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Part of USS Arondight: One of Our Starbases is Missing and Bravo Fleet: Labyrinth

7. Signs and Portents

Deep Space
Stardate 2401.9
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On a Reliant-class starship, the atmosphere in every compartment was fully cycled through the ship’s filters every sixty seconds, whether it was the most miniature computer network trunk or the main shuttlebay. It wasn’t quite as aggressive as the filtration systems aboard a hospital ship, but, like all Federation starships, nothing ever smelled on the Arondight. Starfleet’s uniforms were all made of fabric woven with moisture and scent-mediating fibers in the fabric. Whether you were fresh out of the shower or on duty for a day straight, the air for your fellow crewmembers was kept safe. Serving in Starfleet—at least on an average day without an assignment involving the holodeck filters—was largely scent-free. One of the exceptions to that life was direct physical contact, as Lieutenant Commander Hawthorne well knew from spending most of the nights over the past several weeks with his face burrowed into Paulo Costa’s chest.

While the ostensible task they had set for themselves was to attempt to squeeze in some respite on their way speeding towards an unexplored system, Hawthorne hadn’t slept at all. Costa seemed to be doing a better job of being unconscious, although he woke intermittently to stroke Hawthorne’s hair. While still a novel sensation, the extreme closeness to the adonis of a man he loved wasn’t the only thing preventing Hawthorne from sleeping. He was running through a thousand possibilities for what they could encounter in Gamma Aquarii. They had no idea whether or not the Breen’s influence extended out as far as they were in the Alpha Quadrant, after all.

After glancing up at the chronometer on the helm, Hawthorne extricated himself carefully from Costa’s arms and slid into the copilot’s seat. He slid the chair down its rail to the science station mounted into the starboard bulkhead. The computer would have woken them up in another twenty minutes, but his mind was moving too quickly for him to settle in. At that range, if the system was inhabited by a warp-faring species, even the shuttle’s limited sensors would have been able to detect subspace signatures from engines and reactors. There was nothing yet, though.

“Anything interesting?” Costa mumbled amid other noises as he stretched and started to wipe the sleep from his eyes.

“I didn’t mean to wake you up,” Hawthorne replied, immediately feeling bad. “But, no. Nothing, yet.”

“It’s okay. I could tell you were awake the whole time, anyway,” the other man replied. He crossed the tiny cockpit to squeeze Hawthorne’s shoulders while looking at the scientific displays. “Exciting, isn’t it?”

Hawthorne chuckled as Costa could easily illustrate the difference between their two perspectives on the world. Faced with the unknown, Hawthorne wanted to collect as much data as possible and prepare contingencies while Costa was ready to charge right in. Fitting for a man who’d spent most of his life as a pilot and now flew shotgun at the tactical station on a frigate.

“Exciting is one word for it, Costa,” Hawthorne replied, giving him a subtle hint that they should resume a more professional tone of voice now that they were back on duty. “I haven’t picked up anything… Wait, I’m now picking up a subspace resonance frequency. It’s consistent with an antimatter explosion. A very large one,” the scientist corrected.

“The Buran?”

“Too early to tell,” Hawthorne said, swallowing as he failed to imagine anything other than a warp core breach that could be causing the readings he saw. Another nineteen minutes until they were in the system. “Can this thing go any faster?” he muttered. 

Back on Arondight, Lieutenant Sadir was in sickbay for observation. Anytime a being with as complicated a brain as a Betazoid had a headache, it was worthy of concern. As the security officer, he preferred to be somewhere else, doing something more practical, but the doctor disagreed. He was resting but still sneaking a few security reports on a PADD at the side of his biobed as he did so. It was late, so there was a nurse on duty in the physician’s office, so he was largely left to his own devices. The doctor had provided him with a mild analgesic and a cortical monitor, but there was still a dull ache in his head. As he read the latest phaser accuracy reports, his mind started to throb. He felt like his skull was being squeezed. No, beyond that, he felt like his whole body was being crushed as if he were at the bottom of an ocean. His skin felt cold and damp, yet there was a sense of family or togetherness that he couldn’t escape. He could sense one word through that cognitive dissonance: “Trapped.” The sensation intensified until Sadir lost consciousness entirely, dropping the PADD on the floor.