19 Thieves' Errand
Two officers lost.
Tom stood staring out the ready room viewport, at the brilliant streaming eddies of the massive gravitational wake of the slipstream. The deckplates thrummed with the deep muted power of the quantum drive. He thought he could feel his being stretching between each gravitational pole, his soul dispersing over thousands of light years like an unlocked transporter pattern. His shoulder burned with the dull ache of tissue regeneration, but that was nothing compared to the searing pain of being shot with the alien device.
Voyager had disappeared from long range sensors almost immediately. With her head start, on a direct course, she could travel indefinitely and Perseus would not be able to mark her. The real challenge of piloting the Perseus lay not in speed or distance; but in navigation – and what to do once you got where you were going.
The quantum trail had proven easy enough to follow for several hours, as it had immediately made it's long-range destination clear:
A long course for the Delta Quadrant.
The door chimed. “Come in,” Tom answered.
“Sir. Ship's systems operating at peak efficiency. Long range sensors have still not picked up Voyager.” Seven of Nine entered and handed him a padd. “It was last seen on a direct course; however its quantum trail has slowly been diminishing.” Tom motioned for her to sit. Seven hesitated, and obliged. She noticed the empty chair across from her, and indicated for Tom to sit. He obliged.
“Nothing but taillights. I don't suppose you know what she's got under the hood, do you?”
“An old Earth street racing term. Do you have any theories, Seven?”
Seven of Nine tapped another padd and handed it to him. She wore a ridged gunmetal form-fitting suit cut at oblong angles, bearing the three pips of a Commander. He had thought better than to require her to wear the gold uniform of a Chief Engineer. She had been given a field rank of Commander by Captain Chakotay when she had first taken over for B'Elanna – at first a formality, and when the Trial approached, a necessity. Seven had not indicated whether she would prefer to retain her commission – or if she was even happy in the role. Things had been too busy for personal feelings – as he well knew.
“I surmise this might be the result of the intruder's schematic alterations,” she said. “She has somehow found a way to mask the ship's quantum particle wake. If she is able to do that, we suspect she may work to apply the same strategy to both warp travel and impulse. Perhaps even thrusters.”
“Yes; myself, and – Sublieutenant Vexa. If - sir – we don't find Voyager soon, we will lose the trail entirely.”
“What's this?” He studied the padd filled with mathematical notations.
“This is our best determination. It's theoretical, but it may give us a chance to locate Voyager. Sublieutenant Vexa believes she can localize a ship traveling at high warp by a mathematical analysis of neutrino emissions, which could not be suppressed using the same techniques that mask plasma exhaust.”
“Neutrino emissions? Over these distances?”
“Indeed. Part of her strategy employs a particle resonance acceleration matrix, which is essentially a field of generated quantum particles held in a measurable state, as they interact with targeted regions of space and subspace. Distance is irrelevant. Using Barclayan intragalactic communication techniques we can theoretically localize a subspace quantum resonance locator beam in virtually any sector of galactic space. Sympathetic resonances between the locator beam and the PRAM would allow for the particle density measurements necessary for mathematical analysis.”
“A particle resonance...acceleration matrix? Never heard of one.”
“Because we've only just conceived it. You can think of it as a kind of quantum compass. Neutrinos shouldn't be affected as they pass through Voyager's plasma wake, or whatever masking technique the alien is using; or other interstellar trace gases or particles. Measuring the quantum gravitational effects on neutrinos is a simple matter for ship's sensors. With some modification, the quantum resonance beam can be configured to localize an electron neutrino transitioning into a muon or tauon as it travels. Perseus is well-equipped to measure any discrepancy of flavor oscillations against the fixed ratio density of expected relic neutrinos in cosmic microwave background radiation.”
“Well – if you say so, Seven.”
“Normally such a calculation would be extremely subtle. Even the Borg were unable to track such minute measurements, which is one reason they could not always successfully locate cloaked ships. However Sublieutenant Vexa has created an algorithm for analyzing relic particle densities over vast distances, which, I must admit, presents an intriguing new approach. I would like to try it, if for no other reason than to see it in application.”
“Sounds like a real breakthrough in astrometrics – if it works. But what if Voyager drops down to warp, or impulse?”
“Voyager's electroplasma warp drive generates electrons, muons and tauons which are measurable against the gravitational effect of a warp field on cosmic radiation. Sublight impulse fusion reactors have no gravitational effect; but they also emit antineutrino flux in the beta decay of plasma exhaust. There should be a marked difference between predicted neutrino flavors in cosmic background radiation and those emitted by Voyager's impulse reactors. These too should be detectable over long distances.”
“And if Voyager's stopped, laying in ambush somewhere?”
“We are reinventing deep space telemetry and fleet tracking capabilities. We can only solve one impossibility at a time. Sir.”
“One miracle at a time. Got it. I'm glad to see you two getting along. Tell me something, Seven. What's your assessment of our Sublieutenant?”
Seven considered the question. “Unpredictable. Sublieutenant Vexa has devised an algorithm that may predict neutrino masses based on computational stellar data over vast quantities of space. This is also based on her understanding of quantum slipstream science and the effects of chronophasic interference, which has been proven to affect neutrino configurations. Adding the exponential drift of temporal flux makes particle prediction a proposition of such complexity it has eluded the Borg for centuries.
“The alien intruder, clearly of an advanced race, has somehow managed to not only commandeer a Federation starship from heavily-guarded space, but can somehow manipulate matter and subspace, as well as hundreds of minds of two crews, with no detectable technology or external assistance. The alien has managed to subdue Voyager's navigational wake while in flight, again, without any apparent external aid – and in a matter of hours. In response, Vexa has managed to conceive a sensor that can span the galaxy, take an active role in its applied prototype development, as well as create a particle mapping technique across many sectors of open space, and against a vast chaotic region of background radiation and interstellar phenomena; effectively countering the superior alien threat - as she has already done in numerous ways.”
Seven of Nine stood. “As a former Borg, my best assessment of Sublieutenant Vexa is simply this: unpredictable
“Proceed with the system modifications, Seven. Use whomever you need. Uh, dismissed.”
Seven of Nine heeded and moved to leave. It was an impersonal gesture, yet somehow affirmed Tom's authority.
“And Seven? The Academy's loss is obviously our gain.”
She pondered his statement, acknowledged it with a brow raised in soft appreciation, and left.
Tom toyed with the padd, not trying to understand the equations it contained. He had hoped for a more...human perspective of Vexa. He had another question he needed help with. Seven may have been able to detect a misplaced electron half a quadrant away, but when it came to people, she was still, in many ways, that little girl lost to the Borg.
He returned to the viewport.
Why the Delta Quadrant?
What could possibly motivate a being of such incredible power?
He had ordered Lieutenant Munich to go through Starfleet records of the Delta Quadrant, to see if she could find anything relating to this intruder. Somehow it seemed like a pointless task, but procedure was procedure.
Did I just say that?
He thought of his former shipmates, and his Captain, and tried to ignore the dread in the pit of his stomach. What am I doing? They're gonna love me back at the New Zealand Penal Colony.
Starfleet would at least listen to reason. They might not agree with his decision to risk an additional ship and crew in this thieves' errand. As things stood now, Starfleet would really have no idea of what occurred. An alien like that? Nowhere in the strategy books. There's no telling what fate Starfleet would be cooking for him now. But Starfleet's response to his pursuit of Voyager was the least of his concerns at present. After all, it was only his head, and you can only lose that sort of thing once.
But with the increasing tensions of Bajor Sector, there would be no telling how the sudden mysterious loss of these two ships would ripple out from the center of the sector's attention. If anything it would raise doubts and suspicions and only contribute to the growing mistrust between the various factions. If Maquis started drawing lines in the sand – the Voyager crew might not have a home to come back to. If he failed to deliver them home – not only would the crews of two starships pay for his inadequacy, but there would be nothing to ease the tensions mounting around Bajor. Speculations would abound, and give enough people enough fuel for what could be a very large fire.
God, was B'Elanna even safe
? Kel'Akann would see to her medical needs. But would he be able to keep her and Miral secure? That's all the Maquis would need – another martyr for the cause. Or two.
No. Don't even think it.
to bring them home. His wife and daughter's lives could depend upon it. The Federation needed to know about this alien threat, as well. He hadn't even considered the fact that there could be more of these aliens lying in wait around the Federation. And no one there to warn them. Damn
. He'd acted too quickly. Let that young hothead get the best of him.
Somewhere out there, was a superior being with the key to his wife's exoneration and peace in the quadrant. And Tom had to find a way to defeat an alien so strangely powerful she had defied everything two starship crews could throw at her – and had single-handedly
stolen a starship from the very core of Federation security. This was the kind of threat no amount of history could prepare anyone for.
Even somehow retaking Voyager and bringing the alien into custody might not be enough to stem the tides of war. Advocate Kel'Akann, under some unfathomable Vulcan logic, decided to plunge himself in the middle of the Perseus case; just associating with it could be damaging to the presidency. It could undermine perceptions of Federation stability – a state its enemies would relish and exploit in any way possible.
Two officers lost.
And then there were the rest of the Perseus crew. Working together for the first time, shaking out the rattles. They would face this mission before their time. Tom hadn't even time to know Bessek and Tiroj. He didn't know
them. Who was back home, awaiting their safe return? And now, he would have to somehow alchemize the mixed body into a starship crew. Or it could be the death of them all.
Sublieutenant Vexa – exonerated from a court martial after her first day of duty, only to go from the frying pan into a cosmic fire. Chief Grifahni – a real hothead. While Tom could understand the security chief's motives, he could no longer afford to invoke personal choices or morality in this office of command.
Did I just say that?
Tom thought back on how those ready room meetings with Captain Janeway had always left a dread in the pit of his gut – but every one of them, he now realized, was a lesson from a master. Now, he knew he represented something bigger than himself – and was charged with the protection of not only a ship's crew – but two ships' crew, his own extended family on both ships – and a restless region of space, not a few alpha quadrant civilizations; and two quietly dying souls millions of millions of millions of miles away, and getting light years further by the hour.
He caught an escaping tear.
His communicator interrupted: Doctor to Paris.
Tom straightened his posture and narrowed his mien. What now
, he thought.