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.