Star Stallion 1, Berthed at Hanger 4, Berth 2, Pad D
Starbase 200, Tregor System
Stardate: 55255.6 (April 4th, 2378)
Their morning had gone like clockwork. The three Stallion crew had been up and ready for the cargo transfer, which arrived precisely at 0715—just as Lieutenant Acker said it would be. Hank took charge of loading the two launchers, as well as the stock of eight quantum torpedoes that had also been allocated to the Silverfin
Star Stallions were designed to be beasts of burden, capable of carrying a couple dozen evacuees or a hold-full of cargo, so carrying the new tech wouldn’t be a problem. The three Border Dogs worked with the three cargo handlers, so that in just under twenty minutes they had the robust shuttle loaded and secured. The loaders thanked them and then headed off for their next task. Th’Shaan ran a quick check on the launchers, whilst Syva double checked the security protocols she’d designed to keep the Stallion locked down whilst their new weaponry was onboard.
Hank had to admire the effortless way they worked together, the give and take they had with one another based on mutual respect and camaraderie—it was one of the things he had missed most when he’d left the Service and returned to Earth, though by no means the biggest aspect of the life he’d regretted leaving behind; that had been Suz. He loved her, but the death of his pop had confused him, so he’d done what he thought his old man would have wanted. Looking back on his decision, he knew that he wanted to honour the man who’d been his childhood hero, but that he should have done so in his own way.
He couldn’t help but wonder, If ah hadn’t left, where would Suz and ah be now?
Once all their checks were complete it was just shy of 0750, so th’Shaan did exactly as he said he would and took them to breakfast. They found a little cafe and ordered. Back on Star Station Freedom, Hank was fond of a little place on the Bazaar called The Greasy Spoon, which made the best waffles he’d ever tasted. This morning however, he’d opted for pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, accompanied with a large mug of coffee. Syva had selected Eggs Benedict with a mixed fruit juice, and th’Shaan had chosen an Andorian dish called tath’aal
(which, to Hank, looked like green oatmeal with chunks of some kind of meat) and a pot of Tellarite spice root tea.
They quickly fell into the easy banter that they had shared ever since leaving the Silverfin
, sharing a few stories of their exploits in the Border Service, whilst Syva told them a couple of her time with Vulcan Security. The more time he spent with them, the more he liked them. Both th’Shaan and Syva were solid and dependable, hardworking and dedicated, that much was clear to anyone; but they both friendly and upbeat (even Syva, though in a more Vulcan way). He did note that despite the rumours which were undoubtedly doing the rounds about Hank and Suz, neither one asked about their relationship or their history—a clear mark of respect for their CO.
After breakfast, they returned to the Stallion and readied for departure. At 0830, they lifted off from the landing pad and exited Starbase 200, a full five hours ahead of their initial departure time. Once clear of the station, they set a course for Freedom and were once again underway.
* * * * *
Cockpit, Star Stallion 1
En Route to Star Station Freedom
Stardate: 55261.8 (April 6th, 2378)
With the journey from Star Station Freedom to Starbase 200 taking 75.32 hours, they needed to operate a shift system to ensure that someone was always at the controls. Although the ship was perfectly capable of flying itself on autopilot, Syva believed it a prudent security measure to ensure at least one of them was on duty at all times. Lieutenant th’Shaan had agreed with her and they established a rota, with each of them sitting four-hour shifts in the cockpit until they landed once again on the Silverfin
Though her precautions may have been a touch excessive, their cargo was a valuable one—which had already been in the possession of black marketers once. She was responsible for them until they could be installed on the cutter, so she would make sure that they arrived there intact and on time.
The companel flashed. She quickly tapped the control and saw that they were receiving a weak signal on a frequency designated for emergencies. In an instant she began triangulating the signals origin as she spoke into the intercom, “Syva to th’Shaan. We are picking up a distress call.”
“We’ll be right up,”
came the prompt response.
It took him and Mitchell only a few seconds to get from the bunk room to the cockpit, by which time she had locked in on where the signal was coming from.
“What we got?” the Andorian asked, leaning next to her and looking at the readouts.
She tapped the companel and the message began to play. “Thi...survey ship...are..culties with...power...in need of tec...al assi...t.”
“That’s pretty garbled,” Mitchell stated from the entrance.
“The problem appears to be at the source,” she stated, having checked the signal strength as the message had been playing.
“Bearing zero-zero-two-mark-zero-nine-seven; distance point-three light-years.”
“Anyone else in range?”
She glanced at the sensor screen. “The only other ship in range to assist is a type-nine shuttlecraft; however they are another point-five light-years away.”
Th’Shaan slipped into the pilot seat and logged on. “Altering course and increasing to maximum warp. Inform that ship that we are moving to help and will be alongside shortly.”
“Aye sir,” she confirmed then opened up a communications link. “Survey ship, this is Master Chief Syva of the Border Service. We have received your distress call and are en route to assist. Any further information you could provide us on your situation would be beneficial.”
On the open channel only static responded.
* * * * *
“Approaching the survey ship,” Syva announced.
Th’Shaan gave her a faint nod. “Dropping us out of warp, approaching at two-thirds impulse. Anything on sensors?”
“Sensors are clear. Just an Aerie-Class ship, two-hundred million kilometres ahead. They are experiencing severe power fluctuations. Fourteen lifesigns aboard, all stable.”
Th’Shaan spotted the small ship through the viewport and adjusted their course to bring the Stallion alongside. With two such ships in the Third Squadron, he knew the design well, however he was a little rusty on the civilian variant—which was utilised for research or survey assignments by the Federation Science Council or organisations such as the Daystrom Institute. Why one would be so close to the Talarian border was uncommon, though far from unusual.
He looked at Hank, who had slipped into the third console. “Any response to hails?”
“Negative L.T. Ah could try to establish a ship-to-ship laser link.”
“Give it a go, Hank. Let’s hope someone over there knows some old school tricks.”
It took a several minutes for them to reach the drifting surveyor. As they got closer, th’Shaan could see that their warp nacelles were dark, whilst lights blinked on and off through the viewports that peppered the hull, and the impulse engines were duller than they should have been. As he continued his visual assessment of the ship in distress, a red laser shot out from the Stallion and made contact with their communications array.
There was a pause before Hank turned back to face him, a lopsided grin on his tanned face. “We’ve got a comlink.”
“Open a channel,” he ordered. After Hank nodded, he leaned forward a little further. “Survey ship, this is Lieutenant Elak th’Shaan of the Border Service. We picked up your distress call and are here to assist.”
“Lieutenant, are we glad to hear from you,”
came a relieved voice through the speakers. “We’ve been adrift for almost a day now and had no response.”
“Your message was very garbled when we picked it up; we never caught what the situation was.”
“Our power grid has gone haywire! My engineer is doing what she can, but the problem has her stumped. Any technical assistance you could provide would be appreciated.”
“You’re in luck. We’ll beam over—”
the abruptness and force of the man’s tone was like a slap in the face. “We have some very delicate experiments running and are doing everything possible to maintain specialist containment fields around them. A transporter beam could interfere with them and ruin months of work.”
Th’Shaan glanced at Hank, whose brow was tightly furled, and then Syva, whose eyebrow was raised high on her forehead. He was glad to see that the excuse didn’t sit well with the non-coms either, but they would do as instructed.
“Understood. Our ship is too large for your cargo bays, so we will have to dock with you.”
“Acknowledged. We stand ready to receive you.”
“We’ll be docking in a few minutes. Th’Shaan out.” He turned and looked at the other two in the cockpit with him, Hank was looking at him whilst Syva glanced up momentarily from her console. “That was a little weird, it’s not just me?”
“Ye got that right, L.T.”
“Civilian researchers are very protective of their work, some forcefully so,” Syva stated. “However, there was an edge of panic to his voice that seemed misplaced.”
There was a chirp from the communications board, which Hank quickly checked. “They’re ready for dockin’.”
Th’Shaan nodded, turning back to the controls. “Alright, let’s get to work. We might get some answers when we’re over there.”
* * * * *
Docking Port, S.S. Blackbird
Adrift, Tregor Sector
The docking procedure had been a textbook manoeuvre. Once they were connected, th’Shaan had powered down the engines as Syva and Mitchell had gone into the cargo hold to ready their gear. By the time the Chief Engineer joined them, they had toolkits ready, an emergency power cell sitting on the deck, whilst they each had tricorders on their belts and Syva slipped a type-one phaser discreetly into her pocket.
Th’Shaan and Mitchell carried the kits whilst Syva, due to her superior strength, took the power cell onto the research ship. They were greeted by two men, a human and an Efrosian, both in the utilitarian jumpsuits commonly worn by civilian crews.
“Welcome to the Blackbird
,” the human began, his voice identified him as the man who had spoken to them over the comlink, “I’m Captain Aaron Baxter, this is First Mate Rah-Deihavar.”
“Lieutenant Elak th’Shaan of the cutter Silverfin
. Master Chief Syva and Senior Chief Mitchell,” th’Shaan began. “Where do you need us?”
“Rah-Deihavar will take you to the engine room; my engineer has a full status report waiting for you.”
“Thank you,” th’Shaan replied politely—they were there, first and foremost, to help with repairs, not investigate their odd behaviour. They hadn’t broken any laws or protocols, so without probably cause, they would have to finish their work and then depart. Syva would of course keep a close eye on the ship’s crew—but mainly due to their mission rather than that of the Blackbird
, after all the Stallion was carrying very sensitive equipment, the nature of which was to be kept confidential until installed upon the Silverfin
The Efrosian headed down the corridor without saying anything. Th’Shaan and Mitchell followed, but she hung back for a moment to secure the Stallion, utilising the new security programming she had designed specifically for the cargo run. She was aware that Captain Baxter was still close by, and obscured the control panel from him as she input the lockdown sequence. Once done, she hefted the power cell off the deck.
“Can I give you a hand?” Baxter asked, his polite tone sounded forced.
“That will not be necessary,” she told him, before following after the others.
As she turned the corner, she glanced back and noted Baxter looking at the hatch to the Stallion. He glanced down the corridor and after seeing her, he headed away from the docking port back towards the Bridge. Unconsciously, an eyebrow rose slightly and continued onwards. Heading through the corridors, the others had disappeared from view. She maintained her usual pace, but took a note of the doors she passed, most of which were laboratories, a few store rooms and a computer suite.
She entered the engine room, just as Rah-Deihavar was making introductions. When she stepped through the door, she noticed him scowl at her for a moment, then look back at the others and told them, “I’ll leave you to it, then.”
He then moved to leave and Syva stepped to the side. Before he passed through the open hatch, he hissed at her, “Don’t
go walking around unescorted.” He didn’t allow her to reply, as he breezed past her and was gone.
“Is that type-J2 power cell?” a tall and slender, dark-haired woman asked, looking at Syva.
“Yes—” she began.
“Excellent! Can you hook it up to the secondary power junction; it’ll help keep things stable for right now, until we can get things sorted.”
Syva gave a slight nod, then quickly looked around the engine room and located the power junction. She couldn’t help but realise that yet another crewmember seemed eager for them to get to work quickly—though part of that would be because of their current problem, she could assume that it would also be to get them to leave the Blackbird
. As she got to work connecting up the power cell, Mitchell started getting their equipment unpacked, as th’Shaan and the ship’s engineer moved over to the diagnostics console and began going over the problems they were having.
Her sharp hearing allowed her to monitor the conversation, which was related only to their technical problems, nothing given away as to why they were in the Tregor System or what type of work was being carried out onboard.
At one point th’Shaan asked, “Captain Baxter said there were some experiments being run onboard that needed special containment, could they have affected the power grid?”
“No,” was the instant reply.
The Lieutenant didn’t press the matter, hearing the force and certainty in the woman’s voice. But Syva’s suspicions were raised higher than before. There was something going on onboard the small ship, something all the crew had been sworn to secrecy about.
* * * * *
Engine Room, S.S. Blackbird
Adrift, Tregor Sector
Th’Shaan didn’t like mysteries, and the little research ship was a big one. Every diagnostic he had run had been done with the ship’s engineer, Heather Daniels, watching over his shoulder. He had only been able to access all records on the propulsion systems; the computer, sensor and communication systems were all restricted, whilst the power flow diagrams showed that nothing was going to any of the labs onboard. The amount of internal security made him nervous, but every time he had raised the matter Daniels had told him that she’d fully checked the restricted sections and none of them were responsible.
A couple of times he had needed Syva to return to the Stallion to get a tool he’d forgotten or an additional power pack, Daniels had called a member of the crew to take her there and back. They had been kept on a tight leash since coming aboard, which did little to make him feel welcome. Captain Baxter calling down every thirty minutes for a progress report didn’t help matters. He suspected that as soon as they found and/or fixed the problem, the Starfleeters would be promptly escorted back to their ship.
“Lieutenant,” Syva said quietly, as she joined him at the warp core monitoring station. “Someone has tried to gain entry to the Stallion.”
He shot her a sharp look. “Are you sure?” he asked, already knowing the answer.
“Yes sir. The new security system is designed to alert me should anyone scan it or attempt to enter an authorisation code. It has just done so.”
Casting a look at Daniels, who was watching over Hank’s shoulder, he asked, “What are they up to? They don’t want us to know about them, but there’re trying to gain access to the Stallion. What if they tried to beam in?”
“The system includes a dampening field on a modulating frequency, which prevents transporter lock and sensor sweeps.”
“I have to wonder if they’ll ask us about what’s onboard,” he mused aloud.
“Time will tell, Lieutenant. Shall I return to the Stallion?”
He thought about it for a moment and shook his head. “Negative. I have every faith in your arrangements, also I don’t want to let them know about how good it is or that we know they’re snooping.”
“Baxter to engine room.”
“Daniels here. Go ahead, Captain.”
“Is Lieutenant Shaan available?”
She looked over at him, puzzled at the request. “He’s here sir.”
“Lieutenant, we’ve just picked up an anomalous reading from your warp reactor.”
Th’Shaan shared a look with Syva. With her dampening field in place, they wouldn’t be able to detect anything onboard, anomalous or otherwise.
“I locked down all systems onboard, with a telemetry link to my tricorder. It’s picked up nothing unusual, but I’ll send Master Chief Syva to check it out.”
“Mr Rah-Deihavar will be there in a few seconds to escort her. Baxter out.”
The channel closed.
Looking at Syva once more, he said softly, “It looks like they’re being more blatant that I thought they would. Run a full check; make sure that the system is still secure.”
Just then the First Mate entered, scowling at Syva once again. She gave th’Shaan a single nod. “Aye sir,” she confirmed before heading for the exit once more.
He watched her go, then turned his attention back to the warp core. What had started off as an annoying mystery was becoming more serious. They may have been Federation citizens, but he couldn’t let anyone know about their cargo. If it was threatened, he would have Syva and Mitchell return to the Stallion and stand guard, he could handle the repair work himself.
* * * * *
Docking Port, S.S. Blackbird
Adrift, Tregor Sector
Syva let Rah-Deihavar lead the way. Once again, she never saw another member of the crew. There were fourteen onboard, but she had only seen the Captain, Rah-Deihavar, Daniels and a Deltan labtech called Lahlo who’d accompanied her to the Stallion before. The ship wasn’t so large as to offer many places for ten people to conceal themselves.
Upon reaching the Stallion, she obscured the key panel and entered her authorisation, ensuring the Blackbird
crewmember couldn’t see. She heard the door release and step up to it, aware that her escort was right behind her. Stopping in the hatch, she turned towards him, standing stiffly at her full height which gave her five centimetres on him.
“Yes?” she asked, eye brow raised.
“You might need some help.”
“Doubtful. If I do however, I will call for the Lieutenant. I am afraid you are not cleared for entry.”
“What are you hiding in there?” he challenged.
“You are not cleared for that information either. Please remain here,” she told him and took a step back. Once inside the Stallion she tapped the panel next to the door which sealed and secured the hatch.
“Computer, run a level five diagnostic on the security system. Authorisation: Syva-alpha-one-one-five-epsilon.”
“Any activity on system?”
“Three authorised entries made by Master Chief Petty Officer Syva. One unauthorised entry attempt. Three sensor sweeps detected,”
the computer informed her. It chirped a moment later. “Diagnostic complete. Security system is operating within specified parameters.”
“Any problems with the warp reactor?”
“All routine diagnostics show the warp core to be operating within normal parameters.”
She stepped over to a terminal and brought up the security system. It didn’t take her long to switch to her backup security code. When she’d touched the keypad, she had felt something on the smooth surface—she suspected a sensorial membrane, which would record the code she had used. It was a trick used by some criminals and one she hadn’t had to deal with for over a decade, but she had been ready for many eventualities—including someone attempting to clone their access codes.
Syva had been in the Stallion for four minutes and three seconds, more than long enough to maintain the ruse of checking the warp core. Once complete, she exited the Stallion and stepped back into the docking port, where she used her old code one last time (after which it would be scrambled and useless to anyone).
“Well?” Rah-Deihavar asked.
“There is no problem. I ran a full diagnostic; it detected nothing out of the ordinary.”
“Alright then, I’ll get you back to engineering,” he replied with a fake smile.
* * * * *