Episode 3 – Future’s Past

Apparently, a Breen Grelek knew of the Cardassian advance two hours before the Cardassians crossed the border, and not just the vagaries you would expect from an intel operation, but specifics about its outcome that had no way of being known. The Bellona is sent to investigate. Without a formal invite, they must figure out not just what is at play but first how to even get themselves welcomed into Breen territory with tensions and suspicions running high.

Read more about the mission premise and proceedings »

~ Effect Before Cause ~

Commander Jake Lewis, Lieutenant Commander Tom Brooks, Rear Admiral Michael West and Leon Rice
Captain's Ready Room on Mission Day 0 at 2010 Hours

It had been a busy day for sure. Sixteen hours ago, they’d just been starting the interrogation of the Mind Burner. Since then, Commander Lewis had been incapacitated by a black ops hit squad, stormed into Starbase 141’s Command and Control Center, debriefed his operators, blackmailed a Commodore, met some new staff, and worked a full bridge shift. He was more than ready to hit the sack as he stepped through the threshold of his quarters.

Duty wouldn’t be so kind to him this evening though. His combadge beeped, just as he was starting to unbutton his collar. “Lewis. Go.”

“Commander, Communications here,” began a young officer whose voice he didn’t recognize yet. There were many people he didn’t know yet and that frustrated him. “Sorry to disturb you sir, but I’ve got the Office of Fleet Specialized Support Activities on the line. They’re asking for you and Lieutenant Commander Brooks.”

Of course they call now. But why did they also want Brooks? “Alright, tell them we’ll call them back in ten.”

“Aye sir.”

Commander Lewis tapped his combadge twice, first to end the call and then to start a new one. “Lewis to Brooks. My ready room,” he ordered as he spun on his heels and headed back out of his quarters towards the turbolift. “Ten minutes or less.” He’d better not run late this time.

Eight minutes later, Lieutenant Commander Brooks arrived panting at at the Captain’s Ready Room. Commander Lewis, for his sake, was already there brewing a pot of masala chai. The Commander had developed a taste for the Assam specialty when he attempted a summit of Baintha Brakk while waiting for the Algorab Commission to issue earlier this year. Even if it had been a frustrating period, he found the rich cardamom and cinnamon comforting.

“May I offer you a cup, Dr. Brooks?” asked the Commander as he poured a portion into two cups already arranged on his desk.

“Ummm… yes… sure… thank you sir,” Dr. Brooks said, taken somewhat aback by the Commander’s hospitality as he accepted the cup and took a seat. Last time he’d met the Commander, he’d been chewed out for being late to a briefing. “Forgive me sir, but I was just climbing into bed. It’s been a long day.”

Commander Lewis shot him a look devoid of sympathy. The pampered theoretical physicist had no idea what a long day was. The console on the wall above the desk chimed. “Let’s see what this is all about.”

The logo of the United Federation of Planets faded, replaced by the faces of two men that Commander Lewis recognized from his first meeting in San Francisco. One was Rear Admiral Michael West, the coordinator of the Office of Fleet Specialized Support Activities, and the other was Mr. Leon Rice, the mysterious civilian whose title was never offered during their first meeting and who Lewis had been able to dig nothing up about since.

“Commander Lewis,” began the Rear Admiral with a smile, “a pleasure to see you again. Good work on your first mission. And Dr. Brooks, thank you for joining us as well.”

“It didn’t go exactly as planned sir,” interjected Commander Lewis. While he had promised Commodore Gorman he would not send the details to Starfleet Command, the confidential after-action report he sent to Rear Admiral West was very specific about what happened. It covered the obstructions by Starbase 141’s staff and the black ops team that assaulted them and killed the Mind Burner. The only thing he left out was his conversation with the Commodore. The fact he knew about Starfleet Intelligence’s involvement was something he wasn’t willing to share with Rear Admiral West, at least not until he knew whose side his boss was on. “I assume you saw my report?”

“I did. You and your crew are all intact, and the threat was neutralized.” The Admiral still looked happy with the result.

“Yes, but there was a second team Admiral.” Commander Lewis wasn’t willing to let it rest quite yet. “They murdered our suspect before we could learn much. All we got was that the Mind Burner was part of an illicit experiment to create human telepaths.”

“Not everything goes as planned, Commander,” the Rear Admiral responded evasively, “but ultimately, it all worked out. Sometimes a secret is best kept secret.”

Commander Lewis was long past beating around the bush. “Do you mean to say you knew about the second team?” he asked as the tenor of his voice rose. “Sir, the Activity will only be successful if we have all the facts before us.” His tone was firm and unrelenting. “If we need to remove someone, we certainly have the will and the capabilities to do that, but we need to know the full picture. We don’t need a second team stepping on our toes.” Lieutenant Commander Brooks, for his sake, squirmed uncomfortably. This conversation had gone awful dark awful quick.

“No, Commander, I did not know about the second team,” answered Rear Admiral West in as clear of terms as he could. It seemed genuine, but Lewis knew that West had run psychological warfare operations during the Dominion War. He could probably lie straight to their face of a Betazoid without them having any idea. “As I expressed to you during our first meeting, we need you and your team. We will do our best to enable you, but none of us is privy to every shadow in these halls. We have ideas, maybe, but nothing we can substantiate. If we can, you’ll be the first to know.”

Commander Lewis nodded. “That’ll work for now.” Maybe it was the truth or maybe it wasn’t, but there was nothing more he’d milk from the Admiral. “So what can we help you with this evening sir? I understand we’ve got new a new mission coming down the pipe?”

“Indeed. Mr. Rice, would you like to explain?”

The civilian, who’d taken up a spot behind the Rear Admiral’s left shoulder, stepped forward as West yielded the floor. “In a dark corner of Starfleet Communications, large computers churn through exabytes of collected data with a single goal: to find mentions of events out of order with the events themselves. The system rarely yields something of interest, but just a few days ago, it did.”

Dr. Brooks perked up, leaning in excitedly. Ever since those mysterious folks in weird uniforms showed up on Mannheim back in 2381 and accused him of crimes he hadn’t committed yet, Starfleet hadn’t let him anywhere near temporal mechanics. That didn’t stop him from reading every report and rumor about his lifelong passion though. He’d heard of the machine before. It was an old school approach for detecting temporal inconsistencies, an outgrowth of a program started at the Michigan Institute for Technology back in the 21st century. Its primitive nature, based only on downtime data, guaranteed it could never cause a violation of the Temporal Prime Directive. That benefit was also its deficit though. It could not detect an incursion before it occurred, the very thing he’d built and subsequently got in trouble for building.

Commander Lewis, for his own sake, flinched. Time travel. He hated time travel. The idea that someone could erase him before he had a chance to intervene disturbed him greatly. “And let me guess: we’re going to investigate.”

“Hit it in one Commander,” the Rear Admiral exclaimed. “And where you’re going, you’re not exactly invited… the Breen system of Sentek.”

Commander Lewis tweaked brow. “I see.” Sentek was a Breen system on the edge of their territory that had once belonged to the Cardassians. According to intelligence, it was one of the systems hit during the recent Cardassian advance and was now under Cardassian control. “What happened there?”

Mr. Rice fielded the question: “The Breen planetary governor knew about the attack before it happened.”

“Are you sure?”

Mr Rice nodded. “One day, six hours, thirty-four minutes before the Cardassian Fleet arrived in the Sentek system, our point of variance, Governor Jot ordered his son Vor from Orbital Platform 4 to Orbital Platform 6. His son objected. He had a little lady friend, if you can imagine that, on Platform 4,” Mr. Rice said with a chuckle, trying to imagine a Breen romance, somehow relatively unphased by the gravity of the fact he was claiming a temporal incursion occurred. “The governor pleaded with him that Platform 4 would be destroyed. Ultimately, he transferred Vor and his love interest to Platform 6. At variance plus one day, six hours, thirty-nine minutes, Platform 4 was destroyed. Platform 6 survived, simply disabled at variance plus one day, six hours, thirty-seven minutes.”

Commander Lewis listened intently. From what Rice was saying, three minutes after the Cardassians arrived in the system, Platform 6 was disabled, and two minutes after that, Platform 4 was destroyed. “While it sounds like the Governor knew the Cardassians would attack, that might be on account of intelligence or collusion. I’m not seeing how that implies a temporal incursion.”

“Because the Cardassians didn’t intend to destroy any platforms,” explained Mr. Rice. “They wanted to take the platforms for themselves. They shot to disable, not destroy, and did a good job of it. Platform 4 was the only one that blew up. An asset reports it was on account of a catastrophic failure in the platform’s damage control systems and definitely not intentional.”

“What’s our cover?”

Rear Admiral West’s answer was exactly as Commander Lewis feared: “You have none. You’re going to have to find a way to slip in and out. The Cardassians own that system now.”

“Let me get this straight. We’re going to violate the sovereign territory of the Cardassians, or the Breen, or both, because daddy wanted to protect his son and his son’s love interest?”

“No Captain,” interjected Dr. Brooks with a sort of confidence that Commander hadn’t expected from a man that thus far had come across as quite an airhead. “We’re going to do it because someone has access to uptime information. It may seem small, but it’s usually the small stuff that people slip on.”

“Dr. Brooks is correct,” affirmed Mr. Rice. “The reason Starfleet Communications pours through exobytes of ELINT isn’t to find the obvious incursions. Uptime usually addresses those without us ever knowing – sometimes because we get erased from time and wouldn’t even have a chance to do so.” Commander Lewis shook his head to try to clear the insanity of that statement. It didn’t work. The civilian continued: “But when it’s small, sometimes we detect it before they do – and then of course there are also the cases where the incursion occurs in such a way that there is no uptime to reverse it for us.”

“Commander, I’ll be straight with you here,” offered Rear Admiral West, chiming back in. “The Federation has a unit that often deals with these issues, but this is happening in space we have no permission to enter between two powers who have no agreements with that unit. We could send an advisor from that unit to join you but that would delay you several days – and you already have Dr. Brooks – so we’ve been authorized to deploy you at once.”

“Understood Admiral.” The Commander knew an order when he heard one. “Tell me. You mentioned an asset. Will we have access to this asset?”

“Unfortunately not,” answered Mr. Rice. The Commander’s face fell. “At least not at this time. Because of the situation on the ground, the asset can only initiate communication with us, not the other way around. But the asset will be in touch if there’s something the asset can provide.” It wasn’t the whole truth, but he couldn’t share the whole truth. One rarely could in their world.

“We’ll head for the border at once,” nodded Commander Lewis, “and brief the crew in the morning so we can start prepping our infil.”

“We’ll send over what we’ve got tonight. Keep us in the loop.”

“Understood sir.”

“FSSA out.”

With that, the link was cut.

Commander Lewis rose from his chair and stepped around the desk. “Alright Doctor, get some rest. We’ve got a big day ahead of us tomorrow,” he said as he put a hand on the time junky’s shoulder. “Let’s meet at 0900 to go over what they sent. We’ll brief the staff at 1000 hours.”

“Understood sir,” Lieutenant Commander Brooks said as he followed the Commander out of the ready room back onto the bridge.

“OOD,” Lewis said, turning his attention to his staff as Dr. Brooks headed for the turbolift to get some rest, “recall any crew still on the station and prepare for departure. As soon as we’ve got everyone and everything on board, take us out.”

“Destination sir?”

The Commander paused for a moment. They didn’t actually have a plan yet. Might as well get as close to where they were likely going to need to be as possible though. “The Gaspar system. And notify the senior staff that we will be meeting at 1000 hours tomorrow morning to review our next mission.”

“Aye sir.”

With that, Commander Lewis headed for the lift. Time to get some sleep before everything hit the fan again. They never told him this would be easy, but at least it would be interesting.

Positioned aft on deck 1, the briefing room offered the best view in the house, save the bridge itself. Lieutenant Hall, hands clasped behind her back with a cold and sharp expression on her face, barely noticed the beauty of the stars streaking by her as she looked out the rear window. Staring into the darkness, her mind was elsewhere. The events of yesterday frustrated her, more than she’d expected they would. It wasn’t really the brutality, nor the reality that their unsub had unveiled. No, it was the fact she’d been used and played.

Although the Lieutenant had taken the rest of the day off and hit the sheets early, she hadn’t actually gotten any rest. After a half-hearted breakfast in her quarters, Hall had found her way to the briefing room a good bit before the mysterious 1000 meeting was to kick off. For the better part of half an hour, she had the room to herself. The customary hiss of the door opening drew her from her thoughts though. It was almost time for the briefing, she thought to herself as she turned to see who it was who’d broken her silent solitude.

Entering the briefing room, Sam looked across the room at Lieutenant Hall for a second before he nodded in her direction. He still had his mind on how someone was able to hack into the feed and plant a worm on a Starfleet ship. Sam knew that he was not the smartest person in the fleet and personal he felt like those so called genius were the one that make sure that ships such as the Bellona were secure and frankly he was scared. Who ever the person was had just planted a worm in the feed and left it there. They didn’t try to hide it and Sam would bet everything he had that they wanted it to be found.

Someone is playing with us, Sam thought as he took his seat.

Alex had, for the most part, put the previous days events from his mind. He hadn’t slept as well or as long as he’d liked, but that was normal for him after an action. The annoyance at being out maneuvered and the fact someone had gotten the drop on him had seen him back in the gym early beating his annoyance into the heavy bag again. He’d showered and checked out the overnight pile on his desk in Surveillance before heading to the briefing room. He wasn’t exactly surprised to find Hall there already. That woman always seems to be one of the first ones in. He thought to himself and noted her appearance. She looks about the way I feel. Someone, somewhere, and sometime is gonna pay for yesterday.

“Commander.” He nodded to Moss as he crossed the room towards where he normally sat. “Lieutenant, hope you’re doing better?” He asked politely as he took his seat. That was what bothered him most. They’d gotten the drop on him and if they really wanted it, Hall, Lewis, and himself would all be dead. Gotta react faster next time Alex. Get back on your A-game.

Lieutenant Hall only nodded in response. Cold yes, but she would not play the victim, even if inwardly she felt that way.

With the tedious task of revamping the ship’s EPS grid, Jenni made her way to the briefing room. The Chief Engineer’s idea of using the overhaul to manipulate the station’s crew and hack into the security grid had been nothing more than a waste of time. She and her engineers were understandably frustrated as the overhaul itself proved itself to be unnecessary, other than gaining a mere two percent in efficiency. Jenni herself could not count it as a “win” especially since the Bellona herself was about to walk away empty handed. Hopefully, she thought as she entered the briefing room, this mission would be different. Jenni did not acknowledge anyone in the room as she took her seat.

Soya entered the briefing room, a cup of coffee in one hand and a PADD with the latest reports from the tactical drills in the other. She nodded to those already present before taking an empty seat at the table, eyes again glued to the PADD in her hand.

Jeanne was the next to enter, while not as directly involved as some of the others in the room. Previous events had still left her irritated to put it lightly. As she took her seat she noticed there were still two very important individuals missing. For one it wasn’t exactly the first time but the Commander in her experience usually was a bit more on time.

Kre walked into the briefing room, reading the report he had received from what happened and he felt annoyance clouding his face. When he looked up he could see he was not the only one that thought it preposterous, and that was putting it mildly. The atmosphere was rather tense. He saw a few faces he had not met, including the counselor, who also happened to be his team lead. “Morning” he said, acknowledging the three he had met with the day before with a brief smile. “Very cheerful, are we all this morning,” he commented as he made his way to his seat, an obviously fake grin plastered on his face, expressing his frustration at the situation. As he sat down he looked around the table. “Those of you I haven’t met, I will meet individually as time permits,” he said one a more serious note, looking at each. “Lieutenant Hall, Commander Moss, Chief of Ops, right? And Lieutenant Matthews, Chief Engineer,” he said with a question in his voice as to confirm he matched the persons to the personnel files he had.

“That’s me,” Jenni said, nodding to the new arrival. “You must be the new XO?”

“Yes, I am, Kretorg of the House of Torath,” he said with a hint of pride, he could not hide. “Looking forward to work with you all,” he said.

Looking at the male Klingon, Sam looked at the man. It stuck him as strange to see a Klingon on an Intelligence ship. However, looking closer at the man, Sam could see that he was half Klingon since his ridges were not as high up.

While pleasantries were exchanged in the briefing room, Commander Lewis and Lieutenant Commander Brooks finished up in the captain’s ready room. Temporal mechanics, even conceptually, was never Commander Lewis’ strong suit, but Dr. Brooks seemed right at home with it. In fact, rather than the space cadet who strolled in late to their first briefing, as he spoke about time travel, he took on the confident and energized tone of a master orator.

“But here’s the thing, Commander,” offered Dr. Brooks as the two picked up their notes and headed over to the briefing room through the bridge. “There are only two reasons down-time is dealing with this: one, this incursion has no notable effect on up-time, or two, this incursion had such an effect on uptime there is no uptime to prevent it.”

“And you think it’s the latter?”

“Without a doubt,” the physicist replied confidently. “They’re asking us to violate the sovereign claims of two powers we’ve recently been at war with.”

“How would they know there’s no uptime? It’s not as though we have a time travel machine to go check, right?”

“Supposedly not, so yet another question among many,” Brooks said with a twinkle in his eye as they stepped through the threshold into the briefing room. Mankind had charted the space. Time was the last untapped frontier, the place with the greatest density of remaining unknowns.

The room drew to silence as the two crossed the room and came to stand at the head of the table.

“Good morning everyone,” began Commander Lewis in a fresh and well-rested tone as he surveyed the table. Hall, Ryan, Matthews, Moss, they all looked like it was anything but a good morning. While he trusted Ryan and Hall could take care of themselves, he made a mental note to check in with Matthews and Moss later. He could even see mild frustration on the faces of those who’d been less close to the mission itself. Morale might be a problem moving forward as it was unlikely they would get a lot of cut-and-dry easy-win missions.

“As I’m sure you’re all aware by now, we’re en route for Gaspar,” began Commander Lewis, “but Gaspar isn’t our end destination.” He gestured towards the wall-mounted terminal as he keyed up a system unlikely familiar to many in the room. “Sentek, that’s where we’re heading.”

Jeanne raised an eyebrow at the mention of Sentek. Despite no longer being a Commanding Officer, she still kept an eye on galactic events. The dispute concerning this system wasn’t exactly small news either. It seemed clear their operation was going to be focused against either the Cardassians or Breen or perhaps even both but well aware that they would find out soon enough, Jeanne opted to remain silent for now.

“Sentek?” Jenni asked, crossing her arms as she cautiously eyed Commander Brooks standing beside the Captain. Something here didn’t smell right, and Jenni had a feeling she wasn’t going to like any of it. “I don’t think I’ve heard of a Federation system named Sentek.”

“That would be because, depending on who is asked, it is Cardassian or Breen space, Lieutenant,” Jeanne replied to the Engineer.

Jenni snapped her head to face the Security Chief. She’d forgotten that there’d been a lot of action on the Cardassian/Breen border lately. “We’re crossing the border?” Looking back to the Captain. “Can we do that?” The very moment she asked the question, she realized how stupid she looked. Of course they could do that. If they could perform clandestine actions on one of their own starbases, surely they could cross someone else’s border.

“Sentek isn’t a particularly pleasant world.” Soya chimed in, “Unless you’re Cardassian surface temps are about 35 celsius… in the winter. It’s switched hands a few times. Cardassian had it about 50 years ago, Breen took it, during the Federation-Cardassian conflict.” She said, glancing around the room, to see if anyone else wanted to add their own comments. “Cardassians retook it about three years before the Dominion War, the Founders gave it to the Breen during Dominion subjection. They’ve been fighting ever sense.”

Alex shook his head. He’d been in more than a few firefights in those border regions. Hell, he’d operated behind those borders more than once in his career, but something wasn’t adding up. Bellona had the newest tech and other things the Federation wouldn’t normally risk behind enemy lines. “Sometimes I miss those border skirmishes, but a full on border crossing? In a ship packed to the gills with the latest and greatest of everything we’ve got?” He raised an eyebrow and looked at Lewis. “What’s the other shoe about to hit us in the face Skipper?”

Kre had listened and observed the crew’s responses. He was well familiar with fighting and clandestine operations in Cardassian territory. But Sentek? That was certainly going to be interesting. He looked towards the Captain for his answer, a slight frown forming between his brows. He was certain that something unexpected was up.

“Can we do that? Yes. Are we violating sovereign territorial claims of two arguebly hostile powers to do it? Also yes,” replied Commander Lewis in a matter of fact tone. “The powers that be have concluded that the risk to the timeline outweighs the risk of us creating a diplomatic crisis.” As the words came out of his mouth, Commander Lewis could taste the irony in them given that he’d been on a similar mission a few years ago that had also destabilized decades of interstellar relations with a neighboring empire. Funny they’d give him a chance to do it again. But that was a thought best kept to himself. He stepped back and gestured for Lieutenant Commander Brooks to take the floor.

Around the room, Dr. Brooks could see the skepticism on the faces of his colleagues. “Gentlepeople, we have evidence of temporal tampering that altered the timeline around the Battle of Sentek,” explained Dr. Brooks in a tone more excited than concerned. “And it’s our job to go in and investigate.”

Jeanne had never been too fond of time travel. It was the one thing in past ‘missions’ that had always given her a headache and she had pledged to stay the hell away from it whenever possible.

Sam felt like banging his head on the table when he hear time travel. He made it his life mission not to deal with anything relating to the Temporal Division of Starfleet and now Starfleet was putting them in the cross-hair of the one division that answered to no one.

For his own sake, even with all the modern technology, Sergeant Ryan still wasn’t a full blown believer time travel even existed. Some things were still just science fiction, and he had yet to see proof that time travel wasn’t just that. The fact that the brass way above his paygrade thought it plausible enough to order an incursion with a ship like the Bellona gave him pause. All the theories and hypothetical stuff was over his head, but orders were orders, and this sort of sneak and peek was what he trained for. “I’ll leave the science mumbo jumbo to the eggheads Skipper. You want boots on the ground in there quick and quiet, just say the word.”

“Lieutenant Commander, with all due respect, temporal incursions are difficult to detect downtime,” countered Lieutenant Hall, a worrying feeling settling in her stomach. She was familiar with but absolutely hated time travel, and she was hoping there was another explanation. There usually was. It’s why it took so long for Starfleet to even acknowledge that time travel existed. “Because, if we’re the target of an incursion, we have no way to know things did not go as planned.”

The paradox of playing around with the time line stuck like a Il’ngta bone in Kretorg’s throat. He would rather execute an assassination, but this shit? In fact he did not quite get the science mumbo jumbo either as Ryan rightly said. In one ear and out another.

“That is usually correct,”  the physicist replied kindly with a smile as if talking to a schoolchild, “but in this case, not so. This time, we have clear evidence that the Breen governor knew about the attack before it happened and altered the timeline accordingly.”

Lieutenant Hall opened her mouth as if to counter again, but Commander Lewis put his hand up to stop her as he addressed the room.

“Folks, I’m as skeptical about time travel as the next person,” stated Commander Lewis firmly, “but in this case, I agree with the Office and Dr. Brooks. ELINT recorded a conversation between Governor Jot and his son Vor where he pleaded with his son to be reassigned to a different orbital platform because the one his son was on would be destroyed. And sure enough, when the Cardassian advance came a day later, while they captured every other platform in tact, there was a critical system failure in the platform Vor would have been on that led to its destruction.”

Jeanne couldn’t help but feel that case was incredibly questionable. “Commander, if the governor had intimate knowledge of the attack, wouldn’t he have used that information to give his own side a strategic advantage rather than being so decisively defeated? Him pleasing for his son to be reassigned could very much be the result of an Engineering report mentioning that critical flaw in the systems and not time travel,” she said.

“Because the Office has an asset on the ground that confirmed the damage control system failure was a fluke caused by a cacophony of minor errors that each themselves were within regular tolerance intervals but together cascaded into a chain reaction that destroyed the station,” answered Commander Lewis. Reviewing what details they’d sent again and again, he’d kept trying to refute their claim of temporal tampering, but again and again, every sign pointed towards there being no other answer. The asset, whoever it might be, had been mighty thorough in sending documentation to rule out other possibilities. “But as for why didn’t the Governor prevent the attack, that is an open question.”

Dr. Brooks jumped back in: “There are many reasons one might consider. If the Governor were well-studied in temporal mechanics, he might recognize the danger in fundamentally altering the timeline. Or if he’s got technology to interpret the temporal waveform, he might also be able to predict outcomes if he did intervene and have concluded that the best outcome for the Breen would be for Sentek to fall, but he wasn’t willing to lose his son.” Those in the room didn’t look fully convinced, so he offered a contemporary albeit tactless example. “Consider the recent Gorn successes. If a Gorn general knew that General Brancer leveling their capital would inspire their war machine unlike ever before and lead them to capture Cestus and Canterra ten years later, might the long vision not be to let Gornar City be vaporized in 2379?”

“I feel like their are going to be a lot of headaches involved in this mission,” Soya said, having dealt with temporal investigations once or twice in her career. “There was a similar incident once, a small group of Bajorans used the Orb of Time to travel back to Bajor during the occupation. The intention was to assassinate several high ranking Cardassians during the occupation. However, once they did that, the Cardassians then believed the Bajoran people to pose too great a threat. My people were eliminated instead of enslaved. This resulted in the Cardassians gaining control of the Bajoran wormhole, and becoming a significant power in the quadrant. A Federation timeship from the future then prevented the Bajorans from going back in the first place. At least that’s what the reports claimed.”

“I second that headache…” Kre mumbled.

“Headache or not,” countered Commander Lewis, deciding it wasn’t healthy to let the staff wallow on their doubts or hesitations around time travel, “we are uniquely suited to deal with this issue. Some units may have better temporal mechanical knowledge, and others may operate more covertly, but we’re a unique blend. The dangers from someone actively manipulating the timeline transcend far more than ourselves, and so we’re going to do it. The question is how, and that’s what we need to figure out in the next few days…”

“Without damaging the timeline further,” interrupted Dr. Brooks.

The Commander shot Dr. Brooks a stern look before he turned his attention back to the monitor at the front of the room. Queuing it up on his PADD, he pulled the display back to show the Sentek system relative to Federation, Cardassian and Breen territory, including other systems, nebulae, etc. that lay in the area.

“We need a plan on how to travel fifteen light years through contested Breen/Cardassian territory, hide in or near the Sentek system, and deploy an operation to determine how the Governor had access to uptime information. Thoughts?”

“At long last something that makes sense,” Kre said. “So we have to sneak in and find someone,” he intentionally oversimplified the mission. “Or something…” he said.

“We could mask our warp signature to appear Breen or Cardassian,” Jenni offered. “It’ll protect us from every test except an authentication challenge or the naked eye.” Clandestine operations were not her strong suit. She had a feeling she’d be confined to Engineering for much of this, just keeping the ship in working order. Jenni also considered having critical repair parts stationed near critical areas should they be discovered and have to fight their way out of a situation.

“The best way to avoid being seen is to see the other guy before he sees us,” Alex said calmly. “Can we tweak the sensors to increase their range? Once we cross the border we don’t need detailed scans. There won’t be any friendlies around. All we need to know is if there’s someone out there. We can dial them back in once we get on station.”

“I think that combination could work until we get close. Since this is contested territory, we could come at it through either the Cardassian or the Breen side. Which signature would be easier for you to mask, Lieutenant Matthews?”

“I know far more about Cardassian signatures than Breen,” Jenni confessed. “And the Cardassian systems are more similar to ours. I think that’s our best bet. As far as the sensors, I might be able to boost them and get an extra lightyear or two, but our range is already farther than theirs.” I think…

“Then we’ll come at it from the Cardassian side,” said Commander Lewis, although even he felt it a bit surreal to so blatantly be planning to enter Cardassian space unannounced. “Lieutenant Moss, is there any way for you to boost our passive sensor range while minimizing our active footprint? We need to know if there are any vessels in our course, as far out as possible, but we don’t need particular good resolution on what they are.”

“Yes, sir,” Sam replied, “It will have to be done an hour before we get to the border, but as long as we take non-essential systems offline. I might be able to boost it more than what is needed.”

“Lieutenant Bennett, do you think you could plot us an innocuous course that keeps us off their main shipping lines while not taking us near any protected assets or military resources?”

“I’m sure I can cook something up. We’ll have to be careful,” the pilot said.

Commander Lewis was satisfied they had a plan for getting close, but it wouldn’t be enough on its own: “But here’s the problem we still have… that’ll only get us within a couple light years of Sentek. Once we approach the contested zone, we’re not going to be able to casually drift in. They’ll challenge us for authentication – you know, make sure we’re not the other side and all that.”

“Then let’s give it to them,” volunteered the counselor, Lieutenant Hall, from the other end of the table nonchalantly. “If we already look like one of their ships on sensors, why not steal a transponder and some authentication codes?” Lieutenant Hall looked across the room at Major Soya, Lieutenant Commander Lacroix and Sergeant Ryan.

“Could do,” Alex agreed with a nod to Hall. “We aren’t gonna get close enough for them to look out the window at us. We see a ship we can knock out in one or two hits before they can get a report off, take out life support with a precision hit, beam over in EVA suits, get what we need and rig their warp core to overload. Anyone does find the debris, it looks like a catastrophic engineering failure. Baring that, we change the modulation on our weapons to resemble anyone that’s not Federation and has a grudge against them, plenty of candidates there, do the same thing and the brass officially look clean. Accusations will fly anyway, but that’s normal for intergalactic politics.”

“I’d like to suggest an approach that would be slightly less of a declaration of war against a rising empire. Reconfigure a runabout to emit such a weak signal that it will fool their sensors. From my experience, Cardassian vessels do not secure all docking ports in non-combat scenarios. We can board the ship with a TACOPS team through one of the likely unsecured ones and maneuver to a transponder. There we take it and cover our tracks by manufacturing a catastrophic systems failure that destroys the area. It will be stealthy and look like the missing transponder is the result of an accident rather than a violent act.” Jeanne replied, missions like these required a subtle approach in her eyes and this to her seemed like the best way to go about it.

Put a bunch of shooters of a boat together, and they argue over how much tactical action is necessary. While they went back and forth, Dr. Brooks pulled up some maps on his PADD.

“That’s a lot of what if’s that have to work out in our favor.” Alex pointed out. “I don’t think we ought to rest the outcome of the entire mission on the chance that they’ve left a docking hatch unsecured. Better to go with something we know will net us what we need. Hit hard and fast, get what we need and be out again.”

“Or we could just take one from an unoccupied science ship that isn’t currently using it,” Dr. Brooks chimed in when there was a momentary pause in the conversation. With a flare for the dramatic, he pitched a vast nebula up onto the display from his PADD. “I present to you the Rolor Nebula, also known as the mini-Badlands, which just so happens to be sort of along our course.” He zoomed in a bit and rotated the image. “And here is a Cardassian Science Ministry research facility with a few dozen researchers and a couple survey ships. While I was aboard the Discovery studying the Badlands – a mighty boring task, might I add – we were working with a Cardassian research group. As part of the collaboration, a couple of us got to go on a diplomatically-approved field trip to this facility that studies a similar but smaller nebula inside Cardassian territory.”

Dr. Brooks paused for a moment, letting everyone mill it over, but before anyone could respond, he continued: “And what, you might ask, makes you think this is a better option? Well, I would respond, the nebula hides our approach – hell, even a transporter signal – plus it’s deep in Cardassian territory and isn’t a high value asset, so no security patrols and only a couple security officers to deal with drunken scientists… and because they’re Science Ministry, those ships, although unarmed, seldom used and rarely taken beyond the nebula, are technically Cardassian military vessels.” And then with a chuckle, he added: “Of course, the nebula itself might tear us up as we try to navigate it.”

Jeanne considered the scientist’s proposal. It was definitely the cleanest way to go about it. “That would work. If we deployed two teams, we could even make it look like a greater systems failure with one team going for the transponder and a second team causing an explosion in a linked but seemingly more important system so they would truly not know what was stolen.”

“How backwater is this station?” asked Lieutenant Hall, skeptical about creating more fuss than necessary. “Like do we need to create a distraction or would they not notice if a transponder were missing?” If they were anything like Dr. Brooks, she could totally see the latter. Scientists were very fixated on what they were fixated on.

“The likelihood they even fire up one of the ships to make a pass through the nebula in the next month is pretty low, I think,” answered the physicist. “When they took us for a flight on one of them, there was dust all over the consoles. We beamed over, they powered up the ship literally from darkness, and then took us for a flight. No systems checks or anything really that I noticed except to make sure we had propulsion and shields and not a single non-Science Ministry person on the ship except our one guard escort who just stood behind us looking bored the whole time.”

“It definitely sounds like the least risky option for us. If the ships are as poorly maintained as they sound, a system failure next time they fire one up is completely plausible.” Alex said as he mulled over the scientists explanation. “Out of the available options, I’d say we go for that one. How far out of our way is this? Is our investigation  time on target critical?”

“It’s roughly on our route if we choose a course that takes us around Galador,” replied Dr. Brooks and he pulled back out to the wider angle galactic map.

“Can you make it so, Lieutenant Bennett, and keep us off the main Cardassian shipping lines and away from military facilities?” asked Commander Lewis, turning to his acting Chief Flight Control Officer.

“As long as our intel on their facilities is up to date. The Cardassians have had more than one covert facilities in this region.” Bennett said.

“I’m quite familiar with Cardassian ships, I’d be happy to lead our supply run.” Soya chimmed in. “I’ve also worked with Cardassian transponders in the past. We should also be prepared that they may not let a science vessel enter a restricted area.”

The Commander nodded. “That sounds good. Get your people prepped and ready for the raid. Lieutenants Bennett, Moss and Matthews, prep our flight path, sensor profile, warp signature modifications, etc.” Then he turned towards his COMSURV lead and his other TACOPS team lead: “Commander Lacroix, Sergeant Ryan, you two meanwhile should get together with Dr. Brooks and prepare our plan for what we’re going to do once we reach Sentek.” With nods from around the table, the Commander then concluded: “We will arrive at the border in three days time. Everything needs to be prepped and ready by then. We’ll meet again tomorrow at 1600 to review the action plans. Any questions before we get to work?”

Jenni shook her head, already thinking of what she had to do. If anything, she was happy to avoid unnecessary maintenance to act as a cover for this mission. Now, if only they could get out of this without being shot, that would be preferred.

Jeanne nodded “Yes, sir. I will have my team begin running exercises for Breen facilities”. In her mind she was already thinking how they would have the greatest chance of making it through, Breen facilities were known for heavy security measures and being heavily contested she imagined the Cardassians would use all defences present to their advantage. Hopefully the Breen technology would be difficult for them to truly grasp.

With a firm and executable plan on the table, Kre’s mind already began drifting to what would happen once they reached Sentek. “I have no questions,” he answered, coming back to the task at hand. “I will check if I can find information on Cardassian covert ops on our route,” he mentioned, looking towards Lieutenant Bennett,”so we can reduce the risk running into them.”

“Time for a little game of sneak and peak. Let’s get to it.” Alex said with a small smile as the meeting broke up.

~ Only Time Will Tell ~

Gil Senik Alket and Jot
Government Headquarters, Sentek on Mission Day 1 at 1020 Hours

Sentek. What a wretched place. Only a Cardassian could ever call it home, but given its rich dilithium reserves, the Breen took it several decades past while the Cardassians were distracted in their war with the Federation. Now they were back. Peering out the window of his cell, Jot watched a Hideki-class patrol ship on overflight.

In the time since the Cardassian advance, the Breen governor had a great deal of time to think. That the Cardassians were coming, that had been inevitable, but that they did not fight them off, that was on him. A veteran of the Dominion War, it hurt the proud former military commander to allow it to happen, but he knew it for the best.

At least Vor was safe. Vor, like most of his soldiers, was interned in Cardassian work camps. As long as they did not move against their captors, Jot’s surrender agreement with the Cardassians guaranteed that not a single Breen soldier or civilian would face capital punishment. Thus far, the Cardassians had upheld their end of the agreement. Even if they didn’t though, Jot wouldn’t regret the swift surrender, nor the fact he had not called in the threat before the Cardassians arrived. Their sacrifice would be remembered, just like the sacrifice of every soldier on Platform 4.

It was for the good of the future of the Confederacy.

Sitting in the observation room for the cell block, three Cardassians security officers flipped between the surveillance feeds of the different prisoners in the bloc, the ones viewed as too dangerous or influential to release into the work camps.

When he reached the cell holding Governor Jot, Glinn Alket paused for a second. What was the Breen man thinking beneath his isolation suit? Had he known the full extent of the events his actions would set in place? Or had he been a unwitting participant in them? For his sake, Glinn Alket wasn’t even sure the full extent of Governor Jot’s actions, if they were, in exclusivity, the catalyst or just a piece of a bigger picture. Only time would tell.

~ Theory versus Practice ~

Lieutenant Commander Jeanne Lacroix, Master Sergeant Alex Ryan and Lieutenant Commander Tom Brooks
Delta Team Lead's Office on Mission Day 1 at 1300 Hours

With most of the plan seemingly going as planned they still had to work out how exactly they were going to push ahead once they did make it to Sentek. Jeanne had already made her team study Breen design and systems a lot more in depth but they needed to be prepared for everything. Deciding that now might as well be as good a time as any to coordinate she tapped her combadge. “Lacroix to Ryan and Brooks. If you have the time please meet me in my office so we can work out how to proceed once we get to Sentek.”

“Be up in a few minutes.” Alex pressed the comm button on the nearby panel, as he stepped from the shower. His commbadge was tucked away in his locker with his duty uniform. He took his times to workout or practice his skills when he could. “Just finished a training session.”

Dr. Brooks, for his sake, sat in his office, pouring not over details about Sentek, for they were slim, but rather after-action reports from past temporal incursions that he’d never had access to before coming to the Activity. Something was nagging at him about this mission. The beep from his combadge pulled him from his thoughts. “On my way,” he replied before setting his PADD down and heading for the door.

Five minutes later…

Dr. Brooks stepped up to Lieutenant Commander Lacroix’ office, a chime alerting her to his arrival.

Once Jeanne heard the chime she walked to the door and pressed a door to open it. “Commander Brooks” She said, acknowledging the man. “Please come in, Master Sergeant Ryan will be with us in a few minutes.”

“The Master Sergeant is here actually.” Alex said as he came around the corner from the nearest turbolift. While he was in proper duty uniform, his hair was still damp from the shower. “Ready to get this show on the road?”

“Excellent,” Jeanne responded dryly before turning around and walking back to her desk. “So, I imagined it might be best to start early on what do once we reach Sentek. I imagine we will be facing quite some Cardassian resistance as well as remaining Breen security measures”

Dr. Brooks didn’t have much to offer in the way of a tactical engagement. The scientist had almost flunked the first year physical education class at the Academy, and his marks in Tactical weren’t much better. But the shooters seemed to be a bit off mark. But in his eyes, here the shooters were missing the mark right from the get-go: “Before we decide how we’re going to go kill a planet full of Breen and Cardassians, might I suggest we start with the question of what exactly our objective on the planet is?” His tone was somewhere between ivory tower academic and overly pushy parent.

“I think the Skipper made that pretty clear during the meeting. Get in, find out how the hell the local commander knew things weren’t going to go well for his kid, and find a way to fix it, or at least where and what IT is so there are no further breaches of the timeline. Then get the hell back out again, and if necessary on to the next location to find whatever the it is.” Alex said with a shrug as he took a seat for himself. Overly simplified perhaps, but these types of operations hinged on the KISS principle. Keep It Stupidly Simple, or Simple Stupid depending on which way you thought it sounded better or who was making the plan. “With that being the case, objective number one is getting in without letting the neighbors know we’re visiting. And coming up with a few response scenarios when they inevitably do figure out we’re there.”

“So how do we find the Governor?” asked Dr. Brooks, caught a bit off guard by the simpleton thinking of the Marine sergeant, but really, he should have expected that from a marine, he reminded himself. “And what makes you think, even if we do find him, that he’ll be willing to share with us something he was willing to let his own people – except his son – die for?”

“You worry about the science of fixing the timeline Doc. Leave the intelligence gathering to the professionals,” Alex said, catching wind of the snobbish tone to the mans thoughts. Arrogant windbag… All they had to do was get in, get the governor and hand him off to Hall. She’d get him to talk, and if not, then he’d just have to give her some assistance. “There’s a reason we keep things simple in planning these operations. The more complex the plan, the more shit that can go wrong with it. KISS is the name of the covert ops game. Keep. It. Stupidly. Simple. Simple and flexible to adapt to conditions on the ground. Governor shouldn’t be too hard to find, they were just occupied, he’s gonna have more guards as a prisoner than usual no doubt. We do a scan and look for signs that match up to that scenario or similar. Make a covert insertion of the target location, snatch and grab, and extract. Turn him over to Lieutenant Hall for interrogation. Or Hall goes in with us, and we field interrogate.”

“That security is a problem Sergeant,” cautioned Brooks. “A temporal incursion caused what is likely a divergence, but did it occur to you that your actions based on that incursion may further that divergence?” The doctor paused for a second. “In laymen’s terms, the universe is governed by a temporal wave form, and the reality we experience is the probabilistic convergence of that function. When an incursion happens, reverberations ripple across the wave form, but the less the amplitude of those reverberations, the higher the probability of it reestablishing its original norm.”

“Spew all the mumbo jumbo you want Doc. My job is to get the information so you can fix this mess. You missed a key word though, covert.” Alex said forcing himself to remain calm. He really wanted to knock the smug bastard down a peg or three. “In other words we don’t go in heavy handed, guns blazing. That shit only works in the holovids, which is obviously where you’re drawing your conclusions from.”

“Do I have a point with this?” mused the Doctor, ignoring the Sergeant’s jab at him. His conclusions weren’t based off of vids though, but the way the marine seemed to talk and the uniform he wore. “Not really. I just want you to understand the risks, Sergeant. And know that, the greater the impact of how you do your job, the harder you’ll make it for me to do mine.”

“Believe me Doctor, I am much more well versed in the risks of these missions than you can ever dream of being. The temporal aspect is completely secondary until we get the Governor’s information. In an ideal situation, we don’t even have to make an insertion. We just quietly get the ship in position and beam his ass right up. That is however not likely, but possible…” He said and looked over to Lacroix, “Where can the guy run to even if he was beamed out of the cell he’s in? The planet’s occupied and a hostile task force of ships in orbit and the near vicinity. They might not even bother with transporter inhibitors if they believe they’ve got a firm grip on the situation.”

Jeanne quite enjoyed seeing the men in front of her get closer and closer to outright fighting, it was the primary reason she had opted to remain silent so far and just enjoy the show. “Okay boys, have you all got your testosterone out of the way? Good. While our primary objective is to secure the governor, we cannot lose perspective on the second part either. If anything our unit was designed to think about the greater picture rather than singular events. The Cardassians are likely to take advantage of existing Breen designs, the Breen are notorious for reinforcing their facilities against all types of threats so any operation without insertion seems unlikely. The governor is likely kept close to the Cardassian Commander, Cardassians as prideful as they are will have taken the most prestigious building on the planet as a command centre. Once we identify this facility we establish the most secure location within it where they are likely keeping the governor. If we then cause some kind of distraction on the other side of the building we can infiltrate the building and take out any resistance quietly. If we do this well we will have grabbed the Governor and extracted him before they even know what is going on,” she said, strongly believing that despite some of the flaws in it that it was the best approach to get the job done with the least impact on any temporal effects and the least chance of getting caught.

The scientist didn’t like it. Every action they took that altered the timeline further was just something further that would have to be cleaned up later. If only the Office would have connected them up with the asset they already had on the ground, the one that had confirmed several things for them. That would have made this a lot easier. But without it, he had little to do but go along with it: “I’ll defer to your judgement here. I’m just cautious about the impact even a small action of ours may have on the timeline – let alone the very major one of if a Federation species is spotted by anyone at all on Sentek.”

“Might work, but it’s going to require a lot of scanning before we execute. Identify the building, identify probable locations for the Governor, weak points for us to infiltrate the building,” Alex said, turning his attention back to Lacroix. “Think we could pump neurazine into the ventilation once we’ve infiltrated? Knock out everyone in the building, like what happened to Lewis, Hall, and I when we were interrogating the burner. Noone can see us if they’re all unconscious. No resistance, no firefights. Clean in and out.” He looked at the scientist. “No additional distortions to clean up later.”

Jeanne considered the proposal for a second. It would definitely make things a lot cleaner. Not to say safer for her operators. “It’s a good plan though an entire building going down might be a distortion in itself. If we can somehow deploy the gas in a more targeted fashion we can eliminate resistance on our route and attract less attention.” Brooks was pleased to see his argument had netted some caution, at least.

“With a hint of luck we can infiltrate on the same floor as the Governor is being held. Knock out just that floor, lock down the lifts and or stairwells. Grab him, and get out again.”

“That would work. We could take an Engineer along to rig the systems on the deck to show the Cardassians and Breen were knocked out by a malfunction in environmental controls. That way, apart from the prisoner being in our custody there would be no trace we were ever there in the first place,” Jeanne said. There was something poetic about using the environmental controls against their foe just after those same controls had been used against them on Starbase 141.

“And when they realize the Governor is gone, they’ll be looking at his people for getting him out of custody. No reason to even consider Starfleet being involved,” Alex said with a smile.

“The thing that’s bothering me,” Lieutenant Commander Brooks offered, switching gears a bit now that the immediate tactical plan had been worked out, “is why uptime hasn’t been involved. Either it didn’t impact uptime in a way that requires their intervention, or there’s no uptime to correct the divergence – or that wants to correct the divergence.”

The doctor projected a complex network graph up on the wall screen.

“A while back, a paper was published exploring what sort of temporal intervention might have changed the outcome of the Dominion War,” explained Dr. Brooks. “The researchers found that, if General Martok’s ship had been destroyed before he argued his case to Gowron to get the Klingons involved to retake Deep Space 9, the Dominion would have won the entire war.” This point was made clear as he altered one node in the network graph and the whole graph changed. “But how, if we knew Martok’s ship shouldn’t have been destroyed, would we know what to change to ensure the Klingons still entered the war? This is the problem we face here. The Breen have already been defeated at Sentek. What do we do to reverse the tampering?”

“I am well aware of the butterfly effect and all. However, it is very much likely that the governor saving his son has such a minimal impact on the timeline that uptime sees more harm in intervention due to the risk of timeline contamination rather than just letting things proceed as they are. That’s not even considering the option that they may opt for an intervention in our future to restore the balance and cause the death of his son in some other way.” Jeanne replied, while she didn’t have a science background some of the past experiments on the Frumentarii had made her quite familiar with the mechanics behind time travel. They still gave her headaches but at least she could comprehend them.

The scientist shook his head. “The ability to act based on future knowledge is something uptime does not tolerate in our era,” Dr. Brooks stated emphatically. “And as opposed to us, who react based on knowledge, they can address issues before they occur.” Dr. Brooks had once been on the wrong end of that before. Given the Bellona’s clearances, which extended to include some files he’d never before seen from the Department of Temporal Investigations, he now understood far better what had happened back in 2381. They’d taken his device because of something he was going to do with it, same as they should have intervened before the Breen governor gained access to that uptime information. “We don’t know for sure, of course, but what if the Breen were not supposed to loose Sentek? Or if the Cardassian Advance itself is a play by some uptime actor? If you are familiar with temporal basics, I assume you’re also familiar with the notion that temporal incursions coalesce around nexuses in the wave form? We must operate as though we’re at one of those nexuses. If we’re not, then our caution is for naught, but if we are, then our caution is essential.”

“Perhaps, Commander. On the other hand, under our own standing regulations, we have to correct the timeline as we believe it should be in cases where we detect tampering. If uptime has different plans, they will intervene to stop us. If they do not, we clearly are acting within their parameters,” Jeanne replied. These discussions would always go on in cycles with no real answer ever becoming clear. In her experience just going with it and sticking to one’s own regulations usually ended up with the best results.

“We shall see.”

Darkness hung over the ready room, its lone occupant sitting in quiet contemplation staring out at the stars as they raced by. Looking forward down the bow, it looked no different than the starscape aft, but he knew that, on account of an arbitrary line on the map, they’d soon pass the point of no return, the point where, if things went wrong, they’d be completely on their own.

What would this mission bring? With time travel at play, his guess was no better than that of an elementary school child. What he did know though was that, should the Cardassians find them deep within their territory, there would be nothing they could do to talk their way out of it. For the second time in half a decade, he could be responsible for collapsing relations with an interstellar power – and this time, who knew what else as far as the timeline went. That meant they’d best not fail.

A chime on his display alerted him it was time to go to the bridge. Just a couple minutes now. Commander Lewis set his coffee cup down and stepped across his ready room and out onto the bridge. Although it was only 0440, the faces of several senior officers greeted him. So was the enormity of this moment.

Jenni looked up from her console, a rare event for her. Though the Bellona’s Chief Engineer preferred to confine herself to engineering, being present on the bridge this early in the morning gave her the perfect chance to stay in communication with everything that was going on and to see first hand how this ruse would work.

Kretorg was restless, knowing very well that the Klingon in him would want to have open battle, preferably close combat, but it was tempered by the sensibility of a disciplined human officer. Mostly. That was the theory. The ship’s Executive Officer sat down, got up again, paced, and tried to settle again, fiddling with his console. He felt exhilarated, but ‘in stealth mode’ he thought with an amused smile at his own private joke.

“Lieutenant Bennett, how we looking?” Commander Lewis asked as he approached the conn.

“We’re about 90 seconds from the border. No signs of hostiles in the immediate area,” the pilot offered, his fingers dancing over the controls as he trimmed their heading a slight degree and adjusted the warp field.

Stepping out of the lift after the doors slid open, Sam walked over to his station. The Chief Operations Officer watched as the Ensign at the station logged out. She stepped back and nodded, allowing Sam to slide into the station. It took him a few minutes to log in and read the notes left by the Ensign who’d formerly held the post.

“Lieutenants Moss, ready to engage our SIGINT countermeasures?” In particular, Commander Lewis was mostly referring to a set of ELINT modifications they’d prepared, such as a modified warp signature and use of different sensor bands, as well as some COMINT mimicking standard freighter chatter. When one did not have a cloak to disappear, the next best thing was to blend into the background noise as just another irrelevant vessel.

“Aye, sir,” Sam replied as his finger moved across his station like it was a piano. He began to issue commands from the bridge to other systems. His team had worked around the clock to ensure that everything, save life support and primary functions, would be turned off or masked when the time came.

Standing over Lieutenant Bennett’s shoulder, Lewis watched the conn’s navigation display as she ship approached the Cardassian border. “Lieutenant Bennett, take us out of warp.” The stars streaking by slowed and became stationary dots on the main viewer before them. “Lieutenant Moss, engage the countermeasures.”

Nodding his head, Sam’s finger flew across the touchscreen and with a stroke, non-vital systems were disable and the ship’s transponder was turned off. He had to suppress as smile since he wondered how the people at Starfleet and the local bases were acting when the IFF disappeared from their sensors.

“Lieutenant Matthews, how we looking on the warp signature mask? May we proceed?” It was the most critical aspect of their entire profile. Even the smallest slip up there and a diligent Cardassian sensors specialist might notice the variance that would give away their entire charade.

Jenni did not immediately reply, having been in the middle of another unnecessary level five diagnostic. Unnecessary for the purposes of the log, but very much necessary for her own peace of mind. A moment later, her console chirped and provided a green light in affirmation. “Good to go, Commander,” she reported.

With everything set, Commander Lewis turned back from the conn and approached the command island at the center of the bridge. Stepping up onto it, he turned to look forward and tapped the combadge. “All hands, this is the captain,” he began, an intense and serious expression on his face. “As of this moment, we are at EMCOM Alpha Two. Except where authorized by Command, the use of any external signals is now prohibited. You are all aware of the sensitivity of our current mission, so let’s get it done. Lewis out.” With that, he closed the ship-wide channel.

Although he mostly trusted the professionalism of his crew, he also knew the criticality of what they were about to do. “Lieutenant Moss, lock it down. All of it.”

Sam looked up and gave a grim nod as he brought up the communication system. His team had made it possible to lock down the communication system so that only internal commincation would be the only thing working. The new set up required him to be on the bridge and to input his command code so that it could be unlocked.

“We are dark sir,” Moss replied as he locked down the system.

Although Starfleet ships came with a set of safeguards that enabled strict emissions control, the fact they were intentionally emitting countermeasures meant those protocols had to be modified. “If someone so much as makes an attempt to pull a data file from the FNS or text their grandmother birthday wishes, I’ll meet them in the shuttle bay to space them myself,” Commander Lewis said to no one in particular as he took his seat in the Captain’s chair, eliciting a couple concerned looks from the bridge crew.

“So it begins…” Kre remarked with a grin.

“Well, if I didn’t know better, and I was seeing these readings we’d look like a Mark VI Galor on patrol, with a bit of imbalance in the port nacelle. Our Chief Engineer really should get on that,” Bennett chirped from the CONN.

“Are you saying that I need to fix something?” Jenni quipped from the rear of the bridge, her tone dripping with a bit of sarcasm. “Or should I make the rudder a little more difficult to manipulate?”

“If you’re going to manipulate my rudder you could at least buy a guy a drink first,” the pilot chuckled.

The engineer just shook her head and looked back to her console. “Not my type,” she muttered under her breath.

“Alright Lieutenant, lay in our trajectory for the Rolor Nebula and take us back to warp.”

“Aye Captain, Rolar Nebula, warp 7.” Bennett responded as the view screen began to streak as the ship hurdled back to faster than light speed.

[ Bridge ]

“Helm, come about bearing one-four-seven mark one,” ordered Lieutenant Commander Brooks from his position at the science station. “Ops, remodulate our deflector to the preset frequency sixteen.” Sitting in his chair on the command island, all Commander Lewis could do was watch the scene unfold. No one, save Dr. Brooks, had any substantive experience with a phenomenon like the Rolor Nebula, and thus this was his circus to run, for the moment.

Ensign Nakamura’s hands flew across the helm making the ordered course correction, the fortieth such change over the past fifteen minutes as he’d coaxed the Bellona through the nasty turbulence at the center of the Rolor Nebula. For most of his piloting life, he’d been told to steer clear of the Badlands and similar phenomena, yet here he was flying straight through one such minefield. He would have preferred if someone else, say Lieutenant Bennett, were at the conn, but Bennett was down in the fighter bay with his special aviation wing in case things went south.

Lieutenant Moss looked at the doctor for a moment before he change the frequency of the defelectors.  He had to do it slowly, but also fast so that the change over would not short out the emitters while also ensuring that it was done safely.

“Alright, and slow up. Any closer and there’s a chance the research station will be able to detect us,” warned Lieutenant Commander Brooks as the Ensign at the conn brought the ship to a standstill. “It’s all yours now, Commander.”

Commander Lewis shot Brooks an icy gaze. The science officer didn’t have to tell him he was in command again. If he wasn’t such a whiz bang, the old spook would have loved to space the guy. But now was not the time.

Shaking off the insolence, Commander Lewis rose from his station. “Commander Lacroix, how we looking? All the lights off as expected on the research vessel?” he asked, hoping that, as the doctor had suggested, there’d be no one at home.

Jeanne swiftly entered a few commands on the panel in front of her. While tactical systems weren’t her area of expertise she had still had enough training with them to control them properly. As she scanned the research vessel as thoroughly as she could without getting detected herself she could see no suspicious readings.

“It appears all is clear, sir. Unless they are really hiding their life signs and energy readings really well, the team should be safe to go” She responded.

“Lewis to Kretorg,” he began, addressing his Executive Officer who was already set up in the Intelligence Support Activity’s Logistics & Command Center down on deck 4, “we’re in position. Let’s get Zulu on the move.”

The whole mission, front to back, had been planned out well in advance. Major Soya’s team and Sergeant Ryan would beam over and secure the arrival point. Then Lieutenant Matthews would beam over to help locate and remove the transponder. While he would have preferred to do it all in one beam over, Lieutenant Matthews wasn’t exactly a field operator, so best to let the shooting stop, if there was any, before she went aboard. The only blessing they had, at least, was that they could do this with transporters rather than shuttles since the Rolor Nebula kicked off enough radiation to prevent the science station from detecting anything out of the ordinary.

[ ISA Logistics & Command Center ]

“Acknowledged,” Kre answered in response.

[ Transporter Room 1 ]

“Kretorg to Matthews, Ryan and Soya, report to Transporter room 1 with your team. it’s time to move out”

“Copy that Commander. We’re on the way.” Soya said over the comm. Her standard duty uniform replaced by the tight fitting black garb used for operations like that. “Let’s move Zulu team.”

Jenni arrived next in the transporter room. Her left hand carried a toolkit, filled with individually selected tools that would be best for cutting, stripping and removal. Holstered to her waist was the typical dolphin phaser and the flat screen tricorder for which she carried a personal disdain for. Large screens were nice, but tricorders were meant to be used in rugged environments, and this model was already on its fourteenth screen. Hopefully, command would wise up and restore the collapsible model in the next edition.

“Copy,” Alex responded as he finished his own preparations in the Combat Tech equipment room. He’d brought some of his old goodies out of storage when he’d been assigned to the Bellona and kept them under lock and key in the Combat Tech room. The suit he wore was hot when used for extended periods, but it suppressed his infrared signature, dissipating his body heat through the soles of his boots, directly into the deck or the dirt depending on the situation. If there was another Betazoid, he could communicate with on the Bellona. He wouldn’t even have need for any communications devices. ‘Or you find yourself your Imzadi old man’ he reminded himself with a snort at the idea. He liked the idea of a completely secure, untraceable, means of communication between ground forces and the Bellona though.

Looking at the team already assembled, Jenni knew she wouldn’t be going over first. Yet she checked out the phaser anyway, just in case. She didn’t relish the idea of shooting anyone, and she hoped she wouldn’t have to.

“Zulu team and Sergeant Ryan, secure the arrival point and once you have. Let us know so Lieutenant Matthews can be transported over,” Kre instructed.

Soya nodded, her team moved silently into position on the transporter padd and she looked to the Master Sergeant as he joined them.

Alex knew the XO was doing his job, but they’d run over this sequence of events so many times they all heard it in their sleep.

Kre nodded to the transporter operator, “energize!”, he said. Tapping his badge, he contacted the Captain. “Kretorg to Lewis, the away team has transported over.”

[ Bridge ]

“Lacroix, you have the bridge.” Although he would have like to take his other TACOPS team lead with him for an extra pair of eyes, Commander Lewis wanted a qualified operator as OOD in case things went to shit while he and Kretorg were below deck. Brooks would remain on the bridge as well to help Nakamura keep the ship safely in position within the nebula.

“Yes, sir” Jeanne responded, releasing controls over the tactical systems to a nearby Ensign.

“Moss, with me,” gestured Lewis as he turned for the turbolift These old haulers used by the Science Ministry were nothing like the well-maintained ships of the line fielded by the Navy. His eyes would be helpful in figuring out the layout of the Cardassian ship and where the transponder was located if the team on the ground hit any snags.

Sam nodded as he locked down some command function from his station and transfered them to ISA LogCom. While he trusted his staff, he didn’t want anyone to get tempted.

Together, the two headed for the ISA Logistics & Command Center.

Once they were gone Jeanne sat down in the Command Chair.