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Entropic Foliations of the Galactic Fabric

When the inexplicable appearance of Underspace apertures threaten ramifications of epic proportions.

Ellipticals and Inclinations

Academy for Agrarian Studies, Vespara Prime
Mission Day 1 - 1000 Hours

The sun rose in the west, as it did every morning. As Professor Imbalta walked the grounds of the Vesparan Academy for Agrarian Studies, he heard only the whisper of a light breeze and the sweet song of warblers as they sang wee-see wee-see wee-see.

The aged Bolian could not help but smile. Days like this reminded him why he’d given up his old life and moved to a paradise unadulterated by the industrial and digital machinations that had sucked the beauty from so many other worlds. Sure, he’d abandoned an illustrious career in warp field theory, but teaching agroscience to young farmers was its own sort of reward, and it came with the opportunity to live in a sanctuary free from the grunge of the rest of the galaxy. Vespara Prime had no factories and mines, nor replicators and synths, nor even the handheld PADDs and tricorders that everyone else spent their days staring down at. On Vespara, you were encouraged to look up, and to enjoy. It was a refuge where the six million who called it home enjoyed a simpler, more fulfilling form of living.

Or it was.

It was until this moment, a moment when, in an instant, everything changed.

Suddenly, it became cold. Very cold. And dark. Darker than it ever should have been on a midsummer morning.

Professor Imbalta looked to the sky as if expecting to see a storm. But there was not a cloud in the sky, not even a lonely wisp to occlude the direct sunlight. Instead, as he looked to the sky, he saw something he could not explain: the sun seemed dimmer, and it appeared to be flickering. K-Type main sequence star didn’t do that, he knew from his prior life. The orange dwarf at the system’s center had at least another five billion years of juice in it, and after that, it would grow into a red giant over another billion years. And that would come with an increase in luminosity, not a decrease. What, then, was going on? Why was it suddenly darkening?

Maybe he was just seeing things, he thought to himself. He closed his eyes and then opened them again. No, it was still flickering. He closed them again, and opened them again. Still, there was no change. As he squinted at the sun, he swore it almost seemed lower too. That didn’t make any sense. None of it did.

Around him, others were pointing at the sky and talking in hushed tones. Astrophysics wasn’t taught on Vespara – to worry about off-world matters was simply not their way – so for these young people, they had nothing to go on, but admittedly, even though he did have a past career to lean on, he didn’t really have anything to go on either. Stars didn’t do what theirs was doing.

The Bolian broke into a jog, making for his office as fast as his old legs could carry him. Vespara had no modern technical wizardry, no astrometrical scanners or neutrino telescopes to speak of, but buried somewhere in his desk, he still had a trinket from the before-times that might help. And right now, answers were more important than maintaining the ignorant harmony of their society.

“Professor! Professor!” came an out-of-breath voice from behind him. “Professor, what is going on?” It was one of his students, a young man named Malik, one of the curious ones who’d actually asked him a few questions over the years about the galaxy beyond Vespara.

“I’m really not sure,” Professor Imbalta admitted as they came upon his office. Quickly, he rummaged through his desk, and beneath a heap of papers, he found what he was looking for. “With this, I’m hoping we can figure it out.” The professor pulled out his old tricorder, a relic from a bygone era. He popped it open for the first time in years, but it chirped to life like not a day had passed. Its microfusion power cell would outlive them all. “Let’s go.” 

As Malik followed his mentor back outside, he looked curiously at the device. For those beyond Vespara, a tricorder was a near-constancy, a simple device used for even menial tasks, but for Malik, a boy who was born in the maize fields to the south, it was completely foreign. Even the beeps it made were alien. They simply didn’t have such things on Vespara.

“Umm, this is very strange…” Professor Imbalta mused as he pointed the device towards the sun. “It’s… it’s… it’s supposed to be the middle of summer, but our orbital inclination suggests we’re headed into the middle winter.” He hadn’t been seeing things earlier. The sun was lower in the sky.

“I’m sorry professor. I don’t understand. What do you mean by orbital inclination?” It was not their way, on Vespara, to study that which lay beyond. It was part of what made their life so idyllic, the way they very intentionally kept focus on the then and now. 

“The seasons we talk about,” Professor Imbalta explained. “In our culture, we focus on how our seasons impact the flora and fauna, but fundamentally, the seasons are an outcome of celestial movement. Our planet tilts as it rotates around the sun, and this inclination, relative to the equatorial plane, is what causes warmth in the summer and cold in the winter. Right now, our hemisphere should be tilted towards the sun, but according to my readings, we’re actually tilting away, as if heading into winter.” The frigid air outside certainly emphasized the point.

“How does that happen?”

“I’m not sure,” Professor Imbalta admitted. He didn’t want to worry the boy, and he tried to keep a straight face, but he was nervous. Something was wrong. Planets didn’t just change their tilt in an instant. As he continued to look at the readings, he noticed something else. “Also, we should be in the midst of our retreat towards the aphelion, but according to my readings, we’re actually moving back towards the perihelion.”

Again, his young student just looked at him with confusion on his face.

“Sorry, all gibberish to you,” Professor Imbalta apologized, acknowledging that these were not things they spoke of in pleasant conversation on Vespara. “Our planet rotates in an elliptical orbit, and this time of year, we should be moving further from the sun.” He moved his hands as if to illustrate the point. “This alignment between orbital movement and planetary tilt – we lean in while we move away – helps offset the impact of the summer’s inward orbital tilt for the southern hemisphere, which is why our summers are so mild in the south.”

“And that’s why we have so few villages in the north, huh?” Malik asked, starting to catch on. He hadn’t been taught these things, but he was a quick study. “If that’s how it works in the south, the opposite would be true in the north right? And that’s why they have squelching hot summers and freezing cold winters up there, isn’t it?” He had always wondered why the north was so inhospitable, but it wasn’t the Vesparan way to ask such questions. Now, though, he knew.

“Yes, exactly,” nodded Professor Imbalta. “Or that’s how it should be… except right now. Right now, according to these readings, we’re moving inward, not outward.”

“But why is it so cold then?” Malik asked as a gust of cold wind washed over them. “Didn’t you just say that, when we get closer to the sun, it gets warmer?”

“If all things were equal, that would be the case,” Professor Imbalta nodded. “But in geophysics, they have a saying: inclinations over ellipses.” 

Neither of them had any way to know that, in a mere six hours, the planetary tilt would flip again, and, in a coalescence of tilt and orbital distance, they’d experience a summer afternoon to rival the hottest the north had ever seen. And it would just get worse from there.

“And what’s going on with the sun?” Malik asked. It was still flickering.

“More questions to which I don’t have answers, my young friend,” Professor Imbalta frowned as he patted the boy comfortingly on the shoulder.

Without a gravimetric interferometer, the professor had no way of detecting the photon lensing occurring just beyond the corona of the Vesparan star, nor did he have access to a high resolution spectroscope that might have been able to see the new accretion lines trailing out from deep in the photosphere.

“Why is this all happening?” 

“I have not the slightest idea,” Professor Imbalta sighed as he closed his tricorder. “But I know what we need to do.” He began to walk quickly across the grounds. “Come with me. We need to get down to the main administration building.”

“Why?”

“It’s the only place with a subspace communicator,” Professor Imbalta explained. “We need to place a call… and quickly.” Whatever was going on, it went far beyond what they could explain on their own, and if things continued to worsen, they might need far more than an explanation. They might, in fact, need a lifeline.

“Who are we going to call?”

“Starfleet.”

Only then did Malik realize the gravity of the situation.

From Chalky Cliffs to Rapid Response

White Cliffs of Dai, Kyban; and Command Information Center, USS Polaris
Mission Day 1 - 1230 Hours

Far from the white sand beaches and minimalist metropolitan beauty of Banksy City, a muscled duo snaked their way up fractured limestone that jutted hundreds of meters over Kyban’s Dai Sea. For many, the sheer exposure and difficult crimps of the White Cliffs would have been anything but relaxing, but for the pair who’d set out to flash the ascent during their shore leave, there was no better therapy than chalk, sweat, and pure physical exertion.

As they came upon a particularly complex formation that featured a series of narrow crags and overhanging ledges, Captain Jake Lewis didn’t hesitate. In a dynamic style, he powered through with a sequence of aggressive moves that relied on single-point holds and bold momentum swings to transition safely to the thin ledge on the other side.

Below him, his partner shook his head with an amused grin. “Impressive, but you’re gonna kill yourself someday with moves like that.” In a controlled environment, Captain Dorian Vox would climb as dynamically as anyone, but this was far from a controlled environment. This was the real world, and they were making their first attempt on a massive face without holodeck safeties or even a rope. “They teach three points of contact for a reason, you know.”

“Okay kid,” Captain Lewis chuckled as he looked down at the younger man. “Show me how it’s done then.” He knew his limits, he assured himself confidently. If he didn’t, he’d have been dead before Dorian had even graduated grade school.

For a moment, Captain Vox stared upward, studying the formation with his eagle eyes, taking in every detail. And then he began an intricate set of moves, deliberate and precise, relying on a balance between the rock’s natural contours and his own physical capabilities to clear the complicated section. A few moments later, he was standing beside his colleague atop the narrow ledge, enjoying the view of cerulean sea and the lush archipelago as they took a moment to recover before starting on the next traverse.

“You climb with the precision of a pilot, but you’re a captain now,” Captain Lewis joked. “As a captain, sometimes you’ve got to just go for it.” Given that Captain Vox had been commanding ships on the Federation’s roughest frontiers for nearly a decade, the comment might have been taken as condescending by some, but between these two, it was all just friendly banter. They’d been through the crucible together, and they shared a deep, mutual respect as comrades-in-arms.

“Like you and Reyes, the king and queen of reckless abandon?” Captain Vox teased back. “I’m pretty sure this is why you two keep busting up your ships.” The Polaris had been non-com for a month after the Battle of Nasera, and between the suicide run through the Ciatar Nebula and the dive through the Roche lobe of Beta Serpentis, they’d almost blown the Serenity to bits twice. And that was just between April and July. At least it had been quiet since then as the squadron settled into supporting the ramp up in the Archanis Sector.

“I see how your eyes light up as we charge into battle,” Captain Lewis countered with a devious smile. “Always figured that meant you wanted to go out in a blaze of glory like the rest of us.” Captain Vox has been his staunchest ally calling for action in the shadow of Wolf 359, and the children of the Borg might have succeeded in their plot to summon the Collective if Vox had not thrown his lot in with Lewis.

“I love the adrenaline pump as much as the next guy,” Captain Vox nodded. “But I would like to make it to retirement someday.” It was still a ways off for him, at least another decade or two. “Isn’t that what we all want in the end? A quiet retirement?”

“Meh, I’m starting to get into my twilight years,” Captain Lewis shrugged. “It’s not all they make it out to be.” Getting old was overrated. On Nasera and then on Earth, there’d been moments when, for the first time in his life, he could feel his age creeping up on him. And he didn’t like it one bit. “Besides, what does retirement have in store for you?”

“More first ascents, I guess,” shrugged Captain Vox as he looked up at the next block of rock, a near featureless face for them to find their way through next. The galaxy was like that too, out beyond the borders of the major powers. “Always figured that someday I’d get myself a little civvie ship and just go see what’s out there in the great beyond.”

Captain Lewis looked up the wall. The wall wasn’t going to climb itself. It was time to get back to climbing. But as he re-chalked his hands, their combadges beeped in unison.

“Admiral Reyes to all Polaris Squadron personnel. Sorry to cut your vacation short, but we have a rapidly developing situation. Report to duty stations and prepare for immediate departure.”

Captain Vox looked over at Captain Lewis. Fleet Admiral Allison Reyes, the squadron CO, had been insistent on the soiree to Kyban. Lieutenant Morgan’s suicide had been a wake up call for her that, in the wake of Nasera, Minara, Ciatar, Earth, and Beta Serpentis, everyone was frayed and needed a break for mental health. If she was now going back on that, cutting their leave a week short, something had gone seriously wrong. After the Dominion and the Borg, the captains of the Serenity and the Diligent could only wonder what it was this time.

“Senior Staff and ASTRA Leads, please report directly to the CIC.”

The two hundred meters of wall that hung above them would have to wait. Just like their shared love for limestone, Captain Lewis and Captain Vox shared a devotion to duty, and the call was clear. The vacation was over. It was time to get to work.

“Lewis to Polaris. Two to beam directly to the CIC.”

Captain Vox glanced at his colleague, and then back at himself. Their tank tops and cargo pants were covered in chalk, and sweat glistened off their toned arms and tanned faces. They were going to make an interesting sight walking into the nerve center of Polaris Squadron.

And then the bright sun, crashing waves, and the white wall of Kyban’s equatorial archipelago were gone, replaced by the cool interiors and dim fluorescence of the USS Polaris‘ Command Information Center. 

At nearly three dozen consoles ringing a two stories tall situational display, flight controllers, operations staff, and tactical officers shouted instructions as they coordinated the rapid reactivation of the squadron’s four ships and the rushed return of the nearly two thousand personnel that had been enjoying a lazy day on Kyban. Under normal conditions, such an undertaking would have taken the better part of a day, but Admiral Reyes had told them they had thirty minutes, and then the squadron was leaving – with or without its people. That meant the operators in the CIC were running it like a full-scale tactical operation.

“Shuttle Two-Six, cleared to Polaris Bay Four.”

“Shuttle Zero-Four, slow to four zero, hold at alpha.”

“Diligent, you got a backlog. Tell those crewmen to hustle their bustle off the transporter pads.”

“Shuttle One-Nine, proceed after Three-One to Serenity Bay Two.”

Together, Captains Lewis and Vox crossed the room, proceeding directly to the briefing center just off the main floor, where the squadron leadership was gathering at the Admiral’s request. 

As they stepped into the briefing room, Commander Lee gave them a once over. “Didn’t you hear the Admiral? This trip was about rest and relaxation,” she said as she rolled her eyes.. “I trust you both were taking all the necessary safety precautions?” It wasn’t hard to figure out what they’d been up to, given the thick layer of chalk and sweat over their skin and clothes, and she had no doubt they had not been taking the appropriate precautions.

“All the necessary ones,” Captain Lewis stated firmly, causing Captain Vox to laugh out loud. “But Cora, you appear to have missed the memo altogether.” In contrast to many of the other officers funneling quickly into the room, the youngest of the COs was dressed in her duty uniform with her hair tied up in a tight bun like it was a regular workday.

“Got me there,” Commander Lee chuckled. “I was actually over on your ship, tinkering with Commander Sharpe on some ideas we had to let you push your baby even harder.” Over the last few months, the prodigious engineer had found a kindred spirit in the Serenity‘s Chief Engineer, a man who, over his two decades in Main Engineering, had mastered the art of keeping ships in one piece while their COs did their best to break them. If the past few months were any indication, that talent would come in handy here. It had been nothing but pedal to the metal ever since she first linked the USS Ingenuity up with the USS Polaris in the Eplulap Nebula on the way to Nasera.

Behind them, Fleet Admiral Allison Reyes stepped into the room, flanked by Dr. Sh’vot, the geophysicist from the Serenity, and Dr. Tom Brooks, the aged astrophysicist they’d sprung from the New Zealand Penal Colony last April. While the Senior Officers of Polaris Squadron and the leads from the Advanced Science, Technology and Research Activity took their seats, the trio made their way to the front of the room. Everyone was present except Fleet Captain Devreux, who was up on the bridge of the Polaris supervising squadron reactivation.

“This is the Vespara system,” Admiral Reyes jumped right into it without any cordialities. Behind her, an astrometrics display came up on the main screen. “By most measures, it is a stock standard system with a K-type main sequence orange dwarf and a single class M planet, Vespara Prime, within its habitable zone.” Behind her, a new set of vectors appeared on the display. “Or it was a stock standard system until a couple hours ago. This morning, at approximately 1030 hours, Archanis Sector Operations received a distress call reporting that, based on primitive terrestrial observations, the planet’s orbit had begun to decay rapidly.” The admiral advanced the display to at a rate of one day per second, and in less than thirty seconds, the issue was clear to all.

“Planets do not just fall out of the sky,” Dr. Luke Lockwood noted pointedly. Planetary orbits were a function of Newtonian mechanics and Kepler’s laws, which were both foundational and elementary aspects of astrophysics. “And certainly not this quickly.” The head of astrophysical and exotic sciences for the Advanced Science, Technology and Research Activity knew as well as anyone that celestial time horizons were measured, not in centuries and millennia, but in megaanums and longer. Only in the rarest of situations, such as the Romulan supernova, did such horizons shrink to even the scale of human lifetimes, let alone to mere weeks.

“They do if a massive gravity sink appears out of nowhere,” Dr. Brooks countered as he stepped forward. “Boosting long-range sensors to max, we were able to detect subtle shifts in graviton background radiation that suggests the appearance of a new celestial body within the Vespara system.”

“What sort of a celestial body?” Dr. Lockwood asked curiously. Just as orbits did not decay spontaneously, neither did celestial bodies appear spontaneously. Using the 2.08E+30 and 4.81E+24 figures next to the star and planet respectively, and the 29.8 km/s radial velocity vector extending from the planet towards the sun, it was easy to calculate in his head the approximate mass of such a body. “You’re suggesting something about fifty to sixty stellar masses that just magically manifested out of the void.”

“Correct, and from here, we have no idea what,” Dr. Brooks smiled, a twinkle in his eye. He loved a good mystery. “And that’s sort of the fun in it, isn’t it?” Fun was not how Admiral Reyes or Dr. Sh’vot would have described an orbital trajectory threatening a planet-wide apocalypse within weeks. “Given the absence of any spectral emissions, some form of a gravitational singularity would be my best guess.” He slid a PADD across the table.

“Curious,” was all Dr. Lockwood had to say as his voice tapered off, falling into a land of hypotheticals as he reviewed the telemetry and the calculations on the PADD.

“And what are they picking up on the surface of Vespara?” asked Captain Vox. “They’ve got to have better readings from down there than we have out here.” He’d never heard of Vespara before, but even a backwater Federation colony with basic astrometric sensors would have more than what they had from half a sector away.

“Unfortunately, that’s where we hit a snag,” Admiral Reyes admitted. “Vespara Prime is fairly unique as far as Federation colonies go, a place primitive and agrarian by choice, where the six million who call it home were brought together by a single goal: to live unburdened by the technologies that the rest of the galaxy takes for granted. It is a place without factories or replicators or even PADDs, where its residents focus on simplicity and sustainability.”

Sitting deep within the core of one of the most advanced ships Starfleet had ever produced, such a notion was alien to those gathered in the briefing room.

“Admiral, if they’ve renounced technology, how did they observe even this much?” Lieutenant Emilia Balan, the cultural affairs analyst from the Advanced Science, Technology and Research Activity, asked curiously. “An abacus?”

“Not far off,” chuckled Admiral Reyes. “A seventies-era tricorder. A man by the name of Imbalta hung onto it when he immigrated to Vespara, and this morning, when the sun started flickering and the climate got wonky, he used it to calculate the shifts in inclination and position.”

“It’s a lot to surmise from a tricorder,” Dr. Lockwood cautioned as he looked up from his PADD and over, through the glass of the briefing room, into the core of the CIC, where operators were hustling to get the squadron ready for departure. “Are we certain it warrants a squadron-level response?” Faint gravitational shifts and the fears of an old man playing with a calculator hardly seemed worthy of sending more than a runabout to check it out.

“Page over,” Dr. Brooks said, gesturing back at the PADD his colleague was holding. “Before he gave it all up, Dr. Imbalta was a preeminent warp field theorist.” Dr. Lockwood paged over and found himself staring at a research paper published in 2371 out of the Zefram Cochrane Institute for Advanced Theoretical Physics. It bore nearly twenty co-authors, many of them pioneers in modern subspace theory, and the lead author was none other than a Dr. Itziki Imbalta. “If his math was that good back then, I’d take him at face value on something as simple as a Kepler three-body problem.”

“He also made the call at risk to himself,” Admiral Reyes observed. “While Vespara Prime has a subspace transceiver for emergencies, based on records from Starfleet Communications, we have not received a call from them in over a decade. Dr. Imbalta warned on the call that he did not think his people would take kindly to the choice he’d made, but that he felt he couldn’t not call after what he’d discovered.”

“The near assurance of the death of your world can be motivating,” Dr. Sh’vot nodded. “As added assurance, the climatological observations he reported also align with what you’d expect given his rudimentary measurements and, if he’s even close to right, it’s only a matter of weeks before Vespara Prime falls out of its habitable zone.”

“And I’d surmise, based on what you’re saying about their technology,” Commander Lee jumped in. “That they don’t have the sort of environmentally sealed facilities that would allow them to protect themselves from such climatological shifts, do they?” The engineer’s mind was already turning on ideas about what they might fabricate to extend habitability at such a massive scale and in such a short time.

“No, not at all,” Dr. Sh’vot confirmed. “Due to a synchronicity between their orbital ellipsis and their planetary inclination, Vespara Prime enjoys a climate so temperate on its southern hemisphere, where all its major settlements are, that brick, clay and stucco are more than enough to provide year-round insulation.”

“Unless, of course, they suddenly fall into the sun.”

“Unless that, yes,” Dr. Sh’vot nodded bleakly.

“Given the potential for disaster, and the time-sensitivity of the situation, we’re leading with the front foot,” Admiral Reyes closed. She’d thought about sending one of their light cruisers first, but it would take a day to get out to Vespara, and then another day for the squadron to respond. “If it’s a false alarm, we’ll be swimming in the Dai Sea again by Thursday afternoon.” But if it wasn’t a false alarm, then they were going to need the full might of Polaris Squadron – and probably a small miracle – to save the six million who called Vespara home.

You Know None Of This Matters, Right?

Bridge, USS Polaris
Mission Day 2 - 0820 Hours

“Is that what it looks like?” Admiral Reyes asked as she stared incredulously.

“If by ‘what it looks like’, you mean a gravitational singularity in the corona of a K-type main sequence star, sucking 241 exagrams of plasma per second out of its photosphere, then yes,” Dr. Lockwood rattled off factually. It was unlike anything he’d ever seen, whether with his own two eyes or as expressed in pure mathematical terms, and the accretion lines extending up from the inner atmosphere of the star were sucking stellar material out of it at an astonishing rate. “Gravimetric radiation and Bondi-Hoyle both confirm mass equivalence of the apparent singularity to be around 66 solar units.”

“How is that even possible?” Admiral Reyes shook her head. She wasn’t half the physicist that the ASTRA lead was, but even she knew that this phenomenon they were witnessing shouldn’t have been possible. There wasn’t enough stellar material in the entire Vesparan system to create a singularity one fiftieth the size of what they were staring at, and if the singularity had originated outside the system, it would have caused massive gravitational shifts millenia, or even meganna, prior to parking itself in the corona of the star.

“This isn’t possible,” Dr. Lockwood assured her. The mathematics didn’t support it.

“Except that it is,” Captain Lewis stated bluntly as he stepped briskly onto the bridge flanked by Captain Vox and Commander Lee. The commanding officers of Serenity, the Diligent and the Ingenuity had been aboard their respective ships for the trip from Kyban to Vespara, but they’d beamed over to the Polaris as soon as the squadron came to a halt in Vespara and the magnitude of the situation was clear. “We’re staring straight at it. You and your fancy equations may not have a way to explain it, but it’s there, and it’s slowly swallowing the system.”

“I wouldn’t say slowly,” Dr. Brooks offered from the rear of the bridge, where he was casually paging through sensor telemetry on a PADD while leaned back with his feet up on the console. “In the five minutes we’ve been here, the rate of accretion has increased by 127 petagrams.”

“Tidal shifts caused by the gravity well would cause variability in flow,” Dr. Lockwood asserted disinterestedly. Of course there was a change in accretion, as of course the singularity would cause shifts in plasmatic currents within the star’s convective zone. “As would the relative position of the two bodies too.” The massive gravity well would be warping the star’s peculiar velocity towards itself, and the star moved up the gravitational gradient, accretion would obviously increase as well.

Dr. Brooks frowned. Did the kid take him for an amateur astronomer? “Yeah, but I don’t mean those,” the old scientist replied gruffly as he stood up. “I’m talking about an increase after factoring those out.” He walked across the room and handed his PADD to the insufferable ASTRA lead. “There’s more going on here.”

Dr. Lockwood’s eyes darted across the PADD as he reviewed Dr. Brooks’ work. “Now that is curious…” The old man had done his math right. “And it’s also directly proportional to, but of a significantly lesser order of magnitude than, the increase in graviton radiation we’ve picked up over the same period.” It was strange, almost as if the stellar plasma was providing combustible fuel, rather than raw material, to the singularity.

“English please,” Captain Lewis grumbled as he tried to follow along. He hated when they talked in technobabble and half-sentences. It did nothing to help those, like him, who actually needed to do something as a result of their esoteric musings.

“For the layman,” Dr. Lockwood replied as he looked over at Captain Lewis in the same manner as he would towards an ignorant child. “There’s more and more stellar matter being sucked off the star every minute, and the singularity is growing in strength as time goes by too.”

“Isn’t that what singularities always do?” Captain Lewis replied. He, just like every other Starfleet captain, understood the basics of relativistic physics enough to understand that singularities grew as they ingested more material.

Did the Captain not listen to any of the numbers they’d just been going over? “Yes, except that, in this case, for every kilo of plasma that goes in, the increase in gravitational pull is the mass equivalent of around 21.97 million kilos.” That was not how singularities worked.

“Ok, I barely passed calculus… so that means what, exactly?” 

That the captain had barely passed calculus was unsurprising to Dr. Lockwood.

Dr. Brooks, on the other hand, was more forgiving of his old friend. He jumped in to offer an answer: “It means that, for every Earth-sized nugget of plasma that gets sucked in, this singularity grows in gravitational influence by a little over three copies of the Vesparan sun.” Even as he said it, it sounded crazy. But also kind of cool. What a mystery they had before them.

Dr. Brooks’ explanation was enough for Captain Lewis to catch back up. “And how fast is it sucking off plasma?” he followed up, aware that would be a determinant factor in their operation.

“About three Earths per day.”

“Oh, that’s not good,” Captain Lewis frowned. Even he could do the elementary math in his head. “So today, it’s 66 solar masses, but tomorrow, it’ll be 76 solar masses?” The implications were obvious, and terrifying.

“Give or take.”

“Fuck.”

“I’m afraid we have another problem,” Dr. Sh’vot volunteered, causing everyone to look over at him. Ever since Dr. Brooks had raised his observation about increasing accretion, ASTRA’s geophysicist had been working to update his model. The result was a compounding problem. “My original habitability forecast relied on Dr. Imbalta’s terrestrial observations of fifty to sixty solar masses. However, if this singularity is growing at a rate of ten stellar masses per day, we do not have a month until Vespara Prime falls out of the system’s habitable zone.”

“How long do we have?” Commander Lee asked. She had a vested interest in the number. As the Squadron Engineering Officer, it would be her duty to oversee the fabrication and build out of all infrastructure necessary to protect and evacuate the people of Vespara Prime, and she was already feeling the pressure from the original timeline that Dr. Sh’vot had presented them.

“Seven days,” Sh’vot replied flatly.

The words landed with a thud.

“Seven days?” Commander Lee stuttered. His original estimate of a month had already been a ridiculous ask. But a week? That was straight impossible.

“Yes, seven days.”

“What about the climate control systems you sent over from the Federation Terraforming Command?” Commander Lee asked desperately. She needed more time. “If we can get those built out and deployed, how much longer will they give the Vesparans?”

“Another four days.”

“Only four more days?” Commander Lee asked exasperatedly. “Yesterday, I thought you said those satellites, if we could get them fabricated, would extend the horizon by eight to ten days?” She’d already been working on a way to repurpose the Alita-class Diligent‘s large shuttlecraft fabrication and maintenance facilities to build out the needed satellites.

“That was before we knew the singularity was increasing at what, by all conventional measures, should be an impossible rate,” Dr. Sh’vot frowned. “They’ll give us four days, and not a day more.” Even as it was, it would be mighty toasty on the surface of Vespara Prime those last few days. The planet was wobbling erratically on its axis, and, in parallel with its decaying ellipsis, that meant, at times, its tilt was amplifying the effects of its falling radial distance.

Commander Lee reiterated her understanding back at him, just to make sure she had it right: “So what you’re saying is that we have eleven days to either evacuate six million people or to build enough environmentally hardened shelters to protect them all until we can?” The nerves were evident in her voice. She could feel the weight of an entire world hanging over her.

“That is not what Dr. Sh’vot said,” Dr. Brooks offered darkly. “He just said the planet will be uninhabitable in eleven days. You’re the one that has put an impossible goal upon your shoulders.” The sooner she accepted she wouldn’t be able to save them all, the sooner she’d get to doing what she could do without being saddled by what she couldn’t.

Commander Lee swallowed hard and looked over at Admiral Reyes. “If you don’t mind, I’m going to head back to the Ingenuity. I’ve got far too much to do, and not near enough time to do it.” Without another word, she beelined it for the exit, her mind already racing with how she would divide the workloads between the engineering teams of the squadron’s four ships. 

Dr. Brooks followed her out. He’d grown quite fond of her since Beta Serpentis, and he worried about her in moments like these.

Admiral Reyes watched them go. Long ago, she’d been a young engineering prodigy like Cora Lee, and she felt for what the young woman was going through as she stared down the barrel of impossibility. Their four ships could not build shelters for six million people in eleven days, nor could their four ships hold even one one-hundredth of the planet’s population, but they’d do their damndest to try.

“I think it’s time we put out a sector-wide call for assistance,” Captain Vox suggested. “Starfleet, civvies… hell, even the Klingons. Anyone that’s got a place to stuff some people, or an industrial replicator, or a block of duranium, we need them, and we need them now.” Maritime tradition was rich with examples of sailors rising to the aid of fellow seafarers, and the transition to the stars had done nothing to belay that spirit. The mind of the Squadron’s Strategic Operations Officer was already turning with how he would coordinate the logistics of such a massive airlift operation.

“I don’t disagree at all,” Admiral Reyes concurred. “I’ll put out the call.”

“Then I’ll head back to the Diligent to get ready,” Captain Vox nodded dutifully as he headed for the exit. He just hoped that they would answer the call, that the skies over Vespara would soon turn into the most complex battlespace he’d ever managed.

“What about the people of Vespara?” Fleet Captain Devreux asked, recognizing there was still another key ingredient missing from a planet-wide evacuation. “They don’t even know we’re here, or that their world is in trouble… and if what we know of them is right, there’s no guarantee they’ll quickly cede to the idea of our help.” It had been so long since Starfleet had contact with the Vesparans that it wasn’t even assured they would trust what Starfleet had to say.

“Well, I guess we’ll need to go down there and say hello then, won’t we?” Admiral Reyes smiled as she looked over her shoulder at Lieutenant Hall, the psyops specialist turned counselor, and Lieutenant Balan, the ever-optimistic scholar of culture and diplomacy. “You two ready?”

Dr. Hall nodded wordlessly.

Lieutenant Balan nodded too, but a quite bit more excitedly. She always was excited, whenever new cultures were involved, and although the people of Vespara Prime had all emigrated from other Federation worlds, their culture, rooted in tenets of anti-technologism, was quite unique.

“Alright, then head down at your discretion,” Admiral Reyes authorized. They’d already talked through the plan. She wasn’t sure how well it would go, but it was at least more subtle than just beaming a landing party into the town square. She figured they might as well try it first, and if it didn’t work, then they’d try something more blunt.

As the two peeled away and Fleet Captain Devreux went over to discuss something with the lieutenant at the conn, Captain Lewis drew up next to Dr. Lockwood and Admiral Reyes. 

“You know none of this matters, right?” Captain Lewis offered in a quiet tone only the admiral and the physicist could hear. “Not really, at least. Unless you lab rats find a way to stop this, we might save a few hundred thousand, but millions will die.”

Admiral Reyes wanted to disagree, but she couldn’t. 

She knew he was right.

A Million Problems, But One For Us

Bridge, USS Pacific Palisades
Mission Day 2 - 0850 Hours

Just another Tuesday became just another Wednesday as the USS Pacific Palisades continued its meandering circuit through the Meronia Cluster. The California class utility cruiser emerged from warp over an uninhabited rock that would have been completely uninteresting if not for the fact that it hosted a malfunctioning node in the sector’s subspace communications network, and a few moments later, the Type 17 cargo shuttle Huntington peeled away from its rear starboard bay.

It was a short trip over to the asteroid for Commander Reed Westmoreland and his team, and it took the Deputy Chief of Construction within the Archanis Sector Corps of Engineers only shortly longer to reach a conclusion about what had happened to the relay.

“This thing didn’t go inoperable on its own. There’s heavy disruptor scarring all over the superstructure, and between kinetic and energy damage, the internals are toast. Gonna need to fab basically a whole new transceiver to get this relay operational again.”

On the bridge of the Pacific Palisades, Captain Kenji Saito had been lazily perusing the gossip section of  The Cosmic Courier when the call came in, but as soon as he heard the words ‘disruptor fire’, his posture straightened and he set the PADD down. 

Huntington, please confirm. You said disruptor fire?” With the sector relatively neglected by the Federation for the better part of the 24th century, duplicitous parties had moved into the region in their absence. “Does it match any known signature?” The commanding officer of the Pacific Palisades could think of no less than a half dozen groups that might have been responsible.

“Affirm Pali. The residue is Klingon in origin.”

“Sir, I recommend that we go to yellow alert,” Captain Saito advised as he turned to Commodore Amit Agarwal, the Detachment Commander of the Archanis Sector Corps of Engineers. “And that you recall your team.”

The California class ship’s bridge crew all looked over at the Commodore. They were a mix of young officers who’d taken this assignment as a stepping stone, and older officers who’d landed themselves here on account of their sheer mediocrity, but none of them were seasoned on the frontier, and they all sort of expected him to order the shuttle back to the ship and to turn tail. That was, after all, the safe thing to do, right?

Commodore Agarwal gave no such order though. He’d spent his entire career on frontier construction projects, and a little Klingon disruptor fire didn’t particularly worry him. Between skirmish-inclined border houses and the proliferation of Klingon weaponry into the hands of other local factions, Klingon disruptor fire was just a part of the region’s messy fabric. “Commander Westmoreland,” Commodore Agarwal asked calmly over the link. “About how long has this node been inoperable?”

“About three months, sir.”

“Then I think we can defer with panic then,” Commodore Agarwal assured the captain. “And instead focus on completing some long overdue repairs.” He knew the older man meant well, but it was not lost on him that Kenji Saito was a forever-captain who, over his decade tenure in grade, had never graduated beyond a California class utility cruiser. This was not a man who took risks or ever went out over his skis. “Let’s get the rest of the team over there, and I’m sure Reed will have that transceiver up and running in no time.”

“Aye sir,” Captain Saito nodded warily before turning to his team. “Flight deck operations, clear the Castellammare, Marquez and Riviera for launch.” Hopefully this would be quick, he thought to himself. The Commodore didn’t seem worried, but the idea of Klingon disruptor fire made the Captain’s hair stand on end.

As Captain Saito watched the cargo shuttles begin their slow procession over the bow, a loud chime sounded from behind him.

“Sir, I’ve got an incoming communication,” the ensign at communications announced. “Priority one distress call, broadcasting synchronously across Starfleet and civilian frequencies.”

“Alright,” sighed Captain Saito, wishing that, for just once, it would be a simple day. But it never was. Not since coming to the Archanis Sector, at least. “Put it on screen.”

A moment later, a Fleet Admiral appeared on the main viewscreen. It wasn’t every day you saw one of those, Captain Saito thought to himself. And even rarer that it was one you’d actually met in person. But he recognized her. He’d met her during a reception on Archanis Station early in the month. Her name was Fleet Admiral Allison Reyes. She was the director of some frontier sciences unit, and the commander of a squadron that was now based out of the Archanis Sector.

“This is Fleet Admiral Allison Reyes of the Starfleet vessel USS Polaris requesting immediate assistance from any and all ships, Starfleet or otherwise, that hear this call.”

That opening got his attention. Commodore Agarwal, too, stopped what he was doing and turned to face the viewscreen.

“For reasons we do not completely understand, a supermassive singularity has appeared within the Vespara system, and in just seven days time, it will have pulled Vespara Prime out of the system’s habitable zone. Using all the capabilities at our disposal, we believe we can extend habitability on the surface for another four days, but come the twelfth day, Vespara Prime will become an uninhabitable wasteland spiraling uncontrollably towards the sun.”

As he listened to the message, Commodore Agarwal could not help but notice how remarkably calm the admiral looked. He could tell, just by looking at her demeanor, that this was a woman who did not shy away from crisis, but beneath her cool exterior, he could sense something else too. Fear. A frenetic fear. Like a timer ticking down. And what did she mean that a singularity had just  appeared? Singularities did not just appear.

“There are six million who call Vespara Prime home. Six million just like you. Six million men, women and children, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, just like yours. Six million who woke up this morning to an extinction-level event bearing down on them.”

It was an impassioned plea, a personal plea. Commodore Agarwal had a wife and two kids, as did many of the others across the subsector who simultaneously received her call. The numbers she shared were shocking. Six million was a lot of people, and twelve days was not a lot of time.

“They need our help, but my squadron is only four ships. We are not enough on our own. And thus I call on you. They need you. They need your help. Every cargo hold, every replicator, every little bit of space and every last supply you can spare, every bit will help.”

The USS Pacific Palisades wasn’t sleek or sexy, but as a mobile construction and maintenance platform for the Archanis Sector Corps of Engineers, its fabrication facilities and engineers were well beyond what its understated appearance suggested. Further, given its utilitarian purpose, it also had space, more than would be expected from a ship of its size, as it had foregone many of the amenities found on more prestigious frontline cruisers.

“To the captains hearing this call, just as the mariners before you have responded to maydays for generations, I beg of you to answer this call, to come to Vespara, to help us save its people from an unspeakable catastrophe.”

And that was it. A short, but deeply impassioned call for assistance. One that he could not ignore. ”Captain Saito, get a line to HQ,” Commodore Agarwal ordered as the call of duty washed over him. “Notify Archanis Station we’re going to be delayed here, that we’re responding to a distress call from Polaris.”

Captain Saito hurried off the bridge to place the call.

Commodore Agarwal then turned to the comms officer: “Get Reed on the horn. Tell him he’s got five minutes to get back up here or we’re leaving his ass on that dusty rock.” They had a new mission. Dilapidated infrastructure, infrastructure that had already been broken for months, it could wait, but the people of Vespara could not. 

As he waited for the comms to go out, the Commodore’s mind was already turning over what they could do. Could they ferry residents off-world and out of the system? Or harden fixed infrastructure that was already on the planet? What about setting up temporary housing facilities elsewhere in the system? He had a lot of ideas, but there was not a lot of time, and six million people was a lot of people.

A few minutes later, Captain Saito returned to the bridge with an update: “Commodore, it took a moment, but I finally managed to reach Archanis Station. It sounds like it’s chaos over there.”

“They heard about Vespara?” Commodore Agarwal asked hopefully.

“No, we have a bigger problem,” Captain Saito said as he shook his head. “Or more accurately, we have a whole bunch of problems. There’s something going on.” He looked overwhelmed by what Archanis Station had relayed to him. “Ships missing, reports of strange stellar anomalies, rumors of Hirogen and Kazon randomly…”

Commodore Agarwal raised his hand to stop the older man. “Did they have any specific orders for us? Any specific thing they need us to look into?”

“No, they just let me know this wasn’t the only problem.”

“Well then, to Vespara we go.”

Captain Saito looked puzzled. Had the Commodore not heard what he’d just said? This could be like that Borg matter from June all over again. Why was Agarwal focused on one problem?

“There’s always a million problems in this galaxy,” Commodore Agarwal observed pensively as he walked towards the front of the bridge and stared out at the stars that lay beyond. It was funny how peaceful the galaxy always looked at a distance. “Today might be worse than other days, but you see, we can’t fix them all. But there’s one problem before us that we know we can help with, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

Heretic of the Machine

Academy for Agrarian Studies, Vespara Prime
Mission Day 2 - 1000 Hours

It was hot, painfully hot. And windy, like fine little razor blades against the skin. It was unlike any day before as Vespara Prime wobbled on its axis and continued its fall towards the sun. It was only going to get worse too. Seven days, that was all they had, or eleven if Commander Lee could whip up those climate satellites. After that, it would be so hot that no one would walk freely on the surface, and eventually the mounting solar radiation would strip the atmosphere from the planet itself, making it completely unlivable without an EV suit.

Dr. Hall and Lieutenant Balan had not come to commiserate with the colonists about their plight though. Not yet, at least. They knew that if they revealed their presence right away, the people of Vespara Prime would be skeptical, if not outright resistant, to the rescue they dearly needed. Although most of its colonists originally come from Federation worlds, they were a people that had renounced technology by choice, and Starfleet was the antithesis of that. It was for this reason that the unassuming pair had donned local garb and beamed onto to the grounds of the Vesparan Academy of Agrarian Studies in search of Itziki Imbalta, the Bolian professor who’d used the planets sole subspace transceiver to send the original distress call a day prior.

“This looks like his office,” Lieutenant Balan observed as she stepped onto the stoop of a small brick building just off the main quad of the campus.

“How do you figure?” Dr. Hall asked.

“Those who came here did so to embrace a simple, sustainable life,” Lieutenant Balan noted. “I wouldn’t expect such people to be prone to violence, so what do you make of this?”

The counselor came up alongside her, and immediately she saw what the cultural affairs analyst meant. The door to the building had been plied open with blunt force. 

“Eyes up!” Dr. Hall’s phaser was out and she was advancing through the door into the room before Lieutenant Balan could even blink.

Quickly, the Lieutenant followed her through, but she didn’t draw her own weapon. It all seemed a bit of an overreaction, but Lieutenant Balan also knew better than to judge Lisa Hall, a woman who’d survived the worst that the Lost Fleet and Frontier Day had thrown at her.

Inside, the room was dark, and it was in shambles. Every table had been overturned, and every drawer had been ripped open. There were papers and trinkets littering the floor, and on the far side of the room, they saw a message scrawled across the wall in blood red paint: HERETIC OF THE MACHINE.

“That’s unfortunate,” Dr. Hall frowned as she walked over to the wall and touched the paint. It was still wet. Still fresh. This had happened recently, and it threw a major wrench in their plan.

“That’s the understatement of the morning,” sighed Lieutenant Balan. “I’m not sure the professor is going to be much help to us.” They’d hoped to use Itziki Imbalta, a man they’d assumed to be of some repute in the community given his position, to amplify their message. But it didn’t look like that was going to be the case. It looked like this might be even harder than they expected.

“Check this out,” Dr. Hall said, gesturing to the ground. Between a set of crushed boxes and a pile of papers, there was a tricorder – or more accurately, the remnants of a tricorder. It had been smashed, broken into a dozen little pieces.

Before Lieutenant Balan could reply, they heard footsteps.

Dr. Hall swung around, leveling her phaser with the door as a young man, probably not a day past twenty, stepped through the threshold.

“I… I…” the kid fumbled with his words. He didn’t recognize either of them, nor the item that the woman with dark hair held in her hand. The way she held it, it looked like it was probably a weapon, but it was unlike anything he’d ever seen, very mechanical and very otherworldly. “Are you… are you from… from Starfleet?”

Lieutenant Balan could see the fear on the kid’s face. She knew that look all too well. He was terrified, and very much not a threat. “Yes, yes we are,” she said with a gentle smile as she reached out and set her hand on Dr. Hall’s phaser, pushing the muzzle towards the floor. It wouldn’t be needed here. This was clearly not whomever it was that tossed the professor’s office. “I’m Emilia, and this is Lisa.”

“I’m Malik,” the kid replied as he relaxed a bit. There was something disarming about the woman who called herself Emilia. Her demeanor made him feel safe, at least as much as anyone could after learning that his world was in danger.

“It’s nice to meet you Malik,” Lieutenant Balan offered with a soft tone, as if talking to a baby deer that might be easily spooked. “If you don’t mind me asking, how did you know we were Starfleet?”

“Because Professor Imbalta said you would come,” Malik replied genuinely. He’d never met anyone from Starfleet before, but he trusted the professor.

“Ah, the professor,” nodded Dr. Hall as she reholstered her phaser within the holster concealed under her loose flowing blouse. “Is he okay?”

“He’s hiding because of all this.”

“What happened here?”

“The councilors, they’ll deny they did it, but when they found out what he did, some of them – I’m sure it was them – some of them came down here and did this,” Malik explained disheartenedly as he looked at what was left of his mentor’s office. “It’s not our way, I promise you. We are a peaceful people… a good people… a kind people.”

“I believe you,” Lieutenant Balan assured him.

“Our world,” Malik continued nervously. “Is it really falling apart?”

“Yes,” Dr. Hall nodded gravely. “And there’s not a lot of time.”

“Are you here to help us?”

“We want to, yes,” Dr. Hall explained. “But we need the professor’s assistance. You see, your people don’t know us, and they have no reason to trust us. We’d hoped the professor, someone the others recognize and trust, would be able to help them understand. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that will be the case.” Not if the way the room had been ransacked was any indication.

“There’s still a chance,” Malik replied with youthful optimism. “The councilors are not unified in their perspective. I was down at the assembly hall just an hour ago. As angry as many were at the professor for using the communicator thingy, there were others equally distraught over how he was treated as a result.”

“Do you know where the professor is?”

Malik nodded.

“Can you take us to him?”

Again, Malik nodded, and off they went.

Stretched and Strained

Bridge, USS Diligent
Mission Day 2 - 1010 Hours

“What do you think, boss? Is this really gonna work?” Commander Kerrigan asked as she stared at the planet below. It looked deceptively peaceful given the armageddon that awaited it. “We don’t have enough to do this on our own, do we?” In the distance, she could see the Serenity, the Ingenuity and the Polaris hanging still in the night. They looked peaceful too, but again, it was deceptive. She knew that, on each of those ships, hundreds of officers were currently rushing about, doing their individual parts to execute on a plan that felt nigh impossible.

“All things equal, no, we don’t,” Captain Vox admitted. “But don’t count Allison out too quickly. She’s made more from less before…” His mind drifted back to Nasera, when she’d led them into what looked like an impossible battle, only for them to see victory in the end. Sure, the Lost Fleet was small in comparison to a sixty six stellar mass singularity, but it had the cunning of the Vorta and the ruthlessness of the Jem’Hadar. This was just a faceless stellar anomaly. “We’re going to do all we can to save those people before their world burns.”

“But we don’t have enough space for them all. Across the entire squadron, our emergency capacity is what? About 25,000?” There were six million people on the planet below. Even if they spent the next eleven days ferrying boatloads of people to the nearest habitable planetoid, they’d save barely a fraction of that total.

“30,400 based on Captain Devreux’s latest calculations, if we clear every cargo bay, corridor and far away corner of our ships,” Captain Vox corrected, but that wasn’t really the point was it? This was about something bigger. “But remember, Jordyn, that this is not about our emergency capacity. Yes, we’ll take on every last soul we can at that final moment, but for now, it’s about the infrastructure Commander Lee is working on, the infrastructure that will keep them alive where they are now.” Commander Lee had repurposed the Diligent‘s small craft maintenance bays to build climate control satellites that would extend the habitable lifespan of the planet, and she’d had tasked the Polaris‘ industrial replicators with fabricating environmentally-shielded shelters that would protect a not-insignificant number of inhabitants from the unlivable heat. As he thought about it though, Captain Vox wondered how Admiral Reyes would decide who would be welcomed into those shelters though, and who would be left to the elements. There wouldn’t be enough space for everyone in those shelters, just like there wouldn’t be on their ships.

“Sorry Cap,” Commander Kerrigan apologized. “This sort of mission is just a bit foreign to me.” She’d spent her career on frigates and corvettes assigned to borderlands patrol duties before graduating up to the Alita class heavy escort she now managed alongside Captain Vox.

“I get it,” Captain Vox nodded. “I really do.” Jordyn Kerrigan was a fine officer, one who could manage the most complex of battle spaces alongside him, but there was nothing here to shoot. This was a different type of crisis. She, and he himself as well, if he was honest about it, would need to adapt. “Have we received word of any ships responding to the Reyes’ mayday?”

“We’ve got two FMS cargo trawlers and a mid-range passenger transport inbound,” Commander Kerrigan reported with a frown as she reviewed the latest on her PADD. “But that’s all I’m seeing so far.” That would barely make a dent in the numbers they needed to evacuate from the planet.

“That’s better than nothing,” Captain Vox smiled meekly. Still, he’d hoped for more. Significantly more. “What about Sector Ops? Have we heard anything from Archanis Station?”

“Yep, looks like it just came in… finally,” Commander Kerrigan replied hopefully as she swiped across the PADD and pulled up the message. “It looks like… ummm…” A mix of confusion and worry washed over her face. “It looks like they’re busy… What the fuck?!” How could they be busy when Polaris had called them about a planetary apocalypse?

“Busy with what?”

“Have a look for yourself.”

Commander Kerrigan passed the PADD over to Captain Vox. He read it quickly. “I don’t believe in coincidences,” he said firmly when he was finished. “Get me the Admiral.”

A moment later, the face of Admiral Reyes appeared on the main viewer. She was standing in what looked to be one of the labs aboard the USS Polaris that belonged to the Advanced Science, Technology and Research Activity.

“Have you seen the latest from Grayson?” Captain Vox asked, cutting straight to the chase.

“Yes I have,” Admiral Reyes nodded distractedly before looking over her shoulder at someone offscreen. In the background, they heard something unintelligible, and Admiral Reyes shouted in the direction of the voice: “Lockwood, I told you. I’ll be right back.” She then turned back to the Captain and the Commander on the viewscreen.

“And?” Captain Vox pressed.

“And I think it might help us with our situation.”

“How so?” Captain Vox was more than a bit confused. How did it work in their favor that Archanis Sector Operations was currently searching for four missing ships and running investigations of two other stellar anomalies that had suddenly appeared out of nowhere? This was Archanis, not Sector 001. There was very little infrastructure available to support so many simultaneous operations, and that meant they would get even less support than they’d hoped.

“I’m not exactly certain yet,” Admiral Reyes admitted. “But I’m down with the boys in the lab.” She looked over her shoulder again. She wanted to get off the call and get back to them. There was a mystery waiting to be solved.

Captain Vox still didn’t understand, and the frustrated look on his face said as much.

“Relax Dorian,” Admiral Reyes assured him, seeing he wasn’t going to leave this alone unless she gave him a bit more. “We can only worry about that which is in our control. I just got word that Commodore Agarwal is enroute with the Pacific Palisades. Between Amit and Commander Lee, they’re going to have your airspace jammed up with shuttles and infrastructure before you know it. That’s where I need you and Commander Kerrigan focused, making sure we get the climate satellites deployed in orbit, and that we get our people and supplies down to the surface as quickly as possible.”

“Understood ma’am,” Captain Vox nodded. He knew when a conversation was over. “Diligent out.”

“Well, that was certainly odd,” Commander Kerrigan observed once the link was closed. “Isn’t the admiral usually a little more communicative and, ummm, inspirational?”

“The message was clear, Jordyn,” Captain Vox replied firmly. “She’s busy, and we need to focus on what we do best.” He looked out at the empty space between their squadron and the planet below. “We pack this airspace to the brim, and we make sure everything gets where it needs to go as fast as it can get there.” They had their mission, and he was going to get it done.

Commander Kerrigan looked less than fulfilled.

“Hey, on the plus side,” Captain Vox added. “The Palisades is enroute.”

For a moment, Commander Kerrigan thought he was joking. But he looked serious. “That old Cali clunker?” She’d met Captain Kenji Saito, its commanding officer, during a meet-and-greet on Archanis Station. He’d hardly been a confidence-inspiring figure, and the California class was hardly a confidence-inspiring ship. It didn’t even significantly add to their emergency capacity. Maybe it could at least ferry colonists out of the system?

“It may not seem like much, but that ‘old Cali clunker’ comes with a detachment from the Corps of Engineers,” Captain Vox noted. “If anyone can help make Commander Lee’s ambitious plan a reality, it’s Commodore Agarwal.” He knew him from a mission years prior when he’d played escort to his Corps unit out past Freecloud. Amit Agarwal had spent his career accomplishing impressive feats of engineering with little more than shoestring and bubblegum, and that was exactly what they needed right now.

Ignorance Will Not Save You

Assembly Hall, Vespara Prime
Mission Day 2 - 1200 Hours

The professor walked with labored breaths through the atrium of the grand assembly hall. His body still ached from the blunt force he’d been served after dinner the night before, but he wouldn’t let that stop him from trying one more time to deliver a message to save his people.

Lieutenant Balan and Dr. Hall flanked the professor on either side. They still wore the attire of the local populace, but they’d abandoned any attempt to blend in. Now, they moved as Starfleet officers, deliberate and focused, intent on delivering a man with a message to the chambers that didn’t want to hear him – but that absolutely needed to hear him.

“Hey!” came the voice of an elderly functionary approaching from behind them. “You can’t go in there right now. The council is in a closed session at the…”

As the Bolian turned, the functionary froze, and his voice trailed off. He recognized the man in front of him. It was Itziki Imbalta, the Bolian professor from the Academy of Agrarian Studies, the man at the center of the matter the council was presently discussing. But what had happened to his face? There were several deep contusions across his blue skin, and a swollen hematoma beneath his left eye.

“Professor… what… what happened?”

“They happened,” Professor Imbalta nodded towards the door of the chambers. “After I left the chambers last night, while I was finishing supper, they paid me a visit. Some of them, and some of their friends.” After that, he’d holed up at a friend’s farm until Malik and the Fleeters came to find him.

“They would never!” the functionary gasped. In all his years in service to the council, he’d never heard of such a thing. That simply wasn’t how matters were dealt with on Vespara Prime. The ban on corporal punishment was as deeply rooted in their society as their denouncement of modern technology and heavy industry. No one, especially the councilors, would violate that.

“The proof is right in front of you,” Dr. Hall stated bluntly as she eyed him over like a hunter eyes its prey. “What more do you need?” 

The functionary didn’t recognize her, or the professor’s other accomplice. There was something mechanical and otherworldly about them in the way they moved. 

“Now if you’ll excuse us,” Dr. Hall insisted pointedly. “The professor is going to have a word with your council.” And she hoped, maybe this time, they would listen. If not, then they’d have to get more direct. They couldn’t allow a small group of staid old buffoons, as Professor Imbalta had referred to them, from allowing the people of Vespara Prime to be saved from its impending apocalypse.

There was no room for debate in her tone, the functionary could tell, and without waiting for his assent, they simply turned and let themselves in. The chamber itself was a voluminous space, one with a central lectern up front, ringed by a series of bench seats, and then, on all sides, by towering pillars that held the domed roof overhead. The trio drew to a stop behind one of the pillars, listening to the debate that was taking place on the floor before them.

“They’ve brought a fleet into orbit,” an elderly man at the lectern was saying. “Through my telescope, I saw their ships with my own eyes, not like those that ferry immigrants along their pilgrimage to us, but like the titans of war and industry, ready to bring doom upon us.”

“I agree with Aurelius,” another man, seated in the front row, concurred firmly. “This is why we never should have kept that transceiver. It begs the attention of those who would desecrate our utopian society.”

Professor Imbalta began to open his mouth, as if to offer a retort, but Dr. Hall raised her finger to her lips. “Not yet,” she whispered quietly. For now, it was best to listen.

“Melkor, you know why we keep that transceiver,” a third voice boomed, this one stronger and more pronounced, clearly a man of stature within the council. “Because, as you are very well aware, there may come a time when we need it. Remember when the slavers from the Orion Syndicate came to our world?”

“Yes, but that was a decade ago now, Duval. A decade!”

“Sure, but while we ask our people to focus on the here and the now, we cannot pretend that there are not things beyond us with which we may need help,” Duval reminded them. He’d been a member of the council when they’d made the decision to call Starfleet for help all those years ago. That choice had saved many of their young from a life of servitude, and it had not brought doom to their way of life. Starfleet had helped, and then Starfleet had left. They had respected the Vesparan way of life, and all they had asked was that, if ever something like that befell the world again, to not hesitate to call them once more. “We did not have weapons to repel those who came then, nor do we have ships now for if… for if…” His thoughts drifted back to the warning that Professor Imbalta had given them just a day prior.

“For if nothing,” Aurelius snapped back aggressively. “Starfleet will enslave us, not in the same way as the Orions, but they will enslave us nonetheless… enslave us to their way of life.” He had come to Vespara Prime to escape that way of life.

Professor Imbalta had heard enough. He couldn’t stand idle any longer. They were being fools. He stepped out from behind the pillar and advanced into the room. “No,” he said firmly. “No, they won’t.” 

The room grew silent, and all eyes turned towards the Bolian as he approached the center of the chamber. Some looked shocked to see him. Why was he back again? Others appeared disturbed by the wounds clearly covering his face. What had happened to him?

“Those ships in orbit, they’re here to help,” Professor Imbalta continued. “To save us from, to use your word Aurelius, certain doom.” There was no other way to describe what was about to befall Vespara Prime as it continued its fall towards the sun.

“Why Professor, it’s so good to see you again,” Aurelius said sarcastically as he rolled his eyes from the podium. “Come to enlighten us once more with your diatribes about how technology and machines will save us?” There was a deep-setted disdain in his words. This was a man who believed in the Vesparan way of life to his core.

“Look around you, Aurelius,” Professor Imbalta responded as he turned to address the broader council. “Our planet, it’s falling apart. I love fall, as do you, I suspect Duval, and you too, right Melkor?” He was trying to make his appeal personal. “It’s a time when the warblers sing and the air has just that light dewy taste. That’s what it should have been this morning, but was it?” He could see some of them debating his words. Yesterday might have been a day too soon, but today, the effects were in full bloom. “No! It was the hottest morning I’ll bet any of us can remember! It’s just as I told you…”

“Yes, yes, planetary tilts and orbital ellipses,” Melkor interrupted from his seat in the front, unswayed by the old Bolian who, through his unilateral choices, had spat on their way of life. “All computed by that machine of yours, that artifact you swore you’d given up when you first came here.” At least that little machine wouldn’t cause them any more problems. He and his friends had visited the professor’s office to make sure of that. “Did you ever stop and think for a moment that this might have been caused by such machines?” They could do incorrigible damage, as he’d seen in 2385 before he fled to Vespara Prime for a better life.

“That’s preposterous!” Professor Imbalta insisted. It had been a little tricorder he’d used, not some great weapon of mass destruction.

“Is it though?” asked a female voice pointedly.

Lieutenant Balan was surprised, when she peaked out from behind the colonnade and laid eyes on the speaker, to see the question had come from a Vulcan. Vespara Prime really was a diverse colony of people drawn together from all over the Federation.

“You are not the only among us who came from the stars, Professor,” the Vulcan reminded the Bolian. “So explain to me, as a graduate of the Vulcan Science Academy, what in the great body of works that is modern astrophysics would you point to in order to explain what is happening?” 

Lieutenant Balan wasn’t sure, but it almost sounded like there was a hint of sarcasm in the Vulcan’s voice.

“I… I… I don’t know,” Professor Imbalta admitted.

“Then it is only logical to posit that, if there is no natural explanation,” the Vulcan observed. “The most likely explanation must thus be non-natural in origin.” The logic made sense to those who wanted it to. “This is why we chose to live as we do, free from such technology, less it do to us what it has done to the rest of the galaxy.”

“But it’s happening, T’Ral,” Professor Imbalta countered, addressing his colleague from the Academy for Agrarian Studies directly. “It’s happening whether or not we embrace technology.”

“We cannot give up our way of life when things get hard,” Aurelius insisted as he slammed his fist down on the lectern. “We didn’t when the great drought of ’94 came, nor did we in ’99 when that blight befell our crops, and, in time, both of those passed. If we turned to technology when life got hard, we would be as much slaves to it as those who live beyond. Is that really what we want?”

There were nods around the room. 

The councilors were dug in, and the professor looked at a loss for words. Lieutenant Balan couldn’t leave him alone up there any longer. It was time for them to reveal themselves. She stepped forward from behind the pillar. “Your way of life, it is beautiful,” Lieutenant Balan opened, her tone gentle and understanding as she and Dr. Hall drew up alongside Professor Imbalta. “It truly is. But if you want to protect it, to see it survive to the next generation, you’re going to need to trust the professor here. This crisis will not pass on its own.”

The entire room stared at the new arrivals with confusion.

“And who, my dear, are you?” asked Aurelius from the lectern as he eyed her over. He didn’t recognize her. That didn’t mean she wasn’t from Vespara, he knew, but there was something about the way she spoke and the way they carried themselves. It reminded him of the insufferable people he’d had to deal with in the before-times.

“I am Lieutenant Emilia Balan of the Federation starship USS Polaris.”

“Starfleet,” Aurelius scoffed. Just as he’d sensed from the moment he saw her.

“Yes, Starfleet,” Lieutenant Balan nodded.

“And what would you have with us, Miss Emilia?” Aurelius pressed. “Are you here to offer us salvation with your technology and your machines?”

“We are here to see that your vibrant culture, all that you have built here, that it survives,” Lieutenant Balan replied compassionately. “A supermassive singularity has formed in the corona of your sun. It is causing all of this to happen, and it’s only going to get worse.” 

The councilors looked at each other nervously. 

“I will not lie to you, councilors,” Lieutenant Balan pleaded with them. “It is unlikely that your world, this world, survives, but you and your society, they can. But we need you to trust us.”

“To trust you? To trust you?” Melkor spat from the front row. “I trust Aurelius and T’Ral, and, believe it or not, I even trust Duval.” That remark drew laughs from the chamber as the two were notorious for disagreeing on practically everything. “But you? I don’t know you. You’ve never worked the fields with me, never helped me repair my roof, never shared a meal with me, and never come over to check on me when I was sick. Why would I trust you?”

“Because if you don’t,” Dr. Hall interjected from next to the Lieutenant, her tone no-nonsense and her words straight to the point. “Then you, and all those who trust in you, you will all be dead within two weeks time.”

The chamber was silent.

“Ignorance will not save you,” Dr. Hall drove the point home.

“But you will?” Aurelius asked skeptically.

“We will try,” Lieutenant Balan nodded.

“Lies!” Melkor shouted. “It’s just more lies!”

“You want proof?!” Dr. Hall countered heatedly as she pulled a combadge out from beneath her blouse. It was time to shove reality in their face. “Then gather round, and I’ll give you proof.” 

She stood there, pointing at the floor in front of her, daring them to step forward.

At first, the councilors just glanced nervously at each other, uncertain what Starfleet woman was asking, but then T’Ral stepped forward. She understood, and guided by her logic, it was only logical to validate, or invalidate, the proof. Duval, feeling the onus of his position, followed T’Ral, as did two others. Begrudgingly, Aurelius then stepped away from the podium and Melkor rose from his seat, and the pair approached her as well. They were coming along more out of distrust than anything else.

Lieutenant Balan looked over at Dr. Hall. Was she really about to do what it looked like?

Dr. Hall flashed the Lieutenant a devious smile and then tapped the combadge. “Polaris, lock onto my combadge,” she ordered as she counted them out. “Nine to beam to Conference Room 3.” She chose it because it was one of the larger diplomatic receiving rooms with a good view amidship, and it was far enough from any critical systems to allow them to contain the situation if anyone got unruly.

T’Ral looked stoic, but the other five glanced at each other nervously.

“Energize.”

And then the two Starfleet officers, the professor, and six members of the Vesparan assembly vanished from the chambers in a shimmer of light, leaving the rest of the councilors sitting there in shock.

The Gravity of the Situation

Conference Room 3, USS Polaris
Mission Day 2 - 1230 Hours

One moment, they were in the assembly hall. The next, they were somewhere else altogether. The panoramic window gave the first hint, offering views of a blue-green planet set against the night sky. Between that and the brushed metal table, the polished leather chairs, and the bright digital screens, it didn’t take long to put it together. They were now standing on one of those ships that Aurelius had spied through his telescope.

It was disorienting to be in such an alien space. Duval, the oldest among them, leaned back against a wall for support, while Aurelius, one of the group’s fire-breathers, stood there at a loss for words. The others were none the better, trying to process their new reality. It wasn’t that they’d never seen a starship before – as opposed to their youth, many of whom were born and raised planetside, the councilors were each themselves immigrants to Vespara Prime – but it had been many years for all, and multiple decades for some, since they’d had been surrounded by so much digital and industrial technology.

“Welcome to the USS Polaris,” Lieutenant Balan smiled. She looked over and helped the Bolian professor steady himself on his feet. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

“Yes, it has,” Professor Imbalta nodded sheepishly. In a perfect world, he’d still be standing in his lecture hall, teaching horticulture or agroecology to the next generation of young Vesparans, but it wasn’t a perfect world, and so here he was, standing on a starship in high orbit over their planet. It was surreal, and all quite strange.

Next to him, Melkor, one of the most outspoken skeptics from the council, finally got his wits about him. “How dare you bring us here! You said nothing about abducting us when you…”

“Relax, my friend,” Duval, the elder statesman of the group, interrupted as he reached out and set an assuring hand on his colleague’s shoulder. “You knew as well as any of us what Miss… what did you say your name was?”

“I didn’t,” Dr. Hall replied. “But it’s Doctor Lisa Hall, if you must.”

“What Dr. Hall suggested when she offered us proof and pulled out her combadge,” Duval continued. Melkor looked like he was about to play clueless, but Duval wasn’t having it. “You were, after all, once a Starfleet officer.” It was after witnessing the dangers of synthetic life on Mars, Duval knew, that Melkor had renounced his commission and sought out a better life on Vespara Prime. “So since we’re here, let’s hear these two young women out.”

Melkor folded his arms across his chest but said nothing further.

“So tell us, Dr. Hall,” T’Ral insisted. “What proof do you have of this claim that Professor Imbalta, and now you as well, have made.”

Dr. Hall walked over to the large monitor against one wall. “This is your star system,” she explained as an astrometric model appeared on it, showing a K-type main sequence orange dwarf, a Class-M planet, and a couple other smaller planetoids in outlying orbits. “Or it was, until approximately 0900 yesterday. At 0900, this happened.” She advanced the time series forward, and a gravity well appeared directly adjacent to the star, followed by a new series of vectors calculating the shifts in trajectories of each of the celestial bodies in the Vesparan system.

Standing on a starship and seeing it on real displays, rather than just having it related to her by an aged Bolian, T’Ral suddenly understood. “What is that gravitational sink?”

“We’re not exactly sure,” Lieutenant Balan offered. “But that anomaly is the root of the problems in your system, and I assure you, we have a team of the best physicists, astronomers, and cosmologists in all of Starfleet studying it right now, trying to figure it out.”

The Vulcan looked like she wanted more. 

“I’m sure we can get Dr. Lockwood, our head of astrophysics and exotic sciences, up here at some point to walk you through it, if you’re interested,” Lieutenant Balan added. Neither she nor Dr. Hall had more than a cursory understanding of these things.

“That would be acceptable,” T’Ral nodded.

“But councilors, let me emphasize to you the nature of this anomaly is not particularly important to the problem at hand,” Dr. Hall jumped back in. “Because it is there, and unless we can stop it, which we currently don’t know how to do, there’s a more immediate situation we need to move on now.” There was an urgency in her tone. She understood the implications of every minute they delayed in getting Commander Lee’s equipment down to the surface.

“And what would that be?” Aurelius, the one who’d first identified the fleet overhead, asked skeptically. He knew the deception of Starfleet all too well.

“To evacuate your world,” Dr. Hall stated firmly.

“Somehow, I suspected you’d say that,” Aurelius frowned, his fears validated. “You see, I’ve seen this story unfold before.” As opposed to T’Ral and Melkor, both of whom had come from the Federation proper, he had not. “Fifty years ago, my people became warp capable, and soon thereafter, your people made first contact. Initially, we welcomed you with open arms, but then our youth became enamored with your gifts, and our elders turned our back on tradition in favor of your gadgets. I, and those who left with me, came to Vespara to see a return to that which made our society beautiful before you tainted it with your technology and destroyed it.”

Lieutenant Balan recognized the pickle they were in. “Our only goal, councilor, is to see your society thrive,” she tried to assure him, but he didn’t look sold.

“Yeah, I’ve heard that before,” Aurelius replied flatly.

Dr. Hall took a more direct tact. Standing at the monitor, she simply advanced the display forward a week. “You see this?” she asked aggressively as she shoved her index finger at their planet’s decaying position. “This is where your planet will be in a week.”

“For those of us that cannot read your fancy star charts,” Duval replied, glancing over at the Bolian and the Vulcan, both of whom seemed to be following better than him or the rest of his colleagues. “Can you explain what you’re showing us here?” The radial vector showing a measurement of 0.93 AU meant nothing to him.

“She’s showing us when the planet will no longer be within the habitable zone of our system,” T’Ral volunteered.

“When our world will be too hot to support life,” Professor Imbalta added.

Dr. Hall nodded.

“And we’re just supposed to take this at face value?!” Melkor snapped again. “You beam us up here, you show us a fancy display with a bunch of lines and numbers, and you think it means anything more than all that jibber jabber the professor blessed us with yesterday.”

Dr. Hall was done playing nice. “Your world, it’s going to burn,” she said as her eyes became cold and dark. “You can bury your head in the sand, but in mere days, your crops will wilt away, and a week from now, you will all be dead.”

“Unless you let us help you,” Lieutenant Balan added.

For a moment, there was silence, a battle of wills between the informed and the ignorant. But then, before anything further could be said, the door to the conference room slid open, and a new figure stepped into the room. As opposed to her colleagues, the new was dressed in her duty uniform with a full bar and five pips adorning her collar, and she moved with an aura of leadership unlike the other two.

“Lisa, Emilia, you didn’t tell me we were going to have guests,” Admiral Reyes smiled as she approached the group. “It’s a pleasure to meet you all.” None of the locals looked particularly excited to see her. “I am Fleet Admiral Allison Reyes, Commanding Officer of Polaris Squadron, a unit of Starfleet’s Fourth Fleet that responded to a distress call from Professor Imbalta regarding the grave situation currently unfolding in your system.”

“Yes, yes, we are well acquainted with your stated purpose,” Aurelius quipped. “Your colleagues have painted pretty diagrams to say as much.” He gestured back at that disgusting display. “But tell me, Admiral, what assurances do we have that you will not do to us what you’ve done to a thousand other worlds you’ve destroyed?”

Admiral Reyes tilted her head in confusion. What was the man talking about?

“Councilor Aurelius and the others here,” Lieutenant Balan explained. “They fear that through our involvement in their affairs, we will corrupt the beautiful society they have built.”

Aurelius nodded, content with the young woman’s explanation. He liked her, more than the others at least. She at least seemed to have some appreciation of their utopia.

“Sir,” Admiral Reyes offered deferentially, finally understanding the hangup. “I assure you that we have no intention of destroying or corrupting or anything of the sort… Our hope, and our only hope, is to see to it that you and your people can continue to prosper and thrive.”

“What if we don’t want your help?” Melkor interjected.

“The Federation honors and respects the right of each individual to self determination,” Admiral Reyes replied gently. “And if that is your choice, then we will respect it.”

“Then, with all due respect,” Melkor countered with no respect whatsoever in his voice. “Go away and leave us be.”

“Does this man speak for you all?” Admiral Reyes asked, directing her question at the others. She could see the lack of certainty on their faces, especially the Bolian and the Vulcan, but even a couple of the others. “Then with all due respect, councilor,” Admiral Reyes insisted. “I cannot, in good conscience, do that. If you’d like to die in a great conflagration, be my guest, but I cannot allow your people and your culture to perish because of your personal unwillingness to accept the gravity of the situation.”

Suddenly, off their bow, there was a flash of light. And then another, and another, as a series of projectiles tore away from the forward launchers of the USS Diligent.

“What are those?” asked Duval as he moved towards the window to watch.

“Those are climate control satellites we’re launching into high orbit around Vespara Prime,” Admiral Reyes explained. “They will momentarily calm the weather and restore a degree of temperance to your world.” She glanced over at the monitor, which showed the T+7 day projection when the planet’s orbit would have decayed out of the habitable zone. “They will also buy you three, maybe four more days, beyond the seven you see in that projection before your world becomes unlivable.”

“We didn’t consent…” Melkor grumbled.

“And I didn’t ask you to,” Admiral Reyes replied. “They will in no way impact your ability to continue to live as you do today, if that’s what you wish, but for those on Vespara Prime who would like a life longer than the next two weeks, they will buy us precious time.”

Melkor was silent. He felt powerless, realizing Starfleet was doing here what it had done so many times before. And there was nothing he could do to stop them. Not from here, at least.

The grand display had however managed to sway a few of the others, Duval and T’Ral among them. Duval spoke first. “And what, Admiral, will you do with this precious time?”

“First, we have a team working to understand the cause of the anomaly in the center of your system,” Admiral Reyes explained. “It is our hope that we can find a way to stop it, in which case, this just gives them more time to find a solution.”

“I’d like to speak with that team,” T’Ral interjected. “In the before-times, I held a degree in cosmology from the Vulcan Science Academy, so this is not all completely foreign to me.”

“Most certainly,” Admiral Reyes nodded. Dr. Lockwood might not like it, but he didn’t even like his hand-selected lab rats, and it was a small concession to allow the Vulcan to observe the team if that would make this group more amenable to their intervention.

Duval jumped back in with the obvious next question: “And what if you cannot figure out how to stop it?” If what they were saying was true, and now he was beginning to think it might be, the outcome would be catastrophic.

“That’s where things get complicated,” Admiral Reyes explained. “If we cannot stop the singularity that is causing your planet’s orbit to decay, it will eventually fall into the sun.” Or more accurately, the singularity, but the sun sounded more sensational. “The only solution, then, is a planet-wide evacuation and relocation.” She saw a couple of the councilors open their mouths to object, but she cut them off. “For those who are willing, of course.” She wouldn’t stop ignorant idiots from killing themselves.

“There are a little over six million on Vespara Prime,” Duval warned. The responsibility endowed upon him as a senior member of the council weighed heavily on him, and he’d quickly shifted away from clinging to the past towards looking for solutions. “How do you plan to accomplish that in eleven days?”

“We don’t,” Admiral Reyes admitted. Especially in light of the news from Archanis Station, she knew there was no way they’d get the support to accomplish such a massive evacuation in such a short time. “We are organizing to evacuate your entire populace, but until we can effect the complete relocation of your population, we’re looking to deploy stadium sized, environmentally sealed facilities into your villages where we can shelter your people.” She neglected to mention that current projections, based on the squadron’s industrial replicator capacity, suggested they’d only be able to build enough shelters for a million or so in the limited time they had. That would be a bridge they’d cross if they got there. For now, she just needed them to agree.

“In the event that your scientists find a way to stop this anomaly, we do not want your infrastructure blemishing the beauty of our world,” Duval offered practically. “Will you afford us a say in where these shelters are built?”

“Of course,” Admiral Reyes nodded.

“And this world you plan to relocate us to, do we get to choose?”

“Yes, as long as it is not inhabited by another,” Admiral Reyes agreed. “Our astrometrics team can work with whomever your council anoints to select the appropriate place.”

“And when you’re done, will you leave?”

Admiral Reyes nodded, but Lieutenant Balan saw the skepticism on their faces, particularly from Aurelius. “Just as we did after Starfleet Security interceded, at your council’s request, in the Orion Syndicate matter back in 2391,” she offered. She’d done her research.

“Then, my friends,” Duval concluded, turning to his colleagues. “It seems we have no choice. If we do not accept the Admiral’s offer, the utopian society we have built comes to an end. But if we do, we have a chance to begin again on another world out there somewhere.” 

His colleagues did not all look in complete agreement, but Duval didn’t care. The fate of his people could rest with this decision, and as he looked out at the stars beyond his world, he just hoped that, when all of this was over,  they could get back to living a life of simplicity and sustainability. But first, they needed to survive.

Engineering Solutions

Bridge, USS Ingenuity
Mission Day 5 - 0300 Hours

Watching the shuttles swarm like a flock of geese, she should have been able to rest easy. But she couldn’t. She knew it wasn’t enough. They had too few replicators to fabricate it all, too few shuttles to deliver it all, and too few engineers to assemble it all. In what sick twist of fate had the universe thought to stick a supermassive singularity in a system with the technical sophistication of sixteenth century Earth? She was trying to move mountains, but she had little more than a hand shovel to do it with.

At least the councilors of Vespara had begrudgingly allowed them to do their work. It was crazy to think, wasn’t it? How could a people be so insistent on their way of life that they would ignore the science right in front of them? It didn’t make sense to her, but then again, her entire life had been built atop matter-antimatter reactors, bioneural circuitry, and Starfleet drydocks. When they’d first leapt away from Kyban, she’d felt some relief that, for the first time since linking up with Polaris Squadron, she’d be on a mission of engineering, rather than a crisis of command. But that was before the gravity set in. No matter how she looked at it, she couldn’t see a path by which she could engineer the survival of the six million who depended on her.

At least the climate control satellites seemed to be working. They would buy a few more days. Even with that extension though, it wouldn’t be enough. She’d seen the latest projections from Fleet Captain Devreux and Dr. Sh’vot. Her plan, even augmented by the Corps of Engineers from the USS Pacific Palisades, would provide, at best, shelter for a million and a half. They might evacuate a couple hundred thousand more via their ships and the FMS vessels that had responded to the Admiral’s mayday, but that would still leave over four million to burn beneath the unrelenting advance of the Vesparan sun.

When that time came, what would Admiral Reyes do? How would she decide who would live… and who they’d leave to die? Was that what command was all about? It was certainly starting to feel a bit like that between Nasera and the Borg, and it made her wonder whether she was really cut out for command at all.

“Even the hardest working among us need to sleep,” came a voice from the rear of the bridge as the turbolift doors whisked open. “At least from time to time.”

“Amit,” Commander Lee smiled as she turned to see Commodore Agarwal, commander of the Archanis Sector Corps of Engineering detachment, as he approached the command island. “It’s so good to see you.” Suddenly, the empty bridge felt a little less lonely.

“And you as well, Cora,” Commodore smiled. “Although I’d prefer it in the morning, after you’d had a good night of sleep.” He didn’t need to pull her logs to know how long it had been since last she’d slept. He could see it in her eyes.

“There’s just so much to do,” Commander Lee sighed as she looked out the viewscreen, past the brilliant blues and greens of Vespara Prime towards the orange dwarf that loomed in the distance. “And so little time.” It drew closer, she knew, minute by minute.

“You know, the shuttles will get down there whether or not you’re watching them go,” Commodore Agarwal observed, his tone sympathetic and without judgment. He understood exactly what had brought the Commander up to her bridge at the late night hour.

“Are you here to take over the operation?”

“And waste a day getting up to speed? Not a chance,” Commodore Agarwal shook his head. “I just come with men and machines, ready to swing our hammers where you tell us.” That wasn’t the whole story, of course, but the intonation was clear. He was here to collaborate, not to command. “How’s the shelter fabrication going?”

“Not well,” Commander Lee admitted. “There’s no industrial capacity on the surface whatsoever, so we’re having to make do with what we have across the squadron. We’re doing most of the fabrication starside and then shuttling flatpacks down to the surface for final assembly.”

“Did you consider relocating replicators to the planet to reduce round trips?”

“Yes, but just as they lack replicators,” Commander Lee replied. “They also lack power supplies to power them. Short of crash landing the Polaris on the surface, there’s really not a way to get all that we need down there in the time we have.”

“And what about using cargo transporters rather than shuttles?”

“Captain Vox is running a very efficient operation,” Commander Lee acknowledged of her colleague, the former flyboy in command of the USS Diligent who’d become airspace controller for the operation. “We’re getting everything down there that we can produce, whereas if we switched to transporters, we’d be drawing power away from the replicators.” It was crazy to think that with all the advanced technologies aboard their squadron, power was still a barrier, but that was the scale of this operation. They’d even curtailed holodeck use, not that anyone, given the present predicament, was looking to stroll through a field of holo-daisies.

“Do you have projections on how much of the populace we’ll be able to shield with the shelters at present buildout velocity?”

“1.5 million, give or take a hundred thousand,” Commander Lee answered, her eyes falling as she thought about that number again. “And that’s including assumptions about your people.”

“Well, my people are ready to roll,” Commodore Agarwal assured her. “We’ve had days to rest up on the long trip over from the Meronia Cluster.” Indeed, except for briefings to come up to speed on the squadron’s plan, Commodore Agarwal had sent all his people to bed the moment they turned for Vespara. He knew the grind that was waiting for them on the other side. “So, as they often say in sports, put us in coach.”

Commander Lee smiled. Admiral Reyes was busy trying to solve the science with the Activity’s researchers, Fleet Captain Devreux was managing initial relocation of colonists to the civilian ships that had responded, Captain Vox was managing the airspace, and Captain Lewis was liaising with the colonial leadership, but Commodore Agarwal’s arrival meant she finally had a friend and ally for the daunting task ahead of them.

The door to the bridge whisked open again, and this time, the Ingenuity‘s Chief Science Officer, a Research Fellow in Geophysics from the Advanced Science, Technology and Research Activity, stepped through. The Andorian looked reasonably rested, although that might have been on account of his physiology more so than because he’d gotten what, by human standards, would have been considered a full night’s sleep.

“Thank you for joining us at this early hour, Dr. Sh’vot” Commodore Agarwal offered before turning back to Commander Lee. “During the trip over, I was giving some thought to the issue with replicator capacity. If we cannot replicate all that we need, what other options do we have?”

Neither Dr. Sh’vot nor Commander Lee had an answer.

“Dr. Sh’vot, tell me,” Commodore Agarwal continued. “Your homeworld is, even by your own anatomical standards, a fairly inhospitable place, is it not?”

The Andorian nodded.

“And what did your people do in order to survive the elements?”

“We built beneath the surface…”

Suddenly, a lightbulb went off.

“So what if we take that approach here?” Commodore Agarwal suggested with a twinkle in his eye. He’d had plenty of time to contemplate this during the long flight over. “I have boring equipment aboard the USS Pacific Palisades, and if we leverage natural depositions of heat-resistant subsurface strata, could we not bypass a good chunk of our fabrication requirements?”

Commander Lee began to get excited. This could bypass the bottleneck that had formed with replicator capacity. It was the first bit of good news in days, but she also knew not to leap at golden bullets. She looked over at Dr. Sh’vot. “Would that actually offer appropriate shielding?”

“I’d have to do some detailed subsurface scans and model out the heat tolerances,” the geophysicist replied. “But at first glance, yes, I think that could work.” Mines were well known to maintain their own microclimates, and Andoria’s underground cities were proof that it could work at scale too. “At least for a while.” Eventually, the planet would still fall into the sun, but it would buy them weeks of additional time to get the colonists evacuated.

Swiftly, Dr. Sh’vot moved towards the science station. The scans and the model would not be complicated. He could do it all right from the bridge of the Ingenuity.

“How the hell did I not think of this?” Commander Lee sighed. The prodigious engineer turned commander was used to being the one that came up with the solutions. Here, she’d totally overlooked what should have been a completely obvious one.

“Sometimes, you just need a fresh perspective,” Commodore Agarwal smiled without even the slightest hint of judgment in his voice. He knew how stressful the position Commander Lee had been put in could be, and he was simply pleased to have an idea to relieve that.

“I’ll get right on it,” Commander Lee nodded dutifully. “There’ll be a lot to manage.”

“I’m sure that Commander Westmoreland and I can coordinate with Diligent flight ops to get our equipment down to the surface,” Commodore Agarwal insisted, his tone now becoming a bit more command-like. This bit was not up for debate. They needed her fresh. “And by the time you’ve gotten a good night’s sleep, we’ll have Dr. Sh’vot’s model and a game plan to go forward.”

“I… I… thank you, Amit.”

And then, for the first time in three days, Commander Lee actually slept.

A Proud Maritime Tradition

Bridge, USS Polaris
Mission Day 5 - 1300 Hours

“The Adak is requesting clearance to break orbit,” reported the communications officer. “Reports 4,419 embarcations at final.” Just like the naval cutter to bear the name four centuries prior, the Federation merchant ship had responded to a mayday when it mattered most, clearing the deck for every last passenger she could squeeze aboard.

“Can you remind me of her captain’s name again?” Admiral Reyes asked as she pulled away from the Polaris‘ main science station, where she’d been reviewing the latest atmospheric telemetry with Dr. al-Qadir. The particle physicist was playing geophysicist while Dr. Sh’vot was down on the surface helping Commodore Agarwal and Commander Lee identify heat-resistant strata within the planet’s crust.

“It’s Kinn Maalirsh of the Tellarite Merchant Marine,” reported the communications officer.

“Very good,” Admiral Reyes nodded, coming to a stop in the center of the command island. “Get him on the horn, please.” She felt an enormous debt to Kinn Maalirsh, and to each of the others that had embraced the proud tradition of the mariner and responded to a fellow ship in need.

After a short delay, a beefy Tellarite freighter captain appeared in the center of the bridge’s main display. “Admiral, we are prepared to make best speed for…” Captain Maalirsh announced as he tried to recall the name of the obscure system his navigator had just charted a course to. “Vega Pyronis.”

“Captain Maalirsh, let me extend my sincerest gratitude to you for your assistance here today,” Admiral Reyes offered as she set her right hand over her heart. She meant it with every ounce of her being. “Because of you and your crew, over four thousand will go on to a new life beyond this dying world.” She understood what it had cost them too. Without asking for any form of remuneration, they’d jettisoned every last liter of dolamide and every last ounce of duridium to make room for as many passengers as they could pack into their carbo bays, storage tanks, maintenance shafts and utility corridors.

“If we really punch it, I’m looking to make it at least thirteen thousand before the week is out!” Captain Maalirsh declared proudly as he puffed his chest out, almost as if competing with himself over just how many he could save.

The surprise was evident on the Admiral’s face. Captain Maalirsh had not, until this moment, discussed any more than a single trip of refugees, but his intentions were now clear. This would be his first trip, but not his last.

“What?” Captain Maalirsh chortled. “You think I dumped all that valuable cargo for just one load? At our best speed, Vega Pyronis is twenty out, a couple to debark everyone, and then twenty back, so figure we’ll be back for lunch, the day after tomorrow!” If they rode the subspace eddies just right, they might even make breakfast.

“I am at a loss for words…” Admiral Reyes said graciously. “But thank you”

“Just have the next group ready to load upon our return! Adak out!”

The line dropped, and they watched as the Adak lumbered forward, first at impulse as it pulled away from the squadron and then to warp as it leapt forth towards new shores. The 4,419 souls aboard the Adak, plus another 6,384 aboard the other two civilian vessels that had left Vespara earlier in the morning, they would be the first to break ground on the uninhabited class-M planet in the Vega Pyronis system that the councilors had selected as their new home.

“If only there were more like him,” Captain Devreux remarked from her side. “And it’s rare for me to say that about an enterprising Tellarite huckster.” It was shocking, really, how the captains of these freighters and passenger liners had so willingly given themselves to the cause of Vespara Prime. It was only unfortunate that more hadn’t come, and that Starfleet had not been able to rally more of its own ships to their cause.

“It is a proud tradition of the mariner, one that stretches back to days of the high seas, the moral obligation to help a fellow seafarer in need,” Admiral Reyes smiled. “And thank god too, as the latest update from Command laid out, in no uncertain terms, that this is a galaxy-spanning situation that goes far beyond Vespara and the Archanis Sector.” And that meant Polaris Squadron shouldn’t expect much help, save for the USS Pacific Palisades and the small contingent of civilian ships that had responded to her call.

“But Allison, are we even sure this relates to that?” Captain Devreux asked.

“Not conclusively, no,” Admiral Reyes shook her head. Dr. Lockwood’s team had been pouring over the data down in the lab, but they hadn’t found anything to definitively link the situation in the Vespara system with the reports of Underspace apertures forming across the quadrant. “But it’d be an incredible coincidence if this relativistic phenomenon that materialized out of nowhere was completely unrelated to all those other co-occurrent relativistic phenomena that have also materialized out of the blue.”

For a moment, they pondered that thought. The nature of the Underspace, with its gravitational and subspace implications, was simply too close to their present situation to ignore. Still, it wasn’t exactly the same, and even if they managed to connect this situation to the broader crisis, would it actually help them? Or would it all just be an academic exercise? 

Unless it stopped Vespara Prime from falling into its star, it didn’t really matter, and, as opposed to those hypotheticals, that very real and very tangible catastrophe was where Admiral Reyes’ mind quickly returned. “Dr. al-Qadir,” she asked as she returned to the present. “You got that update for me yet on the stability of the climate control system?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Dr. al-Qadir nodded. “Solar intensity has increased by 10.8% so far, but instead of the 7.5 kelvin increase you would expect in a natural system, mean surface temperature has increased by only 1.7 kelvins.”

The system was clearly doing its thing, and it was performing better than Dr. Sh’vot had originally forecast when he’d designed the system that they’d hastily fabricated and deployed from the Diligent‘s small craft facilities. Admiral Reyes thus made the obvious logical leap: “Does the efficacy of the system, as presently measured, at all change our forecast as to when surface temperature will exceed livable levels?”

“Unfortunately not, ma’am,” Dr. al-Qadir frowned. “Solar intensity will increase on a radical curve as planetary distance continues to decay. At 0.9x mean radial distance, solar intensity will be 123% of Prime normal, and by 0.85x, the anticipated radial distance on day eleven, solar intensity will be at such levels as to overwhelm the system.” That day was now only six days away, and at that point, the surface of Vespara Prime would become unlivable.

It would all hinge, then, on whether or not the new plan from the engineers would bear fruit. “Do we have any updates from the surface?” Admiral Reyes was well aware that if Commodore Agarwal and Commander Lee’s new plan didn’t net out, they’d be back to their earlier plan that would see four million perish – plus whatever the delays of this detour had cost them. Still, the new plan to dig the environmental shelters right into the crust had its merits, and she was optimistic it might accelerate the number of colonists they could shield from the sweltering sun.

“The latest update from Lee, about an hour ago, was that the Corps drilling teams had just broken ground at the first candidate site,” Captain Devreux replied. He could see the impatience on her face. “It’s going to take time, Allison. We’ve got to let them do their thing.”

He was right, she knew. Adding to the pressure that Amit Agarwal and Cora Lee were facing by calling for more updates would do nothing to help. The duo knew the stakes as well as anyone, and there were no people more qualified than those two to try to engineer the impossible.

Suddenly, Admiral Reyes’ combadge chirped.

“Reyes! I need you in the lab!”

It was Dr. Luke Lockwood, the head of ASTRA’s Astrophysics and Exotic Sciences unit, and as usual, his call lacked all the formalism one would expect of a Starfleet officer. Of course, he was hardly a Starfleet officer, and Admiral Reyes didn’t care one bit. She hadn’t picked him for his officer qualities. She’d picked him because he was an astrophysics prodigy.

Now! And bring al-Qadir!”

Dr. Lockwood’s tone said it all. He’d figured something out. 

“We’ll be right there,” Admiral Reyes replied over her combadge, already halfway across the bridge. Dr. al-Qadir followed tight on her heels. “Gerard, you have the bridge.”

When The Math Materializes Answers

ASTRA Lab, USS Polaris
Mission Day 5 - 1330 Hours

The lab was packed. Nearly every physicist, astronomer and mathematician from the Advanced Science, Technology and Research Activity had gathered around the central display, talking in hushed, excited tones as they reviewed the results. Somehow, it all fit together. Every piece. None of them could quite believe it, but math didn’t lie.

As the door hissed open and Admiral Reyes stepped through, Dr. Luke Lockwood turned to greet her. “We’ve got it, Allison!” He was beaming eye-to-eye like a miner who’d just discovered gold. “We’ve fucking got it!”

Looking at the display, the admiral had to admit that she most certainly did not get it. It was just a wall-to-wall, disorganized mess of expressions and equations, and not a single visualization to speak of; further, to make it even more obtuse, the formalism it presented jumped between metric tensors, differential hypersurfaces, topological spaces, and probabilistic waveforms as though they were one smooth continuum.

“You know Luke, I often tell myself that I’m at least reasonably proficient in mathematics,” Admiral Reyes laughed. “But you and your boys do a great job reminding me I’m a complete plebeian. Couldn’t you have included at least one picture?”

A few of the researchers chuckled, but Dr. Lockwood just shot a disapproving glare her way. “Math is the picture, my dear admiral.” He never understood why laymen clung to imagery. Math itself was the truest form of art. You didn’t need anything more than that. “And besides, higher order manifolds lose so much of their beauty when reduced to a 2-dimensional surface.”

“Well you’re going to have to talk me through this then.”

Of course he would, Dr. Lockwood knew. Even his own team, supposedly the best Starfleet had to offer, needed his hand holding to get to where they were now, so of course a mere mortal like Allison Reyes would need it dumbed down.

“The greatest struggle of the past week has been the discontinuity between matter accretion and graviton exhaust,” Dr. Lockwood began, completely neglecting the mortal struggle Polaris Squadron was facing beyond the walls of his lab. “Gravitation should scale with accretion, but as you’ll recall from our initial observations, graviton radiation was outpacing accretion by a factor of 21.97 million.” It sounded like a large number, but when you spoke in cosmic scales, it wasn’t really even all that large.

Admiral Reyes nodded. She was aware of the unexplained oddity.

“As we’ve continued to observe the anomaly over the last few days,” Dr. Lockwood reported, gesturing towards a multivariate curve. “We’ve seen a not-insignificant acceleration of its amplification factor, as it relates to the influence it is exerting on Vespara Prime.”

“Wouldn’t that be explained by the singularity’s growth?” Admiral Reyes asked, acknowledging that, as the mass of the singularity grew, so too would the gravity it created. “Or by the planet’s decaying orbit?” The strength of gravity had an inverse square relationship to the distance between the bodies, meaning that, as the planet drew closer to the singularity, the strength of gravity would accelerate on a steep curve.

“No, that’s not it,” Dr. Lockwood shook his head. Did she really think they’d have gotten hung up on something so simple that she could have picked it out? “Or, more accurately, that’s not all of it.” He gestured at a series of equations that normed out the factors she’d raised. “After correcting for mass accretion and diminishing distance, plus accounting for density variations caused by the plasmatic tidal currents within the convective zone, we’re still measuring significant additional acceleration in graviton radiation.”

That was interesting, Admiral Reyes had to admit, but was it relevant? “Color me intrigued at a theoretical level,” she offered, her intrigue conditional on it tieing to reality. “But how does this connect to our actual problem?” She had no time for purely theoretical exercises when the fate of a world hung in the balance.

“Patience, dearie. Patience,” Dr. Lockwood scolded, wagging his index finger in her direction. “We’ll get there soon enough.” He wanted to enjoy the storytelling first.

Admiral Reyes shot him a look that told him to hurry the hell up. 

“Ok, fine, fine…” Dr. Lockwood ceded. “You see, that probe we fired off Serenity, the one Lieutenant Commander Sharpe helped harden against the gravitational shear, it gave us the next piece of the puzzle. As it fell towards the singularity, instead of an inverse square gradient, its gravimetric sensors recorded a highly exponentiated variation of force amplitude.”

“You mean the force of gravity increased faster than it should have?” Admiral Reyes asked to confirm that she was following along with his technobabble correctly.

Dr. Lockwood nodded.

There was an obvious next question, and Admiral didn’t delay in asking it: “How much faster is it accelerating?” The answer, she knew, could have absolutely massive implications on their mission – or knowing these guys, they could have hauled her down here for nothing more than an academic exercise. It was all the same to the theoreticians.

“Based on the gravimetric readings the probe collected before it imploded, we project the mass-energy equivalent scaling factor at the point of origin to be around 1.19e+28,” Dr. Lockwood reported, making it clear that it was the former. This did matter to their mission.

“1.19 to the 28th power? That’s…” Admiral Reyes’ voice trailed off as she considered the implications. The scaling factor they’d originally observed was ‘only’ 21.97 million. What they were talking about was 54.1 quintillion times that or, put in other terms, it was twenty one orders of magnitude more significant. That scale was so massive she didn’t even need to ask if it fit the standard model of quantum gravity. “So what you’re saying is that gravity gets stronger way faster than it should?”

“Yes, on a gradient that maps smoothly to an exponential of the inverse square,” Dr. Lockwood nodded as he pointed at a transformation on the display that evidenced that. “In the literature, similar observations have been made of singularity-rooted subspace fissures, but even those have never been amplified to anywhere near this order of magnitude. This could be a whole new chapter in the field of subspace mechanics.” His eyes twinkled at the notion.

“Yes, yes, a new chapter and all that…” Admiral Reyes parroted back in a way that said she cared little for the academic implications. This was about the lives of six million people, and certainly not who was going to get a piece above the fold in the next edition of Subspace Today. “If gravitation around this singularity behaves as you’re describing, does that mean the planet’s rate of decay is going to be faster than we originally predicted?”

“Unfortunately yes,” Dr. Brooks jumped in. “I just finished updating Dr. Sh’vot’s model.” As opposed to the theoreticians, he knew what mattered most, and immediately upon the math coming together, he’d gone back to the geophysicist’s work to account for their new discovery.

“And how much time do Agarwal and Lee lose as a result of this development?” Admiral Reyes asked as a pit developed in her stomach. The Archanis Corps of Engineers detachment commander and the Polaris Squadron Engineering Officer were already trying to move mountains, literally, and now, because of some math cooked up in the lab, they might have even less time to do it.

“Thankfully, that timing remains relatively consistent, at least within a few hours, because we’re talking about the de minimis side of the curve,” Dr. Brooks assured her. That was good, at least. “But as the planet’s orbit continues to decay, yes, gravitation will indeed increase faster than anticipated, shortening the planet’s overall viability.” While he conveyed it in very academic terms, those implications were very not good.

“So we’re still on roughly the same clock for the shelters,” Admiral Reyes summarized, just to make sure she hadn’t missed anything. “But the amount of time that there’s still a planet to shelter on, that’s shorter than we originally anticipated?”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“How much shorter?”

“Sixty three percent.”

The air left the Admiral’s lungs. 

“After Vespara Prime falls out of its habitable zone,” Dr. Brooks concluded. “You will have twenty two days to evacuate the colonists sheltering in place before the planet will begin to break apart as it falls toward the sun.”

“Tom, are we just digging a burial pit for them then?” Admiral Reyes lamented as she looked into the eyes of the aged scientist, seeing nothing but darkness. “Even if we just run max burn round trips to Vega Pyronis, we won’t even manage to relocate a tenth of the colony in time.” 

Fuck Starfleet Command for not having more ships for them. Fuck the universe for taking what time she thought she had away from her. And fuck Dr. Lockwood for calling like he had good news. This was an absolutely fucking disaster.

“I can’t predict the future,” Dr. Brooks reminded her.

Admiral Reyes knew that, in the case of Thomas Duncan Brooks, that wasn’t exactly true – at least not as it related to the broad strokes on how things would unfold – but on this one, it was probably true. It wasn’t like Vespara Prime would ever have been significant enough to have come up during his travels.

“But Admiral,” Dr. Brooks added. “There is some good news.”

As she stood there, still trying to process, she looked first at Dr. Brooks, and then at the others. What the hell would Tom Brooks, or Luke Lockwood, or Akil al-Qadir, or any of them possibly have to tell her that would make up for the fact they’d just stolen thirty seven days from her? Thirty seven days she desperately needed to save the people of Vespara Prime.

“Luke, wanna do the honors?” Dr. Brooks deferred back to the team lead. On one hand, it had been him that pushed Dr. Lockwood to even consider a different foundational basis for the problem, but on the other, it was Dr. Lockwood that had finally wrestled the math to the ground.

Dr. Lockwood stepped back up to the display proudly. “There’s something special about the number 1.19e+28,” he explained as he gestured at a series of equations. “The classical Natario metric, as I’m sure you’ll recognize.”

“Yeah, I got that,” Admiral Reyes nodded as she looked at the first equation in the sequence. It was the solution at the center of warp field theory, and it was taught to every first year scientist and engineer at the Academy. “But what are you doing to those field equations below?” The rest of the math below those first tensors quickly descended into a complex set of transformations that she didn’t understand in the slightest.

“This series projects it out as a generalized subspace-like hypersurface within a higher order manifold,” Dr. Lockwood replied in a matter of fact tone. “And then compresses the foliations within that manifold to the tune of 3.65e+5.”

It sounded so simple when said it that way, but how he got there – the math, the reason for the compression, even the number itself – she wasn’t following any of it, and her face said as much.

“Think of it this way,” Dr. Brooks jumped back in. He was sympathetic to the fact that the Admiral had not spent the last four days crammed in this lab with them, iterating on the solution space until they got to this answer, one that, if it had not fit together so perfectly, would have been considered batshit crazy. “Suppose subspace is a highly elastic blanket. What we’ve done here is bunch it up incredibly tightly, so that, instead of walking from one end to the other, you’re able to near-instantly jump across it.”

“Like a wormhole in subspace, yes,” Admiral Reyes nodded. “I got that. But why 3.65e+5?” That was both a very large and a very specific number.

“It’s within the range of superluminal compression observed by the USS Voyager during its encounter with the Vaadwaur, assuming an acceleration in c to around 1,000 light years per day,” Dr. Lockwood got back to the details. “And because of this…” 

With a flick of the wrist, he materialized an equation on the display that was so ridiculously rudimentary that it seemed crazy to even see it on the same display as the others:

E = m * c ^ 2

“Recognize it?”

“I’m pretty sure even Akil’s nine year old knows that one,” Admiral Reyes grumbled as she glared at him. What was it with Dr. Lockwood and his storytelling? Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence equation was taught to school children alongside Newtonian mechanics right before both were promptly disproven within the quantum, relativistic and subspace domains. She didn’t see, however, how it explained anything.

“Well, try this,” Dr. Lockwood said, and with another flick of the wrist, a couple substitution were made on the display, using numbers already at the root of their discussion:

E = 1.19e+28 * m = m * ( 3.65e+5 * c ) ^ 2

“Woah,” the Admiral remarked, her mouth agape. “That’s not a coincidence, is it?” It was crazy to think that such a simple equation bore an answer to such a great mystery. 

“Most certainly not,” Dr. Lockwood shook his head.

“Okay, well suppose you’re right…”

“I am,” Dr. Lockwood insisted assuredly. “A fissure straight into the compressed foliations of subspace, such as an Underspace aperture or something sufficiently similar, just fits too well, and it definitely explains the degree of gravitational potentiation that we’re seeing here.” That was where Dr. Brooks’ rather crude reference to the elasticity of the blanket came into play in terms of the potential energy loaded up into the system by the compressions.

“It’s also the only thing that the brain trust has come up with that maths out to explain this,” Dr. Brooks added for good measure, aware that there could be other answers, even if they hadn’t come up with them yet. “And, as much as we could iterate on this until the ends of time, given the reports of Underspace apertures suddenly materializing across the quadrant, it’s hard to ignore.”

Since the pragmatic Dr. Brooks was buying it too, it gave Admiral Reyes some assurance that this wasn’t just mathematics unrooted in reality. “If this is an Underspace aperture, why isn’t it behaving like the ones we’ve encountered in the Delta Quadrant, or the others our ships have stumbled across in recent days?”

“I’m not sure I’d generalize the recent reports with anything we know of them from Delta,” Dr. Lockwood cautioned. “The new apertures in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants have been doing all sorts of things inconsistent with any prior observations from Delta.” The team had poured over those reports, and they varied massively in terms of aperture presentation. Some were stable, and others were intermittent. Some were pushing, and others were pulling. Some were traversable, and others were not. “In fact, the only thing consistent about them is their inconsistency. It’s almost as though Underspace has gone mad.” Dr. Brooks had posited some theories about that too, but they were pure supposition not rooted in the math, so Dr. Lockwood was not going to get into them for now.

“Okay, fine,” Admiral Reyes replied, clearly growing impatient with the semantic discussion. “Then how does this differ with the ones we’ve previously observed in the Delta Quadrant?”

“It lacks the negative energy density core that typically mediates the gravitation amplification refracted by the compressed subspace foliations,” Dr. Lockwood answered. “Leading to what we’re seeing now, which is basically a highly energetic subspace singularity.” 

There was an obvious next question, but Dr. Brooks got there before the Admiral could ask it: “And no, we don’t know how to solve for that yet. But we’re working on it.”

That would be the only way to save the six million souls on Vespara Prime.

That Sinking Feeling at the Edge of Oblivion

Bridge and Captain's Quarters, USS Ingenuity
Mission Day 9 - 0300 Hours

Fiery tendrils of plasma danced towards an impossibly black void, one that swallowed even the light itself. They looked almost majestic, if not for the grim reality that those brilliant accretions were the fuel for the subspace singularity that would soon swallow a planet whole, and with it, the millions who called it home.

The math had borne fruit. They’d proven that the menacing spacetime aberration at the center of the Vespara system was rooted in the Underspace. Typically, those compressed foliations within the fabric of subspace ignited the adventurer’s spirit, offering the opportunity to venture into some far off place. But not this time. Not in this system. It was like the Underspace had gone mad, and while they knew the face of their enemy, they knew not how to stop it.

The deck rattled beneath Admiral Reyes’ feet, a reminder of the indefatigable gravity well just beyond their bow. It was taking full burn from the engines, full power to the shields, and full engagement of the inertial dampeners just to hold the ship stationary, fighting frame dragging and, even more critically, a fall over the horizon. In normal times, they’d never have parked a cruiser in the ergosphere of a supermassive black hole, but these were not normal times.

Admiral Reyes knew that even the slightest lapse, the failure of a single impulse engine or a momentary flux in the shield matrix, could be their end. It was for that reason that she’d left the USS Polaris in orbit of Vespara Prime and, with only absolutely essential personnel, brought the USS Ingenuity to the edge of oblivion. Even its captain had been left behind, for the highest and best use of Commander Lee was not on their bridge, but down on Vespara Prime, presiding over the final buildout of environmental shelters. The only crew present were a skeleton staff to keep the ship from breaking and the researchers to conduct the experiment.

“Ma’am, assembly configuration holding steady and deflector control at the ready,” reported Dr. Akil al-Qadir, the particle physicist from the Advanced Science, Technology and Research Activity who was supervising the test. “On your order.”

“Execute.”

He pressed the button, and then, nothing happened. Or at least, it didn’t look like anything had happened. The exotic byproducts of the heavily modified matter-antimatter reaction within their warp assembly were not like conventional particles. They didn’t interact with the EM spectrum, and so there was nothing to see. Nonetheless, if focused right, they’d create the sort of negative energy density effect that was posited to hold the gravity of stable Underspace apertures at bay. At least, that was the theory. Pure mathematics didn’t always net out in the real world.

“Any effect?”

“Registering a faint shift in the gravimetric gradient,” reported Dr. Tom Brooks from what, under normal circumstances, would have been the communications station. For this mission though, there was no communications officer, and instead it served as an additional science station. Indeed, besides Ensign Elyssia Rel at the conn and Ensign Kellan Seltzer at operations, everyone else on the bridge was a scientist. “Amplification factor has fallen… slightly.”

“How slightly?”

“Six percent,” Dr. Brooks replied. “If we held this position indefinitely, we’d buy the planet another two days.

Two days was better than nothing, Admiral Reyes knew. It would buy them time to save a few thousand more – maybe even tens of thousands, if additional support came to their aid. There was no promise of that though, and tens of thousands was still a far cry from the total they needed to evacuate. “How do we increase the amplitude of our exotic matter output?”

“I’ve got some ideas on how to increase catalyzation,” Dr. al-Qadir offered. “It’ll probably take five or six hours to make the modifications if you want to back us away from the singularity until we’re finished.” He loved the thrill of dangerous experiments as much as any experimental researcher, but that didn’t mean he didn’t recognize their presently-precarious position.

“Can we continue to operate the beam while you make your modifications?” Admiral Reyes asked. She had no interest in backing off, unless it absolutely couldn’t be helped.

“Yes, we can make the modifications with a bypass on the primary reactant flow, if you wish,” Dr. al-Qadir replied. “I’d only raised it as an option on behalf of ship’s safety.”

“This ship is going nowhere,” Admiral Reyes replied firmly. Even though the impact they were having was minimal, it was not zero. “Every hour we maintain the beam, even at these limited levels, we add time to the clocks of every life on Vespara Prime.” Only a couple minutes an hour, she knew, but those minutes would add up. And hopefully, Dr. al-Qadir would find a way to dramatically increase the reaction effect.

“Understood ma’am,” Dr. al-Qadir nodded as he relinquished his station and headed for the turbolift. “We’ll get it done as quickly as we can.”

Once he was gone, silence again settled over the bridge. Not the related form though, but rather the silence of complete and total focus. Ensign Rel was carefully managing the ship’s attitude via micro-adjustments to ensure the Ingenuity’s impulse engines continued to exert maximum resistive force, while Ensign Seltzer’s eyes were glued on the master systems display, watching for even the slightest variation that could signal a threat to the engines, the shields or the inertial dampeners. As for the ASTRA scientists, they too had their attention completely focused on their displays, not for their survival though but rather to study the telemetry pouring in.

Admiral Reyes found herself staring out the main viewscreen, her mind wandering about. She’d defeated the Lost Fleet at Nasera. She’d survived the Borg over Earth. She’d overcome a plot by the Borg worshipers of Beta Serpentis. But what could she do against a subspace singularity gone wild? Neither six percent, nor sixteen, nor even sixty was an acceptable outcome. They’d need to achieve nearly one hundred percent belayment of the aperture’s gravitational effects. Anything less would mean that a not-insignificant portion of Vespara Prime’s population would not survive.

“You heard him, boss,” Dr. Brooks said as he stepped up onto the command island. His voice was quiet enough that only she could hear him. “It’s going to be five or six hours. I’ll keep an eye on things up here while you grab some shuteye.”

“Huh?” Admiral Reyes asked as she snapped back to the present. What was it he’d said? He was saying she should go below deck for some sleep? Who was he to try and relieve her? This was her mission. She was the one asking each of them to burn the midnight oil, and she was the one asking each of them to risk their lives for an experiment that, from the outside, would be considered batshit insane. She needed to be here on the bridge. Leaders ate last, she always said. And that meant she couldn’t just go take a nap. “Thank you, but I’m fine.”

“You are now, but how about in five or six hours?” Dr. Brooks countered skeptically. He could see the bags under her eyes. “You haven’t slept since 0500, yesterday,” he pointed out. “And you haven’t stopped moving since we arrived eight days ago.” There was a look of concern on his face. He knew she, just like he, wasn’t getting any younger, and that the midnight oil fizzled out far faster at their age. They weren’t in their twenties anymore. “There’s nothing that’s gonna change between now and when Akil finishes with the grease monkeys.”

“What about you?”

“I’m a theoretician, Miss Reyes,” Dr. Brooks chuckled dismissively. “I just play on my whiteboard and take naps whenever I want – sort of like a lazy cat – while you’re running around building evacuation shelters, coordinating airspaces, organizing evacuations, liaising with colonial governments, and the billion other things you super duper important many-pipped redshirts do.” He had a grin plastered across his face. “If you ever want a change of pace, my gig, it’s a pretty sweet deal, all things considered.”

“But…”

“No buts, Allison,” Dr. Brooks shook his head, his appeal personal. “Besides, if anything exciting happens, I assure you that you won’t be of any help anyway.” It wasn’t an insult, they both knew. It was just a fact. So precarious was their entanglement in the ergosphere that, if anything went wrong, they would have to recover mere seconds to recover. Either the systems and the crew would react correctly, at once and without instruction, or the 700,000 metric tons of their cruiser would fall into the singularity before anyone could blink.

Admiral Reyes debated arguing with the old man, he wasn’t exactly the sort who would yield to authority. And besides, he was probably right. “Very well. Thank you Tom.” In her tone, there was a hint of gratitude for, even if her natural instinct was to refuse the offer, she did dearly appreciate it. “The bridge is yours, Commander Brooks.” 

He might have been a former inmate of the New Zealand Penal Colony, but Thomas Duncan Brooks was also a full Commander in Starfleet with more experience than many on the crew put together. The bridge would be safe with him for a few hours. And so the Admiral took her leave. 

Making her way down to Deck 3, Admiral Reyes could feel the exhaustion taking hold. A moment later, she stepped up to a door, one with a name placard that read: 

CDR C. LEE

It slid open instantly, welcoming her into the inner sanctum of the ship’s captain. Admiral Reyes would never have imposed like this. She would have just taken guest quarters. But Commander Lee had insisted.

“Computer, lights, forty percent.”

As the lights came up, Admiral Reyes was greeted with the unexpected. On Commander Lee’s table sat a bottle of Château Lafite Rothschild, a box of fine Alderbaanian chocolates, and a neatly folded silk robe. Next to the robe sat a thin piece of paper. The Admiral reached for it, and a smile crept across her face as she read the short note inked in a delicate, refined cursive:

For our polaris, our north star,
As diligent as you may be,
May you find some serenity 
on my ingenuity.

With love,
Cora

What class, Admiral Reyes thought to herself. How had Cora Lee found the time for such a heartfelt gesture while managing the rushed build out of environmental shelters for six million? And it wasn’t like the Commander had done it at the expense of the mission either. At last report, Commander Lee and Commodore Agarwal just finished digging the large caverns into the heat-resistant subsurface strata. Those caverns would allow the colonists to hide from the heat as the surface became inhospitable – an eventuality now only two days away.

As Admiral Reyes slipped into the soft silk robe and took a sip of the deep ruby red Pauillac, she wondered how Fleet Captain Devreux was doing with the colonists. Vespara Prime had been built on the concept of a simple, sustainable lifestyle, one free of technology and heavy industry. Their present predicament was antithetical to everything they’d ever known. Only technology could explain what was happening, and they’d only survive the weekend as a result of heavy machinery drilling into their pristine utopia. Still, as fires raged unchecked, crops wilted under the sun, and ambient temperatures raced ever upward, they had no choice.

At least Commander Lee and Commodore Agarwal had forestalled the inevitable by twenty two days. And tonight, they’d added to that. A little bit. If they could hold their precarious position in the ergosphere for the next three weeks, they’d buy the planet another two days.

In the end, it wouldn’t be enough though. Not unless Dr. al-Qadir could amplify the negative energy density reaction by orders of magnitude, or Dr. Lockwood, back on the Polaris, devised something else altogether. 

The inevitable was still racing towards them. If that time came, she would face an impossible choice: who would live, and who would they leave for dead? She could not shake that feeling that, even with their recent successes, still they stood at the edge of oblivion.

An Unexpected Ally Arrives

Mission Day 9 - 1100 Hours
Captain's Quarters and Bridge, USS Ingenuity

“Yellow alert. Admiral Reyes to the bridge.”

The room was dark, darker than it should have been. Admiral Reyes sat up in bed and glanced around. Where was the Vesparan sun and its partner, the Underspace-rooted singularity? The Ingenuity was supposed to be holding steady in the violent ergosphere, flooding the aberrant aperture with negative energy density exotic particles to belay its gravitational effects, but now, the deck was calm, and as she looked out the window at the starscape, she could see only the blackness of space. She reached over to the side table and tapped her combadge.

“Reyes to bridge. Report?” 

Out of the corner of her eye, she spied the clock: 1100 hours. That fucking physicist. Dr. Brooks was supposed to call her as soon as Dr. al-Qadir finished recalibrating the warp assembly, which should have been three or four hours ago. Had the modifications taken longer than forecast, or was this just Dr. Brooks thinking he knew better than her? If it was the latter, she’d have a bone to pick with him.

“You should get up here, ma’am. Brooks out.”

Why couldn’t he just give her an update? But she could hear an uncharacteristic urgency in his voice. Maybe he was preoccupied. Swinging herself out of the bed, Allison Reyes shed the soft silk robe and pulled on her duty uniform as she rushed for the door. Jogging down the corridor, she finished zipping it up, and a moment later, she stepped into a waiting turbolift.

“Bridge.”

Admiral Reyes straightened her collar and tapped her foot against the deck while she waited for the turbolift to make its short trip up a couple decks. While Dr. Brooks might have let her sleep out of his own volition, he wouldn’t have turned them away from the singularity without purpose. That much, she was certain of. He knew the stakes. And that meant something had happened.

At last, the door slid open, and Admiral Reyes blazed onto the bridge: “Status report?”

“Well, we took a poll,” Dr. Brooks replied, leaning up against a pillar with a bemused expression on his face as he gestured at the bridge crew around them. “And we all agreed that our dear leader could use a few extra hours of sleep.”

That was not an acceptable answer. The Admiral looked at Ensign Rel, who nodded meekly from the conn, and then at Ensign Seltzer, who cast his eyes away sheepishly. Regardless of if he’d co-opted them into his scheme, this was on him, and she met his gaze with a furious glare. When she’d ceded the bridge to him, she’d been crystal clear.

“But on the positive side,” Dr. Brooks continued, almost seeming humored by her frustration. “A few hours ago, Akil increased reactivity from six percent to twenty two percent.”

“And on the negative side, we’re no longer in the ergosphere of the singularity at all,” Admiral Reyes countered. She didn’t mean to diminish the news. Twenty two percent was a damn fine number, and it would buy the Vespara Prime days, if not a week, of additional life… but only if they were still sitting over the ergosphere injecting exotic particles into the aperture. Their success did them no good if they were racing away from the singularity. “I also can’t help but notice we’re at yellow alert,” Admiral Reyes pushed, noting the dimmed lights and the alert condition. “So again, what the hell is going on?” She was in no mood for his antics.

“Ah yes, that…” Dr. Brooks frowned. “We’ve got company.” He turned towards the operations officer. “Kellan, increase viewscreen magnification.”

“Aye sir,” came the affirmative from Ensign Seltzer.

Admiral Reyes turned towards the main viewscreen as it zoomed in on the ships of Polaris Squadron, which hovered in geostationary orbit over the equatorial belt of Vespara Prime. 

“What the hell?!” Admiral Reyes asked as she took in the view. Polaris Squadron was right where they’d left it, but now it was surrounded on all sides by B’rel warbirds, and a Neg’Vhar battlecruiser sat nose-to-nose with the Polaris, almost as if staring it down. “Where’d they come from? And when?”

“They decloaked maybe a minute before I called you,” Dr. Brooks reported.

“Any reason to presume hostile intent?” Admiral Reyes asked. The Klingon Empire was a declared ally of the Federation, and had been for decades, but by the way the borderland houses often behaved, it certainly didn’t always feel that way – and right now, it certainly didn’t look that way. The Klingon ships looked almost like a pack of coyotes ringing their meal.

“Oh no, none at all,” Dr. Brooks chuckled. “Except that they’re Klingons and they brought a small armada of warships to say hello.” He’d lived through many eras, but one thing consistent among them all was that a Klingon battlegroup decloaking on all sides of you was never good.

“I can’t say I disagree,” Admiral Reyes concurred. She’d followed intelligence reports coming out of the Empire. Ever since Martok had gone missing and Toral had assumed the throne, tensions had risen significantly. Still, while some border houses had certainly been thumping their chests towards the Romulans, they’d not made any moves against the Federation. Not yet, at least, but memories of D’Ghor still hung in her mind. “Have we made contact?”

“No ma’am,” reported Ensign Seltzer from operations. “We alerted Polaris to our intentions, and Captain Devreux elected to wait for you.”

Of course he did, thought Admiral Reyes. Fleet Captain Gérard Devreux, while a phenomenal first officer, was an explorer first, and his natural instinct was to shy away from conflict. “Alright, hail them.”

A moment later, a burly Klingon in traditional battle garb appeared on screen.

“I am…” Admiral Reyes began to say.

“Fleet Admiral Allison Reyes. Yes, yes, we know…” the Klingon on the other end of the viewscreen interrupted, grinning widely with pointy teeth. “Director of the Advanced Science, Technology and Research Activity, a bastion of illustrious scientific research, and Commander of Polaris Squadron, a squadron of warships with victories known even to the Empire.”

“And you are?” Admiral Reyes asked firmly. His tone was gregarious and grandiose, more like a jovial drinking buddy than an avaricious adversary, but he knew far more about her than she knew of him, and his disruptors outnumbered her phasers by more than two to one. That made her more than a bit wary.

“Oh yes, how very impolite of me,” the Klingon laughed. “I am General Golroth, and we come in peace.” The inflection in the way he flared his nostrils as he spoke that final word made her skeptical. “We received your mayday – a planet falling towards oblivion – and we are here to assist.” Again, there was something off in the way he said it.

“We welcome the assistance of our honorable friends from the Empire,” Admiral Reyes smiled warmly, her doubts to the General’s motives well concealed beneath her practiced demeanor. “At the moment, we are building out…”

“Environmental shelters to shield the colonists from the sun as the planet’s orbit continues to decay,” General Golroth interrupted again, the intimation clear that he’d been observing them before revealing himself. “Me and my men, we can dig better than anyone, and my ships, they have space to carry colonists aplenty away from this dying world.” He paused for a moment as his eyes narrowed on her and his expression grew serious. “But you and I, we both know that won’t be enough. Eventually, this world will still fall into the sun. But aboard my flagship, I have scientists too, the honorable and esteemed of Mempa V, and they too are in your service.”

The offer caught Admiral Reyes completely off guard in more ways than one, but she was not going to look a gift horse in the face. “We would be forever grateful,” she offered. It wasn’t like they had a lot of other options. Starfleet was preoccupied, and the clock was ticking down.

“Gratefulness is not necessary,” General Golroth chortled. “Together, we shall achieve glory and prevail over the grand forces of the universe itself. My brigadier will coordinate with your people, and I will beam over with my colleagues from Mempa V shortly.”

And with that, the Klingon hung up.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Dr. Brooks shook his head incredulously. “A Klingon assault wing shows up, and they just happen to have a team from the Institute aboard? Are you really going to accept their offer?” That was far too much of a coincidence for him.

“What else would you have us do, Tom?” Admiral Reyes asked. “It would be a dishonor to reject them, and besides, we could use their help.”

“Are you sure you’re not letting desperation cloud your judgment?”

“Possibly,” Admiral Reyes admitted. “And we will proceed carefully, but frankly, if Golroth is good to his word, it could save hundreds of thousands, or a million even.” Although Commander Lee and Commodore Agarwal had bought them time, and Dr. al-Qadir had extended it further with their latest findings, Polaris Squadron still did not have the capacity or capability to evacuate everyone on Vespara Prime before it collapsed into the rapidly expanding gravity well. “It seems worth the risk to me.”

“Lockwood’s gonna have a conniption if you let those beasts loose in his lab,” Dr. Brooks laughed. “I’d love to be there to see it, but I gather you’re going to go back to the Polaris to receive them yourself?”

“Seems only natural,” Admiral Reyes nodded. “I don’t think Gérard would ever forgive me if I stuck him with that.” And besides, she wanted to keep a close eye on their new friends. Golroth might have presented like a benevolent humanitarian, but something didn’t feel quite right.

“Well, while you have all the fun over on the Polaris,” Dr. Brooks offered. “I’ll take the Ingenuity back to the singularity and continue our work. Akil said he’s probably got the reaction near its max, but who knows… maybe he’ll find a few more percent somewhere.”

“You sure?”

“Yep, it’s the one assured way to buy time,” Dr. Brooks nodded. If they maintained the new, increased level, they’d slow the orbital decay to such an extent as to buy the planet another eight days of life. “And besides, I’ve gotten all the bridge time I need to be qualified as an OOD now, haven’t I?”

“You’ll do just fine, for now,” Admiral Reyes chuckled. “Godspeed, Tom.” The ex-con most certainly wasn’t a traditional officer of the deck, but she wasn’t going to pull Commander Lee back from the surface, not when her engineering prowess was needed down there, nor would she put the Ingenuity’s vital mission in the hands of the risk-averse Lieutenant Commander Allen. She then tapped her combadge. “Polaris, one to beam over.”

Your Science Is Small, And So Are You

ASTRA Astrometrics Lab, USS Polaris
Mission Day 9 - 1500 Hours

The astrometrics lab had felt as raucous as when a dozen Klingons descended upon it. Packed in with the mathematicians, physicists, and astrometricists of the Advanced Science, Technology and Research Activity, the eclectic bunch discussed the aberrant aperture, both in terms of the baseline mechanics and the current attempts to slow its growth.

“Your modern warp drives are impressive for the superluminal velocity they put out,” offered General Golroth, the Klingon commander in charge of the battle group that had arrived out of nowhere just hours earlier. “I’ve long called on my colleagues to incorporate the advances we’ve learned from our partnership with the Federation, but alas, we are too proud to accept the innovations of others.” And, General Golroth thought to himself, with the Empire’s current obsession towards honor through combat, it had lost any edge it once had with innovations of its own.

Dr. Lockwood wasn’t sure what surprised him more: was it the brutish oaf’s use of the phrase ‘superluminal velocity’ or the general’s criticism of his own people? None of it was what he expected from a Klingon warlord, but admittedly, he had little to draw on. It wasn’t as though he’d spent much time, or really any at all, with Klingons. They did not typically frequent the academic halls that Luke Lockwood called home.

“But while impressive for travel,” the General continued. “No matter how much you tinker, your warp assembly will never generate a sufficient negative energy density field to overwhelm the potentiation from the compressed foliations of subspace on the other side of that aperture.”

He wasn’t wrong, Dr. Lockwood knew, but how had the Klingon realized it so quickly? Was it just a bold conjecture? Or had the General actually grasped the finer points of their reconfigured warp manifold and the Underspace-rooted aperture? The latter seemed unlikely.

“The General is too generous,” chortled another of the Klingons, a man who’d introduced himself as Voragh of the Science Institute of Mempa V. “You’re being small-minded, taking the science you know and applying it to what you don’t. If that’s all you’re willing to do, why even bother? Might as well just let the planet fall into the sun.” He folded his arms across his burly chest as if to accentuate his point.

“What would you suggest then?” Dr. Lockwood was all for constructive scientific debate, for that was how breakthroughs were made, but if the supposed scientist was just here to criticize their work, Dr. Lockwood had no issue going straight to Admiral Reyes and demanding she get the savages out of his lab. He wasn’t a babysitter, nor a school teacher, and he had an impossibly hard problem to solve here, one stitched into the fabric of spacetime itself. He still didn’t understand why the Klingons were even here.

“Tetryons,” Voragh stated without elaboration, as if it was self-evident.

“What about them?” Dr. Lockwood furled his brow skeptically. They’d already toyed with such ideas, but even Ensign Vok couldn’t make the math work, not without spelling doom for Vespara, and that had led them to settle on Dr. al-Qadir’s approach instead.

“A subspace phase inverter could shift the phase of the tetryon waves to generate destructive interference against the gravimetric gradient,” Voragh offered as he walked over to a console and deftly drew up a series of metric tensors to demonstrate his point. “The tetryon field is also being potentiated by the Underspace manifold, and if inverted, the negative energy density field would be more than sufficient to nullify the graviton radiation.”

“At first glance, sure,” Dr. Lockwood nodded as he walked over to the console where Voragh had set up. Although the Klingon had nearly half a meter and a hundred kilos of him, he gestured for the man to step aside. “But it only works in an idealized model.” As Voragh yielded the controls, Dr. Lockwood introduced a stochastic perturbation into the waveform. “With even minor variation in frequency, instead of destructive interference, it becomes constructive.” Dr. Lockwood hit play on the simulation again, and this time, rather than nullifying gravitation, it caused a repulsive energy wave that rippled across the system. “Mess it up even a little, and you’ll bring an early end to Vespara Prime.”

“Don’t mess it up then.”

“We don’t even have the means…”

“We do, my friend,” General Golroth explained as he walked over to the pair and set his large, muscular hand upon the shoulder of the lanky astrophysicist. “We do. We brought with us, fresh from Mempa V, subspace field generators, coils, stabilizers, and a control system with the resolution necessary to not, as you say, bring an end to your planet.”

Dr. Lockwood tilted his head as he stared at the Klingon with surprise. Mempa V wasn’t close enough for them to have simply swung by en route, and beyond that, how did they even know what they would face when they arrived? It wasn’t as though the mechanics of this Underspace aperture were general knowledge. It had taken them the better part of a week to figure it out, and it wasn’t as though they had broadcast their findings on open channels across the sector.

“Bold problems require bold thinking,” General Golroth continued. “You’re a small man who thinks too small, but that’s why you have us.”

If they were wrong, the consequences would be catastrophic. Dr. Lockwood thought back to the soliton experiments of the 2360s that had almost destroyed Lemma II, the ones on which he’d based his dissertation. This would be similar, but without a means to stop the wave that might radiate out from the singularity. However, if the Klingons were right, it could save the planet. That meant it was at least worth entertaining.

“Work with Ensign Vok,” Dr. Lockwood offered up the Saurian subspace theorist who’d already put several cycles into tetryon-based concepts for remediation. “Prove the resilience of this approach, that you won’t accidentally destroy Vespara Prime, and if it checks out, we’ll take it to the Admiral.”

“I can work with that.”

“And send me the specifications related to the phase inverter as well,” Dr. Lockwood added. “I’m not familiar with your technology, and if we’re going to put our faith in it, I’d like a chance to review it.” He wanted their Research Fellow in xenotechnology to review it too, but he knew better than to bring the Romulan into a room of Klingons.

“Certainly.”

It was almost too easy, Dr. Lockwood thought to himself. The Klingons had shown up with an exact solution to their problem, and they weren’t even putting up any resistance to sharing what would be, the astrophysicist suspected, highly classified technology. What was their angle? Why were they so willing to help?

The Lab Rat And The Spy

Captain's Ready Room, USS Serenity
Mission Day 9 - 1700 Hours

“The lab rat and the spy, what a curious pair,” Captain Lewis furled his brow as an unlikely duo stepped through the threshold into his dimly lit Ready Room. “If the two of you have come to see me, of all people, I gather things must be going swimmingly over on the Polaris.” Not since the affair with the Watchers of Talvath had Dr. Lockwood willingly sought him out, and Captain Lewis had never hidden his feelings about Lieutenant Command Sena.

“They’re going a bit too swimmingly,” Dr. Lockwood explained as he and his Romulan colleague took their seats opposite the haggard old spook. “You see, our Klingon friends, they’ve come up to speed a little too quickly, and already they seem more acquainted with the curious anomaly than my own team.” And his team had spent the last week and a half studying it. The Klingons had revealed themselves mere hours ago.

“Sounds like you’re salty your wizkids have been one-upped by a bunch of burly brutes,” Captain Lewis chuckled. He enjoyed every opportunity he got to poke at the proud and pompous physicist. “Did you ever consider that maybe they’re simply smarter than you?” 

Next to Dr. Lockwood, the Romulan expat cracked a smile.

“It is possible a foreign power could be ahead of us,” Dr. Lockwood acknowledged, ignoring the Captain’s antics. “But singularities are more of a Romulan thing.” He looked over at Lieutenant Commander Sena. Her people, as opposed to the Federation or the Klingons, leveraged artificial singularities at the heart of their vessels.

“On this one, I concur with Dr. Lockwood,” Lieutenant Commander Sena agreed. “It’s not just that they seem more fluent than they should be. It’s also that they knew more about this than they should have when they arrived.” In her prior life, subterfuge had come with the territory, and the moment Dr. Lockwood had come to visit her, her spidey senses had gone off.

“How do you figure?” Captain Lewis raised a brow.

“This is what they brought with them,” Lieutenant Commander Sena explained as she slid a PADD across the desk. On it were the details that General Golroth had provided about the field generators, coils, stabilizers, and control system carried aboard his flagship. “I’ve never seen technology like this from the Klingons, and certainly never aboard one of their battlecruisers.”

As Captain Lewis read, he stroked his chin. While the mechanics were beyond him, he saw what had brought the pair to him. “Is there any other reason they would just be cruising around with this stuff aboard their ship?”

“Not that I can think of,” Lieutenant Commander Sena shook her head. “Not unless the Klingons suddenly developed an interest in subspace warfare.” To Polaris Squadron, it could solve their current problem, but to the Romulan, what she saw on the PADD was a potential weapon.

“You’re sure?”

“Put it this way, Captain,” the Romulan replied as her eyes grew dark. “In my past life, if we had any hint the Klingons were pursuing this line of research, we would have made sure it met an abrupt end.” The Tal’Shiar would never have risked letting their rivals develop a technology that could, with enough refinement, compromise the singularity at the heart of their warbirds. “But frankly, we never thought we had to worry about this sort of thing. The High Council’s obsession with honor through combat has stunted their development in all other fields.”

“You say that,” Captain Lewis observed. “But here it is.”

“Yes, a technology neither your people, nor mine, knew they possessed,” Sena nodded, a sense of concern across her face. “And it just so happens to appear right here, right when we need it, offered with no strings attached. Doesn’t that seem a bit odd?” She’d been in the business long enough to no longer believe in happy coincidences.

“I don’t disagree,” Captain Lewis agreed. He looked over at Dr. Lockwood. “Does it work as they suggest it would?”

“Ensign Vok confirmed the math,” Dr. Lockwood confirmed. “And based on what they’ve shared, Lieutenant Commander Sena and I believe it is absolutely possible that the control plane and stabilizers may have the precision to avoid the decoherence that would lead to catastrophic consequences.”

“Catastrophic?”

“Yes, catastrophic,” nodded Dr. Lockwood, debating how to make his explanation relatable to the plebian across the table from him. “Think of the Vespara system like a pool, and the singularity like a wave machine producing gravitons that pull the planet inward. Introduce another wave machine, this one producing an inversion in tetryon harmonics, and you can, with a precisely matched frequency and amplitude, nullify the graviton waves. However, if they’re not aligned just right, instead of destructive interference, it becomes constructive.”

“I see…” Captain Lewis nodded, the gears turning in his head. He didn’t understand the finer mechanics, but there was one thing he did recognize. “So it could be a weapon, couldn’t it?” The Klingons had been scrapping for a fight with the Romulans ever since Romulus fell, and the changing of the guard on Qo’noS had only intensified the tension on the border. 

“Not this iteration, no,” Dr. Lockwood shook his head. “The field generator is very close range. They’ll have to park the Neg’Vhar right in the ergosphere of the singularity to use it, and that close, if the harmonics produce a constructive waveform, they wouldn’t have time to flee the shockwave before being destroyed.”

“Alright, not a weapon in its current form,” Captain Lewis acknowledged. “But its potential as a weapon would almost certainly be why the Klingons went down this line of research.” It wasn’t like the Klingons to be researching the wacky and weird simply for their own edification.

“My thoughts exactly,” Lieutenant Commander Sena nodded. “And while I harbor no love for the opportunists that have risen to power in the shadow of Romulus, I still care for my people so I’d suggest extreme discretion as it relates to making their technology any better.” She stole a frigid glance at Dr. Lockwood, who, when he first came to her, was already ideating on how to expand on the technology aboard the Neg’Vhar.

“I get it, dear,” Dr. Lockwood assured her. “I get it.” After she’d initially voiced her concerns, he’d called straight down to the lab to caution them to do nothing more than assess what the Klingons had, and to hold their own thoughts close to the chest. “Don’t feed the coyotes.”

Captain Lewis made a mental note though, when all this was done, that they’d want to pass this research along to Beckett and Neidlinger. He didn’t like the idea of the Klingons having it, but if Starfleet could weaponize it? That could be a strong deterrent for when, as he was certain they would, Sena’s people rose again. He then shifted gears to another point the astrophysicist had made: “And what did you mean by a shockwave?”

“Are you familiar with what almost happened to Lemma II in 2368?”

“Yes, the runaway soliton wave,” Captain Lewis nodded. “I was a second year cadet at the time, and one of my colleagues interned on Bilana III that summer. If I recall correctly, it was only the last second intervention of the USS Enterprise that saved Lemma II from what would have been almost certain disaster?”

“Well, this would be similar,” Dr. Lockwood explained. “It would turn the singularity from attractor to repulsor.” And, as opposed to the experiment conducted by the Science Institute of Bilana III, this one couldn’t be stopped by detonating a few quantum torpedoes.

“Pushing the planet away from it? That doesn’t sound so bad.”

“It does if you consider the amplification coming from the potential energy baked into the compressed foliations of the subspace manifold,” Dr. Lockwood warned. “With the tetryon waveform pushing the amplitude further, the force of the shockwave would be devastating. At minimum, it would destroy every anthropogenic structure on the surface, and it might, if the waveforms overlapped just right, even destabilize the molten core of the planet itself.”

“Oh,” Captain Lewis sighed. Why couldn’t it ever just be a simple solution? “So what are you going to tell Reyes?”

“Ensign Vok thinks he has come up with an approach by which we can test partial nullification,” Dr. Lockwood added. “If we can see that the Klingon technology is phase matching correctly at lower amplitude, we can then crank it up slowly…”

“So you’re going to tell her to go forward?”

“Yes, with guardrails.”

“And Sena, what are your thoughts?”

“Warily, I agree with Dr. Lockwood,” Lieutenant Commander Sena replied. “My issue is not with the science, but that the Klingons have it.”

The real question, then, was who was this Klingon general they were putting their faith in? And how had he and his colleagues come into possession of this technology? And, for that matter, how had they just happened to show up in the right place at the right time? That was where Captain Lewis fit in. “Then I think, on the eve of this grand experiment, we ought to invite our Klingon friends out for drinks.”

A Question, Not Of Honor, But Of Science

Northern Lights Lounge, USS Polaris
Mission Day 9 - 1930 Hours

“I’ll give it to you, my scaly friend,” the Klingon General chortled as he slapped the Saurian subspace theorist on the back, bloodwine splashing out of his goblet. “You keep up with Voragh, and that’s saying something! If ever you want a change of scenery, we’d put you to good use on Mempa V.”

“The scenery always changes aboard a starship,” Ensign Vok dodged warily. He knew how the Klingon Empire treated its non-Klingon subjects, and the cold-blooded Saurian would sooner settle on the icy surface of Andoria than shack up with the Klingons. “That’s what makes the Polaris unique. The technology of the Federation’s finest labs, but set among the stars.”

“Indeed,” General Golroth concurred as he turned towards the scrawny astrophysicist in charge of ASTRA’s Astrophysics and Exotic Sciences unit. “What about you, Dr. Lockwood?” He eyed the clear liquid in the man’s tumbler. “You’d have to develop a stomach for something stronger than water, but I’m sure we could find a spot for you!” Someone of Dr. Lockwood’s caliber would be a fine addition to his collection, he knew, as would any of the ASTRA researchers he’d met since coming aboard. He envied the group that Fleet Admiral Reyes had assembled.

“No thank you. Water does me just fine,” Dr. Lockwood replied with more than a bit of judgment present in his tone. He’d seen far too many brilliant minds falter to the cruel grip of alcohol. Math and the mysteries of the universe were all he needed. “And abstaining keeps my mind sharp.”

“Well drinking sharpens mine,” the Klingon chuckled, flashing his sharp teeth.

“To that, I’ll drink,” offered a new voice as a haggard old man strode into the room, his voice gruff and his presence commanding. Captain Lewis drew up to the bar and helped himself to a hearty pour of the bloodwine before turning to face the Klingons. “To sharp minds,” he offered as he raised his glass in a toast. “And to our dear friends who have arrived in our moment of need.” He tilted his glass towards the Klingons and then took a deep swig.

“It’s our pleasure to come to the aid of an ally in need,” General Golroth smiled as he eyed the new arrival, noting his burly shoulders and weathered skin. This was not a scientist like the rest of the officers that had joined them for the evening’s festivities in the Northern Lights Lounge. “But I don’t believe we’ve been introduced yet.” He extended a burly warrior’s hand. “General Golroth, Commander of the IKS Qul’val and her sister ships.”

From his passing knowledge of Klingon, Captain Lewis could not help but notice the curiously named ship. “Captain Lewis, Commanding Officer of the USS Serenity,” Captain Lewis replied as he met the Klingon’s outstretched hand with a firm grip, one as unyielding as the General’s own. “And perpetual skeptic of all things Dr. Lockwood and the rest of them lab rats do down there.” The Captain glanced over at the eclectic assortment of scientists mixing it up with the Klingons. What an odd gathering they made.

“You should give them some credit, Captain,” General Golroth smiled. “In my Empire, men like your Dr. Lockwood and your Ensign Vok are relegated to the periphery of our consciousness.” He glanced around at his own men, the ones he’d brought with him from Mempa V. They’d been pushed to the fringes of society as milksops who would sooner wield the pen than the blade.

“If not for you, my dear friend,” Voragh, the lead research scientist from the Klingon contingent, offered as he gave the General a hearty pat on the back. “The General here gave us a platform for our work, at great personal peril.”

“Voragh oversells it,” General Golroth shrugged. “Contrary to what the stodgy old warriors of the High Council insist, glory is not proven only on the battlefield. It may be found in the lab as well.”

“It’s curious to hear you say that,” Captain Lewis raised a brow, intentionally baiting a response.

“Why? Because you think us mere brawlers and brutes?” General Golroth asked rhetorically. “How do you think my people first took to the stars? With Bat’leths and D’k tahgs? We might have used them to prove our supremacy over Grishnar Cats and Kolar Beasts, but to build the great Klingon Empire, we needed warp drives, deflector shields and disruptor cannons.”

And that was the explanation Captain Lewis was looking for. “And you and your squadron, you represent a continuation of that, of the pursuit of science and discovery?”

“More or less.”

It was what Captain Lewis had already anticipated from their knowledge, their equipment, and even their uniquely named flagship. They were, for as much as one might make a comparison, the Klingon equivalent of the Advanced Science, Technology and Research Activity. “Not that I’m complaining, but if you don’t mind me asking, what brought you to Vespara?”

The General was midway through a sip of bloodwine, but the question caused him to pause. “The Admiral’s mayday, same as the civilians that responded… except, of course, that we come with more than cargo bays to ferry your colonists from this dying world. Together, your crew and mine, we can save it!” His tone was that of a rallying cry, like a warrior headed to war, except that this time, the battle was with a spacetime fissure that reached deep into the compressed foliations of subspace.

“But how do you know so much about the anomaly?” Dr. Lockwood asked as he jumped eagerly into the conversation, much to Captain Lewis’ chagrin at the lack of subtlety. “Our people have never seen anything like this before, and I can’t imagine you have either.”

“Subspace is changing,” General Golroth explained. “New tunnels are forming through it…”

“Ripples would be more apt,” Voragh interrupted.

“Yes, apologies, my friend,” General Golroth conceded, much in contradiction to typical Klingon parlance where such an affront against a Commanding Officer would have been met by a stern reprieve, most likely physical in nature. “Ripples that, through the compression they create, allow us to tunnel great distances through subspace in what I believe your Federation refers to as the Underspace.”

It was clear, as Captain Lewis watched them, that the General, as much as he might not have the scientific acumen of his men, had a deep respect for them. And the way he danced through the interruption, it almost reminded him of how Admiral Reyes managed her own eclectic team.

“Yes, the Underspace,” Dr. Lockwood continued. “As it was dubbed by the Turei, who laid claim to what we thought was a phenomenon unique to the Delta Quadrant until… until a week ago.” There was a sharpness in those last words, one that was almost accusatory. “I wasn’t aware the Klingons had any knowledge or exposure to it.” The Federation’s arrangement with the Turei was unique, as far as he knew, and the Turei exercised a heavy hand even in Starfleet’s use of those corridors, limiting their ability to develop any real understanding of it.

“There are many things we know,” General Golroth replied, his tone still kind but his eyes narrowing, if but a bit, on the little man before him.

Captain Lewis sensed the shift in tenor. Dr. Lockwood had struck a nerve with their previously collegial drinking buddy, and that was a dangerous place to be with a Klingon General.

“But come now, dear General,” Dr. Lockwood pressed without heed for the fact the ground had shifted beneath his feet. “Whipping up, in mere minutes, the tensors to map an inversion of the tetryon field equations right on top of our model of subspace perturbations that you’ve never seen before?” He flicked his wrist insolently. “Spare me. There’s no way. Not unless you’re further from me than I am from a Pakled.” And that, he knew, was not possible.

General Golroth set his goblet down and drew up close to the scrawny Starfleet scientist. He had almost half a meter over the man, but he lowered himself so that he was eye to eye with the smaller Starfleet officer. “What, my little friend, are you insinuating?”

The lounge suddenly drew dead quiet as everyone turned to watch the unfolding scene. Captain Lewis, for his sake, just leaned back against the bar and took another sip of his drink. It was about to get interesting, he knew, and he was going to let it play out, for a bit at least. Hell, getting roughed up might even teach Dr. Lockwood a bit of humility, and beyond that, it might offer some insight into the Klingons and their motives.

“Just that this is all a bit too convenient,” Dr. Lockwood replied, still remarkably unphased. He was a Starfleet officer, standing on his own ship, surrounded by his own colleagues. What the hell was the Klingon really going to do? “I mean, you showed up not just with a model, which maybe I can buy you somehow cooked up even without ever being exposed to the Underspace, but even the exact technology we need to stop this thing.”

“General, sir. What he means to say is thank you for your gracious assistance,” Ensign Vok tried to interject, stuttering a bit given the rising emotion in the room. “It’s so fortuitous that you happened to be…”

General Golroth wasn’t having it though, and, without so much as breaking his stare with the human, he shoved the Saurian back, causing Snnar Vok to stumble back. “I come to your aid,” the General continued, a furor growing behind his eyes. “I bring my men and my resources to assist your people, and you question my word? My honor?”

“Now, now, Mister Golroth,” Dr. Lockwood countered insolently. He didn’t even have liquid courage to blame it on. He was simply a fool. “Technically, I said nothing about your honor.”

“You question my motives. My motives are my word,” General Golroth said as his arm suddenly shot out, grabbing the astrophysicist around the neck with one hand and lifting him off the deck almost effortlessly. “And my word is my honor!”

Dr. Lockwood struggled to breath as the General’s grip tightened.

Around the room, everyone was frozen in shock. Everyone except Captain Lewis. The aged spook slowly and calmly straightened back up, approaching the pair. 

“He’s not challenging your honor.”

While still holding Dr. Lockwood half a meter off the floor, General Golroth looked over at the Captain with a face that dared him to continue.

And Captain Lewis did just that: “He’s just questioning your science.”

How dare he say such a thing?! In a flash, General Golroth dropped the scrawny scientist to the floor and lunged towards the Captain, but as opposed to Luke Lockwood, Jake Lewis was ready for it. Nimbly and almost effortlessly, he sidestepped the move and redirected the General off to the left.

It took a moment for the General to regain his footing, but then he squared up with the Captain, looking ready to come at him again.

“I wouldn’t, if I were you,” Captain Lewis cautioned. His palms were open, but he’d assumed a wide stance. A fighting stance. It wasn’t lost on him though that he was surrounded by a dozen inebriated Klingons, and not one of ASTRA’s research fellows or staffers would be a lick of help.

“Why not?” General Golroth snarled.

“Because a melee, while a way for your friends on the High Council to demonstrate their honor, isn’t why you came here,” Captain Lewis replied in a voice that was equal parts calm and assertive. Admiral Reyes would never forgive him, he knew, if he let a social mixer with their unlikely saviors devolve into a brawl. “You came here for science, remember? So let’s do some science.”

The General took a moment, but slowly, he cooled. The Captain was right. There were bigger things at stake here, bigger than a physical test of honor, and bigger even than saving the planet beneath them. If this was to play out as it was meant to, they needed to stabilize that aperture first. 

General Golroth reached over and grabbed his goblet once more, raising it in a toast: “Tonight, we drink, and tomorrow, we stabilize the aperture and save your world!” 

He’d get his pound of flesh later.

Glory Favors The Bold

Bridge, USS Serenity
Mission Day 10 - 0700 Hours

The IKS Qul’val lumbered towards the aberrant anomaly, the Underspace-rooted singularity that threatened to destroy the Vespara System. Behind the Neg’Vhar battlecruiser, a Duderstadt fast cruiser followed. Admiral Reyes had left the Polaris over the colony to continue its work, in case they failed in the corona of the Vesparan star, and now she stood on the bridge of the USS Serenity alongside Captain Lewis.

The turbolift whisked open, and an aged man stepped out. He was no younger than the pair standing center on the bridge, but as opposed to the Admiral and the Captain, both of whom looked apprehensive, Dr. Tom Brooks appeared energized and excited. He’d dabbled in many forms of exotic science over the times through which he’d lived, some that none of his colleagues would ever believe, but this would be new, even for him.

“Good of you to join us, Tom,” Admiral Reyes nodded in his direction.

“Wouldn’t miss this for spacetime itself,” Dr. Brooks smiled as he took over at the Serenity’s science station. It wasn’t any mark against Lieutenant Commander he’d relieved. It was simply a fact that there was no one better suited to this moment than the guy who’d written the book on the probabilistic compaction of non-closed subspace resulting from the inequivalent topologies of the spacetime waveform – well, except for Dr. Luke Lockwood, who, in his dissertation, had literally expanded modern subspace theory to account for sharp homeomorphic topological deformations, but Admiral Reyes had left him behind, aware that if things went horribly wrong with their experiment, someone would need to continue the work.

“How was your progress on the Ingenuity?” Admiral Reyes asked.

“We were able to maintain an average effective belayment of 20.3%,” Dr. Brooks reported. If they could keep that up, they’d buy the planet more than a week before it fell into the singularity. If the Klingons could pull off what they claimed, though, it would all be unnecessary. “I think Miss Raine was about to kill me and Akil for what we did to her warp core though.” The spicy Lieutenant had been more than a bit stressed by all the modifications Dr. Brooks and Dr. al-Qadir had made to her warp core.

“Shoulda brought the Serenity,” Captain Lewis chuckled. “Nothing shakes Commander Sharpe.” Even when he’d demanded their Chief Engineer ride the edge of a core breach as they tore into the Roche lobe of the Beta Serpentis binary pair, the man hadn’t batted an eye. He was the perfect pairing for a captain who seemed to seek out danger and fling them straight into it.

But for Admiral Reyes, she’d known it took less lives to manage the Ingenuity, and that had been the calculus she’d done when she chose to take Commander Lee’s ship into the ergosphere of the singularity a day prior. For this mission though, they needed a different ship. Dr. Brooks and Dr. al-Qadir had done a number on the Ingenuity‘s warp assembly, and it would take too long to fix her up. Configured as a deep space reconnaissance cruiser, the Serenity was the next best thing.

“Ma’am, we’re approaching the outer corona of the star,” reported Lieutenant Selik from the conn.

Dead ahead, the K-type main sequence orange dwarf now dominated the viewscreen, the optical processors downscaling the luminosity of the star to avoid it overwhelming their eyes. As they drew nearer, they could make out the accretion lines of solar material funneling into a hole of infinite blackness, the Underspace aperture that had gone crazy as a result of mechanics they still didn’t fully understand. 

What they did understand, or at least hoped they understood, was how to stop the singularity. The IKS Qul’val, for reasons still unexplained, had subspace field generators, coils, stabilizers, and a control system that would, in theory, be able to create an inversion of the amplified tetryon field. With careful harmonics matching, that negative energy density waveform could be used to nullify the gravitational waves of the singularity… or at least, that was how the theory went. It still had to be proven out. They were in the realm of pure mathematics, well beyond anything that had actually been attempted in the real world before, and that came with uncertainty.

“Hold at a distance of 3 R☉,” Admiral Reyes ordered the Vulcan flight controller. “Only the Qul’val has to close the entire distance.” She’d already spent a night in the ergosphere of the singularity, taking on the full brunt of the gravitational shear and the frame dragging, and she saw no reason to put the Serenity under that strain needlessly. Plus, the distance would buy them a bit of time if things went wrong.

“Aye, ma’am,” Lieutenant Selik confirmed as he slowed the ship.

“And keep your fingers on the controls, Lieutenant.”

“I don’t have any choice, Admiral,” Lieutenant Selik pointed out. The reality, as his fingers danced across the controls, was that it was keeping constant inputs just to fight the gravitational effects they were facing at 3 R☉ from the singularity. “If I remove my fingers, our position will immediately degrade.”

“Yes, but that’s not what I mean,” Admiral Reyes clarified. “If this goes south, you’ll have mere seconds to flip a bitch and punch it.” 

The Vulcan looked over his shoulder for clarification. He understood the risk her orders were meant to address, but her instructions about the response that should follow were not within his vernacular. “Flip a female dog?”

“Have an escape course queued in ahead of time,” Admiral Reyes chuckled at his response. “And don’t wait for my orders to engage.” If the Klingons failed to match the waveform exactly, instead of nullifying the amplitude of the gravitational waves, they would amplify them. Whether it would be repulsive or attractive, the big brains from the Advanced Science, Technology and Research Activity weren’t quite sure, but they’d have 6.97 seconds before they found out. And she’d rather not be the crash test dummy for the hypotheses of her mathematicians.

“Understood,” Lieutenant Selik nodded.

“At least Ensign Vok came up with a way for us to start small,” Captain Lewis offered. The Saurian had come up with a way that they could test the efficacy of the Klingon equipment without cranking to full amplitude from the start.

“Yes, but you know as well as anyone, Jake,” Admiral Reyes reminded him. “Things don’t always go as planned.” They were dabbling with the weird and the exotic. The science behind this anomaly was, truth be told, beyond their primitive understanding of the universe. Snnar Vok, with Dr. Lockwood over his shoulder, would have modeled it out as well as anyone could, but they were building hypotheses from extrapolations that arose atop unsubstantiated theories.

“Incoming communique from the Qul’val,” reported Lieutenant Gadsen from the operations station.

“On screen.”

The face of her Klingon counterpart appeared on the display. 

“Admiral, we have arrived in the ergosphere of the singularity, and we are prepared to begin the experiment,” General Golroth reported. Behind him, Admiral Reyes could see the ship shaking under the strain, but neither the General nor his bridge crew seemed the least bit phased.

“And to confirm, you’re sticking to Ensign Vok’s test plan?” Admiral Reyes asked. She knew how the Klingons could be, and she didn’t want any inspired boldness. She understood the disastrous consequences that could come from going too fast. “We start small, and we regroup over Vespara Prime to study the results before we go forward with full suppression.”

“Yes, Admiral,” General Golroth nodded. “Contrary to what the naive among my people might say, today is not a good day to die. We bring no honor to our ancestors if we fail.”

“Godspeed, General.”

“Qul’val out.”

As the Klingon hung up, Captain Lewis looked over at the Admiral. 

“There’s still something they’re not telling us,” Captain Lewis offered skeptically. “Lockwood can drive me up a wall, but I’ve never doubted his wizardry, yet here, the Klingons have made him look like a child playing with crayons.” How did they know so much? And how did they just so happen to have exactly what they needed? And even more fundamentally, why were they here behaving so altruistically? “I can’t help but feel there’s more at play.”

“Of course there is,” nodded Admiral Reyes. “But what other play do we have?”

“True.”

Their conversation was interrupted by the callout from Dr. Brooks: “Their subspace field generators are coming online. Registering a build up along the coils.” And before anyone could ask, Dr. Brooks added a bit more for good measure: “And yes, at the resonance stipulated by Ensign Vok’s plan.” They were, for now, playing it by the book.

“Is it working?” Admiral Reyes asked.

“Stand by,” Dr. Brooks reminded her. “Even with the warping of spacetime around the singularity, force propagation is still limited, to some extent, by luminal limits.” Subspace had superluminal qualities, but as soon as the gravity-mediating bosons hit the normal spacetime manifold, they too came under speed-of-light constraints.

For a moment, an anticipatory silence settled over the bridge. It took the better part of a minute before they had their answer.

“It appears, ma’am, it’s working,” Dr. Brooks reported at last, his tone equal parts shocked and excited at the groundbreaking science happening before them. He hadn’t really been sure the Klingons could do it. They were not typically regarded highly in academic circles for their scientific acumen. “The Qul’val is matching the gravitational waveform with the inversion of the tetryon field, and it is having the intended effect of reducing the amplitude of graviton radiation.” Had they actually found a solution to this problem on the edge of their understanding?

Standing next to the Admiral, Captain Lewis exalted deeply, finally relaxing a bit. It was only then that he realized how tense he’d actually been. He was used to being in control, but for this whole affair, he was pretty much just along for the ride. The science was far beyond him, and the Klingons were the ones in the driver’s seat. “What now?”

“Now we wait,” Admiral Reyes elaborated. “The plan is to maintain these levels for ten minutes to confirm that the Qul’val‘s emitters can maintain coherence with the gravitational waveform, and then we back off to study the results.” If everything checked out, they’d return later in the day to attempt a full suppression of the singularity.

But that was only the plan.

“Umm,” Dr. Brooks cut in. “We have a problem.”

Admiral Reyes spun towards him, but she could see he was in the midst of something, so she waited as his hands flew across the controls, checking and double checking what he was seeing on the scopes.

Finally, Dr. Brooks provided an update: “I’m registering an energy build up within the phase coils of the Qul’val. They’re increasing amplitude to the tetryon field.”

“Fuck,” Admiral Reyes shook her head. “They’re not sticking to the plan.” This was exactly what she’d feared. Summit fever was a real thing, but there were lives at risk here. They needed to do this one by the book. “Get me General Golroth! Now!”

A moment later, the General appeared on the display again. 

“General, you need to stop!” the Admiral demanded desperately. She knew the consequences of what could happen. If the Klingons lost cohesion with the gravitational waveform, Polaris Squadron and Golroth’s other ships could warp away before the shockwave hit, but there would be no chance for the five million sheltering in place on the surface of Vespara Prime.

“Why?”

“The planet…”

“We’re saving the planet, Admiral,” General Golroth insisted. “Check your gauges. My men, they know what they’re doing. We’re matching the harmonics perfectly. In mere minutes, your planet will be safe.” His tone was confident, but not brash, like a man who knew they would succeed rather than one rallying on a false hope. But still, that didn’t offer her much comfort. It was just as possible, if not moreso, that he was merely a fool.

“We need to go slow, to study the results,” Admiral Reyes insisted. “To make sure there’s no way…”

“Glory favors the bold, Admiral” General Golgroth replied firmly. “You know this as well as anyone.” He would not be swayed. “It’ll all be over in a few minutes.” Admiral Reyes opened her mouth to protest, but the General didn’t give her the chance. “Qul’val out.”

And then the link cut out.

“Get him back!” Admiral Reyes demanded.

“He’s not picking up,” reported Lieutenant Gadsen. “But I’ll keep trying.”

Those blasted Klingons! They were going to get everyone killed! She stood there for a moment, debating her options. They could sit here and pray, but that seemed pretty fucking futile. What else could they do?

“What do you want us to do, ma’am?” asked Lieutenant Tarasova, echoing her inner thoughts. Too bad she didn’t have an answer. “Do you want me to stop them?” The way she said it, her inclinations were clear.

“You mean do I want you to shoot them?”

The tactical officer nodded.

Admiral Reyes looked over at Dr. Brooks. “What would happen if we put a torpedo through the side of that Neg’Vhar?” 

Everyone on the bridge stopped what they were doing and looked at her. Was she serious? Anything they did to stop the battlecruiser would compromise its propulsion and cause it to fall into the singularity. Condemning two thousand Klingons to a singularity wouldn’t be a good look, but on the flipside, the Klingons were, through their recklessness, risking the lives of millions.

“Besides starting an interstellar incident?” Dr. Brooks chuckled darkly, echoing what everyone was thinking. “Nothing good. It’s likely, if we did sufficient damage to stop them, that it would cause a desync before emissions stopped completely, and that would likely trigger exactly the desync in the waveforms that we’re worried they’d cause.” 

“I guess we’re in too deep already,” offered Captain Lewis.

They truly were now just along for the ride.

“Keep monitoring, all of you,” Admiral Reyes ordered, noting everyone’s attention was on her rather than on their displays. It wasn’t like they could actually do anything though if they detected an issue, but at least it would give them something to do. “And Selik, keep that finger on the accelerator.”

Together, the bridge crew stood there with baited breath as Dr. Brooks reported changes in the amplitude of the inverted tetryon waveform. As it continued to tick up though, the good news was that it appeared the Klingons were keeping it in sync.

Admiral Reyes looked over at Captain Lewis. “This must have been a bit like how General Groves felt during the Trinity test.”

“The Trinity test?” Captain Lewis asked. He wasn’t familiar.

“Back in the twentieth century, humankind built its first atomic bomb,” Admiral Reyes explained. Captain Lewis nodded. Even knew that much. “But right before the first test, it was brought to the attention of the general supervising the experiment that the bomb might destroy the world.”

“Well, we all know how World War III turned out…”

“No, that came later,” Admiral Reyes shook her head. “But in the lead up to that test, a theory arose that the nuclear catalyst might never stop. It was feared it might forever exponentiate until it lit the atmosphere on fire. But the General, even when it was brought to his attention, he allowed the test to go forward on the hunch of his scientists that it wouldn’t happen.” Right now, they were gambling the fate of Vespara Prime on the hunch of the Klingon scientists.

“Maybe that’s what we have to do here,” shrugged Captain Lewis. “I mean, what other choice do we have?” It was easier for him to say though. If Vespara Prime fell, it would be tragic, but he wouldn’t have to answer for it. Admiral Reyes would. “If it’s any consolation, the Klingons seem far too prepared for this. It’s possible they really are that far ahead of us.”

“Well, let’s hope you’re right about that,” Admiral Reyes sighed. For the first time since General Golroth had arrived, she found herself hoping he hadn’t been fully truthful, and that there was something deeper at play, something that might give the Klingons the edge to succeed.

A few tense minutes later, they got their answer.

“Ma’am, I don’t believe it,” reported Dr. Brooks. “But they’ve done it. They’ve actually done it!” Looking out of the viewscreen, the bridge could see it too. The infinite blackness of the singularity was gone, and in its place, just off the bow of the Klingon battlecruiser, was an orange-brown aperture. In most cases, such an aperture would have been cause for concern, but in this case, it was a welcome sight. “There’s no longer any excessive graviton amplification emitting from the anomaly, and solar accretion has slowed to near zero. It is now, for lack of a better description, just a run of the mill Underspace aperture.”

“Except, of course, that it’s sitting in the corona of a star in the middle of the Beta Quadrant.”

“Yes, except that.”

And that made it still quite exceptional. They’d always believed the Underspace was unique to the Delta Quadrant, but now it was here, right on their doorstep. What did that mean for the future? Would this tunnel connect to the rest of the Underspace network and open up a new frontier for exploration?

“The Qul’val is powering down its field generators and backing away from the anomaly, ma’am,” Lieutenant Tarasova reported. “They’re signaling their intent to return to Vespara Prime.”

“And how’s the aperture doing?” Admiral Reyes asked of Dr. Brooks.

“It’s holding steady,” Dr. Brooks reported. “Much like how a black hole is a self-fulfilling prophecy, fueling itself forever as it sucks more and more matter in, the negative energy density core at the center of the aperture is fueled by the potentiation of subspace on the other side, keeping the excessive gravitation we monitored earlier at bay.” There’d been some disagreement as to whether it would be able to hold itself open after the Neg’Vhar backed off. Dr. Brooks had wagered that it would, not because he could prove the mathematics, but because of how apertures in the Delta Quadrant behaved, while Dr. Lockwood, and most of the others in the lab, had been on the other side of that bet, unable to see past what the mathematics could prove discretely.

“Dr. Brooks, keep our sensors trained on that aperture in case anything changes,” Admiral Reyes instructed. “Lieutenant Gasden, notify Polaris Squadron of our success, and Lieutenant Selik, set course for Vespara Prime and follow the Qul’val.” She wore a big smile across her face. They’d done it. They’d saved Vespara Prime. Or, more accurately, the Klingons had saved it. “We owe our friends a drink or three when we get back.”

To Repair A Broken World And To Venture Into Parts Unknown

Briefing Room, USS Polaris
Mission Day 10 - 1100 Hours

The day had been saved, and a grand opportunity awaited them. It would take a while to close out their work on Vespara Prime, and longer still to fully study and map out what lay beyond the Underspace aperture now in their backyard, but a palpable optimism now pervaded the halls of the Polaris. It was easy to be optimistic when millions of lives were no longer at risk. That said, there were still a good number of unresolved loose ends, and so, upon returning from the Vesparan star, Admiral Reyes had called a meeting aboard the Polaris of her senior leadership team.

“The Vesparan Council is demanding to know when we’ll be departing,” Fleet Captain Devreux reported. “And if we’ll take our trash with us.” They’d built upon and drilled into the once pristine and unadulterated utopia of Vespara Prime, and now the colonists wanted their world back. And not as it was now, but the way it was before. The problem was that no one had given any thought to how they’d clean up after. Until mere hours ago, it had been irrelevant as it seemed inevitable the planet would fall into the sun, taking with it whatever was left on the surface. But now, as the gravitational pull of the aperture had subsided and the planet’s orbital trajectory was stabilizing, what came next was an open question.

“You’d think they’d be a bit more grateful after we just saved their butts,” Captain Lewis said as he folded his arms across his chest. He didn’t understand what had led the people of Vespara Prime to abandon technology and industry, but more than that, he was just being pragmatic. Their world had just survived a near catastrophe, and their first question was when Starfleet would take all its technology back and bugger off? Where was the thank you they deserved?

“I’m afraid it’s not that simple anyways,” warned Dr. Sh’vot, the geophysicist from the Advanced Science, Technology and Research Activity who, in light of his background, found himself at the table alongside the squadron’s leadership team. “Even though the planet’s orbit will eventually trend back towards the system’s habitable zone, it will take time for equilibrium to settle. Until then, and maybe even after depending on where the climatological feedback loop shakes out, they will need our support for even the bare necessities.”

“Dr. Sh’vot is right,” Commander Lee added. Her uniform was still dirty and her hair was still matted from the sleepless week she’d spent down on the surface trying to save the colony, and during her time down there, she’d seen firsthand the devastation caused by the planet’s orbital decay. “Their crops are gone, their livestock are dead, and many of their towns fell to wildfires that tore across the planet. It’s pretty much an environmental disaster zone down there. It will take months to stabilize the planet enough that they can return to their ways of old.”

“Dr. Sh’vot, this is well aligned to your area of expertise,” Admiral Reyes acknowledged. “So you’re on first as it relates to environmental and ecological rehabilitation, at least until we can get Federation Colonial Operations out here to take the ball.”

“Certainly, ma’am,” Dr. Sh’vot nodded. In his early years, he’d spent a decade on projects such as New Halana, Blue Horizon and Ventax II, and now he’d get to apply those learnings to heal the broken world beneath them. “I’ll also put a call into the Federation Terraforming Command as it’s going to take more than the Colonial Ops folks to solve this long-term.” The colonists might shun technology, but it would take a good degree of technology to make their world truly self-sufficient again.

“Very good,” Admiral Reyes agreed before turning towards the Detachment Commander for the Archanis Sector Corps of Engineers. “Meanwhile, Commodore Agarwal, I’m going to look to you to lead the clean up effort of all the equipment we deployed to the planet, and to try to remediate the impact that we had with our mining equipment. Vespara Prime will never be as pristine as it was before – through the crucible, we are all left with some scars – but we might as well do what we can.” 

“Absolutely,” nodded Commodore Agarwal.

“You both will have the full support of the Polaris and the Diligent,” Admiral Reyes continued. “So if you need something, just ask. We’re at your beck and call.” The Advanced Science, Technology and Research Activity would continue their research into the Underspace , but otherwise, the full facilities and capabilities of the Odyssey-class heavy explorer and the Alita-class heavy escort could be turned to support the work.

It was not lost on Commander Lee that both she and her ship had been left out of the equation. “What of Ingenuity and Serenity, Admiral?” she asked curiously.

“You’re going exploring,” Admiral Reyes smiled, a twinkle in her eye. It would be a nice reprieve after the weight of the world had been on her shoulders for the past week and a half. “Initial probes launched an hour ago from the Diligent confirmed that the aperture in the center of the Vesparan system is indeed passable, and it appears to be connected to a broader network.” Of course, they were lost soon after entering the network, as they had neither a discerning pilot nor the navigational controls to navigate the complex excitation of subspace, but they’d confirmed what other crews had reported of similar apertures they’d identified throughout Federation territory. “We cannot pass up the opportunity to see where it leads, so you’re going through to map it out and send data back to us for Dr. Lockwood’s team to analyze.”

“Not that I’m complaining, but why us?” Commander Lee asked. She felt a bit of a debt to the planet, and leaving it when things were unfinished left a weird taste in her mouth. Plus, she didn’t regard herself among great explorers like Allison Reyes and Gérard Devreux. She was just a grease monkey that they’d somehow convinced to sit in the big chair.

“The Pathfinder class, and the Duderstadt class in its surveillance configuration, have some of the best sensor equipment in the fleet,” Admiral Reyes replied. “And also, you’re small. If we take the Polaris through, our support for Vespara waivers, so as much as I might selfishly wish to explore the labyrinth that lies beyond, the Polaris‘ place is here.” Beyond the terraforming and the cleanup, they had a relationship with the colony to manage, and that meant she personally, as a senior representative of the Federation, needed to remain behind as well.

“It’ll be fun,” Captain Lewis chuckled as he rested a hand on Commander Lee’s shoulder. “Think about it, Cora. You and me, traipsing around the galaxy! Who knows, maybe we can mix it up with some Kazon or hunt some Hirogen.” That thought made the young CO shiver, and while a joke, there was also a scary reality behind the aged Captain’s words. The aperture, he knew, was not just a new opportunity. It was also a tactical risk.

“Do we have any concerns with the security of our newly discovered aperture?” Captain Vox asked, his mind going to much the same place as Captain Lewis. “While it may offer a grand opportunity for us to explore far off corners of the galaxy, it also invites others to reach straight into the heart of our territory.” It was a chilling thought.

“Yes, this is very much a concern shared by Command,” Admiral Reyes nodded grimly. “For this aperture and the others that have been identified across Federation space, and that’s where your ship comes in. In the event that ill intentioned visitors decide to use our aperture for their own ends, Diligent will be first response.” She looked out the window at the warbirds that hung in the night’s sky. “You and the Klingons.”

“The Klingons?” Captain Vox asked skeptically. He’d been wondering about their new friends. Would they be returning to their own space now that the matter was resolved? Or was there something further they intended from their intercession.

“Yes, General Golroth has asked if he can linger here with us so that his team can continue to study the aperture,” Admiral Reyes explained. “Given the save they gave us today, we’re not really in any position to say no.” General Golroth had made it fairly clear, in the call they’d had earlier, that he expected to be allowed an opportunity to study the aperture alongside them, and that he’d take no as an affront to honor. Given how outnumbered they were by the Klingon armada, it wasn’t like she was in a position to compel them to leave, and beyond that, their continued presence did offer an interesting opportunity.

“But Allison, we know they’re not here of pure intention,” Captain Lewis cut in. “It’s all too convenient, their whole presence here, and if our suppositions are true, we could be giving them the opportunity to refine some dangerous science.” The theory that Dr. Lockwood and Lieutenant Commander Sena had brought to him still hung heavy in his mind. The Klingons had not whipped up their singularity-manipulating technology simply to save a Federation world. It almost certainly had been built as a weapon against the Romulans. “We can’t trust them.”

“Well, Dr. Lockwood is just going to have to keep an eye on them, isn’t he?” Admiral Reyes smiled in the direction of their head of astrophysics and exotic sciences. “Luke, I’ve told the General that since you’ve so dearly enjoyed the cultural and scientific exchange between our teams that you’d be honored to conduct a joint study with them.”

Dr. Lockwood did not look the least bit pleased with the idea of spending even another minute with the Klingons, but Captain Lewis beat him to an objection. “You can’t be serious,” Captain Lewis shook his head at her, but Admiral Reyes just smiled back. “Are you seriously considering sharing with them what we find?”

“Hell no,” Admiral Reyes laughed. She wasn’t an idiot. She’d come from the same school of hard knocks as he had. “I expect Dr. Lockwood and his team will use deep discretion in what we share, but I intend that we use this as a way to know exactly what they’ve know and are developing.” 

Dr. Lockwood opened his mouth to protest.

“It’s better we know what they know than that we don’t,” Admiral Reyes insisted before he could air his grievances. “And if we send them away, they’ll likely just go find an aperture somewhere else – maybe in their own territory – beyond our watchful eyes.”

That’s when it became clear to Captain Lewis that this was an intelligence gathering operation, and while that made him almost want to hang back to watch the Klingons personally, he also felt a debt to Commander Lee to accompany her. She needed him. Admiral Reyes and Captain Vox would be able to manage the Klingons.

Dr. Lockwood still didn’t look happy though.

“Plus, it’ll be good to have a few Klingons around in case someone does pay us a visit,” Admiral Reyes added. The concerns Lewis and Vox had raised about the risks the aperture presented were still very much top of mind. “We are not too many light years from the Klingon border, and in this case, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, so Captain Vox, let’s coordinate mutual defense with General Golroth’s birds.” In her preliminary conversation with him as they’d returned from the aperture, he’d already seemed to offer as much.

“Yes, ma’am,” Captain Vox agreed. “As we butter them up, we’ll also learn what we can from them. I’ll tell Jordyn that it’s time to brush off her Klingon.” Indeed, while Dorian Vox had spent most of his time along the Cardassian and Romulan borders, Jordyn Kerrigan, his Executive Officer, had cut her teeth along the Klingon borderlands. She even spoke fluent Klingon, and now, he planned to use her to unearth what ulterior motives they had.

“Very good,” the Admiral concluded as she clasped her hands in front of her. “We’ve got a lot to do, so let’s get to doing it.” She looked over at the commanding officers of the Serenity and the Ingenuity. “And Captain Lewis, Commander Lee, please try to enjoy your time in parts unknown.” She genuinely and dearly wished that she was going with them.

Into the Unknown We Go

Bridge, USS Serenity; and Bridge, USS Ingenuity
Mission Day 10 - 1400 Hours

The Vesparan sun dominated the viewscreen as the USS Serenity and the USS Ingenuity drew towards it. Lieutenant Commander Ekkomas Eidran squinted as he tried to make out the aperture against the convective cells of the K-type main sequence star’s photosphere. Measuring only two kilometers in diameter with a relative luminosity many orders of magnitude less than the star behind it, such an attempt would be futile though until they were right on top of it. “I can think of many more hospitable places to put an Underspace aperture than this.”

“At least the plasma radiation and magnetic field lines have a blinding effect on the sensors of any emerging vessel,” Lieutenant Irina Tarasova noted as she stared at her instruments. “Even though I know where Captain Vox parked the Diligent, I can’t make it out against the energy gradient of the star.”

That was good, Captain Lewis thought to himself. It meant that Dorian would have the jump on anyone that might seek to use this aperture as a doorway into the heart of the Federation. The Fourth Fleet saw this as an opportunity to explore previously inaccessible frontiers, but the aged spook saw it differently. These new Underspace apertures were a liability that needed to be carefully managed, and that would start by charting what lay beyond.

“Sir, I’m detecting the energy signature of the aperture, bearing three three nine mark two at twenty thousand kilometers,” reported Lieutenant Commander Sena from the science station. Since Lieutenant Sh’vot had stayed behind to coordinate terraforming activities, and Ensign Vok was consumed with the other astrophysicists down in the lab, the Romulan had volunteered to call the shots for this soiree through the aperture.

While Captain Lewis still wondered why Admiral Reyes had humored the Romulan’s presence within their squadron, he welcomed the support of someone who understood the mechanics at play. He also saw this as an opportunity to observe the former Tal’Shiar agent. “Bring us about,” the Captain ordered. “And signal the USS Ingenuity to follow us in.”

“Three three nine mark two, aye,” confirmed Lieutenant Selik.

Ingenuity confirms ready to follow us through,” added Lieutenant Commander Sena.

Out across their bow and due ahead, they could now make out the bright oranges and browns of the Underspace aperture as they drew closer and closer. Captain Lewis had read the reports of what awaited them within the corridors that lay beyond. Lieutenant Selik would take it as he always did. The Vulcan was unflappable. But how about Ensign Rel, his young love interest who was at the helm of the USS Ingenuity? He wondered how she was doing with it all.

Aboard the USS Ingenuity, the bridge was silent with a mix of apprehension and anticipation.

“Ensign Seltzer,” Commander Lee ordered as she stood behind flight control, watching their approach through the viewscreen. “Give me a final status check.” She already knew what he’d say, of course, as she’d already asked for no less than a half dozen such checks during their short trip from Vespara Prime, but doing so once more was how she was coping with the stress on their final approach.

“All systems green, ma’am,” Ensign Seltzer confirmed swiftly. He already had his displays up, watching power output, EPS distribution, and a couple dozen other key indicators, distinctly aware that the ship needed to be in tip-top shape for what awaited them. Lieutenant Raine had done an excellent job getting everything back in tip-top shape after all those modifications that Dr. Brooks and Dr. al-Qadir had made earlier.

“Alright, everyone, listen up!” Commander Lee said as she turned to address the bridge crew, nerves evident in her voice. “Once we go in, conn has prio! Keep chatter to critical callouts only!” This would take careful coordination between Serenity, where Lieutenant Commander Sena would be plotting their course and Lieutenant Selik would be flying the lead ship, and Ensign Rel, who would be holding the Ingenuity tight on their tail. There’d be no room for error.

Around the bridge, the bridge crew nodded dutifully. They’d already been fully briefed. Unless something was about to blow up, everyone understood they were to keep their mouths shut and focus on their instruments while Ensign Rel did her thing. They’d have plenty of time to dissect the data coming off the Ingenuity‘s sensor suite once they arrived at wherever it was that the Underspace would take them.

“You got this, Elyssia,” Commander Lee offered as she looked down at the seated flight controller and set a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

Ensign Rel looked back and smiled. “Just another adventure, ma’am.” It always was with Polaris Squadron, and she was here for it.

“Then onward to the labyrinth we go,” Commander Lee nodded as she stepped away and took her seat at the bridge’s center. “Strap in, everyone!”

Around the bridge, she heard the harnesses of the jump seats as they clicked into place. Inertial dampeners would only do so much if they lost control once they were inside the deeply distorted corridors of the Underspace.

Looking then back towards the viewscreen, she watched as the USS Serenity, just a few dozen kilometers ahead of them, edged ever closer to the aperture. And then, it was gone, pulled forth into the Underspace.

“Here goes nothing,” Ensign Rel remarked.

And then in they went.

Through the Twists and Turns

Bridge, USS Ingenuity; and Bridge, USS Serenity
Mission Day 10 - 1440 Hours

A result of compressed foliations within subspace itself, the corridors of the Underspace allowed for superluminal velocities far in excess of traditional warp travel. It was a curious phenomenon once thought unique to the Delta Quadrant, but now, here it was, right before them. Whether its sudden expansion was anthropogenic or not, no one knew, but at the moment, it didn’t really matter. It was here, and they were flying through it.

The distortions were doing a number to their sensors. If she was flying it alone, Ensign Elyssia Rel would have likely collided with the walls of the corridors within minutes of passing through the aperture. But thankfully, she wasn’t. Instead, all she had to do was keep the Pathfinder class USS Ingenuity wedged in the wake of the USS Serenity, while those who seemed to know better, the Romulan science officer and the Vulcan flight controller aboard the Duderstadt class cruiser in the lead, guided them forth.

“Junction ahead, T minus twelve.”

“Will adjust zero six three.”

“Better make it zero six five.”

“Zero six five, confirmed.”

The exchange between Lieutenant Commander Sena and Lieutenant Selik, which she could hear over the comms, was calm and business-like. How they were interpreting the jumble of readings on their instruments, Ensign Rel had no idea, but she didn’t have time to think about that. All she had time to do was listen to the voices and follow their instructions.

Ingenuity confirms zero six five,” Ensign Rel said crisply as she queued in the new heading, even though, as far as she could tell from her limited ability to understand the readings before her, they were still headed on the right course.

Four seconds later though, that all changed as the corridors of the labyrinth abruptly split.

Ensign Rel already had the course laid in though, and all she had to do was execute it, keeping the USS Ingenuity tight on the rear end of the USS Serenity as they veered right.

Aboard the USS Serenity, Lieutenant Commander Sena’s eyes darted across her displays. “Bring us closer to center,” she warned. The Vulcan had executed the turn a tenth of a second late, causing the deviance. “You’re too tight to the wall.” She didn’t want to think about what would happen if they exited the Underspace abruptly by colliding with the corridor’s walls. If they managed to survive the rapid deceleration out of Underspace, which wasn’t even assured itself, and they didn’t hit some large celestial body on the way out, they’d be who-knew-where, and probably nowhere near an aperture to get back.

At the front of the bridge, Lieutenant Selik did as instructed, evening the ship out in the middle of the corridor as they continued along the new branch of the Underspace network.

Watching the scene unfold, Captain Lewis gripped the armrests of his chair, his knuckles white. It was silly, he knew. The inertial dampeners and the straps of his jumpseat would be what held him in, not the strength of his grip. Still, he couldn’t help it. He didn’t like being so out of control, at the whims of a phenomenon they hardly understood, but it was necessary. They needed to chart these corridors to understand the threat they posed. The other powers of the galaxy would certainly be doing the same.

“You’re going to appreciate this, Captain,” Lieutenant Commander Sena reported, almost as if sensing his internal stress. “Negative energy density tetryonic nodule ahead at fourteen.”

“English, Sena,” Captain Lewis coaxed.

“We’re coming upon an exit aperture.”

“Very good.”

And then, a few seconds later, Lieutenant Selik brought them through it. Or more accurately, it spat them out, the USS Serenity abruptly returning to normal space.

“Operations, report,” Captain Lewis ordered as he loosened his grip on the armrest.

“All systems are good, sir,” Lieutenant Greg Gadsen reported from the operations station.

“And the Ingenuity?”

“She’s right where she should be,” Lieutenant Irina Tarasova reported from tactical. Since there was nothing to shoot during their transit through the Underspace, her job had mostly been to keep tabs on their sistership. “And still in one piece, might I add.”

“Nice flying, Lieutenant,” Captain Lewis offered as he rose from his chair and approached the conn. He gazed forward out the main viewscreen at the stars dotting the night’s sky. “The obvious next question then is where are we?”

“Not where we want to be,” came the update from Lieutenant Commander Sena, her voice laced with urgency and concern. “We’re one light year rimward of Achernar, more than a dozen light years on the wrong side of the border.” The Free State’s early warning systems would have already picked them up, she knew, and she was all too aware how they would respond to the sudden appearance of two Starfleet vessels deep within their territory.

“Good thing we’ve got you then, isn’t it?” Captain Lewis remarked snarkily as he glanced over his shoulder at the Romulan.

“My word doesn’t go as far as it used to,” Lieutenant Commander Sena warned. Indeed, while the Free State might marshal a firm response to Starfleet’s violation of their sovereign territory, they’d probably skin her alive if they found her here.

“Yes, nothing the Empire loves more than a traitor,” Captain Lewis chuckled, drawing a cold stare from the former Tal’Shiar agent. He couldn’t help himself though. She might have taken the Starfleet oath, and she might wear the Starfleet uniform, but she was, at the end of the day, still a Romulan. “As much as I’d like to take some time to enjoy the sights, I’m inclined to agree with you though that we don’t want to be around here when the greeting party arrives.”

There were no arguments from the crew.

“We good to turn and burn, Gadsen?” Captain Lewis asked. He felt bad for Lieutenant Selik and Ensign Rel. They’d spent the last half hour glued to their consoles, their fingers flying furiously across the controls, just trying to keep the ships centered within the corridors, and now, with only moments of rest, they were going back in. Still, they didn’t have a choice. Not given where they’d emerged.

“Aye sir,” confirmed the operations officer.

“Mark this terminus on our charts, Sena,” Captain Lewis ordered. It was an important and concerning fact that a branch existed in the newly-revealed Underspace network that would allow the Free State, if it so chose, to jump right into the middle of the Archanis Sector. “And Selik, bring us about and prepare to re-enter the aperture.” 

“Coming about, sir. Ingenuity is following.”

Captain Lewis looked forward as the ship rotated and the aperture came back into view. Was this going to be the story, again and again, as they charted out where the corridors led? What would happen when they emerged, not a light year from a hostile world, but right on top of one instead? This was a dangerous game they were playing.

We’re Not Alone In Here

Bridge, USS Ingenuity; and Bridge, USS Serenity
Mission Day 10 - 1530 Hours

“How you doing up there, Elyssia?” asked Commander Lee, aware that the flight controller hadn’t so much as been able to blink since they departed Vespara, save for that quick jaunt into the Free State’s territory.

“Starting to get the hang of it, ma’am,” Ensign Rel replied. And indeed she was. She’d finally started to get a feel for how the ship handled within the Underspace’s distortions. “When we’re at warp, we sort of glide in our bubble, agents of our fate, but here, it’s more like riding a wave as the gravimetric disturbances push us along.” Or was it pulling them along? She wasn’t really sure, but the semantics didn’t matter. Whatever the mechanics were, what she’d learned was that her inputs had to come earlier and with more deliberateness because the Underspace was adding additional acceleration along the ship’s primary axis.

Sitting at the tactical station behind the command island, Lieutenant JG Rafael Cruz stared at his scopes. He had no role to play in their current endeavors, at least until they emerged in the space of hostile enemy power again, so it wasn’t really necessary, but it was better than staring out the main viewer. When he stared forward at the viewer, that was when his nerves ran wild about what might happen if they hit one of those swirling orange-brown walls.

There was nothing on his displays, of course. No one else would be crazy enough to try this. It was only them, of course. But then it wasn’t.

Lieutenant Cruz quickly sat up in his chair as he spied something on his scopes. He quickly double checked. No, it wasn’t a sensor ghost. It was too distinct. Even through the distortions, he was pretty sure he recognized the silhouette. Knowing better than to interrupt the activities unfolding on the bridge as Ensign Rel coordinated their flight path with her colleagues, he silently fired off a note to Lieutenant Irina Tarasova over on the Serenity. Was she seeing it too?

Aboard the Serenity, Lieutenant Tarasova received the message and checked her instruments. Yep, she was seeing it too. “Captain, I’m sending something to your console,” she said when there was a pause in the back-and-forth between Lieutenant Commander Sena, Lieutenant Selik and Ensign Rel. “We’re not alone in here anymore. Recommend reducing speed to seventy percent of current.”

“It’s not that simple, Lieutenant,” Lieutenant Selik cautioned as his fingers continued to dance across the controls, fighting a constant battle to keep the Duderstadt from coming unstuck from the ideal glidepath. “Our interia is being driven, in large part, by the dynamics of the corridor itself, and if we back off thrust, we may come off-center.” With the intense gravimetric forces they were fighting, one could not simply slow the ship as in normal space. Forcibly slowing the ship would require him to reverse impulse and increase artificial drag, and if they slowed too much, they risked not having enough thrust to maintain control against the energy gradient.

Captain Lewis, looking down at the screen next to his chair, understood exactly why his Chief Tactical Officer had called for it though. “I don’t care how you do it, Selik, but find a way,” he ordered. “It’s either that, or you’re going to wedge the Serenity between a pair of Keldon cruisers in just a couple minutes here.” They were gaining swiftly on a pair of Cardassian signatures that Cruz and Tarasova had rightfully picked out in the distance.

“Aye sir,” Lieutenant Selik nodded. He’d find a way.

As Lieutenant Selik and Ensign Rel coordinate their move, Lieutenant Commander Eidran leaned over to the Captain. “The Cardassians, hmmm?” the Betazoid Executive Officer asked under his breath. “What the hell are they doing out here?”

“Probably the same thing we are,” Captain Lewis replied. “Think about it. If the Underspace is really here to stay, it completely redraws maps and redefines the meaning of borders.” It was a scary thought, and the more he thought about it, the more he was discomforted. How many apertures were there out there? Initial reports from Fleet Command were that a good many had already been discovered, and this was only the beginning. He thought back to how hard it had proven to defend one wormhole from one aggressor during the Dominion War. If there were dozens, or hundreds even, of these apertures, and they were accessible to all of those who might wish harm upon the Federation, how could one defend against that?

“Captain, I don’t think they’re doing exactly the same thing we are,” Lieutenant Commander Sena interjected. “Or more specifically, I think they’re doing more than we are.” It was the second time in as many days that the Romulan xenotechnologist had gotten the feeling the others had the jump on them – first the Klingons, and now the Cardassians – and she didn’t like that feeling one bit.

“What do you mean?” Captain Lewis asked warily.

“Check this out,” Lieutenant Commander Sena replied as she cast some telemetry onto the main display. “At first, I didn’t notice it amongst all the debris.” The Underspace was littered with small particulates. The deflector shields shirked off the little stuff, and their flight controllers were nimbly dodging the bigger bits, but it did serve as a constant reminder of the consequences that awaited them if Lieutenant Selik or Ensign Rel bounced one of their ships off the corridor walls. “But, upon closer inspection, this isn’t debris. It’s powered, functional, and Cardassian in origin.” It was only after Lieutenant Tarasova had identified the Keldon cruisers that the Romulan science officer had put the pieces together.

“But what is it?” Captain Lewis asked as he squinted at the object in the display. It was so distorted he could hardly even make out its outer structure.

“It’s a probe.”

“Can you tell what it’s for?”

“Captain, I can barely tell you it’s a probe,” Lieutenant Commander Sena shrugged. It seemed such a silly question. Wasn’t he looking at the same readout she was? “But in better news, I just detected another one of these coming off one of the Keldon cruisers a moment ago.”

“And?”

“We’ll be passing it in approximately twenty seconds.”

They were both thinking the same thing, and Captain Lewis spun on his heels. “Tractor beam, Irina,” Captain Lewis said in the direction of his tactical officer. “Think you can grab it?”

“Flying at ungodly multiples of the speed of light, with our sensors blinded by radiation,” she cackled as she queued up tractor control. “Sure, why not?” She was overselling it a bit, they all knew, for while they might be moving at many thousands of times the speed of light relative to normal spacetime, they’d be moving within the corridor at little more than full impulse relative to the probe. Under normal conditions, it wouldn’t be a hard grab at all, but the emissions from the corridor’s walls were doing all sorts of funky things to the sensors. That meant she’d have to do it by hand, and that would be a good bit harder. “Going to manual.”

Now, suddenly, Lieutenant Selik and Ensign Rel took a backseat in the Captain’s mind, not because what they were doing was any less critical, but because they had a new mystery on their hands. One that was far more up his alley than astrometrics and flight control.

After a short pause as they continued to race towards their target, Lieutenant Commander Sena gave the countdown: “Coming up in five… four… three…”

Lieutenant Tarrasova tensed up, her fingers ready at the display.

“Two… one…”

Captain Lewis casted his eyes towards the main viewer. A tractor beam lanced out, sweeping across the bow in front of them as Lieutenant Tarasova fished for a small object no larger than an escape pod. And then, a moment later, the beam stabilized in place, having secured a hit.

“I’ve got it, sir,” Lieutenant Tarasova reported. “Bringing it in slow to shuttlebay one.”

“Nice grab, Irina,” Captain Lewis nodded. He glanced momentarily over at the Romulan science officer and then down at the conn. “Selik, tell me you’ve had enough time with this Underspace that you can navigate for a bit without our Romulan friend here?” He had a new task for the xenotechnologist from the Advanced Science, Technology and Research Activity.

“Yes, Captain.”

“Alright, Sena, get down to shuttlebay one and let us know what you find.”

She nodded and headed for the lift.

“Selik,” Captain Lewis ordered. “I know you’re going to hate me for this, but try to back us off a bit further, as far as we can while Irina can maintain a lock on those Keldons.” The Duderstadt class, in its long range surveillance configuration, could far outrange anything the Cardassians had, so he intended to use that advantage.

“What’re you thinking we do now?” Lieutenant Commander Eidran asked Captain Lewis under his breath as he leaned over again.

“We do what the Serenity was designed to do, and what we were trained to do,” Captain Lewis smiled. A mystery of subspace mechanics, as this had been until recently, was not really his calling, but stalking a foreign military vessel? That was very much what he knew how to do. “We follow the Cardassians and figure out what they’re up to.”

Ripples and Ruminations

Admiral's Ready Room, USS Polaris
Mission Day 10 - 1530 Hours

“Councilor, I assure you that we are doing everything in our power to restore your planet to what it once was,” Admiral Reyes explained. “Unfortunately, it will take time for its orbit to stabilize, and significant terraforming and remediation work to heal the damaged flora and fauna.” It was a gentle way of saying that their satellites, machinery, and replicators would be going nowhere any time soon. With the current state of the planet, for some time, they’d be necessary even for the bare essentials of life on Vespara Prime.

“Don’t take me as thankless, but none of this is what we wanted,” replied Councilor Duval, who, through his measured and pragmatic approach, had become the de facto liaison between the colony and the squadron ever since the crisis had begun. “We came to this place to escape the blight of technology, not to be dependent on it.” He was more well-mannered than some of his colleagues, but he nonetheless shared their distaste for all that Starfleet represented and all that Starfleet had brought to their world.

“Unfortunately, it’s what you need,” Admiral Reyes reminded him. “The reality is that, if we just pull out, you would all be dead within days. Your crops are gone. Your livestock are dead. Your forests have burned. You don’t even have enough shelters to even put a roof over everyone’s head.” And that wasn’t even to speak for the satellites overhead. Without the climate regulation they provided, one wouldn’t even be able to walk on the surface of the charred world as a result of its new proximity to the K-type main sequence star at the system’s center.

“I understand that, Miss Reyes. I really do. If it were not for the intervention of you and your crews, we would not be here today,” Councilor Duval acknowledged. He was no fool. He’d seen the devastation celestial movements had wrought before those from beyond stopped it. “You must understand though that I would not be doing my people right if I did not remind you of our preferences and our ways.”

“And we will do our best to honor them,” Admiral Reyes countered. “But I would not be doing right by your people if I didn’t do what we are doing now.”

“Then may we all hope this is resolved quickly,” Councilor Duval nodded before he excused himself and headed for the transporter room. He’d be glad to be off the Polaris as quickly as possible. Everything about the Starfleet vessel was more than a bit disorienting to a man who hadn’t so much as held a tricorder since the eighties.

Admiral Reyes watched him go. A curious people, these folks were. Even after their lives had almost been extinguished by interstellar forces beyond their control, and they’d only been saved by the intervention of powers with the very technology they despised, still they clung to their anti-technology philosophy.

“You didn’t tell him how long this is going to take,” came the voice of Dr. Lockwood, his arms folded across his chest as he watched bemusedly from the doorway. He hadn’t been there long, but he’d caught the gist of the exchange. “Sh’vot forecasts it will take months, or years even, before terraforming can restore a sustainable planetary equilibrium, and the satellites, they’re going to be there forever.” The elongated ellipsis of the planet’s orbit would rebound a bit, but it would never return fully to where it was before. Those satellites would be necessary indefinitely to moderate ambient surface temperatures.

“Bad news is often best in small doses,” Admiral Reyes reminded her colleague. “At times, you’d do best to remember that.” Dr. Lockwood wasn’t known for his subtlety, nor his social aptitude.

“Mathematics simply is, or it isn’t,” Dr. Lockwood noted. “So I just give it to you straight.”

“I do appreciate that about you,” Admiral Reyes smiled. Or at least she did when it was about the science. As far as running a department, he was a pain in the ass. “So what’ve you got for me this afternoon, professor?” He wasn’t one to leave the lab unless he had something important to offer.

“An answer to a question you asked me earlier,” Dr. Lockwood replied as he passed a PADD to her bearing tensors and metrics on it that were all but unintelligible to Admiral Reyes. He knew it would be that way though, and he provided a talk track to accompany the figures. “The Underspace wasn’t always here, beneath our corner of spacetime, waiting for us to find it. It expanded, just recently.”

“How do you figure?”

“The expansion – or, more accurately, the potentiation generated by new compressions of the foliations within the subspace manifold – is what caused the puncture in the usually-smooth topology of spacetime,” Dr. Lockwood explained, pointing to a series of figures on the PADD that showed exactly how new compressions would ripple out and create the subspace fissure and the amplification phenomenon they’d witnessed when they first arrived. “What Dr. Brooks thinks is that Underspace was originally birthed by an ancient power that had the ability to manipulate spacetime curvature at a fundamental level, and whatever caused this, it was a more primitive version of the same.”

“That’s what Dr. Brooks thinks,” Admiral Reyes pointed out, noting the shift in subject midway through his statement. It was a bold supposition, and she didn’t take Dr. Lockwood as one to chase anything not rooted in the number. In fact, it had taken a lot of pushing from Dr. Brooks to even get Dr. Lockwood to consider the Underspace as a possible underlying factor in the aberrant anomaly that had threatened Vespara Prime. “But what do you think, Luke?”

“What I think is that the math demonstrates that the expansion just happened, and that’s about it as far as the facts go at this point,” Dr. Lockwood answered assuredly. “In regards to Dr. Brooks’ theory of anthropogenic origins, there’s no factual basis behind it, but there’s also no factual basis to disprove it. I can’t say he’s wrong, but I can’t say he’s right either.”

“Don’t be too quick to doubt the hunches of a man who’s been to places and times that we can only dream of,” Admiral Reyes cautioned with a twinkle in her eye. “Tom keeps it close to the chest, maybe out of fear that by merely saying something, he might cause it to change, but he often knows more than he lets on.” And even if the aged wanderer didn’t know anything directly about the matter at hand, the universe worked in patterns, and Tom Brooks had observed a good many of them as he studied and manipulated the probabilistic waveform that underwrote the fabric of the spacetime continuum.

“Is that why you keep the convict here against my wishes?” Dr. Lockwood asked, the pieces finally starting to fit together. When Admiral Reyes had brought Tom Brooks aboard the Polaris and assigned him to the team, Dr. Lockwood had objected vociferously. He knew the sorts of problems the Advanced Science, Technology and Research Activity might be faced with, and he didn’t exactly want a convicted felon, especially one convicted for violations of the Temporal Prime Directive, to be party to their activities. “It’s not that he’s bad at what he does. Save for myself, he’s probably our best astrophysicist. But he’s dangerous, Allison.”

I’m dangerous, Luke. So are Jake, and Dorian, and Lisa, and so many of the others,” Admiral Reyes replied as she cast her eyes out to space, looking at the Neg’vhar battlecruiser that sat just off their bow. It wasn’t just about the Neg’vhar though. It was about everything beyond it too. “The galaxy is a dangerous place, and it’s far more dangerous today than it was just a few days ago. You talk about entropic foliations of subspace, but what about the entropic foliations of our interstellar landscape?” The arrival of the Underspace had the potential to reshape far more than just subspace itself.

“That’s more your department than mine,” Dr. Lockwood shrugged.

“No, today it’s both our problems,” Admiral Reyes countered. “Because whatever comes through that aperture, or any of the dozens of other apertures that the fleet has now cataloged across our space, it won’t care if you’re a soldier or a scientist. It’s going to come for you either way.” The Bajoran wormhole and the Borg transwarp conduits were all the proof she needed as to what might happen if their space was made open to all who wished to do the Federation harm.

“So what do you want me to do?”

“I want you to find a way to reverse whatever caused Underspace to expand,” Admiral Reyes replied darkly. Since the aperture was no longer threatening to destroy Vespara Prime, she’d finally had time to think about the broader implications, and she’d come to the only sensible conclusion. “And if that’s not tenable, then find me a way to close the aperture. This one, and all the others across Federation space.”

“That is quite a request,” Dr. Lockwood fumbled as he processed her words. Maybe there was a way to close an aperture by expanding on what the Klingons had accomplished, but reverse the expansion of Underspace itself? Did the Admiral have any clue how complicated what she was asking would be? His team, some of the best and brightest minds across the entire Federation, had but an elementary understanding of the mechanics at play, and that was to say nothing of the technology to manipulate it at a fundamental level. To do the latter, it would probably take a Kardashev Type III civilization to even have a shot. “And, if I may, what of all that talk about exploration when you sent Captain Lewis and Commander Lee through the aperture earlier?”

“You think it was really about exploring, Dr. Brooks?” Admiral Reyes eyed him curiously. “I didn’t send Gérard, did I?” If it was really about exploring, Fleet Captain Devreux, the lifelong explorer with more deep space experience than most of the command staff put together, would have been the obvious choice. “I sent Captain Lewis, the man who stalks shadows in his free time.”

“But what of Starfleet’s orders?” Dr. Lockwood asked, somewhat astonished to hear the Admiral so blatantly contradict them. Those orders had been very clear. “You know, the ones about exploring the greatest new frontier opened to us since the advent of warp drive?”

“I didn’t say we were going to destroy the Underspace yet,” Admiral Reyes pointed out. “But I want options, Commander. Find me a way, and I will decide whether or not we use it.” Again, her mind drifted to the entropy that this new development had introduced in the interstellar fabric. It would only be a matter of time, she feared, before they might need such an ability.

Motivations and Machinations (Part 1)

Bridge, USS Serenity
Mission Day 10 - 1610 Hours

The USS Serenity and the USS Ingenuity continued to race the Underspace, stalking the Keldons they’d picked up a half hour prior. They had the pacing down now. The corridors beneath subspace, as dangerous as they were, had become familiar to Lieutenant Selik and Ensign Rel after a few hours within the labyrinth, and now it was just a matter of following the twists and turns while keeping their prey in sight.

“Divergence, T plus eighteen,” Lieutenant Selik announced from the conn. The telemetry, while distorted by the contours of the Underspace, was no longer disorienting, and he could see clearly that the corridor was about to split. He just needed to know which way the Cardassians went. “Direction?”

“Left,” Lieutenant Tarasova reported from tactical. She’d been tracking the cruisers ever since they picked up the pair. At this distance, she could see little more than the glint of their hulls on her scopes, but that was all she needed to do. Down below deck, Lieutenant Commander Sena, meanwhile, was dissecting the probe they’d caught with their tractor a half hour ago.

Ingenuity, going left, bearing three one one at eleven,” Lieutenant Selik reported over the ship-to-ship line he had open with the Ingenuity‘s flight controller. The Pathfinder cruiser was tight on their tail, but in the Underspace, even a split second of delay could cause the two ships to get split, and if they lost each other in the Underspace, they’d likely never reunite, at least not until they returned home. That meant careful coordination was critical.

“Three one one at nine, confirm.”

Ensign Elyssia Rel, at the conn of the Ingenuity, had seen the same split that Lieutenant Selik had announced, and she’d just been waiting on his call as to which direction the Serenity would go. She queued it up, ready to follow.

While the scene unfolded before him, Captain Lewis heard the doors of the turbolift hiss open behind him. He turned with anticipation as Lieutenant Commander Sena stepped through. “Tell me you found something?” Captain Lewis asked the Research Fellow in Xenotechnology from the Advanced Science, Technology and Research Activity.

“The probe is purpose built to monitor the flow of the tetryon field within the network,” Lieutenant Commander Sena replied as she retook her position at the science station. The probe, she’d found, carried a very specific sensor suite, and she had no doubt to its purpose.

“Meaning?” Captain Lewis asked.

“Meaning the Cardassians are way ahead of us here.”

Behind the Captain, the ship veered left, following the course that Lieutenant Selik had called out a moment earlier. Captain Lewis didn’t even turn to watch, nor to confirm that Ingenuity had made the turn with them. Lieutenant Selik and Ensign Rel, he knew, had the matter handled. What he was more concerned with was what the Romulan had just said. “How do you figure?”

“Captain, we’re just starting to map out these corridors,” Lieutenant Commander Sena pointed out. While they’d started to get the feel for travel through the network, as evidenced by the smoothness with which Lieutenant Selik and Ensign Rel were navigating, they’d only followed one branch to its end. They were a long way from having a good map of the network, let alone understanding its dynamics. “The Cardassians are already instrumenting it.”

“To what ends?”

“I’m not sure, and frankly, that goes to my point,” Lieutenant Commander Sena replied. “After Outpost C-91 and the saber rattling in the DMZ, I can think of only bad outcomes if the Central Command and the Obsidian Order have turned their attention to the Underspace.” 

The former Tal’Shiar agent had her own reasons for distrust of the Cardassians, but so did Captain Lewis for that matter. And while he didn’t trust her in the slightest, he found himself appreciating the way she thought. “On that, I’ll agree with you.” He looked back towards the viewscreen. “So for now, we continue to follow, and see where it takes us.”

“Yeah, about that…” Lieutenant Tarasova jumped in. “I’ve got some bad news. A couple seconds ago, I just lost the Keldons.” Her fingers moved swiftly across the controls as she worked to reacquire them, but they were just gone. “Cruz confirms the same.”

“The fuck?” Captain Lewis asked of no one in particular. How did one simply lose their prey when the Underspace corridor was very much a one-way, no-deviation affair?

It was Lieutenant Commander Sena, now settled back into her station, that had the answer: “I’m detecting another negative energy density tetryonic nodule ahead.”

Captain Lewis looked at her frustratedly. Human or Romulan, these damn scientists all talked in technobabble. Couldn’t any of them just give it to him straight?

“Aperture incoming,” Lieutenant Commander Sena clarified. “T minus twelve.”

Now that the Captain understood. The Cardassians had vanished because they’d gone through an aperture, and now the Serenity and the Ingenuity were about to go through as well. It wasn’t like they could just stop or turn around, and that meant, in just a few seconds, they’d be face to face with their prey, plus whatever lay waiting for them in normal space beyond that aperture. Somehow, he doubted that the Cardassians would take kindly to being tailed.

“Red alert!” Captain Lewis declared. “All hands to battle stations!”

Motivations and Machinations (Part 2)

Bridge, USS Serenity
Mission Day 10 - 1615 Hours

“Where are we?” Captain Lewis asked as he stared at the backside of the two Keldon cruisers they’d followed through the aperture. In the distance, backlit by a bright nebula, he could see the silhouette of a large platform.

“We’re rimward of Dreon, on the edge of the Rolor Nebula,” Lieutenant Gadsen reported with a tinge of surprise in his voice. Just two hours ago, they’d been in the Archanis Sector on the opposite side of Federation space. Since then, they’d visited the territory of the Romulan Free State, and now made their way to the coreward flank of the Cardassian Union. This would have been quite an exciting new reality if it wasn’t for the two warships sitting directly ahead.

The Thomar Expanse, Captain Lewis knew, was a key area of interest for Task Force 47, and the pathfinders of the Fourth Fleet had deployed infrastructure to support their operations in the remote region. He didn’t know the exact layout of those assets, but he hoped they reached this far. “Are we within range of our subspace relay network?”

“Yes sir,” Lieutenant Gadsen confirmed.

“Send a flash to Polaris,” Captain Lewis ordered. “Alert them to our situation.” It wouldn’t help with the immediate problem, but it was best that at least someone knew where they’d ended up and what they’d found.

As Lieutenant Gadsen connected to the network and sent the message, Lieutenant Tarasova reported the next problem. “Sir, the Cardassians just lit us up with their targeting sensors,” the Chief Tactical Officer said, her tone laced with urgency. “And are coming about to engage!”

“Of course they are,” Captain Lewis chuckled. He wasn’t particularly concerned, all things considered. Sure, he didn’t want to start an interstellar incident, but in a fair fight, the Serenity and the Ingenuity, decades more advanced than their Cardassian counterparts, would have the upper hand. “Before we say hello, can you tell me what that platform off in the distance is?”

“It appears to be some sort of weapons platform, Cardassian in origin,” Lieutenant Tarasova reported as she reviewed the telemetry. “I’m detecting over two dozen torpedo launchers and enough ablative armor to hold off a small assault wing. Maybe it’s to secure this aperture?”

That could present a problem, Captain Lewis recognized, but only if they were within reach of its arsenal. “Back us off so we’re out of range of the platform and let the Cardassians come to us.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t worry about that sir. They’re coming, sir, and they’re coming fast!” Lieutenant Tarasova warned as the Cardassians accelerated to full impulse on her scopes. “Their weapons are charged, and their shields are at full.”

Still, Captain Lewis wasn’t particularly concerned. The Serenity and the Ingenuity had already raised their own shields and charged their own weapons, so it was only natural the Cardassians would do the same. Plus, when it came to the Cardassians, this was just sort of how you said hello. “Hail them.”

“No need. They’re hailing us.”

“On screen.”

The Cardassian commander that appeared on the display was a big, burly man wearing the uniform of the Central Command’s forces and bearing the rank of Gul.

“State your purpose, Starfleet.”

“I was about to say the same to you,” Captain Lewis replied, not yielding in the slightest to the aggressive tone of the Gul. “By treaty, the Thomar Expanse is neutral territory, and we have as much right to passage as you.”

“This matter does not concern you. Leave. Now.”

“Look, maybe we got off on the wrong foot,” Captain Lewis softened his tone. “Let’s start again, at the beginning.” The Cardassian just stared at him coldly. “I am Captain Jake Lewis of the Federation starship Serenity. We were investigating the sudden occurrence of a curious subspace phenomenon we discovered in the Beta Quadrant when we found ourselves here.”

“You don’t know me, Captain, but let me warn you that I don’t take well to lies.”

“What do you mean, sir?” When you didn’t know how much your opponent knew, a question was a better way to dodge an accusation, Captain Lewis knew, than a denial. And in this case, it was definitely the right choice as the Gul knew far more than he’d let on.

“You’ve been following us for the last half hour through no less than a dozen branches of the Underspace network. At any point during that time, you could have chosen to go your own separate way. But you didn’t. You followed us to this place.”

Captain Lewis’ face didn’t betray his surprise. He was too trained for that. But inwardly, he was stunned. The Serenity and the Ingenuity had been holding position on the furthest periphery of their own sensor range. The Cardassians, with decades-delayed technology as a result of the tatters they’d been left in following the War, should not have been able to spot them against the Underspace’s background radiation. Not at the distance they’d been maintaining. “We were only following you because we were lost, and you seemed to know where you were going.”

“Well, you’re not lost now, are you?”

“No, I suppose not,” Captain Lewis shrugged. “But how we came to be in the Thomar Expanse, I’m still more than a bit surprised.”

“Are you? Are you, really?”

“Well, yes, we are,” Captain Lewis nodded. He knew though that he wouldn’t be able to play it off completely, given that the Cardassian had used Starfleet’s name for the subspace corridors, so he went for a middle ground explanation. “Until recently, we believed the Underspace was a phenomenon unique to the Delta Quadrant. When we stumbled upon what appeared to be an aperture in the Beta Quadrant, we went to investigate. It was a complete surprise to us though that we emerged here.” And that was true.

“I wouldn’t worry about being surprised much longer.”

“What do you mean?”

“What I mean is that you should turn around and go home, Starfleet. And maybe, so you don’t get lost along the way, why don’t you just use that little warp drive of yours to make the trip back to the Beta Quadrant? Leave dealing with the Underspace to us.”

“It’s going to take a bit of time for us to repair our systems from the trip,” Captain Lewis lied. He wanted some time to observe them. “We’ve suffered some damage to our EPS distribution…”

“Well, repair it quickly, and then move along.”

Without another word, the Cardassian Gul cut the channel.

“He was certainly a social butterfly,” frowned Lieutenant Commander Eidran.

“Lieutenant Gadsen,” Captain Lewis said, ignoring his Executive Officer’s offhand remark. There were more important things to which they needed to attend, and quickly too. “Fumble up power distribution a bit so if our friend over there scans us, I’m not caught in a lie.”

“Aye sir.”

To no one in particular, Captain Lewis then asked the next obvious question: “Any ideas what he meant by what he said?”

“Actually, yes,” Lieutenant Commander Sena jumped in from the science station. “As you were talking, I conducted some broad spectrum scans of the platform, and while Lieutenant Tarasova is correct that it is heavily fortified, its purpose is not ultimately to secure the aperture.”

“Oh?” Captain Lewis asked curiously. “What’s it for then?” He’d sort of just accepted Lieutenant Tarasova’s explanation at face value. It had made a good deal of sense that if the Underspace corridors reached into their territory, the Cardassians would look to secure them with brute force. That was just sort of how they did things.

“It’s for manipulating it.”

“Seriously?” Captain Lewis asked as he furled his brow. If she’d said that about her forebears, sure, he would have bought it, but this was the Cardassians they were talking about.

The Romulan nodded.

“How the fuck is everyone so far ahead of us?” Captain Lewis sighed. Neither the Klingons, nor the Cardassians, were the pinnacle of scientific progress. What made it even more curious was that the Federation was the only power, as far as he knew, that had any prior experience with the Underspace, and yet these two neighbors of theirs, neither of whom emphasized science and exploration near to the degree Starfleet did, were somehow both far ahead of them. 

“Aboard that platform, I’m detecting generators, coils and emitters capable of producing and manipulating tetryon flows,” explained Lieutenant Commander Sena. “It’s not all that dissimilar to what we saw aboard the Qul’val when the Klingons helped us stabilize the aperture in the corona of the Vesparan star.”

“Yes, except this aperture is already stable,” Captain Lewis pointed out. “So why go through the effort of building a platform to manipulate…” But his voice trailed off as he flashed back to the conversation he’d just had with the Gul. “Wait, what was it that he said? That we shouldn’t worry about it much longer? Is it possible that they’re looking not to take the apertures by force, but rather they’re looking to control or collapse it with science?”

“It’s certainly possible,” Lieutenant Commander Sena confirmed. “Although I can’t tell you if the platform is meant to control it, collapse it, or do something else altogether. All I know for sure is that they’re not content to let it exist in its natural state.”

“Regardless of their specific motives, I think we need to call our new friend back,” Captain Lewis smiled deviously. “And offer to assist them in their cause.”

Lieutenant Commander Sena looked very much displeased by the idea. “You sure, Captain?” It wasn’t that she liked the notion of the Underspace though. It was just that she remembered the last time an agency she was with had partnered with the Cardassians. The Battle of the Omarion Nebula had decimated the Tal’Shiar, and she was loath to repeat that experience.

“Think about it, Sena,” Captain Lewis persisted in his point. “The galaxy would be a better place if borders continued to exist and travel continued to be limited, as it was up until a couple weeks ago, by warp speed. If the Cardassians have the technology to control or collapse the apertures, I’d rather see us be party to their plan.”

“Umm, sir,” interrupted Lieutenant Gadsen. “There’s something you should be aware of… When I connected to the subspace network to send the flash to Polaris, I picked up an incoming fleet-wide dispatch from Command.”

“And?” Captain Lewis asked. Those dispatches were usually pretty mundane.

“Basically the opposite of what you just said,” Lieutenant Gadsen frowned. “The Fourth Fleet is ordered to chart the extent of the Underspace that has become accessible to the Federation, and to protect and preserve Starfleet’s continued access to it.”

“Protect and preserve?” Captain Lewis scoffed. “Idiots.” How did they not see it like he did? Why were they treating it like some great frontier to explore? Hadn’t they learned their lesson with the Bajoran wormhole? This would be like that, but worse. Far worse. It wouldn’t be one enemy this time. It would be all of them. And through dozens, or hundreds, of apertures rather than one.

“What are we going to do?” Lieutenant Commander Eidran asked.

“We’re going to call the Gul back, as I already said,” Captain Lewis replied. “And we’re going to offer our assistance.” The orders they’d received changed nothing in his mind. Command wasn’t out here with them. They were bureaucrats behind desks in the safety of their offices.

“But our orders,” Lieutenant Commander Eidran objected. It wasn’t that he disagreed completely with the Captain’s perspective, but they had just received orders, and if the Cardassians were trying to manipulate the Underspace, they needed to stop them, not to assist them.

“Commander, right now, we have only a hunch about the Cardassian intentions,” Captain Lewis insisted firmly, making it clear this was not up for debate. “And even if we wanted to stop them, what would our pair of mid size cruisers do against whatever they’re cooking up? If we’re right, this won’t be the only platform in play, nor the only ships.”

Lieutenant Commander Eidran didn’t have an answer for that.

“Lieutenant Gadsen, send a follow up to Admiral Reyes, informing her of our intent,” Captain Lewis ordered. “And then get the Gul back on the horn.” He looked back over at his Executive Officer to make sure the Betazoid understood. “We will observe the Cardassians and relay our findings back, but we won’t make the final call. We’ll leave that to those who can see more of the battlespace than us.” But by that, he didn’t mean Command. They’d already proven their ineptitude with the whole Frontier Day fiasco. He simply meant that, when the time came, he’d leave the final decision to Admiral Reyes.

Motivations and Machinations (Part 3)

Bridge, USS Polaris
Mission Day 10 - 1615 Hours

“Sir, we just received a flash across the subspace relay network,” reported an Ensign in blue as he approached the Fleet Captain standing on the command island. “It’s from Serenity.”

“Woah…. Free State and the Thomar Expanse in a little over two hours?!” Captain Devreux smiled as he read the first few lines of the PADD the communications officer had delivered. “That’s a damn impressive start of an afternoon!” Such a circuit would typically have taken a month or more at warp, but the Underspace had changed all of that.

The Ensign just stood there though, not seeming to share in the excitement.

“Imagine the places we’ll be able to visit, the things we’ll be able to see,” Captain Devreux continued, unabated by the junior officer’s muted reaction. He’d spent his whole life exploring, and this was a massive opportunity. “This could change everything!” There was a twinkle in his eye.

“With all due respect, sir,” the Ensign finally spoke up as he pointed further down the PADD.
“You should really read on.”

Captain Devreux’s eyes trailed down the screen, and then he saw it. “Oh… crap.” Reaching up to his chest, he tapped his combadge. “Devreux to Reyes. There’s been a development. You are going to want to see this.”

“I’ll be right up.”

What the hell were the Cardassians doing in the Underspace? Nothing good, that much he was certain of. While Gérard Devreux had skipped out on the Dominion War by booking passage as a medical assistant aboard an Oberth survey ship, he’d bumped shoulders with them a few times in the post-War era while exploring the frontiers beyond their space, never to good ends. As he read on, it only got worse. Once the Serenity and the Ingenuity had emerged from the Underspace, they’d found themselves facing off with the pair Keldon class cruisers they’d been stalking. Captain Lewis was not the guy you wanted in such situations – not unless you wanted it to turn into a shooting affair.

“There ‘s a second flash too, sir,” the Ensign offered as he pointed to the second update from the Serenity.

Well, at least he hadn’t started shooting at the Cardassians, Captain Devreux thought as he read on. But Captain Lewis stated that he planned to enter into a partnership with the Cardassians… to destroy the Underspace. “If Captain Lewis was able to send this to us, wouldn’t he have gotten the fleetwide update from Command?” That communique had been very clear.

“I would presume so, sir.”

Right then, Admiral Reyes stepped onto the bridge, flanked by Dr. Brooks. The astrophysicist had just been giving her an update on a new Underspace-mediated mechanism that he and Ensign Vok had been working on to re-establish nearline communications with their far away sister ships. “Give it to me, Gérard,” Admiral Reyes said as she approached. “What’ve we got?”

“Just our favorite old spook mixing it up with the Cardassians,” Captain Devreux sighed as he passed the PADD to his boss. “And conspiring with them to destroy the Underspace.”

“I never took the Central Command to be quite so rational,” Admiral Reyes chuckled as she began to read. “Although maybe this is just their longing for the past coming to root.” After she finished reading, she passed the PADD to Dr. Brooks. “Do the readings they took imply that the Cardassians could do what Captain Lewis believes they’re planning to do?”

Reviewing the data about the stationary platform the Serenity had found on the other side of the aperture, it didn’t take him long to reach a conclusion. “They’ve certainly got the hardware to manipulate the tetryon waveform, but hardware is only part of the story. You’ve got to have the right model too, and that’s something we don’t have.”

“Would the Cardassians have it?” Admiral Reyes asked. She was wary to discount anyone too quickly after what she’d just seen the Klingons accomplish just a few hours earlier.

“Admiral, the Union is still trying to rebuild the basics of their military,” Dr. Brooks shook his head. “I highly doubt they’d have had the time to flesh out a whole new branch of subspace physics.” And that’s exactly what this would entail. The Underspace, while stitched into the fabric of subspace, was distinctly different from it. “Unless they’re getting help.”

Admiral Reyes looked at him curiously.

“The expansion of the Underspace is new, Admiral,” Dr. Brooks continued. “Whether natural or anthropogenic, something caused it to expand.”

“Yes, Dr. Lockwood shared your findings earlier.”

“If its expansion has an anthropogenic origin, whoever caused it to expand…”

“Whoever caused it to expand – if we assume you’re right about anthropogenic origins, and that’s still a stretch – wouldn’t then partner with the Cardassians to then stop it,” Admiral Reyes pointed out. “But if you say they’ve got that hardware, that means they’re up to something, and I, for one, am interested at least in learning more.” She had, after all, already tasked her own teams to research how they might reverse the Underspace’s expansion, but maybe Captain Lewis would figure out more out there with his little charade.

“What about the orders from Fleet Command?” Captain Devreux asked. “The ones about protecting and preserving the Underspace.” He’d served with Allison Reyes for the better part of a decade. He could sense what she was thinking, and as was all too frequently the case, it was in direct opposition to what Fleet Command wanted.

“Options, Gérard,” Admiral Reyes replied. “It’s all about having options. The tides are shifting beneath our feet, and we need as many options as we can get.” Maybe they’d seek to destroy the Underspace, or maybe they’d seek to save it. She wasn’t sure yet. All she knew was that right now, they were at the mercy of others, and they needed to get back ahead of this thing with options for what they could do.

As the Admiral lost herself in thought, she stared at the Klingon ships sitting motionless just off their bow. 

Wait, were they moving?

Suddenly, the impulse engines of the IKS Qul’Val and her sister ships turned bright orange as they roared to life. And then, as the ships swiftly rushed towards them, a barrage of disruptor fire leapt forth from the main guns of General Golroth’s flagship.

There was no time to get the shields up. 

No time for anyone to do anything at all.

But, for reasons they didn’t understand, the barrage didn’t hit. 

It just whizzed over the bow of the Polaris and continued off into the dead of space until eventually it evaporated.

Admiral Reyes didn’t wait. Her orders came fast in a furious staccato. “Red alert! Raise shields! All hands to battlestations!” She didn’t give a weapons free order though, for as aggressive as the move was, the shot hadn’t hit. It had been just a shot across their bow, and she wasn’t going to be the one to start a war.

Looking forward, the Mat’ha and B’rel cruisers had closed in around them on all sides, while the Neg’Vhar stared them down dead ahead. In a fair fight, with the full firepower of Polaris Squadron, she might have had a chance, but the Serenity and the Ingenuity were off in the Thomas Expanse, and the Diligent was guarding the aperture with… with the remainder of General Golroth’s ships. Shit. They needed to warn Captain Vox.

“Notify the Diligent,” Admiral Reyes ordered. “And get me General Golroth, now!”

A moment later, the burly General in charge of the Klingon assault wing, the man who’d come to their aid and saved the colony of six million not even a day ago, appeared on the screen. 

“Explain yourself, General!” Admiral Reyes demanded immediately.

“You and your crews, you are not my enemy.”

“It certainly doesn’t feel that way!” Admiral Reyes snapped back. “You just fired on us! Explain yourself! What the hell is going on?”

That was just a warning shot, Miss Reyes, but be assured, if you challenge us, the next one won’t miss.”

“Have you gone mad, General? Your people and mine, we are allies,” Admiral Reyes reminded him. “And you came here, to this place, to save our people.”

“And now, we are here to fight for ours. Our quarrel, though, is not with you… unless you get in our way.”

As if to emphasize the point, three of his warbirds peeled away, heading for the system’s center. Even with their departure, Admiral Reyes knew though that there were still far too many for her Odyssey class heavy explorer and their accompanying California class utility cruiser to handle. “What do you mean by that, General?”

“The Underspace, it is to be used for war.”