“Captain,” Ujio said, “Reading a large gravitational mass dead ahead. Cobalt collisional excitations and stimulated emissions. It's a forming star
,” he said in wonder.
“On screen.” In silent awe, the crew watched the brilliant stellar formation amid the kaleidoscopic ignition of particulate matter, shimmering in a dazzling spectral display.
“Captain” Vexa broke in, “Reading increase in maser activity and gravitational effects of molecular clumps and vortices being drawn to the forming star. Carbon molecules, nitrogen, helium, neon, argon. Reading unknown induced emissions of several exotic particle types. Some exhibit excessive mass indications with minor charge-to-mass ratios. Strangelets.” She regarded the scene on the main viewer. “It is a prestellar quark core, Captain. The first one ever seen in existence.”
“Particle density of accretion molecules increasing to seven point five nine grams per cubic centimeter. Stellar currents exceeding mach five. She's getting rough, sir,” Shir said. He turned to Tom. “Plenty of EM interference, could provide suitable cover while we wait for Voyager to emerge.”
“Agreed. Drop anchor and batten down the hatches, Mister Shir.”
“Full stop, Ensign.” Andoria. Ice planet
, Tom told himself.
“What do you think Voyager's doing here, sir?” asked Lieutenant Munich.
“Hard to say, Nikhila. Maybe she's waiting for someone. Or something. Or she could be -”
Suddenly a massive energy beam ripped through the cloud and struck the Perseus shields, tossing the ship over like so much flotsam.
“What the hell was that!” Grif shouted over the red alert klaxon, while power fluctuated through the ship.
Tom pulled himself off the floor. “One of Vexa's spectral line emissions.”
Vexa returned to her station and sorted through the various alarms. The ship's power came back online. “Sir, an electromagnetic wave stimulated the exotic strangelet particle radiation. Since astrophysical masers lack mode purity or coherence, the result was - “
“Spectacularly not good!” Grif concluded from the floor.
“The stimulated emission of the exotic strangelet particles created these...shall we call them Exotic Strangelet Masers, sir.”
“Kind of a mouthful, Lieutenant. How about something simpler, like...EXS
masers?” he replied.
“Yes sir. The beam eruption followed the path of maximum particle emission from the prestellar core.”
Grif hauled himself up. “In other words, random bursts of shield-penetrating death radiation.”
Vexa turned. “Essentially, he is correct, Captain. The EXS masers are highly-polarized and could overload the shield emitters; if the EM wave transitions should strike the warp core tetryon particles -”
“I get the picture, Vexa,” Tom finished. “Can you rig something to give us some warning if it happens again?”
“I will activate an X-magnetic spectrometric scan that should give us a warning. But sir – there is no guarantee we can outmaneuver the fluctuating radiation in time -”
“Perseus can do it,” said Shir.
While the crew waited and watched in tense silence, Perseus rocked in the high-velocity magnetic turbulence of the prestellar core formation. On the viewscreen, long tendrils of EXS particle beams disgorged from the quark star emissions, circling, lashing and blasting around the fluctuating cloud complexes, shuddering through ship and crew.
An alarm pinged. “Sir, reading a molecular vortex coming our way,” said Ensign Shir. “Heading towards the star. Stellar winds are rising.” More alarms started sounding.
A dark vortex loomed and pushed its way towards them through the charged molecular currents. The clouds roiled from the approaching energy mass.
Voyager emerged from the clouds, firing phasers on Perseus.
The ship shook violently and plunged into chaos. Voyager fired all batteries against Perseus on an overhead pass. The supercharged particle currents erupted in a blinding lattice of EXS masers that enshrouded both ships in violent cosmic energy.
Tom roused in the darkness of auxiliary lighting, that flickered on scorched bulkheads, his shoulder burning in pain. “Report,” he strained. There was no reply.
He dragged himself upright and scanned the bridge. The crew began rousing from unconsciousness. He helped Munich right herself; the confused Com officer indicated she would be alright.
“Engineering! Report!” There was no reply.
“Sir,” said Ensign Shir. “Voyager is gone. I can't get impulse. Shields down to eight percent. Sir! We're adrift in the particle wake! We're falling towards the stellar core!”
Warning. Shields failing. Fatal radiation exposure in two minutes
, came the automated announcement.
“Thrusters! Full reverse!”
“Captain, we've lost phasers. I don't know how she did it. Reports coming in from the ship,” Grif added. “Casualties, no fatalities. Yet.”
Vexa added, “Sir, I'm reading a quantum wake exiting the region. Dissipating fast. Recommend we exit the nebula and activate the PRAM Sensor as soon as possible. Voyager's course is evasive.”
“Engineering to Bridge.”
“Go ahead, Seven.”
“Impulse engines have been damaged extensively; they are offline and will be unrepaired for at least twelve hours. Holographic crew are offline. Auxiliary systems are offline. Thrusters losing power. They may not clear us of the gravitational pull of the formation.”
“Status of the automated systems?”
“Structural readings are intact. However controls have been fused throughout the assemblies. We'll have to send teams to replace them manually. MVAM mode is unavailable.”
Warning. Shields failing. Fatal radiation exposure in one minute thirty seconds.
Tom leaned in his seat and checked his panel readouts. As the stellar quark core raged ahead, He factored in a new equation. “Seven, prepare for warp speed.”
The bridge crew all turned to him in surprise.
Seven replied, “Captain, there is no way to know what kind of effect a warp field will have on the particle masers. We don't know if the field will stabilize; or whether the deflector will be able to function in such a dense environment. You are taking a gamble. We must work on repairs in order to emerge from the nebula on thrusters and impulse.”
“How long will Voyager's vector trail last, Vexa?”
She shook her head. “It will have dissipated completely, long before then, sir. By that time the PRAM Sensor will be useless at pinpointing an accurate source. However the EXS masers will have certainly overpowered our shields by then. If we can even escape the gravitation of the stellar formation.”
“Seven, staying too long in the nebula with eight percent shields is a gamble we can't win,” he replied. “Them's all the cards we've got. Warp speed. Now
After a millisecond of silence, Seven replied, “Aye Captain. I will require one minute.”
Tom cut the com. “Any longer, and she's fired,” he assured Ujio.
A massive EXS maser lattice drew around the ship, just as Perseus jumped to warp and punched a new hole in the flashing nebula -
- and emerged from a quantum vortex firing a volley of photon torpedoes at Voyager.
Voyager's engines narrowly avoided the hits as the ship maneuvered through its orbit of a red star with a massive gravity: a Stellar Rogue lost in the vast darkness between two galactic spiral arms knifing the sky.
Alarms rang throughout the bridge. “Sir!” Vexa shouted. “EM readings are off the scale! Hard X rays, gamma rays, radio waves – the stellar matter is coalescing into an impulsive stage eruption!”
Shir shouted, “She's a Red Flare Star!”
“Captain!” Grif shouted. “Voyager's opening a slipstream directly in the path of the flare! And she's going in!”
The quantum vortex pulled the starship Voyager into the slipstream, faster than light.
“I can't control it Captain!” Shir yelled. “We're being pulled in!”
As a massive stellar loop flared out of the red star, the USS Perseus
tumbled towards the vortex.