Lieutenant Leander Nune held his breath.
Nune gripped the edge of the bridge’s engineering console to steady himself. He softened his attention enough to monitor three different diagnostic panels at the same time. Each of them told him every warp propulsion system was operating at peak efficiency, as one would expect aboard a brand-new starship. Still, Nune couldn’t trust it. Back on the aging USS Dvorak, even when all of her diagnostics were in the green, the superstructure would rumble for a fraction of a second when she shifted between warp speeds. As her chief engineer, that was mortifying. From his seat on the bridge, Nune planted his boots on the deck, tightened his core and squeezed the edge of the console’s housing. He used every part of his body to listen for stray vibrations.
“We’re dropping out of warp,” reported Annikafiore Szerda from the flight control console.
As the warp engines came to rest, Nune was pleased to notice he could feel nothing. No vibrations. The inertial damping systems had made the transition out of warp speed smoother than a ride in a turbolift. Nune glanced up from his LCARS panels to watch the streaking stars on the transparent viewscreen spiral into a look at a single star system. A star system on fire.
Szerda said, “We’ve arrived in sector Typhon 323, just outside the” –her breath caught in her throat as she looked up from the CONN– “Fincycle System.”
A mass of pink and blue coruscating radiation swirled beyond the USS Sarek, visible through the viewscreen. The distortion effects were ephemeral, a cluster-flow of radiation fog fading in and out of existence. In other moments, the radiation looked far more tangible, like sugar shards being spun up in a drum.
Up on the executive officer’s chair, Elbon Jakkelb asked, “What am I looking at?”
“It’s like fireworks,” Kellin Rayco intoned from the tactical console behind Elbon.
Moving towards the glow through the viewscreen, Captain Taes descended the stairs from the command platform. She turned her head to the science hub on the left. Her Romulan chief science officer, Flavia, was already watching Taes. With an expectant mien, Taes raised an eyebrow at Flavia.
“On screen,” Taes said.
A holographic projection of the Fincycle system unfolded across the viewscreen. The entire star system looked like it was on fire. Five lifeless planets orbited the Fincycle sun and from this angle, the radiation fog that circled the sun looked like a mass of overlapping fireworks. The night the Dominion was driven away from their occupation of Betazed, Nune recalled, the skies had been filled with ordnance-turned-fireworks. Even the skies that night hadn’t been ablaze with the same furor as the Fincycle system.
“This entire star system is falling into a subspace rift,” Flavia reported. She spoke in her formal timbre. The death of these celestial bodies did not appear to move her. “What we’re seeing is tetryon radiation and high-energy distortion waves being expelled by the rift. From this distance, I cannot assess the rift’s subspace mechani–“
Sitting with Flavia at the science hub, Yuulik sputtered out an urgent interruption: “We can approach no closer to the subspace rift, captain! Our engines would only further the subspace instability in this system. The rift could expand or implode!”
Flavia emphatically swung her head in Yuulik’s direction. The snap of movement was so sudden, her dark ponytail slapped the side of her neck. Flavia pursed her lips and raised her eyebrows at Yuulik.
“Thank you, lieutenant,” Flavia said with the barest hints of disdain. “That was why I recommended we stop at these coordinates and no others.”
Taes interjected, “Have you located the source of the spectral phase pulse you detected on long-range sensors?”
Flavia shot a look at Yuulik.
Yuulik visibly grit her jaw in response. She huffed out a breath and she tapped at her LCARS console a couple of times. Yuulik opened her mouth, as if she were going to reply, and then she tapped her console a couple more times. Finally, she looked to Captain Taes and said, “…No, captain.”
Taes began to pace from side to side. “Captain Andreus Kohl,” Taes said, referring to Task Force 17’s deputy commander, “has been on the hunt for a spectral phase pulse, crisscrossing the Typhon Expanse for weeks. The latest reports tell me Kohl abandoned the mission and reassigned Discovery to more fruitful exploration for their own Romulan Free State guests. If Kohl couldn’t locate the phase pulse for weeks, how did our long-range sensors pick it up through all of that subspace distortion?”
“Silence!” Flavia shouted at the bridge crew. All conversation across every bridge station hushed immediately. In a sardonic undertone, Flavia added, “So noisy. I can hardly think.”
Through it all, Flavia never looked away from the holographic LCARS panel hovering over her console. She scrolled through two nearly-identical waveforms and then instructed the computer to compare them as an overlay.
Captain Taes glanced down at a monitor panel on the armrest of her captain’s chair. She waited all of thirty seconds before she said anything. She granted Flavia a moment of silence and then she crossed her left leg over her right knee.
“Did you get it?” Taes asked.
“Yes,” Flavia hissed, elongating that final ‘s’ sound. “This was the second spectral phase pulse we’ve recorded in five days of surveying the Fincycle system. In fact… the intensity was far greater than any of the previous ones on record. Our probe confirmed it to be a subspace phase pulse and something else. Captain Taes, the phase pulse never originated in the Typhon Expanse. We’re detecting it through the subspace rift.”
A holographic pane projected on half the viewscreen, displaying a sensor composite of the spectral phase pulse on a loop. Leander Nune cringed at the throbbing, spectral nature of the subspace pulse.
“That’s the most hideous thing I’ve seen in nature,” Nune remarked.
From the science hub, Sootrah Yuulik reported, “Those frequencies we detected across the lower subspace spectrum suggest this rift opens into an interfold layer of subspace. The interfold is unstable and collapsing. I don’t think our probe can withstand much more of these shearing pressures.”
Critically, Flavia started to say, “If we were using a Romulan probe–“
“The interfold layer is connecting this subspace rift in the Typhon Expanse to another subspace rift on the other side of the galaxy,” Yuulik said resolutely. “Flavia’s right. The subspace phase pulses have been on the other side of the other subspace rift this entire time.”
Flavia threw her head back and laughed. “Your tiny little ships in Task Force Seventeen have been chasing after a sensor echo, bounced around the Typhon Expanse by this rift’s subspace distortion waves.”
Taes didn’t offer a moment of silence before she asked, “Then where is it? Where does the subspace phase pulse originate?”
Sitting across from each other at the bridge’s science hub, Yuulik squinted at Flavia and Flavia raised an eyebrow at Yuulik. Neither answered immediately. Flavia licked her lips. Yuulik bobbed her head from side to side. They both returned their gazes to the sensor readings between them.
“We’ve been detecting strange radiation signatures and brief fragments of transmissions through the interfold layer…” Yuulik answered without answering.
“It’s in the Delta Quadrant,” Flavia asserted. She squinted and then she clarified, “The subspace phase pulse is originating… somewhere in the Gradin Belt.”
Taes cleared her throat and she regarded her executive officer. “Elbon,” she said, “Notify Captain Kohl. He can coordinate with the Delta Exploration Initiative to–“
An alarm trilled from the tactical console behind Taes. Kellin Rayco tapped at the interface and a surprised scoff escaped his throat. His eyes snapped in the direction of Doctor Flavia. If his eyes could have shot phaser beams, he sure looked like he would have done so.
“Rayco?” Taes prompted, while she plainly observed Kellin’s distraction.
Kellin blinked and then he reported, “We’re receiving a distress call from the USS Jaxartes. They’re under attack by a Romulan starship.”
Taes patted at Elbon’s arm. Lowering her voice, Taes said, “Contact Captain Kohl right away. We need to know more about the Jaxartes’ mission.”
Meandering, as if she were walking down the garden path, Flavia rose to her feet so she could descend the ramp into the flight control well. As Flavia reached the base of the command platform, she looked up at the exchange between Taes, Elbon and Kellin. She folded her hands behind her back.
In a saccharine timbre, Flavia shared, “Starfleet ordered the Jaxartes to escort a Romulan Free State science ship through Federation space and into the Typhon Frontier.”
“And now they decided to betray the Jaxartes?” Kellin asked, plainly incensed.
Flavia shrugged with her palms up. “Don’t ask me,” Flavia said. “I’ll never tell.”
“Lieutenant Szerda, set an intercept course with the USS Jaxartes. Maximum warp,” Taes ordered, sweeping a hand at the viewscreen. “Let’s find out!”
USS Sarek will return in