to the chest before she could raise it. She slumped to the deck as Jacob gestured to his compatriot’s. “Beam up our friends.” Jacob turned to the doctor and smiled with a sadistic undertone. He paused long enough to remove the curved blade from the small of Merlin’s back and wipe it clean with the captain’s jumpsuit. “Now, doctor, I doubt we are going to have any problems with you are we?”
Dr Kingdom stepped back in reflex. He pressed himself against the rear of the transporter alcove, “You won’t get far. They were saying the warpdrive was blown.”
Jacob shook his head as he grabbed the doctor by his arm. He yanked the Doctor off of the transporter pad before six additional pillars of light manifested, “But you forget doctor, we drew you here with a distress signal, that plan can work again.”
The doctor recoiled as Jacob turned to the newcomers, he tossed the pilfered hand phaser towards one while another picked up the rifle from Kirana’s lifeless hands. “You three, secure engineering.” He pointed to the three remaining new arrivals. “Head to what this tub considers an armoury and then sweep the ship. Bring everyone you find to the cargo bay.”
He turned to his original companions and pointed to the cowering middle aged man in the corner. “We are heading to the bridge, I think we need to reacquaint the good doctor with his friends.”
“So, dad is it the intermix chamber or the injectors?” Helen asked while she reclined back in her seat at the navigation/flight control console that ringed the front of the bridge.
“It’s the entire dilithium reactant matrix, the stresses of a hundred year old warp core just couldn’t take the sudden jump we made to get here. It’s fractured what crystals we did have and damaged the whole core. There are micro-fractures over the whole assembly,” her father replied from Engineering.
Helen sighed, her fathers diagnosis meant that the ship wasn’t going anywhere. “So can we fix it?”
She heard her father laugh hollowly. “Not without a drydock and a completely new warpcore, I can only do so much with bailing twine and paperclips…” he paused as something in engineering caught his attention. “Who are you and what are you doing in…Hey what are you doing…” a pained scream punctuated the conversation as disrupter fire and screaming echoed through engineering.
“Dad? Dad! What’s going on down there?” Helen called looking over to Tovan who still manned the communications station.
The aging Rigellian cut the channel while he attempted to raise Kirana or any other member of the shore party. When his queries were met with silence he looked to Helen. “We should secure the bridge, I fear something has happened on the planet, I’ll try to contact one of those Starfleet ships we picked up on sensors.”
Helen nodded and hurried over to the tactical station at the rear of the bridge. Before she could make it across the deck, the turbolift doors opened. A battered and dishevelled Doctor Steven Kingdom emerged, he fell on the floor in front of it.
“Doctor, are you alright? What happened down on the planet?” Tovan asked as he got up from his station to see to his old colleague.
A figure emerged from the turbolift, brandishing a large serrated knife. “Your little landing party encountered a slight obstacle when down on the planet.”
“Who are you?” Helen asked, her voice faltered, “Were is my grandfather?”
The figure approached her, a malicious smile etched on his face. “Your grandfather encountered a slight hiccup, and won’t be joining us.” He balanced the knife between his hands as more unknown men entered the bridge. Two grabbed Tovan and started to drag him away as the leader approached Helen. Helen, to her credit maintained her position at the tactical station, her hands balled to fists as the ringleader stood in front of her.
“What do you plan on doing?” she asked, betrayed by the shaking in her voice.
He smirked as he brought the blade close to Helen’s face and ran its serrated tip across her skin. “We are going to use this ship as a lure to get one of those big, powerful Federation ships to use against their own government. And you are going to help us.” Suddenly he whipped the blade away from Helen’s face and turned towards one of his subordinates. “Take her down to the cargo hold with the rest of the crew. Let’s see what we can learn from them by the time help arrives.”