Canopus Station
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Hard Contact

Posted on Mon Mar 15th, 2021 @ 6:07pm by Captain Benjamin Ingram Dr & Lieutenant Commander Mara Ricci & Lieutenant Commander Meilin Jiang & Lieutenant Murray Jacobs & Senior Chief Petty Officer Sharona Deluna

Mission: S2:3: Snow Drift
Location: Calamity & Catastrophe, Outer Carpathia Star System
Timeline: MD 1 1800

The USS Resolute fell towards the two ice giants. Banded in grey's and blues, with sickly green streaks highlighting the different cloud layers. The two planets of Calamity and Catastrophe were a raid breed, even for Messier 4: two worlds that orbited one another around a central gravitational sweet spot.

A chance coincidence, or something more? In M4 such things were not for granted.

On the bridge of the Norway class light cruiser, Benjamin Ingram sat in the centre chair. It wasn't the command throne of a Century or Luna class, but it was what it was, and Ingrams were not beggars.

"We should be approaching the debris belt that our new squatters have been throwing into the orbit of these worlds," he looked to the science and communications stations. "Commander Meilin, let's see about finding out what litter is being left for us to clean up. And Chief Deluna, let's have you begin your attempts at communication. Everyone else stand by."

He turned to the chair next to his, the one usually reserved for an XO or specialist. But in this case, held a Cardassian.

"And you...don't press any buttons."

On-screen one of the pieces of debris came into view. Pictured against the backdrop of the two dark coloured ice giants, it looked like it was made out of coal. It glistened in the waning light of the distant star, like ice. A shard a few meters in length with a rocky protrusion ringing it near the base. A composite image of other pieces of debris showed a similar shape, if not an exact one.

"We're not detecting any active sensors from those are we?" Ingram asked.

"Not as yet," Meilin confirmed. "But if we didn't know better, there would be no reason to suspect they were vessels. Sensors are showing a high concentration of ferrous metals with a solid ultra-dense core, which is not conducive to any known starship design." She paused long enough to assess further sensor collation and arched an eyebrow. "Interesting. There's an organic residue with synthesized elements among the debris. Fragments are not of uniform size, but the ratio of materials is consistent enough to conclude these celestials objects decidedly did not originate in a stellar nursery. They were constructed."

Sharona listened and waited, but so far, there were no known lifeforms to communicate with.

"Just inert manufacture debris..." Ingram mused thoughtfully. "It could be part of some sort of short-range passive sensor net? Well in either case we're going to pass within three kilometers of a handful of them when we enter orbit, so we should be able to get a good idea of what they are with a more detailed scan."

He tapped his armrest controls, and part of the main viewer changed to a close-up of the three comet ships. The middle one was nearly entirely denuded of craft, looking like a dumbbell with the massive engine assemblies at either end connected by a spine that looked ready to snap. The two other comet ships had yet to disintegrate into their component parts if indeed they were capable of such a thing. Even close up, looking at them, you'd be hard-pressed to call them anything other than lozenge-shaped rocks. Planet cracker's at their size, but nothing special.

"What have we tried by way of communication?" Ingram asked, craning his neck around to look at Deluna.

"Standard hailing frequencies on all channels, including the language matrixes collected from all known species in this...area,"Sharona said.

"Which is in any detail just the one, given the Xilosian's are the only one we've actually had any prolonged peaceful contact with." Ingram mused. "What about number theory? Atomic weight VS's commonality in the known universe. Basic stuff any spacefaring species should know. Nature doesn't evolve a fusion drive."

He stood, stretching a little as he did so.

"I refuse to believe the ancient Vulcan saying about 'some people not wanting to talk'. I have it, as a matter of fact, getting some to shut up is a life work," he grumbled.

"Every form that we have the capacity to transmit, including audio waves and light transmissions," Sharona said.

“Maybe they can’t detect any of our frequencies,” suggested Mara. “Maybe it needs to be higher- or lower. Or maybe they can’t detect frequencies at all.”

"If they couldn't detect frequencies at all," Sharona said. "They'd be out here alone and blind. Trust me when I say I'm broadcasting on all frequencies that this station is capable of, Commander."

“All I’m suggesting is that maybe, if they aren’t answering, it’s because they don’t hear us,” replied Mara. “And maybe we should try something else- like lights. Or,” she added, another idea coming to her, “maybe they can hear us and are responding, but we can’t hear them.” She shrugged. “Just a thought,” she finished.

The Selelvian looked at the human and wondered if Ingrams would have her killed if she used The Knack on the woman in a rather crude way. Such as suggesting she go have sex with herself. Instead, she merely responded. "I'm uncertain if we can receive them, Commander, but surely you're aware that when I said audio waves, I meant sound."

"Still no active signals," Meilin said, opting out of the unusual sidebar in order to stay on task. "If these were guided, we may need to consider the inexplicable: an external force brought them, or their means of navigation is outside any measurable spectra--psionic perception, for example."

Who’s the alien tech expert here, again? thought Mara, annoyed. But she didn’t say it out loud. Instead, she opted to ignore Deluna’s comments. “Which would explain why they don’t hear or don’t answer us,” she agreed with Meilin.

"It's also possible they are receiving and do not care to respond," Meilin said. "So far we cannot rule out any possibility, except that if they are transmitting it is not through the EM spectrum which would pick up anything in the light or sound bandwidths."

Mara merely nodded, chewing on her lower lip. If this were the case, communicating with them was going to be extremely difficult.

Ingram raised an eyebrow at the exchange. Whilst he was of the opinion that being too chummy with the lower ranks was the right way to go about becoming one of those captains, he was wondering about bringing security up to the bridge to keep things above board.

Then he remembers he didn't have a security officer. Or at least not one he had to make an effort to remember the name of.

"In either case," Ingram said with weight to his words. "We're literally standing on their doorstep flashing our proverbial fans in a dance even a Vulcan would find attention-grabbing. Now-"

As he spoke this the view screen, which was still locked on to the nearest of the pieces of debris, washed out in a flash of light. Yellow alert light began to blink on the bulkheads as hard radiation slammed into the hull, followed a second later by the oscillating ringing of a bell being struck.

Is this how they communicate? wondered Mara as her eyes darted across the console before her. “Shields raised and holding,” she reported. “Damage negligible. It... seems they aren’t interested in hurting us. Or are incapable of doing so. I can’t tell which.”

"If they are communicating, I think we can assume that was not a hello," Ingram mused as he returned to his seat, and studied the data. "Looks like when we passed into the magnetosphere of the ice giant we triggered a response. The magnetic field actually flexed, enough to reorientate the debris and then...my word."

On the view screen a false colour image of the debris appeared, with concentric lines pressing around it like rivers pressing around an island. Slowly the rivers, the magnetic field lines surrounding the debris, encroached more and more on the debris until they seemed to touch somewhere within it.

Then a flash of overloaded sensors.

"Non-nuclear fission. The magnetic field of the ice giant was flexed just in the right way so that the material of the mine underwent a fission event. That is a level of technological precision that is daunting. Not to mention the hard radiation and the ultra-dense impactor struck the shields. If they can do that to the entire field," Ingram muttered as he queried the computer. "We're close enough to fifty of them."

Mara's brain automatically started trying to work out how to recreate the event and she had to force herself to stop trying before she went absolutely insane. "Now how do we say, 'that was totally flipping awesome' in radiation?" she muttered.

"Given the uniform composition, there was no way the detonation was unintentional," Meilin said. "We need to set the shields to metaphasic rotations to match the flux of the debris field."

"Meilin you came up with the idea, you get to implement-" Ingram began, before the ship staggered under the sudden barrage of a trio of small stars igniting in close proximity to them. Radiation soaked into the shields, and the ultra-dense cores of each mine hammered into the ship like considerable force.

"I don't think we're communicating, I think we're trespassing and have set off the motion sensor," Ingram grunted. "Meilin, get the shields harmonics matched to the local magnetic environment. Mara, more power to the shields and structural integrity. Miss Deluna, given the lack of responses could we be dealing with an automated system? Something primed with responses, not reflexes?"

Nodding her agreement, Meilin said, "It's not the matching that is the issue, but maintaining the match throughout the harmonic flux. We may have to write an algorithm for this..."

"Any sort of response like this, automated or otherwise, is clearly a 'No Solicitors' message which would be best headed," Sharona said. "Or we could respond in kind and start a potential war...or be speaking their language." Did the Selelvian woman, normally very pale, look a little green?

"Helm take us in closer. I don't care how hardy they might seem the debris fields don't get too close to their ships," Ingram instructed as the pitch of the Resolute's engines changed as the ship nosed in towards the dark cloud tops. "Miss Deluna, let me be clear: we were here first. We're just interrogating our new neighbors over what the hell they are doing squatting in the out system. In fact, I have no doubt somewhere on board, there is a fellow in a purpose Diplomatic Corp tunic replicating a fruit basket."

"Commander Calida is standing by back on Canopus Station awaiting confirmation of First Contact," Meilin reminded.

Sharona turned towards Ingram to say something, but then she doubled over and vomited on his shoes before falling forward into him.

"Medical team to the bridge." Meilin had pressed her combadge and locked the sensor station in one swoop. While she was no doctor, Meilin was well-versed in biological hazards and contaminants due to her cross-training in Science and Tactical protocols. "Try not to move," she said to Sharona as she began scanning her with a standard tricorder, then added more gently, "and keep breathing, slow and deep." After a moment, she stepped closer to Ingram in order to speak more discreetly. "I am not a doctor, Captain, but the chief appears to be suffering from acute radiation poisoning. I suggest going to Yellow Alert until all risks are mitigated."

He'd had his feet up on a biobed, nose deep in a dog-eared old paperback novel about pirates when the request came through. Sleeping Beauty of the Science Department if he wasn't mistaken. And since the CMO was back on the station, Murray had shoved himself out of standby mode and into relative action. The scent of puke caught his nostrils as he entered the bridge, and took him straight to Deluna's side. "What happened?" Murray asked, looking from Comms to Science with a critical eye. No one else seemed to be sick...

"We're currently flying through a somewhat energetic area of space. Our shields are having to rotate to avoid setting off a minefield, and that means certain wavelengths of radiation are getting through," Ingram was now stood beside the helm, directing the navigation of the Resolute. "Should be through the last of them in a few seconds-"

The hull rang like a bell, and the deck shook.

"One of the penetrators fired off by the mines got through the shields," Ingram said as he gripped the back of the helmsman's chair. "Hull breach on deck 3."

“Secondary seals are holding, force fields also in place,” Mara reported after tapping a couple of buttons.

"Received and understood." Murray acknowledged Ingram's swift sit-rep with a curt nod as he moved to help and guide Sharona to sit up and breathe calmly. A quick scan confirmed the Captain's rough diagnosis. "I've got ya," he told Deluna, pressing a hypospray to her neck. "This'll start to work in a minute," Murray promised the Senior Chief, a firm hand at her back in comforting support. "You're gonna be alright." Better than Ingram's shoes, he hoped.

Sharona groaned and sat up, but she looked like death warmed over. "W-what?" she managed.

"Just sit here for a minute," Murray repeated the essentials, quietly and gently. "Let the meds kick in. You'll be okay." So long as they get the shields working right, he added in his own head.

Mara was so distracted by the doctor’s gentle nature- because seriously she hadn’t ever met a doctor that calm and understanding before- that she nearly missed the beeping at her console. “Force fields are beginning to fail,” she reported. “I’ve got my team working to stabilize them, but... we might want to evacuate that section and seal it off until we can stabilize it.”

"Agree. Evacuate those sections, and then seal them off. Then deactivate the forcefields, they'll only be draining power if they're doing us no better," Ingram said. On the viewscreen, the alien vessel now loomed large. This close it was easy to assume they were orbiting close to a comet, though an oddly proportioned one.

"Take us in closer to the end cap there."

The view changed again, as the came around the end of the dumbbell-shaped spacecraft. Now they were within bare meters of the colossal drive cones. Here there were signs of artificiality, the concentric rings of cooling viens and magnetic confinement systems. There were a great many of them, enough to seemed to speed this vessel on its way and then slow it down upon its arrival.

And in the centre, nestled between the mighty drives, a porous looking conical structure, made of regular geometric shapes locked together.

"That could be some sort of maintenance access," Ingram said, gesturing to the structure that was nearly three times as large as the Norway class starship. In all of this, his attention swung briefly to Deluna. "Will she be capable of fulfilling her role Doctor?"

It took a few long seconds for Murray to realise that the Captain was addressing him, not because he hadn't slipped fully into the role he was playing but due to the intensity of his attention currently divided exclusively between his patient and the screen's impressive display of the up close and personal unknown craft. Jacobs immediately looked down to take stock of Sharona's pupils while giving her hand a firm squeeze. "She will," said the Rish medic. "But I'll stay close. She'll need more treatment before she's back to full health." And I want to know what's going on, he added, in the privacy of his own mind.

"Thank you," Sharona managed, noting the lack of concern from Ingram.

"Kinda my reason for being," said Murray, words wrapped with a warm smile. "Can you stand?"

"I can," Sharona said a bit weakly, but came to her feet. "I also know that audio means sound."

Murray moved with her, standing to Deluna's left and slipping his right arm under her shoulders in support. "I gotcha," Murray promised. "And... uh.. yeah, you got that right." His gaze tripped in Ingram's direction in a silent query as to why that was a thing.

"Keep her on her feet Doctor. She's mission-critical, and her loss would be marginally mission hampering," Ingram said softly. He gestured to a spiney protrusion radiating from the spire. "Those don't look load-bearing...but if we spread the tractor beam out we should be able to latch on?"

"If I have to hold her upright myself, Cap," confirmed Murray with a curt nod. "I'll need a little time in Sick Bay though." To Sharona's ear, he simply whispered. "Marginally?" She could hear that smile wrapped about the rhetorical question.

Watching Dr. Jacobs with Sharona, Mara was struck by how kind he was. A thought flitted across her mind unbidden. Too bad I’m already with someone. What did that even mean? She loved Spires. Why would she regret being with him? She glanced at Meilin. The thought had been so troubling to her that she desperately needed to talk to her friend.

But, the beeping at her console told her it would have to wait. “Affected sections have been evacuated and sealed,” she reported. “Shutting down power to the force fields and rerouting power to the shields.” An almost imperceptible shudder ran through the Resolute as the air in the affected area vented into the vacuum of space. “Seals are holding strong,” she finished.

"Good," Ingram said. "We'll begin prepping for the away mission as soon as the good Doctor gives Miss Deluna a full bill of health. Mara, Meilin, I want you working on upgrading the EVA suits we have onboard for the environment within the structure. Scans show a deep cold, heavy radiation and somewhat caustic ammonia laced atmosphere. Almost a frozen Venus. I'd suggest a dope lead as a passive shield. Limited automation. The magnetic flux will play merry havoc with computers and comm's inside."

Meilin leaned over to Mara and whispered, "The latest jump from back home included new HAZMAT upgrades to the EV suits that should be easy to implement in a matter of moments." To Ingram, she gave a demure half-smile. "Yes, Captain Ingram."

How exactly had Mara not known that? She was chief engineer! She gave Meilin a sideways grin. “Might take awhile,” she added slyly. “We should probably get right on it.”

 

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