Part of USS Endeavour: A Handful of Dust and Bravo Fleet: The Stormbreaker Campaign

A Handful of Dust – 11

Bridge, USS Endeavour
January 2400
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‘It’s natural to see patterns where none exist.’ Graelin wasn’t working very hard to keep a sneer from his face as he gestured to the data feed projecting above his bridge station. ‘We have to follow evidence in science, not hopes.’

Before Valance could dig deep and find a measured response, Kharth snapped, ‘Okay, Commander, then explain the science of a non-existent subspace rift continuing to let out bursts of tachyon radiation?’

The thread of disrespect made Graelin stiffen. ‘It’s a supposition that the radiation came from the rift.’

‘Then where did it come from? A day after the rift was shut?’

‘This is based off the highly-imprecise civilian-grade sensor technology, already at a disadvantage in the Paulson Nebula’s usual interference and the disruption of the Century Storm…’

‘And none of that refutes a damn thing!’

For once, Valance found Kharth’s presence soothing; the Romulan’s anger gave voice to what she didn’t dare unleash. Kharth could be frustrated and agitated and reel it back in when necessary, while the shattered debris of Valance’s quarters told a different story. If she lost her temper, it would be gone for good.

But it also meant she could be good cop to Kharth’s bad cop. ‘What we’re asking for, Commander,’ Valance said coolly, ‘is an explanation for a sudden burst of tetryon radiation a full day after absolutely nothing.’

As Graelin hesitated, Lindgren spoke up. She’d been near the back of the gathering of senior officers grouped around the Science console under Rourke’s silent, watchful eye, and did not sound pleased to wade in. ‘While I see your point about the pattern, Commander Valance, and I agree I could interpret the ebbs and flows as a Morse code signal, there’s something very odd about it.’

‘More than one thing,’ Graelin murmured, but Rourke now turned to her, arms folded across his chest.

‘Go on, Elsa.’

Lindgren slipped past them to bring up the sensor feed of the radiation bursts. ‘The time index. The modulations happen over, frankly, milliseconds. I agree that it looks deliberately rhythmic and matches an SOS. But it happened in such a quick burst that it took you, Commander, poring over the same record for frankly hours before you noticed it. If the Odysseus is somehow out there and made that signal, why like that?’

‘And all of this,’ said Graelin brusquely, ‘presupposes the Odysseus has been somehow capable of manipulating the rift days after it disappeared.’

Rourke at last lifted a hand. ‘Let’s work this through. Tetryon radiation stopped seeping from the rift when the rift was closed. Then there was this burst a day later. Do we know the origin?’

‘We don’t,’ said Graelin.

‘Do you want to do your job and look into where it is from?’ Kharth snapped.

He rounded on her, back straight. ‘You of all people, Lieutenant, are in no position to question my professionalism -’

‘Then what about my position?’ Valance said, voice coming out like a growl. That was enough to drop everyone into silence, because if one thing was more incredible than a destroyed ship sending out signals, it was her backing up Kharth.

Graelin glanced at Rourke, then with a sigh turned back to his console’s display. ‘It does seem likely the tetryon radiation emanated from approximately the same region as the rift once was.’

‘Alright,’ said Rourke, clearly trying to forestall further fighting. ‘What might have caused that?’

Graelin sighed. ‘The most obvious possibility is that the rift was not fully closed. But I’m not sure why it would take another day for that radiation, or why it would then stop. Which suggests it must have come from somewhere else.’

Or,’ said Valance, ‘the rift briefly reopened.’

Lindgren hesitated. ‘What might do that?’

Rourke turned to Graelin. ‘Come on, Petrias. Follow this to the end as a puzzle, for once in your damned life. There are no wrong answers here.’

Graelin rolled his eyes. ‘Of course there are wrong answers, Captain. There are answers which waste time, resources, and distract us from where we can be most useful.’

Kharth coiled tighter. ‘This is ridiculous -’

Black Knight Flight to Endeavour; we’ve got the latest sensor scans of the Scar. Patching them through to you.

All eyes turned first to Lindgren, who rushed back to her console with a slightly flustered air, then to Graelin. Rourke spoke first. ‘I didn’t know Whitaker was doing more scans.’

Graelin shrugged as the data packet came through, the projected display above his console growing flush with new information. ‘I told him to, because even if I think you’re jumping wildly to conclusions, I’m doingmy job.’

Valance and Kharth exchanged glances in one of the only moments of solidarity of their lives. Kharth openly rolled her eyes, but Valance’s faint nod conveyed much the same.

‘We also have more data from other ships’ encounters with the rifts,’ Graelin carried on. ‘Which means I have a point of comparison, which means it is exceptionally odd that I can now detect subspace oscillations even four days after a rift has been closed.’ He tilted his head. ‘The rift is shut. But not fully. It’s the difference between a wound healing, and one which still has stitches in. Which is unusual.’

‘Why?’ said Rourke.

Graelin ignored him, reaching up to manipulate the view of the incoming data, bringing some displays larger and tossing others to one side. ‘We’re still not sure how the Odysseus closed the rift. But I’ve been working on my theory these past eight hours, and I’ve been studying database records of the Odysseus’s systems.’ He looked at a line of data, then turned back to them. ‘These subspace oscillations we can detect around the Scar – as Lieutenant Whitaker has so evocatively named the site of the rift – are consistent with the subspace oscillations emitted by a Diligent-class starship’s warp field.’

Valance frowned. ‘What does that mean?’

Graelin gestured to Lindgren. ‘Lieutenant, transmit a subspace communication ping in the direction of the Scar and in accordance with the subspace frequencies I’ve just sent you.’

Lindgren looked uncertain, but did as bidden. One second passed, another, a third –

Her breath caught. ‘There’s something out there.’

Rourke moved back down to the centre of the bridge, shoulders squared. ‘Arys, bring Endeavour in closer to the Scar. I’m not having us half-blind by sitting back and playing it safe if the Odysseus is out there – in there -’

‘We don’t know what it yet means, Captain,’ Graelin warned.

‘Then let’s find out with the most sophisticated sensor array in two light-years, and not a goddamn Valkyrie’s scanners,’ Rourke rumbled. ‘What do you think the Odysseus did, Commander?’

‘Like I said, I think they came close enough to the rift to manipulate it not with a dekyon pulse, but with their own warp field. I’d presumed they successfully closed it, but the process destroyed them.’ Graelin hesitated. ‘It’s possible they closed it around themselves. Which would mean that the Odysseus herself – or her warp systems – have become the stitches.’

‘They’re stuck in subspace?’ said Kharth, making a face. ‘That’s why we can’t see them?’

‘In a manner of speaking. If so, they only have one nacelle, which doesn’t negate their capacity to maintain a warp field, but I can’t imagine this situation is sustainable. So if I’m right, then the Odysseus’s systems will eventually fail… and the rift reopens.’

Valance’s jaw was tight as she moved to Rourke’s side. ‘Is this survivable?’

‘I have absolutely no idea,’ said Graelin. ‘But it lends credence to your theory about the tetryon radiation burst being a communication. They might have manipulated their warp field to loosen its grip on the rift an iota, the only way they could signal anything that might be detected.’

‘That doesn’t explain the weirdness of it,’ Lindgren warned.

Arys glanced over his shoulder. ‘We’re within even our limited sensor range of the Scar.’

‘Bring us to a relative halt, Mr Arys,’ said Rourke. ‘Graelin, what’s out there?’

‘Still nothing in normal space by our sensors,’ he confirmed. ‘Conducting subspace scans across these specific harmonics.’

‘I’ve been trying to get more than a ping back,’ said Lindgren. ‘The response matches Starfleet communication systems, but on very low power, emergency only. Nobody’s picking up.’

‘Skies above,’ murmured Graelin in shock, then looked up and his smug veneer re-established itself. ‘I was right. The Odysseus is out there, trapped in a subspace layer at the mouth of the rift. I said it was like it stitched the rift shut, but I think it’d be more appropriate to say it’s a… a stopper.’

‘Life-signs?’ said Valance urgently.

‘I truly cannot tell. We’re operating multiple degrees away from standard sensor calibrations and capabilities,’ Graelin admitted. ‘I can detect the ship’s profile; a Diligent-class with only one nacelle, maintaining a static warp field. And before you ask: no, I have no idea how sustainable this is, either.’

‘What happens if the warp field collapses?’ said Rourke.

‘The rift would reopen; I’d have to run more scans to ascertain if that would be any worse than it opening in the first place. I cannot imagine that the rift could reopen without tearing the ship apart entirely.’

Rourke folded his arms across his chest. ‘We can’t hail them. We can’t scan them. Even if we had a fix on anyone aboard, this would be delicate work for transporter systems regardless of the Paulson Nebula’s interference and any lingering effects of the Scar.’

Valance looked to Graelin. ‘Could a shuttle utilise its own warp field to match their subspace harmonics and dock?’

Graelin made a face. ‘Maybe.’

She rounded on Rourke. ‘Give me the King Arthur, sir; I can board the Odysseus, assess the situation, and if necessary evacuate the whole crew.’ It would be a tight fit on a New Atlantic-class runabout, but hardly beyond a short-term trip.

‘Or,’ said Graelin, ‘you become as trapped as them. Assuming anyone is alive. And all that happens is we’ve sent someone else into a situation from which they need rescuing.’

‘That’s a standard concern with rescue missions,’ said Kharth, moving to the side of the tactical arch to stand nearer Valance. ‘But a starship’s down and we don’t have any better ideas.’

‘That’s no reason to rush,’ Rourke chided gently, but he scratched his beard and looked at Graelin’s sensor feed. ‘One way or another we need to stabilise the situation in the Scar.’ Valance watched his eyes sweep across the bridge, doubtless conducting calculations of personnel. There was no way he would be happy sending her in command of this mission, but she knew he couldn’t spare Graelin from the bridge, and he was no better off sending Kharth.

At length, he drew a deep breath. ‘Commander Valance, take the King Arthur out and attempt to dock with the USS Odysseus. Find out what happened, fix this disaster with the rift, rescue the ship or the crew. Take Commander Cortez and Lieutenant Arys.’ She nodded; both would be instrumental in both the docking process and in whatever needed doing to the Odysseus herself.

‘I’m going too,’ said Kharth bluntly. At Rourke’s look she did flinch. ‘Please, sir.’

As he hesitated, Valance straightened. ‘I want Kharth with me.’ She wasn’t entirely sure why, didn’t know if this was pity or solidarity or professionalism, but the words came before she could stop them.

‘The XO’s leading an away mission without a security detail otherwise,’ Kharth said, rallying, even though there were many possible alternative security officers.

Rourke sighed and rubbed his temple. Then, at last, he said, ‘Don’t make me regret this.’