This was actually my second story, written as I waited for Jaeih to finish her third. I wanted to have a complete story to launch my site with, all the way back in 2003.
So, this is a stand-alone, one-off piece that I had brewing for a while at the time.
Inhabiting the same universe as my other stories but featuring an unrelated ship and crew, this story is set during the early Movie Era whereas my primary crew inhabit the era of the Classic series.
This story tells a slightly different kind of Starfleet Tale. I hope you enjoy it as much as my other stories.
" and so it is that, with great regret, I must inform you of the failure of our scientists to find the correct equations to stabilize the power plant. It need not be said that, without a single successful simulation, an actual test run would present far too great a risk to our planet."
Senior Scientist Gentra paused there to gauge the mood of his audience before delivering his final statement. This briefing he had given to a closed session of the Council of Elders had been very distasteful for him to make, admitting that the finest scientific minds of his world could not complete the task set for them, but the project was too important to be abandoned.
Clearing his throat to still the uneasy murmurs, Gentra concluded his brief. "Due to the importance of this project to our civilization, I must prevail upon you, Esteemed Elders, not to abandon this project but to petition the Federation for assistance."
The Council did not, as he had expected, burst into frenzied debate at that. Instead, the forty Elders present lapsed into silence, considering the implications of his words. It confirmed his suspicions that the Elders had already been considering this option. In fact, by his very suggestion of approaching the Federation, he had unwittingly given himself a large boost in personal prestige.
Finally, Elder Lantrer councillor for the Tothanar Province where the power plant was located spoke up. "Senior Scientist Gentra, is there nothing more that you and your team can do? No new avenue to explore, no unlikely possibility to pursue?"
"I am sorry, Elder Lantrer, but there is not. I would not be making this request if we had any other ideas to investigate. We have to accept that we have reached the limits of our knowledge and ask for help."
"Very well. Thank you, Senior Scientist, for your brief. The Council must now ponder your words, so you may go."
Gentra took his expected dismissal without umbrage. He held both hands flat to his chest, palms inward and crossed at the wrists, and bowed at the neck in the traditional gesture of farewell. Relinquishing the Claimant's Podium, the heels of his dress shoes echoed sharply in the studied silence of the domed amphitheatre as he departed the Council Chamber.
Elder Lantrer watched him leave before returning his attention to his fellow Elders. Speaking firmly, Lantrer said, "Esteemed fellow Councillors, you have heard the facts of the matter. This project is at a standstill. We can go no further on our own, but cancelling it will be tantamount to writing off billions of dinons as well as hundreds of thousands of man-hours in construction, research, and development, and the future of this planet's energy needs.
"I now call for a vote on the motion to petition the United Federation of Planets for aid "
Gentra waited outside in the hall after being dismissed. The vote would go through and his team would get Federation assistance, it was just a matter of time. There was just that damnable Catuallan pride to contend with, which would delay the inevitable unanimous vote.
As hard as it had been for him to admit that his best team had been found lacking, it would be doubly galling to the Council to actually face the UFP representatives and ask for help. The fact that the Federation would willingly and gladly give that assistance actually made it worse, as they would not understand the effort it took to make the request. Nevertheless, hopefully within a week, he would finally get the answers he sought.
The answers that had eluded him and his team for six long, frustration-filled months.
"Can ve go now?"
The tone of voice made her think of her brother's eight-year-old, but turning to face the person who had uttered the plea so forlornly made Katrin break out in an unaccustomed grin. Sizing up her assailant whose expression matched their tone she was actually surprised that the Denevan wasn't pulling her sleeve as he said it."Yes, Mr. Tupelov, we can go now. Lay in Lieutenant Zenarra's course and engage at warp seven."
"Aye, aye, Sair!" the lanky blonde practically sang back.
Commander Katrin Schulte of the Federation science vessel Lor'tana smothered another unseemly grin and said, somewhat sternly, "Lieutenant Tupelov, I know that this mission did not offer much for a helmsman to do, but try and remember that your theatrics really should be confined to your off-duty drama classes."
The rest of the bridge crew smiled at this while poor Fyodor blushed beautifully and gave a slightly embarrassed grin, before recovering and giving her a wide-eyed 'who, me?' look.
"Course laid in and ready to go on your order, Keptin," he said innocently, batting his eyelashes at his C.O.
Katrin finally gave in to the impulse and smiled warmly at her chief helmsman. "Glad to hear it. Warp speed, Mr. Tupelov."
"Aye, Keptin." He pressed a final toggle on his board and they were off to another star system. "Roughly three days to Catualla at varp seven, sair."
"Okay. Any navigational hazards or points of interest along our course, Zenarra?"
Now that the ship was at warp speed and her current duties discharged, the Deltan female turned her seat to face the captain for her answer.
"No Sir, nothing but clear space between for light-years around. The closest Hazard to Navigation is a code B-1 free-floating asteroid field, 1.3 light-years to starboard of our projected course, current bearing" she paused briefly to check her screen again. "Bearing 071 mark 015."
"Thank you, Lieutenant," Katrin said, while she thought, Still giving out too much information. A simple 'No' would have sufficed. Although, to be fair, she knew that it was just Zenarra's way of showing her captain that she was doing her job properly.
Turning to Ensign Tharas, Schulte asked, "Ensign, any Notices to Spacefarers for this area of space?"
The Andorian communications officer swiveled to face her before answering. "Yes, Captain. The civilian authorities have been been informed of the starship Lexington's scheduled arrival at the aforementioned asteroid field for live-firing tests of the new Mark VI photon torpedo. Civilian shipping has been advised to avoid the area for the duration.
"Also, there seems to be an ion storm gathering momentum two light-years from Catualla, on the far side of the system from where we are now. It has been given a code I-2 rating already."
Katrin's face collapsed into a frown at Tharas' report in the ion storm, but she shook it off. "If it is still two light-years from our destination, then it should be nothing to worry about for the time we'll be there. Keep a weather eye out for it, though.""Yes, Captain."
"Also, if the Lexington comes into hailing range, let me know. I'd like to talk to my uncle, if I could. He is the chief science officer."
Tharas bobbed his head in the Human fashion and returned his head to his board.
Katrin wasn't finished with him, though. "Ensign, post a meeting notice to all Department Heads, as well as senior Engineering and Science staff. I'm calling a briefing at 1400 hours to bring the crew up to speed on our latest mission. I'll wait until everyone is settled in again and had time for lunch."
"Aye, aye, Sir," he returned crisply.
There were several calls over the intercom after that, and within five minutes the Beta-shift officers were taking over their assigned bridge stations as the Alpha-shifters went in search of food.
After getting their choice of meal from the food synthesizer (no-one called it the High-Resolution Organic Fabricator/Defabricator. They didn't want to dwell on the mechanics of the system ), the captain and her chief science, helm, and navigation officers sat down to lunch. In deference to the Vulcan scientist, the others had ordered vegetarian meals.
Fyodor eagerly attacked his heavily-buttered corn-on-the-cob while the women slowly made their way though their Caesar and Kaferian salads. Finishing off a forkful of dressed romaine lettuce and crutons, Katrin asked Lieutenant Commander Samok about the results of the last mission.
Setting down his spoon, the Vulcan abandoned his plomeek soup to answer. "They were most satisfactory, Captain. My apologies to Mr. Tupelov for not giving him a more challenging course to pilot, but a geostationary orbit over the target area was precisely what was required."
The Russian grinned around his cob, but wisely said nothing.
"The final calibrations by Petty Officer Grash eliminated the data acquisition errors we had been experiencing and allowed us clear, unequivocal readings of the volcano forming on the ocean floor."
Katrin sighed. "Starfleet really should have sent a specialised oceanographic research vessel with aquatic shuttles for that mission, but there were none within range. Still, it allowed most of us," she added with a smile at Fyodor, "a chance at something new and exciting to do."
"But, Sair, I am a helmsman!" Tupelov protested. "Undervater wolcanoes don't interest me. Big ones on the surface, yes. I may haf to alter orbit if they blow their top, but there is no danger to the ship from a a planet's stomach ulcer!"
The bald Deltan woman's nose wrinkled up at the unpleasant metaphor, and she exclaimed, "Fyodor, please! We are trying to eat here."
Slightly abashed, the Russian apologised. "Ah, sorry there, Zenarra. It vas the food that gave me the idea " He trailed off uncertainly.
Resuming their conversation as if he had not been interrupted, Samok stated, "The data we accumulated should give the Tamnar scientists a greater understanding of how volcanoes form, and they can site their new cities accordingly."
"Agreed," Katrin nodded, but distractedly as her mind was reviewing the data on the aliens they had just helped.
Although not a Federation member, the Tamnarians were another of those cultures contacted by the Federation in the pre-Prime Directive days. In 2166, the U.S.S. Essex had taken damage and encountered the aforementioned asteroid field. Seeking repairs at the nearest star system, they had come across the Tamnarians at mid-19th-century-Earth levels. Fortunately, Captain Shumar had some wits about him and the Tamnarian's culture shock was brief and not very disruptive, but the damage had been done and the government of a nation-state had been made aware of alien cultures from other worlds. Thus, later on, when that government had needed assistance, they had directed a radio signal out into the Void, where the nearest starbase had picked it up. Since it contained details of how they had helped a Federation vessel, the Federation felt obliged to respond and had done so ever since. The Federation while never handing over any technology had decided to allow the planet's inhabitants access to all scientific data that would prevent lives being lost through a lack of understanding of natural forces.
Hence the Lor'tana's last mission: six months ago, a volcano that had been 'growing' near an inconveniently-placed city finally erupted; the city then had to be evacuated. The Tamnarian government of that region had requested scientific data on it's formation and why it had grown there, of all places, so that future settlements would not suffer the same fate.
After two weeks in place, the Ulat regional governors, who had promised to share the data with the other nation-states of their world, had gratefully received the accumulated planet-specific data.
Munching on the last of her salad, Katrin finally said. "I couldn't believe the damage in what was left of that city. I'm glad they all made it out safely."
Checking her wrist chronometer, she switched gears. "Okay people, the briefing is in just under two hours. Make sure your departments are in good order and refresh your memories on Catualla, it's people and their customs.
"No, don't get up, finish your meals," she waved them back to the table as she got up and they began to rise with their commandinf officer. "A hungry crew is a distracted crew and all that. Carry on."
With that, she left them to go shower and change after the oppressive humidity of Tamnar's climate. Despite the adaptive fabrics of her uniform moderating the worst of it, her exposed skin felt sticky and unclean, and Katrin was a fastidious person.
"...so, now that you all know where we are going, here is why we are going there. Samok?" Katrin gestured, and the Science Officer took over the briefing.
"The Catuallans have requested Federation assistance to get their first planet-bound matter/antimatter reactor operational. They have Yes, Mr. Tupelov?" Samok broke off as the young helmsman raised his hand to ask a question.
"Sair, from the briefing I read I thought that the Catuallans already had antimatter power."
"Yes, Mr. Tupelov, they do." Seeing the lack of comprehension on Fyodor's face, Samok forestalled his next question by continuing.
"The Catuallans have several antimatter power plants in orbit, but have apparently come to the conclusion that this leaves them vulnerable to attack. Their reasoning is sound, however unlikely the possibility of attack is. If their orbital stations were destroyed, they would loose approximately 60% of their planetary power supply."
Eyebrows went up all around the conference table at that one.
"Sixty percent?" asked Lieutenant Commander Thelin in his whisper-soft voice. "Isn't that rather a high percentage for off-world power dependency?"
"It is indeed, Commander," Samok answered the Andorian first officer. "The Catuallans have just completed the process of disassembling all of their old fossil-fuel and nuclear fission power stations. The only on-planet power sources they now have are a small number of fusion reactors that have used up the last of the free space on which they could build such structures. "When that construction was completed 70 standard years ago, they began decommissioning their fossil fuel stations and reclaiming the land. With their harnessing of antimatter, it was deemed too dangerous to both population and planet to build them on the surface. Now that the reactors have a proven record of safe operation, and the Catuallans have the planetside locations available for construction, they have built their first matter/antimatter reactor on the surface of their world. However, it seems that they are still wary and have decided not to activate this site until they can successfully simulate a controlled startup, shutdown, and maintained operation."
"Which brings us to their current problem, and our new mission," Katrin put in. Taking the hint, Samok moved on.
"The Catuallans have been unable to stabilise their planet-bound reactor core. Here is the site of the antimatter power plant, fifty kilometres from the outermost suburbs of Tothanar City, their regional capital. The Catuallan scientists have spent the last six months there trying to generate a solution with increasingly far-fetched theories, all to no avail." The briefing room wall screen, currently displaying an orbital map of the Tothanar Province, changed to a table of data at a touch from Samok. "This is a listing of each theory, actions taken accordingly, and expected results versus actual results for each of the approaches attempted, in chronological order. As we can see, they start off quite sensibly but by the final theory proposed we can see just how desperate they had become for any kind of explanation for their failure."
"'Minor Solar Flares Causing Power Fluctuations through interference in the air conditioning system as caused by ionic discharges from aurora borealis effect'?" Lieutenant Ga-Nosh exclaimed in disbelief.
Chief Engineer Grunk snorted derisively. "That is desperate. Any connection at all, no matter how slight, eh?" the Saurian junior science officer asked.
"Yes, it looks that way," the captain agreed, while shooting an annoyed look at the engineer.
Samok wound up his presentation and concluded, "Based on a preliminary reading of the data sent to us, it seems that the Catuallans have exhausted all the reasonable and many unreasonable theories based on conventional wisdom. It is therefore my assertion that there may be some basic flaw in the Catuallan's understanding of the properties of antimatter, thus rendering all subsequent reasoning faulty. All of their experience has been the microgee gravity field environment of geostationary orbital positions and they has a 100% safety record, but they cannot translate that success to planet-bound operations. This would appear to indicate a problem in the area of gravitational interactions, and this is where I believe we should focus our attentions."
The Vulcan nodded to his captain, and Katrin resumed control of the briefing. "So, based on this, our mission here is a three-pronged investigation. For two of them, Science and Engineering teams will work on parallel projects and compare notes at the end of the investigation." Katrin explained. "Lieutenant Grunk, your Engineering staff will familiarise themselves with the design, materials, and construction history of the power plant itself, paying closest attention to the reactor core. Do not neglect the other aspects, though."
"Of course not! Engineering is not just the glamour of a starship warp drive!" the Tellarite Chief Engineer growled aggressively. "My team will do as you instruct," he finished, nodding at his Second seated beside him.
"Very good, Mr. Grunk," Katrin acknowledged coldly. She'd found she was unable to stop herself from reacting negatively to the natural obnoxiousness of Tellarites; it just rubbed her up the wrong way. She had never met a Tellarite she liked, but personal interactions aside they were often damn good engineers and Katrin was glad to have Grunk. She gave an inward sigh as she childed heself yet again. Perhaps with more exposure over time I'll develop a thicker skin.
Turning to her science officer, Schulte continued. "Commander Samok, you and your team will go over the theory, models, and equations governing their understanding of antimatter and matter/antimatter reactors, and compare it to ours. See if they missed anything."
"Acknowledged, Captain," the slender Vulcan replied.
"Lieutenant Vaidya," Katrin now addressed the handsome, dusky-skinned security chief. "The Catuallans have not said anything about this project being sabotaged, but I want you and your department to look into that aspect. Check the physical security of the site and the integrity of the computer systems running the control software. Do not go into checking staff backgrounds until you have evidence or suspicion of foul play. Even then, I want you to clear it through me, as we don't want to ruffle any feathers."
"Yes, Captain," the Indian replied in a crisp English accent. It contrasted well with Katrin's faint German one.
"Okay everyone. We have three days until we get there. I want us ready to assist and begin investigating as soon as we arrive, so brief your own staffs and go through all the data the Catuallans have sent us. Coordinate on approaches to take, and bounce ideas off of each other.
"Now, lets get started. Dismissed."