Dimensionality Chapter 3
Today had been a very bad day. Sam paced in front of the wide window, as he had for the past several hours. Outside, the planet still roiled from the remnants of the blast that had shaken it in the early morning hours. His little station on the edge of the Federation had been plunged into chaos, as if his command had been transformed from its usual sleepy backwater into a floating vacuum sealed anthill. Everything had gone wrong, apparently all at once. The blast had knocked loose the ground based sensors, leaving him blind. It had also left the teams sweeping the planet cut off from the station. In addition, comms were out. Something had rooted itself deep into the main computer's core and was stubbornly resisting all attempts to remove it. Which wouldn't be so bad, except that the locations that the virus, or whatever it was, had decided to set up shop in all dealt with communications. Sam sighed and rubbed at his eyes.
"The results of the deep scan you asked for are in," one of the ensigns offered as he turned away from the tableau below. He took the PADD and sat once more at his desk. A cursory inspection confirmed his earlier assumption; the event that had rocked the foundations of the planet had not originated in normal space or subspace, yet it shared all the characteristics of a subspace explosion.
"Thank you ensign, any news on the ground teams?" the ensign's face signaled that he wouldn't like the answer.
"No sir. Our rescue shuttle was knocked about during the explosion and the ground teams had the rest of them. Until the shuttle's repaired our we get communications back we won't be able to contact anyone on the planet."
"Thank you, Ensign, that will be all," Sam said. He allowed the young man to leave the room before allowing himself to collapse into his chair. Two late nights in a row were starting to take their toll, and the Starfleet lieutenant found it hard to remain focused on the results of the scan that he held in his hand. Somewhere into the second page of complex graphs and figures, his eyelids drooped for a final time and he fell into a heavy doze.
He was standing alone on a white beach, wind blowing and tugging at his youthfully long hair. Little eddies in the smooth sand made patterns as the wind picked up tiny particles of sand, a shifting, moving cloud that danced just above the ground splitting only where a dune peaked above it, or where it hit the small pile of rocks that he had assembled at his feet. He picked one up, bouncing it a little in his palm before throwing it in a carefully calculated arc. The stone skipped off the low waves, leaving tiny ripples. He was late again, just like always. He picked up another stone and skimmed it out over the water. He would justify it, just like always, but it didn't take the sting out of being left to wait alone, on this mournful beach. He angrily tossed the last stone. It didn't skip, instead plopping heavily into the water. He watched the rapidly expanding ripples dissipate, a cloud of sand making a plume that settled before reaching the surface…
Sam jerked awake, still in the empty Ops center of the science station.
"Computer, bring up the 3-D imager, set to draw!" the computer complied with its usual speed and efficiency. Sam shifted in his chair to get a better look at the terminal. "I've got it."
"We're losing him, Captain!" the Signals officer cried as the light frigate pulled away on the viewscreen. Commander Gray sat in her chair, hands steepled in front of tightly pursed lips.
"Helm, I want full power to engines, take power from rear shields if you have to. I want to pull beside that ship if it's the last thing we do. Guns, lay in a spread across his nose, maybe we can convince him that running away is a most unwise course of action." The crew jumped to their tasks with the slow ponderousness born of over-practice. The ship shook as the chase guns launched their projectiles, bright glowing torpedoes that flew past the frigate, exploding on proximity fuses. The ship continued to drive ahead regardless. At the Signals console, the young Lieutenant suddenly stood to attention.
"Ma'am, I'm detecting a ship exiting warp, dead to aft! IFF marks as unfriendly!" his shock was mirrored throughout the bridge crew. Gray showed no sign of surprise.
"What's her displacement, Leftenant?" she called in an even tone. The officer quickly scanned his console.
"Tonnage suggests cruiser configuration, design is definitely not Commonwealth," he replied, "they're powering shields and weapons."
"Guns, Engines, suggestions?" the commander asked, turning in her steel command chair to face the addressed bridge officers. Technically assessing the tactical situation was the realm of the Gunnery Officer, but Lieutenant Hammond, the man standing at the Engines station, had shown a real knack for improvisation. The two men gave her slightly confused looks, Commonwealth Navy doctrine generally held the Captain up as the ultimate authority, questions were rarely asked of subordinates. However, Commander Gray was not brought up in the Commonwealth Navy.
"Abandon the chase of the frigate to focus on the new ship. Since ship is of unknown design, fall back to Standard Doctrine and make probing attacks until a weakness is discovered," the Gunnery Officer rattled off. Unlike his colleague on the Engines console, Ensign Connor Farral was a model Commonwealth officer; a strict and rigid adherent to doctrine above all else. He was also son and heir to a minor trader baron back on Mars, compounding his lack of creativity with an unhealthy dose of self-importance.
"Helm, lay in a course, get us behind that ship. Anything to add, Leftenant Hammond?" Gray returned to facing the viewscreen. Already the frigate they had been chasing was gaining ground, using the cover of its larger kin to make good its escape.
"Drop a probe to scan for weaknesses in the attacker's shields. With luck we'll find a way to crack their defenses and it may draw their fire for enough time to allow us to maneuver into an attack position," the man said uncertainly. Gray smiled. She hadn't thought of using one of the ship's exploration probes in a tactical situation, but the plan was sound. She might even add a few touches of her own.
"An interesting plan, ready the probe for launch. Also, get Ordinance to fill its sample hopper with antimatter and rig up a fuse for proximity detonation. Let's give our new friend a nasty surprise if he decides to ignore the probe." The ship began to shake as the cruiser's superior chase guns began to close on the Contest's position. The Helm Officer threw the small ship into a tight loop, a maneuver the larger cruiser couldn't hope to match. None the less, its ponderous engines flared, driving it into line for a broadside. The young officer, also an ensign, was ahead of him though. Before the other ship could unleash its broadside photon batteries, he cut thrust and let out a blast from the ventral thrusters, bouncing the Contest up and over the incoming salvo.
"Probe is prepped and ready to go," Hammond reported, "ready to drop on your command."
"Commence drop," Gray ordered, "Let's see what we can see." Inwardly she suppressed a grin. She knew exactly what they would find, the question was whether anyone else on the bridge would pick up on it.
"Receiving probe telemetry now, Ma'am, putting it up on screen." The Signals Officers fingers danced across his console. The image of the long gone frigate was replaced by a schematic of the unidentified cruiser. The image was an amalgam of different sensor readings, detailed in parts, but fuzzy in others.
"Looks like there are close to a hundred life signs aboard, low for its weight class. That could be a sign of heavy automation." XO Marianthi noted, highlighting the bright red dots that clustered to the fore and aft of the blocky ship. The image on the screen rippled as the cruiser loosed another salvo, this one shooting wide, but coming much closer than the previous.
"Did you see that?" Hammond asked over the noise of the active battle bridge, "right there." He reversed the real time image, focusing on the second the ship fired its side guns. Gray looked on silently. "Looks like the shields flicker when it fires, maybe a power instability or other distortion. Could be that weakness we've been looking for."
"He's right, if we target the line that runs the length of their battery at the second they fire, it could give us enough time to do some damage." the Gunnery Officer added. "We'll need some fancy flying to avoid their fire long enough to get our own shots in."
"Fancy flying comes free of charge," the helmsman jibed as he hopped the ship over another round of shooting. The ship shook as several charges caught the underside of the Contest's shields.
"You won't have time," a rough voice sounded from the back of the bridge. The Contest's grizzled Master of Marines, Sergeant Harry Wells, stepped forward.
"Excuse me?" Farral balked, actually turning from his station to face the marine. The Master of Marines didn't shift.
"Even after breaching, there won't be enough time to put boot to that cruiser. Now, you put a small hole in the thing, me and my boys can get in there, tear the place up a little."
"You're suggesting a boarding party?" Gray asked. The man nodded. "I like it. Sergeant, round up a party of your best. Helm, keep the fancy flying on tap. Guns, get ready to fire on their next broadside." The crew aye-ayed her rapid fire stream of directives. The sergeant saluted and left the bridge, making his way quickly to the fore transporter room. A section of ten marines fell in behind him at unspoken command.
"Everybody ought to hold on to something," the helmsman called, ignoring the fact that the inertial dampeners would rob the maneuver of its blackout inducing g-forces. He pulled the narrow ship alongside the cruiser's bulk. Already the larger ship was preparing another attack.
"Now, Helm!" The ship swooped, narrowly avoiding the salvo. The Contest's own broadside flashed, six guns launching antimatter warheads into the cruiser's larger shields.
"Detecting a micro-fracture in their shields, transport in progress." Signals updated. "They're aboard Captain." The cruiser broke off suddenly, its engines dead. The lights on the bridge lit up to their full brightness. The viewscreen reset, giving the bridge crew a view of empty space, empty of frigates, cruisers, or anything else of note. A brief message flashed across the screen, 'Simulation Over.'
"Well Captain, it looks as if there is some hope for this crew yet." Marianthi said, leaning in to address her commander.
"It was never in doubt, Leftenant, never in doubt."
In low orbit above the bruised purple world on the edge of the Royal Commonwealth of Worlds, a ring of subspace stuff was leaking into the dull atmosphere. The leak continued undetected as the crew of the HMS Contest celebrated a successful round of simulations. As it continued, it grew in size, until the atmosphere of the planet became hopelessly polluted, unlivable and unnavigable by warp drive. As the ring grew in size, it also grew in depth, until it touched the very barriers that defined the edge of subspace itself. Then it kept going.
The 3-D image floated on the viewscreen that hung on the wall in front of the room full of ensigns. The host of blue-uniformed young officers sat in a ring, listening to the tired looking lieutenant hold forth on his theory.
"So what you're saying is that the explosion originated outside of subspace?" Ensign Mitre asked from the front row. Her pretty hair, like many of her coworker's, was tousled by lack of sleep and frenetic activity.
"That's exactly it," Lieutenant Caulder said, "the event shares all the traits of a subspace explosion, but the ripples, something we'd normally see in normal space, are emanating in subspace. From this we can only concur that there is a third layer to space, a sub-subspace if you will, which hasn't been seen until now."
An ensign in the back raised his hand. "We couldn't call it something snappier? Maybe like thirdspace or something?"
"We can name it later," Sam snapped before pausing to collect himself. "The important thing is, we have found what might be the most important find of the last century. What I've… we've been doing here may well go down in the history books. Now, I want everyone writing everything down. You, Ensign Stevens…" he was interrupted by the chirp of the internal comms.
"Lieutenant, you're going to want to come down and see this." It was one of the techs, Caulder thought it may have been the Operations Chief. "We have communication on line, and I don't think you're going to like what we've dug out of the main computer."
NonSolus: My vision is less of an Evil Federation/Good Federation and more of an Imperialist Federation/Cynical Federation. I'm trying to shoot for grey on grey, with a much bigger conflict waiting in the wings, but we'll have to see. Thanks for keeping up with this fic by the way, I always appreciate your comments.