LAST EDITED ON Sep-05-12 AT 06:58 PM (EDT)
[Small fix. See note below. --G. 20120905]
[Here is the last of the Manhunt tie-in Mini-Stories; this one is the most closely related, as it actually takes place during Manhunt 6 itself, in the gap between the fight on Salusia and the beginning of Gryphon's trial on Earth.]
Saturday, March 8, 2380
Socko Soda Bottling Co.
outside Vesper, Musashi
Despite the run-down, oppressive industrial setting and the lowering greyish-pink sky, the mood at Socko Base was festive that Saturday. All hands - the 33 Invincible survivors left after the Surprise's crew left for Meizuri and Salusia - were hard at work packing up the base and preparing for extraction. They worked cheerfully, buoyed by the news that their beloved captain had captured his nemesis and was set to have his day in court. They would all be there when the time came, to stand by him and show their solidarity to the legal apparatus of this strange new cosmos - about that they were unanimously determined.
Lieutenant Francis Prescott sat on a packing case and watched his shipmates at their work. He did this not because he was lazy, nor because he had some strange idea of his position as the officer in nominal command of the equally nominal station, but because Dr. Selar was still not quite happy - excuse me, not quite satisfied - with the condition of his leg. This appendage had been badly broken in the run-up to the crash of the Invincible, owing to an argument then-Ensign Prescott had with the starboard ladder in Impulse Engineering when the ship's internal gravity momentarily lost track of itself, and the doctor had had the very devil of a time convincing the rather narrow range of osteogenerative gene sequences that had survived the wreck to get along and play well with Prescott's apparently finicky immune system.
Even now, after several days of more successful treatment, Selar didn't consider the young officer's leg sturdy enough to bear anything much in the way of hard work. He no longer wore a cast and he could get around just fine with the aid of a makeshift cane, but he still had a bit of a limp and the occasional sharp pain shot down from knee to ankle with a quite shocking suddenness and intensity, especially when he moved or bore weight upon it unexpectedly. The doctor had told him these were normal - signs that the bones were knitting properly, and a regrettable but inevitable side effect of the accelerated healing. But they, like the limb's ongoing weakness, were enough to keep him from helping to pack.
In his heart of hearts, Prescott worried about this a little. He believed that his acting-order as lieutenant had come as a surprise to some of his shipmates, and it wouldn't have surprised him to learn that some of them resented it. After all, while other members of the Invincible's crew had been perishing for the sake of their comrades in acts of miniature but no less genuine heroism all over the ship in her final moments, Prescott had been lying unconscious in sickbay, strapped firmly to a biobed, his leg immobilized in temporary gelfoam. The ship had crashed into a mountain and he had slept through it, a feat which had already won him the nickname "Rip Van Prescott" among his few fellow survivors from Engineering.
It would never have occurred to Prescott, a paradoxically self-deprecating but image-conscious young man, that he had earned his rest that day. Even before his fall from the top of No. 2 reactor, he'd garnered lasting fame as the officer whose quick thinking and decisive command of the evacuation had saved 23 people from the portside warp engineering watch before the E-hull went up - one of them, a Vulcan woman (presumably a fill-in from some other watch, he didn't recognize her), by personally dragging her up the saucer pylon's larboard emergency companionway. Then he had reported to Impulse Engineering rather than seek treatment for his own burns and bruises; then he had suffered that shockingly broken leg when the gravity blipped; then he had crawled to the auxiliary command console on the lower level and helped to stabilize the reactor before he would finally allow himself to be carried to sickbay. Everyone who knew what Francis E. Prescott III had done during the Invincible's last battle agreed without reservation that the young officer was a spaceman of the first order.
Prescott knew none of this. He judged his worth only on the basis of the last thing he had done, and the last thing he had done was sleep through the crash and, indeed, its entire aftermath. He had regained consciousness on Musashi, right here in Socko Base, and his only part in the survivors' odyssey across the frozen wastes of Xawin was as baggage. He hadn't helped set up the station here, and now, thanks to his leg, he wasn't able to help pull it down either. He felt useless, quite unnecessary, his promotion unearned.
Not that, in the end, it was likely to mean much; Starfleet Command was hardly in a position to confirm the captain's acting order, after all. Prescott was in no way ungrateful for the gesture, but he was pragmatic enough to know that it had been mostly symbolic. No one had really thought ahead to what would become of them all once Captain Hutchins had had his day in court, but whatever their fate, Prescott doubted that his would hinge on whether he'd been made a lieutenant without proper consultation with Headquarters.
He looked up from his rumination to see the tall, dark figure of Senior Chief Petty Officer Alberto Giotto, the ranking survivor among the Invincible's enlisted security personnel, approaching his perch. The captain had left Giotto in charge of Socko Base's security, a task which Prescott was perfectly happy leaving to him. Truth be told, he felt a bit silly commanding senior noncoms with combat experience like Giotto and Gunnery Sergeant Breckenridge of the Marines anyway. Giotto had ten years' seniority with Starfleet Security, and Breckenridge had almost twice that in the Marine Corps. Prescott, on the other hand, was barely six months out of Starfleet Academy, and an engineer to boot. He'd never been in a situation where he was even issued a phaser outside a firing range.
Giotto didn't seem to think it was silly, though; his face was entirely serious as he said, "Lieutenant, you'd better come see this."
Prescott got up from the crate, collected his cane, and followed Giotto across the process floor, up a couple of flights of metal stairs (his limp only slowing him down a little bit), and out onto an exterior catwalk that had once overlooked the loading dock area. Up here was one of the observation posts, perfectly positioned to cover the western approaches to the back of the plant. There wasn't much to see out there - only the blackened skeletons of Socko Soda's less resilient neighbors and a few low, scour-topped hills - but the security plan called for watching all sides, and now, apparently, that vigilance was paying off.
The sentry on duty in this post was a wiry young Earthman with slightly exaggerated sideburns in the style still popularly known as the Starfleet Academy trim. He wore yellow-tinted shooter's goggles and a nonregulation slouch hat with the brim pinned up on one side, and was leaning over the telescopic sight attached to his phaser rifle.
"Still there, Mundy?" Giotto asked.
"Yessir," Mundy replied, his antipodean accent, like Prescott's own English one, still apparent despite the homogenizing influence of Starfleet's standard-language training. "Three more have arrived since you left. They're staying low and spreading out. I think they're using that old road as a guideline."
Prescott picked up a monocular spotter's sight from the makeshift crate table that made up part of the Australian's sniper nest and had a look for himself.
"Good eyes, Mundy," he muttered as he spotted the first one, a dark-clad figure in what looked like a long coat and ballcap, moving low to the ground in a furtive crouch.
"Thank you, sir," Mundy replied, not looking up from his rifle scope.
Prescott scanned the rest of the area, then turned to Giotto, offering him the optic.
"I've got a bad feeling about this," he said. "Take a look at that. They're not just following the road, they're using the ditch for cover."
Giotto looked and saw that the young officer was right. A dull chill settled into the pit of his stomach as he realized what the mysterious figures out there were up to.
"They're encircling the plant," he said. He pulled out his communicator, flipped it open, and said, "Giotto to Breckenridge. Perimeter check."
Breckenridge's voice replied, "You must be psychic, Al, I was just about to call you. I've got four - make that five people strung out in a rough skirmish line about 200 meters south of our position. Looks like they're trying to find hides."
"Keep watching them."
Giotto went to switch channels, but his communicator beeped with an incoming call before he had the chance. "Giotto."
"Ecklund, Chief," came the voice of Breckenridge's number-two Marine. "I've got five humanoids taking up positions to the north, range about 150 meters, in the ruins of that old cannery. I don't think they know we're aware of them."
"Are they armed?"
"No long arms that I can see. They might have handguns - I can't tell at this range. They don't appear to be uniformed."
"Okay, stay sharp."
"Aye aye, Chief."
Giotto commed off, then adjusted the device and signaled once more: "Giotto to Sv'aal."
"Go ahead, Chief." Sv'aal was a Cetian reptiloid; her voice had a faint sibilant quality, like a cartoon snake's, that always made Prescott wonder whether she was doing it on purpose.
"Perimeter check. Do you see anything?"
"Negative," Sv'aal replied. "The easst approach is clear. ... Wait. Belay that. I have a group of... I make it ssixteen humanoidss approaching up the old accesss road."
"Do they appear to be any kind of legitimate authority?"
"Not unlesss the copss on thiss planet order their uniformss from the hobo catalog," Sv'aal replied. "Their clothess are old and filthy, and none of them match. But," she added with a faint note of apprehension, "their gunss look like they work."
That was all Giotto needed to hear; galvanized into action, he dashed back inside and down the stairs, making for the security checkpoint at the front of the old bottling plant, where the guard shack had once been. Prescott followed, making excellent time for a man with a cane, the pains in his leg pushed out of his mind by the sudden urgency of the situation.
Sv'aal's dark-green scales had a dull shine in the muted sunlight penetrating the overcast above as she and her two colleagues, another security crewman and a Marine, crouched behind the concrete barricade next to the guard post and watched the approaching armed group. Giotto joined them, and Prescott arrived seconds later.
"Have they made any hostile moves?" Prescott asked.
"No, ssir," Sv'aal replied. "But," she added, hazarding a speculation, "they don't sstrike me as the welcome wagon."
Before Prescott could respond beyond quirking a small smile, the group of ill-clad but armed humans halted fifteen meters or so from the checkpoint. One of them, a tall human male with the beginnings of a beard showing through the grime on his face, stepped away from the rest of the group and spoke in a voice just below a shout.
"I want to talk to the person in charge here - now."
Prescott raised an eyebrow. "Well," he said to the others around him, "as ranking officer, I suppose I should go and ask them what they want."
"Sir, these people's intentions are unknown," Giotto objected. "They're armed and it's safe to assume the other people out there working to encircle the base are with them. Confronting them head-on is needlessly dangerous in my opinion. Let me talk to them."
"I appreciate your concern for my safety, Chief," Prescott said, "but it's my responsibility, not yours. Besides which," he added with a self-deprecating smile, "if something goes wrong, you'll be needed by the others more than I will."
Giotto looked for a moment as if he intended to argue further; then he checked himself and nodded. "I've got your back, Lieutenant."
"I haven't the slighest doubt of it," Prescott replied, smiling. Then he straightened up, stepped around the end of the barricade, and walked toward the ragtag group until he was within easy earshot of them. While he advanced, the only sound was the tip of his cane tapping the cracked pavement.
"I'm Lieutenant Francis Prescott, late of the starship Invincible," he declared. "I'm in command of this outpost. State your business."
The bearded man snorted derisively and spat on the ground. "Outpost? This is a ruined soda factory, Lieutenant," he said, with heavy, mocking emphasis on Prescott's rank. "But, sure, if you wanna play it that way. My name's Dane. I represent the Greater Vesper Vigilance Society." He gestured to the people around him. "Let's get right down to brass tacks, Lieutenant. We know the Butcher is here. We want him. You're gonna give him to us, or we'll be forced to consider you his accomplices."
Prescott affected a look of unconcerned incomprehension. "There are no butchers here," he said. "We're shipwreck survivors, waiting for our shipmates to finish arranging our rescue. We're certainly not harboring any criminals, if that's what you're implying."
"That Valkyrie you're trying to hide in the loading dock says otherwise," Dane replied, sneering. "Pretty famous piece of kit. Where'd a bunch of shipwreck survivors come by a thing like that, now, and not even knowing the Butcher?"
"If you're referring to the criminal known as the Butcher of Musashi, I believe you'll find that he's just been captured on Salusia," Prescott told him coldly. "Now, if there is nothing else I can explicate for you, perhaps you'd be so good as to take your posse and leave us in peace. Good day to you, sir."
Dane pulled a weapon - some kind of compact blaster, Prescott guessed - from his belt and aimed it at him. "Not so fast. We've got this dump surrounded and we're not leaving until you prove to us that the Butcher isn't here - and that you don't know him. Even if he has been caught somewhere else, his accomplices are worth a pretty penny."
Prescott drew himself up. "Accomplices? Of a notorious mass murderer? How dare you, sir! We are officers and crew of a Federation starship, and we will not be bullied into 'proving' anything to any... any vigilante rabble! And before you consider making some sort of example of me, sir," he added as Dane's fist tightened on the grip of his weapon, "consider the implications of what I have just said!"
Dane looked confused. He lowered the blaster slightly, so he could regard Prescott without the sights in the way, and said, "What implications?"
"Ah, well, maybe you are not aware of the special security equipment issued to all Federation crews," Prescott replied.
"What the hell is he talking about?" Giotto whispered.
"Ssearch me," Sv'aal replied.
"What 'special equipment'?" Dane demanded.
Prescott smiled coldly. "So you don't know? That surprises me. I mean, I know it's still classified, but I had thought it was an open secret by now. You truly don't know about the implants?"
"Implants?" Giotto muttered, completely lost now.
Seeing that Dane wasn't following him either, Prescott took on a didactic air (unconsciously imitating one of his favorite lecturers in Academy engineering classes). "You see, every member of the Starfleet, upon induction, receives a special bionic implant. This device contains a small quantity of a substance called... corbomite."
Giotto clapped his free hand over his mouth to keep any sound from escaping, while Sv'aal and the Marine regarded him curiously.
"In the event of a potentially lethal assault upon the officer's person," Prescott went on, "the corbomite is released directly into the prefrontal cortex of the brain. There it has the interesting effect of magnifying the subject's survival instinct by a factor of... oh, I forget the technical details, something on the order of ten thousandfold. The side effects of this magnification are quite impressive. While it lasts, the subject has the strength of ten men and the ferocity of a Mongol army, and is absolutely indifferent to pain, fatigue, and fear. He is, in effect, a walking dead man - if the injury that triggered the implant doesn't kill him, the stress of the corbomite effect will - but before he goes... well, he can make quite a mess. In this way the fleet makes certain that no one can ever murder one of its personnel with impunity.
"Now, having said that, Mr. Dane, I urge you to consider your position. You may be able to kill me without much difficulty, but if you do, my shipmates will retire into the facility and defend it to the utmost. You won't be able to shift them; if you want them, you'll have to go inside and get them. The building is filled with traps, hidden weapons, all the dirty tricks the Federation's darkest military minds could devise... and of course the people. They won't give up. They won't surrender. You'll have to kill them... and I've told you what will happen then."
Prescott limped forward, ignoring the muzzle of Dane's weapon, and noted with entirely hidden satisfaction that the rest of Dane's group all edged away, eyes wide, making no attempt to draw their own arms. He stopped at barely arm's length from the vigilante leader, staring him down.
"Believe me, sir, the last thing you want to be confronting in a confined space full of traps and barricades is a horde of corbomite-infused corpses-in-waiting." Looking straight into Dane's eyes, Prescott finished, "You may kill us all, but you and your colleagues will die far more horrible deaths than our own."
Dane stood staring at him, uncertain just what sort of madman he was dealing with. His weapon wandered uncertainly; then, with a visible effort to get hold of himself, the vigilante raised the gun and aimed it square at Prescott's head.
"Go ahead, then," Prescott told him. "Death has little meaning for us, you know. Our job is predicated on a disregard for mortality. Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence - the fleet has little use for recruits who spend all their time worrying about how they will perish. But if you do shoot me, Mr. Dane?" Prescott smiled a rather ghastly smile, still looking directly into Dane's eyes. "I hope for your sake that your shot is lucky enough to cripple my implant."
Dane stared at the casually smiling young man for a full four seconds, then withdrew his blaster and took a half-step back.
"Fall back to the outer perimeter," he ordered his followers, his voice wavering only slightly. Then, giving Prescott a sneer in a half-hearted attempt to seize back some moral territory with bravado, he added, "We'll starve 'em out."
Prescott watched them go until they stopped just outside the ruins of the soda plant's chain-link fence, then turned and limped back to the checkpoint.
"That was beautiful, sir," Giotto said.
Prescott grinned. "Liked that, did you?" he said, uncomplicatedly pleased. "I wasn't entirely convinced it was going to work." Then, glancing back over his shoulder, he continued on into the building with Giotto at his side, adding in a lower voice, "I don't think it'll hold them forever, though." Turning to Giotto, he said, "I'd be glad of the benefit of your experience, Senior Chief."
Giotto smiled tightly, acknowledging the young officer's deference to him in matters pertaining to his specialty. "First thing we need to do is double the watches. Then we can get started reinforcing the fortifications; everyone who's not needed for that should concentrate on being ready for a quick evac once our ride gets here."
Prescott nodded. "Make it so, Chief," he said. "For my part, I shall signal Surprise, see if I can't get them to put on a bit more speed."
Monday, March 10, 2380
As the crew swiftly but not hurriedly broke down the remainder of the camp and transferred everything into the Surprise's hold, Lt. Prescott stood at the base of the ramp giving his report to Commander Saavik.
"... and that was that. We thought briefly that they were thinking of trying us early this morning, but Mundy's sharpshooting discouraged their probing force to the west quickly enough." Prescott smiled. "I don't think they realized a phaser rifle could stun at 230 meters. After that they kept their heads down, and before they could muster the courage for another attempt, you arrived."
Saavik said nothing for a moment, her eyes flicking back and forth as she scanned the précis of his report on her datapad. Then she looked up and said,
Prescott smiled. "I've always been a keen student of the classics, ma'am."
To the young officer's considerable shock, the Invincible's inscrutable Vulcan first officer smiled, if only very slightly, in return.
"Well done, Mr. Prescott," she said.
"Th... thank you, Commander," he said. She held the eighth-smile on him for another full second, then turned to give the imminently-reabandoned facility a final visual sweep.
"That'ss the lasst of the containerss, ssir," Sv'aal reported to Prescott. "All perssonnel aboard. Ssocko Basse is evacuated."
"Thank you, Crewman." Sv'aal nodded and went up the ramp. Prescott turned to Saavik, though the Vulcan had of course heard Sv'aal's report perfectly well for herself, and relayed the report anyway, as tradition required: "Evacuation complete, Commander."
Saavik nodded. "Very well, Lieutenant." She glanced at his leg and cane. "What is your condition?"
"Fit for duty, ma'am," he replied at once. "A bit of a limp, but nothing that'll keep me from working."
"I see. Then you may report to Engineering. I'm sure Mr. Lang would appreciate your assistance."
"Right away, ma'am." Prescott turned and stumped up the ramp, but Saavik's voice halted him halfway up.
"Lt. Prescott," she said.
Prescott stopped and turned. "Ma'am?"
"You may be pleased to know that this dimension's Starfleet has accepted our credentials as regards rank and seniority - a legal necessity before we will be qualified to speak at Captain Hutchins's trial. Though we are not members of this Starfleet, your promotion in our own is now as official as it can be."
Prescott worked that thought through the gears in his head, then smiled.
"Thank you, Commander," he said, and then finished going on board.
Saavik stood at the base of the ramp for a moment longer, looking through the open loading dock doors; then she turned, ascended into the Surprise, retracted the ramp, and went forward to the bridge.
"Mr. Hunter," she said, "raise ship. Destination: Earth."
Max Hunter grinned. "With pleasure, ma'am," he said, and within a minute, the Surprise was gone from Musashi, never - every member of her crew fervently hoped - to return.
"Prescott's Bluff" - a Manhunt mini-story by Benjamin D. Hutchins
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