“. . . and as we thought, Sir, the instrumentation showed that all of the New Columbia colonists within the 5 kilometer range of the beacon were beamed away in the dead of night. The beacon contains a buffer; however, its memory was wiped immediately after the transport, and provided no information on where they were beamed to. Or any residual patterns.”
“Thank you, Mister Bowen, for your report,” Matt said quietly as the junior engineer sat back down. The Captain tapped his stylus on the conference table of the Primary Briefing Room, aft of the bridge. “Miss Biddle?”
Grace remained seated, but she did change the wall and table monitors from the schematic of the beacon to show a series of ship’s logs. “As you suspected, Sir, the logs aboard White Cloud
were heavily encrypted, but Crewman Zapata was able to break that encryption. They indicate that the ship and her Orion crew were hired to deliver this beacon to New Columbia—by a being they refer to as Inderi. Neither the race nor gender of this being were revealed in the logs, but they were contracted on Havalis II.”
“Inderi hired the White Cloud
to deliver the beacon, with instructions to approach New Columbia in the dead of night, colony time. Once in orbit, they were to beam down the device, and leave orbit—then they were to transmit a message via sub-space radio. They were instructed to return after two hours, retrieve the beacon and return to Havalis. No questions asked.”
The Ops officer sighed. “According to his logs, the Orion shipmaster decided to remain in orbit and transmit the sub-space signal. He thought that the device was a weapon being tested—and he wanted to record the evidence in case Star Fleet tracked him down afterwards. We have the bridge recordings of what happened next,” she continued quietly, and pressed another stud.
The monitors showed the crew of the Orion ship going about their stations, and then each was caught in the stream of a transporter beam. They began to scream as their flesh shifted and melted, and Matt could hear Andrea Trincullo gasp, and Amanda Tsien gag.
“Computer monitor off; stop playback,” he said quietly. “Continue, Miss Biddle.”
Grace nodded; her face pale and drawn. “White Cloud
was caught in the beam, but not in the range of the beacon. Her crew partially dematerialized, but not fully—and their own movements within the transporter stream literally shredded
their patterns. I’ve seen a few examples of this in the records from the earliest days of transporter experimentation, along with a handful of accidents, but nothing on this scale. Every member of that ship’s crew, their pattern was altered, broken—and then the beam ended. And they rematerialized. The lucky ones were already dead, but at least four lived for several hours. And they all remained conscious and fully aware of what was happening during the transport.”
“The worst was the ship’s owner—who wasn’t the same as its master. He was in his cabin with the slave girls of his harm; all five of them. They were fused
into a single organic being, it was . . .” Grace shook her head and tightened her lips. “Structurally, the ship is sound, and she is carrying goods that are illegal in Federation space.”
“Miss Tsien?” Matt said after Grace went quiet.
The science officer also hit a control and the wall monitor flared back to life projecting the spatial geography of the immediate space surrounding New Columbia. Perched right on the frontier, the colony led to a narrow passage between Romulan and Ferengi space to the Cygnus Sector, with dozens of independent systems interspaced. “Transporters normally leave a minute trace behind that under normal conditions dissipates fairly rapidly. This was not a normal use of the transporter as we understand it. It left a trace that our sensors have been able to identify,” she touched the stud again and a blinking line appeared that stretched out away from New Columbia. “We’ve only been able to resolve the trace out to one light-year, but I’ve configured the lateral sensors and the long-range sensors to detect it, Captain. We will have to keep Warp speeds fairly low—Warp Four, perhaps even Warp Three—in order to back-trace it, but the sensors can handle the task.”
“How long until the trace dissipates, Miss Tsien?” asked Chan.
She shook her head. “Hours? Days? I don’t know for certain, Commander Shrak.”
Pavel stared at the star charts. “The trace isn’t heading towards Havalis II.”
“No, Mister Roshenko, it isn’t,” Matt answered.
“Nat,” he said to the chief engineer. “I want an all hands effort get the White Cloud
ready for space—including a proper burial for the crew. Lieutenant Bowen. I am appointing you as the executive officer aboard the White Cloud
, assisting Commander Philips who will be in command. Sean,” he said to the Corps of Engineers officer, “I’m going to assign you some of Mister Beck’s Marines. Your jacket indicates you did two tours with Star Fleet Intelligence, and I want you to take that ship to Havalis II and find this Inderi.”
“Aye, aye, Sir.”
Matt smiled grimly. “Don’t worry, Sean; I’m not going to stick you out on a limb here. I’ll be informing Star Fleet Command of the situation immediately after this briefing—and if they say no, we won’t do this. But from Admiral Parker’s briefing, there aren’t too many starships in this ‘quiet little sector’. I think we are going to have to handle this ourselves.”
“While you are heading to Havalis II, I will take Republic
and back-trace the transporter trail; either until we find the planet of origin or it ends.”
“And then, Sir?” asked Commander Philips.
“And then, Commander, I have to decide how to deal with people who abduct twelve thousand
citizens of the United Federation of Planets. I think a photon torpedo or four delivered a few kilometers outside their capital will be a good place to begin negotiations from,” he finished with a perfectly straight face.
And the low growl in answer from his own officers showed that they agreed.
“My god,” Josiah Parker said over the secure sub-space channel. “Someone transported
away all twelve thousand
of the colonists? Everyone
Matt just sat there and slowly nodded. “I’ve got a few leads, Admiral Parker, but I felt I needed to send this up the chain just as fast as possible.”
“Yeah,” Josiah said as he sat back, running his hand through his thinning hair; hair that was getting greyer by the day. “We are stretched too thin, Matt. The closest ships I’ve got are Sig Hansen’s security group at Starbase 114.” Josiah frowned. “He’s flying his flag from the Akira
, and he also has the Defiant
, plus the Steamrunner
He concentrated on a monitor off-screen of the small viewer on Matt’s desk, and then he looked up. “Balao
can be there in five days—if her drives hold together for that long. Arrogant
in seven, but Blackhawk
is the middle of a warp core refit. Franklin
are at least ten days out.”
Matt grimaced. “I don’t like pulling all the ships off this section of the border, Admiral. Like I said, I’ve got a couple of leads—and I am putting a prize crew on White Cloud
, with Sean Philips as her commander.”
Josiah nodded his approval. “Sean’s overdue for a fourth pip. But those Clipper
s don’t carry a lot of firepower, and their fragility . . .”
“I’m not planning on sending Sean into combat—I hope. I’ll be sending him to Havalis II to try and track down this Inderi, with a few of my Marines as backup.”
And Josiah winced again. “Technically Havalis II is an independent system, but it is really an outpost for the Ferengi Commerce Authority . . . they will not
like a ship crewed by Star Fleet poking our nose into their business there.”
“Consider this a chance to hone your diplomatic skills, Admiral,” Matt said with a wry smile.
“I’ll be taking her after whoever beamed away the colonists. We’ve got a transporter trace that might lead us to where they taken. Since we don’t know what we are dealing with here, Admiral, I might need some of that backup,” Matt finished with an unhappy expression on his face.
“Agreed. I’ll also cut orders for Independence
to get underway immediately. She can be there in eight days at maximum warp.”
Matt raised an eyebrow. “A Sovereign
? You are taking this seriously.”
“Matt you are talking about someone who can beam twelve thousand
people between star systems. We’ve met a few races, including the Dominion, with interstellar transporter technology, but not on this
scale. But that is beside the point. Yes, pursue this matter, and find out where our people are—or if they are even still alive.”
“And if they aren’t, Admiral?” Matt asked softly.
“If it were up to me, I’d . . . damn, Matt," the Chief of Star Fleet Operations said, as he shook his head. "I'm not certain what I'd do. I will need to brief the President.”
"We'll find them, Sir. And we will
bring them home."
“Godspeed, Captain Dahlgren—and good hunting.”
Matt leaned back in his chair as the screen blanked and tapped his comm badge.
“Dahlgren to Shrak.”
“Status on our transfers to White Cloud
“Fifteen minutes and she will be ready for departure, Captain Dahlgren
“Very well, Mister Shrak; I’ll be on the bridge shortly. Have Miss Montoya lay in a course along the path of the transport trace at the highest warp speed which allows Miss Tsien to detect its course. Engage as soon as the transfers are complete.”
“Aye, aye, Sir
“I want shields up and weapons manned and ready.”
“Aye, aye, Sir