“Ensign Gopal, evasive maneuvers!” The order was technically impossible, given the absence of a sentient enemy to evade, but Ensign Anit Gopal knew exactly what Lieutenant Commander Borux meant. As the USS Tesseract
unexpectedly dropped out of slipstream 24,000 light years short of the Delta Quadrant and uncomfortably close to a very large asteroid, Anit’s fingers flew across the helm control console, guiding the massive ship away from the hurtling space rock with only thrusters and residual momentum. The inertial dampers whined with the effort of keeping the crew from becoming mere stains on the bulkheads under the tremendous g forces.
Bridge to engineering, report,” Borux said over the comm.
“I’m not sure what happened, Commander, the drive checks out fine,” came the reply from Lieutenant Loren Daniels, the officer in charge of Beta shift in engineering. Lieutenant T’Pring, standing at the science station, and Ensign Par Renn, standing at ops, exchanged a brief look of wary recognition.
“Bring impulse engines online,” Borux ordered.
Borux’s communicator chirped, and he heard the captain’s concerned voice. “Status report, Commander?”
“Uncertain, Captain. We dropped out of slipstream, but engineering reports the drive is functioning normally. We’re bringing impulse engines online while we assess the situation.”
“Notify me when you have more information,” Adele replied. “Oyugo out.”
“Commander?” T’Pring spoke up from the back of the bridge. “This is not unlike what happened at Aris 4 prior to launching this mission.” She eyed the console in front of her. “Our sensors are indicating multiple subspace ruptures, however, I am not detecting any ships, debris, or energy signatures.”
“How extensive is the damage to subspace?” asked Borux.
T’Pring tapped at her console a few times. “It will take us three days to get past the area at impulse, sir. We’ll also have to completely shut down the warp core and activate the multiphasic shielding in order to protect it.”
“Understood. I’ll notify the captain and instruct engineering. You have the bridge, Lieutenant.” T’Pring nodded as Borux left to spread the word.
“What do the humans call it? Déjà vu?” Renn whispered to T’Pring nervously, when Borux had gone.
T’Pring replied in her perpetually unaffected tone, “There are some similarities between this occurrence and the situation we encountered at Aris 4. However, there are also many differences, most notably the absence of any discernible debris or energy signatures. I do not believe your anxiety is warranted, Ensign.”
Renn looked unconvinced by the Vulcan’s attempt at reassurance, and eyed the viewscreen as if expecting a Borg transwarp conduit -- or something worse -- to appear there at any moment.
Inside her quarters, Maren was curled up on her small sofa, wrapped in a soft blanket and staring at a PADD. She had just started getting into the novel she had downloaded from the ship’s database when she heard the inertial dampers start to whine, yanking her out of the story. “Computer, display external viewer,” she said aloud, and the small viewscreen on her wall lit up with a field of stars instead of the blue glow she had become so familiar with over the past few days.
Keeping her blanket wrapped tightly around her, she set down the PADD, walked over to her nightstand and grabbed her combadge. “O’Connor to Daniels, what’s going on?” She waited a few moments for a reply. No doubt the bridge had called asking Loren the same thing. After a minute, Loren’s voice came over the comm., “We lost the slipstream, but the drive looks okay. I don’t know what just happened, but I could probably use your help down here if you’re not doing anything else.”
“On my way,” replied Maren, reluctantly draping the blanket over the back of her desk chair and shivering as the cool air touched her bare legs beneath her nightshirt. With practiced speed, she changed into her uniform, neatened her hair and headed out the door.
As she bounded into the corridor, she literally ran into Icheb, nearly crashing to the floor from the impact. He quickly caught her by the arm and steadied her. When she regained her balance, it was a long moment before he let go. “Sorry, Commander,” Maren said, flustered, as she smoothed out her uniform. “I didn’t expect you to be standing there.” She couldn’t resist adding snottily, “Again.”
“I was coming to see you,” Icheb replied. Maren looked at him warily.
“I’m not even going to ask you why you would want to subject yourself to that a second time,” she said coolly.
Before Icheb could answer her, both officers’ combadges chirped simultaneously. Adele’s voice came over the comm., “All senior staff officers, report to the conference room on deck eight.”
Maren sighed and tapped her own combadge. “O’Connor to Daniels, the captain’s calling. You’re on your own for now.”
“Acknowledged,” came the reply from Loren.
Assiduously ignoring Icheb, Maren started walking in the direction of the turbolift. Icheb jogged to catch up. “I’ll walk with you,” he said.
Maren suppressed a sigh. “Obviously, I can’t stop you,” she replied, almost under her breath, without looking at him.
Icheb acted as if he had not heard her, though Maren knew that with his enhanced hearing, he definitely had. “We need to talk,” he said, as they walked toward the turbolift.
Maren turned her head to meet his gaze. “What is it now, sir? Have you come to make another futile attempt at professionalism?” She regretted the words the instant they left her mouth, and wondered if she could bring herself to apologize for them. What is wrong with me? Why is it so hard to just be civil to him?
she asked herself, appalled by her own rude behavior.
“Maren, stop it! Listen to me,” Icheb said, seizing her arm and forcing her to face him. Maren stopped in her tracks at the physical contact and the intensity in his voice. She sighed and forced herself to make eye contact.
“I’m sorry, that was out of line,” she said in a carefully level tone. “I’m listening,” she added, “so talk.”
Icheb shook his head. “Not here. First we report to the captain; then we can go somewhere and talk. There are a lot of things we need to discuss, and I’m not going to do it in a public corridor.”
Maren raised her eyebrows, but made no reply. She wasn’t sure she was ready to have a discussion with him without losing control of her emotions like she had during their last encounter in her quarters. She resumed walking toward the turbolift, and he followed, half a step behind. They rode the lift in silence to deck eight. When they emerged moments later in the conference room, the captain displayed no visible reaction to seeing the two enter together. Maren took a seat at the far end of the conference table, while Icheb sat down in the spot Adele had reserved for him next to her and picked up the PADD that was waiting for him. Within minutes, the entire senior staff had assembled, and Adele began the briefing.
“We’ve run into an area of subspace damage similar to what the away team encountered at Aris 4,” Adele began. At the mention of the away mission, Maren glanced at the modified cortical monitor she had seen peeking out of the neckline of Icheb’s uniform. She was comforted to see the device glowing faintly around the edges, indicating it was connected and working. She realized Icheb must have been wondering the same thing she was, because he suddenly reached up and touched the small piece of technology briefly, as if making sure it was still there.
“We’ve picked up no indication of ships or debris in the vicinity, but I’d like you to recalibrate our sensors, T’Pring,” Adele addressed the Vulcan science officer. “Increase the resolution and sensitivity to analyze for smaller particles. Most of the debris particles at Aris 4 were under a meter in size. It’s possible there could still be some sort of clue as to what happened here drifting around out there.” T’Pring nodded, quickly tucked a stray piece of black hair behind a pointed ear, and entered a few notes into her PADD.
“Don’t forget about the Astrometrics lab,” Icheb interjected. “This is exactly the kind of thing its sensors were designed for.” Maren couldn't suppress a small smile at this. That lab was his baby, the fulfillment of almost every wish he’d had as a kid practically living in the Astrometrics lab on Voyager.
She was sure he would go down there personally after the briefing and run scans for hours, especially if she succeeded in escaping after the meeting without actually talking to him -- which was exactly what she hoped to do.
Adele glanced at her first officer and nodded in acknowledgment. “Of course, Commander,” she said. “I’ll let you instruct the staff there.” This was the first ship Adele had commanded that actually had a real Astrometrics lab instead of a Stellar Cartography department, and she had to admit it wasn’t yet natural for her to think of utilizing the expanded technology. She had managed fine during her twenty-six years in Starfleet using standard sensor arrays, and hadn’t yet spent much time in the Borg-inspired mess of an interactive star chart on deck three that Commander Icheb had helped design as a fourth-year cadet. To her, it looked like Stellar Cartography with a side helping of Borg nanoprobes, but then again, her own specialties were diplomacy and linguistics. Strangely enough for a starship captain, astrophysics left her cold. She was in this line of work for the people: First contact, new cultures, alien languages. The stars were just the background scenery.
“Captain, is there any sign of a weapons signature?” asked Lieutenant Commander Ryzal, the Saurian chief tactical officer.
“Not that we’ve picked up on sensors,” Adele replied. “So far, the only thing we know with any certainty is that something ripped up subspace in this area. We don't know what it was, and we don't know when it happened.”
“Is there any way to go around the damaged area? I mean really try to avoid it completely?” Maren asked. “I know we have the multiphasic shielding, but I still hate the idea of dragging our warp cores between multiple subspace ruptures for days on end if we can possibly get around it.”
“T’Pring and I looked at that just before you arrived, Lieutenant,” Adele said. “The slipstream dropped us well inside the damaged area. To continue straight across in the direction of the Delta Quadrant is a three day trip, maybe four, allowing for course corrections to avoid the larger tears. To get out of the damaged area in the shortest possible time is a two day journey in the opposite direction. Besides, if at all possible, I’d like to know more about what happened out there. So, although I understand your concern, in this case I’m going to have to say no.”
Maren nodded in understanding. While she was looking in his direction, she stole another quick glance at Icheb, who was alternately squinting at a PADD and glancing up to follow the discussion. It was slightly surreal to see the boy she’d fallen in love with at the Academy seven years ago settling into his role as first officer of their enormous ship, with partial responsibility for well over a thousand lives. She thought of her own weighty responsibilities to the crew of the Tesseract
, and wondered at what point during the last seven years the two of them had become adults ... and why it seemed so impossible for her to act like one in his presence.
T’Pring, who had been analyzing the data she’d brought with her from the science console, spoke up. “Captain, we are on the outer edge of a large star system. There is an M-class planet further into the system, not far beyond the area of subspace damage. If it is inhabited, perhaps those people can explain what happened here.”
“It’s certainly worth a visit,” said Adele. “Have Ensign Gopal plot our course accordingly, Commander Borux,” she said to the Denobulan officer who would resume command of the bridge at the end of the briefing. He nodded.
As the senior staff accepted the prospect of being stuck at impulse for a few days, they tossed around a few ideas for training exercises to help pass the time and rearranged the holodeck schedule to accommodate a few simulations. As soon as the briefing adjourned, Maren grabbed her PADD and hurriedly exited the conference room. Icheb moved swiftly to catch up, intercepting her just outside the door.
“We need to talk,” he reminded her as he caught her arm and held it, impeding her transit toward the turbolift. Maren sighed and turned around to face him. Her cowardly last-ditch attempt to avoid another confrontation had failed.
“What do you want from me, Icheb?” she asked quietly.
“I just want to talk to you, alone,” he answered. “Please just come to my quarters with me,” he pleaded, exasperated by her refusal to communicate.
Maren couldn’t express with a mere roll of the eyes how terrible an idea she thought that was, but she attempted it nonetheless. “Absolutely not,” she replied, adding in a tone much more spiteful than she had actually intended, “that would hardly be professional, now, would it?” She flushed with embarrassment at her failure to control her turbulent emotions, but she couldn’t bring herself to apologize.
“Where do you propose we have a private conversation, then?” Icheb asked, irritated by her obnoxious tone and feeling far less optimistic than he had after his dinner conversation with the captain.
“I’m not the one who wants a private conversation. Whatever you have to say, I suggest you say it to me here.”
“Maren, you’re being ridiculous. I am not having a conversation about the last two years in the middle of a public corridor.”
“What makes you think I want to have a conversation about the last two years?” Maren hissed quietly through clenched teeth, trying to wrench her arm out of his persistent grasp and hoping the few people scattered throughout the corridor couldn’t hear her. “You may be my commanding officer, but you can’t order me to talk to you about this. I’m not going to your quarters, so, with your permission, I’d like to get down to engineering and check on things, sir
“Fine,” said Icheb, releasing her arm and backing off. Maren glared at him and stalked off down the hallway toward the turbolift. That went well,
Icheb thought sarcastically. Frustrated, he headed for Astrometrics, in hopes that a thorough analysis of surrounding space would help him order his thoughts.
The state-of-the-art Astrometrics lab was beyond anything he had ever dreamed of on Voyager
. In contrast to the fairly restricted resources Voyager
had been able to devote to their small lab, no expense had been spared in the design and implementation of the Tesseract’s.
He actually thought it was better than anything the Borg used. Both he and Seven had contributed to the design process, she as an official advisor, and he as one of his two senior projects (one for each major).
In Icheb's estimation, the interface they had developed was a thing of beauty. The spherical chamber gave the effect of standing in space, with a holographic display that was fully interactive. In a sense, you could literally reach out and touch the stars. If you wanted a closer look at something, rather than tapping on a console and zooming in on it while standing a few meters away, you could walk over to it, pick it up, increase its size, spin it around, and really examine it. Whatever couldn’t be controlled by interactive touch could be controlled by voice. If you held a planet in your hands and wanted to look at the seismic faults, you said so. If you were within close enough sensor range of the planet, you could even display the current atmospheric conditions.
Of course, there were still a few standard consoles for running large-scale scans and communicating with other parts of the ship, and this was where Icheb was headed at the moment. As he settled in behind an empty console, he greeted the two sensor analysts already working in the lab and explained what he was looking for. As they started scanning for small debris particles, he tried not to think about his disastrous interaction with Maren. Her capacity for passion and strong feeling was one of the things that had attracted him to her in the first place, but she was much more emotional right now than he knew how to deal with. He wondered for a moment if John would be able to give him advice, despite the fact that he usually wanted their occasionally meddlesome friend to stay out of their relationship. He finally decided he would attempt to contact him when he was done with the scan, if nothing of interest turned up.
That plan was quickly abandoned when nine minutes and thirty two seconds into the scan, Icheb found the first small fragment of a Borg hull drifting 170,000 kilometers from their position. By the time their scan of the sector was finished two hours later, the three analysts in the Astrometrics lab believed they had found the widely scattered remains of a Borg tactical cube, reduced to not much more than space dust.