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Looking for Cargo

Posted on Sun May 30th, 2021 @ 12:03am by Captain Jacob Kane & Lieutenant Commander Savin & Lieutenant JG FalenvralLi Zh’kyhrihr

Mission: By Artemis' Bow
Location: Trader Outpost - Iuvat System
Timeline: MD-03
3168 words - 6.3 OF Standard Post Measure

The passage down to the cargo hold of this 'trader outpost' was as run-down as the administration section. Many of the lights were out, and the entire area just stank of something Kane didn't want to make a guess at. Maybe it was deliberate, to make sure people didn't linger.

"If my understanding of the station layout is correct, we should find an access port into the main cargo stores up ahead," he said, pointing down the narrow passage. It was barely wide enough for one person at a time, so they had to move single file.

Descending a set of stairs then trying to peer past the captain in the dim, cramped corridor, Li frowned. She had her right hand on her holstered phaser, the left holding a tricorder she moved about checking for anomalous power readings that might indicate anything from a trap to a hidden cargo hold. "This can't be the main access, right? Could you even squeeze an anti-grav pallet through here?" She raised the tricorder, checking the ceiling. "Full disclosure: I've handled plenty of cargo, but I pretty much always just signed it over in the docking bay. I never saw exactly where it went from there. Sort of imagined bigger spaces though."

The lack of light was concerning to Savin and he felt very ill at ease. He was trying to follow the conversation at hand on his special PADD, the display casting a creepy gloom across his face, and he was trying to keep an eye on his footing as well. He winced as his arm caught on a protrusion, nearly knocking the PADD from his hand. "Could they have used a transporter?" he asked, not at all at home in the logistics of cargo transportation.

"Sure, they could," Li said. "Or at least a well-run ship like Athena with that powerplant could do it. But it's a crazy inefficient way to design a place like this."

"Clearly they found a way," Savin mused, "perhaps they were much smaller than us? Or used smaller people?" He hissed as he caught his arm on something again. "How long until we get to somewhere more... spacious?" The tight enclosure was clearly getting to him.

"I've seen cargo ships with the main access points being the external connections," Kane explained. "Space on older haulers is a premium, and they don't always want the crew going around messing with their cargo. We should still be able to get some sort of access to the storage areas, but it's unlikely to be as pleasant as it would be on our own ship." He motioned to the end of the hall and the four identical circular hatches, two on each side. "Hopefully those should be what we're looking for."

"I guess that makes sense," Li said. "Would you trust those guys someone hired to run this place?" She moved up toward the first hatch on her left. No windows but a small control panel to the side. She scanned it with her tricorder, but didn't see anything unusual - just a normal amount of power for the control. "Shall we take a look and see?"

"Please," the counselor replied, eager to get into a bit more spacious and possibly better iluminated area.

Kane let the more lithe Lieutenant take the lead, his mind still pondering the exchange they'd had with the administrator upstairs. He was upset and perturbed, but he didn't seem like a pirate in any way. Certainly not the sort of individual Starfleet should be worried about causing an upset for the research team. And there was still the prospect of other ships hiding out somewhere in the area. "What do you see, Lieutenant?" he asked aloud.

Li leaned her back against the wall and looked to be sure both men were clear of the door before hitting the switch. The round door rolled open with only a mild squeal of unmaintained mechanical systems. She edged closer, looking in from the side at what she could see before quickly sticking her head in and out. She didn't see anything in her glimpse and no other response to their entry was immediately obvious, so she stood and moved into line of sight of the entry, hand on her phaser. "Hm," she said before stepping inside. "Not much." she approached one of the few crates inside and tugged at the lid. It opened, apparently unlocked.

"Just a few dusty crates that look like they've been here a while. These look like spare PADDs." She looked around at the state of the other crates in the room. Maybe they could have passed through the corridor. None were full-sized, palletized cargo, which didn't make sense to her, but was what she was seeing. "What do you think the odds are they're telling the truth? They've been in the system a while and haven't received any of the shipments we're worried about yet?"

"Unless we are looking in the wrong place," Savin pointed out. "It would be logical to hide cargo among cargo, because common sense dictates that if one would hide something, one would do it elsewhere. But following that theory, a cargo hold would be the last place someone looks, so it would be the logical place to hide something." He paused, looking at the others. "But, that would be illogical. So I believe whatever we are looking for, is not hidden among the cargo."

Nodding while she listened to Savin, Li moved to another crate, opening it and nodding. "Emergency survival supplies probably packed a decade ago," she muttered then turned with a confused frown as he finished his train of reasoning. "O-kay. So they. . ." Her eyes moved to the floor of the cargo bay and she took out her palm light. "That's odd. The deck's painted about how you'd expect to clear moving and loading zones if that hatch was the main entry here. But- " she shined her light at the floor, holding it down at a low angle so that the gripping texture of the deck plates cast a slight shadow.

"Do you see that?" Li asked. "The wear patterns don't match. She moved around the crates, following a faint trail that was at least visible to her. "You'd never see it on a Starfleet vessel, but this deck hasn't seen maintenance in forever. And there's a strip right down the middle of this bay with no wear, like everyone kept clear of it except maybe for a grav sled to move through." Her light followed what she was seeing until it pointed right at a blank section of wall. "But to where?"

Kane nodded along with the Lieutenant's assessments, impressed with her detective skills. If she weren't such a good pilot he might have considered giving her a job in security. He held out a tricorder and ran it over the wall. "There's nothing here. Literally nothing - I'm guessing there's a localised dampening field hiding whatever it is they don't want eyes seeing." He glanced at the other two. "Back when we were chasing down Orion smugglers they would employ some micro-cloaking technology to conceal the more illegal items they were running. This looks similar. We just need to find the specific frequency..." he looked at Li's Andorian antennae for a moment. "Think you can localise it?"

"Could we be looking at a hologram? Or some kind of projection that is supposed to let us believe that there is nothing else here?" Savin looked from one to the other, then back at the wall.

Frowning, Li stepped closer to the wall that wasn't there. She reached her hand out and rested her palm on it. Closed her eyes and tried to focus on her other senses. She was mostly aware of what her antennae told her in terms of balance. Gravity and proprioception. But, at least in familiar places, it wasn't unheard of to be able to single out EM sources. Why she would be able to sense something the tricorder couldn't, she couldn't say. She dipped her head down and felt something very like vertigo. Her hand rested on the wall. Her eyes had seen the wall, but like the tricorder, her antennae told her the wall wasn't there.

She ran her hand over the surface, then pulled it away and frowned. "This... this [em]is[/em] a hologram. Looking at the wall, it seems to fit in pretty well here, yeah? Dinged up. Dirty. But it doesn't smudge. And it feels smooth and brand new." She put both hands against it and pushed, then followed what felt like a slight give. "The projection is in the exact same place as an actual wall and a door. Hiding the door. And with whatever. The micro-cloaking thing? To hide the projection and whatever's behind it. So, how do we open an invisible door?"

"Clever," Kane mused. He withdrew his hand phaser, wondering if that would do the trick. As he glanced around the compartment, however, his concerns over the integrity of the cargo hold were starting to grow. "Even on a low setting, this could punch a hole in the hull. It looks barely paper-thin in places. If we can isolate the emitters we might be able to shut it down without the risk."

"Woah," Li stepped back from the wall at the Captain's unholstered phaser. "Well, the outer hull's that way, I'm pretty sure." She pointed behind herself, 90 degrees from the presumed target. "But I think whatever's cloaking this signal is in the hold on the other side. Holo-emitters. . . I guess could be anywhere." She waved her tricorder around, watching the readings between glances at Kane. "I'm not really sure what I'm looking for though."

"Is there no way we could disrupt them? Fire phasers at wide beam?" Savin asked curiously as he inspected his phaser. "What if I fire, and you take readings of what I hit?"

"If you end up puncturing the hull, we won't be here to take readings," Kane replied dryly. "Unless we-" He stopped mid-sentence as there was a loud creaking noise from behind them followed by a clang and metallic groan. "The hatch!" he barked, seeing that their entrance - and exit - had been sealed up behind them.

Turning quickly at the sound, Li charged toward the hatch as it rolled into place. "I didn't see anyone. . ." She hit the control to open the door, but it didn't respond. Studying the control, she pressed it again. The dim light didn't change color or show any indication that it even registered the press. Looking first at the Counselor and then the Captain, she said, "I don't imagine either of you knows how to override something like this?" Then she heard a faint hissing from the other side of the room, where she'd just been standing. "Or we might have to try shooting something anyway because that sounds like air loss!"

The counselor shook his head, no he wasn't capable of overriding a control. Instead he started to adjust the controls on his phaser, feeling very ill at ease in their small confinement with the prospect of losing air. Though unaware of the hissing sound, he was very aware of the discomfort and perhaps slight panic coming from his companions. "I suggest a low level, wide-spread beam," he commented, looking up at both of them.

"Kane to Athena!" Kane called into his comm badge. There was a faint chirp of static. "Someone's led us into a trap. If we can't raise the ship and they drain the oxygen, we're done." He looked at Savin, whose phaser idea had put a thought into his head. "Athena should be able to detect a weapons discharge if we can get it outside of the hull. It's just a question of how we can get it out there without being sucked into space ourselves..."

"Um. . ." Li said, tamping down a pilot's natural fear of cabin pressure loss and standing very still, staring at a grouping of cargo in the middle of the bay. "So, an interesting thing about those crates over there with the emergency supplies. See, commercial spacers hate those. Even a half-assed inspection will flag any operator who doesn't have them, but they're crazy expensive for what's in them. Because of the crates. They have to be secure to vacuum." She turned her eyes to the Captain, unsure if what she was bringing up was completely insane, common knowledge among experienced Starfleet officers, or useful. "I don't know about getting a phaser outside, but if we had to... make a hole. We'd be safe in there until our oxygen ran out."

"Or I can try to reach Jerant..." The very idea of being stuck in a dark crate with the majority of his senses blocked, didn't sit well with the counselor. There was no guarantee his telepathic connection with his aide would even reach this far, but it was a valid suggestion. He cast the crates an apprehensive look. Utter darkness was not something he was comfortable with.

"Try," Kane nodded at the doctor, then back at Li. "In the meantime, get one of those containers open. We can take refuge even if that plan doesn't work. It's risky, but if I set my phaser to overload it might blow a hole in the outer hull and the container we hide in should give us protection."

Savin closed his eyes for a moment, his face a mask of concentration. Then he opened them again and shook his head. "I cannot sense him," he reported, "I can sense you two, but nothing else, as if something is disrupting it."

What had started as a barely perceptible hiss was gradually growing to a roar. Or maybe Li was so focused on it that it seemed so. She moved to the closest container and flipped it open, looking at the seals and seeing no sign that they weren't still in good condition. Quickly, she pulled out packed items - Medkits, rations, radiation treatments - but after the first couple layers she encountered a large empty box. That made quick work of emptying the crate but it would have truly sucked for anyone counting on rations in there. She stood back, hearing Savin's report, then moved to the next two crates, more quickly tossing their contents. She would fit okay. The crates would be a tight fit for the bigger men, but a lot more comfortable than suffocating in here.

The counselor watched her, at first with a detached curiosity but that soon turned into apprehension. The very idea of being put in a crate, for who knows how long, didn't sit well with him. "Will my PADD work?" He asked, looking at both of them. "Will you be able to converse?"

"I don't think the boxes are supposed to block EM fields but I'm not sure what's disrupting them here or how far it extends," Li said. She eyed the last empty crate, then looked over at his six foot frame. "Your PADD should work, but I'm not sure you'll have the space to type or hold it to read."

"Lieutenant, I am deaf... I rely on this PADD to know what you are saying, especially in this dim light. If I go in there, then I am rendered helpless and unable to offer help. I would not hear calls for help, I would no know when it is safe. I would be useless, as without light, and without telepathy, I cannot converse. I do not know if my telepathy will work if I am locked in there, I already cannot reach Jerant so something is disrupting it." The Romulan sounded agitated, his eyes traveling between the woman, and the box. "I do not believe I can do this."

Li blinked slowly at the counselor trying to get that to sink in. Not that she'd known him long but they'd had that conversation in the mess hall, this mission so far. . . and she'd completely missed that. "Oh, um. Well, we're all going to be pretty sense deprived in there. Pitch dark. Probably won't be much to hear unless our communicators do work, in which case I imagine we'll be transported out pretty quick. Right?" She looked to the Captain for confirmation. That seemed to be the plan, at least. She didn't have the first clue how to begin calculating the amount of air they'd have or how quickly they'd lose heat or anything else regarding how long the crates would be adequate to keep them alive in open space, but she wasn't too thrilled about the idea of it being long herself.

"Doctor. You're either going to be sensory deprived, or life deprived," Kane declared pointedly. "There's no debate to be had. Get in the box - that's an order." He glanced at Li, his face set in determination. Perhaps it was anger at having been caught in this situation when he shouldn't have been. "The crew on Athena will be watching. They'll see the crates floating out, they'll sense life signs, and they'll rescue us. If they don't then we're dead and won't be able to court martial them."

When the Captain's glower turned on her, Li moved to her crate, putting her hands on the edge. "I don't have any experience with deliberate hull breaches, but I'm guessing this will have to be a pretty big hole. Not just for us to fit, but we need that explosive decompression to provide some momentum to get us away from the platform and outside the dampening field here." She looked at Kane's phaser. "Will that do it? Any way I can help?"

It was an order now... Savin still hesitated as he stared into the crate, visibly uneasy with the very idea. "We should use all three phasers," he suggested, having just caught Li's statement in time, "I am no tactician but surely three phasers give a larger explosion?"

"We set them all to go off, blow out the side of the bay, float into space and hope the Athena picks us up." Kane nodded at them. "Into the crates. I'll take the last one."

He ushered the two into their spaces, taking their phasers first and beginning the overcharging process on all three. Stacking them on top of one another in a corner, he slid a slightly less heavy crate over in front of them, hoping it would absorb the blast and keep the other boxes safer. That was the hope, at least.

"Lock down your crates," he said to the pair. "In about ten seconds it's going to get very cold in here."

After watching the Captain pile the phasers together, hoping he knew a lot more about explosives than she did, Li gave Savin a quick thumbs-up before sitting back in her crate and pulling the lid closed. The latches sealed on their own with a solid click. She sat in silence and darkness waiting.

 

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