Chapter 6 <cont'd>
Engineering Support Deck, USS Europa
“I hate to say this,” Lar’ragos admitted, “but under the circumstances my duty demands that I ask if you’re absolutely certain of the veracity of what you’re telling me?”
“Completely,” Ashok answered in a low voice, or as low a voice as the giant was able to muster.
The pair stood at the safety railing on Deck 13, looking down on main engineering from two decks above where the new reactor chamber thrummed with energy.
Lar’ragos’ expression grew hooded as the engineer’s assessment served to corroborate his existing suspicions. “Let me see if I have this straight. You’re saying the new engine can’t possibly be generating enough additional power to accelerate us to transwarp speeds?”
“Not precisely,” Ashok clarified. “The new warp core produces significantly more power than Ra-Havreii’s original design, some twenty-seven percent more. However, that increase is still insufficient to propel the ship to the velocities we’ve seen demonstrated.”
“How are we doing it then? Happy thoughts?” Lar’ragos fumed, his tension mounting.
“I originally believed that the modifications the commodore had made to the navigational deflector were serving to ‘slide’ the ship into transwarp space, something akin to how the shape of a wing creates lift in a Class-M atmosphere. My recent evaluation of the new core’s functioning now leads me to believe this is not the case.”
Ashok stepped over to an auxiliary engineering console, bringing it to life with a touch of his hand. “The power output of the core is several orders of magnitude higher than what the combination of the constituent matter and anti-matter elements should be able to produce, no matter how creative the dilithium sequencing.”
A cross section of Europa
appeared on the screen above the console, highlighting the ship’s main navigational deflector. “My assessment of the energy ‘footprint’ of the new configuration indicates that the power generated in the warp core is actually being shunted into the deflector, which is creating a tertiary graviton beam whose presence is being masked by the deflector’s primary output.”
Lar’ragos blinked. “If that’s where primary warp energy is being diverted, what the hell powering our warp nacelles?”
A simulated beam lanced from the deflector cross-section, striking an unremarkable point out ahead of the ship.
“This graviton beam is tunneling into subspace, though I’m unable to ascertain precisely how far into the strata it’s penetrated.”
The graviton beam was suddenly enveloped in a larger discharge, this one emanating from the point at which the graviton beam lanced into the subspace domain. The enveloping discharge traced back along the length of the graviton beam like an energetic sheath to be absorbed by the deflector dish.
“This is where the power comes from to propel Europa
to transwarp velocities,” Ashok explained.
“We’re funneling energy from… subspace?” Lar’ragos asked.
“It would appear so,” Ashok answered calmly. “I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that this technique is very similar to how Commodore Sandhurst explained Amon power generation methods. They are believed to siphon their power from the barriers between subspace dimensions that are comprised of pure energy.”
Lar’ragos let out a long sigh, leaning his back against the bulkhead as he worked to come to terms with this revelation. “How did we not know about this before? Wouldn’t a basic systems diagnostic have uncovered this setup by now?”
“Lieutenant Shanthi has discovered that the ship’s diagnostic subroutines have been compromised by invasive programming. In fact, it appears nearly every computer-related system onboard has been subjected to very minute, highly precise software modifications designed to give off false readings.”
The XO looked dumbfounded. “Is it possible that this is the work of a foreign entity?”
Ashok lowered his head as he delivered the unwelcome news. “Very unlikely, sir. Shanthi has been attempting to diagnose the full scope of the re-coding, and it’s his opinion that only someone with a detailed knowledge of Starfleet engineering protocols could have carried this off undetected for such a time.”
Lar’ragos closed his eyes. “And if you and Shanthi suspected this, why am I hearing about it only now?”
“Counselor Liu is actually the one whose suspicions spawned the investigation, Commander. We initially believed that you were directly involved, and that Sandhurst had pursued the commodore’s position and then transferred Captain T’Ser to avoid her uncovering his plot.”
The El Aurian wheeled around to face the Bolian, his face tight with barely restrained emotion. “And why do you think that I’d have had anything
to do with such a plan!”
Ashok was unimpressed with Pava’s anger and answered simply, “You have always been fiercely loyal to Sandhurst, and given your prior lack of… restraint, it seemed reasonable to conclude that you were elevated to the XO’s position in order to secure control of the ship.”
“What made you change your mind?” Lar’ragos asked after a moment.
“We had no choice,” Ashok replied. “If Sandhurst is still being controlled or influenced by the Amon, that makes him remarkably dangerous. You are the only one of us who might be able to talk him out of this destructive course, or if necessary, outfight him.”
Lar’ragos pursed his lips thoughtfully at that. “This is a good start, Lieutenant, but if I’m going to challenge his authority, I’m going to need more than suppositions to back my play.”
Main Bridge, USS Europa
“We are secured from transwarp, sir,” Lightner called out.
“Full scans, Mister Shanthi,” Sandhurst ordered.
The waxing crescent of a ringed gas giant lay before them, its atmosphere a banded mix of blues, greys and assorted shades of white. Europa
had taken a brief detour from their intended intercept with the Ferou to investigate the status of the Amon cube which had gone to ground here some weeks ago. Two of Europa’s
own stealth recon probes had been dispatched to keep watch, as well as one of TFV’s long-range advanced surveillance probes.
None of the reconnaissance assets had detected any activity in the gas giant’s rings where the Amon ship had sought refuge, presumably to conduct repairs unmolested.
Shanthi scanned the vicinity of the gas giant, working his way inwards with increasingly intense sensor sweeps until he had accounted for every square meter of the ice and meteoroid rubble that comprised the rings.
“No sign of the Amon craft, Commodore,” Shanthi reported at last.
Sandhurst’s expression tightened. “Something the size of a Borg cube doesn’t just wander out of a star system without someone noticing, especially not the focused sensors of multiple probes,” he fairly growled, his voice laden with unaccustomed disappointment.
Shanthi shrugged apologetically. “Nevertheless, sir, there’s no indications of the cube here or anywhere else in this system.”
“Sir,” Lar’ragos spoke up from the Tactical console. “It’s possible the other Amon tribe utilized whatever technology brought the ship here from the Large Magellanic Cloud to forcibly recover the cube.”
Sandhurst nodded reluctantly. “Maybe.”
Liu glanced back at Lar’ragos from his chair to the commodore’s left, something unsaid passing between the men via facial expressions. The counselor turned back to address Sandhurst. “We still know very little about Amon capabilities, sir. Wherever they’ve got to, I’m sure it won’t be the last we’ve heard of them.”
“Undoubtedly,” Sandhurst muttered distractedly before looking to the Flight Control station. “Mister Lightner, resume our course to IP with the Ferou at transwarp.”
“Aye, sir. Course plotted and laid in.”
“Engage,” Sandhurst instructed.
The system fell behind them in the hyper-relativistic tunnel of swirling light.
Jefferies Tube Junction Delta-41, Deck 15, USS Europa
“Well,” Liu said dryly, “this is cozy.”
Ashok was even more uncomfortable in the Jefferies tube junction, given his size, and merely stared at the counselor with unmasked irritation.
“Can’t be helped,” Lar’ragos answered as he clambered into the junction from the other direction, sealing the hatch behind him. All three men were missing their combadges, and a device unfamiliar to Liu sat in the center of the claustrophobic compartment on a small tripod. “It’s the only place aboard where I thought we’d be reasonably secure from prying eyes.”
Ashok added for Liu’s benefit, “The primary warp plasma conduits run directly beneath us, which makes internal sensors non-functional here.”
Liu nodded, looking somewhat relieved at the news. “So… I’m guessing there’s more to the story of the missing Amon than the sensors might indicate?”
“Another link in the chain we’ve been observing, Counselor,” Lar’ragos replied heavily.
Liu frowned. “No, don’t tell me. More computer hi-jinks?”
“Yes,” Ashok confirmed. “We found indications the sensor telemetry from all three probes stationed in the system had been tampered with.”
“Meaning?” Liu prompted.
“It appears that the probes were compromised, likely to allow the Amon cube to depart the system undetected.”
“That revelation, along with the inconsistencies in the new transwarp drive and the modifications to the bussard collectors and EPS subsystems draw a pretty damning picture,” Liu summarized.
“Wait,” Lar’ragos said, holding up a hand. “What EPS modifications?”
“An auxiliary EPS line from engineering to the commodore’s quarters has been adjusted to an unorthodox configuration to carry power on an unusual frequency,” Ashok explained. “The line draws power from a newly modified quantum-matrix filtration buffer installed in the warp nacelles’ bussard collectors.”
Lar’ragos’ jaw tightened. “Any ideas as to why?”
Liu’s stare of disbelief was impossible to miss. “Commander, you can’t be serious. You know exactly
what this is! He’s jerry-rigged the damn bussard collectors to draw in the energy signature the Amon feed on, and then has it delivered to his quarters via the EPS system.”
“I can’t accept that!” Lar’ragos blasted back. “If he were still feeding on that energy, it would show up in his medical scans.”
“Would it, Commander?” Ashok injected. “We believe he’s already compromised multiple engineering systems to include communications, not to mention whatever he’s done to the probes that were supposed to be observing the Amon cube. How difficult would it be for someone of Sandhurst’s abilities to alter the medical diagnostic sensors and the LMH’s programming?”
Liu pressed, “Before she left for Valiant
, Captain T’Ser told me that Sandhurst was still exhibiting physiological signs consistent with exposure to the Amon life-essence energy, enhanced strength, for one.”
Lar’ragos’ legs gave out, depositing him on his backside in the cramped junction with his back pressed against the wall. He cradled his head in his hands, his elbows propped on his knees.
“Pava,” Liu said gently but insistently, “the changes to the bussard collectors were made before
the attack on the En-Il-Que. All those people we killed… he was feeding off of them. That wasn’t a raid, it was a hunting expedition.”
An aching silence followed that both Liu and Ashok were unwilling to challenge as Lar’ragos struggled to find his emotional equilibrium.
“We can’t allow this to continue,” the XO said finally. “He could turn First Contact with the Ferou into a blood-soaked tragedy.”
“What do we do?” Liu inquired.
“Confront him,” Lar’ragos answered heavily. “In force.”