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Part of USS Arcturus: Paradise Found

Mystery in Paradise

USS Arcturus, Main Bridge
January 2400
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After a long run at high warp, the Arcturus sailed into the Omicron Torrensis system. It had given the crew some time to acclimate to one another, and the prospect of surveying a brand-new M-class world in front of them had spirits high. Science Officer Vahlen was happy to have an actual project to focus on, something to distract his department from the departures of Commanders Walker and Galbraith at the end of their last mission. There were, of course, rumors as to why they had departed, but he didn’t particularly care since it meant that he was no longer burdened by Galbraith’s idealism or Walker’s cheeriness. Neither personality trait was particularly useful in a good scientist, after all.

“Now approaching Omicron Torrensis IV, Captain,” Lieutenant Commander Marshall reported from the helm. 

“Standard orbit, please,” the captain ordered from the center seat. “Commander Vahlen, run a full sensor sweep,” he added, glancing back to where Vahlen was standing at the primary science station.

“Aye, Captain,” Vahlen replied, though he’d already begun accessing the lateral sensors and the planetary sensor dome. 

The data the Vulcans had given them in advance was cursory at best. Once they’d seen that it was an M-class planet, they’d abandoned detailed scanning efforts because of Federation protocols preventing the use of garden worlds for resource harvesting. When Vahlen put the complete resources of the Arcturus’s planetary sensor array towards scanning the surface, he immediately began to get much more exciting results.

“Oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere, well within tolerance levels for most humanoids, though the O2 closer to Vulcan or Andor than Earth,” the commander noted, before frowning at the following data point. “The upper atmosphere has a thin but concentrated band of tetryon radiation. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.”

Tetryon radiation could only be created through subspace anomalies, so to see a band so distinct in a planet’s atmosphere without obvious subspace tears or other phenomena was a bona fide mystery to even an experienced scientist like Vahlen. The fact that the planet was still habitable below that level was practically a miracle in terms of meteorology, subspace dynamics, and a thousand other factors that came to his mind.

“Given the scattering properties of this system’s Oort cloud, however, it does suggest that there could be transient subspace anomalies in this system, which may account for this radiation band,” Vahlen added, after another moment of thought. “Transport to the planet’s surface will be inadvisable.”

“Agreed,” Lancaster replied, standing up from his seat to face Vahlen. “Do you see any potential risk with sending a shuttle?”

Vahlen shook his head. “No, sir. A shuttle’s shields should be more than capable of withstanding this amount of radiation. At most, it’s an inconvenience,” he replied.

“The difficulty of detecting this planet and the transporter barrier go a long way to explaining why no one has colonized it. It almost suggests intent,” Odea noted from tactical. “I’m not detecting any evidence of recent activity in this system at all, other than the ion trail from the Vulcans.”

“What we have now is a coincidence, and there is nothing to suggest advanced technology at work,” Vahlen replied, frowning at his colleague. The evidence in front of them only pointed to two distinct natural phenomena that might have some connection to the subspace topology in the region. Even as he said that, though, he wondered about some purposeful design to conceal this world. “Discerning the manner in which this radiation belt is maintained without dispersing into the atmosphere should be a high priority, though.”

“Have full-spectrum subspace sweeps of the system run,” Lancaster replied before turning to the first officer. “Captain Rakan, assemble a team to take readings from the planet’s surface. Once we’ve determined it’s safe, we’ll begin large-scale survey operations.”

“Marshall, Evandrion, and Vahlen with me,” Rakan replied while Vahlen inputted the orders to begin the subspace scans. “Rakan to Okusanya. Please join me in the main shuttlebay. We won’t be transporting down.”

“Understood,” the engineer replied.

Vahlen joined the security officer and pilot on the transporter pad, waiting for a moment until the first officer joined them. After she called for “Main Shuttlebay,” they dematerialized, the bridge vanishing in a swirl of energy and then being replaced with a view of the cavernous main hanger from an alcove at the rear of the room matching the one on the bridge. 

“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that,” Marshall enthused as they walked off of the pad.

“Transporting?” Vahlen asked.

“Within the ship, I mean. It saves so much time.”

“It’s the exact same concept used by the transporter arches on starbases,” Vahlen reminded the younger man.

“Well, yeah, but we’re on a starship that’s as big as a starbase,” the pilot replied, looking a little starry-eyed. “You don’t find that even a little exciting?”

Vahlen shrugged. “Not particularly,” he replied to the apparent disappointment of the other officer. “But I appreciate the efficiency.”

“He’s German; he doesn’t do praise or wonder,” Captain Okusanya volunteered as she approached their group, which just made Vahlen frown more. “The Waverider is being brought up from the hanger now,” she added.

As they passed around the central tower, which contained the control booth, turbolifts, and a few repair and parking bays, Vahlen saw the Ella Fitzgerald rising up from the lower level on the elevator. It was much wider than standard runabouts, so its aerodynamic wingtips had been redesigned to fold up over the nacelles for storage, giving it the tightest possible clearance on the platform. It was the perfect vehicle for planetary surveys and wasn’t a normal part of the ship’s complement, but Admiral Hayden was reportedly a fan of the design.

Beyond the Waverider, the massive bay door had already been opened. The blackness of space dominated the port side, starkly contrasting the blue-green surface of Omicron Torrensis V to starboard. From that vantage point, the planet’s large oceans were very evident, encircling the entire equator with four or five large continents to the north and south, themselves separated by expanses of water. Vahlen, for a moment, though he had an inkling of familiarity from that view but brushed it off as that same feeling he’d had upon seeing his homeworld, Penthara IV, for the first time from orbit.

Ella Fitzgerald II. What happened to the first one?” Marshall asked, noting the name on the side of the hull as they boarded.

“Blown up,” Evandrion replied with a shrug.

“Great,” the pilot muttered. “No pressure.”

With systems checks underway, Vahlen took his seat at the science station in the rear of the cockpit, across from Evandrion and Okusanya on the other side. Rakan and Marshall took their seats at the front, the ship shuddering slightly as the wingtips locked into position.

Fitzgerald to Bridge. Requesting departure clearance,” Rakan said over the comm.

“Permission granted. Safe flying, Fitzgerald,” Alesser replied.

 Moments later, the Fitzgerald lifted up from the deck and dove through the forcefield out into space. Vahlen reflexively gripped the sides of his station as Marshall pointed them towards the planet and engaged the impulse engines, even though the inertial dampeners cushioned 99.5% of their movement, leaving just enough to let the crew feel that there was movement at all. 

“Any preference on a landing site, Commander Vahlen?” Rakan asked, turning to glance at the science officer.

“Initial scans suggest the northern continent has the most biodiversity. I’m sending appropriate coordinates to the helm,” Vahlen replied.

There was a slight shimmer across the viewports as the vessel’s shields engaged for atmospheric entry. They lit up briefly again as the ship started to glow from friction, and they passed through the radiation belt as if it weren’t even there. Vahlen glanced briefly at the airspeed meter but looked away when he saw they were still above Mach 25 on a ballistic atmospheric entry vector. Thankfully, Marshall had been selected not for his looks but for his talent at the helm, and they quickly slowed to more reasonable speeds, leaving Vahlen to focus on the sensor data that was already coming in.

“The upper layers of this planet’s atmosphere are unusually stratified, in terms of their gas composition,” he noted. “Otherwise, one might say that this planet is as pristine as it looks.”

“One, but not you?” Rakan asked, chuckling. “It is permissible to have some excitement, you know.”

“I am merely noting that a layman’s observation would be substantiated by the data we are receiving, sir,” Vahlen replied, turning his attention to a different set of scans. “This world is atypical for those we’ve encountered so far in this region of the Delta Quadrant, but well within averages for M-class planets further towards the core and those within Federation space.”

“Lucky us that the Vulcans found nothing worth their time here,” Okusanya noted.

“Approaching the coordinates,” Marshall replied, nudging the nose down so that they could see temperate forests and grass meadows stretching out in front of them.

The pilot put their small ship into a brief pirouette before settling down in a clearing. They each grabbed a tricorder and a phaser, while Vahlen confirmed that the atmosphere outside the vessel was safe. Once all the preparations were made, Rakan stepped out first into an extremely pleasant 23-degree day on Omicron Torrensis IV.

“A little cool for my tastes, but still incredible,” Rakan reported over the comm back to the Arcturus.

“We’ll try to find a dessert world for the next one,” Lancaster replied. “Standard survey orders: Establish baseline safety and identify priorities,” he ordered.

Though a hand tricorder couldn’t tell Vahlen much that he couldn’t get through the shuttle’s sensor package, it was still pleasant to be able to actually examine specimens up close. He quickly determined that the grass and other local foliage were safe to touch, but it was the soil that interested him more. If this planet experienced sudden bouts of tetryon radiation, the soil would tell the story.

“Anything interesting?” Marshall asked as Vahlen scanned a vial of dirt. 

Vahlen ignored him momentarily as the results flashed across his device. All of the standard elements were present that he would expect, but there was also one that he wasn’t expecting: cormaline. It wasn’t the rarest of minerals, but it was rare enough that Starfleet put a high priority on locating useable veins of the stuff, and it sparked another memory for him.

“Vahlen to Planetology. Send me whatever you have in terms of the planet’s topography,” he said, tapping his badge.

A few moments later, his WRIST device beeped. He held it up to show the first version of the planet’s whole surface, projected as a sphere. He knew he’d seen that somewhere before, and then it came to him. 

“Computer, cross-reference our scan data with all records of Ocampa V,” he ordered. 

A second globe was projected, looking almost nothing like the first. Where Omicron Torrensis IV was covered in water, Ocampa V lacked it almost entirely, except for a line of barely-there brine that crossed the planet’s equator. The computer showed a few data points and then overlaid the two images. Topographically, the two worlds were identical.

“This is impossible,” Vahlen muttered.

“Well, it’s happening, isn’t it?” Marshall offered with a grin.

Vahlen tapped his badge. “Vahlen to bridge.”

“Go ahead.” 

“Based on the readings we’ve taken, this planet is precisely what Ocampa V would have looked like before the accident that destroyed its water cycle. Combined with the tetryon radiation in the atmosphere and the scattering field, I am now prepared to conclude that Nacene intervention here is extremely likely.”

There was a noticeable pause. “Send everything you have to my ready room and get back to the ship as soon as you’ve finished collecting your samples. If the Nacene were here, I want to know what they did to this world and why.” Lancaster ordered. 

“Aye,” Vahlen replied before tapping his badge again. “Don’t say it,” he said, looking at Marshall.

“What, that Odea may have been right about this place?”

Vahlen frowned. “Yes, that.”