The survival mask helped to filter out most but not all of the acrid smoke that choked the shattered cockpit of Brahmaputra. Olivia Juneau seethed with impotent frustration and beat her fists against the darkened console interface at the pilot’s station. She had tried every technique she knew to restore primary, auxiliary, or even partial battery power to the panel. It was all in vain. The runabout was dead in space, and unless rescue appeared quickly, she and her crew were sure to follow.
Behind her on the floor were her two surviving comrades, Chief Petty Officer Osterlund and Ensign Shanthi. Both men were encased in the runabout’s only two undamaged EVA suits. They were injured, and though Juneau had treated them to the best of her abilities using the ship’s emergency medical kit, she feared they would succumb to the runabout’s life support failure long before expiring from their injuries.
The shockwave that overwhelmed them had seemingly come from nowhere. It had been a paltry seven seconds between when they had first detected the oncoming wall of chronometric energy and when it crashed through their pathetically insufficient shielding. Now, drifting without power at the far edge of the Pierosh system, Juneau wracked her brain trying to come up with some kind of solution to their predicament.
What would Ramirez do in my place? Her mind straddled the razor’s edge between palpable fear and outright panic. I can’t lose it. If I come unglued we’re all done for. I’m the only thing separating us from certain death right now. Juneau looked down at her shaking hands and wondered idly if terror or oxygen deprivation was to blame. She couldn’t think, couldn’t move, and felt the clutching hand of dread tightening around her heart. I don’t have any options. I’m going to die… here… now.
And just like that, the fear was gone. It was as if someone had thrown a switch inside Olivia’s head. The Juneau who had been about to let herself be overcome by indecision and panic was banished to a small, dark corner of her mind. In her place was someone not entirely different, but who answered to a higher calling and held very definite priorities, survival being foremost among them.
Her hands now steady, she crept gingerly through the smoke shrouded cockpit and into the compartment beyond where she located an engineering systems control hatch. She removed the hatch cover and set to work on repairing or diverting damaged systems that by all rights she should have had no knowledge of. Her fingers moved with the practiced delicacy of an experienced engineer, and within minutes she had managed to restore sufficient power to get minimal life support back online. She then shunted just enough energy to arm and launch the runabout’s emergency distress beacon.
As the atmospheric pumps labored to clear the smoke from the air, Juneau replaced the hatch cover and returned to the cockpit. She checked to make sure the beacon was safely away and broadcasting, then took her place on the floor alongside Shanthi and Osterlund. When the Starfleet rescue response arrived, they would find her barely conscious, with no memory of what had happened here. Hell of a way to live, she mused. She allowed herself one final thought before releasing control of her mind to its rightful owner. Whatever this was, and whoever is responsible, this should prove of interest to us.
Sol System, Sector 001
Luna, Mare Moscoviense
Department of Temporal Investigations Headquarters
Sub-Level 9 – ‘The Vault’
The history of this subsurface facility was relatively recent, though as any of the agents, technicians, and scientists in the employ of the Federation’s enigmatic Department of Temporal Investigations could tell you with no small amount of irony… time was relative. Founded nearly a century earlier by the Federation Council following a series of near disastrous time-travel experiments conducted by a naively reckless Starfleet Command, the DTI had begun as no more than a communal think tank staffed by some of the Federation’s more eccentric intellects of the period.
Rumors had abounded since the dawn of the Federation of a ‘temporal cold war’ that supposedly raged across entire eons, but whose combatants were shrouded in mystery. However, such repositories of knowledge as the Daystrom Institute and the Vulcan Science Academy still argued that time travel was at best impractical and at worst impossible. That argument had held fast right up until Starfleet had gone and done it.
The men and women of the nascent DTI had plotted and planned, studied the philosophy and ethics of time travel, and had written paper after paper on the dangers and benefits of purposefully violating the integrity of the known time/space continuum. The ultimate result of their work had been the Temporal Prime Directive, the corollary to Starfleet’s Directive Number One. It forbade any Federation official, researcher, or Starfleet member from intentionally tampering with the existing timeline in any way, and included strict provisos against time travel.
Over the past century, DTI researchers and investigators had scrutinized hundreds of purported cross-temporal incidents. Everything from oddities at the sub-atomic level to events that spanned multiple sectors of Federation space were explored. Various curiosities had been collected, documented, studied and eventually warehoused at the DTI’s headquarters on Earth’s moon. But by and large, the DTI existed simply to investigate and report, advising the Federation Science Council on such things as fell within their purview.
The second Borg assault on Sector 001 in 2373 had changed all that. Employing temporal technology in an attempt to undermine the Federation’s very founding, this effort had come far too close to success. Such intentionally destructive temporal incursions had been theorized by DTI’s personnel for decades, but Federation leaders were unwilling to take costly and largely theoretical preventative measures in the face of an indefinite threat.
No longer. Fearing that the growing Dominion threat might attempt to utilize similar tactics, the Federation Council had granted the DTI the equivalent of temporal wartime powers. The agency’s resources, influence and authority had thus grown exponentially in the past three years. Agents whose inquiries once had been a minor inconvenience to Starfleet officers were now feared. A negative review of an officer’s participation in a cross-temporal event, however unintentional, could now result in the ending of a career, if not outright incarceration.
The physical embodiment of the agency’s new proactive stance was the Temporal Inversion Stasis Complex, known simply as the Vault. Equipped with largely experimental chronometric shielding, it had been designed as a self-sufficient bunker against any detrimental changes in the existing timeline. Theoretically, even if the Federation itself ceased to exist, the personnel within the Vault would remain immune to those changes. For that reason, in addition to the technicians, researchers, and regular agents assigned to three-month rotations, the Vault also contained specially trained response teams of scientists and Special Forces operators whose unenviable task it would be to restore any alterations in the timeline that threatened the Federation.
Aquinas Devonshire looked up from his dog-eared hardbound copy of Past Prologue, the definitive work of the historic author Jacob Sisko. The young man stared incredulously at the beeping console in front of him, momentarily at a loss for what to do despite the months of exhaustive training required for a three month tour in the Vault.
“You have something, Devonshire?” queried G’rukian, the Betelgeusian watch officer.
Aquinas shook off his fleeting paralysis and went to work, gleaning critical information from a river of scrolling data. “Yes, sir. It’s reading as… well, either a temporal or spatial incursion of some kind.”
“Which is it?” G’rukian replied brusquely.
“I… uh, it appears to be both, sir.”
Aquinas’ supervisor moved quickly to his side; his colorfully billowing Eknoa vestments swished softly with the effort. G’rukian inclined his head, which Aquinas imagined couldn’t be an easy gesture as the being wore a large and ornate headdress. “Location fix?”
His confidence returned and Devonshire’s hands moved swiftly over his console as he narrowed sensor fields and tweaked output parameters. “It’s along the Cardassian border with the Federation, Sector 21509. Looks to be the Pierosh star system.” He had to recheck his figures before he announced, “And by the looks of these readings, it’s a level seven event, sir.” It wouldn’t sound so harrowing to an outsider unfamiliar with DTI’s rating system, Devonshire thought, until you informed them that a supernova only registered as a level eight.
If it were possible, G’rukian looked even more solemn than usual. “Do we have any agents in that region?”
Devonshire cross referenced DTI’s current deployment roster. “No, sir. The closest team in the field is Barnaby and ZinZil. They’re currently investigating a possible level two incident in the Rudyard Colonies. That’s twenty-three lightyears away from Pierosh.”
“Very well. Send this upstairs to Directorate-O with a recommendation to alert Starfleet, though I’d be surprised if they hadn’t detected this already. Also compile a brief for the quarantine response team.”
“Right away, sir.” As he began to carry out his assigned tasks, Devonshire became aware that G’rukian was still hovering over him. The Betelgeusian reached forward and ran a pale green finger along the spine of Aquinas’ book.
“Devonshire, where did you get this?”
The human winced, then turned his head hesitantly towards his superior. “I—uh, borrowed it from the research library, sir.”
G’rukian grumbled with distaste. “This book will not be written for another seventeen years, Mister Devonshire. It is a classified artifact, not a souvenir. I should not have to remind you that the Temporal Prime Directive applies doubly so to we here in this facility.”
Devonshire sighed. “Yes, sir.”
En-route to Pierosh star system, Warp 8
Ramirez arrived to the briefing room unusually early, breaking with her habit of sliding into their senior staff meetings with only seconds to spare. Sandhurst, who was invariably the first to arrive, was already seated, perusing the latest information gathered on the Pierosh system on a padd.
As she took her usual seat at the table, she fixed her gaze on him until he looked up and noticed the displeasure written on her face. “Problem, Exec?” He amended, “Other than having to drag yourself in here at oh-dark-hundred?”
She nodded and held up a padd of her own. Ramirez summed up the situation in a single word, “Lar’ragos.”
The captain’s expression soured, and a small sigh escaped his lips as he settled back in his chair. “What now?”
“More complaints from members of the security division. And this isn’t just petty grumbling about shift rotations or duty posts. There are some very damning accusations in here.” She activated the padd and read verbatim, “Lieutenant Lar’ragos has in past weeks become verbally abusive towards staff, repeatedly haranguing subordinates about even minor infractions of accepted security protocol. This behavior, coupled with an accelerated program of high-impact holographic scenarios during which the actions of security personnel are repeatedly disparaged has seriously undermined the morale and effectiveness of division personnel. This, in turn, threatens departmental cohesiveness and could translate into critical errors committed in life-or-death situations that would likely result in unnecessary casualties.”
Sandhurst winced. “Damn. Who’s that from?”
“Master Chief Tark, Captain.” She met his gaze. “Tark’s a service lifer, sir. He’s as crusty as they come, but he’s also loyal to a fault.” She tossed the padd onto the table top where it slid to a stop in front of Sandhurst. “If he’s actually lodging a formal protest against Lar’ragos, things down in the security division must have deteriorated badly.”
The captain shook his head unhappily but made no move to pick up the other padd. “I’d hoped he would get past whatever’s troubling him, but it doesn’t appear that’s happening.”
“I know he’s your friend, sir. Have you tried speaking with him about this?”
“Tried and failed.” Sandhurst leaned forward and pushed the padd back towards Ramirez. “Personnel issues are your territory, Commander. I’ll back whatever decision you make regarding this matter. Friend or no, I won’t have him endangering the lives of his people because he can’t hold his temper in check.”
The conversation ended with the arrival of the chief engineer, Lieutenant Ashok. The large Bolian entered and gave the captain and XO cursory nods before assuming his seat. The rest of the senior staff soon followed. Lt. Commander Elisto Plazzi, the aging science officer, Lieutenant(j.g.) Taiee from Medical, and Lieutenant Lar’ragos from Security/Tactical. Ensign Browder stood in for the absent Juneau at Ops, and flight control officer Ensign Lightner was also on hand.
Sandhurst looked to Plazzi, who was sipping from his ever present beverage mug. “What’s the probe’s ETA, Elisto?”
Plazzi referenced a running timer on his padd and replied tiredly, “Seven minutes, thirty-eight seconds, Captain.”
Sandhurst scanned the faces of his senior officers, many of whom were just coming off shift or who'd had precious little opportunity for sleep. “Thank you for being here so early. I know it’s inconvenient, but we’re only two hours out from Pierosh. We’ve launched a Warp 9 sensor probe ahead of us to reconnoiter the area.”
He then polled the officers, each of whom gave a brief recitation of their departments’ preparedness. Sandhurst turned back to Plazzi and prompted, “While we’re awaiting the probe’s telemetry, why don’t we get some background on the Pierosh system.”
Plazzi toggled the LCARS interface at his seat and activated the large viewscreen set into the inner bulkhead. The image of a medium orange star surrounded by the concentric circles of its five planets’ orbital paths sprang to life on the viewer. In his rich voice, Plazzi began narrating the diorama unfolding before them. “The system anchors on an unremarkable K-type star. Of five planets, only the second is marginally Class-M. The atmospheric oxygen content is primarily the result of geo-thermal venting, as the biosphere supports only a limited variety of Phylum Bryophyta; essentially complex mosses and lichens.”
The image centered on the second planet and closed in, revealing a dull grayish-white surface devoid of large bodies of water or apparent terrestrial vegetation. Plazzi continued, “What makes this planet of interest to Federation science is its unusual weather patterns. Due to a little understood confluence of the world’s magnetosphere, gravitational field, and orbital inclination, Pierosh II exhibits some of the most exotic and unusual weather patterns ever recorded on a habitable planet.” He paused to draw another wake-inducing sip from his mug. “A meteorological survey station was established sixteen years ago to study these phenomena. Data gathered from the subsequent observation has helped Earth and a number of other Federation worlds make significant upgrades to their planetary weather modification networks.”
Ramirez interjected, “What’s the status of the survey station?”
Lar’ragos fielded that question. “It was evacuated in the months leading up to the Dominion War, when it became apparent that Starfleet couldn’t safeguard smaller outposts and colonies along the DMZ.”
The exec focused on Plazzi. “Is there anything in that planet’s atmosphere which could have produced these energy signatures?”
“No, sir. No known meteorological phenomenon could produce power readings on that scale.”
Ensign Browder’s padd beeped insistently. He activated the device and scanned its contents. “Ops has patched in new information from Starfleet Command, Captain.”
“Let’s hear it, Ensign.”
“Yes, sir.” Ensign Browder replied crisply, displaying none of the self-conscious hesitation that was a hallmark of his predecessor, Juneau. “Whatever happened in that system created a Level 3 shockwave. Sensor records gathered from several civilian ships within scanning range indicate that the wave-front dissipated some point-zero-four lightyears out from its point of origin.” He frowned and looked to the captain. “If Brahmaputra was nearby when that event occurred, something of that magnitude could have easily destroyed a lightly shielded craft like a runabout.”
Sandhurst nodded soberly. “Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.”
A flashing icon appeared in the corner of the viewer display. Plazzi announced, “Incoming data from our probe, sir.” He took the captain’s nod as permission to proceed and switched from the image of Pierosh II to active sensor telemetry from their probe.
A graphical representation of the Pierosh system took shape with a text overlay as various points of interest were identified and labeled. In an affront to their expectations, the system appeared conspicuously devoid of either widespread destruction or obvious anomalies.
Ramirez held her breath as she anticipated the discovery of a small debris field marking the final resting place of the Brahmaputra and her crew.
“Sensor contact, sir,” Plazzi noted. “Reading a subspace distress beacon, transmitting Brahmaputra’s registry.” He highlighted the region in the immediate vicinity of the beacon and enhanced the resolution. “We’ve got her, Captain. Danube-class runabout… I’m seeing diminished power signatures and serious structural damage.” He directed a relieved expression at Sandhurst. “But they appear to be largely intact. I’m detecting three life signs, weak but stable.”
Sandhurst looked intensely at Ashok. “Lieutenant, I need Warp 8.4.”
The Bolian shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He replied hesitantly in his deep, basso voice, “Captain, we’ve already had to throttle back from 8.2. We’ve been redlining the engines for the past six hours. I strongly recommend against—“
For that brief moment, it seemed to Sandhurst as if only the two of them existed in the room. He leaned forward in his chair and cut the engineer off in mid-sentence. “Lieutenant, I’d remind you that not only is our Lieutenant Juneau aboard that ship, but the Fleet Admiral’s son as well. Two hours may as well be an eternity if we arrive too late to save them.”
The towering Bolian stood, his frame taut with anger and embarrassment. “I’ll do what I can, sir, but I won’t promise what I can’t deliver.” With that he walked stiffly out of the room.
An awkward silence followed, which was broken with the captain’s query, “Any information on the source of the energy readings and shockwave, Elisto?”
Plazzi tapped at his interface and centered the viewer squarely on Pierosh II. “We’re seeing slightly elevated radiation signatures coming from the planet, Captain.” The older scientist squinted at the viewscreen, clearly perplexed, “And chronometric energy readings… along with Q-particle emissions.”
Taiee frowned. “Q-particles?”
Still engrossed by the onscreen images, Sandhurst replied without looking at the CMO. “Any energy particle that the computer can’t identify is designated a Q-particle, Doc.”
Plazzi looked at the captain, his expression one of grave concern. “Such unidentified particles are most often encountered in the vicinity of spatial rifts or extra-dimensional incursions.”
Sandhurst looked nonplussed. “Lovely.” Turning to look at the remaining senior staff members, he asked, “Anything else for the good of the order?”
No one replied in the affirmative, and the captain took the opportunity to bring the meeting to a close. “I want Medical prepped for those casualties from the runabout, and an away team on standby for a surface investigation. Lar’ragos, make sure we’ve got ample security escort, no telling what we’re going to find down there.” He turned to the ship’s young helmsman. “Mister Lightner, make sure you have multiple egress routes plotted. We may have to break orbit at a moment’s notice.” As the respective officers acknowledged his orders, he stood. “Let’s make it happen, people.”
The senior officers filed out, most scribbling notations onto their padds as they left. Sandhurst and Ramirez remained behind. Still seated, the exec studied the display on the viewer. “Little harsh with Ashok, weren’t you?”
Sandhurst gave her a sidelong glance. “No, actually. He needs to learn the difference between what the specs say is possible, and how a ship will actually deliver beyond those expectations.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
Sandhurst stretched and looked perturbed. “Then I’ll go down there and squeeze 8.4 out of those engines myself.”