"Then the Ferengi says to the Vulcan, 'Sounds logical to me!'"
Lieutenant Abigail Atherton did not laugh. Instead, she shook her head. "That's just not that funny."
Lieutenant (jg) Gregory Aspinall frowned, as the chief science officer seemingly dismissed his attempt at humor. "Well, it was funny when I heard it."
"Where was that?"
"In the lounge. Tommy and I were having drinks with the new guys in stellar cartography."
"Yeah. I think that joke was funnier in your head," she muttered. "Are we there yet?"
Greg grinned, having heard her but also having decided that her comment was pretty amusing. "Five minutes until we reach the beginning of the debris field, sir." An alarm flashed on his console and he reacted quickly. He called for the shield emitters to activate. "Shit, hang on!"
To answer her, the Type-7 craft rocked under the impacts. The shuttle's shields activated in time and Greg lifted the nose of the shuttle out of the edge of the field. The alarm ceased as soon as they cleared it.
"What was that?" Abbie asked, releasing her hold upon the side of the cockpit.
He sighed, letting out a held breath. "I don't know. Whatever it was, it was tagging the shields something fierce. The emitters were overloading; we nearly lost the power node."
Abbie's fingers flew across the co-pilot's console and she called up the sensor data collected during the impacts. "The computer is not recognizing it, but let's try not to dive down into the field anymore, okay? I'd hate to get stuck out here with nothing to do but listen to your lame jokes."
He winced. "And the lady scores a direct hit to my ego. Yes, sir, I can maintain our current distance. Will that be close enough for you to do what you need to do?"
"You mean, use the shuttle's sensors and hope to hell I can find out what this 'unknown element' is? I hope so." Abbie continued to check her readings but frowned as the computer continued to give her limited data. "I'm running a level four diagnostic on the sensors," she noted. "They may have gotten damaged."
When the diagnostic came back without noting a problem, she shook her head. "The computer is completely flummoxed. All I can tell is that it's unstable and obviously rather volatile. We need to contact the ship."
=/\= =/\= =/\= =/\= =/\=
"Incoming transmission from the shuttle Garrovick
, Commander," reported Andrew Reynolds from the tactical station.
Jesse Kincaid nodded. "Put it through, Mister Reynolds. On screen."
"Aye, sir," replied the chief warrant officer. The viewscreen switched from the two freighters to the cockpit of the shuttle.
Greg stared back at them wearing a concerned expression. "Commander."
"Actually, sir, Lieutenant Atherton wanted me to transmit some data to you that we picked up on the outskirts of the debris field. Also, I'd like to recommend that all shuttles maintain their distance from the field."
Kincaid furrowed his brow. "Explain."
Atherton's voice carried over the signal. "Sir, it's important that you issue that order, right away. Whatever it is, it nearly took out our shields. According to the sensor data, an unprotected hull has no chance of surviving a direct impact with it."
"Mister Reynolds," called Kincaid sharply. "Pass that order along to all shuttles, now." As he did so, Kincaid nodded. "All right, we've transmitted the order. Did you want to send that data along, now?
"Transmitting it, now, sir," said Greg with a nod.
's executive officer walked up toward the tactical station and watched as the information floated over the display. "It's coming through, Lieutenants. Until we know more, maintain your distance."
"XO," said Reynolds. "All but seven shuttles have reported acknowledgement of your order."
"It's possible that this unknown element is interfering with communications, Commander," suggested Atherton.
Kincaid eyed the screen briefly while his arms folded over his chest. "Keep sending the order, Mister Reynolds. And raise the captain. Hopefully, she's through the dessert course by now."
=/\= =/\= =/\= =/\= =/\=
Captain Krystine Leone smiled across the table at Captain Paul Longshore. "Well, you certainly know how to show a couple of girls a good time, Captain."
Lieutenant Commander Ariel Elannis offered a smile of her own, which she noticed had a more desirable effect on the older man. "Absolutely. It's nice to be reminded how good real food tastes every once in a while."
Longshore leaned over and said conspiratorially, "One of the benefits of being a freighter captain is that you always have first crack at the fresh stuff. It sure beats that replicated crap they force down your throats on those big Starfleet cruisers."
"I happen to like the replicated crap," said Ariel, pushing out her lower lip in a small pout.
"Oh, well, I didn't mean to suggest that it was crap, Commander," replied Longshore as he softened his tone.
Leone brought her glass to her lips to obscure the smirk behind it. It never failed to amuse her when her best friend decided to use her skills to her advantage.
Ariel's hand moved over Longshore's. "I'm sure you didn't, Paul. Like I said, it's nice to be reminded of the real thing."
Longshore's mood brightened considerably.
to Leone," chirped her commbadge.
Without hesitation, Leone touched her fingers to activate it. "Leone, here."
"Sir," called her first officer, "there's been a development in the investigation. Are you in a secure location?"
"One moment, Jesse," she replied. She wiped her mouth and excused herself from the table before moving into the corridor outside the captain's mess. She found a stowage compartment used by the galley staff located a meter away to be empty and entered it after making certain she was alone. "Go ahead."
"Lieutenant Atherton transmitted information about an unknown element discovery that the shuttle's computer failed to identify. However, the computer would not release the information to her, because she lacked security clearance," he informed her. His tone grew dark with every word. "I had to use my alpha-two code to unlock the data."
Leone's brow furrowed. "Spare me the dramatics, please. What did you find out?"
"Sir, if we're reading this data correctly, and Lieutenant Bartlet believes we are, the debris field has bilitrium and trilithium resin scattered across five parsecs of space along our flight path."
"Wonderful," she said, closing her eyes. Leone brought her hand to her brow and winced. "Order all shuttles to keep out of the field and have them collect as much data as possible."
"Already done, sir."
She nodded her approval to no one. "Good. Then upgrade our traffic advisory to the highest possible class. We're going to need to drop buoys to mark off the area."
"We've launched all available craft to picket the debris field," replied Kincaid over the commlink. "None of them are equipped to deploy those buoys, sir."
Leone grinned. "That's not entirely accurate, Jesse. We have one more auxiliary craft that we've not utilized, yet."
"Prepare to beam me and Ariel back to the ship," she said, leaving the compartment and walking back toward Longshore's mess. "Load a full complement of buoys into my yacht and prepare it for immediate departure."
=/\= =/\= =/\= =/\= =/\=
Freefall happened to be Tommy's least favorite state of being. Since the Zero-G Operations certification required by the Academy, he hoped with all his might that he would never have to test that certification in the field. Of course, being assigned to a starship greatly increased the chances of having to operate in vacuum, but he figured that he might avoid it somehow.
His eyes drifted down toward his feet as he stared into the starry abyss, unable to fix his eyes on anything before feeling a wave of vertigo begin to overtake him. Tommy immediately shut his eyes to prevent the sensation to overwhelm him. His situation being what it was, he could not allow any further obstacle to his survival, especially one that was of his own making.
"Warning," intoned the suit's computer, "pressure suit is damaged."
"Run level-five diagnostic on all systems." His voice sounded hollow within the helmet.
He shivered within the tightness of the suit against his uniform, wondering what else could possibly go wrong. He thought his luck might have been used up as the shuttle's escape transporter ripped him away from the explosion in time to complete the dematerialization sequence. His fears were confirmed when the diagnostic was completed.
The small display began to show problem areas within the suit. "Life support systems on backup unit. Primary system disengaged due to unit removal or possible unknown unit damage. Subspace transceiver assembly is damaged and offline."
He winced. That was very bad news. "Uh, run a level-three diagnostic on the subspace transceiver assembly."
As the computer ran through the diagnostic, he touched the display to call up the inventory list of the suit. Without the ability to transmit a signal, his chances of being found were lessened pretty dramatically. He hoped that he was wrong, but waited patiently for the computer to complete its task.
"Diagnostic complete. Transmission node severely damaged."
So, he can receive a subspace transmission, but not send one. "Computer, activate the receiver node and use short-range communications to send out broadband distress signal at one minute intervals."
"Acknowledged; distress signal transmitting."
"Ensign O'Day, I'm going to assume that you're still alive..."
He nearly jumped within the suit as Tallan's voice called to him. "I am, Senior Chief," replied Tommy. "Can you hear me?"
"Because I know you're not dumb enough to get yourself killed on your first assignment out of the Academy."
Tommy could not help but curl the corners of his lips upward as her heard the Andorian's terse words over his helmet.
"I'm lowering the rate of my suit's life support systems to conserve energy..."
The ensign's eyes widened as he stared down at his suit's control panel. It was a great idea, and he made the same adjustment.
"... but I'm going to record a message and have it retransmit at one minute intervals."
He grinned. Great minds, he told himself.
"Hopefully, you'll lock onto my signal and make contact."
Could he try to locate him? No, it was a subspace transmission and he was unable to use the suit's computer to that extent. Much in the same way that they would most likely find the Senior Chief before him, since his subspace transceiver was undamaged. They were out of immediate sensor range of one another, it seemed, and without some sort of propulsion system, there was very little chance they would be able to at least pool their resources together in some fashion.
Tommy set the computer to record his voice for the signal, and set it to cycle every sixty seconds. In as clear a voice as he could muster, he spoke, "This is Starfleet Ensign Thomas O'Day of the Federation starship Farragut
to any vessel within range. I am transmitting a general distress call..."