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Part of USS Altai (Archive): M3: The Edge of Yesterday

Trouble…Big Trouble

Bridge of Romero
January 2401
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Hayes stood on the bridge as he looked at everyone who had returned from their assignments. Hayes looked to Jaso and Cooper. “Good work on getting the warp drive back online.”

“Thank you, Captain. It was… an explosive time. I’ll relay your thanks to Anderson. I left him in charge of Main Engineering until I got back. He and Cooper turned out to be quite the engineers,” said Jaso.

Hayes smirked and nodded his head. “I’m just glad you were able to make it before we ended up here.”

Hayes then looked to everyone else. “Those who searched the ship, did you find any bodies? Anything that would give us a clue as to what happened to the crew?”

“We know, from main engineering,” Cooper chipped up. “That none of the escape pods were launched.”

“Perhaps the bugs…” Astrid swallowed uncomfortably, “ate them. Well, not exactly ate them, but used their bodies as raw material to replicate.”

“Or,” replied Alton, “they were taken away by whoever programmed those spiders.”

“For what reason?” Vogler asked. “There are only two reasons for that.  A benevolent action,  but given how aggressive the bugs are that seems unlikely.   That leaves some sort of prisoners.  Either as POWs, slaves, or… lab rats.”

“Could be,” Alton responded, “that the makers of these spiders felt that no one could examine them because they would either be destroyed in battle or they were programmed to self-destruct to avoid capture, or, they felt that knowing who created them didn’t matter.”

Hayes let out a heavy sigh. “Then we may have only two conclusions. They are either, A: Alive, and prisoners to some being or beings. Or B: Dead. Twenty years is a long time for anyone, and if they are alive, they would need serious therapy.” He shook his head.

“How about finding more proto-matter?” Hayes asked.

“Wouldn’t proto-matter give off a unique resonance signature,” Michelle spoke suddenly.  “Perhaps we could scan for that signature.  It would still be a needle in a haystack,  but it might make the needle a bit easier to find.”

“Exactly, that is why Mr. Jackson and Mr. Tel were given the task to find us some proto-matter for the drive,” Hayes smirked and winked at Michelle before he looked at the two gentlemen and waited for their report.

Alton spoke up. “Tel and I reconfigured the sensors to scan for proto matter. We picked up a signal, but there’s a problem.” He turned and looked at Tel.

“’Problem’? What sort of problem?” Vogler asked suspiciously.

“I was about to ask myself,” said Hayes.

“Well twofold actually. First the good news, the nav-logs show that the ship has encountered protomatter but not in this direct vicinity. The first issue is that local space came up negative but there is a class-1 nebula about 10 light years from here. Protomatter has been know to occur naturally in such locations. The second possible issue is that the logs showed that when the ship first appeared here there was another ship in system. The files are not clear but I would think they made contact.” Explained Joran.

“Here we go  again,” Vogler replied.  She was already running through the Hazard Team members making mental notes of those who would be ready for another away mission.   The whole team was getting battle weary, but some were handling the stress better than others.

Hayes looked at Vogler, “Relax, Lieutenant.” He gave her a head nod to assure her that the use of her team may likely not be needed as he looked back at Joran and Alton. “So we’re looking at a possible contact, with what may be where the spiders came from.” Hayes took a brief moment to think it over. And it was brief. “Set a course for the Nebula,” Hayes then looked at Jaso, “What is the recommended speed we should use in an attempt to reduce our EM signature as much as possible? I would love to run the ship under silent mode but at warp…”

“The ideal speed would be impulse,” Jaso replied. “The EM signature would dissipate fast enough for it not to be a problem. Beyond that, the slower we go, the less of a signature we give off. The average cruising speed of an Excelsior-class is Warp 7,” he thought a moment, “I could rig a rotating EM modulation that would run us pretty quiet at half that.” Jaso stared off into space as he went through the calculations, “I could push it to 4.2, but it’ll take some work. Anything beyond that would be risking the core and I’d have to shut it down.”

“Get it done.” He looked back at Joran and Alton. “Plot the course, and the speed the Chief recommended.” Hayes then looked back at Jaso and Cooper. “Then rig the ship for silent running but have us prepared to go to full battle stations.”

“Understood,” Jaso replied. “If that happens, I’ll need as much lead-up time as you can give me. It won’t be as easy as flipping a switch.” He tapped his communicator, “Erdian to Main Engineering: Anderson, salvage as much of the anti-mag device as you can find. Cooper and I are on our way back.” He tapped to close the channel. Jaso turned to Hayes, “I’ll need about 20 minutes to set up and test it, sir, stay on impulse until then. All right Cooper, once more unto the breach.” He said as the two of them left the Bridge.

Joran nodded and began to plot the course as ordered.

Fleming took her cue and smiled at Vogler. “With the time we have, go get your team settled in somewhere. Get some rest, and after that, have them prepared for damage control if possible. How familiar are you with the tactical station?” Fleming asked Vogler.

“Yes, Commander,” Vogler responded to Fleming not exactly feeling at all that confident in the command team’s reassurances. “Tactical?  Ma’am, I am certified as are all officers in my career track, but I have never actually manned the position.”

Maec approached the captain. “Sir, what are we going to do if we happen to encounter the ship and some of the former Romero crew are still alive?”

Hayes shook his head. “I would rather we didn’t encounter the ship that may be housing an unknown number of these nasty things. But if we did and if, big if, any former crew of the Romero is still alive, we are not equipped to conduct a rescue mission.”

“Condemn them to death, sir?” Maec asked.

“Not to burst your bubble, Ensign but it’s been over twenty years. They’re likely dead already,” said Hayes.

“But shouldn’t we know for sure Captain?” Vogler asked. “No one left behind.”

“Captain. maybe they barricaded themselves in a room. Had weapons to shoot the spiders. Aren’t we going to even try to see if any of them are still alive? If that was us, I would hope that there was someone coming to rescue us, sir.” said Alton.

Joran listened to the conversation as it unfolded. He agreed with Hayes that the chance of finding any survivors was virtually zero but if they were presented with the chance to find out what happened it could be worth the risk. “Course is plotted in sir, shall I engage impulse engines until Lieutenant Jaso confirms the warp drive is ready?”

Fleming looked at the Captain then at Joran before she gave a nod. “Do it, Chief.”

Hayes rubbed the bridge of his nose for a moment to collect his thoughts before he answered his crew’s concern about his decision. “Lieutenant,” He looked at Alton. “Whichever room they locked themselves into, unless they had unlimited access to a supply of food, nutrients, they would have been dead in weeks, a month tops. And depending on the environment they were in, it would take weeks, maybe several years for a body to decompose into a skeleton.” He paused and looked at everyone. “It has been over twenty years since this ship disappeared and returned to our galaxy. If they were captured the instant this ship arrived in this galaxy, the chances of them being alive are very slim and if they are, they would either be suffering from malnutrition, or serious trauma, be so incoherent that even trying to rescue them would put you, folks, in danger and right now, you are all my responsibility and it would be irresponsible for me to send any of you to your deaths for a crew who may very much be dead already.” Hayes paused for a moment longer to let his words sink in before he had one final say. “No escape pods launched. So they were either captured or beamed off the ship somewhere. We don’t have transporter logs, so they didn’t beam off of their own free will. The only chance that they would be alive is if they managed to escape their captors, found some planet to hide on, and created a whole new life. If by some chance we find that planet, then by god, yes, we’ll beam them up and get the hell out of here. Now you have your assignments, and recommendations,” He looked at Vogler and then at Fleming, a gesture that Fleming had given Vogler and her team a chance to rest. “I suggest you get to them.”

Fleming knew rest was needed but though the others went to rest she knew she had to stay present regardless of how tired she was. She looked at her team and motioned them to go rest while she took her seat next to the Captain rubbing her temples. 

The travel time at impulse would have been months to reach their destination. But once Jaso and his team did their magic, they were able to travel at warp four for at least six hours to make it to the nebula. As soon as the ship dropped out of warp, could visibly see all the lights in the windows, along with the exterior lighting, all dimed to complete darkness. Power was reduced, and only the basic systems and the required systems were needed to continue.

Hayes had forgone sitting in the captain’s chair, as he felt uncomfortable in sitting in the seat that belonged to someone else. Instead, he had stood there between Alton and Joran, just a few steps back as he stared at the nebula on the view screen. “Bring us in, Chief. Let’s get our proto-matter.” Suddenly, Hayes heard an alarm notification going off from Alton’s station.

“Scanning.” Alton paused. “Reading as unknown, sir. Stand by…” His head popped up. “It’s a massive vessel, sir, and our sensors recognize it, sir!”

“Can the nebula hide us?” Hayes asked Alton. Hayes could only think that the reason the ship’s sensors recognized the large vessel, is because this ship had encountered the vessel before. Likely the vessel that took the former crew.

Alton scanned the nebula as they approached the system. “High magnetic interference, captain. Should mask our readings, as well as theirs.”

“Get us in the nebula, Chief! Punch the impulse engines if you have to!” Hayes ordered as he went over to the center chair and hit the button that patched him to main engineering. “Mr. Erdian, going to need you ready to switch us back. We’re going to try to hide in the nebula first but if that fails, we’re going to need something to defend ourselves.”

Understood sir,” Jaso’s voice came over the intercom. “Give me all the time you can. I’m going to have to purge the EM radiation afterward, so we’re going to glow like a supernova on sensors. Counterproductive to hiding I know, but it’s either that or losing the core. We’ll also lose warp while the core cools down.” A brief pause, “I have an idea on the defensive front. Try not to rock the boat too much… it’ll require some finesse. Erdian out!” And the comm clicked.

“Entering nebula in 5..4…3…2…1,” Alton reported. As they entered the nebula, the lights on the bridge went out, and the emergency lights came on.

With the loss of sensors from the high magnetic interference of the nebula, they had no idea that the vessel entered the nebula right after them. The massive vessel was interested in the Romero, likely curious as to how it returned and why it was running again. Which may put the entire away team in danger.