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Part of USS Helios: Echoes in the Weeds and Bravo Fleet: Labyrinth

Playing with Marbles (pt. 8)

USS Helios, orbiting Helike
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From orbit the gas giant seemed peaceful, an oversized red marble suspended in the perfectly clear amber of space, timeless and still. Even from the neighbourly distance of 800 thousand kilometres, (for what is a few thousand kilometres between friends on a canvas measured in lightyears) the rolling storms of its surface, ever crashing and screaming seem to be nothing more than a trick of light in the eye. The silent banshee wails of ammonia storms, strong enough to crush ships to forgettable dust, race at the speed of sound across the surface of the rust-coloured marble, swirling and twisting with a fury that would lift mountains and seas as a child lifts glass pebbles at the end of the game. The dark storm clouds rolled and thrashed like claret-scaled fish caught in the net, flailing desperately against the massive gravity of the planet to be free of their prison. Beneath it, currents of silver liquid hydrogen, compressed by pressures beyond comprehension roil and bubble against the overwhelming forces of physics that pin it to the molten surface of the planet’s core. And in its very heart, an invisible and unknowable thing brought into existence simply by being reaches outward greedily, the planet’s gravity clutching at passing asteroids and meteors with its thousand mile fingers. They form a royal court one hundred strong, of moons and satellites, eternally following their rigid dance steps idly around the great red sphere, resigned to the unwilling termination of their journey through the cosmos. 

David reached out with his hand to cup the red orb, letting the empty cup that he was clutching float free in the lab’s minimal gravity “It almost makes me homesick.” He said, pulling it closer and caressing the miniature planet gently with an outstretched finger, accelerating the simulated storms back and forth across the planet’s surface playfully. “Are you sure there isn’t a little blue one to go with this?” He leant around the jovian model to see How floating nearby, his long otter-like form wrapped around a cluster of sharp metallic shapes representing the debris at the edge of the system. 

“If you are asking for an Earth-like planetoid David, I’m afraid I cannot help.” The long furry being motioned with his stubby arms towards a green orb that rolled nearby, a familiar grey shape slowly tracking it in orbit as the stellar cartography lab translated Helios’ location into the immersive projection. “That is the best I can do. Minshara class, but I’m afraid a bit too green to be earth.”

“I thought the reports said it was mostly ocean?” David allowed the red orb to float free again, the angry storm ridden marble floating away and back into its simulated orbit. Reaching out with his arms he awkwardly swam, his arms flailing like a panicked babe, through the gravity-less air towards the much smaller green orb, scooping it from its sedate seat amongst the heavens. 

“It is, but it features several massive algae blooms and the surface is predominantly marshland, hence the green colour, particularly on the day side where the algae have taken over large portions of the surface water.” How’s whiskered face appeared from behind a large piece of debris he had been focussing on. “Did you not take these scans yourself, David?”

David sighed, “Yes, but I was more focused on the fact the sensors were scanning rather than what they were scanning.” The lieutenant had been working hard for several hours alongside the ship’s Kelpian chief engineer to restore the sensor palettes, their partial success was highlighted by the improving accuracy of the scans represented in the lab. “Did you the information you need?” The young officer was researching the angry looking underspace portal that had brought them here but with only basic readings from the patrolling valkyries and runabouts his available information had been limited. 

“Mostly.” How brushed aside the debris to the corner of the room, the vast field of metal chunks from a thousand more unfortunate travellers melting away to present the white-blue line of energy rolling and twisting in space, its jagged serpentine form making David’s hairs stand on end. “Isn’t it gorgeous?”

“Sorry?”

“Gorgeous. Beautiful? Impressive? Did I not use the word correctly?” How big brown eyes were suddenly filled with concern at his possible linguistic stumble.

David tugged at his lip with a fishhook, “It’s a deadly space portal?”

“That doesn’t make it any less beautiful.” How raised his eyebrows and offered an honest smile, causing his small incisors to poke out beyond his lips. The young officer’s endless wonder at the universe was widely considered his most endearing trait, that and his persistent positivity. 

“It does have a certain… beauty.” David considered the white crack in space that quietly fizzed and popped with vicious sparks of energy. “Even if it did gobble us up and spit us out who knows where.”

“That’s not completely true. I believe I’ve triangulated our position.” How waved his stubby arms as his tail flicked back and forth, driving him effortlessly through the waterless ocean of stars that now shimmered into being. “It took some time to filter out the solar radiation but I believe we are…” He came to a stop, rolling his body into a pretzel effortlessly to counter the momentum “…here.” A red light began flashing at the tip of his webbed claw a lonely crimson light pulsing amongst a sea of white and yellow orbs. 

“I need a bit of a bigger perspective How, we don’t all commit star charts to memory.” David glanced around, but no familiar patterns or shapes jumped out at him, meaning they weren’t anywhere near the Badlands where they had started. The hairs on David’s neck got more rigid at the implications. 

With a wave of his furry arm, the lab’s perspective reeled back, condensing lightyears into centimetres, quickly the entire Milky Way galaxy sat floating between the two science officers. “About here.” The light appeared again at the tip of How’s claw, sadly flashing from the far edge of the Beta Quadrant, lolling far beyond the tumultuous green lines of Romulan space or the blood-red edges of Klingon Territory. Decades of travel even in Starfleet’s fastest ship, which Helios was definitely not. 

David felt suddenly sick as the truth of the situation came to his head. the presence of Viddian debris, the Devore shipwreck on the planet, and the Kazon children the away team had met all suggested to the Delta Quadrant, where at least the Barzan wormhole could be reached and Starfleet tentatively travelled. “Does the Comman… Captain know?” David admonished himself for the misranking of his friend as he rubbed his belly, barely able to hold his stomach, unsure whether it was the news or the micro-gravity. 

How gave an apologetic look and a slow nod. “Hence my focus on getting the portal back open for travel.”

Their sad observation was interrupted by the slick sounds of the lab’s doors, several metres below the pair the statuesque figure of Commander Bib strode in as the light from the corridor flooded the dark backdrop. He only took a few steps before haltingly suddenly as he remembered where the lab’s gravity plating ended. 

“Captain, please join us!” How beckoned with a short arm as he slowly span in the air. “We were just discussing our situation.” How motioned with his other arm, dismissing the 

Bib’s face turned pale for a moment before he decided to commit, it wouldn’t do for a commanding officer to not take his shoes off in someone else’s proverbial house. With a slight jump, he escaped the deckplate’s gravity generators and began moving towards the pair, his antenna twisting awkwardly as they attempted to orientate his internal balance. With an expert flick of his arms, he landed next to the scientists, their three giant forms now surrounding the holographic anomaly. 

“That was smoother than I expected,” David admitted as the Andorian came to a stop. 

“Low G training is a big thing at the Imperial Academy.” Bib smiled thinly as he reached up to still his wiggling antenna. “It’s not something you forget.” David rubbed his belly again, suddenly aware of his inexperience in low gravity. “Any update How?”

The science officer pulled at the edges of the thin white line that signified the closed mouth of the portal, enlarging it and causing sets of scan data to surround the hologram, their various data sets twitching slowly as they cycled. “We are ninety-nine percent certain that we travelled through Underspace, collated data from the ship and several scans from Heliades confirm it is an unstable portal to the network.”

“Original maps from the Turei never indicated it went this far, I mean it’s essentially the edge of the galaxy.” Bib rubbed the thin stubble on his chin, a telling sign that he hadn’t had a chance to return to his quarters for at least a day. 

“Those maps were woefully small. The Turei were concerned only with the main tracks that connected resource-rich locations and their territory, they’ve never had the resources to travel further. It’s what Starfleet was hoping to offer them through the DEI.” David clarified, playing with his own thick facial hair mindlessly. 

“I’m not surprised the network reaches much further. It seems to be a reflection of ‘normal’ space.” How flexed his small-clawed fingers into air quotes, an unfortunate habit acquired from a scientist he had worked with in his youth. “It makes sense that there would be far-reaching tendrils, I suspect something has caused a number of access points to open whilst also stabilising several older ones.” He reached up to stroke his whiskers, intentionally mimicking the two other men. 

“My bruises beg to differ about it being stable.” Bib rubbed his shoulder where a large cerulean bruise lay beneath his uniform. 

Helios is proof that it is.” How recalled the debris field back into existence. “From what I can gather these vessels all arrived here via the portal, or at least portions of them did.” His tone fell solemn. “I believe they suffered major damage in the network which then deposited the debris here.”

“Recently?”

“Yes… and no.” How pointed to the largest fragments as he spoke, each highlighted with scan data in turn. “We know this piece is Vidiian, deposited here at least fifteen years ago, this piece has damage consistent with heavy theta radiation we’ve seen with Malon ships but is aged at almost 20 years. This appears to be Hirogen but is more than 50 years old, this one matches hull materials used by the Kobali in the last decade.” Several other hull sections were highlighted with large question marks, “I’ve no idea about the providence of these fragments but dating indicates they range from six months to almost a century.”

“Combined with a number of shipwrecks we’ve found on the planet?” David offered another dot for Bib to join. 

“People have been getting spat out here for a while.” Bib took a sharp intake of breath, “We’ve been very lucky haven’t we?” The two scientists nodded solemnly. 

“I suspect the Kazon on the planet are survivors of a similar transit.” How offered. 

“Have you found any Kazon wreckage?”

How withdrew a small pad from his belt, eliciting a light jingle of clacking rocks from a leather pouch around his belts. “Nothing currently.” His brow furrowed. “No debris in orbit or on the planet consistent with Kazon construction.”

“Anyok & Bahir are en route to the village with the Kazon teenager now, perhaps they can answer some questions.” Bib pushed the debris aside once more, his focus returning to the Underspace Portal, his face set hard as his eyes drilled laser beams into the slim white subspace crack. “Can we reopen it? Can we get home?” David was struck by the weariness in his voice, the sudden pressure of a ship filled with people weighing on his shoulders. 

“We have data from Voyager and the Turei about entering Underspace. Navigating home?” How’s smile faded slightly but was bolstered moments later as his perpetually positive attitude rose to meet his falling hopes. “Is something I look forward to trying.” A weary smile raced around the trio as the tiny holographic portal flickered and sparked with energy, its secrets closer than they were this morning. 

  • Bib

    First Officer / XO

  • How

    Science Officer - Astrometrics

  • David Mitchell

    Theta Squad - Science Officer