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Encounter in the Deep Black - part two

The EAS Stalwart begins investigating the mysterious contact.

The strange contact was a mystery. It had energized the bridge crew, in a way rarely seen. They were keen to find the answers to this unexpected puzzle. There adrenaline was pumping, but they had been cautioned during training about this sort of adventurous occasion.

While the bridge crew awaited the XO’s arrival, PO Goddard continued to review and analyze the signal. It was incredibly weak. If the Stalwart were still using the older tadar system, he wouldn’t have been able to see this distorted signal. It appeared as a dissimilar and fragmented variety of a normal waveform, almost as if someone had chopped it up into a dozen pieces, only showing one part at any given time. He had an absurd and alarming concept formulating. He didn’t like where his ideas were steering him.

Commander Maria Ozawa entered the bridge. She was a petite woman of sixty-two years of age, but looked like she was in her early fifties. The XO was more than a third of a meter shorter than most. Standing in front of Lt. Morgan, the top of her head barely reached the lieutenant’s chest. She was a strict disciplinarian, which made her an excellent second-in-command. She also had a perverse sense of humor, which the crew undeniably enjoyed except when it was focused on them. With her black crew cut and her trim physique, she could easily be mistaken as a man until you saw her face. The commander’s face was feminine and delicate due to her classic Japanese features.

Lt. Morgan greeted the XO and explained her request to make a course change. Cdr. Ozuwa said, “Why is it always you on duty when trouble knocks on the hatch? I was having such a good dream too.” She sidled closer to the Lieutenant and whispered, “Elizabeth, do you think there is anything to this other than fleet command sticking us with experimental gear hoping we’ll fix their mistakes?”

“I’m not sure ma’am. My initial thought was also the equipment, but Goddard is pretty sure it can’t be. I’ve learned to trust his intuition on matters like this, he’s rarely mistaken.” Lt. Morgan said.

“Maybe you’re going easy on an admirer.” The XO whispered while giving a smile and quick glance at the ops station controller.

It was simple to target the junior officer and push her buttons, a game the XO thoroughly enjoyed. The quip spiked Lt. Morgan’s tension level and the fire stoked a little higher behind those hazel eyes. The XO was thinking ‘Me thinks she doth protest too much, I have to watch those two.’

The lieutenant quietly responded, though a bit louder than she intended, “Not my type. The bubblehead walks around like he has a pipe shoved up his anal orifice.” She noticed PO Goddard glance back at her. She said, “Goddard, do you have something to report?”

Goddard had heard part of the Lt. Morgan’s statement. He quickly snapped his attention back to the instrumentation and grinned, as he replied, “No ma’am, I was just trying to get comfortable. It feels like I’m sitting on something hard.”

On the helm, KW almost choked at his friend’s somewhat brazen, yet merited retort.

The XO said, “I should spend more time on the bridge with your watch, Lt. Morgan. It never fails to amuse me. Enough chatter, unless you care to critique more of your personnel. I do agree with your assessment of the situation. Make the course change at your discretion.”

The lieutenant called over to PO Ntaryamira, “Bring us starboard ten degrees helm.” She told the XO, “This should move the contact towards our portside, if it is actually there.” Her expression turn impish as she continued, “Remember XO, you are always welcome with our watch, I could even procure a booster seat for you.”

Goddard and Ntaryamira both gave an audible moan at the verbal assault.

The chief called out, “Shut the frak up, you two. This is not party time, do your fraking jobs before you both really feel something hard up your turdholes.”

Both petty officers gave the chief an ‘Aye, chief’ as PO Ntaryamira’s huge hands flew across the control panel and he called out, “Course has been changed ten degrees to starboard, ma’am.”

Lt. Morgan said, “My apologies ma’am. That crossed the line.”

The XO said, “Don’t worry. I started it and it is a bit early in the morning.” Then Cdr. Ozawa asked, “What do you make of this Goddard?”

He replied, “I believe this is an actual contact employing very sophisticated technology.” He routed his display to the forward screen and continued, “See this waveform? That is what a standard contact looks like, but watch what happens if I remove part of the signal and compare it to the contact we are presently receiving.” Using his controls, he changed the display placing the contact’s actual waveform next to the modified one, “It now looks almost exactly like this strange contact we have. The signal portions I removed are the portions most easily suppressed by quantum field manipulation.”

After observing the view screen and listening to PO Goddard’s presentation, Cdr. Ozawa asked, “In your opinion, is someone trying to hide from our tadar?”

“Yes ma’am, I believe so. As improbable as it appears, it’s the only explanation that fits all the evidence.” PO Goddard replied.

Goddard received a call from Patterson, “Bubblehead, I got that info for ya, but it don’t make much sense. I ran checks on all the tadar subsystems and they was all negative for faults.”

“What about the astrometric data, Homer, anything unusual there?” Asked Goddard.

Patterson said, “Unusual is not the word I would use. Weird as a monkeycat is what I would call it. Readings were within normal range except for tachyons. We are obviously missing some tachyons. I don’t know what it means. I’ll forward the info to your station.”

PO Goddard spoke into his mic, “Great job Homer and in record time too. Forward the information and readings to the engineering station for the chief to check. Thanks.”

PO Goddard said over his shoulder, “Chief Menidi, Homer is sending you some data from astrometrics. Can you please take a look at it? I would like to get your assessment.”

The chief said, “Got it coming in now. After I analysis the data, I’ll let you know.”

PO Goddard reported, “Ma’am proper operation of the tadar has been verified. If I could make a suggestion ma’am? If you bring us further to starboard, our instruments can give a better view of the contact when lateral of the ship vice forward of the ship. About 30˚ more should be perfect.”

The XO spoke up, “Is that really necessary Goddard?”

“Well ma’am, with the new tadar, the quantum detection is slightly distorted by the Lowery repulser concentrated ahead of the ship. Turning could give us as much as a ten percent increase in sensitivity.” Goddard replied.

The XO looked at Lt. Morgan. The lieutenant nodded to the commander and said, “No one knows the system better than the Bubblehead.”

Cdr. Ozawa made her decision. She said, “I’ll take it from here Lt. Morgan, take communications, but stay alert. You’ve been following this from the beginning, so standby to assist.”

The lieutenant said, “Aye ma’am, I’m here if you need me. On the bridge, the XO has the deck and the conn.”

The XO then called, “I have the deck and the conn. Helm, come starboard 30˚.”

PO Ntaryamira, made the change and then called out, “Came 30˚ to starboard, ma’am. Our new course is 320˚ by 345˚.”

“Very well helm, steady as you go.” The XO called.

CPO Menidi moved over to the XO to report his findings, “The area of the contacts shows some interesting readings. Tachyon levels are abnormally low. If I display tachyon concentrations, you’ll see what I mean. Goddard watch this, I think it will interest you”

He reached over Goddard’s shoulder to the operations station and activated a couple of controls to display his reading and analysis on the screen. The screen showed the area as a light continuous haze, which represented the ambient amount of the FTL tachyon particles found everywhere. However, a hole, or lack of tachyons, appeared at the exact location as the distortion. What was really disturbing is that a second smaller ‘hole’ suddenly appeared near the original.

Lt. Morgan spoke up, “Another contact. Maybe they’re bandits?”

The XO said, “No rogue ship has this type of technology. I know that fleet research and development has been working on this approach to cloak our vessels from tadar, but little or no success.”

PO Goddard announced, “I now have three distortions in the same general area. It appears they are suppressing tachyon flow with their attempt to mask their presence.”

The chief returned to his station and checked his instruments. He said, “All three contacts are confirmed and appear to have nominally comparable profiles.”

The XO reached forward and activated the intercom on the operations panel, “Captain, this is the XO, please come to the bridge.”

The XO then asked, “Goddard, can you tell the range of the contacts?”

He said, “No ma’am. I have no reference to base expected distance to signal strength or waveform. After some further observations, I should be able to give you a SWAG, but I can’t be sure of how long it could take.”

Cdr. Ozawa ordered, “Lieutenant, access the positions and expected courses of all Alliance ships in this sector and displayed it on the secondary screen by your position.”

She replied, “Aye ma’am, accessing that information.”

As the lieutenant leaned over the console preforming her task, Goddard had a welcomed look at her, but just a glance before he spotted the boss coming onto the bridge. “Captain on the bridge.” Goddard called as Captain Robert April strode onto the bridge.

Capt. April was a charismatic middle-aged man of slight build. He was a rising star in the fleet, becoming a ship’s captain at the young age of forty-one. Most officers were in their fifties before being given command of an EA fleet vessel. He always seemed trustworthy, friendly and at ease, but his eyes were piercing, as if they could stare right into your brain and read your mind. There was a rumor that the captain was a telepath, or a peep as some called them, but telepaths were rarely utilized in the fleet.

Capt. April moved to the XO and sat in his naugyhide chair. He said, “Good morning XO, what special excitement did the Lioness find for us this time?”

“Come on Bob, it’s not her fault the turd always seems to drop on her watch, just bad luck. Besides, I think you’ll like this one. She found contacts that aren’t contacts and they eat tachyons.” Cdr. Ozawa said with a smirk. The Captain gave a skeptical stare until the XO described the situation in detail.

PO Goddard noticed an abrupt change in the contacts’ signals. He reported, “I have active tadar signals from the contacts. The waveform is badly distorted, but I’m sure it’s a tadar. It is very unusual and the expected power output is way off.”

Captain April conferred with the XO, lieutenant and chief. The huddle broke and the Captain checked the secondary screen for fleet deployment. Deciding on his plan of action, he said, “Come to course 105˚ by 200˚. Lt Morgan, program one of our new communications buoys to contact sector command. Include our logs and recordings. Add the following message, ‘Possible Stopgap situation. Three contacts discovered. Have Dauntless, Gallant, Cavalier and Valorous rendezvous with us at coordinates two-two by alpha-seven by four-seven. ETA approximately fifty-two hours.’ Ensure it is encrypted using primary code. Operations, call away alert stations.”

The alert klaxon sounded throughout the ship as the XO relayed the commands to the helm.

The helm acknowledged the new course and Lt. Morgan said to the Captain and XO, “I’m compiling data now and compressing it for download. I should have it ready in ten minutes. It’s lucky we have these new com-buoys. Without them, we would have to drop from FTL to launch it. I’ll pass along the information to lieutenant commander Boyington as soon as he arrives to relieve me.”

The XO told the Captain, “I would like her to remain, if you have no objections.” The CO gave a slight nod of acknowledgement. Cdr. Ozawa said, “I want you on the bridge Morgan. Contact commander Boyington and have him assume your duties in auxiliary control.”

Lt. Morgan was caught by surprise. She was the nub ensign, junior officer aboard, and was given all the worst duties. She said, Thank you ma’am, but he has much more experience than me.”

The XO leaned close to Lt. Morgan and said, “You have been here through this entire situation. No one has more experience than you with this. You have comported yourself well. Besides, I would feel self-conscious having the commander retrieve me a booster seat.

They both almost laughed at that last remark. The lieutenant was beaming as she said, “Thank you Marie, I won’t let you down.”

Throughout the ship, personnel hurried to their assigned stations as they had hundreds of times during training drills. This time there was an atmosphere of excitement and expectation filling the EAS Stalwart. Every officer and crewperson knew that this was that one-in-a-thousand event that the crew constantly trained for, lived for, and dreaded. On the bridge, readiness status was being updated as each section reported all stations staffed and ready.

The Captain waved the XO over. He called out, “Rosie, this is Captain Robert April Serra-Papa-Oscar-Lima-tree-one-four-niner.

The XO followed with, “Rosie, this is Commander Maria Ozawa Lima-Yankee-Tango-Lima-one-niner-fife-eight. Acknowledge.

In an androgynous synthesized voice came the response of the Rational Operating Intelligence System, the primary AI, ROSIE, “Confirmed. Captain Robert April, commanding officer and Commander Maria Ozawa, executive officer.”

The Captain said, “Rosie, set Stopgap condition Xray. Single command control for the two most senior personnel until rescinded. Comply.”

Rosie replied, “Does the XO agree?”

“I am in full agreement Rosie.” Cdr. Ozawa said

“Roger Captain, Stopgap Xray in compliance. Recommend all personnel receive Stopgap briefing material.” Rosie said.

Two minutes later, PO Goddard began analyzing the collected data after CPO Jeremiah ‘Wild De’ Torrey reported to the bridge as his relief. The chief was the senior operations controller. Goddard went to the weapons station next to Lt. Morgan to get her assistance. Together they analyzed the information he had collected.

They worked through the calculations on the secondary AI at the weapons station and had Rosie run simulations verifying the results of their conclusions. In less than twenty minutes, they had a working theory of how to interpret the quantum reading.

Lt. Morgan looked dour as she said, “Captain, XO, we have that information you wanted and it’s not good. I’ll let PO Goddard give the details.”

The officers moved to the weapons station for their briefing.

Goddard began, “It’s not all bad. We believe we can interpret the quantum waveforms of these contacts. The AI puts us at over ninety percent probability of proper assessment. As we collect further observations, we should get even more reliable and precise.”

Goddard accessed some charts and laid down the data accumulated on the screen before continuing, “The good news is that the nearest contact, designated contact alpha, is almost one hundred billion kilometers behind us and the other two contacts, designated contacts Bravo and Charlie, slightly beyond it.”

Cdr. Ozuwa, interrupted, “That is quite some distance. Their attempt to cloak their approach wasn’t very successful.”

PO Goddard replied, “That would be true if utilizing our older tadar system ma’am, but the latest version is a huge upgrade in performance. It has increased our sensitivity by approximately forty percent. Before our overhaul, we wouldn’t detect them for at least another three hours or maybe four.”

“Now the bad news, contact Alpha is traveling at twenty SOL.” PO Goddard said.

The bridge suddenly got very quiet as everyone realized the importance of this news.

It is known that on the bridge, almost everyone could hear you, but it was easy to forget. The bridge crew was professional and rarely reacted to what was overheard during standard operations. Everyone listened to anticipate what was needed and how they could assist.

This time almost everyone reacted, considering the dire implications of this unbelievable information, because the EAS Stalwart’s top speed was only seventeen-and-a-half SOL.

Chief said, “Frak us.”

A slight murmuring developed as the crew exchanged thoughts.

“Captain, if this information is correct, the contacts are moving on an intercept course and will reach us in less than sixteen hours.” Cdr. Ozawa said.

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than storiesspace.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

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