“These deserve names,” Linal Nerys muttered, verging on grumbling, as the collected away team dismounted from the two Argo rovers.
“Don’t they?” Lieutenant Gérard Maxwell asked as his feet hit the stark white deck plate of the alien space station, then spun to look over the Argo he’d been driving, then glanced at the other. “Huh, weird. Normally everything that moves on the ship is named.”
“Even the cleaners?” Gabrielle Camargo asked as she two followed suit.
“Especially the cleaners.” Lieutenant Krel Merktin, a Tellarite engineer and barely Maxwell’s junior sounded exasperated as she stated that fact. “You never see them unless a specific circumstance calls for it, or you’re an engineer doing maintenance, but trust me, they all have names.”
“All hail Stubby, lord of deck twelve,” Maxwell said quietly with a slight chuckle to his voice as he passed Merktin.
“May your toes remain unstubbed,” she replied.
Without even needing the question asked Gabrielle stepped up beside Linal and just shook her head, then muttered, “Engineers.”
“A breed of their own,” the young security officer agreed, then followed the pack from their rover and the other to the first door they’d seen since entering the station. They had decided to just drive in a straight line until they hit something and at a moderate pace it had taken barely five minutes. They could have gone faster if not for the optical illusion that stark white walls, floor and ceilings caused and a desire to scan away as they went.
“One hour and forty minutes,” Samantha Michaels announced after looking at her tricorder. “Or there about. Still not exactly sure on the exact time the reset occurs.”
“Then we should still have time to find something useful,” W’a’le’ki stated, speaking somewhat slower, but clearer, consciously suppressing her sibilant way of speaking as much as possible. “And plenty enough to get as close to the core of the station as possible.”
“And all that at barely over a paltry seven kilometres an hour W’a,” Michaels said as her tricorder beeped, then chirped just as the door before them started to part. There wasn’t even the faintest breath of air, as both compartments were kept at the same pressure. “One kilometre in, door opens with the same codes,” she stated for her companions.
Lieutenant Ch’tkk’va, the Atlantis’ resident Xindi-Insectoid spoke up, having never dismounted the rover they arrived on. “Scans are indicating a juncture four hundred meters ahead and what could be, by layout, a potential control room of some sort.”
“While I’d love to see whatever is at the heart of this thing,” Maxwell started, “a control room does sound far more informative. But it is your mission Lieutenant W’a’le’ki.”
All eyes turned on the Irossian lieutenant, who visibly gulped, took a moment to consider the two options, and then nodded her head. “Myself, Michaels, Maxwell and Borik,” she looked to the silent Vulcan security officer, “will continue to the control room. Linal, Merktin, Ch’tkk’va and Camargo to investigate the core.”
“If there’s a next loop, I want to see the control room,” Camargo said before everyone shuffled back to the rovers and the ever so slightly changed-up rosters.
“Seriously, who or what the hell is Stubby?” Linal asked as she sat down on the back of the rover next to Merktin, just in time for Camargo, who took the driver’s seat, the start accelerating down the corridor once more towards the station’s core.
“Stubby, lord of deck twelve, is one of the cleaner bots with some persistent obstacle avoidance problems. Software, hardware, sensors, all have been looked over, yet it will still collide with you when it’s doing its rounds and stubs your toe.”
“Hence the name,” Linal realised. “Wait, I have quarters on deck twelve and I’ve never seen it.”
“You’re not an engineer and Atlantis has never been so badly damaged we’ve deployed them during normal hours. They tend to stay out of sight and out of mind. But we’ve painted Stubby bright orange just in case. You see it, just turn around and walk away.”
Linal stared at the Tellarite for a moment. “You make it sound like it’ll hunt me down.”
“I never said that. I also never said it wouldn’t.”
And with that Merktin pulled out her tricorder to look at the latest readings being collected as they neared the core, offering the device to Linal to see so she could at least try and remember the details. “Great bird,” she cursed.
“What’s up Merktin?” Camargo asked from the front seat, the argo slowing as she eased off the throttle.
“Chroniton readings are extremely high.” As the rover stopped Merktin turned to pass her tricorder forward for Camargo and Ch’tkk’va. “My temporal mechanics is a fair bit rusty, but these are orders of magnitude greater than…” She trailed off, searching for a suitable reference.
“At least a dozen other events I can think of.” Camargo tapped at the tricorder, then handed it back. “It’s contained though, but still climbing. Let’s continue and see if we can’t find out what’s building and storing all of this.”
As the last security door hissed open, Samantha Michaels sighed in relief. “Seriously, five security doors all with different encryption methods,” she said with exasperation, as she flipped her tricorder shut. “Don’t think I’ll be forgetting them with how hard they were.”
“One hour left, yes?” W’a’le’ki asked as she stepped past and into the suspected control facility.
They had entered near the front of the room, or at least near the incredibly large wall made of various-sized screens displaying a multitude of information feeds. Four rows of consoles, ten across and two stations at each, rose away from a decent-sized open space before the first rank, each rising gently enough for unobstructed views from the bank rank.
“Real Houston vibes I’m getting,” Maxwell uttered as he started climbing the stairs, looking back over the consoles he was passing.
“I would concur with you Lieutenant,” Borik said, which had the other three turning to look at him as if he’d suddenly just grown a second head. “Touring Earth’s primitive space facilities was a fascinating insight into your species’ early space programs.”
“Well, no one’s home, but the lights are on.” Maxwell had stopped after the second rank and was now pointing at the large displays, drawing everyone’s attention away from the suddenly vocal Vulcan security officer.
A display of the station, the local variation of an MSD, dominated the right quarter. The left quarter listed a series of details yet to be translated. The middle parts were a variety of smaller displays but currently overlapped by an open display window rimmed in a slowly pulsing red with the USS Atlantis dominating the window, smaller ones floated around it with zoomed-in views of the ship’s registry and name from the nacelle ends, one of the secondary hull docking ports and an EVA hatch on the upper saucer.
W’a’le’ki’s tricorder was out in barely a second as she was running the visual translation. “Xeno detection. Threat level high. Automated reversion protocols in effect.”
“Reversion protocols?” Michaels asked. “Reverting what?”
“I’m still translating the language Lieutenant,” W’a’le’ki stated. “As we don’t have comms with the ship currently, the tricorder is having to do all the work and it doesn’t quiet,” she stopped when Michaels started to speak up.
“Have the same processing power as Atlantis. We’re networked to share results though, yes?”
“Sweet. I’ll get out of your hair then,” Michaels replied before making her way up to the third row of consoles and to Maxwell who was scanning each console he passed. “Anything interesting?”
“That console,” he pointed one console, “controls the dohickey. That one,” his hand moved to the next one along, closer this time, “is responsible for whoshewhatsits and this one,” his tricorder chirped at him rather aggressively, “is station attitude control.” He reached out to the console, checking his tricorder to check he was tapping the right control, then brought what could only be a submenu. “Everything is on automatics like this place was just left to run itself.”
“Well we haven’t seen anyone, no life signs and everything is still ticking along, so perhaps it was designed to be like this?” Michaels asked.
“Then why a control centre? Or the living facilities we passed after we split from the other team?”
“W’a is the anthropologist, not me,” she said in her defence. “I’m just an operations rube.”
“You’re not a rube Michaels,” Maxwell countered. “Rubes don’t push back in such polite ways. Or have as much ambition as you do.” He looked at her with a slight smile. “Ra tells some stories, like the number of times he’s gone up on the bridge to find you sitting in the centre seat.”
“Officer of the Watch has that right,” she replied. “And either Captain, Commander or someone more senior is usually on the other side of a door.”
“Still, they trust you to man the bridge in their absence, therefore, not a rube.” He went back to focusing on the console. “Naïve and inexperienced people don’t get bridge duty.”
“Just ambitious people?”
“Or those who are entrusted with the ship trust,” he said. “Huh, there is no connectivity for supplying our language files to their systems to translate their computer consoles.”
“So we can’t just change the language in the OS, we’re going to have to learn it?” she asked as she stepped right up beside him to look at his tricorder’s output and the screen he was currently manipulating. “That’s going to be a bitch.”
“Tell me about it.” He looked up, across the rows of consoles. “One of these has to be communications. We need to find it so we can call Atlantis.”
“Any data scraps we do though won’t last past the reset.”
“You’ll know in future which console is communications, how to open a channel and then since everything in here seems to be on automatic, Atlantis should hopefully be able to break into the computers and force a language update through.” Maxwell waved as Borik turned in their direction. “Borik! Start looking for a comms console down there,” he ordered, then pointed to the left side of the room, “and you start looking over there.”
“We’re being hailed by the station,” Rrr announced from Ops with their usual rumbling tone.
“On screen,” Tikva followed up as she got herself to her feet alongside Mac. “Lieutenant W’a’le’ki, anything to report?”
The Irrosian was front and centre, but tiny as the camera feed on the other side seemed set to show the entirety of a large control centre. “We need Atlantis’ assistance in cracking the station’s computer security in order to rummage around. And I would suggest speed would be paramount as I’ve found a countdown timer and as far as I can tell we have thirty minutes left.”
A nod from Tikva to Mac and he was heading for mission operations, Rrr in two, the tap of his commbadge as he was calling others up to assist. The turbolifts would be disgorging staff on the bridge soon enough and the rear section would become a cacophony, but before then they had some time to talk. “And the other team?”
“They’ve found the station’s core and report it’s a massive chroniton generator and what at best Commander Camargo is calling a chroniton capacitor.” W’a’le’ki looked over to Gérard who took the hint to continue.
“It looks like the station is a massive temporal field emitter ma’am, with a chroniton core at its heart big enough to, and I’m making some assumptions from what I’ve glanced over, envelop an entire star system.”
Tikva knew she went blank in the face and just blinked a few times. But she pushed through it. “Why in the world would someone do that?”
“Don’t know ma’am. But a field that massive has huge chroniton flux demands, which means a generator able to either generate that many on demand, which would just be massive and infeasible, or a smaller generator and some form of storage system. Say a generator a kilometre across with extensive and near limitless solar power and some form of chroniton particle storage system so you can then use them when you need them.”
“Can we turn it off? Or disable it somehow before it fires?”
“I wouldn’t want to try anything forceful,” Maxwell said from over the comms as he looked down at the station he was behind. “Not without knowing more. A controlled shutdown is our best bet, or if we had gotten here earlier would have done something, but this station is priming to fire right now. Blowing it up could be absolutely disastrous. Like on the space-time continuum level of disastrous.”
“Right. Okay.” Tikva stopped herself before a third confirmation spilled forth. “Rrr will be in touch in a moment when he’s ready to start his data attacks. I want you W’a’le’ki and the other two reading every screen and piece of data you can. I want you as prepared as possible for the next loop, understand?”
“Good, Atlantis out.”
“Mister Fightmaster, would you be so good as to go ahead and await us?” Tikva asked her yeoman, who had been dutifully following her and Mac since they had left the bridge a few minutes before.
“Certainly ma’am,” he answered, then passed the box with the rank pips he’d been carrying over to Mac as he proceeded past them and into Port Royal.
“You know what I don’t like about him?” Mac asked as Fightmaster got far enough away for the two of them to speak quietly without being overheard. “He’s just too…good.”
“Reminds me of my XO aboard the Haida,” Tikva commented. “Squeaky clean, knew everything about everything, always willing to do what was needed. Let’s just hope Fightmaster doesn’t snap like she did and try to gun down a captain.”
“Precious few of those around here after all,” Mac commented.
“Tell me about it.”
As they rounded the curve in the corridor to Port Royal they saw that Fightmaster had been intercepted by Lieutenant Michaels, who was being pointed in their direction by the yeoman. She thanked him and then continued in their direction.
“Captain, Commander,” Michaels said, sounding a little bored, maybe exasperated as well. “Periwinkle.”
“Periwinkle?” Tikva asked, with an odd echo as Ensign Linal Nerys ran towards them, repeating the word just as Tikva had.
“Dammit to hell,” Mac muttered. “We’ve got a broken clock captain.”
“What?” Tikva asked.
“Temporal casualty loop,” Linal answered.
“Causality loop,” Michaels corrected the security officer. “We need to take the ship to maximum warp right now on its current course. Plenty of time to explain, but we need the extra time before the loop resets.” She then looked right at MacIntyre as seriously as she could. “Periwinkle.”
“Okay, I’m not happy about not being in the loop here people, but all I’m getting is this is serious and you believe it’s true,” Tikva said. “Mac, what’s periwinkle?”
“A stupid code phrase I made up for temporal anomalies. We should do as they say and hear them out while we’re still in transit.”
Tikva just stared at him a moment more, then tapped at her badge. “Theodoras to T’Val, increase speed to maximum and stay on course.”
“Aye ma’am, maximum warp,” was the curt reply from the bridge. Soon after the thrum of the ship shifted just slightly as it accelerated.
“Now, someone tell me what the hell is going on?” Tikva demanded.”