At just before four in the morning, a low but incessant beeping filled the darkened bedroom. The tone was not in itself an urgent one, but the fact that it continued unabated until answered implied its importance. The prone figure on the bed gave a long, low, growl of resignation.
“What is it?” The deep voice was tinged with the implied threat that by waking him in the middle of the night, this had better be something pretty damned important.
“Sir, we’ve had a report that the Paulson Nebula storm has enveloped one of our colony worlds. Communications have been lost. USS Ramses was ordered to investigate but we’ve… well, we’ve lost communication with Ramses as well.”
Fleet Captain Tom Church, Fourth Fleet Deputy Director of Intelligence sat upright in the darkness, considering the information he had just heard. They’d been aware of the storm for just over a week, but the risk assessments had all predicted that it would pass harmlessly through the sector without making contact with any planetary bodies. If the storm had come into contact with one of their colony worlds, then the bloody thing had changed course.
He remembered the initial briefing – it was an ion storm, wide-ranging but highly dispersed. The storm interrupted subspace communications and there had been reports of it causing the warp fields of starships to collapse – he recalled that two civilian freighters had been stranded for a number of days until the storm had passed and they had finally been able to reinitialise their warp cores and continue on their way.
“Alright,” Church spoke softly now. “I’m coming up.”
“FNN already has it,” reported Commander Stannus as Church entered the bustling briefing room, several minutes later. The Tellarite intelligence officer handed over a padd which showed the Federation News Network’s coverage of what they were already calling the ‘Century Storm’. The red ticker-tape with bold white text scrolled across the bottom of the screen detailing how it had subsumed the Federation colony of Coronal and all communication with the colonists had been lost.
“How the hell?…” Church began angrily.
“We’re working on it,” Stannus replied. “Walsh?”
“Yes sir.” A young lieutenant nervously pushed a lock of dark hair behind her ear as she began to address Church. “Sir, we received this partial communication from Ramses a few minutes ago.”
The holographic image of the head and shoulders of Ramses captain appeared above the centre of the conference table, the man’s antennae twitching as he spoke.
“…science officer has determined that the proximity of the ion storm has caused particles of the nebula… bond with the planetary atmosphere which in turn has started to become toxic… matter of days before the entire planetary atmosphere… unbreathable. Ramses will evacuate as many colonists as we are physically able, but… collapsed our warp field… must send additional support… We need more ships to evacuate the planet or thousands will die…”
The holographic image vanished.
“That’s all we got sir,” Lieutenant Walsh said quietly.
“What’s the population of Coronal?” Church demanded.
“Thirty-seven thousand,” Stannus replied.
Church raised his eyebrows. “Then we’d better start working. Collate all the information we have on Coronal, the Paulson Nebula, Ramses, our closest fleet assets and where we think this ‘Century Storm’ might go next. I want an initial briefing ready to go in thirty minutes.”
Staff members nodded and set about their tasks. Church glanced at his Tellarite chief of staff. “And you’d better wake Admiral Beckett.”
Stannus’ eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly. “Sir?…”
Church sighed. “Alright. I’ll do it…”