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Dome of Ice

The crew of the Arcturus must reactivate a Tkon beacon buried on an ice planet.

I – Excavation

USS Arcturus, Combat Information Center
September 2399

Using her main phaser arrays, it had taken the Arcturus almost three hours to cut the trench. Through a dozen meters of ice and another dozen meters of ruined cityscape and frozen topsoil, the ship burned a circle two kilometers down to the bedrock on the surface of Eta Torrensis IV. At the center was a massive, ancient structure of the long-dead Velar. Their fate and history were lost to the sands of time, other than the message Lieutenant Galan was able to decipher on the surface of the probe recovered from Thalruatania: massive global cooling had caused them to cry out across space for help. It was unclear if that help ever came, though, as life on Eta Torrensis IV was now limited to the hardiest of plant life, lichens, and microbes. Once Class-M or Class-O, it had frozen over to a Class-P wasteland, with temperatures hovering just at freezing during the day and plummeting to -20 degrees Celsius at night.

How the Tkon influenced the Velar was also unknown–and irrelevant for their current mission–but it was clear that Tkon technology had formed part of the probe, thus why Omega had been attracted to it in the first place. It had taken nearly two days of orbital scans, but Captain Lancaster was now sure that the beacon he had been ordered to find and reactivate was at the center of the circle he’d ordered branded into the planet’s surface.

Lancaster had ensconced himself in the lower section of the main bridge, often used as a conference room but which also had full command and control abilities of the entire ship. Even as cargo shuttles lifted off of the hanger deck en route to begin the next phase of the mission, Lancaster used the holographic controls to reorient the ship. The wispy clouds beyond the viewport shifted rapidly as the ship dove in response to his commands to point the Arcturus directly at the planet’s surface. 

“Set main phasers to wide-area mode and configure for two percent power, compensating for atmospheric attenuation,” the captain ordered.

“Confirmed,” the computer reported. 

The captain tapped in the remainder of the firing sequence himself, targetting the area now bounded by the trench. This task would be quicker than the tedious digging they’d done before, but it would be much more spectacular. Or it would have been, had anything happened when he finalized the command.

“The emergency manual override has been triggered. Phasers are offline.” 

“Clarify. Who triggered the override and for what purpose?”

“The override was triggered by Commander Seth Galbraith in Auxiliary Fire Control. Reason cited: imminent danger to cultural artifacts.”

As the ship was not at red alert, the computer would accept input from any command-grade officer to halt any process that might be dangerous from an override station. Still, it was highly unusual not to follow up with a direct report. Lancaster had a flash of anger, seeing red at the prospect of one of his officers countermanding him during such a critical mission. He hadn’t interacted with Galbraith much, but he was a bleeding heart if there ever was one. Most archaeology wasn’t conducted by phaser bank, but Lancaster didn’t have time to get out a toothbrush to sift through the ruins of this planet.

“Lancaster to Galbraith. Report to the bridge,” Lancaster said. 

There was no response. Lancaster turned to Lieutenant Commander Evandrion, the ship’s Deltan security chief standing by to relay orders to the hazard teams.

“Reset the override and bring him here. Now,” the captain ordered, gritting his teeth.

The captain paced for several minutes after Evandrion left before the computer chirped to indicate that the ship’s weapons were now fully available. Once he’d hit ‘Fire,’ a cone of golden phaser energy sprung out of the ventral phaser array under the engineering hull, making content with the ice on the planets second. It went from solid one moment before sublimating into vapor in an instant, liberating the ruins from the icy tomb they’d been trapped in for tens of thousands of years.

“Reading some minor structural collapses, but nothing we weren’t expecting,” Lieutenant Commander van Dorland reported from one of the aft-facing computer terminals. 

“Good. I want you headed down to set up our beachhead,” Lancaster replied, turning to look at his friend. 

The crew of the Arcturus was large enough that there were multiple layers between Lancaster and his old academy roommate, which let them remain friends without impropriety. For this most important and hopefully last stage of the mission to deal with Omega, though, he’d surrounded himself with the people he trusted the most. Case in point, Galbraith’s mutiny.

Van Dorland led the ship’s embarked Starfleet Corps of Engineers team, a group of thirty officers and NCOs who specialized in construction and repair tasks. The intention was for them to handle jobs like setting up communications relays or repairing other Starfleet ships, but now what Lancaster needed them for was to break into a long-dead civilization’s most important museum.

The blond commander nodded. “The Da Jiao is ready. We’ll be able to compensate for the transporter interference within a few hours.”

“Making this quite possibly the only time that a diplomatic launch will serve a useful function,” Lancaster quipped.

As if her copious complement of support vessels weren’t already complete enough with an embarked light escort and a hangar full of shuttles and runabouts, the Arcturus also had a “diplomatic launch” docked just behind the planetary sensor dome. Upscaled and improved from the design of captain’s yacht used aboard the Galaxy and Nebula classes, this ungainly barge was meant to transport dignitaries in luxury or to meet the personal recreational needs of the embarked flag officer. 

Luckily, Admiral Hayden was just as disdainful of its presence as Lancaster was, so she’d been more than happy to let van Dorland’s team retrofit it to serve as a makeshift command-and-control center for their expedition to the surface. Now equipped with a full-size transporter room, it would be able to link back to the Arcturus and cut through the interference from the planet’s richly metallic crust that kept them from beaming down in the first place. There was no getting around using cargo shuttles to bring the rest of their bulky equipment down, though. 

“What are you going to do with Galbraith?” the engineer asked.

“I think keel-hauling is the traditional punishment.’

“A starship doesn’t have a keel,” van Dorland reminded him.

“Radial structural member-hauling doesn’t have the same verbal impact,” Lancaster noted. “Confined to quarters.”

Van Dorland nodded. “Hopefully, whatever we’re doing will be over soon. It’s not easy to follow orders when we don’t know what’s happening,” the commander reminded him. 

“Get the Da Jiao down to the surface. We’re in the final stage, but it’s not over yet.”

Lancaster turned back to the controls as the engineer left. He’d just returned control of the ship to the stations on the main bridge when he heard footsteps on the stairs leading down from deck one proper. Commander Galbraith was led by the elbows, Lieutenant Commander Evandrion on one side, and his deputy, Lieutenant Commander Osokin, on the other side. 

“Explain yourself,” Lancaster ordered, staring the Canadian science officer in the eyes.

“You’re insane. You’ve destroyed incalculably valuable archaeological evidence. That violates a hundred different Starfleet regulations and Federation laws!” Galbraith exclaimed. “No secret directive can give you the authority to–”

“It can and does, Commander. And doesn’t that explain to you how serious this situation is?” Lancaster asked, trying to stay patient.

”No. You’ve obviously gone off the deep end, and you had to be stopped.”

“You’re confined to quarters until further notice,” the captain replied, waving his hand towards the security officers.

“I want to see the Admiral!”

“You will, at your court-martial for insubordination, mutiny, and treason,” Lancaster replied coldly.

“Treason?! You have to be kidding me,” the scientist replied, eyes wide.

As Galbraith was led away, he struggled slightly against Evandrion and Osokin, which just made the captain angrier. If he was willing to interfere with the ship’s operations, he should have been willing to take the punishment for it.

“Mister Evandrion, I’ve changed my mind,” Lancaster said.

The three men looked back at him, and Galbraith looked momentarily hopeful.

“Throw him in the brig.”

II – Landing Party

USS Arcturus, Lieutenant Commander Carver's Quarters
September 2399

“Lancaster to Belvedere. Report to main shuttle bay for away duty ASAP,” came Captain Lancaster’s disembodied voice slightly muffled from the ensign’s combadge. 

Belvedere bolted up from bed, biting the inside of his cheek to avoid letting out a stream of curses. He hissed when he banged his shin on the bedframe and rifled through the pair of uniforms on the floor until he found the correct blue-shouldered jacket and plucked his badge off of it victoriously.

“Acknowledged, Captain!” Belvedere exclaimed, struggling against his nerves to breathe evenly.

“Am I interrupting something, Ensign?”

“Nothing mission-critical. Yoga, sir,” Belvedere lied.

“I’m going to be annoyed if we don’t depart on schedule in four minutes, Ensign. Lancaster out.” 

Annoying the captain was the last thing he wanted, even though he was confused as to why anything Lancaster could possibly need from him couldn’t be done by someone more senior or with a little more notice. He was just a few days past his very first away mission, after all, when there was a crew full of seasoned explorers ahead of him in line.

“You just lied to the captain, Ensign,” Counselor Carver noted, stretching lazily in the center of the bed.

“It started as yoga. Sort of,” Belvedere quipped before gathering up the pieces of his uniform and rushing into the ensuite. “Sonic shower on.”

Carver hopped up to observe Belvedere from the doorway as the younger man quickly got himself presentable. It made Belvedere feel about twenty-five percent flattered and seventy-five percent self-conscious. Carver was a mesomorph’s mesomorph, while Belvedere had a mild version of Marfan syndrome that his mother had declined to have corrected before birth, making him practically incapable of gaining weight, let alone building muscle.

“I’m a little concerned by how fast you lied to him. And a little impressed, Matthew,” the counselor noted, smirking at him. “Are you ashamed of me?”

“Quite the opposite, I think you’ll find. I deserve the Medal of Honor for how far I’ve scored out of my league,” Belvedere replied, one eye on the chronometer. 

Three minutes and thirty seconds until Lancaster would be ‘annoyed.’ That was probably clean enough. Belvedere shut the shower off and started awkwardly pulling his clothes on as Carver continued to watch him. Their very new, very undefined relationship had started quickly, like many others on the Arcturus in the time following the ship’s separation and Belvedere’s classified mission with Knox-Stanton and Robinson. Full stop to Warp 10 was an understatement, but Belvedere was very cautious about his feelings still. There’s no reason that a lieutenant commander would want something real or long-term with an Ensign. 

“I wish you wouldn’t talk about yourself like that.”

“I wish you wouldn’t leer at me like a Ferengi at a Dabo girl, but here we are, Champ,” Belvedere noted.

“Racial stereotypes have no place in Starfleet, Ensign.”

Belvedere scoffed. “I’m an anthropologist. It’s my job to make generalizations about cultures based on my observations,” he replied. 

The uniform jacket was still fastened, and Belvedere skipped a step by pulling it over his head and wriggling into it. He turned to the mirror to put his hair back into regulation order. There was an unmistakable feeling among the lower decks that not even a crisis would get you spared from the captain’s spot inspections, after all. Carver padded over from the doorway and wrapped his arms around Belvedere, which made the more petite man very disappointed in his own self-control when he melted slightly.

“It’s very rude of him to deprive me of you,” Carver noted, kissing him on the side of his neck, just above where the uniform collar ended.

“No marks, Austin!”

“Spoil-sport. He’s not as bad as people say, you know. As long as you don’t fuck up,” Carver reminded him.

“Very reassuring,” Belvedere noted. 

Carver didn’t let go when Belvedere turned to leave the room, instead kissing him first on the lips and then on the forehead. 

“You’ll do fine, whatever’s down there. Be safe,” the counselor said, seeming sincere.

Belvedere nodded but was still unsure. “Thanks. I’ll do my best. Don’t replace me while I’m gone?” he said, trying to pull that off as teasing but failing a little.

The ensign had not anticipated wanting more than just a one-time thing with the counselor, as he generally didn’t find himself to be compatible with guys like him beyond physically. On the surface, they had very little in common, and the things that Carver loved, i.e., the gym and sports, were the things that Belvedere hated, but it seemed to be working anyway. And at the very least, Carver was a sincere, genuine, affectionate person, even putting the muscles aside. 

“Nah. No chance. Now get going before you get in trouble,” Carver replied, tapping his bare wrist to emphasize the lack of time. It made Belvedere give him an uncharacteristic ear-to-ear smile.

“Thanks. Bye.”

Ensign Belvedere’s heart was racing for many reasons as he left Counselor Carver’s quarters and found the nearest turbolift, which whisked him off to the main shuttle bay. With seconds left on his deadline with the doors opened to the cavernous bay, he scanned the room for the captain and saw one sleek, angular two-person shuttle prepped for lift-off in the center of the room. He set off at a run, hoping it was the correct choice, and charged up the loading ramp with about three seconds to spare.

“Ensign Belvedere reporting as–”

“Sit,” Lancaster ordered, tapping a short series of commands into his station.

The entry ramp retracted as Belvedere slid into the second seat. Lancaster didn’t seem to acknowledge as he did so, perhaps not even aware of his compliance, which made Belvedere feel slightly like a dog in the way he’d been ordered around without even so much as a ‘good boy.’ As the shuttle started to hum, the ensign was suddenly aware that this away duty seemed to be with just the captain.

“Shuttle #11 to Bridge. Requesting departure clearance,” Lancaster said.

Belvedere sat there, fidgeting and unsure of whether or not he should be doing anything. Not doing what he was supposed to or doing something he wasn’t supposed to both seemed like good ways to get slapped metaphorically. Or maybe literally. 

“Clearance granted. Safe flying, Captain,” replied a voice on the bridge Belvedere didn’t recognize.

Within a nanosecond of being given clearance, Lancaster picked the small shuttle up off of the deck and hit the thruster, zooming so quickly out of the atmospheric containment field that Belvedere gripped the edge of the seat. He had to admit, though, that the view of the ship’s two massive warp nacelles silhouetted over the planet’s cyan-white atmosphere was impressive, even if it made him want to hurl.

“What do you know about the Tkon Empire, Ensign?”

A pop quiz in addition to coitus interruptus? Great. 

“Well, they were the dominant power in the Alpha and Beta quadrants sometime before 600,000 years ago, by which point their empire collapsed. The fifth Enterprise made contact with a computerized guardian of one of their outposts in 2364. We have a basic understanding of their language and history, but their technology continues to be far beyond anything the Federation has,” Belvedere replied, ticking facts off on his fingers.

“Can you read the Tkon language?” 

Belvedere cocked his head. “With a tricorder, I believe I’m competent… But, sir, we’re at least 60,000 light-years from the nearest known Tkon influence.”

“Until about a week ago, I would have agreed with you, Ensign,” Lancaster replied, turning for a moment to look at him before refocusing his attention on the controls. “There is a Tkon artifact on this planet, and our orders from the highest levels in Starfleet are to reactivate it.”

If he hadn’t just heard it from the captain himself, he wouldn’t have believed it. That’s not something Starfleet did. They didn’t just turn archaeotech back on, especially given what the Tkon Guardian had done to the Enterprise

“Is that… wise, sir?”

“No. But it’s necessary, Ensign,” Lancaster replied. “It’s connected to a much larger network that is currently threatening the security of the galaxy, so we don’t have a lot of options.”

“I… Understand, sir. But I don’t think you’ll need reminding that I’m not the most senior archaeologist or–,” he started.

“No, I don’t need reminding of that, Ensign,” Lancaster replied coldly as the shuttle entered the atmosphere. “Commander Galbraith is currently in the brig for attempting to sabotage the Arcturus because he disagreed with our orders. I have a full science team on the surface, but I need someone by my side with an archaeological mindset.”

Belvedere’s blood ran cold when he heard that his department head was in the brig. That’s not something one could get used to quickly. 

“I’m not expecting you to solve this mystery on your own, but I’m an engineer, not a social scientist. I need a translator, so to speak,” Lancaster replied. 

“I… understood, sir,” Belvedere said, realizing quite quickly that resistance was futile and that if he was going to throw one anthropologist into the brig, Lancaster likely wouldn’t bat an eye at throwing a second one in as well. 

A few moments later, they penetrated the upper cloud layer,  and Belvedere saw the results of their orbital phaser fire, which had provided an interesting backdrop for his tryst with Carver. Nothing he could see, though, screamed Tkon Empire.

“A successor race?” Belvedere asked.

“Unclear. Possibly irrelevant. They appear to have been wiped out in the early spaceflight age,” Lancaster replied, not seeming displeased by the observation. “Based on our scans, though, there is a definitive Tkon signature coming from the largest structure here.”

“If this race was aware of the Tkon Empire’s power, it might make sense that they built their civilization around it,” Belvedere wondered.

“Maybe, but that’s not our mission. If we succeed, we’ll have all the time in the universe to study these ruins, but until then, stay focused.”

“Yes, sir.”

The shuttle circled around the divet cut through the ice by the Arcturus, settling down in a small clearing next to the saucer-shaped diplomatic launch, the Da Jiao, where small premade structures had already been assembled by a team on the surface. Lancaster stood up, and Belvedere followed him towards the rear compartment, where Lancaster grabbed a blue-trimmed cold weather jacket. He was about to hand it to Belvedere but paused and arched an eyebrow.

“Your combadge is upside down, Ensign.”

“Shit. I mean… Shit, sir. Sorry,” Belvedere stammered, looking down in horror at his badge and quickly fixing it.

“He must like you if he’s messing with you,” Lancaster noted before tossing him the jacket and turning to put one on of his own. 

“W-Who?”

“Your ‘yoga instructor,’” Lancaster quipped. 

“Right. So… should we…?” Belvedere said, pointing to the ramp.

“Breathmasks,” the captain said, shaking his head, handing one to Belvedere before affixing his own. Once they both had a phaser pistol clipped to their belts, Lancaster lowered the ramp. They were both hit with a blast of cold air. According to Belvedere’s tricorder, without the masks, they would have also been hit with the scent of ancient decomposed organic matter, which had been released by their drilling expedition, but the air was marginally breathable. 

Belvedere followed the captain towards the diplomatic launch. Lieutenant Commander van Dorland was standing over a three-dimensional display projected from a table within one of the premade structures, the Romulan Lieutenant Galan observing nearby. 

“Why did I have to shuttle down?” Lancaster asked.

“We’re working on it, Captain. The interference was stronger than we anticipated. I think I’ve solved beaming up, but I wouldn’t trust the sensors to handle beam-downs yet,” the blond engineer replied. 

“Fine. Keep at it. What about you, Mr. Galan?”

“I have so far been unable to access the locking mechanism keeping the structure secure,” the lieutenant replied, looking down towards his feet.

“I think that’s something I can solve. Have you met Ensign Belvedere?” Lancaster asked, turning to the ensign, who’d been hoping that he’d been forgotten about completely.

The Romulan studied Belvedere in a strange, piercing way that made the Human stand up straighter. He was lithe and strong even in his bulky cold-weather gear, but Belvedere might have just been projecting that because of how much he admired Romulan culture.

“No, sir. Presumably Commander Galbraith’s replacement?”

“Something like that. Show me the entrance,” Lancaster replied. 

Belvedere followed Lancaster following Galan up a set of broad steps leading up from their small clearing to some sort of plaza, which was littered with the ruins of fountains, structures, and gardens. Clearly a place of great significance, it was bordered by a massive structure of concrete, steel, and what looked like glass.

“I suppose no culture could escape Brutalism,” Belvedere noted.

“I don’t think there’s any indication that this culture was warlike or particularly brutal, Ensign,” Galan replied.

“No, sir. It’s an architectural style. Geometric shapes cast in concrete with smooth lines and little ornamentation,” Belvedere replied. 

Focus,” Lancaster snapped as they continued to walk.

Belvedere took the opportunity to wonder if Lancaster would look hotter without clenching his jaw due to the enormous duranium rod up his ass or if his uptight aggressiveness made him more of a hunk than he would be otherwise. He also wondered if his mind was sexualizing both the communications officer and the captain as some sort of defensive mechanism against having feelings for Carver. It was when he was wondering if he thought that because he’d absorbed psychoanalytic techniques from him through osmosis that he heard a phaser blast. The archaeologist was shaken out of his reverie by the captain punching a five-meter-wide hole into the side of the building.

“That is… an effective entry mechanism,” Galan noted.

“Lancaster to Arcturus. Have the Hazard Teams shuttle down. I’ve gained access to the structure.”

“Understatement of the century,” Belvedere muttered, looking at the still-smoldering hole that Lancaster had punched into the side of the ancient structure in front of them. 

III – Instructions Not Included

Eta Torrensis IV
September 2399

Lieutenant Galan was expecting to spend several hours combing through the structure in order to locate the Tkon beacon that Captain Lancaster was so insistent on reaching. Even accounting for the human’s predilection for punching through delicate archaeological sites with his phaser, surely there wouldn’t be a direct path from the entrance to their target. Of course, he had assumed the building on Eta Torrensis IV was military in nature and not, in fact, a museum, with very clear and helpful signage that had survived the centuries pointing them directly towards the center of the structure, where a glass floor offered visitors a look down on what had been an active excavation site until the extinction of the planet’s residents.

“Given how complex and tedious archaeology is, why would anyone wish to observe it in progress?” Galan asked after they’d found the stairs down, entering a perfectly circular pit that oddly mirrored the one the Arcturus had cut to get down to that level of the planet’s surface in the first place.

It was about 50 meters in diameter, and the flooring was rough-hewn stone, clearly much older than the rest of the structure. Nothing about the architecture screamed Tkon to Galan from his quick study of existing ruins, but he wondered if whoever had built the ruins were the ancestors of the people who built the museum, not the Tkon themselves. There were a number of stone structures in three rough circles surrounding a domed building in the center, which was buttressed by metal beams that looked more like the museum’s architecture. A reconstructed shrine? 

“Mmm. Yes. I suppose people are simply clamoring to watch you translate, sir,” Ensign Belvedere quipped. “There are museums like this on Earth. It’s more about realizing that just because something happened long ago in time doesn’t mean it happened long ago in space.”

The Romulan had not entirely figured out what Belvedere’s purpose was besides providing regular does of sarcasm, which the captain seemed to tolerate to a point, before reminding the two of them what their task was while their security escort looked on in silence. An archaeologist, perhaps, but Lancaster did not seem particularly interested in understanding anything about the place they were in, so his presence seemed supernumerary to their purpose.

Still, he hadn’t thought of it from Belvedere’s point of view, and that wasn’t an entirely unreasonable thought he’d just had.

“I’m not picking up any sort of defenses, other than several passive sensing devices which appear to be offline. This must be a low-crime area,” Lieutenant Commander Osokin noted, though the Russian still seemed poised to knock Captain Lancaster to the ground at any moment should something appear.

“Tkon technology is so far beyond our own that it’s likely that any defenses still present are beyond your ability to detect, Mister Osokin,” Lancaster reminded him, though he was focused on his own tricorder. “I want extra security stationed at every entrance to this room. Other than the glass ceiling, it seems defensible.”

“Aye, Captain,” Osokin confirmed.

“This is what we’re looking for,” Lancaster confirmed when the landing party got to the center of the room, indicating a smooth, unadorned pillar made of a shimmering, iridescent material that was clearly alien to its environment. 

The walls of the small domed structure surrounding the beacon were covered in Tkon letters, appearing to have been cut by hand into the stone. Galan circled the room, some words coming off the walls easily to him and others illegible. He quickly figured out that there were panels of Tkon text between thinner strips of the language of the planet’s natives, but the connection between the two wasn’t immediately apparent.

“It will take a significant amount of time to translate these walls, even with imaging scanners,” Galan noted.

“Order in whatever equipment you need. Those might be the instructions we’ll need to get this thing working,” the captain replied. 

“I think this script records how this beacon was found, and this script is… some sort of a technical jumble,” Belvedere chimed in, pointing between the native script and the Tkon script after scanning the wall with his tricorder.

“You two better be able to do better than ‘technical jumble,’” Lancaster replied.


After bringing in heavier-duty equipment and setting up a live link with the linguistics specialists in Cetacean Ops, it still took Galan almost six hours to translate the text with the assistance of Ensign Belevedere, who was admittedly reasonably competent. Though not a linguist himself, he was able to help with some contextual knowledge about the Tkon that made the process go a little more quickly, but given how much of what they’d translated was technical in nature, both of them were struggling to understand it.

From what they were able to determine, the text in the native language described how the beacon was found in a cave deep under the city they were standing in. It was installed in this place for veneration. Based on other badly damaged materials they’d found in surrounding labs and workspaces, there were other Tkon ruins on the planet, but they weren’t understood until a century or so before the end of their own civilization.

“I do not see a ‘press here to fix beacon’ button,” Belvedere noted, yawning.

They had moved out of the structure itself and set up their workspace along the ruins of a stone wall that was just high enough to put their equipment at a practical level. Lancaster had been asking for regular reports, but he had been busy having engineers drag in gear for the last hour or so. 

“I believe I have found the correct frequency to reactivate the beacon,” Lancaster reported through their comm badges.

By the time Galan and Belvedere walked back into the chamber containing the beacon, Lancaster had already activated an array of three power transmitters surrounding the pillar. Moments later, the surface of the beacon began to project a holographic display showing symbols very close to the ones cut into the rock. Very similar, but not exactly the same, Galan realized after having stared at the text for hours now.

“Were you able to decipher the instructions?” Lancaster asked.

“I no longer believe they were instructions, Captain. I think these carvings are a representation of the display as it appeared the last time it was active, or when it was first discovered, anyway,” Galan replied, pointing to an area in blue. “Look here, this says ‘eleven-point nine,’ but on the corresponding part of the carving, it says ‘twenty-six.’”

“We need to make the beacon look like its… factory settings?” Belvedere supplied.

“And you’re sure there’s no reset command somewhere?” Lancaster asked, not seeming entirely sarcastic.

“I don’t believe so, Captain. I can only wonder if this was meant to be part of a larger system that would have regulated it more effectively. We did learn from the inscription that it was found in a ‘cave,’ with no mention of the corresponding infrastructure, so it’s possible it was never meant to be on this planet in the first place,” Galan offered.

“Either way, we’re going to need more eyes on this,” the captain replied before tapping his badge. “Lancaster to Sunvair. Report to my position as soon as possible.”

“Acknowledged and understood, Captain,” came the voice of the ship’s Head of Space Sciences, a Vulcan.

“This beacon is connected across subspace to hundreds or thousands of other beacons which provide telemetry to an unknown extragalactic point. We’re going to need a stellar cartographer,” Lancaster explained when Galan arched an eyebrow.


In orbit, the Arcturus had launched every runabout, and the Hokule’a, which were all maintaining a defensive formation in geosynchronous orbit above the archaeological site. For all the distractions and misdirections that they’d been able to accomplish through runabout trips around the sector, eventually, the Kazon would find them if they stayed in one place for too long, and they were out for blood. 

The whole operation had been a boon for the ship’s pilots, with nearly every shuttle, regardless of the class put into service moving components between the Arcturus and the surface, to finish the gargantuan engineering project Captain Lancaster had set them on. It had also been a boon for Lieutenant Nate Windsor, who found himself as the First Officer of the Hokule’a under Lieutenant Commander Selon, for however long they needed to maintain the defensive perimeter. 

Command had always been Windsor’s aspiration, and he’d enjoyed getting to sit second seat to the XO on Alpha Shift, first for Captain Lancaster and now for Captain Rakan. Still, even if it was temporary, an actual command assignment put a spring in his steps as he made the rounds on the tiny ship.

Engineering was on Deck 3, at the center of the Hokule’a. The steady thrum of the warp core was the ship’s beating heart, and it cast a blue glow over the whole room, where Lieutenant Hidalgo was on duty with a pair of crewmen. Hidalgo was just engrossed in his task enough not to notice Windsor until he’d gotten a few steps into the room. 

“Something I can help you with, Nate?” Hidalgo asked from one of the seated workstations in the vestibule.

“That’s First Officer Windsor to you,” Windsor replied. “Report, Chief Engineer.”

Hidalgo rolled his eyes slightly. “All systems nominal, First Officer, sir,” the lieutenant confirmed. “I’m running our hourly diagnostic on all tactical systems, as per the orders from the bridge.”

“Very well, Mister Hidalgo. Carry on,” Windsor said, putting his hand on the other man’s shoulder as he observed what he was doing at the console.

Past them, the warp core seemed far too close for comfort to stand next to all day. Windsor always had these vague feelings that standing too close to a warp reactor would somehow leave him sunburned at the least, or his growth stunted at the worst. That thought made him smirk a little as he thought about how short his boyfriend was, and he was a warp systems engineer, after all.

“Is command everything you hoped and dreamed, sir?”

“I mean, it lets me come to see you whenever I want, so, yes,” Windsor replied.

Hidalgo chuckled. “That’s a very good answer, Mister First Officer.”

The engineer tapped a few commands into his console as the diagnostics wrapped up. From his vantage point, Windsor could see that everything was in tip-top shape. Engineering had been working overtime for more than a week to ensure the Arcturus and all of her support ships were in perfect working order in case they ran into the Kazon again.

“Anything to note?”

“Nope. Everything’s still as perfect as it was an hour ago,” Hidalgo replied, looking up at him. “God, when I’m sitting down, you’re a kilometer tall, cielo. Sit down.”

Windsor laughed and took a seat at the adjacent console. “Yes, sir. You’re the boss,” he added, with a wink that caused Hidalgo to roll his eyes. “What about you? How’s running the engine room?”

“Oh, it’s fine. This ship could be flown pretty reliably with just bridge crew for several weeks, so there’s not a lot to do down here,” the engineer replied, his brown eyes going wide as he finished that statement. “Not that I am complaining or in any way would want to tempt fate! Mierda.”

“I doubt we’ll have any trouble. We’re dug in here, and that’s enough to give the Kazon pause,” Windsor said, hoping he was correct.

What Lancaster had done back at Thalruatania was an impressive feat of brinksmanship, but it was something that couldn’t be repeated. If the Kazon found them again, it would come down to a contest of brute strength. It was likely one they would win, but there were no guarantees they’d get out of it with no scrapes.

“Well, assuming we’re still deployed like this tonight, you should stop by my cabin. I have a surprise for you,” Hidalgo said, clearly trying and failing to sound casual.

“Oh, really, Arturo?”

“Yes. Now stop pushing my buttons, First Officer Windsor,” Hidalgo said, fighting through a smile to look serious. 

Windsor imagined the possibilities of what such a surprise could consist of, given the cramped bunks they had on the Hokule’a. At least he and a handful of officers like Hidalgo had single rooms; he didn’t want to think about the two twelve-person bunk rooms some of the junior personnel got. 

“I”ll check back in later, Chief Engineer Hidalgo,” Windsor replied.

The command lieutenant stood up and started to leave, but Hidalgo caught his hand.

“Excuse me?”

Windsor leaned down to kiss him, knowing his mistake.

 “Mea culpa,” he said, grinning down at him, before leaving him to his duties with even more of a spring in his step than before he’d taken report from the Chief Engineer.


Meanwhile, Commander Sunvair had beamed down to the diplomatic launch, which was serving as the command center and beachhead for the whole surface operation. It was highly unusual for her to have duty with a landing party, as her specialty, nay her identity, was as a space scientist. The combination of archaeology and astronomy was potentially fascinating, but it meant leaving behind a dozen in-progress experiments that all needed careful tending to. As she stepped off of the transporter pad, which had been set up in the center of the launch’s main meeting room, a Human lieutenant in red approached her. His uniform was different, as well.

“Welcome to Eta Torrensis IV, ma’am,” the lieutenant said, offering her a Type-II phaser pistol in a holster.

“What is this, Lieutenant?” the Vulcan asked.

“It’s… it’s a phaser pistol?”

Sunvair blinked; her meaning had not been conveyed. “I am aware of that. Why do I need it? Is this not a dead planet?”

“Captain’s orders, ma’am. You’ll also need cold-weather gear and a breathing mask,” he replied, gesturing to the garment and breathing mask which had been readied for her on a work table.

“Very well,” she replied, suiting up. “Why is it that you do not have an excursion coat, Lieutenant…?”

“Lieutenant Harper Bowens, ma’am. My hazard suit provides the same protection in a space-saving format,” he replied, which explained the rubbery-looking uniform he was wearing.

“Fascinating,” Sunvair replied, arching an eyebrow at the human, who looked… constricted and entirely too exposed in such a garment. “I assume you will now direct me to my workspace?” she asked, looking around the small ship.

“Yes, ma’am. We’ll be heading out onto the surface. My orders are to ensure your safety,” Bowens replied.

“I am again perplexed by your instructions, as we are the only sapient beings on this planet, but I can only assume the captain is aware of my lack of recent away experience,” the Vulcan stated matter-of-factly, before following Bowens over to the egress/ingress lift. 

They both secured breathing masks before the floor lowered to take them down to the plaza the large shuttle had landed on. The commander followed the lieutenant as they walked towards the large structure that seemed to be the focus of their mission.

“You wear a hazard suit, so you are involved in hazardous waste disposal, Lieutenant?” Sunvair asked.

Sunvair wasn’t particularly interested, but she also knew that Humans seemed to be made uncomfortable by extended bouts of silence. The young man looked over his shoulder at her with an unmistakable look of confusion at the question, which made Sunvair briefly reflect on how little attention she’d paid the onboarding documents when she’d followed Admiral Hayden to the Arcturus.

“No, ma’am. I lead one of the four hazard teams. Multi-disciplinary away teams meant to handle dangerous situations,” he explained patiently.

“Ah, of course. I do not tend to go far beyond the bulkheads of my own department,” she replied. “You have advanced hand-to-hand and tactical training, then?”

Bowens chuckled. “I’m a pilot, actually, but we do train in those things between missions.”

Sunvair arched an eyebrow again, initially at the idea of a pilot leading a ground team, but then her thoughts shifted entirely to the obvious blast hole which led into the building’s interior. Two security officers were flanking this ‘entrance.’

“Did you and your hazard team create this opening?”

“No, ma’am. That was the captain himself,” Bowens replied with a grin.

“Fascinating.”


Even with her vaunted Vulcan intellect, it took Sunvair a few hours to get thoroughly familiar with the work that Galan, Belvedere, and the rest of Lancaster’s team had been doing to translate the Tkon artifact. But once she understood, it came to her at once.

“You are correct that these inscriptions are not the instructions for the proper settings on this device. They are a record of what it was displaying when they were carved. We need to adjust the device to compensate for stellar drift, subspace migration, and other interstellar weather shifts between that time and the present,” she announced.

“How long will that take?” Captain Lancaster asked, crossing his arms. 

Lancaster was pleased Sunvair had managed to solve at least that part of the mystery relatively quickly, but they had been on the surface for most of a day at that point, and he just wanted the whole experience to be over. 

“Unknown, Captain. I will need to build a model calibrated to the precise times involved and then interface with an alien system in an alien language through two well-meaning but entirely under-qualified assistants,” the Vulcan replied.

Belvedere and Galan looked at each other and then to the Commander with sour expressions.

“I am sure she means in terms of astrophysics, not your linguistic skills,” Lancaster interjected. 

Before he could say anything else, the captain’s badge chirped.

“Command post to the Captain. We need you out here, sir,” van Dorland reported.

“Understood,” Lancaster replied. “Do what you can. We need this beacon calibrated,” he ordered.

Osokin accompanied Lancaster as he left the museum building and crossed the plaza back to the diplomatic launch. The wind was whipping through the ancient buildings, and the temperature was noticeably lower, with the sun almost entirely below the horizon. Lancaster found the engineer staring at meteorological data on one of the consoles they’d crammed into the reception hall.

“The weather’s not looking good. Data from the Arcturus shows at least two snow squalls likely within the next hour and then a full-blown blizzard overnight. Winds are already gusting over 40 knots. Best projections are that the humidity we introduced into the atmosphere has exacerbated local weather systems,” van Dorland reported. “I think you should, and the bulk of the engineering team should beam back up to the ship, sir, before we activate the shield.

The weather was not why Lancaster had had a few hundred engineers digging into the trench they’d cut into the planet’s surface to install shield generators. He wanted a way to ensure that the Kazon would not take the beacon from him, whatever happened. Still, they could deflect the wind and snow just as easily as they could stop weapons fire.

“I’m hardly afraid of a little snow, Jack,” Lancaster reminded him.

“Of course not, but once we turn the shield on, it’ll be difficult to get you back up to the ship, especially when it starts to ice over,” van Dorland pointed out. 

The captain nodded. “Beam any engineers you don’t need back to the ship, and then activate the shield,  but I’m not leaving this planet until that beacon is back online,” he said before turning on his heel and returning to his work. 

Whatever his crew might need to face in orbit before then was up to them. Every instinct he had to return to the bridge at this critical juncture was being held back by the knowledge that fixing this beacon would have lasting ramifications all over known space. Failure would lead to the destruction of civilization. Weather be damned, he wasn’t going anywhere.

Finale

Eta Torrensis IV
October 2399

USS Arcturus –  First Officer’s Office

Captain Rakan smoothed down a crease in her trousers in performative boredom as Commander Walker gave an impassioned plea for Seth Galbraith, the ship’s social sciences officer, to be released from the brig. A spotless record had been ruined, when Captain Lancaster had tossed him there pending a court-martial for a litany of serious charges after being caught sabotaging the ship’s main phasers. Whatever your feelings about the nature of their mission and the captain’s inability to disclose the full details, that level of resistance was clearly mutiny, and Rakan would have done the same thing in the captain’s position.

“You’re not even listening, are you?” Walker accused, the young human’s forehead creasing as he pointed at her.

“You caught me,” Rakan replied, rolling her eyes. She’d never seen Walker so close to apoplexy, which was somewhat amusing; as an exologist he should have known better than to display such naked emotion to a Cardassian. “What do you want me to say? Galbraith’s ideology is admirable, but that doesn’t excuse what is unequivocally an act of mutiny. Just be thankful we’re not on a Cardassian ship.”

“Surely the extenuating circumstances we find ourselves in are grounds for some grace?” Walker replied. “In the brig, he is a wasted resource while his department sifts through all of the data the captain has been so insistent on us deciphering.”

“You’re right. He’s a wasted resource, and the only person we have to blame for that is Seth Galbraith. Admiral Hayden is aware of the situation and has taken no action, ergo, the captain’s decision has been upheld,” Rakan replied, waving her hand. “If you’re going to resign in protest, please dispense with all of this foreplay and get it over with. I have a ship to run.”

Walker blushed. “No, that’s not my intent,” he replied.

“Good. I will also refrain from mentioning to the captain that you came to me with this while he was off of the ship,” the Cardassian replied, with a thin smile, which made Walker’s eyes get wider for a split second. “I don’t like being left in the dark, either, but neither of us are new to this game: Starfleet classifies things this heavily so rarely that it has to be something extremely threatening to warrant it.”

The science officer nodded. “Evidently,” he replied, putting his hands behind his back. 

“Have your people on the surface given any indication of how much longer this will take?” Rakan asked.

“They have so far been unable to give an estimate, given that we’re not entirely sure what ‘success’ looks like in this situation. Tkon technology is, for want of a better word, enigmatic,” Walker replied, clasping his hands behind his back.

“Yes, that we will only ‘know it when we see it’ is not particularly comforting when it comes to technology from a race rumored to have had the capability to move stars,” Rakan said, looking the Human up and down for a moment. To stick the knife in a little bit, she was about to ask why the commander thought Captain Lancaster had taken along a mere ensign as his scientific advisor for the away mission and how that made Commander Walker feel when the red alert klaxon sounded.

“Kazon vessels have entered the system. Captain Rakan to the bridge,” came the voice of Commander Alesser.

“Saved by the klaxon, Commander,” Rakan quipped before the two of them scrambled to the bridge.


USS Hokule’a – Lieutenant JG Arturo Hidalgo’s Cabin

Intended for short duration missions of up to a month, the Hokule’a had several large bunkrooms for crewmen, but there were a handful of cabins for senior officers. Lieutenant Hidalgo had never before been considered a senior anything, but he’d been given the run of the small ship’s engine room with the majority of the Arcturus’ engineering staff either working on the surface, preparing for possible combat on the ship itself, or pressed into command of one of the runabouts. The thrill of being in charge had mostly morphed into fear of screwing something up, but getting his cabin ready for a makeshift date with Lieutenant Windsor had been a fine distraction from all of that.

As always, Windsor was exactly on time, looking handsome in perfect regulation fashion, like he’d been poured into his uniform. Hidalgo pulled him by the hand into the cabin, about equally split between wanting him not to be seen in the corridor and wanting to show off his handiwork. 

“What’s all this?” Windsor asked, looking specifically at the white sheet that had been stretched taught over the bulkhead opposite the door. 

“Did you forget I said that I had a surprise for you?” Hidalgo asked, crossing his arms.

“No, but I thought that just meant I was going to get lucky,” Windsor said with a chuckle.

“That wouldn’t be much of a surprise, would it?” 

Hidalgo pulled him over to the small desk next to the bunk, which had a small equipment case. He’d been working on a secret project for Windsor over the past several weeks, ever since they’d agreed that they were, in fact, dating. It was a convenient way of focusing his wandering mind to task that would keep him too occupied to daydream, but now that he was done he was anxious for Windsor to like it. 

“Well, I saw the movie posters you have in your quarters, and you’ve talked about old Hollywood a few times, so I thought… Well, maybe you’d like your very own projector,” Hidalgo explained, unclipping the latches that held the cover on and then pulling it off to reveal a functional film projector. “I made it myself.”

Windsor beamed, not being one to easily conceal his emotions.

“Wow, Arturo? You really made this? That’s incredible. I love it,” Windsor replied, pulling him in for a hug.

“Yeah, it’s machined, not replicated. Well, a few things came from the ship’s stores, but the case and the mechanics didn’t. The light source is a holodiode, so it can also play a film or things directly from the library computer,” he explained, grinning ear to ear that the present was being well-received.

“What’s the occasion?” 

“No occasion. Just… you plan all of our dates, and I wanted to show you that I appreciated it,” Hidalgo replied, feeling himself blushing. “Can we stop talking now and try it out?” he suggested, having absorbed just enough praise to want to move on to the part of the evening where he could not have to talk about his feelings anymore. 

Hidalgo had built the reel-to-reel projector with an integrated tripod. So, once they had it set up next to the door, they managed to find a semi-comfortable position on the too-small bunk to sit together with a bowl of popcorn to watch the 1953 version of War of the Worlds

“So, is being first officer everything you ever hoped for?” Hidalgo asked.

“A little stressful. Lieutenant Commander Selon—“the captain”—is pretty demanding, even for a Vulcan,” Windsor replied. “But… honestly? It’s awesome. I’ve sat in the chair so many times today.”

“You’re in command of the Arcturus so often, Nate. Isn’t this a step down,” Hidalgo reminded him.

“I have the bridge pretty often, but that’s not ‘being in command,’” Windsor corrected. “I’m not really in command here either. But it still just feels different. How’s being Chief Engineering Officer?”

Hidalgo chuckled. “Pretty awesome. A little stressful,” he repeated. “I’ll be happy to be back on the ship, though. The real one.”

“You and me both. I fit into the bed, there,” the taller man replied. “Not that I mind the tight quarters at this particular moment.”

“Red Alert. All hands to battle stations,” came the alert over the comm just before they could kiss.


Diplomatic Launch Da Jiao, Plaza of the Ancients, Eta Torrensis IV

The shield dome flashed with light every few seconds when the snow had first started, but after a few hours it had been completely covered, blotting out the daylight and starting to harden into a solid surface. It was such an unusual phenomenon that Lieutenant Commander Van Dorland hadn’t thought to install much in the way of surface lighting on their initial explorations of the surface, so he’d had to fabricate a number of illumination systems to maintain operational security. 

Knowing that they’d be trapped on the surface for the foreseeable future, Van Dorland had followed Lancaster’s orders and sent the majority of the engineers from his team back to the ship. It was eerily quiet, with the shield and the snow blocking the wind. Even from inside the Da Jiao, there had been the subtle vibrations of the planet’s atmosphere curling around the saucer-shaped craft, and its absence was making his skin crawl.

“Lancaster to Van Dorland,” the engineer’s badge relayed with a chirp.

“Go ahead, sir.”

“What’s the status of our defenses?”

“Things are holding just fine. I’ve run a few simulations to see what the result of a few more days worth of snow would do, and there’s no risk to the shield. The computer predicts that it will be packed down into an ice dome within a few hours.”

“Very well. I assume you’ve come up with a solution to get us back out, as well?”

Van Dorland chuckled. “That was the first simulation. I believe that if we deactivate the shield, the dome will be able to maintain structural integrity for quite a while, unless its subjected to external forces. I’ve also developed a program that should be able to use the shield emitters to melt the dome within a few hours,” he replied.

“Figure out what it would take to extricate the Da Jiao at short notice, should we need it. I have no idea what will happen when we complete our mission,” Lancaster ordered.

“Under—,” Van Dorland started, before the red alert klaxon sounded. 

Sensor data from the Arcturus began pouring in. Kazon ships had entered the system.

“Sir, we’ve just received word that enemy ships are on approach.”

Lancaster cursed on the other end. “Let’s hope this team works better under pressure, then.”


USS Arcturus, Combat Information Center 

Buried deep within the saucer section, the Combat Information Center had hardlink connections to both of the ship’s main computer cores and the sophisticated long-range communications array that was a signature feature of Odyssey-class starships. Moments after red alert was declared, Admiral Hayden walked aft through the secure corridor that connected her office suite on the leading edge of the saucer to the heart of her staff’s operations. Lieutenant Robinson was following close at her heels, his responsibility for her personal safety manifesting in overbearing anxiety.

Clarity is secure in the CIC,” Robinson reported over the comm, as he gestured to the quartet of armed security officers who served as the last line of defense inside the suite itself.

“I must be the most secure woman in the galaxy who’s not actually incarcerated,” the Admiral quipped.

“Can’t take any chances, ma’am,” the tall lieutenant reminded her, his blue eyes scanning the circular room as if a Kazon agent were about to jump out from among the dozen or so intelligence analysts that staffed the sensor and communications stations there.

“Out of curiosity, what is your codename?” the admiral asked, as they moved towards the focal point of the room, a large tabletop display showcasing a two-dimensional map of the surrounding sector on its surface and projecting a real-time holographic display of the local conditions above it.

Goldenrod,” Robinson admitted. 

That scanned, Hayden thought, glancing at the young man’s wavy blond hair which had been tamed into a perfect, physics-defying coiff. Seeming to sense the rather obvious connection himself, Robinson reached up to unnecessarily straighten his already-perfect hair. 

“What about his?” she asked, as Lieutenant Commander Voral, her Chief Strategic Operations Officer.

Logic, of course,” the lieutenant reported, smirking.

“How apposite, for both of you,” Hayden said. “Tactical analysis, Mr. Voral?” she asked the Vulcan.

“Based on reports our other assets, this is the entirety of the remaining Kazon-Reloramar vessels that Captain Lancaster has not yet destroyed,” Voral replied, with an arched eyebrow. “Three carriers, eleven raiders, and twenty-three fighters are on a direct intercept course. The number of fighters is likely to increase when the carriers reach strike range. Given the secrecy of our true mission, the Kazon’s motivations likely remain the same as before: to destroy us and seize our technology.”

Hayden nodded. “I see no reason to disagree with that assessment, Commander. And the balance of forces?”

“With the Arcturus, our support vessel, twelve Type-11 shuttles, two Orion-class scouts, and nine runabouts, our forces are evenly matched for the time being,” Voral noted, glancing at Robinson, whom he obviously blamed for putting the tenth runabout out of commission. “It will be difficult to both keep the ship between the planet and the carriers and to avoid their forward firing arcs, however.”

“We will need to contain them and bog them down in knife-fight combat to make maximum use of our reinforcements. There’s no room here for a stand-off or a draw,” Hayden replied. 

Despite their technological superiority, the blue dots on the map above the table were certainly outnumbered by the red ones; there was no telling what tactics the Kazon might use, as inflamed as they were from their earlier interactions with the Arcturus. If there was any way that she could avoid this fight, Hayden would take it.

“Open a general hail,” the admiral ordered.

“Channel open.”

“Attention Kazon vessels. This is Admiral Elizabeth Hayden of the United Federation of Planets. I implore you to turn back now, before more blood is shed in this pointless conflict. We have proven time and again that we are more than capable of defending ourselves, and we will do so again if pressed. I am willing to provide water purification technology that would increase your strategic position significantly, if your maje is willing to withdraw permanently from this system.”

“The lead ship is responding, Admiral.”

Hayden nodded, and a screen was projected in place of the local map, showing the smoky interior of a Kazon bridge with the face of an obviously angry Maje Terridan. Given how covetous of Federation technology the Kazon were, the admiral hoped that dangling some relatively simple and benign equipment in his face would be enough to convince him to leave.

How very generous, Admiral. You have destroyed my ships and killed my people, but you think this paltry offering will be enough to stop me from destroying you in return? The arrogance!”

“My people have a saying, Maje, that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing more than once and expecting different results. You cannot best us, and I cannot let you have this system, so it’s in your best interests to leave even without this inducement,” Hayden replied. 

I will take your ships and your crew. You will not survive this day,” the Maje replied, before cutting the channel.

“A valiant effort,” Voral replied, putting his hands behind his back. “Though the Kazon have now increased speed. 45 seconds to weapons range”

“I’ve made him angry. Good. Put me through to our ships.”

Voral nodded.

“Attention all vessels. This is Admiral Hayden speaking. The Kazon are not going to make this easy, but we are holding this planet at all costs. We are not soldiers, but we are Starfleet: we will hold the line here, and keep those ships from getting to the surface. Fourth Fleet, all forward! Small craft, execute attack pattern Double Alpha and keep those fighters off of the Arcturus,” Hayden ordered.


USS Hokule’a – Main Bridge

“Make your heading zero-one-five mark zero-three-zero, full impulse,” Lieutenant Commander Selon ordered from the center seat of the Hokule’a. “Execute.”

One of the Arcturus’s officers of the watch, he had the duty of commanding the ship’s support vessel when it was deployed for duties like this. Ensign Knox-Stanton hadn’t met him before, but he’d been quickly educated on how little leeway the Vulcan was willing to give on anything.

“Aye, Captain,” Knox-Stanton replied, tapping commands into the helm that brought the ship’s engines online and took them rocketing away from the planet towards the Kazon vessels.

At that speed, they were within weapons range in seconds, and the Kazon attempted to lock onto them with their blue-white energy weapons, missing them thanks to the speed and small size of the Hokule’a. Knox-Stanton engaged in manual defensive countermeasures, rolling the ship to avoid further targeting while maintaining the ship’s general heading.

“Target the carrier to starboard and fire pulse phaser cannons,” Selon ordered to Lieutenant Windsor at the tactical station. 

Knox-Stanton saw the brilliant gold bursts on the view screen as they lashed out at the much larger ships. The runabouts and shuttles were in dogfights with the smaller Kazon ships already, but only the Hokule’a and Arcturus would be able to stand a real chance against their three carriers. He had only been in one real battle before—pitting the runabout Ausable off against a Kazon raider—and fear crept through him even as he tried to stay focused.

“We are being targeted, sir,” Windsor reported.

“By which ship?”

“All three carriers,” Windsor replied, prompting Knox-Stanton to look back in disbelief.

“Evasive maneuvers. Get us close enough to avoid their targeting systems, Ensign,” Selon ordered.

Knox-Stanton did his best, using the ship’s powerful thrusters to send it through erratic movements as they got closer. Their own weapons continued to pepper the surface of the Kazon vessel, but with the attention of all three carriers on them, they were trapped in a crossfire. The ship rocked, taking blasts from multiple sides. The shield grid began to fluctuate. He saw the incoming torpedo and attempted to alter course, but it was too late. There was a tremendous explosion, and then nothing.


Eta Torrensis IV, Museum of the Ancients

Thankfully, if Captain Lancaster was getting updates about the battle raging on in orbit, he wasn’t relaying them to his team. The last thing Belvedere needed as he worked feverishly to try to interface between Lieutenant Galan’s translations, Commander Sunvair’s calculations, and the captain’s technical machinations was to think about his friends up above. They had delved deeply into the code of the artifact, and were essentially having to perform a manual software update on a computer that was many thousands of years old, and it felt like they were making progress, but it was hard to be sure.In any other circumstance, it would be exciting—getting to get down in the trenches with the senior officers to solve a science mystery—but Belvedere was past excited all the way to terrified. 

“The subspace matrix is now calibrated correctly, as far as my instruments can detect,” Commander Sunvair announced, as she circled the white pillar with her tricorder open.

“The system should now automatically connect with the rest of the network,” Galan said, looking up from his PADD with a frown. “I see no other indication that additional steps are required.”

“Perhaps the trigger is physical?” Belvedere suggested. 

They’d taken a few panels off of the side of the machine with great difficulty to get to the complex crystalline circuitry within, but nothing looked immediately like a ‘reset’ switch. The Tkon were so evolved that they didn’t need big red buttons, apparently. 

“We could try cycling the power,” Sunvair suggested. 

“That may override the changes we’ve been making,” Galan remind him.

While the Vulcan and Romulus were discussing options, the captain let out a noise of slight frustration and kicked the base of the pillar, a section that they had identified as being purely structural and likely part of the mounting that the builders of the museum had made not the Tkon themselves. There was a strange whirring noise and then the displays on the pillar shifted from white to green, making all of their tricorders beep excitedly as it reconnected to the rest of the network.

“Percussive maintenance,” Lancaster muttered, much to the surprise of the team. “Lancaster to Hayden. We’ve finished our mission, as far as I can tell.”

Understood. We will extract you as soon as we can. The Kazon aren’t taking kindly to our presence here.”


USS Arcturus – Combat Information Center

Lieutenant Robinson saw on the display as the indicator representing a Kazon torpedo intersected with the indicator representing the Hokule’a. The computer initially began providing real-time feedback on the small ship’s hull status and shields, but that data feed cut a second later.

“The Hokule’a has taken a direct hit near their bridge… Communications have been severed,” Robinson reported, heart racing as he thought about the people aboard that ship. He tapped a few controls to focus one of the sensor arrays on them. “Looks like their shields are back up, but there are… at least five fewer life signs than there should be.”

“Understood. Give them what covering support we can, Mr. Voral,” Admiral Hayden replied, looking concerned but projecting the same aura of calm as she always did.

The Hokule’a was angling away from the battle, firing phasers at a pursuing raider until the raider was picked off by a pair of runabouts. For the moment, it looked intact, but anything could change in a battle like the one they were in. The carrier they were targeting had been weakened enough to allow the Arcturus to cripple it with a torpedo salvo, but the other two were still coming in hot.

Robinson didn’t have much of a real role when it came to monitoring the data feeds like the analysts around him did, so he stayed focused on the readings from their support ship. He knew Cody Knox-Stanton was supposed to be at the helm, and they’d become close on their away mission; it was silly to fixate on facts he couldn’t establish for certain, but he couldn’t pull himself away from the information. Then he saw it.

“Ma’am, the Hokule’a has a warp core breach in progress. They’ve got maybe three minutes,” Robinson reported. “Their shields are still engaged, and I can’t raise them.”

“The Hokule’a has altered course. They are headed towards the remaining Kazon carriers,” Voral reported, looking up from the table at the admiral. “Either they are unaware of their engine troubles or they are intending to purposefully denotate their warp core.”

“Pull our ships away from the carriers, and keep trying to raise them. Monitor for escape pods.”


USS Hokule’a – Deck 01

Lieutenant Windor’s head was still ringing as he pulled Lieutenant Commander Selon out of smoking remains of the bridge into the corridor. When he got him into the light, though, his suspicions were confirmed: the Vulcan was dead, covered in his own green blood from an EPS conduit rupture. The direct hit they’d taken had landed in the exact perfect place to cause a power surge and destroy their primary communications array. Lieutenant MacRory had managed to get out on his own, but he was dazed.

“Warning, bridge life support failure in thirty seconds,” the computer chided.

Shielding his face with his arm, Windsor ran back into the bridge, to grab Ensign Knox-Stanton, who was slumped over the helm. The younger man stirred slightly when Windsor put his arm around him, but he was clearly concussed and had burns on his face. 

“Computer, seal the bridge and transfer command to engineering, authorization Windsor Alpha-One-Tango-Zero!” Windsor ordered, when he’d dragged the other man out.

“Acknowledged,” the computer replied, the door locking behind him with a clunk.

Once they were in the corridor, Knox-Stanton tried weakly to stand but was clearly too out of it to be much help. MacRory made it to his feet and helped Windsor hold the other man up, as they headed down the hall towards the stairs, which took them down one deck to sickbay, where Dr. Lorona and the EMH were working with several patients already.

“Do what you can to help here. I need to get to engineering,” Windsor said, leaving the security officer with their helmsman and the doctor before sprinting down one more level to engineering.

Klaxons were sounding in a number of different pitches and frequencies as Windsor stepped inside engineering, but he was grateful to see no plasma fires—almost as grateful as he was to see Lieutenant Hidalgo looking relatively intact as he scrambled around the room.

“Report!” Windsor shouted over the din.

“We’re in pieces down here. We’ve got to eject the warp core,” Hidalgo reported. “Where’s the captain?”

“Dead,” Windsor confirmed, going over to the master status display. “How much time do we have? Without the core, we’ll lose shields and be a sitting duck.”

“Well, with the core, we’ll explode,” Hidalgo countered. “I can slow it down by venting drive plasma to reduce pressure on the containment vessel, but that will only buy us a few minutes.”

“Computer, begin evacuation protocols,” Windsor ordered, prompting the klaxons to change to the evacuation alarm. “I need to get the ship here before we detonate the core,” he said, pointing to a place on the map between the two carriers. “Otherwise, we’re going to bomb our own ships.”

“I mean, I definitely would prefer to do some damage to the Kazon in return, but… if they hit us before we dump this thing, we’re going down with it,” Hidalgo warned. “And before you lecture me, I am the only one who can keep the core stable long enough for you to play hero, so don’t even start,” he added, before turning back to the warp core itself. 

A forcefield shimmered into existence around the clearly-damaged warp core, as Windsor used the clumsy control interface on the pool table to put the ship through a series of acrobatics made to look semi-random, now that the Kazon were focusing their attention elsewhere. Drive plasma streamed out of the nacelles through the emergency flush ports. The status display showed the escape pods successfully leaving the ship, so at least the rest of the crew would make it even if they failed, but failure was definitely not part of Windsor’s plan.

“If you plan on surviving this, we’ve got to eject now,” Hidalgo complained.

“Just a little further.”

The ship was nearing just the right place, as Windsor saw the rest of the Starfleet vessels pulling back; evidently their plan was evident enough, so he hoped the Kazon were too dumb to notice what was about to happen.

“Eject the core!” 

A few seconds later, the warp core was propelled downward, as Windsor pulled the nose of the ship up hard and pumped the remaining emergency power into the impulse engines to take them as quickly as they could away from the impending detonation. The warp core’s containment lasted only a few more seconds before exploding, sending a shockwave through space that severely depleted the Kazon’s shields and rocked the Hokule’a. They’d made a dent, but the Kazon were still firing. 

“Proximity alert,” the computer reported, crisply, as four more warp signatures appeared.


Eta Torrensis IV, Surface

With Lieutenant Bowens at the helm and the Da Jiao stuffed with the whole remaining surface team, the saucer-shaped craft picked up off to the ancient plaza to face an aperture just wide enough for their exit on the shields, applying one final blast of reckless phaser fire to cut a hole in the dome of ice beyond to burst through and head back into orbit. Captain Lancaster was not willing to wait for the situation to calm down; he’d finished his task on the surface, and his place was on the bridge of his ship.

As the Da Jiao cleared the atmosphere, the signs of the battle were clear: Kazon and Starfleet ships were both burning, but the damage was much more severe on the Kazon side, other than the limping, listing Hokule’a which was just at the edge of Lancaster’s vision. He saw the brilliant flash of a warp core breach as they vectored towards the docking port on the Arcturus.

“Report!”

“The Hokule’a has ejected its warp core. Detecting escape pods and the ship itself is intact,” van Dorland reported from one of the side stations. “But I’m getting more warp signatures, Captain.”

Moments later, there were four bursts of light at the edge of the battle, and then the gold energy beams of Starfleet phasers lancing out from the periphery. After waiting in the system’s Oort Cloud, the other four ships accompanying the Arcturus out on this final frontier had been called in to mop up. 

“The Kazon have been routed,” Bowens noted from the helm.

“Good. Get us to the ship,” Lancaster said, going over to the tactical station to watch for himself as the chaos created by the warp core breach was exploited to perfection by Admiral Hayden’s maneuvering.

By the time the diplomatic launch was docked and Lancaster made it back to bridge, the last Kazon intact ship had withdrawn, as the two carriers burned in space. The more heavily damaged one began to drift, and before its partner could get out of the way the two ships collided with an explosion that destroyed them both in a brilliant flash.

Lancaster sunk into his chair, suddenly feeling the weight of his exhaustion. “Good job,” he offered, looking over at an equally weary Captain Rakan.


Captain’s Log, Supplemental and Encrypted.

We have confirmed with Starfleet Command that the Tkon beacon network has been repaired, thanks to efforts across the galaxy by other elements of the Fourth Fleet. Our own losses in the battle over Eta Torrensis IV were not insubstantial, as thirteen of my crew have died, two runabouts were destroyed, and the Hokule’a has been crippled, but we’ve survived. The galactic crisis has been averted, and we can now turn to rebuilding. 

I am pleased to say that this will be my final encrypted log under the Omega Directive.