Lieutenant William Johnson checked over the modifications that he and the other engineers had made to the sleeper ship’s systems during the past twenty-four hours. The Optimum engineer from Lisley original report hadn’t been exaggerating when she said there were problems with the cryo-stasis chambers. All the chambers in the control room were non-functional and had to be completely disconnected to prevent them causing a power drain. It looked like this was the solution the Optimum engineers had decieded to employ too since the work was already half completed when Johnson and his team had started. Unfortunately, while the other eighty or so other chambers on the ship weren’t completely non-functional in the other sections they were dangerously unstable. It was likely that disconnecting them was going to be the Optimum engineers’ solution here too, but it was a solution that Johnson couldn’t employ. He had to get at least under thirty percent of them working and ensure they continued working for the next three hundred years with no input or maintenance. The task was daunting, but it wasn’t without precedent. Khan and his followers had been preserved for over two hundred and seventy years using similar equipment and there was even a report that Picard’s first Enterprise had revived a group of humans from cryo-stasis from around the same period as Khan had originated too. Johnson found that report a little too incredible to completely believe. Those systems would have had to continue functioning for a century longer than the Botany Bay’s had and he’d seen no evidence that they would work for anywhere near that long. In his estimation the three hundred and twenty one years that Lex was asking for was pushing it further than he was comfortable with, especially as the systems he had to work with didn’t seem to have ever worked properly in the first place.
The issues with the cryo-stasis units was also indicative of a larger problem with the ship overall. In Johnson’s opinion, the ship had been constructed quickly and therefore rushed. In the first hour alone the engineering team had uncovered and repaired twenty-seven minor faults in systems ranging from the gravity plating to the impulse drive. The worst affected had been communications system and the launch controls.
James Dulmis had found a work around for the communications problem. The system itself was capable of transmission, but there was no way to create or store a message, so he’d modified the transmitters to send short bursts of signal instead. This essentially turned the signal itself into the message using an archaic form of communication Dulmis had called Morse code. The Captain devised the message itself so that only someone on the USS Argus would understand it and Dulmis had hardwired the sequence into the system. They’d then set it to target the Argus’ position as it approached Deep Space Six and start transmitting a full six years before the ship reached there, thanks to the system being radio wave based and Ganoris system being six light years from the Starbase.
On the other hand, the launch controls were a much bigger issue. Put simply, they were missing and as far as Johnson could tell the only way to launch the ship was from the launch control room in the base and that meant someone was staying behind.
You mean you’re staying behind, he thought to himself. He wasn’t planning to get trapped on twenty-first century Earth as he’d purposefully ensured that the Defender’s surviving shuttlepod had been spared, instead cannibalising the shuttlecraft White for the spare parts they needed. Either ship would have been suitable for use getting him aboard the sleeper ship once it had been launched but the White had the more powerful warp drive needed to create the warp field that would reduce the journey time and stave of the effects of relativity.
The sleeper ship’s docking port had also had to be retrofitted to allow the shuttlepod to dock, but this had needed to be done anyway as Commander Sheridan’s security system prevented anyone from beaming in. The only way that anyone was getting onto this ship after it had been launched was via a Starfleet shuttlecraft, and even then it would take one constructed in the 24th century.
Johnson finished checking the cryo-stasis systems, finally happy that they seemed to be working properly. He would have to suggest to Captain Lex that both Hans Conrad and Alyson Grey receive commendations for their work here. Jury-rigging twenty-fourth century technology from the White into the system to stabilise it and help it stand the test of time wasn’t easy and they’d achieved it with plenty of time to spare.
It’s about time I broke the bad news to him about the launch controls too, he thought heading toward the exit.
Jonozia Lex once again found himself staring up at the hull of the sleeper ship, but his focus wasn’t on the ship. In fact it wasn’t really on anything, he was just staring blankly, numb. Momentarily his eyes fixed on the large black lettering on the hull of the ship that spelled out its name.
He found himself with a sudden yearning for his own ship, separated from him by both distance and time. He wanted to feel the vibration of her engines through the deck plates, the slightest change in which every captain could feel, such was the intimacy between him and his ship. It was a relationship that Sara had commented on being a little jealous of on more than one occasion.
His thoughts shifted to his wife and the smile that he’d seen on the very first day they’d met. Just seeing her smile that way always brighten his day no matter how bad it had been. It was one of her most endearing qualities and one of the reasons he loved her so much.
I’m not sure even Sara’s smile could make me feel better right now.
His mind drifted back to the present, he would be reunited with Sara soon enough. Lex was now mourning the deaths of two more of his crew, Charlotte Jones and Christopher Flemming. Flemming had been beaten to death after trying to prevent the guards from molesting Jones, who had herself been killed shortly after because Lisley wouldn’t talk. His thoughts moved to three days earlier when he had quietly vowed that the death of Raymond Maxwell would be that last. He hadn’t and it hurt all the more because of it.
His gaze once again settled on the sleeper ship as he looked for hope that this was still the right course, that these deaths hadn’t been completely pointless. Instead, all he saw was a weapon, something created to spread the Optimum’s sickness to the stars. Unable to see past it he started to imagine standing in the missile silo in Montana ten years from now, looking up at the Phoenix and feeling the potential of humanity’s future. It didn’t work. This ship simply hadn’t been created for such a noble purpose and here and now that future felt very distant indeed.
Kate Sheridan approached and stood beside Lex, careful not to disturb his train of thought as there was nothing urgent she had to report. Lex had been quiet and subdued in the hours since they’d rescued the surviving members of Beta team and it wasn’t a side of him that Kate had seen much of before. Putting distance between himself and those under his command wasn’t the way that Lex usually operated, instead earning the respect of those he led by being out going and approachable.
“Is it done, Commander?” enquired Lex. Kate had been so lost in her own thoughts that she hadn’t noticed he he’d registered her presence.
“Yes, Captain,” she replied. “The request for help has been transmitted and reinforcements should arrive in just under 18 hours as they should.”
“Good,” replied Lex.
After witnessing the atrocities committed against the members of Lisley’s team, the idea of bringing a large force of Optimum soldiers down on their position seemed crazy, but the arrival of the re-enforcements in response to an attack on the base was well documented and had to be preserved to ensure the integrity of the timeline.
An uncomfortable silence settled between Sheridan and Lex and Kate wasn’t sure if he had something further to say or whether she should leave him be.
“Incredible, isn’t it?” he said eventually. “Those who survive the next twenty four hours will face some of the most terrible times in human history. Even if you manage to avoid becoming a victim of the post atomic horror, you’ll still face some of the harshest weather since the last ice age.”
“The nuclear winter was devastating,” replied Kate, “but at least it sorted out the global warming problem.”
Lex looked away from the ship to her and she gave him a weak smile. He returned it and then his face returned to the emotionless façade it had held before.
“How’s Commander Lisley,” he said, the emotion missing from his voice as well.
Ah, thought Kate, now we’re getting to the root of what’s troubling him.
Lex wasn’t the only one who had been dwelling on the horror they’d found when they’d raided the bunker to free Lisley and her team. Kate still couldn’t quite grasp how close she’d come to irreparably altering history as a result of what she’d seen. The urge to remove one of history’s greatest monsters had been overwhelming.
“She’s resting,” Kate replied. “The Doctor gave her a sedative and suppressed her dreams. He’s also managed to repair her broken ribs and the fracture around her left eye socket. However, his dermal regenerator ran out of power before he could repair the cut above her right eye. He says it’ll scar, but he’ll be able to do something about it when we get back.”
“It shouldn’t have happened,” said Lex. He turned to Kate, sorrow now displayed on his face. “I’ve never seen or experienced anything as terrible as we did in that room. None of Lex’s hosts have.
“Did you know that Katanna Lex spent two weeks in a Cardassian Prison during our last war with them?”
“No, I didn’t,” replied Kate. She’d heard storied of the Cardassians’ brutality and noticed Lex suppress a shudder as he remembered.
“She was subject to some of the worse torture the Cardassians had to offer and yet it came no where near what I saw when I walked in that room.”
“It wasn’t your fault, Captain,” she said reassuring him, “Well all knew the risks when we agreed to do this and the brutal treatment of prisoners by both sides is well documented.”
“History books are no substitute for first hand experience, Kate.”
“I know,” she said with understanding, “I was there.”
Seeing Captain Lex standing in the launch silo with Commander Sheridan, William Johnson approached. The pair noticed his approach and waited expectantly upon his arrival. Johnson noticed a sombreness surrounding them that wasn’t all that surprising from what he had heard about the rescue of Commander Lisley and Beta Team.
“Captain, Commander,” he said respectfully.
“Lieutenant,” responded Lex, “What do you have to report?”
“We’ve completed the modifications to the cryo-stasis units and have twenty-five chambers operational and ready for use.”
The number deepened the sorrow on Lex’s face; Twenty-four chambers meant only twenty-four survivors remained from the Defender’s original crew complement of thirty-eight.
Johnson continued his report. “Lieutenant Dulmis has also completed his modifications to the communications system and it’s set to transmit the sequence once the ship reaches its destination,” he said. “Ensign Conrad, Crewman Rodes and Crewman Grey are working on the installation of the warp core. They should be finished in the next ten hours after which we’ll be ready for lift off.”
“Good…” started Lex.
“Captain, there’s one more thing,” said Johnson, preventing him from saying anything further. “The ship lacks the controls to commence lift-off. Instead someone needs to remain behind to initiate the sequence from the control room.”
Lex said nothing, the look on his face one of pure disbelief. It was if Johnson had said something completely inconceivable to him. Sheridan though was not so quiet.
“How long have you known about this?” she demanded.
“Around twelve hours,” replied Johnson. “It wasn’t possible to fix the problem as the system isn’t there and the parts aren’t available.”
“The launch sequence can’t be initiated automatically?” asked Lex.
“No. I’ve automated as much of it as I can and reduced the required number of people from three to just one, but it still needs manual input throughout the sequence.”
“I can’t let you or anyone else do this,” said Lex. “It’s too risky. Instead I’ll do it.”
Sheridan shot Lex a look that said she had fully expected him to volunteer, but she didn’t approve. It was Johnson who countered him though.
“I’m sorry Captain,” he responded, “but I’m the only one who’s well versed enough in the system to correct things if something goes wrong. If I don’t do it none of us will get off this planet and back to our own time. ‘The needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many.’”
“Don’t spout Vulcan philosophy at me, Lieutenant,” warned Lex with more force than he meant to. “There’s plenty of time for you to show me those systems and I refuse to leave anyone else in this god forsaken time period.”
“With all the work we still need to complete there isn’t enough time for me to take you through all the possible scenarios Captain,” said Johnson, still pushing to do this himself, “and even if there was I couldn’t prepare you for the unexpected ones. The ship’s airlock has already been modified for a Starfleet shuttlecraft, as per Commander Sheridan’s security measures and the shuttlepod is still in one piece. As soon as I’ve initiated the launch and the ship is safely away I’ll use the shuttlepod to reach it and join you. You won’t be leaving anyone behind.”
“He does have a point,” said Sheridan. “We know we can’t leave this ship here for the Optimum to use and if we don’t launch we know that will happen.”
“So once again we’re left with no choice?” asked Lex rhetorically. “Very well. As soon as the modifications are complete we’ll start putting everyone one into stasis, starting with the injured. Lieutenant, I fully expect you to be on the ship when we wake.”
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