Though the Odysseus was not a large starship, they still brought small shuttlecraft to dock with Observation Post Tango-157. Lieutenant Mitarell stood before the airlock, drumming her fingers on her arm, as it slid open to admit the Odysseus’s tall, austere Commander Aquila and her rather lanky Chief Engineer, Lieutenant Kimathi.
‘Welcome to OPT-157, ma’am,’ said Mitarell, disguising her frustration.’Glad you could get here so soon.’
The merest suggestion of an apology hovered about Aquila’s lips as she boarded. ‘We might not be the science ship you hoped for, Lieutenant. But we were the closest.’
‘Of course. We didn’t think much of it at first, but when the orders came out to prioritise all research on the Tkon, well. My team figured the fluctuations in our readings might be something, after all.’
Stevens and Brigoon had tidied up the Ops centre. Empty mugs had been cleared away, Stevens’s collection of sports memorabilia swept off his station. The three had become accustomed after long weeks to nothing but their own idiosyncrasies, but now they had an actual starship commander here.
‘There’s an energy field around Abnia VI,’ Mitarell explained as she led Aquila and Kimathi in. ‘It remains steady so long as a certain distance from the surface is maintained, but thirty years ago the SS North Star was trapped in orbit when she tried to set down for an expedition. Almost got ripped apart before she broke free. The field also renders it impossible to transport to the surface. So this outpost was set up to scan and monitor the planet from here.’
Kimathi broke off from them almost at once, pottering to Stevens’s post and peering over his shoulder. ‘The report said there were about five years of seriously trying to understand the Tkon technology, and after no break-throughs just monitoring to make sure nothing went weird. Right? In summary?’
It was accurate, but Mitarell still bristled as her long-term work was described so dismissively. ‘We didn’t think much about the fluctuation in the energy field – it’s happened periodically – until the change in priorities for the Tkon,’ she explained to Aquila.
‘The dates are interesting. You were right to report it, Lieutenant,’ said Aquila.
‘But if you’ll forgive me, Commander – your ship is just a Diligent,’ piped up Stevens. ‘We probably have just as good sensors on this hunk of junk as you do.’
‘We’re not here to scan. We’re here to find what’s producing that energy field.’
Stevens and Mitarell exchanged glances, before the lieutenant shook her head. ‘With the ongoing fluctuations, we have managed to – for the first time – narrow down the origin point. But you can’t get planetside.’
Kimathi leaned over Stevens. ‘Can you run me a quick scan, Ensign, for any subspace distortions?’
‘Uh, sure, ma’am, but that’s not been something we’ve detected before.’ Of course, a beat passed before Stevens sighed. ‘Except yeah, there they are. Coinciding with the energy field fluctuations. That’s not ever happened before…’
‘Don’t feel bad,’ said Aquila calmly. ‘The Federation has made more leaps in its understanding of the Tkon in the past week than in the past twenty years.’
Kimathi looked up at her with a nod. ‘This has to be what we’re after, Commander.’
Aquila turned to Mitarell. ‘I’d appreciate it if you could furnish us with everything on efforts to breach the energy field, Lieutenant. We have to get down there.’ That apologetic smile returned as Mitarell opened her mouth to protest. ‘I mean no disrespect, but bypassing that field hasn’t been Starfleet’s priority for a long time. Now we’re going to bring thirty years of technological advances to bear, and every revelation on Tkon technology made in this past week. The situation has changed.’
‘I’ll collate it and have it sent over within the hour, Commander,’ Mitarell assured her, and this assurance and personal examination was all it seemed Aquila and Kimathi needed to return to the shuttle and their ship.
Only once their sensors confirmed the shuttle was away from OPT-157 and returning to the Odysseus did Brigoon pipe up at last from his seat at the corner. ‘Ever get the impression we were left as babysitters until the cool kids could swoop in and steal all the credit?’
A fortnight later, a technician aboard the USS Caliburn was able to mimic the modulations in the transporter systems established by the crew of the USS Odysseus so Lieutenant Commander Airex could beam to the surface of Abnia VI from orbit.
He was greeted by a sweet breeze dragging across a rugged green hillside, a sapphire sea glinting in golden sunlight in the distance, until he turned to face the cold stone of the Tkon outpost discovered by OPT-157 and the Odysseus. Full science and engineering teams had pored over it since they’d bypassed the energy field, but that was not the feat that had called him from Starbase Bravo.
Nor was the outpost itself, though its intact structures and equipment he’d seen in the initial report were an outstanding example of the construction, architecture, and technology of the Tkon Empire. On any other day he would have been distracted repeatedly on arrival, drawn to one team or another as they crawled over every inch of the ruins. But his focus today was clear, and the moment he was in the main cluster of structures he was intercepted by the familiar form of Commander Aquila.
‘Commander Airex; I was surprised when they said you’d be coming.’ The Odysseus’s commander approached to give him a firm handshake. ‘I didn’t realise you’d left Endeavour.’
‘I hear you found something significant, Commander. Admiral Beckett dispatched me to take a look.’ It was better to focus on work than on what Airex would have deemed ancient history were it not for the literal ancient history he now had to worry about.
‘Of course, the beacon. This way.’ She led him into the main compound, a squat stone building in the heart of the outpost. ‘We thought at first the field generator was the cause of the subspace disruptions, but then Lieutenant Kimathi discovered the secondary chamber.’
They moved through passageways that had been undisturbed for hundreds of centuries until the Odysseus’s arrival, until Starfleet had finally brought all its resources to bear and stopped at nothing to uncover the Tkon’s secrets. Information had been exchanged on a massive scale, findings in one sector leading to fresh discoveries in another. Tkon sites that had not been examined for a half-century had been revisited by science ships with cutting-edge technology, secrets uncovered now Starfleet cared to devote the time and resources.
Abnia VI was in many ways just one more, a locked door whose key had been beyond Starfleet’s reach until they’d cared to stretch. But its energy field’s continued integrity meant the Odysseus had found much more intact remains of the Tkon. There was a no-nonsense coldness to the construction of this outpost. Airex had studied the Tkon even before the sudden need, and seen examples of their architecture, art, and aesthetics. This had none of these, a location built for a single purpose, and he might have thought it one of the homes of mere border defences had he not held other suspicions.
When they reached the underground chamber where sat the metal pillar, Airex knew at once he was right to suspect. It filled the room from floor to ceiling, ten feet tall, and if inert he expected it would look merely like a dull obelisk. Powered up, a mere inch from the surface hovered the lights and symbols of its control interface and display.
Lieutenant Kimathi stood before it, sleeves rolled up, after all this time seemingly indifferent to an astonishing display of ancient technology that had become just one more puzzle to a Starfleet Engineer. She barely waited for Aquila to finish her introductions before she launched into an explanation.
‘So, Commander, we found this not long after we found the field generator, which is on the upper level and looks a lot like this. We reckoned that was the cause of the subspace distortions you were interested in, yeah? That perhaps that was a means of the energy field trapping ships in orbit, though that didn’t seem to be the problem when we modified our transporters to get down here.’
She barely paused for breath, which Airex appreciated under the circumstances, and advanced on the pillar as she continued. ‘This thing? It’s a transmitter. Connected to some sort of massive network of subspace communications. So far I’ve identified seventeen distinct locations with which it seems to be in perpetual contact, but it’s so sophisticated and subtle that I don’t think we could detect any more than those disruptions from orbit. I think the energy field might have been shielding them?’
Airex nodded as he walked past her, and peered at the pillar. This was not the first he had read about, though it was the first he had seen – possibly the first to be found by Starfleet. ‘This is outstanding work, Lieutenant Kimathi. I promise we will discuss this further, but could you give me and the commander a moment?’
He knew the look of resentment that flashed across Kimathi’s face before she covered it. Here she had been, all but bleeding on possibly the most important discovery of the century – and didn’t even know how important – but at once he had to cast her back into the shrouds of secrecy.
‘She’ll get over it,’ said Aquila once her engineer had left. ‘I take it this is a good find, then, Commander?’
‘An outstanding find.’ He turned back to her. ‘What I’m about to discuss is classified under the Omega Directive. For the past weeks, Starfleet ships across the galaxy have been uncovering Tkon archives and technology, and finally we have an explanation for what has been causing the Omega outbreaks.’
‘Something to do with this Horizon system?’
‘Specifically, something in this Horizon system.’ He clasped his hands together. ‘We’ve uncovered records of a facility in orbit of the Horizon star, which we’ve named the Vanishing Point. We believe it to be the source of the Galactic Barrier itself.’
Aquila straightened at that. ‘You think the Tkon created the Galactic Barrier? Why?’
‘I have no idea,’ he admitted. ‘But it seems that after at least six hundred thousand years, the technology on the Vanishing Point has started to malfunction. This is why Omega is creeping into galaxy everywhere – either Omega itself is a deliberate part of the Galactic Barrier and it’s bleeding out, or this technology has manipulated subspace to the extent that malfunctions are causing Omega to manifest.’
‘Then why is Omega showing up everywhere?’
‘Believe it or not, that’s a sign of good news, Commander. Because I’ve spent the last seventy-two hours trying to figure out how we get past the Galactic Barrier to correct whatever’s going on at the Vanishing Point. Your find here – this – confirms that we maybe don’t have to.’ Airex gestured to the pillar. ‘If the records are correct, the Vanishing Point is the final control point of a galaxy-wide subspace network. All over there are devices like this – beacons – which aid the Vanishing Point in calibrating the size, shape, and strength of the Galactic Barrier.’
‘So what’s gone wrong? Something at the Vanishing Point, or the beacons?’
‘I believe that the Vanishing Point is intact. If the problem is with the beacons, then we have a fighting chance. Based off our scramble for research, we’ve got a good idea of the location of a lot of them. This beacon here may help me find even more.’
Commander Aquila advanced on the pillar, brow folding into a thoughtful frown. ‘Re-establish the subspace network telling the Vanishing Point what shape the galaxy is… restore the Galactic Barrier, and stop the Omega?’
‘Possibly even disperse it,’ said Airex, brightening. ‘Correcting the misalignment in the Galactic Barrier may compensate for the Omega already… released or created, I’m not sure. But essentially, yes, Commander.’
‘But aren’t there going to be a lot of beacons in a lot of different conditions?’
‘I expect some may be lost after all this time, but clearly the Tkon built this system to last,’ Airex admitted. ‘Others may need physical repairs, a restoration of a power source. Others may require accessing their systems to recalibrate or reconnect to the subspace network.’
There was a gentle snort from Aquila. ‘You mean this might have all gone wrong because stellar drift has finally pushed these beacons sufficiently out of alignment?’
‘After six hundred thousand years, anything’s possible.’ Airex turned to face her. ‘Your crew is to be commended. This is the most intact finding we’ve had yet. I’ll appreciate further assistance from your Lieutenant Kimathi in unravelling the secrets of this beacon. The more we learn here, the more we can arm ships hunting down other beacons with the knowledge of how to fix them.’
‘Of course you’ll have Kimathi, Commander. I think stopping her would be the challenge.’ Aquila still set her hands on her hips and stared at the beacon, not him. ‘But give me your commendations once this is over. It’s one thing to find the solution. We haven’t saved the day yet.’
In this Story:
– The USS Odysseus visits Observation Post Tango-157 and learns of the team’s analysis of the Tkon technology blocking access to the planet Abnia VI. Discovering subspace disruptions emanating from the surface, they commit to bypassing them and reaching the Tkon outpost on Abnia VI.
– Two weeks later, the team has uncovered the outpost and Commander Airex is dispatched by Admiral Beckett to assess their findings. Airex confirms the discovery of a ‘beacon’ that is part of a Tkon galaxy-spanning subspace network originating from the Vanishing Point, a facility orbiting the mysterious Horizon system believed created to form and maintain the Galactic Barrier.
– Airex explains to Commander Aquila of the Odysseus that the Omega outbreaks have been caused by the Vanishing Point’s network malfunctioning. To end the crisis, as many Tkon beacons in this network as possible must be reached and repaired or recalibrated to correct the great powers of the Vanishing Point.
– Discoveries by dozens of ships and research teams have led to this understanding of Horizon and the Vanishing Point. These breakthroughs in knowledge on the Tkon have also revealed the locations of multiple suspected beacons.