“Ketris has a message for you, captain,” Ache intoned. As she stalked the corridor, the security chief held her wrists close together, her fingers waggling dramatically with each word. Were she Deltan, Ache’s voice would have been considered high in pitch, almost childish. That made it all the more chilling when the large-lobed Osnullus assumed an ominous inflection to her voice.
Ache advised, “She said: your agreements are with the Romulan Free State. They were not with Flavia as an individual.”
Traversing one of the outer corridors that threaded deck twelve, Captain Taes kept apace with Ache. Or it may have been Ache keeping pace with Taes. It wasn’t immediately apparent. In either scenario, there was a synchronicity to their movement.
“She’s already heading to the brig?” Taes presumed aloud. “Isn’t she?”
The only immediate response from Ache was the characteristic side-bobbing of her head that communicated an ‘affirmative.’
Pausing to consider her next words, Taes clicked her tongue in vague frustration. She didn’t slow her stride despite the meandering of her thoughts.
“After we speak with the Trill scientist Yuulik rescued,” Taes said, “you’re to confer with Doctor Nelli. The Changeling posing as Kellin managed to fool all of our biometric security systems. Even more vexing: when Yuulik stabbed him she says he leaked blood rather than gelatinous Changeling matter. He bled a lot. If we can’t trust blood tests or our internal sensors, I need your recommendation for new Changeling security protocols.”
Ache side-bobbed her head again. “I’ll prepare a presentation for you within two hours.” The assuredness in her voice was undercut by a sudden hitch in her breathing.
Then, Ache asked, “Kellin’s command codes would have given him access to our old prefix codes. What else could he have learned?”
Arching an eyebrow at Ache, Taes said, “You’ll prepare a presentation on that too, I’m sure. Ultimately, it may not be of consequence. If the Changeling broke his cover identity at Kholara, he must have been confident the Jem’Hadar would destroy Constellation, putting an end to our mission.”
Taes looked right at Ache, when she said, “He underestimated the skill of my chief security officer.”
After a self-conscious titter, Ache quickly changed the subject. “The Changeling would have replaced Kellin at Farpoint Station, yeah?” Ache asked. “The Dominion had hardly crossed the Federation’s Deneb border when Constellation was launched. They couldn’t have made it to the Lioh system before we left Deep Space 17?”
Taes winced. “I can say your reasoning is sound, commander. I wish I could commit to more than that.”
Puffing up a broader posture, Ache said, “If I may offer my first security recommendation, captain? Don’t step into the brig with me. If the Changelings have counter-measures for all of our security protocols from the war and the Dominion’s lost fleet allowed for a survivor of their first attack… This scientist, Fillian, could be a Founder in disguise. You shouldn’t be anywhere near him.”
Taes clicked her tongue again.
“What do we know already?” Laken asked. There was a strident quality to the Romulan scientist’s voice, raised to be louder than the din of other voices. “And what do we think we know?”
The first time Nova had been introduced to Constellation’s Astrometrics lab, the combined Starfleet and Romulan scientists had searched for answers like an orchestra with Flavia as their conductor. Flavia set the pace; Flavia guided the intensity; Flavia controlled the message. Down in the pit, the orchestra was not to be seen or to be heard. They crafted their scientific melody according to Flavia’s whims.
Returning to Astrometrics again in Flavia’s absence, Nova found the science department had deteriorated into improvisational jazz.
Making her way to the horseshoe-shaped console in the middle of the compartment, Nova pointed at it. She announced, “The additional sensor logs Yuulik recovered have been transferred over from the runabout. You should have access to them now.”
Laken gestured to the hologram that was already projected onto the curved viewscreen. While a sensor composite wire-frame of the first Jem’Hadar fighter glided through the Iauna system, detailed sensor readings popped out in separate panes on either end of the viewscreen.
“When the Jem’Hadar first left the Iauna system,” Laken said, answering his own question with a boyish eagerness, “the rate of neutron beta decay on their hulls was consistent with starships that had exited the Bajoran wormhole no more than four minutes prior to the sensor scan.”
Standing at an LCARS side panel, Lieutenant Nune entered a command to add another hologram to the viewscreen. In another holographic frame, the engine systems of a Jem’Hadar fighter popped onto the screen. The data was presented with the distinctive signature of the Borg-enhanced sensors of a Sagan-class starship.
Nune pointed out, “This sensor sweep by the USS Hathaway picked up on damage to the field coils in their engines. That damage is consistent with starships passing through the verteron nodes in the Bajoran wormhole at speed.”
Making adjustments at the horseshoe console beside Laken, Lieutenant JG T’Kaal opened the most common sensor log that had been passed between every member of the crew at this point.
T’Kaal remarked, “The quantum-level scans by the USS Caliburn confirmed that the Dominion fleet comes from the year 2374. Despite the 26.4 years that have passed since they were lost in the Bajoran wormhole, no further time passed for them. Their path of travel has not been linear. As illogical as it sounds, no time passed for them in the wormhole.”
Security Chief Ache was standing close enough to the forcefield that she could feel its spacial distortion through her facial tentacles. When the forcefield between herself and the prisoner cycled through a frequency modulation, the field’s hexagonal energy pattern crackled before her six eyes. Since being rescued by Yuulik and transported to Constellation, the Trill scientist Fillian had shrunk into the corner of his cell. Sitting on the floor, he hugged his knees to his chest, taking up as little space as possible. The brig officer reported Fillian had made no requests for explanations or food or freedom.
Speaking in her formal timbre, Ache asked Fillian, “What brought you to the Iauna Pulsar?”
Fillian raised one shoulder in a diffident shrug.
“He asked me, I guess,” Fillian said, his voice hoarse. He raised a hand to scratch at his temple, where the spots along his hairline had the widest spread. “Doctor Trojet recruited me to scrutinize his theoretical models and to come aboard his ship as a technician. Trojet was determined to build an artificial wormhole. That’s what he did.”
“Why is it,” Ache asked, “that I can find no records of Trojet’s experiments? The science ship Sef logged with Farpoint Station that it was engaging in a stellar survey mission.”
Fillian dipped his chin to his chest, practically speaking into his knees, when he said, “I wouldn’t know anything about that? I was only the technician.”
From the other side of the brig compartment, a squeaking noise assaulted Ache’s ears.
Ketris dragged a stool from the brig officer’s station and, because she didn’t lift it off the floor, the stool’s foot squealed in protest across the polished duranium deck plates. As Ketris positioned the stool outside Fillian’s cell, it was quickly apparent how out of place she appeared amid the minimalist grandeur of Constitution III-class architecture. Compared to Fillian’s silver boilersuit and Ache’s security uniform, the mature Romulan was dressed in glossy black slacks and a green blouse with remarkably severe shoulder pads and a dramatic ruffle at the neckline. She sat herself on the stool and folded her hands in her lap.
“I must apologise for Commander Ache’s lack of hospitality, Fillian. You know how security officers can be,” Ketris said in a mollifying tone. “May I call you Fillian?”
When he nodded, Ketris said to him, “Before the commander tactlessly interrupted you, you were about to tell us why you had gone to the Iauna pulsar. Specifically.” It was a statement. It wasn’t a question.
“Don’t you see?” Fillian asked. “It was the solar mass. Iauna is less than a hundred years away from collapsing into a black hole. Doctor Trojet was positive the pulsar would amplify our magneton pulse.” Fillian shrugged again. “And I guess? He was right?”
Ketris asked, “You speak of utilizing a magneton pulse to generate an artificial wormhole. Doctor Lenara Kahn, of Trill, used similar methods in her own artificial wormhole field tests in 2373. Were Doctor Trojet’s methods similar to hers?”
“Similar?” Fillian replied, “They were practically identical! And Doctor Trojet was about as successful. On his first try? He created an artificial wormhole and it was just as unstable as Doctor Kahn’s attempts. Almost as soon as the Jem’Hadar came out of the artificial wormhole, the aperture collapsed.”
Ache asked, “What would you say was Doctor Trojet’s purpose in creating the artificial wormhole?”
Before Fillian spoke, Ketris snickered darkly at Ache’s question. She turned her head and narrowed her eyes at Ache.
“Why are you humouring the poor Fillian?” Ketris asked. “He has unleashed a Dominion fleet upon the Federation. He will be tried and executed as a traitor. Nothing he says matters.”