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[JL ALICE/Billings/Deniaud] The Room at the End of the Corridor [Part 1]

USS Hermes Lounge

by Lieutenant Marielle Deniaud & Commodore Jerrid Billings
[Stardate ]

Login ALICE/Billings/Deniaud] Collaboration Log
Stardate: 16008.01 [01 August, 2016]
The Room at the End of the Corridor: Part 1

“In all secrets there is a kind of guilt, however beautiful or joyful they may be, or for what good end they may be set to serve. Secrecy means evasion, and evasion means a problem to the moral mind.”
- Gilbert Parker [The Right of Way]

She released a soft breath of air through barely parted lips, her tongue sticking out at the corner of her mouth as her green eyes moved over the small device within the collection of circuits. The connections were made, and the device’s screen flashed its countdown. Marielle returned the panel door to its rightful place, and she smoothed her hand over the surface as if it would erase the doubt in her mind. She grabbed the toolkit on the floor from her side, dusted her knees, and took quick strides out of the holodeck. The doors slid shut behind her. The hiss sounded much louder than she remembered, but then again she could only hear the rapid drumming of her heart. It vibrated against her ears, and she was sure you could see her heart thumping through her uniform.

Marielle willed her chin to lift and her legs to move with a confidence she didn’t feel. Her strides were a little too quick as she moved towards her destination. The grip on the toolkit turned her knuckles white. She was aware of the shuffling of her feet under her and the sounds of her hurried breath. Briefly, she looked behind her when she believed someone would suddenly come up behind her. Her head snapped back to look forward. Silently, she chastised herself for being nervous. She was doing nothing wrong, Marielle told herself. The words chanted within her head like a mantra. She was doing nothing wrong.

She stopped the moment she turned the corner and faced the short corridor that led to nowhere. Her senses were on alert, on edge at what she was about to do. Marielle reminded herself that there was no crime being committed. The search for the truth was never a crime. Her steps were quiet as she walked towards the wall at the very end of the hallway. The young engineer stood before the wall and placed a hand against it. The bulkhead was warmer here than other parts of the ship, and she could feel that faint vibration that was entirely independent of the warp core. It pulsated steadily, like blood being pumped by a heart.

For for the first time since she discovered such a non-space on the schematics, her thoughts returned to the questions she couldn’t answer. How had no one notice this dead space? Why didn’t anyone question the lack of a room here? Why was it - whatever it was - hidden? Did anyone know it was here? Did the Commodore?

Marielle sighed as she took a step away from the wall, her eyes tracing the edges of the wall in a corridor that didn’t need to exist. It wasn’t the first time she had stood before the space. She had done so for weeks - just staring and thinking. With information missing, there was no way Logos could make the connections.

She had a theory though.

The massive drain had to be related, in some way, to ALICE. The young engineer couldn’t quite understand why the sentient program was so reluctant to investigate the massive power usage on Deck 9. Everything in ALICE’s programming should have had the being running diagnostics over and over again. The numbers didn’t add up, and while it may have been in the realm of acceptability, ALICE should have at least wanted to know just in case. Of what? Well, Marielle really couldn’t give an answer to that, but her experience on the Hermes had the young engineer ready for the improbable.

She had spent weeks, during her off-duty hours, researching. Every which way, it seemed as if she had gotten an answer to every question. The answers were always vague, and they always came a little too easily. Marielle had her suspicions that ALICE had been feeding her answers, had been fudging the data just a little bit - not enough to rouse anyone’s attention, but enough for her to notice because Logos was adept at spotting the patterns, but she didn’t have the proof. At least, she didn’t until she had written out the algorithms on her make-shift whiteboard - the windows of her quarters - and had physically written out the equations did she see how the numbers didn’t make sense. To be certain, she had done them three times. The next day, Marielle moved her investigation into the holodeck. ALICE’s reach was limited there; the demands of the holodecks were just a little too much for her programming. In the empty space, Marielle worked diligently without fear of ALICE’s knowing presence, agonizing over the diagnostics and peeling away layers upon layers of the holographic ship schematics.

It had been painstakingly tedious endeavor - tracing that flow of power. It had become abundantly clear, during one particularly frustrating night when every single attempt to to trace the power source failed miserably, that whoever had designed the ship was a clever engineer. Fail safes were ingeniously hidden. False data had been planted. Conduits that didn’t exist were drawn into the schematics, and conduits that did weren’t. It took months, but she had located it. The source had been in plain sight, apparently hidden by the ship’s holo emitters, and no one had been the wiser. The crew had passed by it daily and would continue to pass by it daily, never realizing that a room was just a few steps away. A little hidden room on Deck 9.

The revelation had made her laugh like a madwoman, victorious and ready for the trials to be over.

Her victory didn’t last long. When the holodeck wasn’t able to pull any information as to what was actually in the room, Marielle had wept openly from exhaustion while she sobbed out a list of profanity that even had her cringing. When her tears had dried, the young engineer had spent several weeks devising a way to get into the room.

The soft whine behind the bulkhead to her left snapped Marielle from her thoughts and she began to count, her eyes closing as she listened to her breathing. She forced her breaths to slow and for her heart to calm.

One. Two. Three. Four.

Her grip tightened on the handle of her toolkit. She had spent a month planning after she had discovered the hidden room. Logos had been quick to devise a plan. First, she had to knock out ALICE without damaging the ship or its systems. Creating the electromagnetic surge had been easy enough, and doing so from the safety of the holodeck meant her plan was completely hidden from the sentient program.

It would take a minute and a half for the surge to move through the entirety of the ship.

The cackling was faint behind the bulkhead, and she imagined a bright blue light moving swiftly through the ship’s systems. She waited as the second phase of her plan clicked into place. Her eyes opened at the the soft whirr of the holo emitters above her as they shut down. The wall immediately disappeared to reveal a pair of doors. Her eyes moved over the brightly painted words. RESTRICTED AREA. AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY. The red stood out menacingly against the standard silver.

Marielle paused, and for the first time, she questioned if she was ready to commit to what she started.

Ethos came alive as Logos pulled out the words from a filing cabinet labeled “Starfleet Protocol”. It drowned out the logical side of her subconscious, standing steadfast to the belief that secrecy presented problems to the moral mind. There was no way she could even remotely capable of caring for ALICE or the Hermes if she didn’t know everything about the ship.

Six. Seven. Eight. Nine.

She counted in her head while she sighed audibly when the doors didn’t open for her. She had hoped for some stroke of luck, but Marielle had prepared for more safety measures. Green eyes moved to the sides of the door, tracing the bulkhead until she found it - the slight break in the wall to indicate a panel. It was to the right of the jamb. It was time for her to move on to the third phase. Nimble fingers went to work to remove the covering, and she glanced inside to find a combination of thin wires attached to a small glassy surface. Marielle’s fingers brushed lightly over the surface, and the screen came alive instantly under her fingertips.

It requested a key.

Logos scrambled to find anything regarding encryption keys while Pathos wailed at the challenge. Exhaustion was starting to wear her thin. Her teeth clenched tightly together as she pulled the wires apart. Quickly, she kneeled down, popped open the toolkit, and removed a tricorder and spanner. Tricorder in hand and spanner firmly held between her teeth, she stood up and let her nimble fingers work in the tight space. As she attached the wires to the tricorder, Marielle realized that the encryption screen was firmly attached to a seemingly random conduit. Logos was quick at pulling the ship’s schematics from the file cabinets of her subconscious, and the young engineer realized that the conduit was tied into the subspace particle field.

Fourteen. Fifteen. Sixteen.

She had given herself up to the count of fifty. It was all she could muster in terms of time as the EMP that moved through the ship rendered ALICE “out for the count”. It was certainly not long enough, Marielle had known this when she set the plan in motion, but she had to make it work. Minutes. That’s all she had.

Her mind worked quickly as her fingers finished securing the last of the wires to her tricorder. The frequency of the subspace particle field changed daily, which meant the encryption changed just as the subspace particle field modulated. Marielle whined softly to herself as she pulled the spanner from her teeth and ran it over the mess she had created. The glassy surface flickered alive as numbers began to appear.

Amplitude for the subspace particle field modulated at over 10,000 variances per second. So, Marielle knew she had to work quickly. If the key needed to be entered at a particular frequency, as she suspected, then probability and time were not on her side. Time seemed to drag as she waited, green eyes watching intently as the numbers moved over the encryption screen.

Thirty. Thirty-one. Thirty-two.

When the doors slid open, Marielle had to stop herself from celebrating. Time was quickly diminishing. She threw her tricorder and spanner into the toolkit, not bothering to shut it completely when she slammed the box shut and ran into the room. The doors slid shut behind her, the soft hiss filling the small space. The blue lights in the walls flickered alive to reveal a single console in the center of the room and another set of doors beyond it.

Marielle frowned as she approached the console and set her kit on the far corner of the display. She had no idea what she had expected, but a console in a dark room didn’t even make it on the list. Her fingers danced over the smooth and cold surface, and her eyes widened as information scrolled easily over the surface. “No way,” she muttered. It was the faintest of a whisper, but it was loud in the confines of the hidden room. Her fingers danced over the corner of the console and the doors before her opened with a soft hiss. Instantly, Marielle was blinded by the light. Her silhouette was shrouded in light while the rest of the hidden room was engulfed by shadow.

A few blinks had her eyesight returning, and she rounded the console to approach the newly revealed room. Her breath stilled instantly instantly, and she remained just outside the room when her legs couldn’t find the strength to move forward. Green eyes moved over the interior, quickly at first and then slowing. Logos went to work, cataloguing everything she saw.

There was a gentle thumping that filled the silence, similar to a human heart. It was a steady and soothing rhythm that reminded her so much of the warp core, but Marielle quickly realized that it was the undercurrent vibration that she had come to know of the ship she had come to call home. That steady beat that didn’t quite match the thrum of the engines - one that she had only subconsciously noticed and had filed away as distinctly Hermes.

The walls were dark, save for the dimly lit conduits that snaked through and down the bulkhead and along the floor. Wires and thin conduits led to the center pedestal, where a medium-sized glass orb was safely secured to its surface. Her eyes lingered on the orb, drawn by the glow it emanated. A small pink organic sphere floated in a pale blue mucus-like liquid. Natural folds made it appear as if the sphere was divided into lobes, with curved hills as dark pink valleys covering its surface. The texture reminded her so easily of a human brain.

“Holy mother of- ALICE,” she uttered reverently under her breath. Her body moved without her knowing, Marielle’s own consciousness having lost count after the discovery. Her left leg moved forward, then her right. Before she could cross the threshold into the second room, the doors suddenly slid shut. The room turned dark, and her eardrums were assaulted by a loud alarm. The blaring sound echoed easily in the tiny room, bouncing off the walls and reverberating through her bones. Marielle barely had a chance to bring her hands up to shield her eardrums from rupturing when heat passed dangerously close to her ear. The unpleasant scent of burning hair filled her nostrils. The accompanied familiar high-pitched sound of phaser fire had the hairs on her arm standing, and she instinctively fell to the floor as phasers criss-crossed overhead. Shaky hands snapped to the back of her neck as she fell flat to her stomach. She screamed, her cries drowned out by the alarm.

The door to the corridor opened. ALICE stood just behind the threshold, her hands on her hips. Her eyes were fiery with anger. She was furious. Her body trembled as she took deep, seething breathes through gritted teeth. “YOU!” ALICE dangerously growled. “Do you know what you’ve just done?! I told you to let this go!”

Marielle looked up, eyes wide as she stared up at the sentient program. “ALICE, I swear to you,” she began very carefully as she slowly scrambled to her feet. Her hands were out in front of her, her motions slow and deliberate as a sign of standing down. “I had no idea. I was just after the power drain. I swear.”

ALICE pointed down the hallway and screamed, “GET OUT!” Just then, a second alarm sounded. It was the alarm that signalled during hull breaches, when an area of the ship has been exposed to the vacuum of space. Almost immediately, all the air was sucked out of the entrance chamber, throwing Marielle out along with it. Down the hall she went, as if she was being dragged by her legs by a powerful, invisible hand. When the young engineer looked in the direction she was being pulled, she could only see an open emergency hatch leading out into the vastness of space.

Copyright 2016. All works involving Mariëlle A. Deniaud, ALICE, and Jerrid Billings, including character biographies and published stories, are the property of the United Space Federation and its authors. It cannot be reproduced, imitated, and copied without written permission from the authors. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction using aspects of the Star Trek universe as created and copyrighted/trademarked by Gene Roddenberry, Paramount, and their affiliates.
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