Deep in the Jefferies Tubes running through the bowels of the ship, the voice echoed around her so badly Kimathi didn’t recognise it. ‘I said I’ll be a minute! Get a grip without me!’ she hollered back at whatever latest engineer needed her to hold their hand through routine work.
But as she triple-checked power to the antimatter integrator was off, the equipment no longer pumping anything through to the injector coils, and free of any lingering antimatter, she couldn’t help but mutter oaths to herself. Nothing about what she’d put the Odysseus through the past weeks was routine. It took her more than a minute to remove and drag the battered integrator, at serious risk of failing after being pushed repeatedly to capacity, out of the tube and back into Main Engineering.
Where Kimathi realised she’d been snapping at Commander Aquila. She let the integrator slide to the deck with a thunk. ‘Captain, sorry. Didn’t realise it was you.’
But Aquila’s eye was on the scored piece of equipment, her expression pinching. ‘Do we have a replacement for that?’
‘What? Oh, definitely not. I’m going to replace some internal components. Get maybe another ten hours out of it.’ Kimathi rubbed the back of her neck. ‘So I hope we don’t have much more haring around at top speed to do.’
Aquila did not look up. ‘No,’ she said softly. ‘No, I just heard from the Edelweiss. They’ll be with us in six hours and can begin the next phase of operations.’
Operations I still can’t know about. Kimathi tried to keep her expression polite. ‘What do they need from us, then?’
‘Scans.’ Aquila tore her gaze back up to her engineer. ‘I’ve told Commander Templeton to prioritise the mid-range sensors until they arrive. So I wanted to be sure your maintenance wouldn’t interfere.’
‘Yeah, I might have interfered with another sweep of the same sector we’ve been doing laps of by making sure a critical component doesn’t blow mid-warp and kill us all,’ Kimathi agreed, before she caught herself and sobered. ‘I can delay maintenance of Fox Section of the EPS relays until afterwards. Plenty to do in the meantime.’
Normally, Aquila would not have stood for such a sardonic tone. But she pushed on wearily. ‘The Edelweiss will begin her work immediately. We anticipate we’ll be done in the region within twenty-four hours. Then it’s to Starbase 514 for maintenance and next orders. Will that make your work easier?’
Kimathi hadn’t realised how much of a weight was on her chest until Aquila’s words lifted it. ‘Yes, Captain. Much easier to get us ready just to limp ten light-years to dock.’
‘Good.’ Much to Kimathi’s surprise, Aquila crouched before the abandoned antimatter integrator and ran a hand over the still-warm, gently warped metal plating. ‘This doesn’t look good. I didn’t realise things were so desperate down here.’
Kimathi shifted her weight. ‘We asked a lot of the Odysseus. Put her through her paces. Some bits are a little battered. Nothing’s broken, though, ma’am.’
‘No,’ Aquila said softly. ‘Nothing’s broken.’
‘Day or two at Starbase 514 will have us right as rain again.’
Aquila sighed as she looked back up. ‘I hope so,’ said the weary captain. ‘Because I expect we’ll be back out again soon.’
To some, the Secondary Astrometrics Lab on Starbase Bravo had become a war room of the crisis, all its sensors and processing power all brought to bear on the Omega Crisis. Here every scan, every report, every scientific analysis was brought for examination and comparison so the best minds of the Federation could try to figure out if the other best minds of the Federation had given them an answer.
To Commander Lockhart, Intelligence Advisor to Admiral Beckett, the Secondary Astrometrics Lab had become more of a second home. She’d clocked more hours in here these past weeks than she had in her own bedroom, and was guilty of more than a few nights spent with fresh data in a chair in the corner.
On a late night, the chamber was soothing. Chirrups of the computer systems around her, the gentle lights of the vast holographic map charting the galaxy’s possible demise as a soporific bedside lamp. So she had to fight to not jump at the brisk footsteps approaching.
‘I have the two best things in the world for you.’ Little stopped Commander Reyes being cheerful. Even the end of all things. ‘First, a fresh cup of coffee – Old Brown Java, right from Brew.’
Lockhart looked with greedy suspicion at the mug. ‘You always tell me off for drinking fresh coffee after 2100.’
‘I tell you off for drinking fresh coffee after about 1600,’ Reyes pointed out. ‘But this is a special occasion.’
She winced. ‘How bad is the second-best thing in the world?’
He tapped on the panel beside the holographic map. ‘It isn’t. But I knew you’d want to be awake for the latest scans from the MIDAS Array.’
Lockhart sat bolt upright even without the coffee. The Mutara Interdimensional Deep Space Array System had been designed for communication faster than standard subspace comms. After its proven success in Project Pathfinder with the return of the USS Voyager, expansions to its systems allowed its hyper-subspace technology to be harnessed for sensor readings reaching further than even the most sophisticated deep space probes. The MIDAS Array’s reliance on pulsar peaks to magnify its reach meant that they had been forced to wait days, weeks, for many of these scans to become possible.
‘I thought that was tomorrow,’ she said, grabbing the mug and sliding towards the map.
‘I don’t know what day you think it is,’ said Reyes delicately, ‘but today might already be tomorrow. Anyway, this isn’t the raw data; Airex already went through it for findings of Omega or other relevant subspace anomalies.’
She bit her lip. ‘I would have rather seen it all.’
‘Apologies, Commander Lockhart, but I don’t believe you’ve spent over seventy years studying astrophysics,’ came a cool voice as the doors slid open to admit the offender himself, Lieutenant Commander Airex. ‘The MIDAS Array has generated a near-unprecedented amount of astronomical data. Much of it is fascinating but irrelevant to our project. And very few people are qualified to analyse it for Omega.’
Lockhart managed to not give the tall Trill an offended look. He was new to the team, hand-picked by Admiral Beckett, and she couldn’t help but be apprehensive of any additional staff. She was too well-connected to not be aware of the admiral’s propensity for picking favourites, enticing them to perform for him, and then putting them out to pasture when he had a new plaything. While she didn’t need the admiral’s personal approval – or so she told herself – she had no intention of letting go of a posting this auspicious. Not after Barzan.
She forced a polite smile. ‘Integrating these findings with the extant strategic information is what I’m qualified for.’
‘So here it is!’ said Reyes a little too loudly as Airex visibly bristled. ‘Now we can see it.’
A few quick commands shifted the map further, disguising the full strategic data – Starfleet unit locations, suspected foreign force movements, hot spots of political and humanitarian concern. Behind were left the bright white sparks that denoted Omega clusters. They had always been thickest across the Alpha and Beta Quadrant, thickest where the Federation had eyes. Lockett had braced herself for that cluster to disappear as the MIDAS Array picked up Omega all across the galaxy, and swallowed bitter anxiety at the thought of more pockets, any of which could bring a quadrant to its knees.
There were more, of course, and more far beyond the Federation’s borders, deep into the wilderness of the four quadrants. But not nearly as many as she expected. Lockhart glanced at Airex. ‘That’s not as bad as I was afraid. Obviously we’ve not scanned the whole galaxy, but we clearly got a lot of coverage with this rate of dispersal…’
His nod was approving. ‘Quite, Commander. This is hardly complete, but I don’t think it’s merely that we have eyes on the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. I think that’s where most of the outbreaks of Omega are.’
Despite her irritation, Lockhart had to accept her analysis had begun and ended with that observation. ‘We’re already unsure what would make Omega keep manifesting. What would make Omega keep manifesting primarily but not exclusively within approximately one-third of the galaxy?’
‘If you’ll forgive me, there is one sensor reading I did not include in my breakdown for Commander Reyes. I wanted your eyes on the complete picture first.’ With a look for permission, Airex relieved Reyes at the control panel. ‘Because with the cluster being regionalised, it made me fear someone in our neck of the Milky Way might be responsible.’
‘I’m sorry to disappoint,’ said Lockhart sincerely, ‘but no, I haven’t been keeping evidence up my sleeve that the Cardassians are behind this.’
Reyes cocked his head. ‘What’s this last reading?’
‘In two words: damned odd.’ At the press of a button, one more white spark appeared on the galactic map. Or, technically, outside it.
Lockhart peered at the single light hovering on the display several inches beyond the galactic rim. ‘Where is that?’
‘MIDAS picked it up and honestly, I thought it might have been a glitch,’ said Airex with a shake of the head. ‘We’re not confident our sensors can pierce the Galactic Barrier, but it’s difficult to know and research has been limited. But if I may.’ He advanced on the holographic map with a stylus to annotate.
Lockhart’s breath caught. ‘It’s an origin point. Omega outbreaks are more clustered closer to it.’
Reyes shifted his weight. ‘That’s a hypothesis,’ he warned. ‘I agree the clusters are located nearer to that edge of the galaxy, but…’
‘I had the same thought as Commander Lockhart.’ Airex twirled the stylus, before tapping on the panel. ‘So I checked my suspicions, and they were correct: Starfleet Research is confident we know what that location is.’
A new report appeared on the holo-display, and Lockhart squinted. ‘The Horizon System?’
‘Forty years ago, astrophysicists found sensor readings suggesting that a whole star system had been artificially displaced from the Moreau Cluster. Their hypothesis was that there had once been an O-type star, but there was no indication of supernova. Findings from the MIDAS Array confirm this location to be an O-type star.’ Airex’s voice had cranked up a notch in pitch and speed, his excitement about the possible cause of the end of life as they all knew it near-palpable. ‘We know of ancient civilisations who have relocated entire star systems. Ten years later, archaeologists from the Daystrom Institute studied an archive from a long-dead empire mentioning one such project. The records were incomplete, but the possible system was tentatively labelled the Horizon System.’
He straightened and turned to them, excitement flashing in his eyes. ‘My hypothesis is that this distant location is Horizon: the origin point of the Omega crisis, and a system artificially placed beyond the Galactic Barrier by none other than the Tkon Empire.’
Reyes made a face. ‘The Tkon?’
An anxious fist squeezed Lockhart’s heart. ‘What on Earth do we know about the Tkon Empire?’
‘Not enough,’ Admiral Beckett grumbled over his tea. ‘But I now have every single archaeologist in the Federation trying to cough up information on them.’
Fleet Admiral Ramar tapped his desk, looking uneasy. ‘If we already have the information on Horizon, surely we’d have an explanation by now.’
‘Well. Yes, and no.’ Beckett shrugged wearily. ‘We know quite a lot about the Tkon: their language, for one. Various dig sites, lost archives, pieces of their technology have been found over the last sixty years. But they were incredibly advanced, and there’s an awful lot of relics in our possession – or ruins to which we have access – that we’re learning more about all the time. More details on their culture to understand the contexts of their records, more about their technology so we can access more in their ruins or databases…’ He blew out his cheeks. ‘But they’ve been very few people’s highest priority for the last half-century.’
Ramar nodded. ‘And now we need them to be everyone’s priority.’
‘Researchers are receiving more resources, more manpower. If we have the answer, we’ll find it. In the meantime, Starfleet needs to worry about Omega.’
‘Yes.’ But Ramar’s jaw was tight, and after a moment he said, ‘The Tkon had influence across the galaxy, correct?’
‘Their territory was primarily in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, but we know of outposts elsewhere, yes.’ Beckett looked suspicious, one step behind the conversation again.
‘Hm.’ Ramar turned away and reached for his desk console, forcing Beckett to disguise a scowl as the fleet admiral worked on an idea without sharing it. With the push of a button, Ramar opened a comlink to his yeoman outside. ‘Get me Admiral Wolf on the line.’
Beckett shifted his weight as the confirmation came through. ‘Sir?’
‘It occurs to me, Alexander, that Starfleet as a whole is better mobilised to respond to Omega outbreaks after these few weeks. It’s no longer so urgent the Fourth Fleet be on standby.’
Were this not the fleet admiral and a crisis of galactic proportions, Beckett’s sigh would have been a lot more passive-aggressive. ‘This is true, sir.’
‘I’m changing the Fourth Fleet’s priority,’ said Ramar, either taking pity on him or no longer having reason to prevaricate. ‘Across the galaxy there are Tkon sites and technology we’ve not examined. Too inaccessible, or not worth the resources or political capital it would take to reach them. But if Tkon technology is behind this Omega crisis, this is now the biggest priority.’
Realisation crystallised in Beckett’s mind and came with an impressed smile. ‘Our ships can reach Tkon worlds or seize Tkon assets under the authority of the Omega Directive.’
‘Or bring a lot more resources to bear on assets or worlds we already have access to.’ Where Beckett had smirked, Ramar grimaced. ‘We might have the legal right to confiscate items, breach foreign borders, or send landing parties to pre-warp worlds. But there still needs to be a galactic peace when this is over.’
Beckett shook his head. ‘Yes, sir,’ he said carefully. ‘But speak too softly, and we’ll have peace only because Omega will destroy all galactic communities.’
In this Story:
- The USS Odysseus concludes operations keeping civilians away from a cluster of Omega as a specialist team comes to relieve them. Across the galaxy, Omega is being destroyed – but the manifestations are not over, and the Omega Directive remains in force.
- Starfleet researchers have a hypothesis: the source of the outbreaks of Omega is the Horizon System, a star beyond the Galactic Barrier, artificially placed there by the ancient Tkon Empire. Why or how it is causing the crisis, however, is still a mystery.
- With the Federation turning its resources into learning more about Horizon in particular and Tkon technology in general, Fleet Admiral Ramar gives the Fourth Fleet a new mission. More must be learned of the Tkon; their worlds visited, their technology seized, their archives studied. With the Omega Directive still in place, captains have unprecedented authority and resources in pursuit of this goal.