From the Ashes
In the Mutara Sector the USS Rabin was passing by the outer moons of a grayish gas giant.
“Commodore Shelk’s personal log, supplemental:
We have been probing the sector for five consecutive days now, always on the lookout for activity of Patronage ships. So far, the mission has been uneventful. Except for the crew of USS Bennington fishing up a smuggler vessel. I have made it a habit of reviewing our incoming sensor data personally. But I have to admit that staring at the mass of unsubstantial data for hours to no avail is giving me a headache. Meanwhile Starfleet Command notified us about an apparent siege on Starbase 56. I wonder if my crew and ship would not be better off somewhere else for patrolling than this empty quarter of space. I sincerely hope that all this mess can be solved soon without more loss of life. End log.”
Commodore Shelk tapped his communicator after it chirped.
“Shelk here, go ahead.”
“Bridge here, Sir. The daily sensor data is ready for you.”
“Send it over, as usual. Thanks”, Shelk responded.
He walked over to the replicator and ordered a serving of cabbage soup while his computer terminal sprang to life with the arrival of the transferred data. Shelk carried the steaming bowl over to the workstation, sat down and cautiously began to spoon his meal.
“Computer, display all scanning results and filter by particles related to ship’s warp signatures and other trace elements related to travelling vessels.”
The computer obeyed and began to display a long list of readings. Shelk groaned at the amount of data.
“Argh, this is more than the last two days combined! Computer, can we narrow it down a bit?”
“Please specify parameters”, the computer voice requested mechanically.
“I am looking for any vessel running with low emissions or even possibly under cloak”, the Commodore stated while turning his attention back to his lunch.
“Applying corresponding filters”, the computer responded.
After a few seconds it concluded:
“No results found for engine emissions as specified. No significant results found for tachyon emissions within scanning range. All traces within limits of cosmological radiation.”
“What about residual antiprotons?”, the Commodore inquired, though noticeably bored, munching.
“Negative. No results found”, the computer replied.
“Are there any other peculiar findings on the scans?”
Shelk suddenly looked up at the screen, his interest peaked.
“Show me”, he said.
The display switched from a tabulated format to a linear chart with a notable spike. Shelk gazed at the screen curiously.
“What is that?”, he inquired and pointed at the peak of the spike with his finger.
“A small localized quantum disturbance approximately thirty meters in diameter”, was the computer’s cold reply.
“Thirty meters? Identify the source.”
“Unable to comply. There is no definitive source identifiable.”
“Probabilities?”, the Commodore asked.
The computer rumbled a few seconds, then gave an analysis:
“The possible sources for the disturbance are:
Sensor malfunction - 47%; naturally occuring spatial disturbance - 44%; unknown origin - 9%.”
“A spatial disturbance? You said it was small and localized, should a disturbance in open space not be far larger?”, Shelk asked skeptically.
“Affirmative. A disturbance of such small size is unprecedented”, the computer confirmed.
“What about the sensor glitch? Why is it happening and is there a way to eliminate this possibility?”, Shelk wanted to know.
“Affirmative. The sensor malfunction would be a likely result of long-range exposure to a single scanning source and concurrent data degradation. Possible solution: the disturbance in question would need to be illuminated by sensors from a number of different vectors, preferably at the same time”, the computer explained.
“You mean like triangulation?”
“Sounds like a plan”, Shelk declared and appreciatively petted the computer screen’s frame.
“Shelk to bridge”, he spoke into his communicator.
“Go ahead, Sir”, an officer answered.
“Have Engineering run a Level Two diagnostic on all long-range sensors. Also, open a channel to the other ships. They need to look at something for me.”
A few minutes later Commodore Shelk once again was looking at the same sensor results. But this time with corresponding data from the other two vessels of his task force, USS Saratoga and USS Bennington. An interactive holographic image over his workstation was showing the position of the disturbance and the respective positions of all three vessels.
“Computer, please elaborate on the latest scans. Can this be a sensor malfunction?”, the Commodore requested.
“Negative. Updated scans show the quantum disturbance to be of unknown origin. Preliminary analysis reveals quantum-level fractures in subspace caused by rapid pressure changes. Its nature is comparable to cavitation in a liquid”, the computer explained.
“Check all Federation and Starfleet files for this phenomenon”, Shelk said.
“Entry found. A phenomenon similar to cavitation is believed to be a side effect of quantum refracturing. The Daystrom Institute of Astrophysics had performed theoretical work on this matter in the 2360s”, the computer stated.
“Quantum refracturing? Please explain. What could this be used for?”, he asked the computer.
“Selective bending of energies in the electromagnetic spectrum around an object.”
“The cloaking of a starship.”
Shelk held his hand over his mouth in disbelief.
“Display the approximate coordinates”, he instructed.
After quickly looking at the data, Shelk’s eyes got wide and he jumped on his feet, ran over to the wall and got the datarod from the drawer, which Captain White had given him several days earlier. He inserted the little device into a data port of his console.
“Display the figures in the third line as coordinates and overlay on the previous map”, he instructed the computer.
Commodore Shelk stared at the holographic image, now showing both coordinates, both at the same position. One being the quantum disturbance, the other being one of the coordinates Captain White received from Phoenix.
A few hours later on the bridge of the USS Rabin Commodore Shelk anxiously awaited the report from his bridge crew.
“Sir, we are now within a few kilometers of the coordinates”, the helm officer announced.
“Well done, everyone. Raise our shields and power up phasers.”
“Aye, Sir. Shields and weapons coming online”, the tactical officer responded.
“Bridge to Engineering, are you finished with the modifications?”, Shelk asked over comm.
“Yes, Sir. Three Class-II probes standing by plus one more as back-up”, the ship's Chief Engineer answered.
“Very well. Launch probes on my mark:
Three-two-one-mark!”, Shelk ordered.
At the back of the ship, the box-like weapons pod that was held by struts coming from the two dorsal hulls opened its outer muzzle hatches and three projectiles shot out in rapid succession.
All three probes came to a sudden stop a few kilometers ahead of the Rabin, they assumed a triangular diamond shape formation, small steering engines maneuvering them into position. The probes simultaneously extended their sensor antennas and began to diligently ping telemetry readings.
One the bridge, the tactical officer consulted his station’s display.
“All probes are in place. We are picking up the quantum disturbance right between them, just where it’s supposed to be.”
“Very good. Open a hail on all frequencies”, Shelk ordered.
He rose from his Captain’s chair.
“Channel open”, the comm officer said.
“Attention unknown vessel. This is Commodore Ghee Shelk of the Federation starship Rabin. We are in pursuit of attackers on our people, attackers that used cloaked vessels. By order of Starfleet Command and the High Council of the Klingon Empire this region of space and adjacent sectors are banned from use of cloaking technology by any party until further notice. You are therefore required to drop your cloak and submit to inspection. Failure to comply will result in us opening fire.”
Silence. No reply.
“Phasers. Fire a shot across their bow”, Shelk ordered.
The Rabin’s frontal phaser banks now powered up, two orange domes of light raced across the crescent-shaped set of phaser bank cells on the ventral bow from both ends, gaining energy before they met in the middle and shooting a long beam in an arc into the nothingness in front of the ship.
Again silence. No reply.
On the bridge, Shelk paced around a bit, contemplating, deciding his next move before he approached the helm officer saying:
“I relieve you, Ensign.”
“Yes, Sir. May I ask what you intend to do?”, the young officer wondered.
“Let’s see if our friends here want to play chicken.”
Shelk let his fingers dance across the helm console.
“Engaging thrusters at one quarter.”
“Sir, if you intend to ram them, I suggest impulse speed”, the tactical officer opined.
“Not exactly, Lieutenant. I just wanna find out if there is even someone at home. If yes, they should move out of the way.”
The ship now slowly creeped forward on a collision course with the alleged vessel under cloak.
“Keep an eye on the sensor readings from those probes. Report distance every hundred meters”, the Commodore instructed.
“Distance now at eight hundred meters and closing… seven hundred… six hundred… no sign of them moving away, Sir!”, the operations officer stated.
“Stay calm everyone”, the Commodore reassured his crew.
“We are now within four hundred meters. Three hundred.”
“Attention, all hands! Brace for impact!”, Shelk announced.
“Two hundred meters!”, the officer reported.
“Drop shields!”, the Commodore said.
“But Sir, we can’t…”, the tactical officer protested.
“One hundred meters!”
“Do it!”, Shelk yelled.
“Impact… now!”, the operations officer screamed.
A faint metallic thump rang through the ship. The force of the impact was easily dissipated by the inertial dampeners.
The bridge crew visibly relaxed again. Shelk grinned.
“I think you scratched the paint, Sir”, the helm officer joked while taking back his seat which Shelk had just vacated again.
“That’s what overhauls are for, Ensign”, the Commodore slackly replied.
He turned to his First Officer and while walking towards the nearest turbolift he told him:
“I am going for a little walk. Have Mr Belafonte and a security officer meet me at the outer hatch on Deck Twelve. You have the bridge.”
When Commodore Shelk arrived at the outer hatch a security officer was already waiting for him.
“Please get us three suits from the locker, crewman”, Shelk stated.
The young man nodded and obliged. He opened a storage locker which was built into the nearby wall, inside a number of cargo crates were stashed on a rack. The man lifted the first crate on the floor and opened it, revealing a tightly packed EV suit.
At this moment Lieutenant Gino Belafonte rounded the corner, a short and jaunty Latin man, the ship’s Assistant Chief Engineer and Shelk’s best buddy.
“Morning, Skipper. What’s going on?”, Belafonte eagerly asked.
Shelk threw him a helmet and indicated the airlock leading to the outer hatch down the corridor.
“Too bad, I didn’t bring my dog!”, Belafonte laughed.
“Only if you can squeeze that little yapper in your suit as well”, the Commodore commented, while all three men were donning the bulky white space suits.
“Never mind. So I guess we are going to take a closer look at whatever rammed us a few minutes ago, aren’t we?”, the engineer inquired.
“Well, technically we rammed it”, Shelk answered with a sly grin.
“That’s more like it, Sir”, Belafonte answered with a chuckle.
Within moments the engineer became all business again:
“Alright, let’s go through the procedure. Is the internal pressure stable?”
Shelk and the other crewman checked the readouts on their suits’ gauntlets and gave confirmations.
“Oxygen supply above 90 per cent?”, Belafonte continued.
The other two confirmed their readings.
“Boot magnetizer online?”
“Affirmative”, Shelk stated.
“Then we’re ready. After you, Sir”, Belafonte finished the check.
The security officer handed each of them a phaser rifle, which they slung around their shoulders. All three now entered the airlock, a heavy bulkhead slid in place and sealed off the chamber from the rest of the corridor. Belafonte verified the reading on the airlock’s console and pressed a button which released the door of the outer hatch, a quick gush of air blew out as the chamber depressurized into space.
The three-men EV team was slowly progressing forward, steadily pacing on the finely segmented hull of the ship’s ventral bulk, their magnetized boots causing dull clangs with every step. The white-spotted black infinity over their heads and their unnatural orientation in regards to the ship’s plane were confusing their equilibrium senses, so they kept their eyes on the hull. They passed by the huge arrowhead-shaped Starfleet logo; enormous sets of sensor arrays and phaser banks near the hull’s rim dwarfed the men whose tiny figures were like vermin on the body of a space-dwelling giant. They arrived near the edge of the hull’s frontal elliptical inlet which housed the deflector dish at its base.
Commodore Shelk raised his arms as a signal for the other two to stop.
“Look at that!”, he shouted, pointing ahead with his hand.
A few meters in front of them they could see a barely noticeable shimmering contortion, a nebulous undefined ripple, distorting visible light from distant stars behind it’s outline like refraction in water, right next to a hull panel with a nasty scratch on it, blank duranium showing underneath. A paint shop was due indeed.
Shelk unslung his rifle and slowly trod forward, holding the weapon in front of him, carefully pivoting it like a blindman’s stick. After a few swings the gun’s muzzle disappeared in the cloaking field and impacted a hard surface with a faint sound.
The Commodore turned around and weaved his companions over.
“You go over to this side, Crewman. Gino, over here!”, he said while ushering them around.
“We need to find some kind of hatch or opening. Some way to get inside. Stick your hands in, so the tricorders can scan for it.”
All three men shoved their left gloved hands inside the cloaking field up to the wrists, the distortion making them invisible as if suddenly having been cut off. They watched the display on their forearms for any result from the scanner.
“Hey, Skipper, I think I got something here!”, Belafonte yelled. Shelk and the security officer converged on the engineer’s position, while the latter climbed a few meters up on top of the cloaked vessel, making him seemingly walk on an intangible structure in space, his boots vanishing in the cloak now as well as his arms, when he began to bend over and moved them towards the vessel’s surface, groping around, the arms ceasing next to his shoulders.
“There is something like a handle, I think I can reach it”, he stated while straining to pry open the supposed porthole.
“There you go”, Belafonte said with a beaming smile and lifted a heavy door open, so parts of it penetrated the cloaking field and became visible.
Shelk and the crewman climbed up as well, while Belafonte peered into the opening with his rifle ready.
Commodore Shelk took a look inside too, before he sat down on the edge of the opening and began climbing down, his suited body finally disappearing completely. Belafonte indicated the guard to follow, before he himself climbed inside last.
The three men cautiously emerged from a small corridor leading from the hatch they entered to the interior of the ship.
The cramped inside of the vessel was almost completely dark, only a number of elongated light tubes were illuminating the compartments with a faint bluish glow.
Shelk and Belafonte consulted the tricorder on their EV suits.
“All energy readings at zero, minimal life support, the cloak seems to be the only thing that is running”, Belafonte commented.
“I am getting one single lifeform reading, human, very weak, about fifteen meters in that direction”, the Commodore indicated to the crewman.
“Go back there and take a look, but be careful”, Shelk told the security officer before turning the other way saying:
“Lieutenant, you’re with me. Let’s see if we can find the light switch.”
The group separated and the two senior officers gradually moved to what they believed to be the vessel’s bow.
“This is strange”, Belafonte remarked, still consulting his tricorder.
“What?”, the Commodore wanted to know.
“The material the bulkheads are constructed from, the arrangement of components so far, it’s as if this thing was built in a Federation ship yard, but I’ve never seen anything like it”, the engineer explained in unsettled amazement.
Shelk and Belafonte now reached a door leading to the next compartment. Both men had to push with effort to open it. Behind the door lay the cockpit. It was of sleek and advanced design, state-of-the-art would be an understatement. It had a number of consoles and monitors surrounding a central piloting station in a lowered pit next to a large frontal window. Three additional stations were staggered behind it on both sides of a narrow aisle.
Shelk walked to the conn station and pressed on the display of the main console, to no avail.
“Can you get the power on?”, he inquired.
Belafonte opened various wall panels, looking for a way to coldstart the unknown craft. He came upon a cluster of isolinear chips encased in a switchboard-like cabinet. He stared at the setup for a few seconds before he swapped two of the chips and removed a third one with a knowing smile.
“Give it a try, Skipper!”
The Commodore again pressed on the console and now the display lit up, showing basic menu functions for the ship’s systems.
After typing a few command combinations Shelk was able to restore some of the functions, including ambient lighting and life support.
The security officer now radioed in:
“Sir, you better come look at this.”
“On my way”, Shelk responded. He turned towards Belafonte and instructed:
“See that you disengage the cloak and try to get into the computer files. I want to know what this thing is and where it came from.”
The Lieutenant nodded and sat down at the nearest workstation.
When Shelk reached the aft compartment of the craft, the security officer already waited for him, shining the flashlight mounted on his rifle into a small bunk bed compartment in a wall. A force field separated it from the rest of the room.
Shelk stepped closer and peered inside, there was a man, laying still as if asleep, wearing a MACO officer’s uniform.
“Readings indicate he is in stasis. Whoever put him in there, seems to have rigged some of this equipment to create a makeshift stasis chamber and then left him there for us to find”, the security officer declared after looking at his tricorder scans.
Shelk paced around the room, thinking for a while, before he announced:
“I contact the ship and have them send a medical team over, so we can revive this man. I want you to take inventory of all the cargo and gear in here in the meantime.”
Shelk was just entering the cockpit again, when Belafonte, hunched over the main console and studying the computer display, looking puzzled, not sure what to make of it, addressed him:
“This is odd, Skipper. From what I can tell so far, it looks like this thing is some sort of intelligence asset. I would say it was definitely constructed by our people, but it has no serial numbers or identification markings of any kind. I also found the latest entries from the navigational log. It apparently paid a visit to several Klingon systems a few weeks ago, the rest are largely destinations within the Federation.”
Back aboard the USS Rabin Lieutenant Belafonte entered the personal quarters of Commodore Shelk who anxiously awaited the news.
“What’s your status?”, he asked.
“I was able to restore some of the basic systems. But I think if you really want to crack its secrets, we are going to have to strip it down from top to bottom”, the engineer explained.
Shelk paced around the room. Belafonte addressed him once more:
“Skipper, I am not sure what is going on here or why we stumbled upon this thing. All I can say is that this craft was built with Federation technology and our shipbuilding principles in mind. Yet, it’s in violation of several long standing Starfleet orders. I think we can’t just let that pass, Sir.”
Shelk, facing away from his subordinate, was looking at the device on his shelf, displaying the pictures of him and Captain White.
Having made a decision a faint smile showed on his face. He turned around and told Belafonte:
“And we are not going to. I have a plan.”