A simple glance at her brother’s face told her that there was still no response from Nalia. Where the hells was she? She knew that the creepy bastards couldn’t have gotten her. Nals was way too smart to get caught by a bunch of shambling corpses. I mean, not only was she a freaking genius, but she has one of the best security systems two brilliant bored geniuses could come up with. No way they’d gotten her. No way.
But still, she wasn’t coming back. For the billionth time, she checked the sigamp. It appeared to be transmitting. Was there some sort of interference? Not that she could detect, but maybe something, maybe something localized. With a few quick keystrokes, she widened the band again. Sure, they’d lose a little in signal quality, but there’s no way that radiation or anything could cover all the channels. Yeah. They’d get a hold of her, she’d come and get them, and then they’d figure out some way of dealing with the frelling deaders.
She kept one eye on the status indicators on her HUD and the other on her brother as he called out again, “Nalia? Do you copy? Crom, status request. Crom? Nalia? Is anyone receiving on this channel?”
She gnawed her lower lip as she picked up the undertone of despondency appearing in her brother’s voice. It reminded her of childhood when one scheme or another had come crashing down around their ears and the two of them were trying to wheedle their way out of trouble. His voice had that same tone she’d heard when it was obvious they were sunk but he was still trying to explain to Dad why the hovercar had new dents in it or why the house computer now only spoke in limericks. It was just the same now as then. He hadn’t given up and he wasn’t going to stop trying, but he didn’t really think they’d succeed.
As she made a quick adjustment to compensate for a wacky little fluctuation, she began to admit to herself how unlikely this scheme was to work. Nalia would still have to be virtually on top of them, in a relative sense, for them to punch through, even with the taccomm rigged into the sigamp. They just didn’t have the range. And that’s if the damn sigamp was actually working. Everything looked like it was, but the equipment was just so damaged she couldn’t be sure anything was happening.
She checked the sigamp status again and blinked. That wacky fluctuation was back, and it looked like it’d brought some friends. There were variations in both amp and in the power tie ins. The spikes were unusual, even for equipment as damaged as this comm array. Of course, the damage didn’t make a lot of sense either. Either way, their little experiment was probably going to have to end and end real soon.
Looking over at her brother, she called, “Bran, I’m startin to get some fluctuations out of the comm array. I think we better pull the plug.”
Bran looked over at her, his lips pursed. “You’re right. We probably should. I’m not getting…” He stopped abruptly and he looked away. “Wait… I think I’m getting something.”
“Are you sure?” Jaheira chimed in.
“I think so. I just can’t make it out… it’s faint and garbled.” He started punching keys on his wristcomp. “I just have to adjust frequency and gain… I’m getting some really bad interference.”
Imoen felt hope bubble back up inside her. She was nearly ready to bounce off the hull as a smile crawled across her face. She heard Bran call out, “Come again. This Bran Varnas, I am receiving you, but I can not read. Please come again.”
She bit her lip in anticipation. She could just see Nalia at the Ops console, working the panel, trying to punch the signal through to them. She could see her winging the Gorion back from wherever she disappeared to, coming back to rescue them. She was even willing, nah, looking forward to Nalia crowing about pulling her out of the fire again. Hell, she’d probably just hug Nals right after the first crack so long as she got her skinny butt out here and got them off this frelling ship.
“Anything yet?” Jaheira asked.
“It’s getting clearer. It’s definitely a transmission, I just can’t clean it up all the way,” Bran replied, his voice a mixture of frustration and excitement. “Wait… I think I’ve got it. Hold one.”
She could feel that smile turning into a full fledged grin. The others were certainly looking excited. Minsc was beaming and Aerie was giving him one of her hugs. Even Jah had a smile on her face. Then, she saw an indicator flash to red on her HUD. Surprised, she flipped her eyes down.
The fluctuation she’s spotted had gone completely insane. The power readings were across the board and the signal intensity was cycling off the scale. She stared at the readings in disbelief. There was no way this should be happening. It was impossible. And not even the normal kind of impossible, the kind you pulled off twice before breakfast. It was the real kind, the ‘Valygar dancing a happy jig in a tutu’ kind of impossible.
She had to pull the comm unit now. She started punching in the deactivation sequence into her wristcomp. The taccomm kicked back a ‘No Access’ just as she heard Bran shout, “I’ve got it! Just have to ratchet up the strength here…”
Her throat went desert dry as she realized something. The transmissions and the fluctuations, they were connected. She turned around and shouted, “Bran! Kill your connection! Kill it now!”
Bran stared at her quizzically for a moment, not comprehending. He started to nod and then his face exploded with pain. She watched in horror as her grimaced horribly and his hands clamped around the sides of his helmet. His knees buckled and his head rolled back and then he began to scream.
She knew what she had to do. Somehow the comms had been compromised and it was feeding back through his headset. As Jaheira and Aerie rushed to Bran’s side, struggling to keep him from ripping his helmet off, she turned her attention to the comm unit. The indicators showed power reading way over safe operations. There was enough power running through the damn system to flashfry a gundark, certainly enough to reduce her to a very cute pile of carbon.
“What is happening?” Jaheira demanded over the general channel, as she wrestled with Bran.
“I… I don’t know!” Imoen replied, staring at the reading helplessly. “It’s impossible! This shouldn’t be possible!”
“I don’t care if it’s impossible!” Jaheira shouted. “Stop it!”
“You’ve got to shut down his comms. They’re tied in!” Imoen replied, wracking her brain for a safe way to shut down the transmitter as the unit refused remote access again.
“Valygar! Minsc! I need your assistance!” Jaheira shouted shrilly. “Hold his arm so I can get at his comp!”
The dark skinned navigator grabbed Bran to keep the thrashing man steady while Minsc grabbed his left arm and did his best to haul it down. The two wrestled, Bran writhing and hammering at both men, but Minsc’s superior strength dragged his left arm down with the implacability of continental drift.
Once Minsc had the arm locked in place, Jaheira started working the wristcomp. After a few seconds of increasingly frantic button punching, she growled, “His comp is locked out! I can’t get it to shut down.”
“We have to do something quickly. His bioreadings are spiking all over the place. Heart rate, blood pressure and cortical activity are all approaching danger levels,” Aerie stated with a deadly calm that chilled Imoen to the bone.
“His main comms! Valygar, disable them! Quickly!” Jaheira ordered.
“Aye!” Valygar replied quickly, even his usual calm cracked.
Imoen saw Valygar reach for the panel on Bran’s bucking shoulder, but she knew they didn’t have the time. Under the best circumstances, it’d take Valygar at least a minute to get through the armor and the defense mechanisms to get at the comm circuits without breaching Bran’s suit. And these were nowhere near ideal circumstances. It would take her at least two minutes and she was better at it than V ever would be.
Two minutes were two too many. One look at her brother told her that. She could pick out nearly every muscle in his face and neck. He was thrashing so hard that Minsc, Valygar and Jaheira could barely hold him.
There wasn’t enough time.
Only time for drastic measures.
She closed her eyes and stepped back from the access panel. Just as they’d trained her, she adopted the proper pose, legs spread with her left foot forward and right back. A shout sounded in her ear as reached for her sidearm. She ignored it.
With one smooth, fluid motion her pulse pistol cleared its holster and described a perfect arc as she brought it up into firing position. She lined up the sights on the dead center of the taccomm, where the transmitter lay.
She let out a breath and then lightly squeezed the trigger.
A bolt silently screamed from the barrel and crossed the intervening distance in less time it took for the optic nerve to process the shot itself. Her aim was true and the pulse blast slammed into the dead center of the taccomm.
And then the world became a brilliant white.