USS Traveller
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The Heart Of The Matter

Posted on Thu Jul 15th, 2021 @ 12:55am by Captain Remas McDonald & Lieutenant Commander Shadi Zatra & Lieutenant Mar Megara MD & Lieutenant Dinui Locke (loch) & Innocent Bystander & Commander Onofron Zuir

Mission: S2:2: Something Missing Something New
Location: USS Traveller, Briefing Room
Timeline: February 2390, Mission Day 1.

It was a star map. Though not a helpful navigational kind. There was no legend next to it, no pointers, no handy markers denoting 'You Are Here'. Just a tightly packed rough sphere of stars, with a few here and there leaking out from the sides.

"Messier 4," Remas said as he walked in front of the briefing room podium, sitting down on the steps leading up to it as the map of the aforementioned star cluster hovered in the air. He gestured over his shoulder to it. "A gravitational map of the cluster gained by this ship's sensor suite when we fell out of Phase Space Acceleration 90 odd light-years shy of the mark in the intergalactic medium. Not bad for a first try."

He looked at the assembled officers.

"Of you here today, only I and Commander Zatra were present during those halcyon days of heady exploration before the Canopus gentrification expedition made its arrival," Remas grinned. "Back in the old days, so it seems."

A small blob of ill-defined orange light appeared off to the edge of Messier 4, about a meter from it.

"That would be our first encounter with life from beyond our galaxy, the Morningstar Ascendency ark ship. Commander Zatra, perhaps you'd like to tell folks about the peculiar energy field that ship-generated?" Remas asked, before turning his attention to the new Executive Officer. "Or perhaps you'd like to showcase your reading of our mission logs, Commander Zuir?"

Shadi let out a hissing snarl at the mention of the Ark Ship. "That energy field turned our warp plasma into an inert sssticky jelly that I wouldn't lubricate my cloaca with."

Meg had to bite her lips to keep from laughing out loud. I hate we else Shadi was, she was certainly descriptive in her narrative.

Horrified at Shadi's turn of phrase, Ono felt his eyes bulged in shock and horror. "Excuse me, Lieutenant Commander Zatra? I don't know what boorishness you permit in Engineering, but you will refrain from such crass candor during official meetings."

"Who in ssstarvation is this guy?" Shadi asked Remas.

"I am your Executive Officer," Ono interjected. "We've met. You will address me when I have spoken to you, formally so, and not as though I am not present. Do we have an understanding of one another, Lieutenant Commander, or shall we take this matter behind closed doors where official records are written?"

Shadi slinked down into a hunch in her seat. If there was anything she respected, it was a strong show of force. "I was jussst asking..."

"That she was. And whilst colourful, she is not wrong," Remas said tactfully. "We entered the field not knowing the effect it would have on our warp drive. And following the automated defences of the Ark took fire on us we lost a good deal of our science crew as well. Apparently its a byproduct of their power generation technology, which negates certain laws of physics. Such as the speed of light as it relates to fusion. We were lucky the Traveller had solid battery back ups in place. But of course, the real treasure within the Ark was Clee'san, the stored consciousness of a fallen Morningstar warrior. She related some of their histories to us, but also warned us of what had caused them to flee in Arks."

The hologram shifted to playback a few stills from a EVA suit helmet cam. It show a brass catwalk over looking a vast space from which a violet light terminated. A space-suited figure as the subject of the recording, an alien control panel before him. The panel shifted from smooth brass material to become jagged and black, like a combination between bismuth crystals and an inky ferromagnetic fluid. It seemed to flow up the arm that was reaching for it, but in slow motion, the material could be seen ripping out of the sleeves of the suit.

"That is called a Clockmaker. An intergalactic techno phage is the smart way of saying a material infection of alien origin. According to Clee'san her home galaxy was eaten alive by this stuff, with her people choosing to detonate her home star to sour the Clockmaker invasion and speed their arks on their way. From what we've seen it's a machine plague, highly infectious and immediately fatal. Crewman James Barne, Maker of Ways rest his soul, was lost to them on that away mission. Wish I could say I knew him better than I did."

"That starving space demon took my leg!" Shadi exclaimed. Noting Ono jumping at her outburst, she looked him straight in the eye with her gigantic right one. "Read the med log if you don't believe it!"

Ono nodded without argument. "I see that you are none the worse for wear," he said flatly. Lazily turning his eyes to Remas, he said, "Ancient civilizations, transcendent AI, and machine plagues notwithstanding, I am not certain why we are here."

"An excellent question," Remas said. He gestured to the holographic display, and it changed back to a star map of Messier 4. But now, with the smudge of orange hanging off to its left, there was a small dot of it pulsing in the heart of Messier 4. "The Canopus long-range sensors have detected an oddity. A patch of space where the speed of light is slightly less than what it should be. In fact, it matches closely to the signature of the dampening field of the Morningstar Ark. We've been tasked by the Office of Special Investigations to, well, investigate. If this is one of their Arks, it might well be infected with Clockmakers making it an active threat to Messier 4. Or it could be an intact cultural sample of the Morningstar Ascendancy, and we have an agreement with Clee'san to investigate that possibility. From what Clee'san has told us, the Ascendency was a galaxy-spanning civilisation with technology far surpassing our own, and it would seem the Myriad as well. If the Ark is intact and lifeless, it's a technology sample we would be foolish to avoid. And if it's not lifeless, a good First Contact would be in order."

That definitely perked up Ono's attention. A solid, high profile First Contact would be just the thing to boost his service record. "And just how soon could we determine which one of these very diverse possibilities is the reality?"

"Currently the area of 'slow space' is centred on a single star system near the centre of Messier 4. At least we believe it to be a star system, as the nature of the dampening field is rendering a lot of our sensing technologies invalid. We'll know more when we get there, but given its location, there'll be a lot of interference from the local stars. They are packed in there tightly towards the core," Remas said. "Warping straight through is not going to be easy."

Morningstar Warrior. Ark Ship. Cloaca. IB processed these words and the others spoken by the mixed individuals present in Captain Remas McDonald's briefing room. He studied the star map happily until it morphed into something else.

The Infection. Clockmaker. His recently formed blood ran chill in his equally new veins, and the echo of a memory ravaged that shiny nervous system he'd gifted himself. They were here. Eyes wide, Bystander kept them on that orange mark as Remas kept talking. As they all spoke.

"It'll be worth it," IB said, and those brightly dark eyes sought Remas' own. "Unsafe. Dangerous. But very very exciting," he added, his own words deeply soaked in a controlled, but overt enthusiasm. "Are we already on our way?" He knew the answer to that, so he added. "What is our estimated arrival time?"

“We’re still docked IB,” Remas smiled. “We’ll be departing once we’ve finished loading on supplies from Canopus Station. With our QSD we can be at the fringe of the Core Cluster in half a day, and then a day of warp travel to get to Slow Space.”

“I do not suppose I am lucky enough to have data on the effects such an area of space can have on crew health,” said Meg, partially as a question. Such information would be helpful, but being the first to study it would also be exciting- if in fact, any differences were noted.

"Yes, more on that in a moment," Ono said with a respectful wave of the hand toward Meg. "But first, please fill me in on one matter of old business." His eyes settled on IB with an appraising stare. "Who and what, pray tell, are you and what are you doing here in the senior briefing?"

“Innocent Bystander is our Path Finder. Though I will let the elves speak of their true nature,” Remas said with a smile.

Jolani favored Innocent Bystander with a quick smile before returning to her normal flat expression face.

"And a Path Finder is... what?" Ono waved his hand as if flourishing it would produce an answer from thin air. "Some sort of chaplain or shaman or religious oracle from your Elder Rash tradition perhaps? Please enlighten me." Before anyone could respond, he looked directly at IB and said. "Because for the life of me, I don't understand why a non-Starfleet individual is present for senior level briefings."

Losing patience, Mag snapped, "because we trust him! If the captain does not object, why should you? Now I believe I asked a question before I was so rudely interrupted." She added a scowl in Ono's direction.

"Yeah!" Shadi shouted in agreement even though she was still not sure who the mysterious stranger was either. She had been quite busy on Casstaul.

"Discipline has been rather lax aboard this ship, so I will overlook this one..." Ono's head wavered as he fought for a word strong enough. "...blatant display of insubordination. You will address me as your superior officer with all due respect thereunto or we will have a discussion over etiquette and future service following this meeting."

Back to IB and Remas as if the sidebar had not even happened, he said, "Is someone going to tell me what a Path Finder is and why it is privy to closed staff meeting"

"Starfleet is a new word in this place," IB said, his tone implying that this was a welcome and exciting development to have happening in the wider scheme of things. "I am... older... Different to all of you, but also the same. I wish to explore. Your names and labels - shaman, oracle, senior level - they are not my own and I am not labelled by your measurements." His bronze features and gold eyes worked together to produce a happy, confident smile that infused the space around him with a tangible brightness.

"I am an explorer," IB attempted to clarify. "I have the great honour of being asked to assist exploration with Captain Remas McDonald and the esteemed crew of the Traveller. I have been given an important position on this crew," he added with great and obvious pride in this fact. "But if Captain Remas McDonald does not require me to do so, I will venture outwards alone. If you require a deeper understanding, it will take some time to explain exactly who I am as this is a work in progress for me also."

"That was an impressive list with no information," Ono said. "I trust we will continue this conversation another time."

Dinui had been biting her lip to keep from jumping in too soon but she couldn't keep silent any longer as the conversation appeared ready to disolve into chaotic rants and childish pouting. "Bystander be guide and guest easiest way to explain for ye. He's earned our respect and trust as for the good Doctor's questions Ah'm agreeing, what do we know so we can prepare for less trouble an, hurt?"

"As far as we can tell there wasn't any overt medical effect on the crew of entering Slow Space. At the time it was a matter of considerable interest as to how the field could differentiate between slowing the speed of light without also slowing the electrical impulses of the brain. Alas we didn't have time to study the effect long before we discovered the Clockmaker infestation and had need to self-destruct the Ark," Remas said. "The biggest challenge will be preparing your departments to work under restricted power mode. We're loading up on batteries, but once we're in Slow Space assume fusion and warp power will be offline for the duration."

“Thank you, Captain,” Meg said with a pointed glare at Ono. She did not like being dismissed, no matter how respectfully it was done.

"Perhaps we should consider an advance scouting action," Ono said, ignoring the irrelevant doctor's glare entirely. "It would be a risky maneuver, to be sure, but better to risk a shuttle that could be tractored by the Traveller rather than the entire ship itself." Waving a hand toward IB, but sparing him only the tersest of glances, Ono added, "That would be a good use for your native shaman here."

"The Zheng-he would be a good choice for that mission. Its already survived one encounter with a Clockmaker infestation, so it's got an element of good luck attached to it. Jolani, I assume you'd want to fly it? With Meg and Shadi along for medical and mechanical support. And now that I have an Executive Officer I imagine I'll be wanted to stay on the bridge whilst Commander Ono, you take the fore?"

Now there was a dilemma. Ono scratched his chin. On the one hand, he desperately wanted to become captain of his own vessel, even this one, and that meant spending as much time in the command chair as possible. But, on the other hand, the commodore's orders were for him to keep McDonald from screwing up any other pivotal events in Messier 4. That meant being the tip of the spear for this away team. And if he ended up being the one to initiate a successful first contact rather than the space gypsy...

"Yes, of course," Ono finally said. "As per protocol." An unofficial protocol stated that the commanding officer of most Starfleet vessels were not to join away teams, but exceptions were always made. Exploratory vessels such as the Traveller fell within the purview of exceptions to that protocol, but it didn't hurt to flex adherence to protocol. "I will lead the away team, then." Looking around the table, Ono realized something. "What about security?"

Shadi jumped to her feet. "I am the champion of my generation's Ravaging, noble daughter-spawn of the Ragolar Brood, and Warrior First Class as according to the sacred Code to the sssame!" Usually she resented being stereotyped as a fighter, preferring to prove her mettle as one of the first Saurian technicians and engineers of Ragolar descent. But when push came to shove, Shadi went full bore. "On my honor, the away team will complete its mission!"

It took some doing for Ono to recover from nearly falling out of his chair, startled as he was by Shadi's outburst. "Uh... at ease, Lieutenant Commander."

Meg grinned. She couldn’t help it. She liked not being the only person confused by Shadi. “We have a few security officers on board,” she offered. “As well as Comander Zatra. I have been trained in several different martial arts and all officers have at least some basic hand-to-hand combat training. I think we can handle it.”

"Given the Clockmakers can subsume any matter with mere physical contact, I'd avoid hand to hand combat at all costs," Remas mused nodding at Shadi. "Not all of us can regrow limbs lost. But I see no problem with the layout of that plan. Any other questions?"

"What is our ETA?" Ono asked.

"We still remain connected to the Station of Canopus," IB happily informed this new and apparently officiously important individual, then repeated the information he'd gleaned previously from Remas. "Our Estimated Time of Arrival is based upon our exodus from our currently docked position. Expected journey time under currently acceptable limits of the USS Traveller would be one and a half of your measures referred to as days." There was a brief pause, but IB spoke again before Ono did. "This native shaman would very much volunteer to be involved in flying alongside Jolani's skilled vessel. I believe you refer to it as 'back-up'?" He stated, with joyful anticipation of inclusion.

"I am sure Jolani would enjoy a chance to test her skills alongside someone native-born to the art of ship handling," Remas said with a grin.

IB's bronze features mirrored that grin with a width and enthusiasm akin to a small human being granted access to their very favourite toybox. He studied Remas for a few seconds before turning that sunshiny expression fully upon Jolani herself. "A competition challenge is suggested?" IB asked her, clearly excited about this prospect.

Was there a twinkle in Jolani's eyes as she turned to the Innocent Bystander? "It would definitely be an interesting challenge and I do not ever recall backing down from a challenge in flight."

"Is permission now required from both Captain Remas McDonald and Your-Superior-Officer-With-All-Due-Respect-Thereunto?" IB asked her, with the inflection on the latter title implying he genuinely considered that to be how Ono wished to be addressed.

"I suspect so," Jolani told the Innocent Bystander, trying to keep a straight face at the title the alien gave Ono.

The look on Ono's face was appalled stupefaction. "Are you... mocking me?"

"I believe the title is Executive Officer, IB. And a harmonious command team is the ideal way of thing, don't you agree Ono?" Remas asked.

"Yes..." Ono said idly as he stared at IB with a faraway look in his eye.

Bystander considered both responses for a brief moment and then returned Ono's direct look. "Apparently, yes," he said, tone devoid of sarcasm. "Unintentional misinterpretation of your previous request for a specific address, Executive Officer Ono," he course-corrected. "Are you mocking me?" He asked in return, genuinely curious.

"Let'sss get ready to rrrrumble!" Shadi shouted. "I've always wanted another chance against another heinous Clock Maker space demon!"

"We'll be here all week," Remas said under his breath as he held up a hand. "No one is being mocked. Let us all follow Chief Engineer Zatra's example and be excited! We could be discovering in a few days the last remnant of a vast extra galactic power. I think that to be a good thing yes?"

Ono scanned the table with narrowed eyes but left Remas' question unanswered.

"I am very excited!" stated IB clearly and with true enthusiasm. "Flying is very excellent and most wonderful fun. Much levity! Space demons and clockmakers may not share this reaction, though Captain Remas McDonald." A grin accompanied his next statement. "But we will find out. Very soon."

Shadi held up one claw. "Just let me get my blessed skull of Lykasti. It is said to ward away evil ssspirits and hunger pangs."

Dinui shook her head slightly, she was excited but she wasn't going to make additional affronts in the new first officers presence. She didn't know the man well enough to gauge his limit of patience and she wasn't about to push it to the limit.


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