“Approaching Regula, Captain,” reported the helmswoman, glancing over her displays with dark brown eyes.
“Slow to impulse, Lieutenant D’Sarl,” Captain Parkhurst ordered. D’Sarl’s fingers moved across the console, her green skin catching the light from the indicators. The USS Farraday dropped out of warp, bringing the pocked surface of the Regula planetoid into sharp relief on the viewscreen.
“Analysis, Lieutenant Skirov,” Parkhurst said over his shoulder.
“Planetoid is D-class, no surface atmosphere. Initiating scans for survey now.” Ecaterina Skirov was normally more excited at mapping new celestial bodies, but her enthusiasm was watered by the fact that this was likely to be the Farraday‘s final voyage. Since the loss of her sister ship, the USS Kelvin, and several other accidents and encounters in the two and a half decades following that fatal incident, Starfleet had been reevaluating the longevity of ships dedicated solely to survey and scientific missions. A great debate had gone on back and forth about Starfleet’s mission, if they were truly a peace-keeping armada or if their focus should become more militarily pro-active.
A flashing indicator on Skirov’s console brought her attention back to the task at hand. “Captain, I’m picking up localized distortions around and below the planetoid’s surface. Scans indicate there’s some traces of a type of matter inconsistant with the planetoid’s composition.”
“Inconsistent?” Parkhurst asked, turning his chair to face the science station. His sideburns made his expression seem more dour than his actual mood. He, like Ecaterina, was a scientist first and foremost. However, he was also a Starfleet captain, and his ship had been given a schedule to which he had to adhere. While anomolies were what brought humanity out into the void, there was also protocol to consider.
“Aye, sir,” Ecaterina replied, adjusting her glasses. Her allergy to Retinax-5 had been a concern during her years at Starfleet Academy, but after acing her exams, Parkhurst had requested her presence aboard the Farraday personally. “The traces appear to be minute, and their patterns seem to point a form of dark matter. I will continue to investigate.”
“Captain,” came the voice of Chambers, the officer at tactical, “comm’s picking up some traffic.”
Looking at Skirov, who shrugged, Parkhurst nodded. “Let’s hear it, Ensign.”
Chambers keyed the speakers. The transmission was mostly static and white noise. Chambers manipulated his console and shook his head. “I’m trying to filter out the background noise, sir…”
“Let me try,” Skirov volunteered, and after a few moments, some of the words of the transmission could be heard.
“…ave Genesis… …ill me, Khan… …u have to come do…” The voice was seasoned, insistent but even.
“Uncertain, Captain,” Ecaterina replied. “Transmission’s on a Federation channel but the encoding structure isn’t anything we currently use.”
“…ne far worse tha…” This was a different voice, more emotional and seemed accented differently.
“Who are they?” D’Sarl asked.
“I don’t know. Transmission seems to be bouncing between a point above the planetoid’s other side and a cavern within the planetoid itself,” Skirov explained.
“…ish to go on hurting…”
“Whoever they are, I don’t think they like each other,” D’Sarl observed. An Orion female, she knew the tone of voice being used by the accented man. It was a man out for blood, driven by a deep need for either justice or vengeance. She’d heard that tone more than once, and even from a stranger, it chilled her to the bone.
“…ied alive… Buried….”
The bridge crew of the Farraday was silent. Eventually, a black man walked up to the center chair.
“Sir,” he said to Parkhurst, “if there are people down there, it sounds like they need help.”
“I agree, COB,” Parkhurst replied to the Chief of the Boat. “Lieutenant, life signs.”
“Unable to determine, Captain,” Ecaterina reported. “The odd matter is messing with the ship’s sensors. I’m not detecting any sort of atmosphere inside, however.”
“Well, those transmissions didn’t come from nothing. COB, you and the First Officer are going down there. Take Skirov with you.”
“Aye, sir.” Senior Chief Stone turned away from the chair and nodded to Ecaterina, who stepped away from her console as she removed her spectacles. A petty officer walked to the science station.
Ecaterina looked towards the helm, where D’Sarl was watching her.
“Be careful down there,” the Orion said.
“I will, D,” Skirov replied with a smile as Parkhurst flipped an intercom switch on his chair.
“I’m tellin’ you, havin’ civvies aboard the ship’s a bad idea,” the muscular man in the red shirt was saying as he made an adjustment to a power conduit.
“I’m not saying I disagree,” the man in yellow replied as he handed the other a different tool. “I’m just saying that since this is a pretty direct route, the captain probably didn’t see the harm in bringing her along. It is just one civilian, after all.”
“Look, Commander,” the engineer grunted as he tightened the junction, “you’re new here. I wouldn’t expect you t’ be up on the ship’s history.” He turned away to face the other man. “I’ve been here since she first sailed from Earth. And in all her years, Cap’n Parkhurst’s never taken on a passenger that wasn’t some kinda ambassador or diplomat or very special egghead.”
“I understand that, Robert,” the commander said patiently. “But it is Parkhurst’s ship, and he has the perogative to say who comes aboard and who stays ashore.”
“As evidenced by you bein’ here,” Robert replied, crossing his arms across his broad chest. Unlike most Starfleet officers, he wore his sleeves short at almost all times, as if he wanted to get his forearms covered in grease or some other vital engine fluid. “And it’s ‘Chief Engineer Forrester,’ sir, if you don’t mind me sayin’. Don’t feel we need t’ get on a first-name basis since this is such a short trip and all.”
The commander sighed. “Fine. In that case, ‘Commander Lennox’ will do, unless you feel up to calling me Tony.”
“Permission to speak freely, Commander Lennox.”
“I’d rather kiss a Klingon.”
“Bridge to First Officer,” came Parkhurst’s voice over the comm. Not looking away from Forrester, Lennox touched the speaker’s control.
“Lennox here, Captain.”
“Meet the COB and Lieutenant Skirov in the transporter room geared for EVA. You’re going down into Regula.”
“Understood.” He flipped the comm off. “I’ll make you deal, Chief Engineer. I’ll stay out of your engine room, you stay off the bridge. That way we won’t have to deal directly with each other. I don’t like that kind of arrangement, but if that makes you more comfortable…”
“Oh, don’t hurt yerself on my account, Commander,” said Forrester, tossing the tool into the nearby carrier. “Just stay outta my way.”
The engineer walked away and Lennox sighed, shaking his head. He touched the comm panel. “Lennox to M’Rann.”
“Yes, Commander,” rumbled the voice on the other end.
“Suit up. We’re going for a walk outside.”
“Delightful,” was the slightly accented response. “I shall bring my best space suit.”
“Bring your best phaser, as well. We’ll be in the transporter room.”
Lennox walked through the Farraday‘s corridors, trying not to feel annoyed. When Commander O’Neill, the ship’s previous executive officer, had been diagnosed with a chronic bone disease that required serious treatment removing him from duty, it had been sheer happenstance that Lennox had been stationed on Deep Space Alpha, the closest station to the Farraday. The ship’s doctor hadn’t been happy with leaving O’Neill at the station, but the rigors of space travel had simply become too dangerous for the other man.
Lennox stopped by the armory to pick out a hand phaser and space suit. As he did, he thought back over his previous assignments as First Officer aboard starships, two tours that had completed without major incident following his stint aboard the Constitution as tactical officer. Nobody aboard either other ship had been as attached to their vessel as Forrester was to the Farraday. Then again, he had joined the ship before she’d even left the space dock, and had served his entire career on her, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. He’d probably figured Parkhurst would make him First Officer in O’Neill’s absence. But Parkhurst had opted for an experienced and decorated command officer instead rather than an engineer who was brilliant with ship’s systems and warp dynamics but had quite a few reprimands for behavior and disorderly conduct.
Suited up, Lennox arrived in the transporter room. Lieutenant Skirov and Senior Chief Stone were waiting for him. After a moment, the doors parted again, and the newcomer had to duck slightly to enter. At over two meters tall, M’Rann took the human-sized craft’s discomforts in stride. One of the few Caitians active in Starfleet, he had proven an enthusiasm for service and loyalty that impressed many among Starfleet who’d been leery of allowing members of a race so closely related to the Kzinti to join their ranks. The war between Earth and Kzin had been a long and bloody one, after all, and old hatred died hard.
Still, Lennox could think of few individuals to whom he’d trust his life. M’Rann had come aboard the Miranda as a cadet serving a year “afloat” as they called it, and Lennox had taken the young Caitian under his wing. When the Miranda docked at Deep Space Alpha and Lennox ordered to remain until the system’s provisional government could arrive to take over the station’s administration, M’Rann had asked to stay with him. Now, the Caitian smoothed the dark fur behind one of his ears as his vibrant green eyes moved from one human to the other in the room.
“Are we prepared to depart?” he asked, before checking his customized helmet for potential leaks.
“We were just waiting on you, Cadet,” Stone replied with a slight smile. As much as the idea of an individual this young soon becoming an Ensign and thus able to give him orders, Caitians had a great deal of traditions dealing with the honoring and even veneration of elders, so when the cadet spoke with the COB, it was always with deep respect. “Have you participated in deep space operations outside of a spacecraft before?”
“Only once,” M’Rann said. “And the lack of gravity was… disconcerting.”
“The first time I walked the hull of a starship,” Skirov put in, “I was petrified.”
“So was I,” Lennox agreed, checking his phaser. “At least we’ll have rock under us when we arrive. Set phasers to stun, just in case.”
They stepped onto the pad. Once they had their helmets on and enviromental controls set, Lennox nodded to the technician. “Energize.”
Parkhurst sat in his ready room, sipping coffee and looking over the ship manifest. There was a chime at the door and he set the data display aside. “Enter.”
A statuesque woman walked in, brushing a lock of flame-red hair out of her eyes. She slowly sat across the desk from Parkhurst. “Captain, I hope I am not interrupting.”
“Not at all, Doctor Fairchild,” Parkhurst said, his smile causing the ends of his sideburns to crinkle. “What can I do for you?”
“I was hoping I could offer you something instead, Captain,” she told him, smoothing out her dress. The cut of the garment indicated she was clearly a civilian. “Some of the crew seem on edge after hearing the transmissions from the planetoid.”
“I’m a bit on edge myself, doctor, but I assure you it’s nothing to be concerned about. Uncertainty at the unknown is a common enough reaction.”
“I understand, Captain. I just wanted to make sure you were aware of it.”
“Doctor Fairchild,” Parkhurst began, standing and looking down at the woman as he sipped his coffee, “I appreciate your insight, but I remind you that you are a guest aboard my ship, and this is a Starfleet vessel. Every officer and crewman aboard her is prepared to face the uncertainties of the cosmos. It’s why the Farraday was built, and why her crew is out here.”
“But the Farraday is going to be decomissioned when you arrive at Earth,” Fairchild pointed out.
“That has yet to be determined,” Parkhurst replied. “She may be refitted instead. Either way, it won’t be long until we know for sure. Doctor Fairchild – Sonora – it may be best if you put the concerns of the crew out of your mind, and return to your quarters.”
Fairchild blinked her aqua eyes slowly as she re-crossed her legs, a motion conspicuous due to the slit in her skirt. “I appreciate you wanting to keep me safe, Captain, but I’m sure you know that Starfleet Academy had me on a tour of the Federation frontier to better understand the nuances of crews operating in deep space, for the benefit of up and coming Starfleet officers. I would be a poor therapist if I didn’t take advantage of this situation to see a Starfleet crew in action in deep space. I gave you my word at Deep Space Alpha that I’d stay out of the way, but I ask you to please allow me to carry on my observations.”
Parkhurst thought it over, and just as he was about to answer, his door chimed again. “Enter.”
Wearing the blue uniform of a science or medical officer, her white hair tied back in a simple plait, the ship’s doctor strode in, handing Parkhurst a report. The Andorian’s antannae twitched slightly as she passed Sonora. “The latest manifest of ship injuries and illnesses, Captain Parkhurst.”
“Doctor Ilal, we’ve been over this,” Parkhurst said, his smile unwavering. “You don’t need to march every report to me directly. The ship does have electronic means of communication, after all.”
“I prefer it this way,” Ilal replied sharply. “I wish to be certain at all times that the ship’s captain has all the information he needs to run the ship with maximum efficiency in regards to the crew. And I don’t need some clever crewman down in the science lab intercepting a transmission that says a rival for a romantic interest has the flu.”
“Fair enough,” Parkhurst replied, handing her the report back. “Everything seems to be in order. Thank you, Doctor.”
The Andorian sketched him a short nod. “With your permission, sir, I shall return to tending to the officer who seems to have contracted a Centaurian strain of pneumonia.”
“By all means.”
Ilal turned on her heel and strode out. Sonora visibly shivered.
“She has the bedside manner of a medical tricorder,” Fairchild observed.
“But she’s one of the best doctors in the fleet,” the captain replied. “Anyway, Miss Fairchild, I think there’s no harm in allowing you to observe the crew as long as your presence doesn’t distract them from doing their jobs.”
Fairchild looked down at her clothing, then back up at Parkhurst. “I will try to find something more conservative to wear, Captain.”
“Thank you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, we have an away team down in Regula taking a look around.”
The captain and the civilian left the ready room, and while Sonora returned to her quarters, Parkhurst went to the bridge. “Status report.”
“Away team has been in the planetoid for seventy-five minutes,” D’Sarl replied. “Communicators are active. Interference is at a minimum.”
“Put me through, Chambers.” Ensign Chambers toggled a few controls, then nodded. “Parkhurst to Away Team. Status report, Commander.”
“Lennox here, sir,” the First Officer said, his voice filtered by the respirator of the space suit. “This place is a dead rock, sir. There’s no life, no technology, not so much as a living microbe.”
“Skirov reporting in, Captain,” Ecaterina added. “Scans indicate that what we picked up from orbit were traces of a theoretical substance called ‘protomatter.’ It’s a highly unstable form of matter that is apparently close as matter can be to anti-matter without actually being anti-matter. The origins of it are theorized to be rooted in the creation of…”
“Skip the history lesson, Lieutenant,” Parkhurst’s voice ordered. “There’s no evidence of any kind of transmitter?”
“None, Captain,” Stone replied. The away team stepped through a craggy opening and their lights streamed into the empty space of a gigantic cavern, playing off the stalactites and stalagmites that were its sole population.
“Blessed Ancestors,” M’Rann whispered. “The entire Farraday could be held in this chamber, were the features cleared out.”
“But you’d have to clear them out without collapsing half of the planetoid,” Stone commented. “The Corps of Engineers would love it.”
“It does have a great deal of space,” Skirov reported, tapping commands into her tricorder. “There are some traces of oxygen and other gases kept in pockets around the cavern. They were probably trapped in the planetoid’s creation. Still there’s no way any life could be sustained down here. The First Officer was right – this place is dead.”
“Keep us posted. Farraday out.”
They walked along the stone carefully. Finally they came to another opening in the wall, and Lennox lead the way through. Skirov’s tricorder chirped.
“Sir, I’m picking up what appear to be…”
Lennox looked over his shoulder. “Appear to be what, Lieutenant?”
“Traces of phaser fire, sir.”
Lennox glanced at the other two. Stone and M’Rann’s expressions, despite being from different species, were almost identical. Both had their phasers ready. Lennox shined his light into the darkness of the side corridor formed in the rock.
“Any signs of power from weapons or suits?”
“None,” Ecaterina replied, swallowing as she tried to keep her heart rate down. “The traces seem almost residual.”
“Let’s check it out,” Lennox said. He lead the way into the darkness, followed by Skirov and M’Rann, with Stone bringing up the rear. They came into another open chamber, much smaller than the main one, and Stone reached out to touch the walls.
“No sign of anything. Not even lichen.”
“No life whatsoever,” M’Rann agreed. “Anthony… I do not like this.”
“What is it?” Lennox asked, seeming to ignore the Caitian’s use of his first name.
“This is wrong. I do not think we should be here.”
“I’m picking up more traces of protomatter,” Ecaterina reported. She waved her tricorder in front of a small alcove. “These readings match those reported back on Earth when they thought they’d found it.”
Before she could go on, the planetoid shook. All four of them struggled to keep their balance.
“Report,” Lennox snapped, looking at Skirov.
“I’m detecting a gravitational irregularity from the main chamber. It’s tiny, but it’s working against the gravitational pull of the planetoid. It has all the profiles of a singularity, but it’s miniscule, sir.”
“A black hole?” asked Stone. Ecaterina nodded.
“Aye, Chief, but it’s only a couple micrometers in diameter.”
“Still enough to make trouble. We better get out of here.” Lennox keyed his communicator. “Lennox to Farraday. Four to beam up.”
“Analysis, Lieutenant,” Parkhurst said.
“The microsingularity has disappeared,” Ecaterina reported, having doffed her space suit on the way to the bridge. Lennox stood by the captain’s chair, Stone had taken a place by the turbolift, and M’Rann had returned to his duties near the shuttlebay. “However, we’re picking up more traces of protomatter seven thousand kilometers away, heading three-two-zero mark one-one-four.”
D’Sarl brought up the heading, and the viewscreen displayed the distant Mutara nebula, which occasionally flickered and flashed like a multi-colored thundercloud. Ensign Chambers narrowed his eyes at his console.
“Sir, we’re picking up more trace transmissions.”
“Let’s hear them.”
Chambers keyed the speakers.
“…miral Kirk. We t… …nce ur…”
“Did he say ‘Kirk’?” D’Sarl asked.
“That’s what it sounded like,” Stone agreed. “But the only Kirk in Starfleet is that young buck they just made captain of the Enterprise.”
Lennox and Parkhurst exchanged a look as the transmission continued.
“…aughing… …uperior intellect.”
“Sir,” Skirov said, “Much of the sensor data we’ve been getting – the protomatter, the transmissions, the weapons fire – they seem like sensor echoes. They have some of the same patterns as the wake of a ship moving through warp. I’m trying to isolate exactly what’s going on.”
“Keep at it, Lieutenant,” Parkhurst said. “Commander, your thoughts?”
Lennox took a deep breath. “Whatever’s happening, sir, it seems clear that it’s moving from Regula into that nebula. However, the fact that a microsingularity popped up out of nowhere in there, even for a second, seems potentially dangerous. If this area of space has been destabilized by something, there’s no telling if the Farraday can handle the stress.”
Parkhurst looked at his First Officer for a long moment. Stone frowned just a bit. While he’d been with Parkhurst since the beginning, he knew the First Officer was right, but was thankful Forrester hadn’t been around to hear him say that. The Farraday was an older ship, to be sure, but she was their ship. Forrester and Parkhurst in particular had a very close attachment to her. Still, Parkhurst nodded slowly.
“I see your point, Tony. But we’re explorers. If this is to be the old girl’s last trip, we owe it to her to explore something, and if it’s something that’s been unexplored up until now, so much the better.”
“I agree, Captain. I advise caution, but I think we need to take a closer look at this thing, whatever it is.”
“Right.” Parkhurst keyed the ship-wide announcement system. “This is Captain Parkhurst. We’ve detected irregularities in the uncharted Mutara nebula. It’s outside our flight profile. Starfleet has ordered us back to space dock for refit or possible decommission. Before they put the old girl out to pasture, though, we’re going on one last adventure.” He paused. “I know you’re eager to see family and friends back on Earth. I’m sorry for the potential delay. But this is what Starfleet is all about, and I’m proud to have each and every one of you as a member of my crew. Stand by duty stations. That is all.”
He toggled a switch. “Engineering.”
“Forrester here, Cap’n.”
“Robert, keep the warp engine warm. We might need to make a quick exit from Mutara.”
“She’ll be standin’ by, sir.”
“Lieutenant D’Sarl, plot an escape course towards Earth, and log it for emergency warp.”
“Aye, Captain,” the Orion replied, focusing on the task before looking over her shoulder and smiling at her friend Ecaterina. The science officer looked up over the rims of her glasses and returned the smile. Since they’d been in the Academy together, they’d talked about seeing and touching the unknown. Here, at last, was their chance.
“Not the milk run you were promised, eh Commander?” Stone asked the First Officer.
“No,” Lennox replied with a smile, laying a hand on the back of the captain’s chair as the Farraday‘s impulse engines pushed her towards the forbidding nebula. “No, it isn’t.”
STAR TREK and all associated technology and concepts are copyright Paramount Studios. No intention of credit or profit is intended. The USS Farraday and her crew are original creations of Joshua E Loomis and are protected under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Some rights reserved.