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USS Gibraltar
In geo-synchronous orbit of Pierosh II

Orbit was a bad thing.  Ensign Lightner hated orbit.  Having to park the ship around a planet and continue to stand watch at the Flight Control station was like someone’s sick idea of purgatory for a pilot.  There isn’t enough coffee in the entire galaxy, he thought glumly.  Lightner sat quietly and merely observed the ship’s automated systems as they made minute course corrections to hold their orbital position above the survey station.

Captain Sandhurst had been in the ready room for the past hour, fielding subspace inquiries as to the mission’s progress from multiple divisions of Starfleet Command and more than one delegate of the Federation Science Council.  If the incoming comms signatures had been accurate, it seemed that the Pierosh system was suddenly the hottest spot on the border.

Repairs continued throughout the ship as engineering teams attended to the remaining damage caused by the enemy subspace charge.  It appeared to Lightner that they were having difficulty reassembling the shield grid, which did not bode well if they were to be subject to further attacks.

With Lar’ragos out of commission and the rest of the senior staff on the surface, Ensign Qawasimi, the assistant chief of security, sat in the captain’s chair.  Lightner fretted about not having been asked to take the conn by the captain.  It was, he decided, just one more prize denied him since his graduation from the academy some three months earlier.

Though not as depressed as he had originally been, Lightner still bemoaned his assignment to Gibraltar.  He had graduated in the top third of his academy class, and had even flown on the academy’s elite aerobatics team during his plebe year.  As such he’d requested a posting to a combat fighter wing or one of Starfleet’s smaller, more maneuverable starships, such as the Saber-class.  He was enough of a pragmatist to understand that not everyone got their preference of assignment, no matter their graduation standing.  Nevertheless, he was convinced that in his case there was more to it.

He had been born and raised on Ronara Prime, a Federation colony along the Federation/Cardassian border that would eventually fall within the Demilitarized Zone.  Lightner had grown up hating the provincial feel of the small settlement, certain he was living his life lightyears away from where anything of consequence was happening.  In the face of the newly established DMZ and the rising tensions along the border, his family relocated to the Rudyard Colonies the same year Brett was accepted to Starfleet Academy.  All except his older brother Kyle.

Flying in the face of reason, Kyle had run off and joined the Maquis.  His brother, although rated at a genius level IQ as a child, hadn’t the common sense of a housefly in Brett’s opinion.  Fortunately, he proved as incompetent a freedom fighter as he had at any of his other endeavors, and was quickly apprehended by Starfleet.  Kyle had spent the last three years in a Federation penal settlement on Alpha Centauri, growing angrier and ever more embittered.  Brett had tried to correspond with him, but Kyle froze both he and his parents out.

Brett believed it was his brother’s unsavory ties to the Maquis that had cost him a more noteworthy first assignment.  It wasn’t officially sanctioned discrimination, of course, but the results were just the same.  Someone up the chain of command had decided that Brett might hold Maquis sympathies too, despite all evidence to the contrary.

It wasn’t as if his posting to Gibraltar had been a total disaster; he had seen plenty of action on their first mission.  The intervening weeks of drudge work had left him aching for greener pastures, however.

Seated next to Lightner at Operations, Ensign Browder sat forward slightly and made note of something as he examined the readout of a routine surface scan.  Momentarily shaken from his funk, Lightner glanced over at Browder’s board.  Browder looked behind him to Ensign Qawasimi.  “I’m reading a phaser discharge on the surface, Ensign.”

Qawasimi stood and moved down into the well to take a look for himself.  “I’d concur, Mister Browder.”  He turned towards the closed ready room door as he reached for his compin, “Cap—“  The incoming hail cut him off.

“Plazzi to Gibraltar, we’ve just cut through a bank of computers with phasers to get at a hidden doorway.  Be advised, we’ve apparently discovered some deliberately hidden levels beneath the facility.  We’re moving to investigate.”

Qawasimi toggled the comms control at Browder’s station.  “Gibraltar copies, Commander.  Standing by for further updates.”

The security ensign looked somewhat disappointed as he ascended to the command chair and resumed his seat.  Lightner turned in his chair to face him as he grinned and inclined his head towards the small replicator terminal at the back of the bridge.  “More coffee, Ensign?”

Qawasimi’s reply was cut short as the doors to the ready room hissed open.  A very tense looking Captain Sandhurst emerged, massaging the back of his neck with one hand.  He looked at the ensign in the command chair.  “If anyone else needs to talk to me, tell them I’m unavailable and will get back to them as soon as possible.”  With that, the captain headed for the turbolift.

Conscientious of his responsibility as the duty watch officer, Qawasimi quickly recited, “Sir, the away team reports having located some hidden levels to the survey station.  They’re checking them out now.”

Sandhurst nodded.  “Very well.  Keep me apprised of anything noteworthy, Mister Qawasimi.”

“Aye, sir.  And… where will you be, sir?”

Sandhurst stepped into the lift car as a faint smile graced his lips.  “In Engineering, getting my hands dirty.”

*****

Olivia Juneau lay atop the biobed, sleeping peacefully.  Though cleared medically hours earlier to resume duty, her psychological state had Taiee worried enough that she’d ordered Juneau to remain for observation.  Gibraltar was too small a ship to warrant a counselor, and with Taiee planet-side and the EMH in charge, the medical department’s psychiatric assets were nil.

So, Juneau had been sedated and left to rest until Taiee’s return.  This proved utterly intolerable to the junior lieutenant’s alter ego, which refused to be incapacitated due to the inherent weaknesses of her host.  Determined to take charge of the situation, she flooded Juneau’s system with the appropriate cocktail of endorphins and adrenaline to offset the sedative and clawed her way back to consciousness.  She would be far from optimal and would remain lethargic and addled, but she would be able to function for long enough to free herself from Sickbay.

Her eyes slammed open, and she found herself once again beneath the damnable restraining field.  “Doctor,” she croaked as she struggled to regain her voice and equilibrium.

The EMH approached, a perturbed expression on its photonic features.  “Lieutenant?  You shouldn’t be awake.”  The hologram studied Juneau’s biometric readouts on the display at the head of the bed.  “That’s very odd…”

Juneau fought to keep focus as she dumped more adrenaline into her system to correct for her swimming vision and impossibly heavy eyelids.  “Doctor, I’m thinking of a number…”

The Mark I EMH, never known for its winning bedside manner, was having none of it.  “I’m sure you are, Lieutenant.”  It stepped away from the biobed and reached for a hypospray and another sedative ampoule.

Juneau wrestled with her leaden tongue as she forced the words out. “...it’s a prime number…”

The EMH charged the hypo as it nodded distractedly.  “Mmm-hmm.”  It approached, poised to inject her.

“…that number is thirty-one.”  The EMH stopped in its tracks as if frozen.  The expression on its face shifted from one of professional irritation to that of helpful anticipation.

“How may I be of assistance?” it inquired.

Juneau sighed and silently thanked the brilliant engineers centuries earlier who had subtly grafted emergency overrides not only into the operating programming of all Starfleet systems, but into the very hardware that supported them.  They had remained there through successive generations of advances and upgrades, undetected.  They were rarely used, so as to avoid exposure, but when absolutely necessary they proved invaluable.

“Release the restraining field and give me the appropriate stimulant to counteract the sedative.”

“Right away, Lieutenant.”

*****

Pierosh II
Meteorological Research Station Aristotle


Thirty minutes and several wrecked rooms later, Ramirez and company stood before a sealed pressure door situated one level above what their scans indicated was the actual lowest level of the building.  Ashok and Tark examined the blast door carefully for a few minutes as they pointed to one another’s tricorders and muttered in terminologies that Ramirez would not pretend to understand.

Ashok finally gave his professional assessment.  “The door is heavily reinforced, Commander.”

“We can’t cut through it with phasers?”

Tark spoke up, “I wouldn’t recommend it, sir.  We’d have to put our phasers on a high enough setting that we’d risk destroying whatever’s on the other side, including any forensic evidence.”

Ramirez turned to Plazzi.  “Can we have the ship beam us to the other side?”

The scientist referenced his tricorder.  “Not with the levels of chroniton radiation in the vicinity, sir.  Chronometric particles and transporters don’t play well together.”

“Okay, then.  Suggestions?”

Ashok held up his engineering kit.  “I have a battery pack, sir.  I could attempt to power the locking mechanism and run a bypass.”

The exec nodded curtly.  “Do it.”

She stepped aside to give the lieutenant room to work.  Ramirez observed that whatever his failings in the area of interpersonal relations, the man attacked an engineering problem with the tenacity of a Caldorian eel.  It took less than five minutes for Ashok to run a successful bypass and the door cycled open with a pneumatic sigh.

The room on the other side was illuminated by a wavering bluish light that emanated from a large transparent aluminum observation window that ran nearly the entire length of the room’s far wall.  The now familiar sight of blown out control consoles and the scent of burning electronics were evident here, as well as a number of humanoid bodies strewn about the room.

Taiee started to move towards them, only to find herself restrained by Ramirez’s arm on her bicep.  The exec nodded towards the security team and murmured, “Let them do their jobs, Doc.”  Taiee blushed, rightly admonished.  Tark and his people quickly swept the room to secure it from potential threats.

The Tellarite’s tricorder began to warble and he appeared to be following it towards something of interest.  “I’ve got life signs,” he announced.  Ramirez and Taiee moved to assist him as Plazzi wandered towards the viewing windows, tricorder in hand.

Tark found him beneath a mound of debris.  An exploding computer processor had collapsed onto the man, who appeared to be a Caucasian human in his mid-to-late sixties.  Dressed in a now torn and blackened lab coat, the man stared at the away team members wild eyed.  His mouth moved soundlessly as his one free hand clawed at the air.  Taiee began scanning him even as the others worked to remove the debris from atop him.

“I’m seeing erratic neural activity, weakened pulse, and signs of systemic shock.”  Taiee focused on Ramirez.  “We’ve got to get this man back to the ship, and fast.”

“Didn’t…” the man gurgled desperately, “didn’t mean…”

The exec stood and gestured to Dunleavy and Bostwick from the security detail.  “Assist Taiee in getting him to the surface for emergency beam-out.”  They quickly unfolded a collapsible litter from Dunleavy’s pack, and gently set the injured man onto it.

As Taiee led them out of the room, Ashok approached Ramirez and loomed over her uncomfortably until she turned to acknowledge him.  “What have you got, Lieutenant?”

The Bolian waved a hand towards the surrounding equipment.  “None of these systems have anything to do with meteorological studies, Commander.  Much of it is non-Federation in nature.  I’ve found Ferengi, Angosian, and Nyberrite systems components.”

Ramirez took a moment to look around the room.  “Any idea what they were doing here?”

From his vantage point at the viewing gallery, Plazzi replied to Ramirez in a voice laden with tension, “I’ve got a pretty good idea, sir.”  He cleared his throat nervously.  “You’ll want to take a look at this.”

Ramirez approached the observation windows with the others in tow.  She barely contained the sharp intake of breath that threatened to escape her lips as she got her first glimpse of the thing in all it’s horribly beauty.

Some fifteen meters below them, sandwiched between what appeared to be two ruined subspace field coils, was a bright, roiling mass of energy.  It was in constant motion, expanding and contracting while it emitted crackling electrical discharges and sinuous ribbons of bluish plasma.

She pursed her lips in consternation and Ramirez inquired, “That what I think it is?”

Plazzi responded in complete deadpan.  “If you mean ‘is that a spatial rift and the source of both the radiation anomalies and the shockwave?’"  He blew out a shaky sounding breath.  "Very likely, sir.”

*****



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