“You found what?”
“Neutronium,” Gérard Maxwell’s voice over the bridge speakers. “Which doesn’t make a lot of sense, to be honest.”
“Because it should explode violently without gravitational pull to keep it as such?” Mac asked as a follow-up.
With the recent update about a Tholian presence in the system, Mac had upped the duty watch on the bridge, going from a fresh-faced crowd just logging bridge hours and familiarising themselves with stations and controls to a slightly more experienced collection of officers. A number of those fresh-faced folks were still present though, learning from their seasoned superiors which meant the bridge was feeling a bit crowded.
This meant there were no less than three scientists on the bridge all looking at him now as if he was a font of knowledge, that could answer their unspoken questions. Or more likely were trying to beam their questions into his mind so he’d voice them and get the answers they wanted.
“I don’t think this is natural neutronium but manufactured,” Maxwell replied. “The lattice is too consistent, too perfect.” There was a pause, then a ‘huh’ before he continued. “It’s also extremely thin I think, like a shell or shielding.”
“So, this artefact is about the size of a shuttle, has a neutronium shell around it and weighs how much did you say?”
“Give or take about the same mass as an early run Constitution– or Sombre-class starship,” Maxwell replied. “Makes sense. Aitu would have had the spare enough power to move whatever this is at a decent clip unlike some other ships of the era.”
“And I’m guessing you can’t tell me what it does?”
“Going to need to get some more powerful scanners from the ship down here first, Commander,” the engineer said. “Tricorders just aren’t doing the job. But I’ve already spoken with Gabs and she’s got her people getting some scanners ready to beam down for us.”
The sound of swivelling chairs caught Mac’s attention, turning his head just to see the three science officers all turning back to the stations they were using and bringing up whatever information they could to satisfy their curiosity. No doubt chat windows to colleagues, seeing what had been checked out of inventory, transporter logs and the like. He shook his head with a smile.
“Well Lieutenant, sounds like you’ve got yourself a right mystery. Keep on it and keep me updated.”
“Will do Commander,” Maxwell replied before the line went silent.
Mac for his part stroked his chin for a moment, catching some stubble and rubbing at it for a moment in thought before he nodded his head twice and spoke. “Atlantis to Gantzmann, how’s it going down there?”
“For only five hours’ worth of work on what’s left of the ship’s computers, pretty well I’ve been told,” Gantzmann’s typically calm voice came over the speakers, sounding as if she was just behind him at Tactical. “It’s slow going as so much of the computer is just gone or frozen into uselessness, but we’ve found a backup memory unit we’ve been able to thaw out.”
“So any idea on what Aitu was doing and how she got out here?” he asked.
“None so far,” Gantzmann responded.
“Commander, Merktin here,” another voice, the Tellarite engineer’s, broke into the line. “This backup memory isn’t a computer so much as a flight recorder and data recovery module all in one. We’re basically having to read it like a book that we can’t skip to the end and read the last few pages.”
“So how are you reading it then?”
“We’re streaming it to Atlantis as we speak. Our computers can store the entirety without a problem and we can then run an emulation of the Aitu’s operating system and access the logs from there. It’s not going to be complicated, just annoying. At our current scan rate,” Merktin paused for a moment, “should take about fifteen more hours to read this module.”
“It would go faster if we warmed the memory module up more,” Gabrielle suddenly spoke up over the comm channel. He hadn’t specified it to be a private call he figured, so no doubt each group planetside was operating open channels and hence now he had a joint meeting. “But then we might damage it, so we figured slow and steady is better than fast and not at all. Besides, once we’ve got all the data off of this, we plan on removing it and transporting it to Atlantis for a proper analysis.”
“No arguments from me then Lieutenants. We’ve got a problem up here that I want you back up on the ship for Gantzmann. I’ll explain when you get here. We’ll also be sending down some pattern enhancers Merktin so you can set up a couple of beam-out sites within Aitu in case we need to get people out of there in a hurry.”
Less than an hour later and Mac had both Gantzmann and Velan in the ready room opposite him. Velan had come up from Engineering about five minutes earlier, having spoken with Maxwell about what had been discovered so far, whereas Gantzmann herself had just stepped in. She’d been back aboard the ship for less than fifteen minutes, long enough for a shower, a fresh uniform and likely a quick bite to eat.
And as soon as the door closed behind her, he spoke up. “So, we’ve got Tholians in the system with us.” Straight to the point which seemingly bounced right off Gantzmann’s stoic nature, but landed square on with Velan whom he could watch as he heard, understood, then went back and fully processed what was said. The Efrosian’s expression went from calm to shocked and confused in a second, but it was long enough.
“Tholians?” Ra-testh’mi Velan asked. “Actual honest-to-goodness Tholians? Here?” He sat up straighter, then looked to Gantzmann as she strode across the room and took the other seat. “This is all a prank isn’t it?”
“No, unfortunately,” she answered. “T’Val meet me in the transporter and shared her sensor readings. Three Tholian Web-spinners from the scans. They might have missed Harpy Flight, but they wouldn’t have missed Atlantis when we entered the system. Especially since we are running loud to let the Breen long-range sensors see us moving along the border.”
“That was my thinking, as well as Lieutenant Kurtwell’s,” Mac said with a nod to Gantzmann when he mentioned one of her staffers. “We’re maintaining readiness on the shield generators for now, but even if they move on us we should have plenty of time to beam everyone up from the surface, raise shields and move away from the planet so we’ve got some fighting space.”
“Still though,” Velan spoke again, “what are Tholians doing here? Isn’t their space on the other side of the Union?”
“They’re Tholians,” Gantzmann answered before Mac could. “They do Tholian things because they can. I think it’s safe to assume they have seen us, but they haven’t responded, at least such that we’ve seen. Which might mean they don’t want to interact with us and are just waiting us out. Or that they know something and are waiting for the right moment.”
“There’s a thought,” Mac quipped. “So, while we’ve got that wonderful little threat dangling over our heads, what have we got planet side?”
“Lieutenant Camargo is leading the analysis of the Aitu’s data we’ve recovered so far as well as working on ways we might speed recovery up.” Gantzmann looked to Velan with a slight smile. “If you’re not careful, she might make a science officer out of Merktin.”
“I’m not worried. Merktin loves the engines,” the engineer said. “As for Maxwell, we’ve been talking. We’ve got a six by three by four and a half metre box down there that weighs the better part of a hundred and ninety thousand tons.” He paused long enough to let that sink in. “Neutronium shell that initial scans place at about six thousand neutrons deep. Leaves enough mass for use of neutronium inside whatever this thing is.”
“How’s it not just exploding outwards?” Mac asked.
“Honestly no idea at this point. It’s like each neutron is bound to its neighbours somehow, but I can’t think of anything that could do that outside of extreme gravity.” The engineer shrugged to emphasise his point. “Points to whoever made it though. Sturdy as heck. Would make a fantastic reactor containment wall for a variety of high-energy experiments.”
“If we wanted to try and salvage this thing, what are we looking at?” Mac asked, knowing this was the big question for the day.
“That deep into a gravity well, that mass, available resources…” Velan started listing off things out loud as he stroked his beard. “Atlantis directly overhead, as low as we can get her should do the trick. There’s a story of Pike’s Enterprise salvaging a Sombre-class after a crashlanding and we’ve got way, way more power than they did. But Aitu is beyond bothering to salvage.”
“It’s a graveyard now,” Mac answered the unasked question ‘do we bother?’ before it was asked. “We’ll pay our respects, leave a marker, grab identifying markers and such before we leave, but we let the dead rest where they are.”
“But we salvage the cargo they were transporting?” Gantzmann asked.
“Starfleet records, at least what we have onboard, merely list the cargo as sensitive, which reads to me as operational speak for ‘we don’t want to discuss this in the open’. So yes, we’ll recover it and find a way to link up with another ship heading back to the DS47 for them to truck it back, then from there it can finally make its way to the SCE.” Mac looked to Velan who nodded in agreement with who the likely recipient was to be.
“Yeah, they’re the ones likely wanting this thing, though I could think of,” Velan started before he was interrupted by the whistle of an incoming comms request, answered by Mac with a push of a button after the engineer stopped speaking.
“MacIntryre,” the Commander answered.
“Sorry to disturb you, sir,” Michaels’ voice came over the comms. “But we’ve just detected a ship on long-range sensors on a direct course here. It’s Breen, single contact, large. Making warp seven with an arrival time of three days.”
“Very good. Keep an eye on it for now.” Mac then closed the channel and looked at who were effectively his executive and second officers. “Crashed ship, mystery box, skulking Tholians and now Breen.”
“If you can’t handle a joke,” Gantzmann started.
“Then you shouldn’t have joined the fleet,” Velan finished.
“You know, when I sit on that side of the table and say shit like that it’s fine, but over here,” Mac patted the arms of the chair whose height he’d had to adjust more than a few times now, “it’s just depressing.”
“Crown, heavy, wears it,” Velan said, shortening the phrase to a mere four essential words.
“Find then you, what about shared burdens?” Mac snapped back.
“Oh, well, as SO, should I call a senior staff briefing in say an hour then Mac?” Velan asked, checking with Gantzmann who was nodding in the affirmative already. “I best go call a meeting then.”
“Yes please,” Mac answered. “And actually, let’s make it in the Captain’s Mess and make it a working dinner yah?”