The Tellarite freighter appeared dead in space, prompting Captain Erika Hernandez and the crew of Columbia to investigate…
Aboard the Hemmapek, Captain Erika Hernandez exited the Columbia's shuttle pod followed closely by Ensign Maxwell and Commander Andrew Strong. The two marines accompanying them spread out on either side, weapons held firmly at the ready. The bright lighting from the helmets of their pressure suits helped the Starfleet boarding party with a brief visual survey as they glanced cautiously around the small, dimly lit hangar bay.
There wasn't a lot of room to spare… most of the ship's space was reserved for the massive amounts of cargo it was designed to carry. There were three small shuttles tucked neatly in place alongside their own, and the five members of the boarding party gradually made their way toward the airlock on the far side of the bay. Hernandez waited patiently as Commander Strong first analyzed the ship's security systems and then efficiently unlocked the large double-doored hatchway leading into the ship's interior.
The gravitational and environmental systems inside the vessel appeared to be off-line, so everyone had no choice but to activate the magnetic clamping system on the bottom of their boots. They moved further into the Tellarite vessel carefully, one step at a time, mystified at first when there was no sign of a crew.
"Perhaps they got off the ship," Maxwell said hopefully.
"You and one MACO verify that," decided Hernandez, pointing toward the left in the corridor junction they had arrived at. "See if the escape pods are in place… we already know their shuttles are still here. After that, check the storage pods and see if their cargo was taken."
"I'll be down in engineering," Commander Strong suggested, and Hernandez nodded. She grabbed the other marine by the arm. "Go with him…" she told him. "I'm going to check out the bridge."
Strong paused for a moment, looking doubtfully at her. "Captain…" he said.
"Don't start with me Andrew," Hernandez snapped, holding up her phase pistol. "I've got a weapon like everyone else… let's get this done people."
The ship's lift systems were off-line, so the Captain carefully studied the schematics of the freighter that had been downloaded by her handheld sensing device, noting the location of the nearest ladderwell. She moved to the end of the corridor without encountering anyone and climbed slowly toward the top of the ship, pausing long enough at each deck to search for bodies or signs of trouble. The ship appeared, for all intents and purposes, to be deserted.
Until she got to the bridge, that is.
She had to access a manual backup system in the bulkhead to physically open the hatch there, too. As she moved into the Hemmapek's command center, she immediately noticed that it was filled with dead Tellarites – at least a dozen of them. Corpses floated awkwardly throughout the room, their last expressions of fear literally frozen on their faces. One of the computer stations along the far wall had exploded so violently that a small, fist-sized hole had been blown clean through the outer hull… she could see the star-filled void of space twinkling beyond. A tiny, crackling blue-white flicker of flame near the edge of the breach indicated that at least low level power was still coming from somewhere.
Closer inspection revealed that a major power conduit had passed behind the destroyed console – no doubt it had overloaded and the resulting explosion was the reason for the depressurization. Erika moved first to the helm and then to the navigation stations, but found nothing that still appeared to be functional. Her scanner revealed that there were still traces of minimal power moving through the central computer, but none of the ship's major systems appeared to be active.
"Maxwell to Hernandez."
"We found the escape pods, Captain. None of them were launched and the cargo is still here. We're on one of the lower decks where they keep the heavy equipment used to move it around; I can see all kinds of barrels and boxes stacked nearly to the ceiling through the windows in the outer doors. Whatever may have happened here, it wasn't piracy."
"Did you find any bodies?"
"No, but each deck appears to have at least three or more large hull breaches. It looks like power conduits in the walls overloaded and exploded, depressurizing each section. Anyone who was in these corridors when they blew probably ended up floating off into space."
"The same thing happened up here on the bridge." Hernandez shook her head with dismay. "I can see an overload happening by accident in one conduit or on one deck, but the whole ship?"
"It's a mystery to be sure Captain."
Erika left the bridge with a silent nod of respect to the Tellarites, who had given their lives in the pursuit of space exploration. She began moving down the nearest ladderwell, back toward the hangar bay. "Hernandez to Strong… report."
There was a brief pause before he responded.
"Engineering is a mess… there are bodies floating everywhere. I had to use my phase pistol to open the door. It looks like a small group of survivors decided to make a last stand of some kind here." The Commander continued his visual survey of the ship's engine room. "All computer systems appear to have been off-line when the warp core was ejected… there are a variety of locking mechanisms and manual safeties that were released, and some of the dead Tellarites are still holding the tools that were used to do the job."
Ensign Maxwell was still listening, but a bit mystified. "Why would they dump their warp core?" he asked curiously. "That would strand them here and leave them completely vulnerable to whoever attacked."
Hernandez considered the matter carefully for a moment. "I think somebody got control of their main computer," she theorized. "The crew broke into two groups, one isolating themselves on the bridge and the other taking cover in engineering. The Captain sent the distress call, while the survivors in engineering manually ejected the warp core."
"Why?" Maxwell seemed truly puzzled.
"Because whoever did this was methodically blowing holes in the hull, deck by deck, and killing off the crew," pointed out Captain Hernandez, holstering her phase pistol. "So the survivors, once they discovered they were unable to shut down main power, ejected the warp core to stop whoever did this from killing them all. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that they acted quickly enough."
"So what do we do now?" Commander Strong's voice crackled out of the transceiver in her helmet.
"Mr. Maxwell, download their database: command functions, system, sensor and personal logs, everything," ordered Hernandez as she continued descending the ladderwell. "When you're done, rendezvous back at the shuttle bay. We'll return to Columbia and try from there to establish exactly what happened here." She tapped her pressure suit's transceiver control with one hand and switched to a new frequency. "Hernandez to Columbia," she said. "Lt. Andrews, be on the lookout for any other ships that may be lurking in the vicinity… someone attacked and killed everyone aboard the Hemmapek."
Despite the emptiness of the derelict ship, Captain Hernandez couldn't help feeling more than a little uncomfortable… her instincts were silently screaming at her that not everything around them was all that it seemed to be.