The Good That Men Do
Day Five, Month of Tasmeen
Unroth III, Romulan space
DOCTOR EHREHIN I’RAMNAU TR’AVRAK stood before the research complex’s vast panoramic window, listening to the control center’s background wash of electronic chirps, beeps, and drones as he looked out over the remote firing site where the prototype would shortly thrum to life. For the past several days, every console in the cramped control center had shown reassuring shades of orange, with hardly a hint of the green hues that Romulans tended to associate with blood and danger. The only green the elderly scientist had seen since his arrival here more than ten of this world’s lengthy rotations ago was that of the carpet of forest that spread from the base of the gently rolling hillside beyond and below the control facility’s perimeter walls, all the way to Unroth III’s flat, eerily close horizon.
Unlike most of his research staff, Doctor Ehrehin was unwilling to keep his gaze perpetually averted from the sea of greenery that lay beyond the control room windows. But he also refused to allow the forest’s alarming hues to unnerve him, concentrating instead on the soothing, ruddy light of the planet’s primary star, which hugged the forest canopy as it made its preternaturally slow descent toward evening. Despite the low angle of the diffraction-bloated sun, several long dierha remained before the wilderness outside would become fully enshrouded in darkness.
“It is time, Doctor,” said Cunaehr, Ehrehin’s most valued research assistant. “Are you ready to begin the test?”
His gaze still lingering on the forest that sprawled beyond the window, Ehrehin offered Cunaehr a dry, humorless chuckle. A better question would be, Is the prototype finally ready to begin the test? he thought, leaving the query unspoken lest he draw the unfavorable attention of the malevolent cosmic force that sometimes caused field tests to go awry in new and unexpected ways.
“I have my instructions, Cunaehr,” Ehrehin replied, keeping his reedy voice pitched only barely above the room’s background noises. “The admiralty is watching from orbit, and they have ordered me to be ready by now. And so we are. Please prepare to initiate the test on my signal.”
“Immediately, Doctor,” Cunaehr said. Ehrehin knew without turning that his assistant was hastening back to his own console.
Ehrehin considered the bird-of-prey that now circled this remote planet, and wondered whether or not the admiralty truly expected today’s test to succeed. Then he banished the thought, refusing to allow the military’s obvious reticence about posting any of their people on the surface to threaten his composure. In fact, the notion that a prototype field test could make the admiralty look unnecessarily fearful had quite the opposite effect on him, buoying his spirits and increasing his confidence.
Steadying himself against the neutronium-reinforced concrete wall into which the window was set, Ehrehin turned to face his associates, all of whom were busy either running or monitoring several semicircular rows of consoles. Despite his recurrent misgivings about the military-enforced pace of his team’s research, he realized that he was waging a losing battle against the triumphant grin that was already beginning to spread across his lined, weathered face.
Standing beside his console, Cunaehr ran his fingers through his perpetually tousled, jet-black hair in yet another vain attempt to tame it. He cleared his throat loudly, quickly capturing the attention of the science outpost’s thirteen other research personnel. All of the project’s staffers now stood alert at their stations, the staccato rhythm of their professional conversations momentarily halted, their usually busy hands now stilled above their consoles, their eyes turned toward Doctor Ehrehin in silent anticipation of his words.
“Thank you, my friends, for all the labor and sacrifice you have given this effort so far in order to realize our collective dream,” Ehrehin said, raising his thin voice slightly. “The time has arrived for us to make history. Now we shall light the torch that soon will bring near the farthest reaches of the heavens. At last we will achieve avaihh lli vastam.
“The warp-seven stardrive.” And there can be no margin for error this time, he added silently, wondering yet again whether the Romulan Star Empire’s military was right to worry that Coridan Prime—or perhaps even one of the other recently Terran-aligned worlds—had already equaled or even surpassed the painstaking work of Ehrehin’s team.
Cunaehr began slowly applauding, and the rest of the staff immediately joined in until the hand claps escalated into a torrent. Ehrehin’s smile broadened as he held up a single wizened hand to call for silence.
“Shall we?” he said once the room had quieted.
At Cunaehr’s deliberate gesture, the team members resumed their vigilant poses behind their respective consoles, leaving Ehrehin with little to do other than to watch and wait as orders were exchanged and relayed, and a countdown began, reinforced by an emotionless synthetic voice generated by one of the computers. No one appeared to be breathing for the duration. Ehrehin suppressed a tremor in his left hand as the machine crisply pronounced the numerals that represented the last five ewa in the countdown sequence.
A low rumble came a moment after the computer reached “Lliu.” Ehrehin rather likened it to thunder, except that he felt it deep in his bones rather than hearing it directly, as he did the crisp, businesslike voices that were ringing out across the small control center.
“Power output rising along predicted curves,” Cunaehr said. “Holding steady.”
The man behind Cunaehr nodded, adding, “Power output consistent with a velocity of warp three.”
“Confirmed,” chimed a woman’s voice from a nearby console. Others made noises of agreement. Ehrehin heard several jubilant shouts as the first dilated moments passed and everyone in the room appeared to resume their regular breathing patterns. The monitors continued showing orange and amber as the subaural rumbling continued and intensified.
Cunaehr smiled elatedly in Ehrehin’s direction. “Warp three already from a standing start.”
But Ehrehin felt that a victory celebration might be a bit premature. “Gradually reduce the containment field diameter, Cunaehr, and reinforce it. Increase the power yield incrementally.”
“Warp four,” Cunaehr said after relaying Ehrehin’s orders, his eyes riveted to his monitor. “Five. Six.”
“Continue until we reach maximum yield,” Ehrehin said, grinning in spite of his caution. It was working. Warp seven really was within reach.
“Fluctuation,” said the technician seated immediately behind Cunaehr. The sharp note of alarm in the young woman’s voice was unmistakable.
“Compensate,” Ehrehin said automatically.
“Warp six point five,” Cunaehr said.
“Containment instability,” another tech reported.
“Reinforce!” Cunaehr barked before Ehrehin could interject.
The room was suddenly awash in green as the hue of the banks of monitors and gauges changed in unison, accompanied by numerous horrified gasps and pointed exclamations from across the length and breadth of the room. Ehrehin’s attention was drawn back to the window, through which he watched the preternatural orange light that was washing across the horizon. The distant rumbling gradually became audible, not quite drowned out by the rising clamor of alarm klaxons. But Ehrehin found this orange light anything but reassuring.
Chaos. A hard jolt made the floor jump. A bank of unanchored instruments leaned forward and tipped over with a resounding crash. Someone cried out in pain. A ceiling beam collapsed directly on top of a man and a woman, spraying emerald blood across the floor and showering the rear wall as several others struggled toward the now partially blocked exit. The overhead lighting flickered and failed. A frantic voice boomed over one of the room’s com speakers, saying something about beaming to the safety of an orbiting bird-of-prey before it was too late.
Cunaehr had somehow moved to Ehrehin’s immediate right, and was shouting into his ear. “Doctor! We have to evacuate immediately!”
No wonder the military didn’t want to post any of their people down here, Ehrehin thought bitterly as he watched a trio of bleeding, injured technicians vanish in a blaze of amber light as the bird-of-prey’s transporter seized them.
An earsplitting crack barely preceded the fall of another beam. This one narrowly missed Ehrehin, brushing just past his right arm as it neatly stove in Cunaehr’s skull. Outside the window, Ehrehin could see the fires of Erebus consuming the forest as they swept hungrily from the test apparatus toward the control complex. The control room shook, twisted, and began to tear itself apart. The air stank of coppery blood and ozone.
Ehrehin noticed that the room was already nearly empty, and hoped that whoever hadn’t died here already would make it to safety. Then his skin began to tingle; he knew that he was either being transported up to the orbiting bird-of-prey, or was about to discover what it felt like to be vaporized, along with the wreckage of the control complex.
Considering the way the admiralty sometimes dealt with failure, he wasn’t at all certain which fate was the preferable one.