The Huygens Incident
It took a moment for Naylaa to gather her senses and realise why she had woken up in the middle of the night. There was a dim purple hue that spread across the room from outside. Her window had been looking over the nebula they had been studying over the past few days. It had been an inert black mass before now. The beautiful dance of lights outside her window stood in stark contrast with this memory. The black cloud seemed to have come alive with powerful energy currents. A purple light traveled through the nebula, reminiscent of lightning, hopping from cloud to cloud in particularly bad thunderstorms back home.
The USS Huygens, a Nova-class vessel, shuddered for a moment as maneuvering thrusters were activated. Naylaa saw the cloud slowly pivot away from her window. She smiled as she pulled herself out of bed. She really wanted to see the telemetry come in from the probe they had launched earlier today. She immediately started looking around the floor to find her uniform. It was difficult to see in the unlit room, but with help of a bright flash coming from the edge of the nebula outside she spotted the teal trim of her collar draped over a nearby chair. She started to shuffle over to the other side of the room. Just as she was about to reach out for the clothes, a huge jolt to the ship made her lose her footing. She stumbled, lost her balance, but was able to keep from falling over.
She picked up the uniform and started to get dressed. She headed for the door where she always took her boots off, uniform jacket in hand. Suddenly the room lit up with the same purple burst of energy she had seen outside of her window. This time it came from the corridor, the light bursting in through the seams of her door. Naylaa stumbled backward, another jolt to the ship sent her flying off her feet and backward. With a dull thud her head hit the slate gray, standard issue, Starfleet coffee table in the middle of her small room.
It took Naylaa a moment and a few deep breaths to recover from being swept off her feet. She felt her heart beat loudly in her chest, in her throat, and in her head. Another sharp breath through her nose. Letting it slowly escape through her mouth. There was a very sharp pain on the back of her head. She reached her hand into her auburn hairs and examined if there were any open wounds. It was immediately clear when she reached the point of impact. A jolt of pain shot through her skull and the pounding of her heart became louder. The blood had caked her auburn hairs together, it was already dried up. The wince and grimace renewed the pain and spread it to the rest of her head.
“How long have I been out?” Naylaa wondered out loud before sitting up slowly.
“Computer, lights. Slowly.” There was an expectation of the familiar positive beep followed by the slow and comfortable build-up of light in her room. Instead there was only silence and darkness.
“Computer, status report.” Again, nothing. It was starting to worry the Orion scientist and she scrambled to her feet as rapidly as her pounding headache would allow her. A moment of hesitation before she started walking in the direction of the door. It didn’t part automatically to her approach. She stepped further towards it and pressed the button next to the door. Again there was no response. Her heart started to race again, the pounding spreading through her entire body as adrenaline was starting to surge. She removed the panel on the side to reveal the manual release. She pulled the small lever and heard that comforting hiss. The door didn’t open. She put a hand on it and pushed it to the side, creating an opening big enough for herself to squeeze through.
The absence of any light is hard to imagine. Even in space, out here on the frontier, there was the light of stars coming through as pinpricks of light, representing a hope of new worlds and new civilisations. This corridor had none of that. Every display, every lightstrip, every indicator light had turned black and the resulting darkness was suffocating. Slowly inching forward on her socks Naylaa tried to look up and down the corridor.
“Hello?” There was only silence in response. She put her hand on the wall to her right. She wanted to find out what was going on and decided that the best place to find answers was on the bridge.
Using the bulkheads to guide her she tentatively started her way down the corridor in the direction of the turbolift. Her hand sliding down the metallic walls told her that they weren’t as smooth as they appeared in the light. The metal under her hand transitioned into a glass panel, normally it would display status or directions. She felt a crack in the pane and pulled her hand back before placing it back on the wall lower to entirely avoid the cracked glass against the wall. If the pane was cracked it would mean there was probably glass on the ground. She couldn’t see the other side. She swallowed a lump in her throat and slid one foot forward over the ground. Her concerns were immediately confirmed, the sharp sound of glass shards echoed around the pitch black. She scolded herself for not putting on her shoes. Another slide forward, she felt something sharp dig into the side of her foot, it seemed to break the fabric of her sock but not the flesh of her foot. The air she sucked in made a hiss between her clenched teeth as she slid her other foot forward, hoping the change in pressure didn’t result in the glass breaking her skin. Another step, the shard scratching the top layer. Slowly but surely she made her way past the field of glass.
There were two crew quarters between Naylaa’s hut and the turbo lift. She continued her way down the hallway, steadily closing the remaining distance. Feeling more confident now she picked up the pace. One door passed her fingertips, but as she expected the second one her arm disappeared into a void. At the same time her left foot connected with something obstructing her path, sending her hurtling to the floor for the second time that night. She felt a body underneath her that cushioned her fall. Through the open door the starlight outside the window lazily drifted by, shedding a small shimmer of light into the room. Pushing herself up off the ground she sat up on her knees and the shape of a person became visible in front of her.
“Are you okay?” She put her hands on the body and shook it, she felt no movement. A shiver crawled up her spine as she moved her hands to try and find a pulse in the person’s neck. She couldn’t remember who it was that stayed in the quarters right next to the turbo lift. Tears started to form in her eyes as her shaking hands found the neck. She tried to steady herself to feel a pulse, silently sobbing, she held her breath. There was nothing but a cold, lifeless body under her fingers. Tears were rolling down her face as desperation was starting to set in as the situation was looking more and more dire. Wiping an arm across her face she dried the tears and took in a few deep breaths.The faint smell of burnt hair entered her nostrils and sent her into a coughing fit. She quickly scrambled to her feet, she needed to get to the bridge fast, she stepped over the body and continued her path to the turbo lift shaft.
She decided to crawl one deck up through the Jefferies tubes rather than taking the risk on a turbo lift ride under these circumstances. Coming up to the top deck Naylaa expected to have to push a panel aside to get onto the bridge. She pushed herself out of the tube and stood upright on the bridge. She was not prepared for the scene in front of her, causing her to stagger backward and lean against the wall behind her. On the far side of the room there was once a huge viewscreen that allowed people on the bridge to look what was going outside. There was a huge gaping hole. A forcefield flickered in the place of the viewscreen. Black scorch marks across the floor carved a path in the direction of the command pit. Whomever had been on duty that night had not survived. Charred remains sat in the centre seat. Naylaa her breathing was shallow, a panicked set of gasps. She looked around and saw bodies thrown about the bridge. Scorch marks across their faces and the rest of their bodies. All of the displays on the bridge were wrecked, same as in the corridor on the deck she came from.
The ship was still slowly rotating from when the thrusters had fired when she woke up. The gaping hole where the viewscreen had been started to give a good view of the black nebula, it was now as inert as she remembered it being when she retired to her quarters this evening.
“When you sign up they can’t stop telling you how big the universe is and all the new things you’re going to experience.” A voice came from the corner of the room, he had allowed her to have a moment to herself and was now slowly moving towards her, hoping to be able to ease some of her panic.
“What they neglect to tell you is that it’s trying to kill you.” He gave an awkward smirk and reached out to pat her shoulder, “it’s nothing personal, it’s trying to kill me too.” The cynical remark was only underlined by his rough voice and stubbled chin.
Naylaa was dumbstruck when she saw the operations officer, she leapt forward and wrapped her arms around him.
“Shut up, you idiot. I thought everyone was dead!” She slapped him on his chest without much actual force, “What happened out here, James?”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to find out myself. I came here the same way you did.” James pointed at the Jefferies tube. He then showed her a PaDD.
It was the first display that Naylaa saw that night that was still functioning, she looked at it in awe. Wondering how he had gotten it there. How he had protected it from whatever had entered the ship through the viewscreen, “Any success?”
James pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers and shook his head, “Moments after I got here I lost all connection to the computer.”
“Where’s the computer core?”
“Ehm.” It took a moment for James to visualise the deck layout.
“Yeah. Deck two sounds about right. Why?”
“Whatever did this,” Naylaa made a motion with her arms indicating the carnage and death on the bridge, “it came through deck two.”
James took in a deep breath and looked around the bridge again, “From all the damage around here it seemed like it was putting out massive jolts of energy. Why would it be attracted to the computer core?”
“What if it wasn’t putting out massive currents? What if it was extracting it?” Naylaa had great difficulty doing so but stepped towards the body of the captain. They had stepped out of the ready room but hadn’t gotten far. The marks on the body were consistent with a massive transferral of energy. It was impossible to tell which way it had travelled, “If it feeds on electrical energy then it must’ve gathered strength from the probes we have sent into the nebula for the past two days.”
“Gathering enough strength to punch through the shield and hull?” James didn’t seem convinced.
“The shields weren’t active. There was no reason to believe there was anything hostile out there.” Naylaa took at least half of the objections away with that, “The bridge is well shielded in a battle but during a regular night shift it’s probably the most active and accessible part of the ship.”
“So, let’s say this creature does eat electricity. It went down to the computer core for a little midnight snack. And then?” As if the universe had been waiting for this moment the ship shook again. The forcefield, the only piece of tech that was still active in this moment, flickered.
“The warp core.” Both starfleet officers came to the same conclusion in unison, they immediately rushed for the Jefferies tube they had both crawled out of. They needed to stop it before the damage would become catastrophic to the Huygens.
It hadn’t taken them long to make their way down the Jefferies tube, even though this time they had to go down six decks to get where they were going. They descended one after the other through the cramped crawl spaces between the decks. The light of the PaDD was enough to give them an idea of where they were in relation to each other. It also made it easier to navigate the corridor once they got there. The ship shuddered as they approached main engineering. The darkness gave way to a purple hue around the corner. The steady hum of the warp core struggled, a tangible stutter in the power supply. A second of absolute silence, then the hum returned.
“We need to get it contained. We need to get it out of there.” James seemed determined to save the vessel. So far they had come across at least two dozen dead officers on their way here. The creature, whatever it was, destroyed everything in its wake, “Any ideas?”
“What are you looking at me for?” Naylaa quirked an eyebrow, she wasn’t a biologist, nor was she an engineer. Nothing about this whole ordeal seemed like her speciality. “Look, I think we should just take a lifeboat and evacuate.”
“We need to make sure it’s contained here though. What if after this it goes after the next vessel, and the next. Is it simply feeding or is it growing and continuing to grow and threaten more than just a small science vessel?” James clenched his jaw and was adamant about the need to investigate and neutralise, “What if we try and find some way to communicate, or perhaps look if we can find a frequency to offset their frequency.”
“I really don’t have a good feeling about this, James.” No sooner had Naylaa said that or the hum died off again. Longer this time. For a moment both of the Starfleet officers felt their feet slowly float off the ground before landing back down with a thud, “It’s starting to affect life support and artificial gravity.” There was a slight quiver of panic in her voice.
“Now or never then.” James grabbed the PaDD and ran a programme, reconfigured it for a moment and rounded the corner. “You just wait here, I’ll be right back.”
“No! What the hell are you talking about!”
It was already too late, James rushed around the corner and disappeared from sight. The purple light coming out of engineering was pulsing, stronger now than the moment they had entered this section of the ship. The lifeboats were only a floor below them. The crackle of the creature seemed to become louder, or perhaps Naylaa had become more aware of it. Suddenly she heard a sound like the crack of a whip. Then again the hum of the warp core and the electrical current roaming freely.
James came back around the corner, he seemed to be in pain. And lots of it. He looked at Naylaa, sadness in his eyes and he coughed once, smoke emanated from his mouth. The hair on the left side of his face and head singed by heat. He dropped to his knees and reached for her, the PaDD in his hand as dead as any of the other devices on the ship. That’s when the life in his eyes left him and he dropped forward. Only then did it become clear what had happened, his entire back was caved in and charred black. Whatever was in engineering it had struck him in the back and done fatal damage. It was a wonder he had made it this far back.
“James! You damn fool!” Naylaa was stuck between a moment of grief and feeling absolutely lost. Until today space had seemed so inviting with new worlds and new civilisations. To boldly go. Now everyone around her had died. A creature or a spatial phenomenon. Without so much as a second thought. No mal intent. Nothing sinister. Simply a being that was awoken by their curiosity and out of instinct latching on to the Huygen’s strong energy signature. She turned and started to run. She had to get to the life pod. She had to get back to Starfleet. They had to contain this. Mark this patch of space as unsafe. Quarantine it. She rushed through the dark corridor and almost stumbled in the fading light. The further away from engineering she got the less residual light remained. She came back to the Jefferies tube entrance that her and James had crawled out of. Idiot James, why did he have to go in like that? What had been the point? The tears in her eyes was making it hard to focus on the rungs in her hands and under her feet. She had to keep going. She had to get out of here. The climb down to the last deck was a fast one. She kicked the panel out and pulled herself free into the corridor. The lights in this section struggled to stay on and the emergency red hue didn’t do anything to make her feel more comfortable. The smell of burned electronics had gone, the smell of burnt hair still lingered in her nostrils. She suppressed gagging due to the smell. She rushed to the end of the hallway and could now see the escape pod, not twenty meters away from her.
All of a sudden the light went black and she felt herself come free from the floor. Perhaps this was the moment the warp core failed. Her momentum carried her forward and upward and for a second she helplessly flailed her arms and legs trying to continue her path to the escape pod. A stutter as the auxiliary power kicked in and the grav plating came back online. Her upward trajectory was immediately cut short and she crashed to the ground, being able to catch herself on her elbows and one knee. A shot of pain coursed through her joints as she pushed herself up from the ground. She sprinted the last ten metres and punched her hand into the console to open the doors to the life pod. It didn’t respond. She clawed at the panel and ripped it aside to reveal the manual release. The doors hissed. Not a moment too soon as the lights around her flickered, she heard the hull of the ship creak and moan, it was probably still slowly spinning around itself and with the structural integrity fields now being drained of power as well it would only be a matter of time before the extensive damage to the ship’s superstructure would make it collapse in on itself. Naylaa looked back one more time before stepping inside and closing the door behind her. She put her hand on the console in the pod and immediately initiated the launch and the emergency beacon.
The shudder from the escape pod almost made her lose her balance again but this time she was prepared. She looked through the small window to see the ship, with in the background the black cloud they had been studying. None of the lights in the windows or on the outer hull were still giving off any light. She saw pieces of the hull and the bridge floating around the slowly spinning Nova class ship. An unworthy end for such a majestic vessel she thought to herself. She saw a crack run across the bow before the escape pod fired its thrusters to turn and set off on a course in the direction of the nearest Federation signal. A bright flash In the corner of the window was visible, Naylaa could only imagine what was left of the Huygens. She stumbled back and landed in one of the seats of the pod. Her heart was racing, her breath stuck in her throat, a pounding headache only made worse by the sheer panic. Her hands shaking with adrenaline that refused to dissipate. Through her window she could see the universe. A black silk sheet with thousands of pinpricks of bright light. Each of them suns. Distant worlds that were promised to her when they recruited her for the fleet.
In an instant the darkness was replaced by a bright purple flash and all that was taken from her.
Next month we’ll return to our regularly scheduled adventures on the Isoroku. Come back for the epic conclusion of ‘Beyond the Veil‘!!!”
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