Part of USS Arcturus: Return to Farpoint and Bravo Fleet: The Lost Fleet

2. Thought Makers

USS Arcturus
Stardate 2401.3
0 likes 534 views

The swirling blue and silver glow of the subspace bow shock filled the conference room with light as Lieutenant Commander Ferellan Tornelis took his place next to the presentation display to summarize the intelligence Fourth Fleet Command had sent to Arcturus. He was an exceptionally talented intelligence analyst thanks to his long career with Starfleet and prior adventures as a free trader, though his smooth emerald-tone skin and youthful features concealed the fact that he was actually the oldest person in the room, thanks to the long-lived qualities of the sub-species of Orions to which he belonged. Farpoint Station was only minutes behind them, but Captain Lancaster had found over their short time together that Tornelis had a savant-like ability to digest and summarize intelligence extremely quickly. He was eager to learn what a Ferengi trader could possibly be in possession of that would cause Admiral Dahlgren to risk the security of the Deneb system and Farpoint Station by taking Arcturus off of her garrison post.

“This is the FMS Promise of Profit, or at least that’s the translation into Federation Standard; the Ferengi name has far too many consonants to be euphonic,” Tornelis said with a small chuckle, as he pointed to a diagram on the display. “She’s a Ferengi D’Kora-class marauder registered to a DaiMon Mahrek. She departed Handl Dryf and entered our space three days ago on a trade mission bound for Cait carrying luxury foodstuffs. Our forces were spread too thin to perform a customs inspection, but a cargo manifest and flight plan were filed.”

Tornelis paused as he advanced the presentation to bring up said cargo manifest and flight plan, as that information also appeared on the PADDs in front of each of the division heads and bridge officers sitting around the long briefing table. Lancaster scrolled through it, seeing nothing that stood out—other than how unusual it was for a trade mission of that nature to pass through a war zone. Still, it wasn’t out of character for a Ferengi to prioritize profit over safety.

“37 hours ago, the Promise sent out a distress call at this position 4.2 light-years within Federation space,” the Orion officer said, as the presentation displayed a star map with a gold asterisk quite far off from the projected flight path. “As you can see, she was not where she was supposed to be.”

“How unlike the Ferengi,” Captain Lancaster quipped.

“Quite,” Tornelis said. “The distress call was terminated approximately three minutes after it was sent. USS Banting was sent to investigate, but she couldn’t locate the Promise. We lost contact with Banting 12 hours ago, and their last transmission was recorded here,” he added, showing another asterisk in red further within Federation space.

Hearing that one of their own ships had dropped out of contact made Lancaster’s stomach sink. He didn’t know her captain, but he did know that the Banting was a Grissom-class science vessel with a crew of eighty. Dahlgren hadn’t mentioned her, which made Lancaster realize that whatever cargo the Promise was really carrying must have been extremely dangerous if a missing Federation ship wasn’t even worth a footnote.

“Before we lost contact, the Banting reported detecting an unusual energy signature. On analysis, it was found to be a near-match to this device,” Tornelis said. What appeared on the screen was a diagram of a spherical device that Lancaster was unfamiliar with, along with an energy pattern that resembled brain waves to him. “It’s called a thought maker. Highly illegal pretty much everywhere, it’s a technology of Ferengi origin that can be used to control the thoughts of others—even races like the Ferengi who aren’t otherwise susceptible to telepathy. They operate in pairs: a transmitting sphere and a receiving sphere.”

“It has to be bad if the Ferengi don’t even allow it,” Captain Alesser remarked. “I’ve heard of these. They’re relatively short-range, aren’t they? Banting must have been close.”

“That’s where it gets complicated, sir,” the intelligence officer said. “These devices are very short-range. The receiving sphere needs to be in the same room as its target in most cases. Fourth Fleet Intelligence liaised with contacts within the Ferengi Commerce Authority, and there is now credible evidence that the Promise was carrying hundreds of thought makers. In those quantities, they would be enough to brainwash an entire colony.”

“Or Farpoint…,” Lancaster interjected as he put the pieces together. “All of our codes and ship movements would be vulnerable.”

“Precisely, Captain,” Tornelis agreed. “And in those large numbers, it’s possible that their range could be extended.”

“Why did the Ferengi cooperate? What’s in it for them?” Alesser asked.

“The Breen or Dominion winning the Deneb sector is bad for business,” Tornelis said with a shrug. “Plus, we promised to retrieve and return the Promise, if she’s intact. They provided us with the ‘asset recovery’ codes for the vessel. Apparently, DaiMons lease their vessels from the FCA, and the FCA has kill switches built into all of them to shut them down for recovery, like our prefix codes.”

As was his nervous habit, Lancaster drummed his fingers on the table as he processed all of that information. Surely, the Ferengi DaiMon had a buyer if he was willing to transport such a highly illegal cargo, but the dots on the map were leading away from Breen space, not towards it. 

“Do we have any idea who the buyer was?” Lancaster asked.

“We’ve plotted a few different possible courses and are checking sources, but we believe the Promise was not headed to Cait but to Kzin. The Kzinti really love slavery even more than the Breen or my own people, and these devices are ideal for brainwashing slaves,” Tornelis said, looking momentarily uncomfortable. 

Lancaster was aware that Tornelis himself had once been a slave, but the details in his dossier were spotty. The Kzinti were rarely a direct threat to Starfleet vessels, but they had been a plague on the Deneb sector for decades. Anything that increased their threat level during another crisis was a problem. Still, it seemed unlikely they would attack a trade partner more than 30 light-years within Federation space. 

“What are our mission objectives?” Lancaster asked.

“The first priority is locating the Promise and securing its cargo. Finding the Banting is a secondary priority, but one I believe will help us in achieving the first,” Tornelis summarized. “The coordinates the admiral gave will take us to her last reported position within the hour.”

Lancaster nodded, and glanced around the room to see if any of his officers had questions. Universally, they looked either solemn or angry, and the captain was right there with them in that frame of mind. It was pretty safe to assume that there was a hostile force responsible for attacking both the Banting and the Promise. They were behind the established front line, but things were so volatile and porous in the Deneb Sector that he wouldn’t be surprised to drop out of warp on top of a Dominion battlecruiser. 

“Right. I want all departments tactically ready within the hour. We’re going to find these two ships, handle whatever instigated this situation in the first place, and be back at Farpoint for dinner. Understood?” Lancaster said, standing up from his seat. “Mr. Tornelis, I want you on the bridge for the duration of the mission. Good work. Dismissed.”


Over the course of the next 45 minutes, Captain Lancaster read every snippet Fourth Fleet Intelligence had passed along, occasionally asking questions of Tornelis from his seat to the left of the captain’s chair. While he felt that he had a handle on the broad strokes of the intelligence, the details gave him pause. The Ferengi weren’t known to have trade relations with the Kzinti, and the Kzinti didn’t have much that the Ferengi would be interested in trading for anyway. There had to be something else at work.

“Captain, we’re approaching the coordinates,” Lieutenant Commander Marshall reported from the helm. 

“Take us to impulse power,” Lancaster ordered.

As soon as Arcturus dropped out of warp, Lancaster could see a debris field on the main viewer: the remains of the Banting.

“Captain, I’m detecting wreckage matching the mass and composition of the Banting. There are no life signs or escape pods,” Commander Bowens said at ops, prompting Lancaster to close his eyes for a moment of quiet remembrance. Eighty of their Starfleet colleagues had been lost in action. “There are residual polaron and disruptor energy signatures that match both Breen and Dominion weapons.”

“Red alert,” Lancaster ordered. “Run a full sensor sweep of the area.”

The alarm klaxons sounded as the lighting on the bridge dimmed and changed hue to crimson. Lancaster’s heart was pounding as he waited for his officers to complete the sensor scan. He glanced over at Alesser, who gave him a reassuring half-smile that was a “we’ve got this” and not “I am amused by this” gesture. Lancaster took comfort in that and braced himself with his hands on the armrests. 

“Sir, I am detecting a Ferengi Marauder approximately 100,000 kilometers from our position. No energy signatures,” Bowens reported.

“Helm, plot an intercept course, one-quarter impulse,” Lancaster ordered. 

Arcturus pulled hard to starboard and set off towards the inert Marauder. It took a few moments for the vessel to appear on the viewscreen, but once it did, Lancaster could immediately see a massive hole in the Ferengi vessel where the cargo holds would be. The ship was dark, showing no signs of life. 

“It’s the Promise,” Bowens confirmed. “No life signs.”

“Is she still pressurized?” Alesser asked.

“Portions of the ship are retaining some atmosphere, but their life support systems are fully offline,” Bowens reported.

“Your team will need pressure suits, then. Get over there, download their records, and figure out exactly what they were carrying,” Lancaster ordered, even though looking into Alesser’s eyes made him want to send someone else. “And then get back here alive. That’s an order.”

“I’ll be right back. Don’t worry,” Alesser replied, his tone soft, warm, and perhaps a little too familiar for the bridge. “Bowens, Tornelis, and Evandrion, you’re with me,” he said, as he stood up and headed towards the aft exit and the deck one transporter room, the three men in yellow shirts following close behind.

Lancaster watched the four officers leave and again had to shake away his anxiety and fear of loss. Many lives had already been lost in whatever transaction the Promise of Profit had been attempting to undertake, and he hoped that no one from his crew—from his family—would have to join them. He turned to Commander Armstrong at the science station.

“Armstrong, I want every short-range sensor array we have focused on the Promise. Learn everything there is to know about that ship. I don’t want any surprises while the away team is over there,” the captain ordered.

“You’ve got it, Captain,” Armstrong confirmed. “For what it’s worth, I’m not detecting any evidence of the energy pattern the Banting reported. At the very least, there don’t appear to be any active thought-makers present.”

“Let’s hope it stays that way,” Lancaster muttered.

Comments

  • Interesting turn of events, that is a bit scary if the Ferengi ship was carrying what they think they were carrying in the hands of the Dominion. My heart dropped when they found the Starfleet ship, hopefully, the away team can get some answers from that ship. Fantastic job, can't wait for the next installment!

    May 7, 2023
  • Oh, that's a fly in the ointment. I'm enjoying the McGuffin concept in a fleet-wide storyline that doesn't instantly lend itself to McGuffins. But it drags in the Ferengi, always a - if you'll allow the term - humanising presence, with motivations that aren't 'slaves' or 'manipulate and kill'. The involvement of them, and the possible involvement of the Kzinti, adds some interesting layers to the storyline. I appreciate a story drawing in more of the threads and players in a situation like the Deneb Sector (without losing track of the core Lost Fleet story). Good stuff!

    May 20, 2023