"I'm sorry Captain, but it's a dry well." Matthews sounded as frustrated as Picard felt. There was no one, past or present, listed in the plant's personnel records who possessed the engineering skills needed to tamper with the plant machinery. There were a few disgruntled employees, but thorough background checks quickly eliminated them.
Picard was not about to give up so easily. "Could any of the dissatisfied workers have helped a saboteur gain access?"
The plant manager, a dark haired, stocky little man named Jack Yerlen, adamantly insisted, "Not a chance, Captain. None of them's dumb enough to do themselves out if a job."
Picard turned away from the manager's desk and stared through the transparent aluminum wall, at the landscape of silent processing machinery below. The plant manager's office was little more than an enclosed section of catwalk, with a door at either end. Fifty meters above the plant floor, the glass clear windows of the balcony offered a broad view of plant operations, but little else. Like so much of the factory it overlooked the office was dull, unadorned and purely functional.
Worf drew the Captain's attention by voicing the most likely explanation. "Perhaps either a security guard or maintenance technician has been replaced."
Yerlen scoffed, "Replaced? By one of those things you've been telling me about? No way, I'd know the difference."
The Starfleet security officer turned a cold stare on the shorter man. "Doubtful," was Worf's assessment.
Yerlen retorted, "Look, just because one supposedly fooled you doesn't mean---"
Worf cut him off with a suggestion for the Captain. "We should interview plant employees. If one is an impostor, it may have remained to create more havoc."
Geordie threw another piece of rotten meat into the stew. "There may be more than one. If the damage is widespread, it would almost certainly take more than one droid."
Yerlen sat up, and now looked more than a little nervous. "Just what do you mean by widespread?"
Picard could tell Mister LaForge was glad to finally have Yerlen's undivided attention, as the engineer explained, "Every piece of equipment in this plant could be an accident waiting to happen."
Yerlen was shocked. "But…how?"
"By a better engineer than me," Geordie confessed.
Matthews added what LaForge's modesty wouldn't allow. "And there aren't too many of them around." She turned to Picard and agreed, "Worf's right, Captain. We should round up and look over all plant personnel, then keep them isolated until we have our culprit."
Solek offered, "Of course, the impostor may have already slipped away."
Yerlen turned grouchy again. "I don't want to drag my people through a witch hunt for some robot boogeyman."
Looking at the Klingon, Picard could see Worf had taken all he was going to take from the plant manager. Towering over the shorter, seated man, Worf growled, "If it is evidence you need, take a look at your reprogrammed loaders."
Picard quietly observed as Worf menaced Yerlen. Since their arrival, each member of the away team had silently chosen to play a different part. The Captain had elected to represent the voice of reason, and was close to making an argument ending decision.
"Mister Yerlen," Picard posed, "how many people work here?"
"One hundred and forty-three, including myself."
"How many of them are on the premises right now?" was the Captain's next question.
Yerlen stared at Worf as he replied, "Seventeen; five maintenance techs and twelve plant security guards. They're in the employee lounge, downstairs."
The Captain was about to render his decision when his comm badge chirped; he slapped it and announced, "Picard here."
Lieutenant Commander Data calmly informed him, "The engineering support teams are ready to beam down, Captain."
"Very well, Mister Data. Send them to the plant loading dock; Picard out." He turned to Geordie and finished, "Show them what they're to look for, put them to work then meet us outside the employee lounge."
"Aye, Captain," LaForge acknowledged, before leaving the crowded little office.
Captain Picard turned a thin smile on the plant manager and asked, "Would you show us the way, Mister Yerlen?"
Yerlen grudgingly pushed himself up from his desk, and wordlessly trudged from his little office. He led the single file parade down the balcony via a narrow, winding metal staircase. On reaching the plant floor, Picard glanced back at the open staircase. With nothing but a low metal rail along the edge, a lift would be much safer.
The Captain noticed Worf lingered behind him, so he quickened his pace and rejoined the tour. Yerlen took them through a winding path across the plant floor, stomping angrily and occasionally scowling at Governor Solek. The factory manager seemed to be showing them the scenic route through the petrified machine jungle. As their course opened on a maintenance bay, Picard supposed Yerlen was walking off his misdirected anger.
The Captain became more and more familiar with his surroundings, recognizing several antigrav tractors from his last walking tour of the processing facility. After what seemed like a slowly strolled kilometer, the parade ended at a section of the plant floor near the outside wall, partitioned off from the work area.
As Yerlen's hand touched the lounge door, an explosion outside shook the plant floor. While Solek and Yerlen began shouting, Worf and Matthews drew their phasers and hustled Picard to cover. The three Starfleet officers ducked behind a grav sled loaded with barrels, turning in time to see an energy beam slice through the processing plant wall.
Worf slapped his communicator and shouted, "Enterprise, lock onto the Captain and beam him aboard!"
Picard found his voice was surprisingly calm as he commanded, "Belay that order." He was going to add a short series of commands, but found himself startled into silence. Jean-Luc's jaw dropped, as he watched large mechanical hands pry open a section of the plant's corrugated metal wall.
The officers were shocked by the huge warrior's power, as it ripped the wall open as though it was paper. They watched as the warrior slipped through the gap, then raised the massive rifle slung over its head and shoulder. It took two short steps into the plant, swept the area with its weapon, locked onto several plant workers and opened fire.
At that instant Lieutenant Worf turned a steady beam on the mechanical soldier, as Matthews grabbed Picard's arm and dragged him deeper into the tangle of plant machinery. The Captain was about to protest leaving Worf behind when he saw the lieutenant bringing up the rear. Worf took a few parting shots, then rapidly picked his way through the immobilized processing equipment.
As Worf caught up, Picard realized Matthews was leading them in an arc, back toward the big combat drone. As the trio paused to get their bearings, Worf raised his phaser and sharply reported, "Full power, narrow beam, no effect." He glanced back the way they had come and continued, "It saw me, yet it did not return fire or pursue."
Picard pushed his phaser's power setting up to maximum. "Massed phasers may have some effect," said the Captain. "Let's go."
Worf edged ahead of him to take the point, while Matthews automatically brought up the rear; they followed the sounds of weapons fire and terrified humans. After a few incredibly long seconds, the Starfleet officers found the automaton herding a half dozen plant employees across another maintenance bay. Owing no chivalry to a machine, Picard, Worf and Matthews fired into the android warrior's back.
Each had selected a different target. Captain Picard went for a clean shot to the left knee, Matthews put her beam between the thing's shoulders, and Worf centered his stream of energy on the back of its head. The three beams came together a second later on the droid's back, and got its attention.
The assault unit turned and with phaser beams centered on its chest plate, fired one shot from its heavy rifle. The energy bolt ignited a nearby drum of some volatile material; the blast knocked all three Starfleet officers back, airborne for almost two meters. With the target cluster neutralized, the warrior turned and clomped off.
Picard remembered landing flat on his back with an awful thud, then the lights went out for a second. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, Worf and Matthews were crouching nearby, and Matthews was running a tricorder over him.
"Lie still, Captain," Matthews told him. "You took a nasty whack on the head and a couple of your ribs are cracked."
About then Jean-Luc noticed she was running the tricorder with her left hand, and her phaser was holstered. Following his gaze to her dangling right arm, she confessed, "Yeah it's broken, all right."
The Captain croaked, "Mister Worf?"
The lieutenant, who was covering the two vessel captains, announced gruffly, "I am not injured, Captain."
Looking up at Worf, Matthews scoffed, "Just got the wind knocked out of him."
Picard felt dizzy, but had to know. "Where is it, Mister Worf?"
"Unknown at the moment, Sir." Picard could swear Worf looked…embarrassed, but let it be.
Matthews offered, "It took the three of us out with one shot then moved on. Every few seconds we hear some yelling and shooting but that's about it." She slowly shook her head, and murmured, "Three phasers set for maximum, and all we did was make it angry."
As Picard's head cleared, he asked the best question thus far. "If I was unconscious, why didn't one of you have me beamed aboard?"
Worf, suffering from a guilty conscience, turned back to sentry duty. Matthews answered sheepishly, "Y'shoulda let us send you back when we could, Captain. Our communicators are out."
A loud, shrill whine pierced the late afternoon air, and was followed seconds later by another large explosion. In a mildly curious tone betrayed by her words, Matthews demanded, "Now what da'hell wazzat?"
Captain Picard shook his aching head, groaned as he struggled to his feet then commanded, "Let's find out."
Once again Worf assumed the lead position, and Matthews brought up the rear, covering their tracks with her phaser. Picard stumbled along between them, and finally remembered why she and Worf worked so well together.
Angela Matthews had left her post as security chief on another starship, for promotion to lieutenant commander and a tour aboard Enterprise. As Picard recalled she served well, in charge of the ship's training division. During her second tour she changed assignments, and became the helm officer on Mister Data's watch. Matthews had served in a broad spectrum of capacities, but apparently the old axiom was true. Although the officer comes out of Security, the Security never comes out of the officer.
The trio stumbled through a gaping hole in the plant's sectioned, steelplast wall and discovered a scene of total chaos. Nearly a dozen civilians Picard guessed were plant employees ran about, frantically searching for one another. Here and there a member of an Enterprise away team tried to calm one of the civilians, or offered medical assistance.
Then he noticed the smell of burned and burning vehicles. Looking across the paved landing field, Picard saw the remnants of several commercial cargo transports, airshuttles and hoverjets. The support and repair equipment for the harvest carrying shuttles was a wrecked, burning pile of junk as well. However what caught and held the Captain's interest were the smoldering pieces of what had to be an airshuttle, about a hundred meters from the edge of the field.
The sound of a scanning tricorder pulled his stare from the airshuttle wreckage. Picard turned his head a bit too quickly, and took one stumbling step toward Dr. Crusher. Jean-Luc regained his balance without crashing into Beverly, but not quickly enough to fool the doctor.
"Dizziness, Captain?" Crusher asked in her hard, professional tone. Picard could tell she was prepared for a fight, but for once he wasn't up for an argument.
"Yes Doctor," he grumbled. Surveying the damage the assault droid had done, he added, "but I feel lucky."
"Everyone was lucky," Beverly Crusher told him. "Almost everyone has an injury of one kind or another, but there were no fatalities."
"None? None at all?" Picard couldn't believe it.
Crusher was relieved to escape more autopsies, and did not understand his reaction. "Well I'm pretty happy about it."
Picard observed, "It had to be the 'bigger arm' that Jamesway spoke of. That monster laid waste to half this plant, but it didn't kill anyone here? Doesn't make sense."
"Less sense than you think, Captain." Picard turned too quickly again, but caught himself faster. As he focused on Mister LaForge, he supposed he was adapting to his swimming head. What mystified him was why Geordie was standing behind Doctor Sterling, and resting a hand on her shoulder.
"Problem, Mister LaForge?" was all the Captain could come up with.
LaForge explained, "Damndest thing, Captain. I followed the android to the landing field and when it started shooting up the place, I fired at it. The thing turned, pointed its weapon right at me, then my visor cut out. Aside from that, I'm not hurt."
Sterling corrected, "Except for the knot on the back of his head." She smirked as she finished, "I volunteered to be his seeing-eye doctor 'till we get back to the ship."
One very morose engineer confessed, "I stumbled in the dark."
Picard, dizzy though he was, could see Geordie didn't like being reminded how heavily he depended on a piece of technology. The Captain was still hopefully forming a sobering reply when Sterling chided, "Don't get all twisted on me, Geordie. Lots of us have been viciously attacked from behind by pavement."
For a few seconds Geordie chuckled softly through clenched teeth, before he continued, "But like I was saying, this attack makes no sense. That droid came crashing through here and shot up the place, but none of the chakka processing equipment has been damaged."
Picard wanted to know, "Then what was that explosion we heard a moment ago?"
"Lieutenant Hernandez saw it get into an airshuttle and take off, so he shot down the airshuttle," LaForge related.
The Captain pressed, "Then the droid was destroyed?"
Geordie shook his head slowly. "No. Hernandez saw it get up, brush off some burning wreckage and limp away."
Picard was beginning to feel his concussion and since Crusher was still running her scan, she knew it too, but he needed to know. "Where's Hernandez now?"
Sterling answered, "Sickbay, with a broken leg."
Crusher chimed in with, "Which is exactly where you and Mister LaForge are headed, Captain." She folded her tricorder shut and told her colleague, "Take charge here, Doctor Sterling."
Before stepping back, Sterling scoffed, "Don't I always?"
Crusher rolled her eyes as she slapped her comm badge and announced, "Three to beam directly to sickbay." Picard guessed Sterling's remark was some sort of inside joke, and decided to politely inquire later.
The Captain watched Sterling as she wandered into the human wreckage, checking on the first triage team she came upon. As the transporter beam energized, he saw her turn and raise an arm, as though imploring him to wait. Once Sterling realized it was too late to end the cycle, she smacked her communicator and said something---but then she was gone.
The assault android stopped and turned to scan the direction it had come from. Detecting no signs of pursuit, it powered down all nonessential systems and began a damage control survey. As it left the operation area, it registered a malfunction in its right center-leg manipulator, but articulation revealed a section of easily removed shrapnel had impeded function.
It had sustained actual damage to its fire control systems, sufficient to prevent accurate target acquisition. All communications gear was inoperable, making a report to Central impossible. However it gave priority to the malfunction in its primary coolant circulator, and its irreparably damaged backup. The robot warrior found itself forced to halt periodically, in its effort to avoid overheating.
Fortunately the sun was setting, and the anticipated drop in air temperature would be of considerable assistance. An overheat would not only cause a shutdown, but would reveal the unit's location to the probing enemy vessel. The only damage related to the air vehicle crash, amounted to a few buckled armor plates and a scorched exterior. The blackened armor would serve well as natural illumination failed. Apparently random chance had operated in its favor.
Enemy personnel had little effect, but had inflicted some damage. The mechanical warrior detected several data subprocessors off line, incinerated by a direct hit to the armor above its central computer. While the armor itself bore the brunt of the attack, several key circuits had been melted by sustained fire from hand weapons.
One burst from a cluster of hand weapons, was responsible for the failure of several primary control systems. The heavily shielded ECM package was still fully functional, and had been able to disrupt enemy communications long enough for it to evacuate the area.
The enemy personnel had not been targeted directly, as per instructions. It was not aware if any units had been deactivated, but it knew most of the opposing infantry units had been damaged. The aliens had offered considerable resistance, sufficient to damage an assault drone. The warrior understood, had it continued its attack, the intruders might have brought it down. They might even have directed fire against it from their ship.
The warrior had, during its escape into the cool, sheltering rainforest, detected sustained use of the enemy vessel's matter transport system. Sensors were not operating within set parameters, making determination of personnel shifts all but impossible. Still, the warrior considered its mission complete. The opportunity had been created; in the confusion, the infiltrator would find its own way aboard the enemy warship.
The assault unit elected to return to base for repairs. It powered up and continued its long walk back, disregarding the fire mission it had just finished. With communications out the drone considered itself isolated, and gave priority to command security protocol.
The warrior now had considerable information on the aliens, but would have to make direct core download---and within thirteen hours. Any unit out of contact with Central longer than one half rotation was considered captured or compromised, and its destruction ordered. If any functional combat drone was captured, disabled or out of contact with Central for a half day, it would automatically self-destruct.
The assault unit calculated its speed and in less than a microsecond, concluded it would not be able to reach Central without assistance. The unit went through a list of options, and decided to divert to the minor installation it had passed earlier. Options on arrival included commandeering a vehicle, or eliminating the installation during auto-destruct.
Too damned dizzy to resist Doctor Crusher's head nurse, Captain Picard edged himself back onto Sickbay's primary exam biobed. In an effort to slow the room's spin, he had focused on the nurse and immediately drew her attention. Alyssa had caught him trying to wobble his way out of the medical facility, and steered him back to the biobed.
A shining example of a nurse, Picard thought. She had sweetly reminded him the doctor had not released him, as she clamped an impressive grip on his arm and walked him back to the center of the room. He had hoped to quietly slip out, and perhaps steal a quick nap in his quarters after stopping by the bridge. Unfortunately, Jean-Luc hadn't taken three paces before the room spin increased.
At least he didn't need a report; he could see the damage toll for himself. Although none of the plant employees had been hurt badly, Doctor Crusher and her staff had their hands full. Among the civilians, the most serious injuries were a sprained wrist and a twisted ankle.
The twenty members of the engineering support teams, as well as the Captain's away team, had taken the brunt of the android's assault. Even then there were no fatalities; but an assortment of broken bones, concussions, light burns and sprains threatened to overwhelm the Enterprise medical staff.
Relieved as the Captain was, he couldn't even begin to guess why the robotic soldier had taken no more lives. It had to be the beast responsible for Lawrence and Jamesway. It was obviously capable of far greater damage, so---
"Are your ears ringing, Captain?" Doctor Crusher inquired.
"Hmm? Oh, no Doctor," Picard responded. He was glad his exam was finally underway, but wondered how long she'd been standing before him, medscanner in hand. As he listened to the hum of her instruments, he realized he been sitting with his eyes closed.
The second Picard snapped his eyelids up, his Chief Medical Officer peered into them with another scanner. He knew Crusher was only doing her duty as she saw it, but Picard never enjoyed being poked, prodded and scanned. Worse still was her attitude; Jean-Luc was convinced Beverly resented repairing what she considered avoidable injuries.
The Captain reminded himself he had earned this visit to his ship's medical facility through his own clumsiness. His turn had taken so long to come up because as Captain, he insisted on being the last attended. He told himself his sense of duty put his injured crewmembers first---but they were also part of Picard's failed attempt to duck quietly out of sickbay.
Crusher asked, "Still dizzy though, right?"
"A little," was all the Captain could bring himself to admit.
"Uh-huh." Crusher had the tricorder, and knew better. She waved some palm-sized piece of equipment over his head as she stared into her tricorder.
Picard had listened to the CMO's staff talk as they worked the sickbay, but inquired anyway. "How bad is it, Doctor?"
Crusher stopped, and turned an annoyed stare on him. "Do I tell you how to run this ship?"
That answered his question, but Jean-Luc told her, "Just wanted a report, Beverly." He watched her aggravation fade, crushed under the weight of her fatigue.
The doctor heaved a sigh, and offered a rough apology. "Sorry Captain. I've had far too much to do today." Beverly shook her head and summed up with, "Believe it or not, you're the worst of it. I won't know the full extent of the casualties until I hear Doctor Sterling's report, but at least there've been no more fatalities---now take a deep breath, and let it go slowly."
Picard did as instructed, and was amazed to discover the ache in his ribs had faded. Even the room's spin had begun to slow. "I'm as glad for the low casualty rate as you are, but you didn't see---"
Crusher finished, "I know, I know, I didn't see the thing. You're the fifteenth person to tell me that."
"I've heard it about as many times." Picard turned to the sound of Sterling's voice, as she escorted Matthews into the triage area. Sterling raised her tone a notch and announced, "I need a bone fusion unit over here," then returned her attention to the Captain. Sterling had to know, "Just what does this, thing, look like Sir?"
Picard began an answer, but fell short of words. He was grateful when Angela Matthews came up with, "Like the ice hockey goaltender from Hell."
Captain Picard added, "Easily three meters tall, but it moved like a humanoid." Wary of increasing compartment rotation, he shifted gingerly toward Matthews and asked, "Did anyone get a tricorder reading?"
Matthews was about to answer when she saw Dr. Sterling pick up a sonic separator. "No Captain, I---whoa, Kate. What're you gunna do with that?"
Kate Sterling replied nonchalantly, "I'm gunna cut open your sleeve."
Picard watched with a mixture of fascination and admiration as Matthews disregarded her discomfort, and tugged her uniform jumpsuit sleeve up. As she exposed her broken forearm, Captain Matthews explained dryly, "I've already changed my uniform once today, Doctor."
Sterling grumbled, "Uh-boy. Why don't you just chip off that icicle and I'll fix it when I have time?"
The Captain stifled a grin and repeated, "Tricorder scans, Commodore?"
"Heh---oh, no sir," Angela replied. "All active tricorders were deactivated by a high intensity wave pulse. Probably what knocked out our comm badges and Mister LaForge's visor." Her expression turned deadly serious as she finished, "Classic strategy, Captain; isolate, strike and evade."
As she made Angela's arm whole, Sterling reported, "Most of the injuries to the plant employees were caused by their own panic---stumbling as they ran, that sort of thing." Staring at her tricorder, the doctor asked, "Clean break, radius only. How'd you do this, Angela?"
Matthews responded, "We shot it, it shot back and set off an explosion that knocked the three of us down like duckpins."
Sterling coughed up another of her stock answers. "Well that was dumb."
Captain Picard felt compelled to observe, "It seemed like the thing to do at the time, Doctor Sterling."
When she stopped short, the Captain saw Sterling realized who Matthews meant by we. Kate knew she'd put her foot in it again, but her healer's instinct wouldn't let her back down. Instead, the young doctor cocked one eyebrow and snorted, "With all due respect, Captain, look what it got you."
Doctor Crusher commiserated, "Everyone who shot at the robot paid for it."
Picard nodded slowly, mindful of sudden movements. "Any idea why we were spared more fatalities?" He had developed a theory of his own, but wanted to hear from someone else.
Matthews sighed, and threw in her best guess. "Tip over the card table, and there's no telling who played what."
Picard nodded again, then slipped off the biobed and strode evenly to the nearest comm panel. "Intruder alert, all decks." The Captain turned and commanded, "Commodore, round up Worf, LaForge and Mister Barclay; have them report to the observation lounge in five minutes."
Without looking up from her tricorder, Sterling said, "All three are waiting in Doctor Crusher's office."
Picard turned a cold stare on his CMO, but said nothing to her directly. The Captain could guess why she had kept them from speaking with him, but he didn't have to like it. Instead he stood, leaning gently against the biobed, and raised his voice while glaring at Crusher. "Gentlemen, would you join us, please?"
The three officers lumbered into the primary exam area looking somewhat, Picard thought, like boys summoned to the principal's office. He couldn't really find fault with them either; he supposed they got as far as the door before being steered into the CMO's office. There the trio waited somewhat impatiently, but none of them were quite bold enough to challenge Doctor Crusher in her domain.
Geordie tapped the edge of his visor and reported, "I'm not sure what went wrong, but it's working just fine now, Captain."
Standing between LaForge and Worf, Lieutenant Barclay looked as though he'd been caught misbehaving but nevertheless, he piped up with an explanation. "It was most likely operating normally, Commander. The visor's signal was scrambled before it could be processed."
Geordie was quick to respond, "That's impossible."
"But it happened," Barclay reminded him. "The android you saw must have transmission equipment like the one in the brig. The sniper, that is; the impostor has no jamming systems I could identify."
Picard decided to move the report along. "What else have you learned about our visitors, Mister Barclay?"
The diagnostic engineer hedged a bit, as though looking for the right words; but finally blurted, "They have chakka oil for blood…Sir."
Geordie turned his full attention on his colleague and questioned, "Are you sure, Reg?"
Barclay seemed ready to back down, then flashed a quick glance at Sterling before he got a grip and responded, "At first, I, I thought it was some kind of coolant, but I…couldn't find anything like it, in the cybernetics database. Then Kate asked me what I spilled on my uniform---of course I've cleaned up but I, I still have---"
"You're certain it's chakka?" Geordie posed the question, intending to give Reg a moment to collect his thoughts. Picard noted Mr. Barclay still had a tendency to ramble a bit.
Barclay used a deep breath to utter, "Kate---uh, Doctor Sterling's sure."
Picard straightened up, but rested a hand on the biobed's edge. "Dr. Sterling?"
Matthews quietly demanded, "What have you done now, Kate?"
LaForge cut off Sterling's indignant denial with, "Captain, this explains a lot."
Worf took Geordie's next line by saying, "It did not return my fire, because I was moving through the processing machinery."
LaForge got back in with, "They either want or need the plant intact. Reports indicate there was little actual damage to the processing equipment, Captain." He thought for a moment, then added, "Do you suppose the assault was a warning?"
The Captain answered, "Perhaps; but it's more likely another infiltrator was smuggled aboard in the confusion."
Crusher observed, "There was certainly enough chaos after the attack."
Chief Engineer LaForge got technical. "Reg, if they employ a distilled chakka derivative as a coolant/lubricant combination, then what's the---"
"Na-na-na-na," Sterling interrupted. "You're thinking like a mechanic, Commander. I said it was blood, which is a lot more than just machine oil. The stuff touches every square millimeter of the android body; it runs through what I can only describe as a cardiovascular system."
Barclay continued, "I think the blood is the power source. My uh, best guess is it has to be periodically re-energized, but there's no way to tell how often."
"They run on chakka?" Matthews cringed. "And people have been eating this stuff?"
Barclay was quick to defend his discovery. "There are precedents in nature, Commodore. Why I---I could pull a faint electric current out of a potato."
As Barclay collected a disbelieving stare from most of those assembled, a grinning Geordie LaForge backed up his colleague's example. "True enough," the chief engineer confirmed, as he rested a hand on Reg's shoulder, "and people have been eating potatoes for millennia."
"Apparently chakka has a higher nutritional value than we thought," Beverly cracked. "Everything makes sense except, why now? This colony's been here for decades."
"We'll know that when we go down the well, Doctor." Matthews turned her emotionless gaze on Picard and informed him, "I'm ready to take an away team down there as soon as you give the word, Captain."
Captain Picard met her cool stare as he told her, "When the team goes in, Mister Worf will be leading it."
Without a trace of emotion, Angela questioned, "Captain?"
Crusher reminded her, "That broken arm---"
"Is not my first, Doctor." Matthews raised the injured limb and clenched her fist a few times. "It's just fine and besides, I know the major by sight. You remember him, the reason we came here in the first place?"
As Picard listened to her protest, he noticed how odd her argument sounded with no fire backing it up. He was convinced she was angry, but staring into her chips of blue ice revealed nothing. "You will coordinate from Tactical, Commodore. Lt. Worf and Dr. Sterling will return with a security team tomorrow morning."
Matthews pressed, "And if the major doesn't have until morning?"
The Captain wasn't accustomed to having his decisions questioned, and put a stop to it by gruffly observing, "You have your orders, Commodore."
Angela answered without hesitation. "Yes Sir," she said coldly, "that I do." Matthews turned her frosty gaze on Sterling. "Are you finished with my arm, Doctor?"
Picard observed as Sterling stared at her old friend, and wondered if the doctor could read Matthews any better. She seemed oddly suspicious but after an extended silence, Sterling said only, "Yeah, you can go. Just don't pick up anything heavier than a kilo for a day or two."
With one curt nod to Picard, Angela spun sharply and left sickbay.
Lieutenant Barclay broke the room's heavy silence with, "Commander if there's another android aboard, you should be able to spot it with no trouble. The infiltrators don't have jamming gear---they can't. It, would interfere with their camouflage."
"Mister Worf," Picard ordered, "check the transport logs. Perhaps we can determine who it came aboard as."
Barclay's voice nearly cracked as he reported, "Probably won't help. The infiltrators can completely alter their appearance in a matter of seconds."
Worf was visibly upset by the news. "So it may have impersonated any number of people by now."
Picard commanded, "Then walk the decks, Mister LaForge, starting on the bridge. Worf, go with him." Glancing from Sterling to Barclay, then back to the security chief, the Captain added, "If there's another one aboard, try to take it alive."
Reg Barclay threw in one more bit of frightening news. "If you find it, Commander," he told LaForge, "be very careful how you confront it. They have a self-destruct device that could blow out a couple decks."
Picard felt a little dizzy again, but said only, "I'll be on the bridge."
"Captain," Crusher told him, "you should stay off your feet."
As the Captain ambled almost casually toward the sickbay exit, he promised, "I'll stay in my chair." He'd had enough away team duty for awhile.
Starfleet Captain Angela Matthews strode smoothly to the door of transporter room two and almost ran into a security guard. She sized up the young ensign, assumed he was comparatively wet behind the ears, and decided on her evasion pattern before the young man uttered a word.
"Sorry ma'am," the bronze-skinned Adonis informed her, "but no one is permitted access to the transporter rooms."
Matthews’ voice had a hard edge. "Ma'am? I prefer Captain Matthews. What's your name, Ensign?"
"Vincent Chamorro, Captain," the ensign said with pride.
Cold as ice, Matthews asked, "Planning a career in Starfleet, Ensign Chamorro?"
The young officer saw what she was driving at; Matthews was rewarded with his faltering, "Yes, Captain?"
"Then step aside."
"Y-yes ma'am---Captain." The poor boy practically leaped out of the way.
Angela stepped through and caught the transporter chief's attention as the doors closed. "Can I help you, Captain?" Chief Brenda Hidaka inquired from the control console.
Matthews judged her as a bit more experienced, and would not be bulldozed as easily as the ensign at the door. She stepped up to the control console, glanced at the chief then centered on the controls. "Have you re-established a coordinate lock on the cave entrance?"
Chief Hidaka shrugged. "Well no, Captain. I had---"
"Do so now," Matthews ordered, "and maintain it until further notice." Angela turned to leave, not wishing to make Hidaka suspicious; but once she heard the transporter chief carry out her order, Angela turned to face Hidaka again.
"Oh, one other thing," Matthews told the chief. "Captain Picard wants the transport logs reviewed, so have them downloaded to my quarters."
Hidaka nodded, raised her hand to the touchscreen but never reached it. Angela's open hand shot out, her fingertips tapped a pressure point on Hidaka's skull, and a second later the transporter chief was dead weight in Matthews' arms. Angela struggled with the chief, feeling an ache begin in her right arm as she laid out the unconscious woman.
"Sorry Chief," Matthews apologized, then turned her attention to the console. All right, she told herself, it had been a while but it was just like riding a bicycle. Angela entered a security code override and unlocked the transporter. Check the coordinates, program in a four-second delay and a post cycle lockout. Hmm, piece of cake.
Angela stroked the sequence initiator then scampered onto the designated transporter pad. Captain Picard was quite right; Captain Matthews had her orders. Starfleet Command had sent her to locate and apprehend Edwin Matthews, using any means necessary.
It was one order she intended to take literally.