This is Part Two of The ’39, a story set in a certain sci-fi (prime) universe. just a few years before the events of an original series. I’m sure that you won’t have any difficult figuring out which universe. A new part to be published every week!
No copyright infringement intended. All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators or producers of any media franchise.
TWO: When you can’t boldly go, just go
“Three weeks of this now,” said Ensign Call without looking up from his scope.
“I know,” said Lieutenant Cangas for what seemed the fortieth time. “Coming up on the next coordinates in three – two – one, now!”
Call hit the execute button and the console bleeped. The view on the main screen stuttered as images and sensor data were relayed to the astrogation computer.
“I mean, if they knew we were going to be at this for so long, we could have stayed over at Starbase Six.”
“What? Leave after less than two days in space?” Cangas shook her head.
“Get out, stretch our legs… when is the next time we’re going to be anywhere civilized? When our mission is over. In a year.”
“You don’t know that. Who knows what alien civilization we might come across?”
“Yeah. Alien civilizations.” Something in the way Call said it made Cangas uncomfortable. He continued, “Besides, given the size of the galaxy and the tiny portion of it we’ll be exploring, the statistical probability of finding anything more complex than microbial life is just about nil.”
“If you knew that, why did you bother signing up?” Call’s mouth became a thin line and his brow furrowed, but he didn’t answer. Cangas’s board blipped and she said, “Next coordinates coming up in three – two – one, now!”
There were more beeps and the screen flickered again. “And that does it for this sector.”
Jennings hovered over the scope at her station and looked over the sensor data before saying, “Readings confirmed and logged. Move on to the next sector.”
“Great. More dust clouds and brown dwarfs,” mumbled Call.
Cangas shot him a look and said, “Aye, plotting course. ETA at warp one, one hour thirteen minutes. On your board, helm.”
“Acknowledged,” said Call, “and executing.” Having finished his duties for the next hour, twelve minutes and thirty seconds, he leaned over and whispered, “The captain and the first officer don’t have to be here, so why do we have to be stuck with this garbage duty? A monkey could do this.”
“Yes, that’s true,” said Jennings. Both junior officers froze at their stations. Jennings continued, “Lucky for you, though, all Starfleet’s monkeys were busy or you junior Dunsels would be out of a job.” Jennings shook her head before turning back to her scope, hiding her smirk with her shoulder.
“Stop getting me into trouble!” hissed Cangas, slapping Call’s shoulder with the back of her hand.
“Come on, Jennings is just as bored as we are. You can’t tell me that this is what you signed up for?”
“Of course it is,” said Cangas, doing her best to ignore the sarcasm in his voice. “Making star maps may not be the most exciting duty, but this is what civilizations are built on.”
“No, numbskull. Exploration! Making known that which was unknown! Look at where we are! We’re where no one has gone before!”
“More like where no one has wanted to go before. We’re in the middle of nowhere.”
“No. We’re in the middle of everywhere.”
“All right, hotshot, so why did you join Starfleet, then? Well?”
“My father and two older brothers were in Starfleet…”
Cangas let her irritation get the best of her and she spat, “So, what? Your family is Starfleet royalty or something? Or they picked on you when you were a kid so you’re trying to one-up them?”
“They were killed by the Romulans in the Battle of the Eagle Nebula,” said Call, voice low. “By the time I was old enough to join, the War was over.” Call tapped the edge of his console with a clenched fist. “They died defending our way of life, our principles. I have no right to do any less.”
Cangas sat stunned for a moment, before saying, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
Call waved a hand in short, chopping motions. “Forget it.”
Cangas started to say something, thought better of it and turned her attention to her board.
* * * * * * * * * *
“So what do you think?” asked Chew over the top of his glass. They were currently the only people in the officer’s mess. It wasn’t exactly palatial, but was more than large enough for the entire ship’s compliment of officers and then some. The one, long table was bolted to the deck plates and was purely functional, while the formed synthetic chairs, ergonomically designed for maximum comfort (but for what species, Chew did not know) weren’t much better. Chew and Lex were occupying one end of the table, PADDs in front of them.
Lex absent-mindedly rubbed the scar on her cheek as she read her PADD. The scar, a pale white line, extended from the middle of her cheek up through her right eyebrow. The eyebrow was slightly mis-aligned where the scar bisected it, the result of a quick, battlefield laser-suture. The regrown eye hadn’t been color matched, so was black and made Lex look half Betazoid.
“Why didn’t you ever take care of that?” asked Chew.
“What? The eye?” Chew nodded, Leonova shrugged. “Too busy. Something always came up.”
“That’s B.S. We might not have all the bells and whistles of Starfleet Medical, but Omiata could take care of that.”
“What can I say? I’m just not that vain.”
Chew snorted. “I think you like looking like a pirate. Why don’t you just get a parrot and an eye-patch?” Leonova shook her head. “Anyhow, I think you scare the kids.”
“The first officer should instill a little bit of righteous terror in the little ones.”
They both paused and looked out the viewports as the background hum increased. The stars blurred and the bottom of Chew’s stomach fell out as Spirit entered warp. At that exact moment, his PADD chirped with a status update from the bridge. Chew looked down. Right on time.
Looking back up, he said, “So. What do you think of the ‘little ones?’”
Leonova shrugged. “They’re coming along, but let’s just say that I’m glad we’re not running into any warbirds.”
Chew nodded and was about to say something when the alert lights flashed red and the klaxon sounded. Chew and Leonova were out of their seats and halfway to the door when the red lights switched to yellow.
“Captain to the bridge,” came Jenning’s calm, measured voice over the the loudspeakers.
They paused and exchanged looks before Chew headed to the nearest comm. Punching a button, he said, “On my way.”
Once on the bridge, Chew took his seat while Leonova made a bee-line for Jennings. “Will you kindly tell me what the hell is going on?”
Jennings gave the first officer a sheepish look. “Sorry, sir. I’m afraid our excitable helmsman jumped the gun with the red alert. Navigational deflectors kicked on, triggered by something thirty light-seconds out.”
“Looks like a signal. Possibly.”
“Well, truth be told, don’t know exactly what it is yet. Other than they were gravity waves.”
“Could it have been a natural phenomena ? Neutron star collision?” asked Leonova.
“No, sir. Pattern doesn’t match..”
“So you think it’s signal, then?” asked Chew.
“That’s what I’m working on right now.”
“Anything on the long range scanners?”
“No, sir. Scope’s clear.”
“Cancel yellow alert,” said Chew, looking at Leonova. Leonova hit a control on her panel and the all-clear signal sounded.
“So, Mr. Call. A red alert.” Call’s back visibly stiffened before he turned around to face his captain.
“Yes, sir. I thought the ship was in danger, sir…”
“That wasn’t a question, ensign.”
“Sorry, sir, I‒”
“An explanation? I don’t recall asking for one,” said Chew. Call turned bright red. “It seems there’s some confusion around here as to when and who is responsible for sounding a red alert. Mr. Leonova, see to their education.”
“Aye, sir.” Leonova went to her station and started to work on the program.
Turning to Jennings, Chew asked, “If we don’t know what the signal is yet, and there’s nothing out there, do we at least know where it came from?”
“I have a bearing, sir,” said Jennings. “243 mark six.”
“What do you think, Number One? Worth a look?”
“Set course, 243 mark six,” said Chew.
Call repeated the bearings back, voice shaky.
“Warp factor four. Engage.”
“Warp four, aye sir.”
The stars spun and the hum of the engines increased as the ship accelerated; Chew felt something else as well. A slight apprehension from the grey heads that had seen combat, anticipation from the youngers who hadn’t. But as minutes, and then hours and light years passed, the excitement waned.
Eventually, Chew stood and said, “I’ll be in my ready room, Number One. Please see to the exercises. What do you think? 95 percent? 96?”
“96 is pretty optimistic for this bunch, but… I think with a liberal application of the lash, we might be able to get it out of them,” said Leonova stony-faced, but with a twinkle in her one blue eye.
“I’ll hope for the best, then. Mr. Jenkins, please let me know if you come up with anything.”
“Yes sir,” said Jenkins without looking up from her scope.
“You have the conn,” said Chew.
Leonova gave him a curt nod and sat in the center seat. Chew paused at the door when she activated shipwide communications and said, “All hands, this is the XO. Prepare for simulated contact exercises. Station heads, acknowledge.”
Chew entered his ready-room, just starboard of the main rear turbolift, to the sound of the station heads reporting in over the address system. A little ragged, but not terrible. He was sure that Leonova would have them whipped into shape in no time. Chew sat down at his desk to catch up on reports and the sensor data they had collected so far.
Even though they were still in the first month of their cruise, they’d catalogued over 50 systems. A score binary systems, a few trinaries, a planetary nebula, but no Class M planets. A little disapponting, that last, but 50 of 200 billion wasn’t even a splash in a bucket. There was plenty of galaxy to go.
And plenty of reports. Chew was always surprised by how they piled up.
It wasn’t until he realized that he’d read the same paragraph three times that Chew decided to call it a night. The last drill had concluded almost an hour previously. When he stepped onto the bridge, it was well into beta watch. The ship’s lights had been dimmed 30 percent, but both Leonova and Jennings were on still on duty. Neither appeared to have budged an inch.
Lt. Moreno was sitting at Leonova’s station, but didn’t look entirely unhappy to have Leonova occupying the center seat during. Likewise, Ensign Vronn was sitting in the spare seat next to Jennings.
“Jennings, Leonova, I admire the dedication, but call it a night,” said Chew. He admired their diligence, but it wouldn’t do to have his senior officers exhausted during a real first-contact encounter. Chew did not include himself, of course, because it was well known that ship’s masters didn’t require sleep.
Leonova stood and stepped to the side and said, “Lt. Moreno, you have the conn.”
Moreno brushed a stray blonde hair into place, trying desperately not to look at her captain and said, “I have the conn,” and sat in the center seat.
Jennings stayed glued to the scope.
“Come on, I’m sure than Vronn can monitor the computer while…”
“I’ve got something,” said Jennings, straightening, and then immediately hunching back over slightly, hand rubbing her lower back. “Sorry sir, a little stiff.”
“That’s quite all right,” said Chew, both he and Leonova stepping over to her station, fatigue forgotten. “What’ve you got?”
“Well, sir, I got hung up on it being a signal, a message, but it was too simple, too powerful.”
“Had to have been to trigger the navigational deflectors,” muttered Leonova.
Chew rubbed his chin, “Well, they could have been shouting ‘hi.’”
“More like ‘h.’ It just isn’t a useful thing to communicate. It could mean anything from ‘hey’ to ‘keep away.’ There’d be no way to know. If you have the tech necessary to create such a powerful signal, you could just as easily embed whole encyclopedias along with a translation key.”
“So then what is it? Not a weapon,” said Leonova.
“No. About an hour ago, I picked up a faint gravitational echo as we passed a system. I almost wrote it off as background noise, but on a hunch, I checked it, and it matched the signal. We passed two more systems, and I found the same trace. Sir… I think that what we’re looking at is a form of deep-space imaging system, like a gavitic sonar. With this system, you could create incredibly detailed star charts.”
“Yes, but gravity waves propagate at the speed of light. They must be a very patient people,” said Leonova.
“Or very long-lived,” said Jennings.
“So can you trace it back to the source?”
By way of answering, Jennings hit a key and the overhead monitor changed views, showing the Spirit’s current location relative to a non-descript main-sequence star in an uncharted system.
“How long at our current speed?” asked Chew.
“Five hours, twelve minutes,” said Jennings.
Chew rubbed his face. “All right. Enough time for a bite to eat and a nap. Moreno, I’ll be in my cabin. Let me know when we’re within sensor range of the system.”
“You two,” said Chew, pointing at his senior officers. “Get some rest.” Both started to protest, but Chew cut them off. “That’s an order.” With that, he herded them into the turbo-lift. With a final look over his shoulder, he said, “Let the future look after itself,” and followed them.