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Part of USS Mercy: Mission 1 – “Life as a House”

The Meaning of a Signal

USS Mercy - Bridge - 0700
August 11th, 2400
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The morning had come, and with it, her duties as a science officer on a ship without a science chief.  Her husband, the captain, had exhausted every favor he was owed and had come up empty.  They’d debated into the night about what to do.  Theodora had experience as an assistant chief science officer on the similarly classed USS Polson, but she hadn’t taken a command position given that it would require her to report to the XO instead of her husband.  It was logical on her part to keep the professional separated from the personal as much as possible, but in this situation, at this moment – there was no manual and no help to come from the science department that had come aboard at Bravo.  All intellectual and intelligent…but none of them had the desire to step into the command track.  So it was left to her as Interim Science Chief to bridge the gap between command and the scientists on board.

Her station was on the right of the bridge at a standalone console facing the command chairs in the middle of the room.  Behind her were three science officers working at the stations, while across the room on the other side were additional stations with science officers working on the current problem of the transmission and what it meant.  At the console in front of those stations sat the operations officer console and Lieutenant Sesias, who was coming on duty.

Sesias entered the bridge from the turbo lift making sure to stop and place his center hand on a particular spot on the corner, and dipped his head for a brief second. As he made his way to the operations console, he couldn’t help but notice the abundance of science personnel on the bridge this morning. Sure two or three plus the science chief was the norm, but as he made his way to the console, he counted five plus the chief. He shook his head, dismissing the science personnel from his thoughts. He tapped the young Ensign, who was currently seated at the console, on the shoulder. “Good morning Ensign Paulson; how was the beta shift? Anything that I need to know about this morning?”

“No, sir, I just received a message from the quartermaster that she wanted to meet with you sometime today; she said no rush, though.”

Seasias made a note on his PADD. “ anything else?”

“No, sir, all operations departments are showing green across the board. Unless you mean the blue shirts, sir, quite a few of them up here this morning.”

“So I noticed, Ensign, you are relieved. Go get a good meal and some rest; see you at the start of your shift.”

Sesias made some adjustments to the height and angle of the console and the chair. ”I need to thank those engineers for this, I didn’t think about making it adjustable.” He went through his various morning reports, making notes of things that he felt that the XO or Captain may need to know about or areas that he knew they would ask about this morning. He stood and made his way to the Replicator. “Computer, one extra large chai Boba tea with cream and honey.” After taking the drink from the replicator, he made his way over to the main science console; with his height, he was easily able to see over the Lieutenant’s shoulder. “Walker, is there anything I can help with? It has been my experience that sometimes another set of eyes can help.”

Walker looked up, “We’re getting closer to the location, but no closer to identification, classification, or a point of origin. It is a signal that is not confirming to most logical patterns.”  She paused and said with some confidence, “We will figure it out; I am sure of it.  Feel free to take a look at the readings yourself – you may see something we haven’t.”

She returned her attention to her console as the group of science officers at their console worked to untangle the signal.  Walker examined the signal at its base – it was an old, simple frequency at first impression, but what had tripped up the science crew had been the layers of complexity within it and how it seemed to have layers of code within the layers themselves.  They had eventually sent the readings down to the science teams in the depths of the Mercy in hopes that someone would be able to make some progress on the signal.  For her part, Walker played with each thread, pulling the linear codes apart and trying to determine where they led.

Suddenly the door to the bridge opened, and a harried scientist in a wrinkled lab coat stumbled onto the bridge, “Lieutenant Walker?”  He glanced around, a bit wild-eyed, and she turned in her chair as she waved him over.  He handed her a PADD, “Communications Specialist Clarence Franklin, sir.”

She accepted the device, “What have you found for us, Ensign?”

Franklin pointed at the PADD, “It’s meaningless.” Walker frowned, and Franklin nearly yelped.  He’d seen when Vulcan’s frowned.  It was never good.  He put his hands up, “Sorry.  I should explain.  The signal isn’t anything.  It’s just an infinite line of code.  There’s no meaning, no message…nothing.”  He noticed her console and gestured to what she was working on, “We tried all of that, sir.  All of it.  We kept coming back to the center of the signal.  Nothing made sense.  That is until Win…I mean, Cadet Winol…I mean, Cadet Lucas said, ‘It means nothing.’  Then we went back to the start and looked at it like that, and then it made a hel..hec…a lot more sense, sir.”

Walker handed the PADD back to the young ensign and tapped in the modified parameters she had seen on his device.  Suddenly the computer’s scenario signals were showing more green than red until it was nearly green, confirming the evaluation of the signal. Walker glanced up at the ensign, “Get Cadet Lucas up here to explain this to the captain and the bridge crew.”

Sesias raised an eyebrow at this. ”If I may, from my experience, nothing ever actually means nothing it means something to someone somewhere. Walker, maybe we are looking at this with rose-colored glasses; I think that’s how the human saying goes. We have been using 24th and 25th-century technology, information, and experiences, but that base is not from this period. Maybe we need to be using 22nd/23rd-century thinking. It’s using what it has on hand, which is not our current technology. Cadet Franklin: Do we know if this signal has an intended target? “ 

Sesias holds up a hand as if to say, ‘hold on a sec.’  ”Communications, Lieutenant Sesias, Can we look at that signal coming from the moon base and track it? We need to know if it has a destination or a particular recipient it is trying to reach. Factor in the base’s power source, signal strength, frequencies being used, and the technology it is using. Extrapolate all possible destinations. Send the report to the main science console and to mine.” 

=^=On it, sir, should have it in an hour or two.=^=

“Make it less than an hour, and everyone on the shift in there right now gets an extra half day off.” 

A chuckle is heard, =^=Challenge accepted, sir.=^=

Sesias and his mind were still at work.  Walker maintained her passive face as he spoke, “What else do we know? Hmmm, the signal is layered, correct? Usually, layered communications signals mean that it is trying to send different types of data or communications to different recipients. Though one problem we may have is that it has messed up and confused the data. Have you looked to see if any of the data in parts melds with other parts? “ He looked at Walker. “Sorry if I’m randomly throwing thoughts out; I’m trying to look at this from a communications standpoint. Also, it may take more than just science to figure this out. I’m going to bring up a couple of the communications folks to work with you. Do you want them up here or somewhere else?“

Lieutenant Walker gestured to the bridge, “It is best if all parties work together in the same setting.”  She raised one eyebrow at the operations chief, “A small suggestion, lieutenant.  The manner in which to refer to a colleague you are not familiar with is to use their rank.”  She spoke gently, “Lieutenant Walker is how I should be addressed…as you are to called Lieutenant Sesias.  Organize the crew as you need.”

Franklin’s jaw dropped, and the Vulcan interim science chief stood, “No time to gawk, Mr. Franklin.  You, Cadet Lucas – bridge.  Move.”  And he did.  Walker tapped her comm badge, “Captain Halsey to the bridge.”  She glanced at the screen as the stars sped by.  What was out there sending signals that meant…nothing?  It was highly illogical and slightly concerning.  What was out there?  And what did it want?