Echoes and Effigies
Timeline: Mission Day 3 at 2003
[MD 3: 2003 hours]
Doctor Bracco had stepped into the lift and ordered her destination: the deck 2 mess. While Debbie's was charming in its own right, she wasn't in the mood for a loud, crowded diner tonight. Instead, she'd brought some work with her on a PADD and planned to enjoy a quiet dinner alone with her thoughts.
As the car rose from the lower decks to the upper, a few people came and went during the ride. Most people might silently stand there, pretending to still be alone in the car, but that wasn't the Doctor's way. Jennifer smiled to each person in turn on entry, offered them a quick hello, and then bade them goodnight when they exited the lift at their destination. It was a friendly enough exchange, even if short-lived, and helped her to feel connected to the crew.
The lift again began to slow, signaling that someone else must be about to get on. Jennifer affixed a smile in preparation of greeting but, as the doors swished open, she found herself staring into the maw of a verdant beast. Her smile slipped as Jennifer visibly gulped. It wasn't that she didn't know a Gorn was onboard: in fact, she'd been meaning to introduce herself. But it was more the surprise of the matter and, somewhere in the back of her brain, a tingling fear over being in such a confined space with someone who could eat her.
"I...uh...well," Jennifer over-laughed nervously, reaching up a hand to run through her hair, "hello there. Pleasant evening?" she asked, subconsciously backing away to give the Gorn more room to enter and take up space.
Lieutenant Gar'rath plodded into the turbolift, nodding briefly to the woman who had shifted over a bit farther than required to make room for him. Once his large frame had cleared the door and he'd made the full circle to face it once more, he declared the destination he'd had in mind before turning his head just slightly to the side and down to regard the stammering woman that was his temporary companion.
"Hello," the Gorn's resonating voice filled the small lift, "I'm not sure how to respond to your question though. If you are inquiring about something in particular, I'm afraid I'm unaware of what that might be. Small talk is very much a mammalian habit, one I'm still struggling to master."
"That's fair," Jennifer nodded slowly. While Earth was the center of the Federation, it didn't mean that all members of Starfleet were fluent in Earth customs. "I was just wondering about your night. Are you off duty and headed to dinner somewhere?" Without thinking, she continued backing up until the wall of the turbolift met her back: there was nowhere else to go, it seemed. At the bump, the Counselor became aware of her subconscious movement and took a step forward, demanding her body stand up straight but appear relaxed; fluid even. It was not at all professional to let something like an alien's appearance rile her own lizard brain into making fearful choices with her body language.
"I see..." the Gorn said thoughtfully, "Would it not be easier to simply ask the question directly? Is it in the nature of all mammals to be vague about their intentions?"
"Not everyone prefers directness. In my experience, it's better to start vague," Jennifer smiled back nervously, "and once the conversation gets going, get progressively more specific. It's a habit you pick up as a therapist, I suppose. Comes with my line of work," she nodded and then stretched out a hand. "Lieutenant Jennifer Bracco. Ship's Counselor. And you are?"
"Lieutenant Gar'rath, Chief of Operations," the Gorn replied to the woman's inquiry, "My people do not engage in vague exchanges, directness is valued and brevity is appreciated.”
“Well then,” Bracco smiled, “I’ll definitely be sure to keep that in mind. It’s nice to meet you, Lieutenant.” While used to talking in a professional therapist-to-client sense, awkward meetings in turbolifts didn’t always make for the best first impressions. She’d been about to ask the Gorn about himself to break the ice but a familiar voice stalled her as it came over the comm.
"This is Captain Kodak to all hands. We've encountered a medical threat that necessitates locking down the crew and sheltering in place until it's safe to come out. Wherever you are, stay put. If you're currently on your way somewhere, find the closest place to shelter for the time being. Once conditions are once again safe, we will communicate a lift to the lockdown. This is not a drill. Kodak out."
At those words, the turbolift suddenly came to a screeching, emergency stop. The cessation of movement was swift enough to slightly lift Bracco off her feet for a moment. The doors did not open out onto a deck, as one might expect, and the lighting in the side windows of the lift seemed to indicate the car had stopped between decks.
“Not the most favorable of places to be in an emergency…” Gar’rath grumbled after the lift had settled itself after the rather uncomfortable stop, “While I am not against obeying orders, this may not be the best pace to do so. Perhaps we should egress and find suitable shelter in another location.”
“I’d much rather be stuck in the Mess than a turbolift,” Bracco nodded, apparently in agreement. She reached up with one hand to nervously scratch at a shoulder. “Computer, emergency override, Bracco Delta Nu twelve Epsilon. Take us to the Mess Hall, please.”
”Unable to comply,” came the computer’s response. ”All turbolifts have been brought to an emergency halt due to a shipwide lockdown.”
“I know, I know,” Bracco held up staying hands to Gar’rath. “I didn’t really expect that to work but had to try. Can you reach the upper hatch?” she asked the Gorn, who was much taller than she was. “Maybe we can climb out of here?” Bracco asked helpfully.
The Gorn reached up and pushed the emergency hatch up, revealing the rather cavernous turboshaft above them. Without saying anything beforehand, Gar’rath hoisted the comparatively lithe woman up, bringing the hatch well within reach for her to climb onto the roof of the lift. Once she was on the roof and clear of the opening, the reptilian officer crouched down and sprang upward, seizing the roof of the car and crawling through it, the opening just wide enough to slide through.
“By the looks of it, one deck up should get us close enough to the mess. Follow me,” the Gorn said, grasping the handholds that lined the shaft. Contrary to his bulky appearance, Gar’rath ambled up the makeshift ladder quickly, giving him plenty of time to force the lift doors open and making his way into the corridor before his companion had made it up to meet him.
“Hopefully there will be some personnel in the mess nearby,” the Gorn commented. “It may be a good idea to arm ourselves from the emergency storage panel up ahead just in case…”
“Agreed,” Bracco breathed, still recovering from being suddenly lifted without warning. She’d been able to grab the opening and hoist herself up with the Gorn’s help, then watched with wonder as the Gorn leapt, scrambled, climbed, and got them into the next deck up.
From where they were now, Jennifer could see the storage locker inset into the wall just down the way a bit. She got her legs going and, with the Gorn behind her, opened the locker and picked up the two phasers on offer, handing one back to Gar’rath. She also handed out the two tricorders she found and grabbed the emergency medical kit: with a medical crisis going on, who knew what they would find in the Mess?
Movement from the corner of Bracco’s eye drew her attention to the left. There was a person there, down the hall a bit. She was facing in the opposite direction so the Counselor called out, “Hey! Are you alright?” Jennifer stepped forward, intending to meet the officer halfway, but gasped in surprise as a force field flashed in her face, its energy repelling her a few steps.
The crewmember turned to face them, jumping back at the flash. “Oh! Sorry! I would have warned you about that, but I didn’t notice you coming. There’s another one about ten meters that way.” She waved backward down the corridor. “I’ve been stuck in here since the lockdown went in effect. It seems . . . weird, though. To trap someone in an empty corridor instead of letting them get to safety first. Right? Unless something really weird is going on?” She, an ensign by the pips on her collar, looked up at Bracco, eyes wide and only widening a little more when she spied the Gorn standing next to her.
The Gorn’s eyelids slid closed just a bit as he contemplated the situation. Given the location, even if the Ensign were to access the emergency rations in the corridor panel, at most it would last her a day or so. Hardly the ideal situation given how little they actually knew about what had caused the lockdown in the first place. As he pondered the situation, his hand slid down to the pouch where the tricorder he’d been given rested. He idly flipped it open and scanned the bulkhead, mainly because he hadn’t memorized every corner of the ship nor was he ever actually going to bother to do so. When the tricorder found the item he’d been looking for, Gar’rath pulled the counselor backward by the shoulder until she was clear of his intended target and advanced on the nearby bulkhead seam.
Sharp claws flashed, sinking into the composite material that encased the corridor seam, revealing the interior mechanical parts that were normally invisible and all but forgotten by the crew as they passed by. Once the hole was large enough, the Operations Officer yanked on a coupling that was just beneath the wound in the wall, which caused the forcefield barring their way to fizzle rather angrily before collapsing.
“Had to be done,” the Gorn signed, “though I doubt the team I send to fix this later will appreciate that.”
Gar’rath turned to his former turbolift companion, “Shouldn’t be much farther until we reach the mess area on this deck. Keep an eye out for anyone else in the side corridors… just in case.”
The reptilian turned to the Ensign who was now freed from the rather bizarre forcefield trap, “Follow us.”
“Oh. Okay. Um, where are we going?” The Ensign’s gaze flicked between Bracco and the Gorn, looking for answers though Gar’rath had already turned away. She squared her shoulders and nervously smoothed the front of her uniform as she hurried to catch up. “I’m Mei, by the way. Mei Ratthi. I’m an anthropologist. Do you know what’s going on? Why are we in a lockdown that’s randomly trapping people in corridors?”
“I’m sure, given the circumstances,” Jennifer smiled at Gar’rath, “that the repair crew will understand. Impressive work, Lieutenant,” she offered to the man. To Mei, she turned and said, “Nice to meet you, Ensign. I’m Jennifer Bracco, ship’s counselor,” she replied, falling into step alongside the Gorn. “And this is Gar’rath, our Chief of Operations,” the woman explained to Mei as they walked. “I’m afraid details are a bit sketchy at this point. Some kind of medical situation is happening, requiring a lockdown. We got stuck in a turbolift, but were close enough to this deck that we decided to head for the Mess to wait the situation out. Do you think there will be others there?” Jennifer turned to ask Gar’rath.
“It is the most defensible position on this deck, so it is not impossible that others headed there when the lockdown was announced. If there aren’t,” the Gorn shrugged, “We will make do.” Leading the way, Lt. Gar’rath plodded down the corridor, his massive reptilian head swiveling side to side as the group crossed t-junctions and intersecting corridors, weary of ambushes or trapped crew. His gaze would occasionally drift behind him to check on the two mammals he had in tow.
Their slow march ended in front of the mess, which didn’t open immediately upon their approach. With a practiced hand, the Operations Officer pulled the concealed panel that housed the manual door release and activated the mechanism, popping the door ajar just slightly. Gar’rath held up a hand to indicate his companions to stay where they were before he peered through the opening. His reptilian eyes caught no hint of movement, and after several long seconds, he made the decision to open the doors fully. Wedging his powerful clawed hands into the gap, the Gorn pushed the door wide, poking his head in just long enough to confirm his earlier suspicions.
“Empty,” he declared before moving to push the manual release cover that led into the compartment he had just breached open before replacing the one outside the mess.
“Get in, I’ll mind the door and close it behind us,” Gar’rath ordered, his eyes surveying the corridor rather than settling on his two companions.
“Is the Mess usually empty this time of day? I was just planning to take a look around. I haven’t been up here yet. I’ve just gone to Debbie’s since I got here..” Mei cast a hesitant glance into the room beyond the door before slipping past Gar’rath and going inside. It was, as promised, empty. The tables were clean and the chairs pushed in; the replicators were lit in their normal ready state. Even the generic plant in the corner looked perfectly tidy. It was like someone had cleaned the place up for the night and forgotten to turn out the lights before they left.
“Hello?” Mei’s voice seemed small in the empty space, like she half-expected someone to jump out from behind a chair or come crashing through the ceiling.
Jennifer, meanwhile, had her tricorder out. The device emitted soft trilling sounds as it scanned the surrounding area. “Empty now but there were people here. Not long ago, judging from what I see here,” she gestured with the scanner. “Looks like they went through there,” the doctor said, pointing towards the closed hatch of a jefferies tube inset into the far wall. “I’m also picking up a transporter trace. Curious that people aren’t staying put during a lockdown. But then again, I guess we’re guilty of that, too,” Jennifer said, referring to their sojourn from the turbolift. “If there truly is an emergency going on, it may be best to stay put here.”
“I don’t think this is a normal kind of lockdown. Unless normal lockdowns strand people in the middle of corridors,” Mei said, slowly making a circuit of the room’s main area on her way to the jefferies tube hatch Bracco had indicated. She knelt in front of it and rested her hand on it, like she was testing for heat or cold or something. There was nothing strange, though. It was just an ordinary hatch. “Are we really going to stay here, then? Or are we going to try to find out where everyone went, or what’s going on?”
“Something is certainly amiss,” the Gorn said after securing the door behind them, “However it is likely not something that the three of us can readily solve by crawling through the interior of the ship and making blind guesses as to the nature of the anomalous situation we find ourselves in. No hunt was ever successful when attempted blind.”
“A colorful metaphor but an apt point,” Bracco nodded to Gar’rath. “Mei,” the Counselor used the woman’s first name to spark connection, “I agree with you: this doesn’t seem like a normal lockdown. But Lieutenant Gar’rath makes a good point: we’re hardly equipped to operate in the dark. Let’s hunker down here for now,” she said, her voice containing trace amounts of grit. “I don’t like staying put but it makes the most sense for now. Why don’t we all get to know one another? I don’t know about the rest of you but I haven’t had dinner yet and, well,” she chuckled, “we’re surrounded by replicators. Might as well take advantage, eh?”
And with that, the group decided to sit and wait out the crisis, hopeful for an update soon that the lockdown had been lifted.
=/\= A joint-post by… =/\=
Lieutenant Jennifer Bracco
Acting Ship's Counselor
Chief Operations Officer
Ensign Mei Ratthi