She heard them before she saw them, the tired footsteps of muscular men and women stumbling out of the holodeck, their outfits covered in sweat, their expressions exhausted, and their shoulders sagged.
“Yeah, but have you ever had training like this?”
“Not in my wildest dreams.”
“Nightmares man, nightmares…”
“Well, I just hope those ASTRA guys get us out of this mess soon so we have the excuse of working our regular shifts to save us from more of this.”
“It’s only been a week, and I feel like I’ve lived a lifetime on that mat already.”
“When he’s done with us, we’ll either be dead or be ready to beat a Klingon in hand-to-hand combat.”
As the Hazard Team rounded the corner, Chief Ayala Shafir stepped to the side to let them pass. “Don’t forget to sharpen your teeth then,” she remarked in jest, drawing a couple quizzical looks from the crewmen and officers close enough to hear her comment. For those who didn’t know the slender young woman, it probably came off very out of place, but they were too tired to even reply.
A few moments later, the Chief stepped through the threshold of the holodeck, which was fashioned as a traditional dojo of the Edo era with a single man stretching calmly in the center of the mat.
“You know if you break them too hard, you’re not going to have anyone left on the team.”
“At least then I’ll know that no one has my back,” replied Commander Jake Lewis as he rose to greet the new arrival. In contrast to the exhausted young officers and crewmen she’d just passed in the corridor, the fifty year old didn’t look like he’d even broken a sweat. “How are you doing with everything Ayala?” Lewis asked with a caring sincerity few rarely saw from him.
“Just another adventure boss,” she smiled lightly. “You know, that’s the nice thing about losing yourself. You have no expectations and no attachments.” Her expression gave no discernable hint of the sadness deep within her.
“Because someday we’ll all just be dust blowing in the wind, huh?”
“Already just blowing in the wind. But yes.”
Commander Lewis felt for the girl. For all the things he’d done, all the faces he’d had to wear, all the sacrifices he’d had to make, he never lost himself or his purpose. He’d killed for that purpose, fallen on his sword for that purpose, and put the uniform back on for that purpose. Sure, like her, he could care less about getting home. It wasn’t like he had anyone that would miss him being gone. But he still knew who he was and what he was fighting for. Some days, he thought Ayala did too, but other days, he wasn’t so sure.
“So let’s see if we can actually make you work now, shall we?” Ayala asked, changing the subject.
Without waiting for a response, and while the older man stood there in a relaxed stance, the Shafir aggressively shot for a single leg. Lewis’ movements were instant and instinctive, knee to the floor, hand shooting between his legs to grab the back of her elbow, rolling straight into an omoplata. But before he could get his hips angled to lock it in, Ayala’s free hand came down and she converted over the shoulder of her restrained arm to break free, the two ending up in a scramble as they jockeyed for position.
For the next ninety minutes, the two grappled and threw strikes, and eventually out came the staves, Bat’leths, and knives. In a change of tempo from earlier, Lewis was finally sweating and breathing heavily. He still had the advantage of decades honing his craft, plus eighteen kilos over his partner, but she had the agility and speed of youth, coupled with five years training opposite him while part of their private outfit prior to rejoining Starfleet and linking up with the Polaris.
Lewis lunged with a combat knife, and Shafir parried the blow, attacking the hand holding the knife, when suddenly Lewis’ combadge chirped. Instantly, he dropped the knife and the two disengaged.
“Lewis here. Go ahead.”
“Commander, I am calling to offer a retraction to my earlier position,” came the excited voice of Commander Luke Lockwood, head of the Advanced Science, Technology and Research Activity’s Astrophysical and Exotic Sciences team.
“Say again Dr. Lockwood?”
“Assuming a mathematical basis where the Anti-de Sitter quantum gravimetric processor could exist, I abandoned the approach of trying to map a Lorentzian manifold to our observations of this spacetime due to the contradiction with that assumption, and instead combined a negative cosmological constant with a generalized Reimmanian metric to construct an asymptotically hyperbolic manifold. And lo and behold, your conjecture bore fruit.”
Ayala had gathered next to Lewis, leaning in as if trying to hear better. But neither she nor Lewis was following what the man on the other side of the combadge was saying so excitedly.
“Slow down for a moment,” replied Commander Lewis, “and pretend that you are talking to a golden retriever. Try putting it in terms the pup would understand.”
Now it was time for the brilliant physicist on the other side of the line to be lost for a moment, reaching for an analogue. Finally, he gave it a shot: “If this is a game of fetch in a dark yard, we just got a candle. And now we can see the shadow of a ball across the yard. But we’re still tied up with a leash.”
“Yeah ok, that didn’t work,” chuckled Commander Lewis, shaking his head. “Just give it to me straight and simple in terms of the outcome you netted.”
“Establishing a warp field is still a long way off, but I’ve adjusted subspace sensors based on our team’s calculations, and we can see something – or more accurately, we can see the subspace shadows, if you will, of three stationary objects, outside the visible spectrum, that appear to be anthropogenic in origin, sitting at the boundary of the solar system.”
“What makes you think they’re anthropogenic?” asked Commander Lewis, his demeanor immediately shifting into a combat mindset.
“Because their position and inertia does not conform to expected celestial mechanics,” explained the scientist over the line. “And because these foreign bodies have emission patterns similar to the quantum gravimetric distortions of the power source for the processor Chief Shafir found on the planet below.”
“Are they approaching us?” Lewis asked as he headed for the door of the holodeck, Chief Shafir hot on his trail. The two looked a bit haggard after ninety minutes on the map, but the news put pep in their steps and focus on their faces.
“Negative. Their relative position has remained constant since we adapted our sensor model twenty minutes ago.”
Twenty minutes? That’s a long time to sit on something like this, thought Lewis to himself.
“We’ll be right up. Call Reyes too.”
Commander Lewis and Chief Shafir broke into a trot as they exited the holodeck and headed down the corridors. A few minutes later, after an uncomfortably long time waiting for a turbolift, they stepped into the ASTRA astrometrics lab to find Fleet Admiral Allison Reyes and Commander Luke Lockwood already deep in conversation in front of a display full of complex equations and sensor waveforms that the two newcomers wouldn’t have a chance in the world of understanding.
“It all looks fairly clear to me, Dr. Lockwood,” the Admiral was saying as Lewis and Shafir approached.
“And what is that Admiral?” Commander Lewis asked.
“Well, besides that our Chief here must have just worked you over with her superior jits,” Reyes commented as she gave the two disheveled new arrivals a once over, noting how Lewis’ age was starting to get the better of him, “it appears that we have company.”
Lewis tapped his combadge. “Computer, red ale…”
“Belay that,” Admiral Reyes interrupted.
“Respectfully Admiral, we do not know their intentions. Here we are, stranded, unable to make better than impulse, half-blind, and we’ve got unknown alien ships on sensors that have not identified themselves. We need to get on a combat footing,” Lewis insisted, before adding, “just to be safe.”
Reyes raised her hand calmly. “My friend, as long as we’ve known each other, I’ve known your instincts to be good. But you go for your gun too fast. If these alien vessels had wanted to engage us, they would have already. And besides, what the hell do you think our phasers are going to lock onto? They’re out of phase with the visual spectrum, and all Dr. Lockwood has got here is a way to see their shadow, not the objects themselves. Not exactly something we could lock onto and shoot at.” Lewis looked visibly annoyed.
At that moment, a young Lieutenant stepped into the lab.
“Ah, Lieutenant, thank you for coming down,” Admiral Reyes said, addressing ASTRA’s cultural affairs specialist, Lieutenant Emilia Balan.
“Of course Admiral,” Balan replied, approaching the odd group, with its two sweaty adrenaline junkies in workout clothes, a disheveled scientist wearing a uniform definitely wrinkled beyond the regs, and their CO, who always looked ever so put together in her flag officer duty uniform. Lieutenant Balan looked up at the screen, but it was all gibberish. Whatever the scientists did here, she knew better than to waste her time trying to interpret it. She’d barely scored a five hour C in her Introduction to Subspace Mechanics course at the Academy. “I am hoping you’re not going to ask me to rerun Dr. Lockwood’s work?” she asked with a lighthearted smile.
“No, we wouldn’t want you to show up the good doc here, now would we?” Reyes replied in jest. “But, if I was to tell you we’ve identified what looks to be three ships that could be from the same race as once inhabited the planet below, but they’re just sitting there on the edge of the system observing us, what would be your first instinct?”
“Well, given the amount of orbital bombardment damage we observed on the surface, the fact that this whole region is unnavigable by any known mechanism of faster-than-light propulsion, and the fact that we do not have any known genetic records of the biological specimens we collected on the planet, my first thought would be we are looking at an alien species wary of others.”
“And Commander Lewis, assuming they have the ability to observe us better than we can observe them, what response might activating shields and weapon systems have?”
“Not the one we want,” Lewis conceded. Indeed, it could prompt a tactical response from an unknown assailant that, as Reyes had just established, they would not even be able to reliably target. The odds in that fight were not good.
“So for now, since they’re not doing anything, we don’t do anything except watch while we let Lockwood work,” Reyes concluded. “Commander Lockwood, can you route your adaptations to the bridge so that we know if these ships change their position relative to us whatsoever?”
“Commander Lewis, did your team find anything in your records related to this area of space?”
“Going back to at least the 6th century, Romulan ships have regarded this area to be unnavigable,” explained the Chief Intelligence Officer. “But if we go back further, there are some references by 5th century proto-Imperial warlords to a campaign in what could be this region of space… But you know how shoddy the records are from that period.”
“And Lieutenant Balan, carbon dating on the ruins suggest that they’re at least that old right?”
“Yes,” confirmed the Lieutenant. “Our findings suggest that the damage was caused around the 4th or 5th century.”
“Dr. Lockwood, is there anything by chance in your work thus far that suggests the phenomena we are experiencing is non-natural?”
And now, clear as day, everyone in the room saw where the Admiral was going with this.
“Not as a direct outcome of my work,” Lockwood explained. “But, if I go into the uncomfortable territory of untested suppositions, it could be conceivable. Typically, scientific development starts at a micro scale first, and then it is projected into higher order systems. I cannot explain how a civilization would manifest the incongruity of the local spacetime we find ourselves within, but I also cannot explain the feasibility of the AdS-dependent quantum gravimetric processor we found. And, as much as I am discomforted by reckless conjectures, in this case, Commander Lewis’ approach did net our first observational finding, so yes, it is certainly within the realm of possibility.”
Commander Lewis smirked. As good a concession as he’d ever get from the ivory tower academic.
“Before we are done here, we may have a first contact opportunity on our hands,” smiled Lieutenant Balan, excited at the prospect. The opportunity to interact with new races and cultures was a good part of why she’d taken to the stars in the first place.
“And we still have two ships to find,” Commander Lewis reminded everyone. He was once left behind, and he would never allow anyone else to fall to that same fate if it was within his power to prevent it. That was their original purpose that had led them into this current predicament, the fact that the USS Casimir and USS Arleigh Burke had gone missing here, and he would make sure none forgot that.