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Old January 23 2012, 01:25 AM   #25
Lieutenant Commander
Re: Star Trek: Pathfinder #1 - The Siren's Call

Star Trek: Pathfinder
The Siren's Call - Part Nine

USS Pathfinder
en route to Sector Nineteen
May 10, 2163

Lt. Cmdr. Andrei Kassin, science officer of the USS Pathfinder, leaned back from the table and rubbed his eyes. "This," he announced, "is a mess."

For the past three days, he and Commander Beaumont had been in the main Science Lab, breaking down the last signal received from the Roosevelt. They had tried to separate the signal into the main transmission sent by the Roosevelt, the natural noise of subspace, and another signal that was so powerful it has bled through onto the Roosevelt distress call - which was the one they wanted to isolate. Their quarry was slippery, though, and every time they seemed to close in the computer rejected another chunk of it as noise, forcing them to start all over. Worst of all was the nagging feeling that he had seen this signal before, a maddening feeling when he couldn't even separate it from the noise in the first place. On the tablescreen, bits of the signal flashed blue and vanished as the computer determined them to be part of the noise. "It'll take weeks for the computer to sort this out," he continued.

Reluctantly, Beaumont nodded. Her cortical co-processor was efficiently working through the data, but just didn't have the power to analyze it as a whole. All it could do was provide her with a tiny fragment at a time, which was even less helpful than the main computer's output. "Maybe Starfleet is having better luck. Our systems just weren't designed to perform deep-level subspace analysis."

In one corner of the tablescreen, the computer was still processing the verbal component of the Roosevelt signal bit-by-bit, and had reconstructed an almost crystal-clear playback. Kassin thumped a switch and cut the quiet words off - listening over and over to the last words of a vanished ship was worse than useless, it was a distraction when they could least afford it. Besides, their target wasn't there - it was buried deeper, somewhere in the noise. "This signal degradation is severe," Kassin said. "Must have traveled several light-years before the repeater picked it up."

Subspace repeater stations were springing up all across the Federation, mostly along well-traveled routes but quickly spreading into the more remote areas. Their purpose was to pick up subspace broadcasts, amplify them, and send them along to the next repeater, ensuring a minimal loss of quality over vast distances. Many ships - and all Starfleet ships - had their subspace transmitters automatically locate and connect with the nearest repeater as they came into range, eliminating the need to try and locate one during an emergency.

Beaumont frowned and brought up a graphic of the area where the Roosevelt had vanished. Several dots were flashing blue, each one representing the location of a subspace repeater station. The nearest one to the Roosevelt's last known location was barely half a light year distant. "Why would the signal not have been sent to the nearest repeater?" she said.

Kassin brought up the signal log, which contained the record of every system that particular signal had encountered. "First repeater contact was here," he said, isolating a repeater six light years from the Roosevelt's last location - and which was almost the opposite direction from the closest repeater. "That doesn't make sense - someone would have had to override the system and choose that repeater manually. They would have known they'd lose signal coherence over that distance."

"Maybe they weren't worried about the coherence," Beaumont said. Her fingers flew over the controls, and a handful of white dots appeared. "These are all the star systems within a quarter of a light-year of the transmission path from the Roosevelt to the repeater."

Kassin brought up the details of each of the three star systems. "Not much there," he said. "These two have no habitable planets, and the third, Tau Delta, only has one - and it can hardly be considered habitable."

Beaumont brought up the details in her mind, the data flowing from the ship to her implant to her brain over a low-strength subspace signal. Tau Delta IV was habitable only by the barest of margins - the planet had an axial tilt of almost forty degrees and wobbled back and forth almost randomly, creating seasonal variations of almost two hundred degrees between summer and winter average temperatures. That alone had made it unsuitable for any terraforming effort, and the lack of any worthwhile natural materials had left the system of no interest to anyone - except someone who didn't want to be found. "I don't think they were worried about the words," she said. "The transmission was a pointer, a guide. It showed the direction the Roosevelt wanted us to go." She pointed at the Tau Delta system. "That's where they came from."

"Pretty thin logic, Commander," Kassin said. "Whoever overrode the signal could have been impaired, under duress. The Roosevelt's transmitter could have been damaged. Even if an attacker came at the Roosevelt from that bearing, that doesn't mean they came from that system. I could come up with a dozen other reasons to explain what happened."

"We'll be at the Roosevelt's last coordinates in three days," Beaumont said. "I doubt we'll find anything more than the Vulcan cruiser did, not after so long. I'm open to ideas for some other direction to search - unless you want to sit and wait for another attack, maybe on us this time?"

Kassin opened his mouth, then closed it again without offering his thoughts. "I'll... keep working on it. Ma'am."

"Good." Beaumont stood and stretched, her neck aching from leaning over the tablescreen for so long without a break. "I need to stretch my legs. Want anything from the galley?"

"Just more coffee," Kassin said, pointing at the empty carafe in the corner. Beaumont nodded and stepped out into the corridor, leaving Kassin alone in the lab. As soon as she was gone, he frowned and touched the console, bringing the signal analysis back to dominate the tablescreen. He gazed at the peaks and valleys of the signal, seeing the echoes of smooth curves that the computer had not recognized buried beneath the noise -

"Achilles," he murmured.

To Be Continued...
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