The one-armed Klingon seemed a little lost as he stumbled across the corridors of a gloomy ship which he had once known as well as the back of his now missing right hand.
The once proud warrior was on the hunt, something he had been most proficient at before he had succumbed to his present state. The instinct however was still there, buried but impossible to ignore.
He stopped at a corridor junction and slowly turned ninety degrees.
There, not a hundred paces down the corridor, he sensed the presence of his prey.
Had he still had control over all the faculties which had once made him a proud and fierce warrior, he may have been able to recognize the group as an alien team of Starfleet officers but in his current condition they were simply his quarry and his one and only urge was to feed.
He stumbled forward at first but then slowly, as if drawing on skills and abilities that had laid dormant for years, his steps quickened and his balance improved until he was at an all out trot.
He continued to accelerate to a near run as he quickly approached his unsuspecting targets.
With only a handful of paces left until he would burry his teeth deep into the warm-fleshed, brown-skinned, delicate creature, it turned, its hand outstretched, pointing a device right at his face.
An emerald blast erupted and his head exploded like a watermelon, painting the bulkheads with blood and brain matter. Headless, his body collapsed by the creature’s feet not a moment later.
The Klingon’s blood was barely noticeable on Aliris' red uniform shirt but the same could not be said for her caramel-colored face. She tried to wipe it off the best she could with her free hand, shuddering with disgust the entire time.
"They can run now?" she said once she had wiped herself reasonably clean.
There wasn't much time to consider this new development. Another undead Klingon had appeared at the end of the corridor, having spotted the away team he started out to try and succeed were his predecessor had failed.
Aliris aimed her disruptor and pulled the trigger.
Nothing happened. "Damn, I'm out."
Chayton stepped forward, took aim with his phaser rifle and fired.
The precise beam sliced into the Klingon's bony forehead, leaving behind a near perfect perforation which went clean through his cranium. Like a puppet whose strings had been cut, the holed-out Klingon dropped like a stone.
"Take this," said Chayton and threw the Risian ensign the rifle as she disposed of the now useless disruptor. Chayton reached for the mek'lethwhich he had acquired in the medical bay.
"I can ... I can take the rifle," Gradkowski said, his voice weak and with little timbre. His face was now sickly pale, thick droplets of sweat pouring down his forehead and his nose bleeding intermittently. He could hardly stand at all and depended on Jiang to steady him.
The nurse however was too lithe to be able to carry so much of his weight and as they attempted another step, they collapsed together against the bulkhead.
"Easy there," Jiang said exasperated as she tried her best to keep him in a sitting position.
"My ... my rifle," he moaned.
"I'm sure they'll take good care of your weapon," she said with a smile. "I doubt you'd be much use with it at the moment anyway."
"This? This … this is nothing. A scratch, a flesh wound. I had worse. I just need a minute to get my strength back."
"Sure thing. After all we'll need you to protect us," she said exchanging a smile with the wounded security guard which never quite reached her eyes.
"No time. We have to move on, now," said Chayton, barely making eye contact with Jiang or Gradkowski.
"I've about had it with you, you know that?" she shot back with real fire in her voice. "We're stuck on the Klingon ship from hell, surrounded by two hundred bloodthirsty zombies trying to eat us alive. I had to watch Telvin die and come back to life only to join this madness and turn against us. The goddamn flickering lights and the smell are making me go absolutely crazy and I don't need you and your two words per sentence crap on my case as well."
Both Chayton and Aliris gave the infuriated nurse blank looks.
"Okay, Yifey, try to calm down. We can't have you freak out on us now. He's just trying to keep us moving," said Aliris.
The nurse took a deep breath and then nodded. "Of course, I'm sorry. It's just I wish you could say something encouraging once in a while."
"I apologize if you feel that my attitude has made things more difficult for you. I promise I will talk as much as you like once we get out of here in one piece. Hell, if we come out of this alive I'll invite you to one of my infamous poetry reading sessions," said the Sioux and promptly stepped up to the fallen security officer to help him back on his feet and continue down the corridor.
Aliris and Jiang exchanged astonished looks, neither of them having witnessed the tall man use that many words in one go before.
"Well, if we didn't have a reason to survive this before," said the Risian.
Jiang gave her a small smile and then began to follow Chayton. But before she had made even a couple of steps, she felt Aliris' hand on her arm. When she looked at the ensign, she found her eyes focused on Gradkowski.
"How is he, Yifey? Can he pull through?"
The Chinese woman's empty eyes seemed to hold little hope. "I ... I really don't know."
It had taken the Stafleet team five minutes to get from the transporter room to the medical bay when they had first arrived on the Lukara.
Fighting off sporadic attacks from crazed Klingons with just one phaser rifle and helping along the quickly deteriorating Jonas Gradkowski, the remaining away team needed over an hour to finally reach their destination.
Thankfully the transporter room appeared to be at least partially functional when they arrived.
“Chayton, put Gradkowksi down and then try to get those doors closed while I’ll attempt to speed-learn how to operate a Klingon computer console,” said Aliris as soon as she had stepped foot into the room. She stepped up to the station controlling the transporter, leaning the rifle against a bulkhead and began to look over a computer station which was completely alien to her.
The Sioux did as instructed, carefully helping the security guard to sit on the platform while he went to tend to the doors which were currently stuck in a wide open position.
Jiang went to tend to Gradkowski. “Okay there, big feller, just hang on a few more minutes and we get you back on the runabout,” she said and injected him with a stimulant in the hopes to keep his vitals stable. And for the sixth time she found that it was having absolutely no effect on him.
His body temperature was threatening to burn him up inside, his skin was now completely pale and his nose wouldn’t stop bleeding. He had almost constant coughing fits and shivered uncontrollably.
He still managed to make eye contact with her. “Don’t … don’t worry about me. Gradkowski’s are made … made out of stern stuff. Shake this off … in a jiffy,” he said with great difficulties through dry, chapped lips.
She tried to smile at him but her facial muscles simply didn’t cooperate. She turned to look to the ensign working on the controls. “Aliris, we need to go.”
“Yeah, yeah, tell me something I don’t know, Doc,” she said without ever taking her eyes off those Klingon panels which may as well have been hieroglyphs as far she was concerned. “If you know how to read Klingonese be my guest and help me out over here.”
It turned out Jiang couldn’t.
In the meantime Chayton had managed to close one of the two heavy door panels by using nothing more than brute strength. He was just about to start on the second when he heard the sound.
At first he wasn’t quite sure what it was but it sounded as if something or someone was grating metal.
And it was becoming more pronounced with every second.
Aliris looked up. “What the hell is that?”
“I don’t think we want to find out,” Jiang whispered.
Chayton took a careful step out of the room to look down the corridor. Then he turned back to look at the Risian woman who gave him a quizzical look. “Ensign, we need to leave here now or we’re all going to die,” he said and pulled out his mek’leth.
It was only then that the previously distant sound became obvious to everyone. It was a mixture of deep groans and footfalls, most of which sounded as if those feet were being merely dragged across the floor. But these weren’t just the sounds made by a few individual Klingons, this was the sound of countless men and women, all producing the same awful noise. All now seemingly trying to converge on the last place on the ship were a warm body could be found.
Aliris reached for the rifle and shockingly realized that its power pack was nearly drained. “Yifey, take this and try to buy us as much time as you can. Make your shots count, it doesn’t have much juice left,” she said and threw the rifle at her.
She caught it awkwardly, looked at it for a moment as if she had never seen it before and then back at the Risian. “I’ve … I’ve never used one before.”
“Never to early to start,” she said. “Point and shoot, just like the smaller ones.”
But Yifey Jiang was suddenly more concerned with Gradkowski who uttered a low, throaty rattle and then nothing at all. She put the rifle to one side and kneeled next to him. “No, no, Jonas. Jonas, come on, come on, don’t do this now.”
“Incoming,” said Chayton and started slashing at Klingon bodies who had appeared by the half-open doorway.
To his credit he held his ground for a few seconds before he was forced back deeper in the transporter room, now faced with a seemingly unbroken wall of the undead, and with every one he managed to cut down, another one took its place in a seemingly never-ending horde of walking zombies.
“Damnit, Yifey, help Chayton!” Aliris yelled as she noticed the nurse trying to revive the apparently dead Gradkowski.
“I need to try and—“
“You need to buy us time or we’re all dead meat,” she shot back, trying to keep an eye on the approaching horde while working on the console at the same time.
Jiang very reluctantly left Gradkowski to take the rifle. She took careful aim at one of the Klingons threatening to get past Chayton and pulled the triggering stub.
The shot went wide, still drilling a Klingon—just not the one she had aimed for—and nearly grazing the Sioux.
“Sorry,” she stammered.
“Just keep shooting,” responded a blood drenched Chayton who didn’t stop hacking away even if it was beginning to look more like self-defense than any kind of coordinated attack, slashing away at limps and everything else in front of him, slowing the Klingons but not really putting them down.
The floor was turning into a slippery, crimson red mess.
The nurse tried again, this time hitting her target but missing the head of the tall Klingon she had tried to take out and incinerating his shoulder instead.
“I think … I think, I’ve got it,” Aliris exclaimed. “Get on the—“
A female Klingon had slipped past Chayton and bore down on the ensign at the computer console. Aliris hadn’t seen her in time and was pushed backwards as the Klingon slammed into her.
She managed to bring up her arms just before her sharp teeth were able to rip into her. Aliris recognized her attacker. “B’Nera?”
A low groan was her response. But what sounded like unintelligible noise suddenly began to make sense to the ensign.
“Help … help me.”
Aliris had to fight tooth and nail to keep the former medic away from her as she was pushed down onto the floor. “B’Nera, can you understand me?”
“Help me,” she groaned again. “Kill … kill.”
Aliris was fighting a losing battle. The Risian was no match in pure strength to the Klingon warrior even in her zombified-state.
“Kill … kill … kill me.”
The Risian noticed the hilt of a dagger on her belt and in a last, desperate measure, reached for it and managed to pull it free with her fingertips.
Just as she could feel B’Nera’s foul smell and sharp teeth at her throat, Aliris mustered all her remaining strength by taking hold of the Klingon’s low cut vest and pushing her up and away from her.
Her other hand gripped the dagger firmly and in one quick motion, she shoved the razor-sharp blade upwards where it buried itself between B’Nera’s chin and neck and drove deep into her head. Aliris was immediately showered by thick, cold blood which erupted like a fountain. The Klingon’s body stopped moving.
She managed to pull the lifeless body off her and crawl back onto her feet. “Get … get Gradkowski off the platform and let’s go,” she said with apparent effort and began to activate the transporter sequence.
Jiang looked at her in shock. “We can’t just leave him here,” she said. “We can bring him back to the runabout and … I don’t know … put him in stasis.”
But Aliris shook her head. “Too much … too much of a risk.”
The nurse apparently was determined not to leave anyone else behind. “We’re not abandoning him,” she said just before she decapitated another approaching Klingon with a now well-aimed shot.
“I’m giving you an order, godsdamnit, get him off the gods-forsaken platform, now,” Aliris screamed.
Jiang turned to look at the dead security guard, sitting slumped over against the bulkhead. “I … I can’t …”
That’s when he came back to life. Sort of.
Jiang shrieked in panic as he groaned loudly and bore down on her with an empty look in his dead eyes and blood tripping from the corners of his mouth.
“Shoot him … shoot him,” Aliris shouted, trying to finish the sequence but now hesitating to enter the final command until the undead Gradkowski was clear of the platform.
Jiang hesitated, letting herself being pushed backwards until she ran out of room. “Jonas … Jonas, please,” she begged to no avail as he continued to stagger towards her.
“Blow his, godsdamned head off!”
She raised the rifle and Gradkowski reached out for it, wrapping a pale and flaky hand around the barrel. Then he hesitated for a moment as if he recognized the device now pointing at his head.
It lasted less than a second.
Jiang, with tears streaming down her face, fired.
At point blank range, his head was practically seared off.
Aliris hit the last command, activating what she hoped to be the remote start-up sequence and then had to leap over the console to escape the mass of undead Klingons trying to eat her.
“Chayton, let’s go,” she yelled without being able to make him out anymore.
Unbelievably, the tall Sioux emerged not a moment later, shoving Klingons away left and right, he had long since lost his mek’leth sword, apparently taking on the undead with his bare hands.
The three blood soaked Starfleet officers converged on the platform were Aliris unceremoniously kicked Gradkowski’s separated head into the crowd of Klingons while Chayton pushed the body off the platform.
Yiang was too busy cowering in the corner, sobbing, to be of any help.
“Is this going to work,” said Chayton as he positioned himself in front of the nurse and next to Aliris on the platform, facing the Klingons below which were now mere steps away.
“We’ll either get back on the runabout or explode in the vacuum of space.”
“Either way, beats being turned into fresh gagh,” said Chayton.
A thousand arms seemed to reach out for them just before they heard the telltale sounds of a cycling transporter beam.
Giving that none of them exploded upon re-materialization, it was a good bet that they had not been beamed into outer space.
Yifey Jiang pretty much immediately collapsed onto the floor of the runabout and then crawled up against the nearest bulkhead, pushing her knees up to her chest and hugging them tightly, she began to weep.
Chayton quickly dropped to her side. “Are you alright?”
She simply shook her head.
“Have you been hurt? Did they touch you somehow, did you get bitten anywhere?” asked Chayton as he began to look her over closely and trying to establish if any of the blood she was covered in was hers.
“Don’t touch me,” she barked and pushed him back harshly. “Just don’t touch me.”
Aliris watched them for only a moment. “Where the hell is Graham?” she said when she had realized that Torain was nowhere to be seen. She grabbed the phaser rifle and headed towards the back of the ship. “The bastard should have beamed us out of there hours ago. I’m going to kill him.”
“Telvin and Gradkowski are … dead,” mumbled Jiang. “Or … something worse. That entire ship is filled with walking … dead people,” she continued, slightly rocking back and forth and staring out of the forward view point to see the unassuming Klingon Bird-of-Prey drifting just a few hundred meters away, not allowing the slightest indication of what horrors it contained.
“Yifey, I know you’ve gone through a lot over there but this is important,” he said. “Have they managed to injure you in any way?”
She turned to look at him very slowly and gazed straight into his eyes. Then a very small smile formed on her lips. “That’s … that’s the first time you’ve ever called me Yifey.”
He returned the smile.
She nodded and then quickly shook her head, wiping away the blood on her face. “It’s not mine. It’s … it’s Jonas’. I … I killed him.”
“You didn’t kill Jonas,” he said. “Whatever that was. Whatever he had become. He wasn’t Jonas anymore when you shot him, do you understand?”
Her nod was barely perceivable at all.
A high-pitched warble of a phaser beam cut through the silence that had ensued. Both Chayton and Jiang whipped their heads towards the back.
“What happened?” the nurse asked.
But Chayton was already on his feet, storming towards the rear compartment.
He found Aliris holding the phaser rifle and pointing it straight at a clearly feverish and panicked Graham Torain. He did not look well at all, his skin pale and his nose refused to stop bleeding. He was on his knees, trying to stem his nosebleed with one hand while the other one was held up in front of him, as if trying to protect himself from the weapon pointed at his head.
“What … what are you doing?” Torain stammered. “I need … help,” he said, his voice so weak, he had difficulties making himself heard.
Aliris trembled slightly and Chayton could see from the scorch mark on a bulkhead behind Torain that she had fired a warning shot, presumably to keep him away. Thankfully the rifle had not been set on the highest setting or she may have perforated the hull.
“I’m not saying it again,” she said with uncharacteristic coldness in her voice. “Stay the frak back.”
“What’s wrong with you? What’s … what’s happening?” Torain managed to say but was hardly able to even get those words over his lips anymore.
Jiang joined them and immediately gasped in horror upon finding Torain in his current condition. “Oh my god.”
“Yifey, can you help him?” Aliris’ voice trembled. “Is there anything you can do for him?”
But the nurse had no words as she simply stared at the young lieutenant on the floor, barely able to keep himself upright.
“Godsdamnit, Yifey. Can you frakkin’ help him or not?”
“I … I don’t know how but maybe—“
“I’m sorry Graham, I’m not having you turn into one of those monsters,” said the Risian as tears began to well up in her eyes. “I’m so sorry.”
“Wait,” the nurse said. “You can’t do that. You can’t just shoot him down in cold blood. There maybe something we can do.”
The ensign threw her a withering look. “There was nothing you could do for those Klingons. There was nothing you could do for Jonas. I’m doing him a favor, don’t you see that!” Her voice was now almost hysterical. “I’m putting him out of his misery,” she added more quietly as she looked back at the shivering Torain on his knees, unable to speak but with his pleading eyes wide open, staring right back at the Risian woman.
Jiang looked at Chayton for help.
He nodded and carefully approached the ensign. “Aliris, listen to me. Lower your weapon and we’ll try to figure something out.“
“There is nothing to figure out. Don’t you get it? He’s too far gone. He’ll turn just like the others.”
“B’Nera,” the nurse said, suddenly remembering the Klingon medic, and stepped closer. “She talked to you. I saw her talk to you in the transporter room when she attacked. There is still hope.”
The ensign nodded. “You’re right. She did talk to me. She begged me to kill her.”
Jiang tried to reach out for the Risian. “Aliris, please just—“
But she had already pulled the trigger.
The phaser beam sliced off Torain’s hand before burning itself through the left side of his face, instantly melting away his cheek, jaw and eye socket and leaving his head a bloody pulp just as he collapsed to the floor where he remained unmoving in a quickly expanding pool of his own blood.
Jiang covered her mouth in shock.
For a moment all they could do was stare at the scene with disbelieving eyes.
“You … you—“ But Jiang couldn’t even say it.
“I had no choice. I had to do it. I had to keep him from becoming one of them,” Aliris stammered, seemingly unable to take her eyes of the man she had just murdered. Then, with apparently newfound strength and determination, she clasped her rifle tighter. “Those godsdamned Klingons. I’m going to kill them. I’m going to kill them all,” she said, turned on her heels and stormed back towards the cockpit.
Chayton followed her.
Jiang stayed behind for a moment, almost as if unsure if she should try to see if she could do something for Torain, her medical training compelling her to at least check his vitals even if it appeared obvious that he couldn’t have survived the massive head trauma caused by the phaser blast.
“Wait,” she said. “Wait, this isn’t possible. Guys, this isn’t possible,” she added when sudden realization hit her. When she noticed that they had both left, she quickly followed them into the cockpit.
Aliris had flung the rifle carelessly to the side and headed straight for the runabout’s controls, her eyes sharply focused on the Klingon ship floating mockingly in space before them.
“I’m going to blast you all back to whatever hell you belong,” she seethed and found the weapon controls.
Without bothering so much as calibrating the phasers or taking proper aim, she repeatedly hit the controls, unleashing uncontrolled and imprecise rounds of destructive energy, blasting away at the unshielded Klingon starship.
Her aim didn’t need to be true. At their relatively close distance and with nobody on board trying to evade or protect their vessel, the phasers easily tore into the Lukara and slicing away entire chunks of ember duranium hull.
“Aliris, stop,” Chayton urged as he tried to get her away from the controls.
But before he could get hold of the infuriated woman, she had managed to do significant damage to the Bird-of-Prey and tearing off one of it’s prominent wings, sending the entire ship and the debris into an erratic drift and exposing numerous decks to the cold vacuum of space.
“Let me go, let me go,” she screamed hysterically as he pulled her away from the console and she futilely tried to free herself. “I have to kill them all!”
“Calm down. This is not helping.”
She struggled for a moment longer and when she finally stopped fighting him, Chayton let her go just before she collapsed into one of the seats with tears now flowing freely down her cheeks.
Jiang joined them not a second later. She looked at the tumbling and broken up Klingon ship in shock before looking at the equally broken Aliris slumped in the chair. Then she made eye contact with Chayton. “Something’s wrong.”
“No, I mean Graham. How did he get infected? From everything we’ve seen so far it takes direct contact with somebody who has already been infected for them to show symptoms and die only then to come back. You said it yourself earlier. Jonas was bitten before he became … un-dead.”
“Perhaps it’s airborne,” said Chayton.
“Perhaps,” she responded. “But none of us have exhibited any symptoms so far and we have spent hours on that ship. Torain has never left the runabout.”
Even Aliris looked up through swollen and teary eyes as she began to slowly grasp what the nurse had been trying to get at.
And then they heard that low, guttural moan again which neither of them had hoped they would ever have to hear again.
It was coming from the rear compartment.
The all to familiar sounds prompted Aliris to take immediate action, her brief episode of uncontrolled hysteria behind her, she jumped out of her chair to grab the rifle she had so carelessly discarded earlier and which now lay on the floor near the cockpit entrance.
Just as she had reached the weapon and was about to lift it, a large black boot adorned with a sharp, gleaming spike jutting out of its cap stepped onto the rifle, keeping it trapped against the deck plate.
She looked up to see the pale face of K’thor staring back at her, his mouth painted blood red and dripping as he groaned and grunted at her.
It was all she had time to say before the rabid Klingon jumped her.
“Aliris!” Jiang shrieked.
But without a weapon, the Risian didn’t stand a chance as K’thor easily lifted her up by her neck and pulled her close to try and rip out her jugular with his teeth.
“Warning: Collision Alert. Warning: Collision Alert,” said the computer and began to sound an urgent warning siren.
Chayton turned towards the front viewports just in time to see massive chunks of the Bird-of-Prey flying right towards them. “Computer. Evasive Man—“
But it was already too late and part of the Lukara’s torn off wing smashed into the front of the runabout, the force of the impact throwing everybody inside flying across the cockpit.
It probably saved Aliris’ neck. Quite literally, as both she and K’thor were thrown off their feet, only to harshly smash into a rear bulkhead.
The Risian forced herself to recover quickly and take full advantage of the distraction the impact had caused. Luck remained on her side when she noticed that the phaser rifle had fallen just a few inches away.
K’thor in the meantime had landed on his back and seemed to struggle to get back up again, whatever dexterity he may have possessed once, seemingly lost in his current state.
Aliris didn’t hesitate, didn’t check on the status of the runabout or her fellow crewmembers first, instead she jumped onto her feet, grabbed the rifle and quickly stepped up to the former Klingon lieutenant who desperately tried to pull himself off the floor.
She placed a boot right on his thorax to keep him pinned to the deck and then roughly shoved the entire emitter cone of the rife into his blood dripping mouth. “Go back to hell, you gods-forsaken, undead, zombie freak.”
She pulled the triggering stub to find that her luck had finally run out. After hours of nearly continuous operation, the phaser rifle’s power cell was completely depleted.
Aliris panicked when the weapon refused to fire while K’thor easily reached out for the rifle which gave him just enough leverage to pull himself up again.
“Warning. Fatal system failure detected. Hull integrity compromised. Structural failure imminent.”
The small runabout didn’t stop rocking and shuddering from large and small pieces of debris, hitting the unprotected hull.
As soon as Chayton managed to get back onto his feet, he quickly helped Jiang to stand as well. But before he could even think of coming to Aliris’ help, he spotted another imminent disaster heading straight for them through the forward viewport.
The transparent pane already showed signs of significant damage and large cracks rippled through the material, growing quickly under the constant impact of debris.
One of the Klingon ship’s main disruptor canons had come loose under the earlier phaser bombardment and was now on a direct collision course with the already compromised viewport. It didn’t take a degree in structural engineering to understand what would happen next.
Chayton reached out for the nurse and put his arms tightly around her. “It’s about to get very cold and you’ll want to hold your breath. Don’t.”
She didn’t understand straight away. Not until she caught a glimpse out of the viewport and saw something big and menacing heading straight for them.
Not a second later the cannon smashed through the damaged viewport and the cabin’s oxygen and pressure exploded outwards and was sucked into the vacuum of space and along with it everyone and everything not bolted down.
Chayton and Jiang went first, the nurse clinging tightly to the larger Sioux.
Aliris went next and less than a second later so did the zombified K’thor.
Just as the Klingon was pulled through the now open viewport, did the protective force field finally snap into place. But by then it was too late to ensure structural integrity. Instead it cleanly severed K’thor along his hip, his lower body staying behind on the runabout while the rest of him was blown out into space.
Aliris’ earlier predictions that they would explode the moment they were exposed to outer space remained untrue. The more immediate problem was the sudden drop of temperature and the acute lack of breathable oxygen.
Chayton held on to Jiang as tightly as he could in order to share their rapidly dwindling body heat even if his exposed skin began to pale and shiver. The force of the sudden loss of cabin pressure was catapulting them towards the ripped open Bird-of-Prey.
Aliris was faring much worse. She’d had no time to prepare for the unscheduled and un-suited extravehicular activity and had panicked the moment she had been sucked out of the runabout.
As it turned out, being forcefully ejected into space wasn’t the worst thing to happen to her. Not a moment after hitting the cold vacuum, she felt equally cold hands reach out for her shoulders.
Her body twisted around just in time to allow her to see K’thor, or what was left of him, pulling himself towards her. The undead Klingon seemed not to be bothered by the lack of pressure, warmth or oxygen, or for that matter the lack of his entire lower body. Aliris with no leverage or avenue of escape, was unable to stop him from burying his foul teeth deep into her once beautifully smooth and caramel colored neck.
The Risian ultimately proved, once and for all, the old human adage that in space, nobody could hear you scream.
Chayton was not aware of the ensign’s fate as he had to focus on his and Jiang’s own survival and right at that moment, their only chance was entirely dependent on sheer luck.
Their momentum continued to push them towards a large opening were once the Klingon ship’s landing deck had been. Thankfully for them, the bay doors had been ripped clean off when Aliris had unleashed her phaser barrage.
They tumbled end over end into the Klingon ship and accelerated when they were caught in its artificial gravity until they slammed into the bulkheads, Chayton turning just so to ensure his broad back absorbed most the impact. But the depressurized compartment offered no shelter from the unforgiving elements of outer space.
Chayton did however spot an open doorway and ignoring his bruised back, his nearly frozen skin and oxygen deprived brain, he held on tightly to Jiang, unable to tell anymore if she was even still alive, and set out for the hatch.
Helped by the still partially effective artificial gravity net, they reached the doorway in a matter of seconds which to Chayton felt more like hours. Every single step painful and awkward.
Inside the hatch he finally let go of Jiang and turned to find the closing mechanism. He found a lever right next to the open doors but hesitated for a moment when he spotted a body tumbling towards him.
It was Aliris.
He reached out for her, managed to snag her trouser leg and pulled her into the hatch just before he was able to use the absolutely last vestiges of his strength to push down onto the lever.
Lady Fortune looked upon his request favorably once more, as the hatch slid shut and the room immediately re-pressurized, flooding the room with desperately needed heat and oxygen.
Zapped of all his strength, Chayton could do little more than crawl towards the unmoving body of Jiang. “Yif … Yifey.”
She didn’t respond.
He reached her and turned her onto her back to find her face pale and her eyes closed. Her body was cold as ice.
Chayton quickly pulled her close to him and pressed his lips onto hers to pump oxygen into her lungs. After a moment she stirred. “So … so cold.”
Satisfied that she wasn’t dead, he next turned towards Aliris who was lying in a heap near the now closed hatch.
He watched with surprise as she slowly pulled herself up and back onto her feet.
But before he could check in on her something else happened which proved that they were not quite out of danger yet.
With his eardrums ruptured, Chayton hadn’t noticed before, but the Klingon ship was far from being in optimal condition and loud alarm klaxons droned on, advising of immediate danger. The Lukara had been sliced open like a Thanksgiving turkey, structural integrity had been severely compromised, the hull was breached, the artificial gravity had become unreliable and unbeknownst to Chayton, what was left of the ship was about to collide with the Starfleet runabout.
The Lukara’s computer, apparently still functional enough to know that it was doomed, opened another hatch, just to their right. And while Chayton couldn’t be sure, it looked a lot like a tiny escape pod.
The impact was bone jarring and once again the three Starfleet officers were thrown about like ragdolls.
Chayton was sure that he broke several bones when he smashed hard into the bulkheads. Convinced that the ship was about to come apart at the seams around them, he managed to grab the barely conscious nurse and pushed her into the escape pod.
When he turned to get Aliris however he found her already back on her feet and looking right at him. Only then did he notice that her neck and part of her shoulder were exposed bloody pulps with entire chunks of flesh missing.
Her face was completely drained of color and her eyes empty. She groaned loudly as she focused in on the Sioux.
He expected her to stumble forward but was caught off guard when she covered the few meters between them in a quick dash, jumping him and pushing him backwards.
They both fell to the floor.
With little strength left to fight her off, he scrambled to crawl into the escape pod. Unfortunately for him, the zombified Aliris had no intention of letting him get away and reached out to take hold of one of his ankles.
Chayton didn’t let up either and somehow managed to pull his frame into the pod while using his free foot to try and shake off Aliris.
It didn’t work. Even after the sole of his boot smashed into her face repeatedly, breaking her nose in the process, Aliris simply wouldn’t let go, determined to either keep him on the doomed Lukara or follow him into the escape pod. Either way she was going to get her fill.
That’s when he noticed the release panel next to the hatch. Chayton changed tactics and instead of continuing to batter her face, he smashed his boot into the panel.
Aliris let go upon hearing a loud swooshing noise and looked up just in time to see the hatch come down on her with the force of a guillotine. And just like it, the door sliced through flesh and bone, decapitating the Risian in one swift motion.
The escape pod disengaged with a sudden jerk and pushed away from the Lukara. Through a tiny viewport, Chayton was able to see what remained of the Klingon ship, breaking up piece-by-piece with almost half the runabout buried deep inside its guts.
Still shivering from the cold, he quickly wrapped himself around Jiang.
“Chay … Chayton,” she whispered weakly. “What … happened?”
“It’s alright,” he responded, his own voice sounding hollow and feeble. “Everything’s going to be alright. Just close your eyes. Whatever you do, don’t look,” he said as he pressed her closer against him, keeping her face against his shoulder.
For just a few inches away from her sat Aliris’ severed head, staring at them with wide-open but entirely dead eyes.
“Bridge to sickbay. Prepare to receive casualties.”
Veteran doctor and CMO Elijah Katanga turned to look towards the ceiling upon hearing the voice of first officer Tazla Star over the speakers. “Understood, Commander. Any more details you can share?”
“They are ours, Eli. We’ve identified them as Ensign Yifey Jiang and Crewman Chayton. They are onboard what we believe to be a Klingon escape pod. No idea yet how they ended up there but their life signs are weak and they’ll require immediate medical attention. We should be within transporter range in a few minutes.”
Katanga nodded and immediately began to direct his staff to make preparations to treat the injured crewmembers.
“Taz, Yifey and Chayton were part of the team we sent to Delta Cephei III. There were six people in that group.”
The Trill responded quickly with just the slightest hint of impatience in her voice. “We know that, Doctor and we are keeping an eye out for the rest of them. But for now I suggest we treat those we can. Bridge out.”
“I didn’t suggest otherwise,” he mumbled and then turned to his second-in-command in sickbay, Doctor Barry Nelson. “Can you tell what we got yet?”
The youthful physician checked a computer terminal. “I’m getting the sensor feed now. My god,” he said as he reviewed the medical data.
“What is it?”
He shook his head slightly. “Whatever they’ve been through must have been hell. They are both suffering from extreme hypothermia and cerebral hypoxia. They also show signs of acute congelatio over at least seventy percent of their skin.”
“Sounds like they’ve been exposed to outer space for an extended period of time,” said Katanga, quickly putting the symptoms together.
“And that’s not all. Chayton appears to have multiple broken bones and fractures as well as a serious concussion. And then there is this,” said Nelson and pointed at an unusual RNA reading.
“Looks like some sort of aggressive retrovirus infection. See if the biofilters can sieve that out of their systems and erect a level five quarantine field just in case.”
Nelson went to work. Within minutes the medical team was ready. Katanga and his colleagues had donned quarantine suits and a force field had been erected around two prepped biobeds as well as around sickbay.
Then the two bodies slowly shimmered into existence but didn’t completely solidify.
“The biofilter has identified and removed the retrovirus,” said Nelson who monitored the computer readings.
“Good. Let’s keep the quarantine procedures in place for now and fully materialize our patients,” said the Chief Medical Officer.
Within moments the transporter completed its cycle to reveal the bruised and frost bitten bodies of Nurse Jiang and med tech Chayton. Their uniforms were dirty and torn and both their clothes and faces were covered by cuts and surprising amount of dried blood.
“Dear God,” said Nelson when he finally laid eyes upon his colleagues.
Katanga did a much better job at hiding his shock. “Most of the blood covering their bodies contains Klingon DNA.”
“Looks like they fought an entire army,” said Nelson.
“Let’s get started by raising their body temperature and getting their blood oxygen back to normal. Than start brain injury and bone knitting treatments. Cuts, bruises and … dried up blood are cosmetic. Let’s get this done, folks.”
Katanga, Nelson and the various nurses and medical technicians went to work on the two bruised and battered bodies like a well-coordinated hive of bees, each one knowing exactly what needed to be done to fix up their patients.
When Jiang regained consciousness for the first time a few hours later she was greeted by the dark-skinned and white-bearded face of Elijah Katanga. “Welcome back, Yifey. Don’t worry, you’re going to be alright.”
“What … what happened?”
“I don’t know what you guys went through but it’s over now. You’re going to be fine,” he said.
Katanga looked towards the next bed over.
Jiang turned her head to follow his gaze and found the large Sioux lying on the biobed next to her. He had come around as well and was looking straight back at her. They reached out to gently hold each other’s hands.
“You’re both going to be just fine.”
Doctor Katanaga appeared to remain right as he was able to give them both clean bills of health and discharged them from sickbay within forty-eight hours.
For her part, Jiang had quickly retreated to her quarters were she remained by herself until her solitude was interrupted by the familiar sound of the door annunicator a couple of hours later. “Please come in.”
Chayton stepped inside and found the lights dimmed. Yifey, dressed in civilian attire, sat by herself near a viewport, staring out into space. A bottle of Saurian brandy sat on a table next to her with a half-empty glass at its side.
She jumped out of her chair upon seeing the Sioux. “Chayton,” she cried and then quickly wrapped her arms around the large man. He hesitated for a moment and then reciprocated the gesture.
“How are you?” she said after she had let go.
Her eyes turned sad. “I’ve been thinking about the others. Telvin, Gradkowski, Aliris and Graham,” she said and looked up. “Any word yet?”
He shook his head. “None. I hear they’re still trying to locate the Lukaraand the runabout but haven’t found a sign of either yet.”
“They deserve better than floating around space somewhere as … as those horrible things.”
Chayton nodded in agreement.
Yifey went and got a second glass, poured in some of the brandy and handed it to him before reaching for her own. She held it up. “To absent friends.”
“Absent friends,” he said and they clinked glasses before taking a sip each.
“You know, I never got a chance to thank you for what you did. Without you I would have never made it out of that nightmare alive,” she said as she watched him intently.
“I did what I had to.”
She shook her head. “No, you did much more,” she quickly said and relieved him of his glass and placed it on the table along with hers. “I know I gave you a hard time before about your attitude but none of that matters anymore. I want you to know that I’m truly grateful for all you’ve done.”
But before Chayton could respond, Jiang and gone onto her tiptoes to be able to press her lips against his. His surprise didn’t last long and within seconds they embraced again, much tighter this time, and exchanged a long, meaningful kiss.
Yifey let go very hesitantly and gasped. “Wow, I needed that.”
Chayton smirked. “That was … nice.”
He punched him playfully in the shoulder. “You really need to brush up on your eloquence if you want that ever to happen again.”
“That’s why I’m here,” he said and raised a padd he had brought with him.
She looked at it curiously. “What’s that?”
“Don’t tell me you forgot about my poetry?”
She gave him a blank look and then laughed. “Oh my god, you were serious.”