(02 of 19)
(c) 2004 GLG
“Captain’s Log: supplemental. Having picked up the last of the diplomatic teams, we are returning to Earth. I fear troubling times ahead, and I can’t but help wonder whether these diplomats will make things better, or make them worse. But as of right now, they’re giving me a headache.” The young starship captain pressed a button on the arm of his chair, then pressed another.
The speaker whistled, then a voice said “Sickbay here.”
“Doctor, I hope you have something good for a headache.”
“Of course, Captain. I have a patient right now, but I can squeeze you into my schedule.”
“Outstanding. I’ll be right down.” He pressed the button again. “Lieutenant, you have the con,” he announced as he stood.
“Sir,” a pleasant female voice behind him interrupted, “I’m picking up a signal ahead ... very faint ... it’s a distress call ... audio only ... the survey ship Freemont has suffered a breakdown in their life-support systems. I’m responding on all hailing frequencies.”
The ship’s commanding officer sat back down, thinking ‘oh, not now; not with all these diplomats onboard.’ He sighed, and turned to the science officer, “Anything, Mister ...?” He stopped himself, for his senior science officer and trusted friend wasn’t there. His mind drew a blank for a moment as he tried to remember the young Ensign’s name.
She peered into the shielded viewer, adjusting the controls on the side, for several moments. She turned and replied, “Indeterminate readings, sir. There’s a possible warp trail in the system ahead -- a Type-G star with three gas giants, but no habitable worlds.”
He considered the possibilities, weighed his options, and made a decision. “Helm, adjust course to rendezvous,” he spun the command chair around, “Any response to our hails?”
The Lieutenant at the communications console frowned, which looked unnatural on her dark complexion, “No, sir. Their signal seems to be on automatic -- it keeps repeating over and over.”
“Course plotted and laid in, sir. Intercept in ten minutes. Transporters and rescue teams standing by.”
The Captain acknowledged this, pleased with the efficiency of his crew. He made a ship-wide announcement of the situation, called Sickbay to inform the Doctor he’d see him later, then sat back to wait. Waiting was always the hardest part. He was a man of action. He wanted to do something, anything, but there was nothing else to do except wait. The great starship entered the outer reaches of the solar system and dropped to sub-light speed. The substitute science officer reported a ship ahead, orbiting the largest moon of one of the gas giants. The deck-plates shuddered beneath their feet briefly. “What was that?” the Captain asked.
“That ... vibration. I’ve felt that before.”
She turned, consulted her instrument panel, then suggested, “Unknown, sir. A gravitational flux, perhaps.”
“No,” he said slowly, “that was no gravitational flux. It felt more like ...” he paused.
“It felt like,” offered the helmsman, “a ripple in time.”
The Ensign raised a dubious eyebrow, “A ripple in time, sir?” Obviously, the helmsman had done something with the controls. They were putting her on. Of all times to play a practical joke, now, during a rescue operation? She turned back to her scanners. “Picking up life-signs now, sir.”
A ship appeared on the main view screen, a huge cylinder longer than the starship, with “SS FREEMONT” painted along its length. The converted cargo freighter hung in space over the moon like an injured whale trapped in a fishnet. A tingle ran down the Captain’s spine. “Something’s not right.”
They closed on the survey ship. It still did not answer their hails. “Picking up debris of some kind, sir.”
“On screen,” he ordered. The view flickered as it zoomed in on one of the objects. “Minefield! Helm! Get us out ....”