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Part of USS Antares: First Steps

03 — Hidden Capabilities

USS Antares, Briefing Room
Stardate 2401.1
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Captain’s Log, Supplemental.

Antares remains on course to Omega Termini along with Commander Detrama’s warbird. I have reviewed the dossiers forwarded by Starfleet Command, and I find myself with more questions than answers about this mission. By all accounts, Detrama is neither an explorer nor a scientist. Her presence here introduces a variable we will not be able to account for, as her behavior so far has shown she wants to test us—to throw us off balance, even. Whatever awaits us in the Omega Termini system, we will be in the unenviable position of needing to watch our back at every turn.

The senior staff of the Antares was gathered in the briefing room once Captain Armstrong had enough time to review the information Commodore Logan had sent along. Lieutenant Commander Alejandro and Lieutenant Serala had also been given a chance to review the data on Omega Termini and Commander Detrama, respectively. Armstrong found it a little worrying that he was already needing to loop his intelligence officer in on a potential security threat, but he was glad the Vulcan former V’Shar agent had found her way onto his crew.

“I hope it will be clear to all of you the longer we serve together that I do not like to make decisions on the fly. We plan our work, and then we work our plan on this ship,” Armstrong started, hands folded on the table in front of him. Most of his twelve senior staffers were relatively junior, and he saw a mix of excitement, anxiety, and fear on their faces. “Working with the Romulans is never straightforward, and I say that only because of over two centuries of evidence to support that. Being thrust into this mission will be a challenge, but one that will make us all the stronger for tackling it.”

Armstrong paused to tap one of the buttons on the control panel set into the surface of the table. The computer projected a schematic of the Daren Array, which was a set of hexagonal sensor clusters themselves being arranged into a hexagonal dish. Green sections indicated completed parts of the superstructure, while yellow and orange sections were in various stages of construction.

“As many of you are aware, this is the Daren Subspace Radio Telescope Array, which is being built in the Zeta Asteropes system at Deep Space 404, code-named Overwatch Station,” Armstrong explained. As he spoke, the computer expanded the view and projected a parallelogram out towards a dot representing the Antares. “This array is designed to provide extremely precise stellar cartographic readings and will eventually be able to reach the entirety of the Talvath Cluster by the end of 2405. The Romulan Free State is concerned that we are actually building a spy telescope.”

Dr. Lai cleared her throat. “Are we actually building a spy telescope?” she asked.

“No. The position the array is in is optimized to scan entirely in the wrong direction for that,” Armstrong replied. “It would take weeks to reposition it and give the Romulans unambiguous evidence that we were peaking across their borders.”

The captain paused again to zoom in on the area of space they were headed to, which contained Omega Termini. It was on the extreme edge of the Talvath Cluster in an area still considered merely ‘deep space.’ Interestingly, it was also on the outer edge of the Daren Array’s current range, suggesting the Romulans were aware of that fact.

“To demonstrate our peaceful intentions, Starfleet Command has agreed to a joint survey mission with the Romulan Free State. We will provide fully transparent access to our scientific results from our scans of this system as an olive branch,” Armstrong explained. “Commander Alejandro, what do we know about Omega Termini?”

The chief science officer looked down at his notes for a moment and then up at the map. He gestured towards it, and the computer took his cue to zoom in on the Omega Termini system. A terrestrial world circled a yellow sun, with much smaller rocky planets on either side of its orbital path.

“Containing three planets, Omega Termini is a relatively unremarkable system. Initial scans haven’t picked up any non-replicable resources like dilithium or latinum, and the one M-class world present is a little too warm and a little too high gravity, and a little too humid to be very pleasant for most Federation species other than maybe the Bolians,” Alejandro reported. “A closer look might reveal more favorable conditions if the planet is less dense than we believe, but the spectrographic analyses from the Daren Array have been remarkably precise so far.”

“Apparently, the Romulans were very insistent on visiting this world with us. Are there any clues at all why?” Armstrong asked.

“None that I could see, sir. Though, if they have our attention focused here, maybe they’re trying to keep our eyes off of something else?” Alejandro speculated. He glanced at Lieutenant Serala. “That seems like something that’s more up your alley, Lieutenant.”

Serala nodded. “Starfleet Intelligence is not aware of any connections between the Romulans generally or the Romulan Free State and this particular star system. I have sent an information request to the Zakdorn government to see if there are any historical records of Romulan activity in the area, but it may take a significant amount of time for them to respond. The Zakdorn bureaucracy is one of the most obdurate institutions I have ever interacted with,” the Vulcan explained.

“I don’t know what obdurate means, but they sound like a barrel of laughs,” Lieutenant Vega quipped.

The intelligence officer cocked her head. “Byzantine. Stubborn. Opaque. Resistant to reform,” she supplied.  

“I bet my vocabulary will expand to twice its current size by the end of this tour,” Vega said, winking at Serala.

“Flirt on your own time, Mr. Vega,” Commander Pierce interjected.

“Count on it, sir,” Vega replied, with the broad grin of someone who had probably been decked once or twice for opening his mouth one too many times at a bar.

Armstrong cleared his throat; as much as he’d enjoy seeing Pierce vaporize the pilot, he didn’t have the time. “Was there anything interesting in Commander Detrama’s file, Serala?” he asked.

“That is a matter of perspective, sir. It may be more efficient if I provide historical context,” Serala suggested, gesturing towards the holographic display. Armstrong nodded, and Serala tapped a command on her PADD to project a hologram of Detrama’s face, along with several Romulan starships. “As a reminder, the information presented in this briefing is classified at Starfleet level 5-Blue,” she stated.

Vega looked like he was about to sneak in a joke, but Armstrong held up a finger to cut that off at the pass.

“Commander Detrama is a known member of the Romulan Free State’s military apparatus, but Starfleet Intelligence has not been able to determine what her specific relationship is with the Tal Shiar. Detrama was born in the 2330s and is known to have served for many decades within the Romulan Imperial Navy, thanks to records obtained by the Romulan Republic. She did not begin her association with the Free State until after the fall of Rator last year,” Serala explained. “Until thirty minutes ago, when it was directly observed no longer to be the case, Starfleet had assumed she was still in command of a D’Deridex-class battlecruiser, the IRV Saehir, a vessel she was known to command during the Dominion War.”

Armstrong nodded. “That would put her in her 40s as a commander of a major Romulan warship. Impressive,” he observed. “Her current vessel is significantly smaller. Why would she give up the Saehir?”

“Starfleet Intelligence has observed a preference amongst the Free State for smaller, more agile warships. Unlike other factions, they have been particularly active in scrapping and repurposing older, larger vessels,” Lieutenant Serala explained.

“If I could just jump in as well, sir, the readings we got off of Detrama’s ship before she went to warp were nothing you’d sneeze at. I’d wager that there’s nearly as much power running through that vessel as one of their old battleships–the D’Deridex has a lot of empty space to increase its silhouette as an intimidation tactic, and this thing’s all lean muscle and no hollow bird bones if you’ll pardon the analogy,” Lieutenant Commander Navarro, chief engineer, added. 

Enthusiastic to a fault, Armstrong had yet to have a conversation with her that didn’t feature the young woman speaking so quickly that she nearly ran out of breath. He nodded at her.

“Noted, Ms. Navarro. That’s a good reminder not to let our guard down,” he said. “Serala, is there any indication of a specific ulterior motive here?”

“Not at this time, captain,” Serala replied. “The Free State is considered to be passively hostile towards the Federation. While there have been individual skirmishes outside of their borders, they have typically disavowed the perpetrators as ‘rogue actors’ and remain a party to a number of diplomatic agreements with the Federation,” she explained. “Given that we are currently engaged in an active state-sponsored operation, it would be illogical for Commander Detrama to attack unless provoked.”

“The Romulans aren’t always known for their logical thinking, regardless of their physiological and historical connections to the Vulcans, though,” Counselor Andrews chimed in. He was seated next to his husband and the ship’s communications officer, Lieutenant Burke. Technically, Andrews was Andrews-Burke, and Burke was Burke-Andrews, but they had mercifully decided to use their given names on duty. Even still, Armstrong was still having trouble keeping that straight. “Working with a Romulan warbird will be a significant morale challenge for the crew on this mission, sir.”

“Well, I know the feeling, counselor,” Armstrong admitted. He rapped his fingers on the table for a moment as he thought of ways of addressing that. “We’re three days away from our destination. We also have a brand-new recreation deck. Counselor, can I trust you to arrange some activities to keep the crew’s minds occupied?” he suggested.

Andrews blushed slightly. “Of course, captain,” he said, though his lack of confidence was extremely evident; Andrews didn’t really strike Armstrong as a party person, anyway.

“There’s no use ignoring them, though. Commander Pierce, schedule a tactical drill for each shift. Mr. Windsor and Mr. Lykaios will coordinate,” Armstrong added, looking from his first officer to second officer and tactical officer. “Is there anything I’m forgetting?” he asked, looking around the room. “No? Dismissed, then. Let’s get this done.”

“Captain, may I please speak to you with the first and second officers?” Lieutenant Serala asked as the others started to get up.

Armstrong nodded. Though the rest of the staff made some curious glances at the four who would be remaining in the room, they seemed to understand that the intelligence officer asking for a private moment wasn’t something for them to argue about. 

“Computer, seal the conference room doors. Authorization Serala Beta-Three,” Serala ordered. The computer chimed its assent, and Armstrong heard the door’s magnetic seal engage with a clunk. “Captain, Commanders, this portion of the briefing is classified at Starfleet level 9-Red.”

“We got that from the sealed doors. Carry on, Lieutenant,” Armstrong said. 

“As you are aware, Starfleet’s scientific equipment and engineering schematics are not usually classified. However, the Daren Array has tactical functionality that has been deemed need-to-know information,” Serala said.

“So it is a spy telescope?” Lieutenant Commander Windsor asked, incredulity and fascination immediately visible on his face. He had Navarro’s eagerness with slightly more control over the speed of his voice and an outward naïvete that Armstrong found endearing. “Or… a weapon?”

“Neither, commander,” Serala demurred. “At its highest resolution settings and once fully complete, the Daren Array is theoretically capable of defeating most known cloaking devices.”

Armstrong was stunned. A device like that could alter the balance of power in the quadrant, and that’s something that the Romulan Free State would be furious about if they knew. What’s more was that while not technically at odds with the letter of their mission, not revealing this capability to the Romulans definitely didn’t align with its spirit. 

“How?” Commander Pierce asked.

“The Daren Array is—or will be—an extremely sensitive device that can detect minute variations within subspace to infer the presence of objects in normal space. All objects with mass distort subspace proportionate to their mass,” Serala noted. “While modern cloaking devices can correct for this distortion, ambient tachyons are still impacted, and the Daren Array may be able to observe a cloaked ship.”

Pierce nodded. “Normally, we would need a coherent tachyon beam passed between two separate sensor arrays to detect a cloaked ship. You’re saying that this system could function like a tachyon detection grid but without the grid itself?” she asked.

“That is approximately correct, commander. This is only a theoretical functionality, however,” Serala confirmed. Armstrong gave her a quizzical look, which she interpreted correctly. “We are close enough to the Daren Array to have near real-time data from its sensors. Starfleet Intelligence has created a processing algorithm within the codec that interprets that data to substitute local tachyon readings from the receiving starship over any the Array might actually be reading.”

“So on the off chance that this system can detect a cloaked ship, we won’t have access to that information,” Pierce said.

“But neither will the Romulans since we have to share our data with them,” Windsor supplied.

The Vulcan nodded. “That is correct. However, Starfleet has ordered the closest subspace relay station to lock onto Antares to supply a live broadcast of the Federation News Service. Ostensibly, this is so we can route that data to Arcturus and Apollo, but a code has been created to inform us if a cloaked ship is detected.”

“Surely the Romulans would see any of that,” Armstrong pointed out.

“We do not believe so, sir, as it is not a literal code in the transmission. If the transmission cuts out, it is because Overwatch Station has detected a hidden ship within one light-year of the Antares,” Serala explained. “Again, this is only a theoretical capability of the Daren Array.”

“What do we do if the Romulans want detailed tachyon scans during this survey?” Windsor asked.

“That wouldn’t be standard for a planetary survey. But everything we’ve seen so far suggests the Array is extremely accurate, so it shouldn’t be unusual that our readings would match the Array’s precisely,” Armstrong said. “I don’t suppose your briefing notes say whether this theoretical functionality was developed on purpose or not?” he asked, smirking slightly.

“They did not,” Serala replied, blinking impassively.

“That’s Starfleet Engineering for you–so goddamn good at innovating that they may end up starting a war by building a telescope that’s too good at its job,” Armstrong observed to no one in particular. The wheels in his mind whirred as he thought of a way forward. “If you were to want to detect a cloaked ship, how would you do it without a tachyon scan?” he asked, looking between Serala and Pierce.

“If we’re talking about a known vessel like the one we’re following, I’d try to attach a physical transmitter to the ship. If it were activated, they’d notice it immediately, so I’d leave it offline until they cloaked,” Pierce suggested.

“Like tagging an astrozoan. Plan A,” Armstrong replied.

“That is a sound tactic if it can be done surreptitiously. Tagging a member of the crew with a viridium patch would provide another avenue of detection,” Serala offered.

“Could that be introduced while on the transport pad?” Armstrong asked.

Serala thought for a moment. “That is a stratagem the Romulans themselves have used. When they retrieved one of their agents, known to us as the Vulcan ambassador T’Pel, by beaming her off of a Starfleet transporter pad while simultaneously depositing organic residue to fake her death,” she said. “If we applied a similar principle, we could use a second simultaneous transporter beam to beam a viridium patch or other similar tracker onto someone leaving the Antares without it being picked up by the receiving pattern buffer.”

“Lots of room for that to go wrong,” Armstrong murmured. “Plan B, then.”

“Sir, I think I’m missing something: wouldn’t tagging the Romulan ship provoke them?” Windsor asked.

“Probably. They’re probably expecting that, though–if they cloak, I want a credible explanation of how we would be able to track them. A tracker on their hull or on one of their crew might spark an incident, but revealing that we may have stumbled onto a way of detecting their entire fleet is likely to escalate,” Armstrong said. “Commander, I want us to be ready for both plans,” he added, looking at his first officer. He smirked. “I guess Plan B means we need to invite them over for dinner.”