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Unofficial Literary Challenge #49: "First Contact"

starswordcstarswordc Member Posts: 10,620 Arc User
edited February 4 in Ten Forward
Welcome to Unofficial Literary Challenge #48: "First Contact"! This was inspired largely by the Orville episode a couple weeks ago.

I'm organizing this one a little differently than usual, because reasons: one overall prompt, and three sub-prompts if you need plot bunnies.

Overall Theme: "First Contact"

Peaceful exploration has long been a primary purpose of the Federation Starfleet, and now the Federation (or your faction of choice) has detected sign of life coming from an unexplored system and sent your ship to investigate a new civilization taking its first steps into the larger galaxy. What are they like? How does it go?

Sub-Prompt 1: "Welcome to the Epsilon Fringe" by @moonshadowdark

A strange wormhole has been discovered opening into the Alpha Quadrant. Scans show it is artificial in nature and leads past the Delta Quadrant into the mythical "Epsilon Fringe", a small strip of space between the end of the Delta Quadrant and the vast emptiness of Dark Space. A probe sent into the wormhole reveals that there are M class planets on the other side as well as a few warp capable species. Your faction has ordered you to brave this trek to reach the Epsilon Fringe and make first contact with a species. What kind of species does your Captain meet? Are they friend or foe? Is there a large governing body like Starfleet or the Dominion or is it lawless, with every species for themselves? Write a log detailing this event and the journey itself.

Sub-Prompt 2: "Heart of Darkness, IN SPACE" by @zidanetribal

A captain of some non-enemy faction is accused of committing war crimes against some neutral or enemy faction and your ship has been tasked to bring said captain in to face non-enemy faction's justice system. Write entry detailing captain's actions during the mission.

Sub-Prompt 3: "A Perfectly Ordinary First Contact" by @worffan101

Your ship has been assigned to a First Contact mission in some far-off star cluster. Command has marked this mission as top priority, and requests that you get this newly warp-capable species into your faction as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, you weren't told about a couple of rather major biological and social quirks of this species, causing a diplomatic SNAFU. What happened, and can you salvage the negotiations before these potential allies side with the snivelling Federation petaQ (for Klingons) or the Klingons (for Feds)?


As usual, no NSFW content.

The discussion thread is here.

The LC Submission thread is here.

Index of previous ULCs (click ULC 31 for earlier entries):
Post edited by starswordc on
"Two ways to view the world, so similar at times / Two ways to rule the world, to justify their crimes / By Kings and Queens young men are sent to die in war / Their propaganda speaks those words been heard before"
— Sabaton, "A Lifetime of War"
9MUythl.png
(Vaporware thanks to Foundry shutdown. Thanks a frakking bunch, Cryptic.)

Comments

  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    Epsilon Fringe Survey Mission, Day -3
    Starbase 39 Sierra

    "The USS Caracara is a new ship with a new crew, but it is our best choice for the preliminary investigation of the Epsilon Fringe," said Admiral T'Nae. "It is a dedicated long-range scout equipped with slipstream drive and a hyper-subspace communications array. It has the added advantage of being small and therefore will present little apparent threat to any warp-capable species you may encounter.

    "This is a critical point, as your primary mission will be to make contact with a warp capable species and secure basing privileges for the Starfleet ships which will follow you. Your secondary mission will be to chart the regions through which you pass, designating such places and phenomena which bear further investigation for the attention of future missions.

    "Your ship's endurance exceeds a year. With nine weeks travel time to the Fringe and another nine back, you will have thirty-four weeks to perform your primary mission. I am informed that, as an inventive, if you complete your primary mission in time to allow an Exploratory Task Force to reach the Fringe, your mission may be extended, as one component of the fleet is intended to be the USS Neptune, and she is capable of providing your vessel with the support you would receive at a frontier starbase.

    "Do you have any questions, Lieutenant Commander?"

    "More than I can formulate at the moment, Admiral. I would like all the available data on the Epsilon Fringe. I admit it's a region to which I have given little thought."

    "If I may, sir, I have a question," asked the lieutenant. "What's the rush? The Epsilon Fringe is a long way away, and there are many closer regions which are marginally explored or completely unknown to us."

    "We have known for some time that there is a region within the Fringe in which warp vessels regularly operate. We have received intelligence reports that a Dominion fleet has begun its journey there with an intent to bring it under their control. At their best speed we will have been in the region for five years by the time it arrives, hopefully building strong ties between us and the warp-capable species of the region."

    The lieutenant commander looked at the lieutenant long enough to be certain there were no follow-up questions, then she said, "Admiral, I'd like to requisition a Type 11 Shuttlecraft equipped for planetary survey."

    "Your ship has no facilities for such a craft."

    "Almost correct, sir. There is a shuttle landing pad on the aft end of the saucer section, above the engine room, with lockdown clamps designed to accommodate a wide variety of shuttlecraft. A Type 11 or an Executive Shuttle will fit, but an Executive, while better suited for duties as a lifeboat, is less capable of handling survey gear. In the event that we are required to eject the stardrive section of our ship, the Type 11 has warp six capability and will be well suited to seek out a safe haven for the crew. If we are forced by some mishap to abandon the ship entirely, the Type 11 will be capable of collecting the escape pods and finding safe haven while the crew remains in stasis in the pods. And absent such a need, we will have the use of a second vessel capable of performing survey work, thus doubling the effectiveness of the Caracara in its mission."

    "Logical. I shall direct the Shuttlebay to provision and detach a Type 11 for your use."

    "Thank you sir."

    The lieutenant commander turned to the lieutenant and said, "X O, I want you to begin requisitioning stores for a one year mission. A minimum ninety day supply of emergency rations, such spare parts as are required to get a replicator functioning and spare parts for unreplicatable equipment, such as dilithium lenses and warp coils. And be sure to stock comfort items for each crewman. A year with a small crew far from base will be hard on them."

    "Aye, sir."

    ***

    Captain's Log, Epsilon Fringe Mission, Day-0

    Captain's Log, Lieutenant Commander Rhonda Meadows reporting. In one hour we will begin our journey to the Epsilon Fringe. By the time we return we will have beaten Janeway's record by a wide margin and will be in contention with Captain Dax of the Aventine for the most light years traveled. Of course, this is exactly what the Falcon class scouts were designed to do.

    Lieutenant Praht has made excellent progress with preparations to get underway, and we'll be a day ahead of schedule when we leave Starbase 39.

    My concern is mainly that my crew is untested; we've been a crew for just under a year at this point, with much of that time spent in the shipyards or in space trials.

    We have very little actual data on our target region beyond starcharts and recordings of warp signatures. The volume of material is huge, but vague. I've been at it for three days now, but so far no clues to what we'll encounter out there have been uncovered.

    I admit I'm thrilled at the prospect of this mission. Twenty-eight year old lieutenant commanders seldom get a command, much less a deep space assignment. It's an opportunity, and I intend to make the best use of it as possible.

    ***

    Captain's Log, Epsilon Fringe Mission, Day 31

    Captain's Log, Lieutenant Commander Rhonda Meadows reporting. Today there was a scuffle on the mess deck between two crewmen who may be suffering from cabin fever. Unfortunately, I've been forced to restrict them to quarters as a disciplinary measure, but I fear that will make matters worse.

    At slipstream, there is little other than routine maintenance to do. The idea was floated last night by Lieutenant Junior Grade Felis of a 'Ten Thousand Light Year Relay,' in which a relay baton will be passed from runner to runner as they take turns making circuits of the ship. I'm giving serious thought to approving the idea. If nothing else, it will give the crew a way to burn off energy between duty shifts.


    Captain's Log, Epsilon Fringe Mission, Day 72

    Captain's Log, Lieutenant Commander Rhonda Meadows reporting. We've been tracking warp signatures ahead of us in the fringe, and they appear to be originating in clusters. My X O postulates that they may be moving in fleets, and if that is the case, one wonders why. It may be that they do so defensively, and in that case, am I putting my ship and crew in danger?

    I have confidence that Caracara is faster than anything we might encounter, and I rely upon our ability to get out of harm's way.

    The crew is in good spirits, and has adapted well to the routine, but we are all anxious to begin our work in the Epsilon Fringe.


    Captain's Log, Epsilon Fringe Mission, Day 104

    Fifteen days in the Fringe, and so far nothing. It is frustrating. In virtually any direction we can detect warp signatures, but they vanish when we go to any particular destination. It's as if they are fleeing us.

    What we know now is that they prefer O, A, and F class stars, and tend to prefer asteroid belts and Jovian Trojan Points over actual planets. They operate in groups of ten to fifty individual ships, and there is a wide variety of frequencies used in their propulsion systems, almost as if each one was individually designed and manufactured.

    We have been scanning the subspace and radio bands, but have so far found no evidence of intelligible communications. Something is creating a low-level noise on the Lambda, Mu, and Nu subspace bands, but so far our efforts to decode the noise has failed. My X O is investigating the harmonics created by the noise, but so far, nothing.

    We have found three worlds with life, but in each case it was primitive oceanic life on Class L worlds. As a diversion for the crew I allowed some time for planetary survey but our mission is to make contact with warp capable species, not to catalog microscopic life forms. The scans and samples we've collected will keep the labs happy, for a while at least.


    Captain's Log, Epsilon Fringe Mission, Day 104

    Captain's Log, Lieutenant Commander Rhonda Meadows reporting. Today Crewman Victorio Menendez was promoted to Crewman Second Class, which was occasion for a shipwide celebration. As a result of his choice of chocolate pudding for the celebratory meal, the ensuing food fight left quite a mess on the mess decks. But the release was a welcome diversion from the routine and the mounting frustration of our inability to catch up with those warp signatures.

    Lieutenant Praht has been able to isolate individual signatures, and can now distinguish between groups. Though their patterns of movement are as yet undeciphered, they do on occasion meet. However, when the two groups diverge, the same warp signatures remain clustered.

    We may be dealing with a culture which has lost or abandoned its homeworld, and now lives exclusively in space. We have certainly found no remnants of technology either on any world, or in orbit.


    Captain's Log, Epsilon Fringe Mission, Day 143

    Captain's Log, Lieutenant Commander Rhonda Meadows reporting. We successfully created a microsingularity between us and Starbase 39 for a real-time conference with Admiral T'Nae. She is less than satisfied with our progress, and urged me to, "Innovate." She seems to lack an understanding of just how frustrating this mission is for us.

    On the other hand, last night a low-level warp signature almost escaped our detection. We are currently making our way to its location in the hope that we can finally make contact with the source. This signature is distinctly different from the others, and may represent a second warp-capable species in the region.


    Captain's Log, Epsilon Fringe Mission, Day 144

    Captain's Log, Lieutenant Commander Rhonda Meadows reporting. Today we were attacked by a hostile life form. It was a single entity capable of warp travel, such as the Tinman or the Gekli. We tracked its warp signature to an asteroid field, but found no sign of a ship.

    It attacked without warning, and used a gravitic beam as a weapon. Our phasers did little to discourage it: the creature appeared to be capable of absorbing energy through its skin, but it was incapable of handling a photon torpedo.

    I am discouraged that our first contact with a space-going life form in the Fringe ended with the death of the life form. My chief Engineer tells me that repairs will be completed within a few hours. My X O informs me that we may now speculate as to why the local ships move in groups: for mutual defense against these creatures.

    Research Lab Scientist First Class Alexia Watt wishes to name the species 'Orka' as a reference to an Earth life form which is a predatory marine mammal. I'm disinclined to name the species but the unofficial name has caught on among the crew.

    Here attached are the lab reports on the creature.


    Captain's Log, Epsilon Fringe Mission, Day 167

    Captain's Log, Epsilon Fringe Mission, Lieutenant Commander Rhonda Meadows reporting. We've been in the Epsilon Fringe for three months, but have as yet encountered any life forms beyond the numerous Class L worlds and our encounter with the apparently predatory spacebourne life form which attacked us.

    I have wondered since then, what would such a predator eat? And I can only come up with one solution. It has prompted me to propose a new course of action. As Admiral T'Nae would say, to innovate. I only hope it doesn't make me look the fool.

    I have ordered my science department to determine a pattern to the peregrinations of the warp signatures, with an intent to determine where they will go next, and I have instructed my Chief Engineer to begin performing everything possible to reduce or eliminate our warp signature. The Falcon Class Scouts are designed to mask their energy signatures, but the warp drive is difficult to mask for any ship.

    I intend to become an ambush predator.



    Captain's Log, Epsilon Fringe Mission, Day 201

    Captain's Log, Epsilon Fringe Mission, Lieutenant Commander Rhonda Meadows Reporting. Sometimes I hate to guess right. We masked our warp drive and went ahead of a group of warp signals where we waited for twenty-eight days for them to arrive.

    I can sum up our mission in a single word: failure. Our mission is a complete and total failure. We will not make contact with a warp-capable species in the Fringe, because the only warp capable species here are not intelligent life forms.

    The subspace noise my communications officer has been trying to decode is the lowing of cattle. Oh, there is communication in there, but it's communication of feeding, resting, and alarm signals.

    The spacebourne life forms which have been generating the warp signatures are photophilic life forms which graze on asteroids for minerals and water, and sunbathe for the energy they need to synthesize the materials into a useful form. Their warp engines are analogous to legs, and are completely biological.

    Their body chemistry is very similar to that of the Horta, but from our scans we can determine there is no direct relationship. They are exceedingly similar to the predatory species we first encountered, and are very likely branches of the same family tree. Though they bear further study, they will be incapable of aiding our efforts to establish a Federation presence in the region.

    Which leaves me with an unpleasant task: to inform Admiral T'Nae. We will wait for the 'Cachalot,' as the crew has named them, to move on before we create the microsingularity. I'm unsure what such an event would do to creatures so reliant upon gravitics, so until they leave we will study them.

    Our lab crew is ecstatic, and their enthusiasm is infecting the rest of the crew. I will not remind them that this actually indicates we have failed our primary mission. No matter the result of my next conference with the Admiral, we have another seventy days to study and chart the Epsilon Fringe. Who knows what can happen in seventy days?

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    I don't like this mission. Not even a little bit. Roberta Watson is a friend, colleague, and Academy classmate. We graduated tenth and eleventh in our class in 2380, but she managed to get her command two years ahead of me. Still rubs it in when we bump into each other. But I was X.O. to Captain Rixx on the Paine at the time and that's not an assignment you walk away from if you want to learn about handling a starship.

    What the hell has she been doing? The Serini are talking execution for war-crimes! Everything I've read about the Serini says they are peaceful.

    Okay, let's lay it out:

    One: Watson and the USS Garth were sent to Serini to make first contact with an emerging warp-capable society which has been under surveillance for the last twenty years.

    Two: For some reason, the Garth attacked and destroyed a settlement on Serini.

    Three: For some reason Watson beamed down and was imprisoned by the Serini government, and the Exec of the Garth is making threats that she be released.

    Four: The Klingon High council has taken the side of the Serini, and has detached three battlecruisers to the area to 'defend Serini against hostile forces, and to insure that justice prevails.' Which can be read as, insure Watson is executed, along with as many of her crew as they can get their hands on.

    So my two main questions are, how did the Klingons find out about this, and why do they care? No, my main questions are, what is Ro up to, and how can I resolve this without starting a war or losing a friend?

    ***

    The IKS DaHjaj ta'be'nalwI' blocked our arrival until I explained to Captain Ju'doH that I was plotting a course around her ship, but if her ship moved to intercept me I would ram her. I'm not sure if it was the threat or if it was my ramping up the warp engine and pouring the power into the main deflector that convinced her to let me pass. Or maybe she was bluffing in the first place.

    My first official act was to match orbits with the Garth and place all of its senior staff under arrest, replacing them with my own officers. They surrendered under protest, but without a fight, so I assigned them guest quarters and assigned security squads to guard them. With my X.O. in temporary command of the Garth, and my Second Officer getting statements from the prisoners, I've got one more prisoner to take into custody, if I can.

    ***

    "Madam Plutarch," I said to the wealthiest of the assembled rulers of Serini, "I have already placed the senior staff of the Garth under arrest, and with your permission I would like to send the USS Garth back to Starbase 331, where the crew can be debriefed, prosecutors can assemble the necessary data, and trials can be conducted for the officers and crew deemed to have actively participated in unlawful acts. I am instructed to invite such witnesses as your government may deem suitable to observe the trials and to insure that your voice is represented when the charges are made."

    "What he means, Madam Plutarch," said the Klingon liaison officer, Commander Frih'chom, "Is that he wishes to take the guilty far out of your reach so that they may escape punishment for their crimes."

    "Under our law the accused are presumed innocent until proven guilty, Madam Plutarch. But we do actively seek to discover the truth and we do fully intend to punish any wrongdoing, both to correct the behavior of the guilty and to deter those who might consider performing future crimes."

    "Under our law, we do not accuse the innocent," the Plutarch said. "As I have been informed that your Federation prides itself on honoring the laws and traditions of all worlds, I expect you to honor the laws and traditions of Serini."

    "We have every intention of so doing; but, Madam Plutarch, we also have an obligation to defend our crews from injustice. Until we are informed of the scope of her crimes and convinced of her guilt, Captain Watson must not be executed."

    "You expect us to believe that in the unlikely event that you do determine Watson's guilt," sneered the Klingon, "You would simply hand her over to Serini justice?"

    "That is exactly what we would do. Further, I am curious. Why are the Klingons involved in this at all? This is a matter between Starfleet and the government of Serini."

    "The Klingons act as guarantor of our sovereignty," the Plutarch said. "We are a small world in this very big galaxy, after all, and having friends is vital to our planetary security."

    "Madam Plutarch, one day I anticipate that the Federation and the Serini will become fast friends. This is not the most auspicious beginning, but if we work together we can overcome this rocky start. As a step toward that end, I invite you or such representatives as your government deems suitable to the USS King William V to interview the officers of the USS Garth."

    "Where I am sure they are being coached by professional liars in exactly what to say," smirked the Klingon.

    "If the Klingon wishes to doubt my honor one more time, I will honor a Klingon custom and kill him where he stands. I will even allow him to choose the weapon by which he dies."

    I pause to get my anger under control. "Madam Plutarch, the computer aboard my ship can monitor the speaker and detect the minor variations in speech patterns and voice tone which indicate untruth. All interviews will be conducted with the device operating. Our goal is not to conceal crimes, but to discover truths."

    "And if it is determined that these officers are involved in crimes?"

    "Madam Plutarch, I am here to arrest the accused, not to judge them. That task will be performed by others."

    "It would seem that we have little choice but to accede to your conditions. I will instruct my Secretary of Justice to prepare a team."

    "Thank you Madam Plutarch. I await their arrival. If you would be so kind, please have them bring such records as they deem necessary in proving the guilt of Captain Watson for the review of our own prosecutors."

    When she nodded I turned and looked at the Klingon Liaison. I looked at him. Average for a warrior, just under two meters tall, a bit on the thin side. Unscarred, or at least not visibly. Klingons liked to show off their scars. My skill with a bath'let was somewhat limited, but I could take him with any number of one-handed weapons. As if he could read my mind he flinched as I considered the many weapons I could use, and then he looked away. And I realized, this was no warrior!

    I turned and exited the audience hall, then beamed back to the William.

    ***

    "X. O., I want every record of the event in the Garth's computers."

    "I already have them Captain. You think they're innocent too?"

    She was a good X. O. She was going to be a great captain, and sooner than I liked. "As I've said recently, I'm here to arrest, not to judge."

    She grinned. "Alright, sheriff. I'm sending the recordings now. There's very little, actually. if the computer records were altered, I can't detect it. I have Survan performing a full audit of the ship's computer, but it will require several days to complete."

    "Good work. Damn, you look good in the command chair. Promise me you won't get too comfortable there; I'd hate to break in yet another X. O."

    "I'm number five, and the four previous ones went on to commands of their own. Why do you think I chose you?"

    "Funny, I thought I chose you. Next time I'll have to chose a more compliant and less ambitious officer."

    "Don't worry, Captain, I still have another year before I have the points needed for a command, and then who knows how long until a ship becomes available. You're stuck with me, for a while, at least. Still," she stroked the armrests, "Comfy chair."

    ***

    The Garth was in an orbit which brought it thirty-six degrees north and south of the planetary equator, in the direction opposite the planet's rotation. Thus it orbited the planet every ninety minutes on a course which would appear to be a long sine wave if sketched on the ground, with no overlap of previously traveled paths for many hundreds of orbits. It was a common mapping technique, and Gath's passive sensors had been doing exactly that during its stay. A polar orbit would accomplish a similar feat, but Sirini was massively magnetic and the polar zones were nearly permanently under ion storms induced by Serini's star. While the Garth could handle the magnetic flux, the recording devices would be rendered useless while under the polar plasma zones.

    So the orbit made sense, as did Ro's choice to use passive sensors and multiple passes rather than fewer passes with active scans, which might be construed as a hostile act. Ro was a good captain, and this wasn't even close to her first First Contact assignment. Why would she order the destruction of a Serini settlement? How would that serve her?

    My mind kept coming back to the Klingons. Why were they involved? How did they learn of the situation so quickly? What was their goal?

    I called the bridge.

    "Chowdhury here," answered my helmsman.

    "Lieutenant, some files are being sent now from the Garth. I want them analyzed by the science labs for any evidence of tampering, and I want them analyzed by tactical for post-combat review."

    "We're receiving the files now, sir. I'll have Mister Dolan begin the computer analysis and I'll get started on the tactical review."

    "You're on watch, Mister Chowdhury, and there are three Klingon warships in range of the planet with unfriendly intent. Assign Mister Mahar the tactical review."

    "Aye, sir."

    I was about to switch the communicator off when he said, "Captain, we're receiving a request from Serini to transport a party from the surface."

    "I'll meet them in Transporter Room 2. Please have them stand by."

    "Aye, sir."

    ***

    Captain Ju'doH insisted on being present for the interviews, so I was there as well. Four tedious hours of the same questions, endlessly repeated. I had snagged a JAG officer, Lieutenant Commander Alice Guilliott, from Starbase 331 on my way to Serini, so she was on hand too, to insure that the rights of the accused were not violated. At least she seemed interested in the proceedings.

    The Serini prosecutors were not happy with her insistence that the accused retain the right to remain silent. None of them exercised the right. So far as I could tell, they answered all the questions put to them in as complete a fashion as they could, and the computer didn't identify any intentional falsehoods on their part. One person can fool a computer, if he;s trained for it. Eleven?

    All of them denied any involvement in the destruction of a small town. The computer concluded they were telling the truth.

    The prosecutors showed pictures of the ruined town. They even had a film sequence from a passing aerial vehicle's flight recorder. The Starfleet Officers denied any knowledge of the event.

    They claimed that Captain Watson had been summoned to Serini and arrested, and they knew nothing else, until the Serini Government began to issue demands that the crew of the Garth submit to surrender as well for their part in the war crimes inflicted upon Serini by the USS Garth.

    Eleven senior officers, each with the same story, and all of them deny what would appear to be an open-and-shut case. And the computer cannot detect a lie among them.

    When the final interview was completed, I asked the Inquisitor or permission to see Captain Watson.

    "Why? So you can secure her escape?" asked Captain Ju'doH. "I assure you the Empire will not stand by to witness such an act without response!"

    "Captain," I replied, "Had escape been our intent, the Garth could have transported her out of that prison four days ago, prior to your arrival. Instead, we have done everything we can to comply with Serini law while protecting ourselves from hasty and possibly unwarranted prosecution."

    "The evidence has been presented of their guilt. You cannot question it!"

    "The evidence is that a settlement was destroyed. So far, we have not determined by whom it was destroyed."

    "Your ship was the only one in orbit at the time. Who else could it have been?"

    "I'd like to answer that very question, Captain." I turn back to the Inquisitor. "Madam Inquisitor, under Federation law, the accused have a right to counsel. I recognize that this is not Federation jurisdiction, but surely Captain Watson is entitled to receive a visit from her advocate. If you are reluctant to grant me access, please allow Lieutenant Commander Guilliott the privilege of interviewing the Captain. Additionally, I would like permission to send an investigative team to the settlement to determine the nature and origin of the attack."

    "I cannot approve these requests, but I can forward them to my superiors for consideration."

    "I am grateful."

    As they are leaving I ask Captain Ju'doH to remain for a drink and to discuss the situation.

    "There is nothing to discuss; their guilt is apparent, as are your attempts to obfuscate it," she replied. "And replicated bloodwine is almost as bad as synthehol."

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    Who else could it have been?. Captain Ju'doH's rhetorical question echoes in my head. I make my way to the science labs.

    Lieutenant Junior Grade Dolan has been hard at work with a team of computer experts, analyzing the records from the USS Garth.

    "The records have not been modified, altered, or manufactured by any means we can detect," he said. "If they are fake, they're very good fakes. If we can get access to the Serini civilian data network, we can confirm that the time indexes line up."

    "How?"

    "They use a microwave tower distribution network, with some stationary-orbit satellites to handle linkages over oceans. Most worlds are more heavily invested in satellites, but the Serini have the polar ion storms to worry about. They even have some underwater cables to provide linkages during heavy bombardment episodes which make links to their satellites unstable."

    "And this helps us how?" I ask again.

    "Well, sir," Dolan said, "The stations on the horizon are transmitting in line of sight of ships from orbit. So we have segments of time where data network activity is recorded on the Garth's logs. If those match with the time indexes of the towers themselves, we have corroboration of one more proof that the logs are unaltered."

    "You haven't made any attempt to get into their system already, have you?"

    "No sir!"

    "Good. We don't want to give them any more casus belli than they already have. I'll see if permission can be secured. Keep up the good work, Lieutenant."

    My next stop is Fire Control.

    "Mister Mahar," I say as I enter, "Tell me something I want to hear."

    "You're as handsome as you are legendary," she retorts, then adds, "Sir."

    "Hey, that could be taken two ways," I say.

    "I could say it under truth serum, sir," she said.

    "Alright. So, what's the conclusion on reviewing the data?"

    "No conclusion, sir," she answers. Smart-aleck junior officers seem to enjoy pushing the edge of military decorum, but I have encouraged her by playing along. Who am I kidding? I like smart-aleck junior officers.

    "Okay, explain," I say.

    "Sir, if these logs are correct, the Garth didn't fire any of its weapons. That leads me to believe the logs were falsified if the evidence shows the weapons were, in fact, fired. Otherwise, it leads me to believe the weapons were not fired."

    "Assume for now the records are falsified. How would you go about proving they were fired?"

    "If the systems have not been grounded and purged since the event, there would be an elevated nadion count in the control subsystems, but that would be mitigated by routine maintenance. If the maintenance cycle was not recorded, well..."

    "So, your report is a null results report?"

    "Sir, I've requested from the Garth an audit of the maintenance records and a nadion sweep of the phaser systems. If they don't show anything, I have nothing."

    "I see. Thank you, Lieutenant."

    "On the other hand, sir..."

    "I'm listening."

    "Sir, I know it's outside my authorization, but in an attempt to corroborate the data I was using, I scanned Garth's sensor logs of the time-period, and I do find a nadion pulse at the appropriate time index. If it originated on the Garth, it would have been far too weak to have destroyed a city. Given attenuation over distance and assuming a full-strength beam bank, the beam could have originated at least five hundred kilometers to the north of where the Garth was at the time. Assuming a less powerful beam array, it could have been as close as two hundred kilometers to the north."

    "Mister Mahar, next time, that's what you open with. Understood?"

    "Yes sir."

    Now the question is, how do I convince the Serini that the data on the nadion-pulse isn't faked? Captain Ju'doH's question is ringing like a gong in my head.

    ***

    Naturally my request to send an investigative team to the site is refused, as is my request to see Captain Watson. Commander Guilliott is allowed to observe as the Inquisitor informs Ro of the charges, and the assumption of guilt that goes with them. She is given twenty-nine hours to prove her innocence before her sentence is read and recorded, and the date and method of her execution determined. Of course, exactly how she is supposed to prove her innocence is unexplained, but I have twenty-six hours left.

    We were granted access to the civilian data network, but cautioned that any attempt to damage or manipulate it was going to be interpreted as an act of war. I am continually astonished that such a peace-loving society is so prepared to go to war.

    I have teams working on the data network, and on the records of the Garth, but I'm as anxious as an elephant in a room full of mice. I dive into the records.

    ***

    I've reviewed my findings with Alice. Commander Guilliott. She gave me some help with the presentation. I'm as ready as I can be.

    I'd be a lot sharper if I had managed to get some sleep, but that wasn't going to happen. I've gone to sickbay for a mild stimulant, and was required to pay for it with a promise to sleep as soon as Captain Watson is free. The occasion demands full dress uniform. Pragmatism demands that only I, Commander Guilliott, and Yoeman M'reer go to the surface. My X. O. argues that I shouldn't go at all, but it's a command decision. I hope it's not a bad one. We transport down with a holodisplay generator.

    ***

    "Madam Plutach, Honorable Inquisitor, Captain Ju'doH," I'm certain I include everyone, of course, "I am not here to waste your time. I am here to vindicate an innocent person wrongfully accused of crimes. I have proof that you will accept as factual because it comes, not from the scans of the USS Garth, but from your own data networks. You will be able to verify every point I present by your own methods.

    "Indeed, I believe you would have already done so, had you not been artfully steered toward a particular conclusion by someone whose motives are less than honorable." I allow my eyes to lock with those of Captain Ju'doH at that point, "And I believe you would already have done so if your own justice administration was more concerned with truth than with gaining convictions." At that point my eyes lock with those of the Secretary of Justice.

    "Let us begin with the evidence against Captain Roberta Watson. In all the accusations, I have not once heard any theory of motive. Why would she do such a thing? Why would she defy her orders to come to an amicable understanding between the Federation and a newly emerging warp-capable culture? Why would she ignore centuries of Federation precedent of peaceful contact with such emergent societies? Why would she abandon her career of over twenty years? Was she temporarily insane? Did she have a grudge against the town? Was she mind-controlled by a malevolent entity? She has no motive, whatsoever, to do such a deed."

    "I remind you," said the Inquisitor, "That under Serini law, assignment of a motive is not required to achieve a conviction."

    "Nor is it under Federation law, Honorable Inquisitor. But it is a question to consider, and in any consideration, Captain Watson had nothing to gain and everything to lose by an attack upon Serini, be it upon a single individual or upon the entire planet. Not a single thing to gain, and everything to lose.

    "So, we begin with the chief piece of evidence: the flight data recorder of a civilian transportation aircraft." I put the image on the holodisplay for everyone to see. "It is irrefutable. It is even corroborated by multiple sources, with greater or lesser degrees of detail. It shows the uniquely orange beam of a Federation phaser weapon fired from orbit. And, so far as we know, there was no other vessel so equipped. Indeed, there was no other vessel at all in orbit of Serini at the time."

    The Inquisitor's smile was infuriating, but I had a program, and I stuck with it.

    "So, why was this aircraft there at all?" I paused as his smirk turned into a frown. "It was a passenger flight from Hiyek to Balmorin, which should have passed some four hundred kilometers to the south. But I have the answer to that question."

    I play the recording.

    "Flight 29 from Hiyek to Balmorin, this is Traffic Control, respond."

    "This is Flight 29, go ahead Traffic Control."

    "We need you to divert to course 112 for two hours, then come to course 160. There's a low-pressure front forming cyclonic disturbances ahead of your present location. Confirm you have sufficient fuel reserves for the diversion."

    "Navigator is running the calculations now, Traffic control... Traffic control, Flight 29. Fuel reserves are sufficient, but our loiter time a Balmorin will be limited."

    "Understood, Flight 29. Execute recommended course change."

    "Confirmed execute course change to 112 for two hours."

    "Confirmed, Flight 29. This is Traffic Control, out."

    "Sounds simple enough," I say. "Aircraft don't handle atmospheric disturbances very well, and going around one is logical. But..."

    I click to the next image on the holodisplay. "According to this weather map, from the time indicated, there were no atmospheric disturbances, cyclonic or otherwise, at the time that message was received. Why would Traffic Control divert an aircraft around a storm that wasn't there? And then there's this..."

    I play the next recording.

    "Flight 29 from Hiyek to Balmorin, this is Traffic Control. Please respond." Traffic Control has a distinctly different voice this time, but it's entirely plausible that someone else came on watch in the time since.

    "This is Flight 29, go ahead, Traffic Control."

    "Flight 29, please state your location."

    "Traffic Control, we're two hours out of Balmorin on course 161."

    "Flight 29, How did you come to be so far off of your plotted course? You're already fifteen minutes overdue."

    "Traffic Control, this is Flight 29. We were rerouted by Traffic Control to avoid the storms over Minkiti."

    "Traffic Control issued no such instructions, Flight 29. There are no storms over Minkiti."

    "Traffic Control, we have a problem. My co-pilot and my navigator both confirm the instruction, and it's logged in our communications recorder."

    "Flight 29, this is Traffic Control Supervisor: we'll be conducting a post-mishap debriefing when you arrive in Balmorin."

    "Understood, Traffic Control Supervisor. Traffic control, be advised that due to our diversion we will have limited loiter time when we arrive at Balmorin. My navigator advises me that will be in ninety-eight minutes."

    "Understood, Flight 29, confirm limited loiter time upon arrival, eta nine-eight minutes."

    "This is Flight 29, confirmed."

    "So," I say, "An investigation was performed, the captain of Flight 29 was exonerated of any wrongdoing, the incident was played off as a prank, and guess what? There were these beautiful pictures which might have never come to light absent the investigation. How convenient. But..."

    I click again.

    "This image was taken from an amateur photographer in Quibb, roughly forty kilometers west of the destroyed settlement of Azas. From the west. Now Azas is on the fortieth parallel. At best the USS Garth went to the 39th before its course bought it southward again. So, the beam should be originating from directly above, or possibly a little southward, right? Your own airspace control has been tracking Garth the entire time it's been in orbit of your world, so it's easy enough to corroborate her location at the time of the attack. But this beam comes in at an angle... from the north."

    I click again.

    "And here is one from Grutidur, to the east. Again, the slant that shouldn't be there. You can measure it. We did. It's at a fifteen degree angle to the north, with about a three degree margin of error from our not being able to precisely identify the location from which the images were taken. That would place the origin of the beam somewhere at the seventy-fifth parallel, well within the zone of ionic interference above your north pole. But neither of these images were uncovered in the investigation of Captain Watson's guilt. Only the one which can't be used to determine the northward source of the projection."

    I pause then to look at the assembly. I'm looking for guilty faces. I see worried ones. I look back to Commander Guilliott and she nods, so I go on.

    "Ladies and gentlemen, this data alone vindicates the USS Garth, and it's all public, available from your own data network. We could not have manufactured this data. But what does it show?"

    I click again, and this image shows a schematic of the magnetic field of Serini, and its interaction with the stellar winds and magnetic fields of Serini's star.

    "Serini is blessed with a beautiful visual effect called Serini's Veil locally. It is the result of the interaction of Serini's magnetic fields with the stellar wind, which is composed of energetic particles ejected from your very bright and magnetically powerful star. Your scientists would know, though perhaps your laymen would not, that such phenomena are very useful to vessels which wish to remain undetected. For a lot of reasons most sensors do not function well, or even at all, within such a zone. But cameras do."

    I click again.

    "On the day of the attack, this image was posted on your data network under a heading devoted to imagery of Serini's Veil. I admit, it is among the wonders of the galaxy, and you have every right to be particularly proud of such a display. If you will allow it, in time people will come from all over the galaxy to watch your Aurora light-shows. But what does this picture show?"

    I click and the image zooms in. There is a hollow space in the veil. I zoom in closer. A glimmer of light shows. I zoom in again.

    What is revealed is an Orion Corvette with its cloaking field partially distorted by the ionic storm. I imagine the crew is having a rough ride in there. But it's the smoking gun.

    "Captain Ju'doH, can you identify this vessel?"

    She growls with her jaw clamped shut.

    "Commander Frih'chom?" I ask. "Now where did the Commander get off to? I'm sure he was here when I began my presentation."

    Captain Ju'doH taps her armband and says something that sounds like, "orion Ha'DIbaH vItu'."

    Why would she be ordering dinner now? And what does Orion mongrel taste like? Lack of sleep and stimulants are a problem here, and I focus before I continue.

    "For those who don't know, that ship is an Orion Corvette, and that field effect you can see around it is the distortion created by a malfunctioning cloaking device interacting with the powerful ion storms which generate your beautiful Serini's Veil. As Captain
    Ju'doH can inform you, most Orions are vassals of the Klingon Empire. I'm sure these Orions will turn out to be renegades. It happens. Usually right after they are caught doing something the High Council can't admit to knowing about.


    "But why are Orions here at all? It all comes back to motive, Madam Plutarch. Why? Well, I asked that question myself. So I began to look. And it turns out that the settlement of Azas sits on a natural deposit of verterium cortenide. In virtually all the galaxy there are only four known natural sources of this material. It's used to make warp coils. In fact, without it, there are no warp drives. Everyone goes through expensive synthetic processes to create the material. Your world will be the fifth known natural source, once this find is verified. It is almost as valuable as natural dilithium, Madam Plutarch.

    "So we did some further investigations on your data network, and there is reason to believe that your world has had interstellar visitors for at least the last fifteen years. And I bet, when you investigate the destroyed settlement again, you will find evidence that this deposit has been illegally mined for at least that long.

    "Madam Plutarch, Honorable Inquisitor, I have demonstrated that the USS Garth could not have been the ship which fired upon your settlement. I respectfully request Captain Roberta Watson be exonerated of the crime committed against your world, and I respectfully request she be turned over to my custody immediately."

    ***


    Ro was grateful, my X. O. was disappointed, and I was very, very sleepy. I assigned my X. O. to escort the Garth back to Starbase 331 for the inevitable Board of Inquiry, and shut myself into my stateroom for eighteen hours. The board went about as I expected and everything returned to normal, with one exception: Alice Guilliott.

    I wonder if I can create a billet for a JAG officer on a Monarch class starship?
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    (Out Of Story Note:
    Elsewhere on the forum I was informed that there was no potential for a Cytherian episode or story arc because we already knew everything about them. And my jaw hit the floor. Is imagination so limited these days that we really think we know everything about everything? So, to fulfill the Challenge, both here and there, I present a First Contact story involving the Cytherians.)

    What Frightens Gods?

    "Captain, we've detected another Cytherian probe, and Command has selected you as the closest asset with the requisite skillset to deal with it."

    The Vulcan admiral in the viewer is about as old as the Taj Mahal, but I can't detect anything else about him. Vulcan stoicism. They would make fantastic poker players if they ever learned to bluff, but poker isn't about probability: you play the player, not the cards.

    "Admiral Skorr, we've been on patrol for three hundred days and, to be quite frank, my crew is badly in need of R&R. Where's the Indefatigable?"

    "Captain M'Rrshaan is six hundred light years coreward, and occupied with another issue. Captain, you were selected for this mission with full knowledge of the condition of your crew and vessel. If you believe you are incapable of carrying out your orders, return immediately to Starbase 112 where a board of inquiry will be convened to determine the fitness of the vessel and its crew for service."

    "Admiral, there's no need for threats; I'm simply suggesting alternatives. We will follow our orders. What are the mission parameters?"

    "Starfleet Command has postulated that the Cytherians wish to contact us, specifically, for some unknown purpose. While previous contact with them has yielded less than satisfactory results, all indications are that the Cytherians intend no harm to any of the Federation races. Your mission is to improve our relations with them.

    "As in previous contact with them, we anticipate the Cytherians themselves will take the necessary steps to allow your ship to visit their domain. While there is great danger in this, the rewards of amicable contact could be astronomical. And Starfleet Command does not wish to disappoint the Cytherians."

    "Sir, a member of my crew will be transformed by the Cytherians if your plan works."

    "In all such cases the alterations have been reversed, with no detectable harm done to the selected individual."

    "I see." And I did see. Some member of my crew was going to become a lab-rat in some demigod's maze.

    "Admiral, I would like to record the transfer of command of the USS Iron Duke to Commander Ch'aarvik. I will make contact with the Cytherian probe."

    "This is an unanticipated request. It is highly illogical to allow the senior crew member to become incapacitated when other qualified crewmen are able to perform the assignment."

    "Commander Ch'aarvik is qualified for command, has the respect of the crew, and is deserving of a command of her own. I will not order any crew member to allow an alien species to alter his mind for unknown purposes, nor will I accept any volunteers but one: myself. If these conditions are unacceptable, I will make my way to Starbase 112 where I will submit my resignation from Starfleet."

    "Captain, there's no need for threats; I am simply suggesting alternatives. I am sending the data now. You are twenty hours, seventeen minutes, 25 seconds away from the probe. I suggest you utilize the time to prepare your crew and ship for the mission."

    When the Admiral logs off I say, "Navigator, plot a course to the coordinates of the probe. Let's see how many seconds the Admiral is off in his guess."

    "Captain," says my Exec, but I hold up my hand. I'm thinking. A lot could go wrong, and a lot depends on my insuring it doesn't. My job for the next twenty hours, seventeen minutes, and whatever seconds is to think of all the ways this could go wrong. There's one thing I did right, though.

    "Ch'aarvik, as of thirty seconds ago you are in command of the Iron Duke. My position is that of adviser and mission specialist. I anticipate in the course of this mission that I will become compromised, and while it is necessary for the mission, it will render me unfit for command. Have all department heads study the mission specifications and prepare for a general staff meeting at 1300 hours."

    "Aye, sir," she says. And she's worried. Join the club, my friend.

    ***

    As I enter the briefing room I notice Ch'aarvik in her usual seat to the right of the captain's chair. As I had intended, I'm the last to enter, and I take a seat at the foot of the table, leaving the captain's chair at the head conspicuously empty. It takes her three long heartbeats to see what I'm doing, then Ch'aarvik moves to the head of the table, in front of the senior staff of the Iron Duke. Nobody misses the implication, and after an uncomfortable moment of shuffling and the occasional clearing of throats, Ch'aarvik calls the meeting to order.

    "You've all had an opportunity to familiarize yourselves with the mission profile," she says, "And to give thought to how it will impact your department. I want to give the first part of the meeting to preparedness issues. Is your department ready for deployment into an unknown territory for an unknown amount of time? Engineering."

    Mas Faknir is a damned good engineer, and a lousy public speaker. He simply shakes his head, 'yes.'

    "Medical?"

    "I'd like some time to restock pharmaceutical stores. We have no shortages, but there are unreplicatable compounds which may be needed in the event of a serious crisis."

    "Make a list and I'll see if Starfleet can dispatch a courier with what you need. Tactical?"

    "Short by twenty-one quantum torpedoes, but we have three hundred thirty-nine in the magazines. If the Chief can keep me supplied with antimatter, we're good to go." I see Mas nod again, as does everyone else.

    "Operations?"

    "We have one year of ready reserves, food, and fuel. With replicators and power we have indefinite endurance, and as a last resort we have the frozen stores. We can become a colony if the ship fails."

    "Science?"

    "Deflector could use alignment," says Dr. Thragg. "Also, who decided on our volunteer? I should get too..."

    "Save that for the next part of the discussion," Ch'aarvik says, cutting him off. "Security?" she says as Thragg is about to protest again.

    "Armories stocked, and we have no known security issues at the moment, although Lieutenant Romar and the Assault Team is on TAD to the USS Chamelion. I've been cross-training security personnel, but if we have to do any boarding actions, we're going to miss Romar and the A-Team."

    "Understood. All departments are encouraged to put together a wish list and submit it by 1500. We may get some of our requests, if a courier can make it in time, or we may not get anything. Count on the latter, hope for the former, but the list goes out at 1500. Not 1501.

    "Next item on the agenda: Captain, we strenuously object to your being our volunteer. We have others begging for the chance."

    "Aye," chimed in Dr. Thragg.

    "That is not debatable. Log your objections, but be aware that I won't bother reading them. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I've made my decision."

    One by one I stare them down. Except Mas. He simply smiles at me. We've served together for a long time now, almost twenty years. He was my engineer when, as a bright young lieutenant, I assumed command of the USS Gazelle, a Fleet Courier with a crew of five. He was the grizzled old chief at the age of twenty-nine, and he didn't talk much then. Every chance I got since then I've dragged him along. He's never let me down, and I've never been able to intimidate him.

    Ch'aarvik clears her throat, which sounds like a lion's purr. "Okay. Official objections to be logged within the hour, if anyone still wants to make them. Next item: our plan for the probe encounter. Captain, do we have a plan?

    ***

    Couriers get little love in the fleet. Mostly they ferry admirals around or run supplies. Occasionally they transport crew for transfers. The USS Hyrax is one of these, and it has Dr. Ferguson's supplies. Ordinarily I'd offer the crew the recreational facilities of the Duke, but we've got a schedule and the young lieutenant in command of Hyrax is nervous about being as close as she is to the probe.

    I can just imagine her sigh as Hyrax goes to warp. Now it's my turn, and I suit up.

    I wanted to go with a suit and a thruster pack. Do an Ambassador Spock in the Whale Probe. Instead I was talked into going in a worker bee shuttle which can be remotely piloted in case I am disabled. Mas installed a power winch on the aft bulkhead and hooked it into the control console so it can be remotely activated. I hook up, pressure test my suit, depressurize the worker bee cockpit, and open the viewscreen.

    The probe is a lot bigger in person than it looks from the bridge. It just sits there. I launch and feel the tension of the power reel as it unwinds, and slows me down to stop two meters from the probe. I'll have to try again.

    Let me see if I can explain what happened. It's unique, and foreign to anything I've ever done before, so forgive me if I sound a little crazy. As a younger man I did some free diving. That is, you go out into an ocean and dive quickly, as deep as you can, with only the air in your lungs to sustain you. Then you hang there in the dark blue void until your lungs are on fire. Then you blow a bubble, and follow it to the surface without passing it. I was doing fifteen meters max depth for two minutes fifty seconds, which is marginal for those who work at it. But three minutes is a long time to hold your breath. Try it.

    Anyway, while you're down there you feel nothing. It's void, and you become a part of it. Beautiful. You can forget which way is up if you get lost in the reverie. But on the way up, all you can think is, at the top there's air, and when you break the surface the glare of the sun hits your eyes, the cold of the wind blows on your face, the deep pleasure of that first gasp of air: you are reborn.

    Of course, I've seen the recordings of what happened since. There I was, two meters from the probe, and it suddenly blasted me with a lightning bolt, and held, the arc flashing away with me at its terminus, pinned like a museum moth in a collection. And that moment that it let me go, that the pulse of undefinable energy stopped, I broke the surface and was reborn.

    Someone panicked and hit the retrieval button. "I'm fine," I said as I let it pull me in. Of course, they remotely pilot the worker bee back to Shuttlebay 3. And I let Dr. Ferguson examine me. I say, "I'm fine," another two dozen times to half a dozen people. No one seems to believe me.

    But I am fine. No horns, no melting, no nothing. I'm a little tired from being up all night, so we go through the debriefing, and I find it impossible to describe the experience. We scan the recordings, do some science lab stuff, and I head off to catch up on some sleep.

    When I wake it's with half-remembered dreams that fade, leaving only the impression that I had been dreaming. I know my Exec is gong to be worried, so I call her and let her know that I'm still fine, and assure her the monitor she installed was unnecessary. And then I remembered she hadn't told me about the monitor. Well, she should have hidden it better. That pinhole in the bulkhead is at least a millimeter wide, for crying out loud!

    I have nothing better to do today, so I take advantage of the down time by heading to Engineering. There's an idea I've been wanting to try out, and the Engineering Lab is empty, so I begin to get the things I'll need together.

    Have you ever noticed that Tellarites smell like mushrooms? Not the cooked ones in wine reductions, the growing ones. I'm not sure how long Mas has been there, but he says nothing for a long time, and I go on working. Finally he asks, "What is it?"

    "A neutrino field effect amplifier."

    "A what?"

    Five words from Mas! It's his usual monthly allotment.

    "You know, a neutrino field effect amplifier. When it's tied into the warp engines it'll trick the universe into believing we're a neutrino."

    "Why?"

    Mas is positively conversational today!

    "Because a neutrino at warp can exceed warp ten without tearing holes in the time-space continuum."

    "We're going to exceed warp ten?"

    "Imagine our warp field density when we shrink a point six kilometer warp shell down to two millimeters!"

    "Uh-huh."

    He goes back to watching. Ch'aarvik joins him. She smells like a freshly mowed lawn and clover pollen. And she's going to go into her season in a week or so. Lord help the male Caitian she bumps into then. And I probably shouldn't have said that part. Privacy. Sorry, Ch'aarvik.

    I have to get the amplifier mounted on the warp plasma generator, and with all these extra hands... It turns out even simple instructions are beyond them, and I wind up having to do it myself. They record everything, of course, but really there's no need. It's so simple you could design it in your sleep.

    It's just like a transporter: you link the quantum state of the object to a matter stream, and move the position of space it occupies to the destination. Wait, that's not how a transporter works. The entanglement of distant quantum particles link to... No that's Iconian gateways. How does a transporter work? Mass-energy conversion, a carrier beam, energy-mass conversion, that's it. That's so crude. I could design one better than that, but why bother? Light-speed delays are such a tedious waste.

    Anyway, the neutrino field effect amplifier is in place, and it's time to give it a test drive.

    Gravitic displacement fields would be more efficient. You wouldn't need warp drive. Six emitters set on three axes, with a 90 degree angle between all of them, reduce apparent local gravity to zero, flatten out the space-time curve and accelerate to infinity for an infinite duration, or until you want off. But you already know all of that. Simple kid stuff.

    I have to modify the controls a bit, but the holo-display is adaptable, if somewhat limited. Plot a course, lock it in, trigger the amplifier, power up the warp engines, and off we go. Warp 18. Not a bad start. I'm having trouble reassuring Ch'aarvik everything's okay. She's obviously upset. I'm sure they'll explain it better when we get there.

    ***

    Captain's Log. I'm not sure Stardates matter, wherever it is we've gone. Dr. Thragg says we're in the subatomic realm. He also says we've passed through at least twenty stars in the last half-hour, but we haven't hit a single atom. If we did we'd make it emit a photon as we annihilate.

    The Captain seems to think it's all under control, but he's also saying things nobody understands and following it up with, "Simple, right?"

    I have to trust that the Captain can get us back to where we came from because even if I input all the steps in reverse, the stars we passed through will have moved, and other ones may have moved into our way, and I'm pretty sure we lack the ability to calculate the location and trajectory of every atom between where we are and where we want to be. Simple, right?

    ***

    The USS Iron Duke emerged into realspace intact, and within seconds a translucent image of a Cytherian head appeared on the bridge.

    "Welcome!" it said.

    "Response," said the Captain.

    "Conundrum." said the Cytherian.

    "Solution," said the Captain.

    "Affront."

    "Mediation."

    "Belligerent."

    "Diplomatic."

    "Murderous!" with this the Cytherian's grin turned to an exaggerated frown and he shook as if afraid.

    "Liaison."

    "Dangerous."

    "Experienced."

    "Gratitude."

    With that the giant disembodied head faded.

    ***

    "We are on our way to meet the Hilp, an older starfaring race who occupy the Lesser Magellanic Cloud. Their planets were wiped out in a series of novas. It's the price you pay for being native to a supergiant star: short lifespan, then supernova. They now reside in cities which orbit black holes. They exist inside the time warp of the black holes, so what we will experience as a few hours, our friends in the Beta Quadrant will experience as months."

    Having to explain all of this is tedious: I'd rather be designing something, like the new idea I had for a replicator. Instead of laying down atom by atom to a... you're not really interested in the details, are you? Okay. Anyway...

    "The problem is, a Hilp ship encountered a Cytherian probe with the usual result, only, the Hilp reacted with hostility. It seems the Cytherians are the image of their devil, and in their mythology... Are you sure you didn't record all of this when we spoke on the bridge? No? Okay. Anyway, according to their legends, they killed their devil, so when he 'reappeared' they designed a device which can kill Cytherians.

    "Our job is to go to the Hilp, convince them the Cytherians are harmless and promise they won't do it again. The Hilp are also religious fanatics, did I mention that already? No? Okay. Anyway, this religion has a lot of rules and we don't know them, so you're going to have to be careful during negotiations."

    "Me?" asks Ch'aarvik.

    "Well, of course, weren't you listening? They hate Cytherians."

    "Captain, you have far more experience at this sort of thing than I do."

    "If they see me, modified by a Cytherian probe, they'll whip out their devil-killer, with who knows what result, and leave you stranded seventy years from Federation Space. Of course, I see how to reduce that to about twenty. I'll plot it for you while you're negotiating."

    "You'll take us there with your..."

    "Neutrino Field Effect Amplifier. Yes. As soon as we can get the parts we should scrap the warp engines and install a gravitic induction drive. Vastly more efficient. You can travel the galaxy in hours and never exceed light-speed."

    "Let's deal with one problem at a time, shall we?" my Exec says, and I'm forced to agree.

    ***

    The Hilp city was immense. Something like three billion individuals resided in it. It was tall enough to have a tide pulling toward the star at the near end and centripetal force pulling away at the far end. Ships docked at the middle, and presumably that was where the manufacturing facilities were located as well.

    Commandeer Ch'aarvik sent standard greetings over the Universal Translation Matrix, and added, "We are new to the region and would welcome instruction in proper greeting and communications protocols."

    The response was swift. Iron Duke was surrounded by at least fifteen ships in mere minutes.

    "Why has a warship entered our space?" demanded a voice with no image.

    "Reply with full holography, Comm," commander Ch'aarvik said. "We have come as peace envoys. The USS Iron Duke is a warship of the United Federation Of Planets. In our galaxy there are several factions who would make war rather than negotiate peaceful accommodations with their neighbors, but the Federation prefers peace. The Iron Duke is intended as a deterrent to aggression, not as a first strike platform."

    "So, the Federation, wishing peace between us, sends a warship?"

    "We aren't the Federation's first choice for peace missions. Starfleet has vessels designated for that function. I would like very much to explain the circumstances surrounding our presence here, and I assure you we have no intentions to do harm. We would very much appreciate it if you were to teach us the proper protocols in dealing with your people so that we do not accidentally cause insult."

    "We can make allowances for strangers. We understand that species different from ours never received divine revelation, which was reserved to us as the Chosen. But make no attempts to communicate with our cities."

    "We shall comply. My species prefers to see the people to whom we are speaking. Is this forbidden to your people?"

    "What is see?"

    "To observe with photonic receptors."

    Ah, and this is the purpose of the additional data we have been receiving? So that we may see you?"

    "Yes, it's called a hologram, and we 'see' it with our eyes, which are organs adapted to absorb photonic energy, convert it to electrical signals, and repeat those signals to our brains."

    "Interesting, we have no photonic receptors."

    "And thus no equipment capable of displaying imagery."

    "Correct."

    "Then I will inform my communications officer to halt the holographic data stream."

    "Please do not. Our xenologists will wish to study it."

    "As you wish," Ch'aavik said. "I would like to explain our purpose here. We were requested to mediate a dispute between yourselves and a race known to us as the Cytherians. We are informed these beings manifest as the image of your enemy, but we know the Cytherians to be a benign and non-violent species. Surely their similarities to your enemy are superficial? The Cytherians are curious, not malevolent."

    "The Destroyer! Yes, we have been afflicted by the Destroyer in the past and we overcame it. We stand ready to do so again."

    "Why do you believe the Cytherians are this Destroyer?"

    "They consume the minds of the living."

    "In every case of our encounters with them they have restored the minds they altered, and only gave knowledge to aid us to visit them. They do not conquer or destroy, and when their purpose has been served, they put everything back the way it was, with no harm done to those they changed. Does your Destroyer do this?"

    "When the destroyer is finished with its mortal prey it leaves only an empty shell. We destroy all whom it touches that they not become the living dead, wandering in thoughtless misery."

    "There is the proof you need. The Cytherians do not harm those to whom they give knowledge."

    "How can we know this is as you say? That you are not just a slave of the Destroyer come to deceive us?"

    "Do you understand the concept of telepathy?"

    "It is the touching of the minds."

    "Exactly. I am a telepath, though my skills are limited. I am willing to share my mind with you, that you may see the truth of what I say."

    "You can do this from a distance?"

    "I must touch the person with whom I share my thoughts. Can your species tolerate a nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere?"

    "For a limited time. Such a volatile gas: you breathe that without burning?"

    "Our bodies rely upon a chemical reaction not unlike fire for its energy."

    "Yours must be a very strange existence."

    ***
  • brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,180 Arc User
    edited February 7
    ***

    For the second time in two days the captain of the Iron Duke abdicated in favor of her subordinate to make contact with an alien species. Of course the senior staff objected, but even Dr. Thagg could not claim telepathy among his skills. Ch'aarvik was the only real choice for this mission. She donned a vacuum suit, boarded a shuttlepod, and made a course for the lead ship of the Hilp fleet.

    The airlock was large enough to accommodate the shuttlepod, so she flew it in. There were no lights, of course, and the sudden darkness when the iris door of the airlock sealed was broken only by the beams of her shuttle's headlights. Instruments registered an oxygen atmosphere at 40%.

    She had heard of a fad on Cait some centuries ago, in which partygoers were invited to consume supplemental oxygen to elevate their mood, but she doubted they used such a high concentration. This was going to be a celebration! She stepped out of the back of the shuttlepod, double-checked her suit's telltales, and removed her helmet.

    The air was at high pressure; she was going to have to decompress when she was through here, but she should be fine for a while. She toggled her suit's monitors to detect nitrogen narcosis, but she doubted it would be a problem given the percentage of oxygen she was breathing.

    A reverberating clicking sound emerged from the darkness. Using her suit's helmet-light as a flashlight she pointed it into the dark.

    And her heart almost stopped. What came out of the other end of the airlock was a horror from nightmares of the grave. It was white in color, almost three meters long and seventy centimeters in diameter. Its head was a sphere sprouting four antennae or palps. the upper pair much longer and whip-like, while the lower pair was jointed and sturdier. The upper pair waved as if the creature was performing a dance routine with ribbon-flags. Its body was segmented, with each segment sprouting a pair of tiny legs. It looked like the carrion-creatures on Cait which consume the bodies of the dead.

    Ch'aarvik's instinct was to run. No, her instinct was to scream, then run. She could not stop the trembling as the constantly clicking creature approached, but she managed to keep her feet firmly on the deck. The creature paused and clicked at her, and from a speaker hidden in the darkness the voice to whom she had spoken said, "Proceed."

    Doing her best to get her trembles under control she set her helmet on the deck and removed her gauntlet. One of the whiplike palps brushed her hand in its unceasing flailing and it was surprisingly dry and rough. It took every bit of self-control she possessed to place her hand on the smooth, cool bulb of the carrion-creature's head, and then for a moment she could only stand and tremble, unable to achieve the calm state she would need to make the connection.

    She closed her eyes, and envisioned her lessons with old M'racha. "There is nothing to fear in the joining of minds. Two become one, and one becomes two again." Nothing to fear. Nothing to fear. She reached out...

    A strange creature with an ungainly form not unlike that of parasitic crabs, but of gargantuan size, reaches for her and it is all she can do to control her peds. She wants to run, giving the warning call for danger, but she must do this thing. She must allow the creature to touch her with its feeding palp...

    ***

    The Captain stood before the disembodied translucent head again.

    "Query," the head said.

    "Accommodation," the Captain replied.

    "Explanation."

    "Segregation."

    "Edification."

    "Mediation."

    "Compensation."

    The disembodied head faded, and the Captain slumped to the floor.

    ***

    I know what a sack feels like when you dump its contents out suddenly. I remember things like you'd remember a dream, and I'm not sure I remember all of the dream. Things that seemed self-explanatory are indecipherable...

    Anyway, the Cytherians took the modifications off of the warp core. We won't be studying the device to see how to trick the universe into thinking we're a neutrino and, according to Dr. Thagg, our computer's memory has been selectively altered so we can't even study the scans we made while disguised as a subatomic particle. All of the 'inventions' I drew up are also erased from memory. I can remember doing them, but not what they were for, how they worked, or even what the drawings looked like.

    Oh, the Hilp. Commander Ch'aarvik has a lot of information on them. She's been burning up the subspace frequencies talking to the experts on extremely alien beings. The idea's been floated of forming an expedition to the Lesser Magellanic Cloud to establish formal relations with them. The recording of her encounter is one of the few things that wasn't wiped.

    And she claims the creature was creeped out by her appearance! I guess it's all a matter of perspective. She's already volunteered for the expedition, and Stafleet couldn't find a better captain for it.

    Anyway, that about sums up the mission. If you'll excuse me, I've got some work to do. I have this idea on how to improve the Universal Translator. It's a simple little tweak, someone should have seen it years ago.

    ***
    Post edited by brian334 on
  • hawku001xhawku001x Member Posts: 10,071 Arc User
    edited February 22
    EDIT: [Post regurgitated by the Edit Monster]
    Post edited by hawku001x on
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  • hawku001xhawku001x Member Posts: 10,071 Arc User
    edited February 17
    The Ar'Kif-class R.R.W. Tetreya was flung, recklessly out of a wormhole and back into normal space upon the far reaches passed the Delta Quadrant. Commander Tressa got back onto her command chair.

    "Status report!" the female Romulan called out.

    Centurion Lesket, a Romulan male, tapped frantically at his tactical control panel. "Weapons, shields, life support! They're all good!"

    "Well, then why are we freaking out like a bunch of n00bs?" Tressa asked. "Anyway, as you all know, the Republic wants to try out this Federation-exploration trend in hopes of becoming more like a people who don't ignore an impending energy-multiplying supernova."

    Chupa, a Bolian and the Chef, stepped off the turbolift, carrying a large bowl of ganglia. "Anyone try the Kelpien yet? It's not that bad, actually."

    "Ugh! That's not even a thing they did from our universe," argued Centurion Reivf, a Romulan and a female. "But I'll take ten bowls."

    Suddenly, Tressa and her Bridge crew found themselves transported onto the surface of an unknown planet.

    ---

    The group was quickly approached by an enthusiastic, tall Kelpien-like alien.

    "Greetings. I am Cuva, and we are the Kolpionn. We have just become aware of space-faring species, so as soon as we detected you, we brought you here to meet you," the alien explained.

    Sarmin, the ship's Science officer and a Reman, took out his tricorder and scanned the alien. "You are similar to the Kelpiens! Like some sort of offshoot! Also, the name."

    "Our ancient myths describe being planted here via distance-traversing vortices, eons ago," Cuva said. "We enter this country every year to engage in The Great Cannibalism: An event in which our underground society, the Kulpiun, goes mad and we eat them before they kill us."

    Tressa shook her head. "That sounds terrible. Not to judge your culture or anything, but you're all doing everything wrong, all the time."

    "Oh, pish-posh! You'll simply love it! To become one with our brethren is the only way to really live," he explained reassuringly as the distant echo of madly-driven Kulpiun began running straight for the group.

    The crew then watched as Cuva ran off and tackled one of the incoming mad-Kulpiuns, feasting right into the creature before both of them disappeared in a shimmering light.

    "Commander, there's a force-field preventing our escape, and no indications of any exits anywhere," Lesket said, scanning.

    Chupa widened his eyes as he peeked at Lesket's tricorder. "Is eating one of these Kulpiuns the only way out of here??"

    "I mean, surely we could map a way off world, or modify the energy-signature of the shielding, or--" Reivf started before the group was surrounded.

    Tressa shook her head. "That's what Starfleet would do. I posit we do things the Romulan way! We follow through with our own new version of First Contact procedures, which is to consume these things, like the Kolpionn do."

    "But isn't that messed up, yo?" asked Reivf. "Respectfully, of course."

    The Commander shook her head. "The Klingons eat people every day. But they won't tell anyone nor celebrate it. We Romulans are different. Sure, we are prim and proper, and will deny all forms of bodily fluids, but we are also game players."

    "You don't have to ask me twice," Chupa said as the group watched him tackle one of the surrounding Kulpiuns and sink his teeth into it. Moments later, Chupa and the creature were transported away.

    Lesket tapped his chin in thought. "It's not like it's cannibalism if it's another species, right? Humans eat dolphins all the time, I assume, despite the latter having scientifically proven superior intellect." The Romulan tactical officer then ran right into a Kulpiun and ate his way to transported-freedom.

    "My Reman brethren ate each other every day," Sarmin said. "It's how we survived the underground mines and kept our population down. Saturdays was Human-clone night."

    Tressa and Reivf watched as Sarmin followed suit, tackled a creature, and disappeared.

    "I'm having second thoughts about this," Tressa said. "Am I just making speeches to measure up to the Federation and Klingon Captains?"

    Reivf turned to her. "You were trying to set us apart from those buffoons, and I applaud you for that. In fact, others in the Republic will applaud you and build statues in your honor. Statues are our thing. It's a huge thing we Romulans do."

    "They won't throw up in their mouths a little bit?" Tressa asked.

    The other Romulan nodded. "Oh, no, they definitely will. It's going to be at least a week of mental processing for everyone. Prepare to be shamed relentlessly." And then Reivf ran off and tackled a Kulpiun to the ground.

    "Alright, let's do this. I did skip breakfast," Tressa said to herself as the last remaining officer. She was then tackled to the ground by a drooling, madly-insane creature. Taking a deep breath, she bit right into its neck, squirting a good ounce of blood before she and it disappeared.

    ---

    Commander Tressa found herself transported into a fancy ball room overlooking the countryside where hordes of Kulpiun and Kolpionn were recklessly engaged with each other.

    "The metaphasic properties of the planets in Epsilon Fringe has given our species morphogenic genes," said Cuva as he handed Tressa a glass of champagne.

    Lesket picked off a waiter's palette of ganglia appetizers. "It turns out when they bite into each other, the two species merge, or Tuvix if you will, into one being."

    "And now it's become a ritual for them," reaffirmed Chupa who scooped a handful of the rest of the ganglia.

    Tressa raised an eyebrow. "So, our DNA is now altered?"

    "It will last about two days for you," Cuva said. "Your alien genes will likely dominate and push out the Kulpiun. After expulsion, you can then return your Kulpiun counterpart back to us."

    The Commander took a sip of her drink. "I am not looking forward to that. But, I must know, have we now succeeded in First Contact procedures?"

    "Would I be inviting you back next month for The Great Love Fest if you hadn't?" Cuva raised a glass and winked.

    Tressa nodded in understanding. "Now I know why Starfleet is so messed up: All these strange and horrifying cultures easily dilute one's own grasp of reality. Thank you, Cuva, for making me never want to meet new civilizations again."

    "As long as I did some good," he replied. "You know, a lot of people actually call this the Epsilon Cringe," he added as the two tapped champagne glasses.
    Post edited by hawku001x on
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