Chapter 26: Port in a Laser Storm
As the team followed the Romulans into the green building, Briar was dubious at first, anxiously looking all around. She saw no reason the drone attacks wouldn’t follow them inside. But for some reason, they seemed to circle away outside and make no attempts on the building. “What is this place?” She asked as she caught her breath.
For his part, erei’arrain Lannar i-Baratan t’Vora was conflicted. While he had concluded that the drones on this planet were not of Starfleet make, and that the lloann’na were merely victims here, there were other possible explanations. Unwilling to leave them to their fate, he had directed the survivors of his team to assist, yet doubt continued to pull at the edges of his mind. They were more numerous and, if they believed the attack to be Rihannsu in origin, his decision to aid them would most certainly have dire consequences.
Compunction notwithstanding, Lannar decided that he couldn’t change previous decisions, and that it was best to step forward – which he did. “The purpose of this facility is unknown,” he stated in response. “Yet the defenses appear disinterested in it, or in what it contains.” His guess was that it was some sort of monitoring station, alike to those utilized by security forces on ch’Rihan – many screens and channels were present, implying that its purpose was in surveillance and oversight. “What is Starfleet’s business here?”
Briar generally was of the mind to trust people until they’d proven differently, and so far it seemed as if this Romulan and his company had been willing to risk themselves to bring them to shelter. She was minded to be plain. “We’re here in answer to a distress call from a Federation ship, the Lorrenz. My name is Commander Briar Elin, Second Officer aboard the USS Hiroshima.” Still catching her breath, Briar pointed to Merin as the Trill woman was occupied with checking on her team as they were still being led inside. “That’s Commander Merin Mez, our first officer.”
The woman appeared the very soul of Federation naivete, which could prove little more than a ploy to take him off guard. Lannar, for the moment, chose to think it genuine. “Erei’arrain Lannar,” he replied, leaving the far more revealing and personal parts of his name aside. It was no small thing to share a full name; most outsiders knew next to nothing about Rihannsu names, and his people were in no hurry to fill in that particular void in their knowledge. “Science Officer of the Imperial Warbird, Lioraennhe’le.” He surmised that she knew as little about his ship as he did hers, for her Heer-osh’ma was strangely named, and completely foreign to him. “What was Lorrenz’s business here?” This, he asked with faux authority, mostly to get her to rule out theories of sinister motives by the stricken ship.
“As far as I’m aware, it was on a deep space survey mission,” said Briar, looking away in thought. As she had shared with Yearling, the Lorrenz wasn’t the first survey mission in this region, although she kept that thought to herself, as the one she had been on years prior in the neighboring system wasn’t on any official record, probably necessitating the second as the space was considered uncharted.
Lannar thought about that for a moment or two. It was quite plausible that the planet was a danger, in and of itself, and that the Star Empire had no need to be suspicious of the loann’na presence. “I truly hope that is true. These drones, then, were unknown to you?” After all, they still could prove to be a weapon system test gone awry.
“The distress message indicated they had run afoul of ‘advanced molecular biotech’, Briar repeated back. “That was the extent of our knowledge. Before the drones attacked us, our Captain informed us the Hiroshima detected nanites on some of the Lorrenz’s debris picked up in orbit.”
She shouldn’t have been listening in, and definitely should have restrained herself from speaking, but it was difficult for science technicians to be anything but openly vocal about discovery. Perhaps a bit eagerly, yet unable to help herself, Khaire t’Sae interjected, “We discovered nanite superfluid containers in here.” As she did so, she pointed to a storage room to the side.
Accustomed to her way, Lannar was a bit too permissive with specialist T’Sae. The simplest explanation was that he was quite besotted, but it was more. She had a brilliant mind, and he respected that about her. For this, more than his feelings, he indulged her openness – at least, that is what he’d convinced himself.
Unholstering her tricorder, Briar looked to the woman pointing out the containers and went with her to look more closely at the set up. Installed in large brackets, it was an established fixture designed into the building, so Briar thought it wasn’t a stretch to think it possibly part of the purpose of the place. It looked a little like a miniature player pipe organ as it was arranged in rows. She counted sixteen containment units over all. They were cylinders with smaller tubes suspended inside. But as she got closer it was clear that three of the sixteen cylinders were devoid of the tubes they were designed to contain. Briar bit her lip and looked back at the Romulan woman who had pointed this installation out. They exchanged a look that, in any language, translated to this being a very bad sign for everyone.
“I take it those were missing when you got here.” Briar surmised, with a little dark wit.
“We only just discovered them,” T’Sae answered. “We hope to perform analysis of the contents, but are, to this point, unable to create a stable laboratory environment. Initial readings did not uncover any inherent threat,” she added, even though she suspected the Federation hand scanner device would give the same information. “The contents appear to be a liquid metallic substrate containing nanotechnology of unknown purpose and characteristics. It does not appear to be of Borg origin, however.”
“I suppose that’s a relief,” rescinded Briar. “Although Borg at least would have been a devil-we-know…”
Since erei’arrain Lannar had followed the two women, he listened in earnest. Either Commander Elin was a good liar, or she truly did not know what they were up against in this scenario. The latter seemed far more likely, as the lloann’na were not known for any particular proficiency or capability with nanotechnology. If pressed, he would have to admit that he’d actually hoped for this entire situation to have been an accident, rather than some sinister plot to place the Rihannsu Stelam Shiar (Romulan Star Empire) at risk. “We do suspect that the suspension is capable of metastasis into the drones that we encountered.”
“So you’re saying the gloop in here can shapeshift into those flying phasers out there?” Gavin quickly waved the point of his rifle from the direction of the canisters back to the outside they’d just retreated from. Not that he had much reason to doubt the Romulan, as he hadn’t had much experience with Romulans at all as a matter of fact, except for their decidedly deceitful reputations, but gosh, reputations are easily gotten wrong. It was the shapeshifting part that got him worried. It wasn’t too long ago they’d been fighting the Dominion War, and shapeshifters were still a clear threat to him, albeit one long past to his fellow security comrades. Sometimes he forgot he was a man out of time.
“We believe that to be the case, yes,” Lannar replied, making the assumption that, by “goop,” the young human meant, “liquid metallic nanite substrate of unknown origin or purpose,” which, coincidentally, was how his team had officially labeled the substance…
…Tannock, in his gruff no-nonsense Tellarite fashion, looked for ways to reinforce their position and provide cover from further attacks. “Do we have an idea of how many drones there are? And are they all of the same type?” He made notes on his tricorder.
“They don’t show up on our scanners,” Kevax, a junior xenobiologist with the barely controlled energy of someone who’d just been shot at for the first time, replied. He didn’t want to take his eyes off the entrance. Every sound from outside sounded like a drone. “And they all look alike, with the same weapons.”
Tannock nodded. “That is to our advantage at least. If we can work out their limitations. Have any of them been destroyed? If so, is there wreckage we can investigate?”
“We destroyed two, possibly three,” a rihanha (Romulan) replied. “But it is almost as if it melted…” He thought for a moment, and then looked toward the metallic substrate in the containers that had attracted the attention of the science lead and one of the loann’na officers. “Much like that liquid, to my eye.”
The Tellarite frowned. “Such technological knowledge is beyond me. But could it be some sort of nanomaterial?”
“Is, not could be,” the rihanha clarified. “Yet its nature is, to this point, unspecified.” While it was easy to presume that the substance was one and the same as that which transformed into drones, they had not proven that to be a fact. It was possible, even probable, that there were differing purposes and applications of nanotechnology in use on this planet. More investigation was surely required.
Tannock (NPCed by Cielj)
Lannar (NPCed by Hanmore)
Gavin McWest (NPCed by Darney)
Kevak (NPCed by Yearling)
Lt Cmdr Briar Elin, Chief of Operations