The Sisko drops out of warp about 100 kilometers from the stranded U.S.S. Minneapolis. Ranma took some time to scream at Ryouga. 100 kilometers was much too close to be dropping out of warp.
Ryouga returned the screams with some of his own. Once Shampoo had broken up the argument, Ranma started to admire the ship on his view screen.
The USS Minneapolis was a nice ship. Brand new. It was a class that wasn’t very familiar to Ranma. Bullwinkle-Class. She looked a lot like the Defiant-class, but it had a third nacelle on the bottom and two torpedo launchers on her top and bottom. He’d also heard that the crew quarters were designed to be more comfortable.
The more Ranma thought about it the more he realized this ship was the same kind of ship that he had an encounter with six weeks ago.
Ranma had also heard that it was equipped with a cloaking device, but that could neither be confirmed nor denied by Starfleet. Ranma then knew for a fact that this was an S-I ship.
Wasn’t any of his business though, he realized. His only issue was to get the ship up and running again. He hoped that he could get it done within a couple of hours.
With Serena leading the repair team though it may take longer.
Ranma decided that he would review the records of the crew that she was taking with her. Just to make sure that they could counter her – for lack of a better word – incompetence.
Ranma sighed as he read the performance reports of her team. Most of them were good workers, but he noted Serena noted ‘major hunk’ in their personnel file.
“And they call me a pervert,” Ranma grumbled to himself.
In transporter room three Serena and her team gathered. Serena was a bit skittish about getting on the pad.
“What’s wrong Commander?” The transporter chief asked.
“I don’t like these things.” Serena whimpered. “I was fine with them till I learned how they work.”
The chief laughed. “A case of ignorance is bliss, eh?”
Serena stepped on the pad, unsure of whether or not she was just insulted.
“Energize.” She mumbled.
The transporter chief complied and the team of four disappeared.
In the transporter room of the Minneapolis, the chief of security was there to greet the group.
“Welcome to the Minneapolis.” He grinned.
Serena nodded. “Thanks! Lt. Commander Serena Tsukino. Chief Engineer of the U.S.S. Sisko.”
The two shook hands. “Lt. Commander James Staff, head of Security. I’ve been ordered to escort you guys down to engineering.”
“Really?” Serena questioned. “We need a security escort?”
Staff nodded. “Certain things on board are what Starfleet considers ‘sensitive’. No biggie, just procedure.”
Serena shrugged. “Lead the way.”
Staff walked out of the transporter room followed by the Sisko crew.
The five enter the turbolift.
Staff speaks up. “Engineering.”
“Please verify retina for security clearance.” The computer replied.
Staff looked into a microscope-looking thing next to the lift controls. The computer chirped at him
“Security clearance verified.” The computer informed him. The lift kicked into motion.
“So –“ The next senior engineer, Lt. JC Devall, spoke up. “Your dilithium matrix was damaged in a nebula?”
Staff nodded. “Hell of an explosion. I’m surprised no one was hurt worse than they were!”
The engineer nodded. “Do you have any engineers?”
“A couple.” Staff replied. “But they are currently being treated for third-degree plasma burns and our CMO doesn’t want them working till the dermal regeneration is complete.”
“Good idea. I’ve had third-degree plasma burns. You don’t let them heal all the way they leave a scar.” Lt. Devall rolled up his sleeve showing all interested a really nasty-looking scar.
“ISH!” Serena screamed. She made a note to herself to delete the addition to his personal file. Scars were not something she cared for.
Devall laughed. “It starts to ache whenever it’s about to rain.”
Everyone but Serena laughed. She obviously didn’t get it.
The doors to the lift opened. They walked into engineering. All of the monitors in engineering were blank. The warp core was also in a separate room. The door to where the warp core was locked and had one of those microscope-looking things next to it.
Staff walked up to it. He shielded the panel from the others and punched in some numbers. He then put his eye up to the retina checker. The computer chirped at him and the doors slid open. Inside there was no one in the room except for two-uniformed security officers. There was also one other person who wasn’t in a uniform, but he did have a Starfleet communicator on his shirt. He noticed the group and stood up.
Staff motioned for the engineering crew to go inside. He stood in the doorway.
“Just let these officers know when you are finished. You will also have to inform them if you need anything off of your ship. Communication off the ship isn’t possible, except through secure channels,” Staff said before he smiled and walked away, the doors closing with a chirp behind him.
The man who wasn’t in uniform smiled at the group.
“Greetings. I’m Commander Chronister. Let me show you where the problem is.” He smiles as the group follows him across a catwalk and to the warp core.
The warp core was one of a new design. There was the normal large centerpiece, but it was bigger. There appeared to be two dilithium chambers and two central cores. The warp core was dark and appeared to be offline.
“What’s with the catwalk?” Devall asks.
Chronister doesn’t turn to the group. “We use experimental energy in the warp core to power some of the basic systems of the ship. For it to work the core cannot touch any metal on the ship. Since we have the core offline right now we can extend the catwalk to come in contact with the core.”
Devall was fascinated. He loved hearing about new technologies.
“I’m not trying to be nosey, just engineer’s curiosity, but what would happen if the catwalk was extended while the warp core was online?”
Chronister stopped. “Not sure, but it’s so important that it doesn’t happen that I assume it would be very bad.”
The group got to the warp core. Chronister leaned back against the wall surrounding it. Devall looked to Chronister.
“This is going to take a while.” He looked inside the dilithium chamber in question. “There is some major damage in here.”
Chronister nodded and hit his comm badge. He relayed the information to someone unknown.
Serena’s ears perked up. The voice sounded familiar but she thought nothing of it and began to help the others.
Captain’s log: supplemental. It’s been six hours since I sent the engineering crew over to the Minneapolis to assist in repairs. So far I haven’t heard a word from them. I attempted to contact Commander Tsukino to no avail. I am preparing to hail the captain and see what’s going on.
Ranma turns to Mousse. “Hail them.”
Mousse complies. The captain of the Minneapolis appears on the screen.
“Yes, Captain?” He says.
He appears to Ranma to have the attitude like Ranma was inconveniencing him. If there was anything Ranma hated that was someone copping an attitude with him.
“I was just wanting the status on my crew. They have been over there for over six hours.”
“Yeah, sorry about that. The repairs are taking longer than we expected.” The Captain replied. He seemed to be agitated that the repairs were taking as long as they did.
“That’s fine. Why aren’t I able to contact them?” Ranma queried
“Communications off the ship are only capable from approved stations. If you want I will have your chief engineer contact you with a status report.”
Ranma’s distrust in this guy was growing. “That’d be nice, thanks.”
The man nodded and the communication was terminated.
Ranma spun around. “Can you scan them?” He asked Mousse.
Mousse shook his head. “No. They have some sort of weird hull plating that makes scans of the interior impossible.”
Ranma plopped into his seat. What the hell was on that ship that they didn’t want anyone to know about?
Mina chirped in. “Sir? Are you aware that the Minneapolis isn’t listed in Starfleet’s ship inventory?”
Ranma raised an eyebrow. “I am now. This must be an S-I ship.”
Mousse’s panel chirped.
“Commander Tsukino is hailing us.”
Ranma nodded. “On screen.”
Serena appeared on the viewscreen and waved at Mina and Raye.
Raye just shook her head while Mina waved back and smiled.
“Commander. How are things going?” Ranma asked.
“Slow,” Serena replied. “We are having to rebuild the entire dilithium chamber.”
“Why didn’t you contact us and have us send you one?” Ranma asked.
“They say anything we replicate won’t be compatible,” Serena replied. “We shouldn’t be too much longer. They want us off of here as much as we want to finish.”
Ranma nodded. “Very well. If you are going to be longer than another hour let me know.”
Serena nodded and the transmission is ended.
Raye turns to Ranma. “Did you see that guy standing over her shoulder?”
Ranma nodded. His head was getting tired from all of the nodding.
“Yeah, I did.”
Raye realized that Ranma didn’t see her point. “Did you also notice that
he wasn’t wearing a uniform?”
Ranma didn’t notice that. “That’s odd.”
Raye continued. “I also noticed that there was no one else in the area. She was obviously in engineering but I didn’t see a warp core or anything! No monitors that were on, no engineers, nothing.”
Ranma’s mind was already in suspicious mode but Raye’s observations just sent it into overdrive. He looks to Mina and motions for her to go to his ready room. “You too, Counselor.”
The three walk into his ready room. Ranma hops on to his desk while the other two have a seat on his couch.
“We’ve been scanning this sector for days. I want you to research the log files and tell me if you see anything strange. I also want you to find this ‘Cardassian patrol ship’ that ‘forced’ them into the nebula.
“I really do not like not knowing what’s going on,” Ranma concluded.
Raye and Mina nodded and left the room to get to work on their project.
Ranma hit his communicator.
“Mousse – I want you to do a very long-range scan. Find me a Cardassian ship.”
“I’ll try.” Mousse replied. “But from everything I have seen in Starfleet security reports every Cardassian ship has been either dismantled for spare parts or is assigned to provide security to Cardassia Prime and their colonies. There aren’t any Cardassian colonies in this sector.”
“That’s what I thought too, Mousse. Try anyway.” Ranma answered dryly.
“Yes sir.” Mousse replied.
Ranma wasn’t a happy guy. He slid across his desk and plopped down into his seat.
“Computer. Get me, Admiral Saotome.”
Serena groaned. “What’s wrong now?”
Devall turned to her. “I can’t get the rebuilt processor to line up correctly.”
The plain-clothed Chronister walked up and looked into the chamber. He then checked something on his PADD and cocked his head. “Oh – it’s not supposed to line up evenly.” He scratched his head, unsure why it shouldn’t, but the diagrams don’t lie.
Devall and Serena just looked at him. “Why not?” Devall asked.
The man shrugged and cleared his throat. “Just the way it is.”
Devall rolled his eyes. “I could have built a new warp core easier than this.”
Serena laughed. Chronister did not.
“I need to contact Captain Saotome. It’s been two hours. He wanted me to call him after one hour.” Serena informed the man.
Chronister motioned for one of the security officers guarding the door to come over and take his place as he and Serena walked back across the catwalk.
Devall turned to one of the Sisko’s engineers. “I think they are expecting us to steal something.” The engineer just chuckled.
Chronister took Serena out of the warp core room and sat down at the computer.
“Computer - verify.” He stuck his eye up to the retina scanner. The computer chirped that everything was okay. “Hail the Sisko.” The computer complied and Shampoo appeared on the viewer.
Serena sat down at the console. “Commander, where is the Captain?”
“In meeting.” Shampoo replied.
Chronister began to shift uncomfortably. The captain of a ship doesn’t usually have a meeting without his first officer unless something is up. He hits his communicator and whispers something.
“Well.” Serena continues. “We should be done in a few minutes. Rebuilding something as complex as a dilithium chamber is hard enough, but when it’s a new breed and they won’t give you schematics it becomes twice as hard.”
Serena made her frustrations known to Chronister.
Shampoo nods. “Understand. Signal when ready to go.”
Serena nods and the transmission ended.
Serena stands up but the man blocks her path. “It wasn’t their business that the chamber is of a new design. Please don’t provide that kind of information again.”
Serena backs up slightly. “Sorry.”
Chronister turns and takes her back and through the doors.
“Commander,” Devall calls.
“We’re finished. I think.” He grumbles shooting a not-so-friendly look at Chronister and then to the security guard breathing down his neck.
The group walks off the catwalk. Chronister retracts the catwalk and then hits a few buttons. The warp core lights up and starts to do its normal pulsing.
“Excellent. Many thanks.” Chronister says. He motions to the security officers. “Please take them back to the transporter room.”
They nod an acknowledgment and hurry the group off. Chronister hits his comm badge again.
“JC to CB. They’re leaving.”
“Finally. Shit.” CB replies. “Is the cloak fixed?”
“Yeah,” Chronister answered.
“Good. Once they are off the ship reengage the cloak.”
“Right in front of the Sisko?” Chronister asks.
“They know we have a cloak. That moron Leblanc decloaked right in front of them when they retrieved LK.” CB grumbles.
“You’re the boss,” Chronister replied, closing the communication.
“As soon as they are on board –“ Ranma ordered, storming back onto the bridge. “I want them ALL in my ready room.”
Shampoo acknowledge as she ran off to the transporter room.
“Ryouga!” Ranma bellowed.
“I’m right here!” Ryouga bellowed back. “No need for dramatics.”
Ranma just ignored him. “I want you to get us back on our patrol course. I don’t want them to think ANYTHING is amiss.”
Ryouga rolled his eyes and complied.
Ryouga had actually gotten good at his job over the last few weeks. While they were in dry dock he went down to Starfleet HQ and spent hours in the flight simulator. Once he actually caused the simulator to self-destruct. Not a self-destruct simulation, but actually caused the simulator to blow up. Starfleet is still trying to explain it.
After that, though, he had gotten really good at his piloting skills. Since then he had only gotten them lost once. Granted they had only been on two missions, but 50 percent was pretty damned good for him.
All he had to do now was work on navigating around the ship without ending up in a torpedo tube.
Ranma kept his eye on the view screen. He was waiting for that little wavy ship cloaking effect. It hadn’t happened yet.
That was all he needed to confirm his suspicion.
That ship worked for Section 31.
“Figure anything out?” Ranma asked Mina and Raye.
“Actually we tried to answer two questions and ended up with about thirty,” Raye answered.
“Check this out.” Mina punched something into the conference room’s computer. A map of Cardassian space appeared.
Raye stood up and went to the map. “This is a map of Cardassian space we got from Starfleet listening stations along the border.
“The range is 70 light-years into their space. Notice anything missing?”
Ranma saw the point. “Ships?”
Mina nodded. She pointed out a tiny little blip in the far upper left-hand corner of the screen. “We found one. A Romulan cargo ship carrying medical supplies to Cardassia Prime.”
Raye continued. “Cardassia has been buying medical supplies from anyone possible since the Dominion nearly wiped out the entire population of Cardassia Prime.”
Mina took her turn. “The Romulan ship entered from Romulan space about 42 light-years away from Federation space.”
“So,” Ranma concluded. “There was no Cardassian scout ship that they would be hiding from.”
“No,” Mina answered. “Also, this nebula that they went into was not neutrino-based. It’s just lithium gas and a little electromagnetic dust.”
“We could float someone through in an environmental suit and they’d be fine.” Raye finished.
“Wonderful.” Ranma groaned.
Ranma wanted an easy explanation to this, but of course, there wasn’t any. And as usual, his father was useless.
“Shampoo to Ranma.” The intercom called out.
“Yes Commander,” Ranma replied.
“Away team ready to come back.”
Ranma stood and walked to the door as the two investigators followed.
“Understood. I want you to meet them in the transporter room.”
He and the two ladies stormed out onto the bridge.
Ranma continued to stare at the viewscreen. Mousse was the first on the bridge to speak.
“Ranma. The away team is on board. The Captain of the Minneapolis is hailing us.”
Ranma acknowledged Mousse. “On screen.”
The captain of the Minneapolis appeared. “Thank you for your help, Captain Saotome. Our dilithium chamber is good as new. Kudos to your team.”
Someone from off-screen cleared their throat.
“Oh, if I may ask, why did you contact Starfleet Command?”
Ranma smiled. “There’s no activity out here. Just trying to see if we could get a new assignment.”
The Minneapolis captain smiled back. “Any luck?”
Ranma shook his head no. “Apparently they like wasting resources.”
The captain laughed. “Sounds like the admiralty. Take care and be safe. Minneapolis out.”
Just prior to the connection being closed a man in plain clothes, a different one than before, walked across the back of the Minneapolis’ bridge.
Raye stood right up.
“DARIEN?” She screamed.
The man turned toward the viewscreen as the connection closed. The ship turned, warped off, and out of view.
Ranma turned around. “Can you-“
Mousse interrupted him. “They cloaked once they got a light-year away.”
“A LIGHT YEAR?” Ranma exclaimed. “How fast were they going?”
Mina checked her panel. “9.95.”
Mousse looked as surprised as Ranma. “Cloak that works at that speed?” Mousse mumbled.
Ranma looked to Raye. “Did you know that man?”
Raye looked to Mina and then to Ranma. “I think so? But – he’s dead.”
Ranma looked to Mina. She shook her head. “I wasn’t really paying attention.”
Ranma turned to Mousse. “Send the visual recordings of the transmission from the Minneapolis to the conference room.” He looked to Mina and Raye who knew what they had to do.
“Make sure you scan all the faces to see if they match anyone in the database.” Mina nods and the two girls walk into the conference room as Serena and the engineering team, escorted by Shampoo, walked onto the bridge.
Ranma motioned for all of them to follow him into his ready room. “Mousse – you’ve got the bridge.” Mousse acknowledged but chose to stay at his station instead of sitting in the captain’s chair. Mousse really wasn’t interested in command. He just wanted to fight.
Inside Ranma’s ready room Ranma had Serena sit in the chair just across from his desk. The other engineers sat down on his couch while Shampoo stood beside him behind his desk.
“Anything – weird – happen over there?” Ranma asked.
Serena could just laugh. “It would have been weird for something that wasn’t weird to happen.”
“Explain.” Shampoo ordered.
“Tell him, JC.” Serena said.
JC cleared his throat. “Their chamber wasn’t damaged by a dilithium explosion.”
“So what did it?” Shampoo asked.
“An overload of neurons.” Serena retorted.
JC stepped up next to Serena. “There wouldn’t be anything on a Federation starship that would have neurons. Normally.”
“Normally?” Ranma asked.
JC nodded and motioned for the captain’s computer. Ranma nodded and JC began to bring something up.
“These are the schematics for a high-speed cloaking device.” JC pointed out. “I’ve always been interested in cloaking technology so I had a Romulan engineer friend of mine that I met at a conference during the war send me the beta schematics.”
JC pointed some parts out on the schematic and continued. “Now, this isn’t the OFFICIAL schematics because those would be classified to us, due to the treaty that banned Federation cloaking technology. But it does show the basics.”
“Included how it’s powered.” Ranma guessed.
JC nodded. “Neuronic energy.”
“Very unstable!” Shampoo noted.
JC nodded to her. “Yes ma’am. I realized what was up when I took my first integrity scan and detected the neurons. Plus the fact the warp core has to be completely ungrounded.”
“Ungrounded?” Ranma asked. He wasn’t even sure that was a word.
“For lack of a better term,” Serena answered. “The warp core cannot come in contact with any of the ship. It’s held in place by a gravity field.”
“So the Federation did get their hands on a high-speed cloak,” Ranma concluded.
“Yes sir,” JC replied. “Apparently not officially though.”
Ranma nodded. “So what caused the explosion?”
JC thought about it for a second. “If they do have this type of cloaking device, I would say a power overload that fed back into the dilithium chamber.”
“Like a phaser shot?” Ranma asked.
Shampoo looked at Ranma for a second. She was trying to figure out what Ranma was thinking. “Anyway to track them?” Shampoo finally asked the engineers.
JC shook his head. “A normal warp core will leave a plasma and ionization trail. This warp core leaves more of a proton warp trail.”
“And the concentration of protons in open space is so heavy that sorting out a proton warp trail would be like trying to get pee out of a swimming pool.” Serena finished.
Ranma stuck his tongue out at Serena’s analogy. “Thank you. If we need any more information we will get a hold of you.”
JC and Serena nodded in acknowledgment and walked out of the ready room with the rest of the engineering team. Ranma turned to Shampoo.
“What do you think?”
Shampoo shook her head. “Secrets never good.”
Ranma agreed. “I find it hard to believe that an S-I ship would just have an explosion that would make them that vulnerable.” Ranma stood up and the two walked onto the bridge.
At about the same time Raye and Mina walked out of the conference room. Neither of them looked happy. In fact, it almost appeared that Raye had been crying.
“Commander?” Ranma asked Mina.
“It was him.” Mina frowned. “The other man, the one who was with Serena in engineering is someone we don’t know, but the Federation database lists both of them as being deceased.”
Ranma sighed as he dropped down into his chair. He wasn’t quite sure what to do.
He looked at the rest of the bridge crew. They were looking at him for instructions. He didn’t have any though. It seemed obvious to him that the trail had gone cold. If they couldn’t track down the ship then they couldn’t get any answers.
He sighed again.
“Well, guess we will just run our patrol course.” Ranma shrugged.
“But Captain –“ Raye started.
Ranma looked at her. She didn’t even really need a response because she knew what it was going to be.
“There is nothing we can do,” Ranma informed Raye of what was more than obvious to her. “They’re gone. It’s obvious that they are part of Starfleet Intelligence, and as we all know they have their own agenda.”
Raye nodded but continued anyway. “What if they have some illegal detainees? Like Darien!”
Ranma sighed once again. “If you have a plan I’d love to hear it.”
Raye just sat there.
She didn’t have any more of an idea of what to do next than Ranma did. She didn’t like not having any options and she didn’t like knowing that Darien was alive even though she was at his funeral.
She personally reviewed the autopsy reports.
She saw his body.
She touched it.
She cried over it.
She visited his grave every time she possibly could.
Why would anyone go through so much trouble to fake a death? What was going on?
She wanted answers damn it.
She knew though that the only person who had the answers she wanted was gone. Long gone. Warp 9.95 will get you anywhere fast.
She continued to stare at the stars streaking by. She was happy he was alive but things were certainly simpler when he was dead.
But he wasn’t dead.
The thought of the endless possibilities of what happened started to make her head hurt. Maybe if she got some sleep she would be able to think better.
She realized that going to sleep was the only good idea she had.
“Captain?” She turned to Ranma.
“May I go to my quarters? I’m not feeling so hot.”
Ranma nodded. “See Commander Tendo if you think you may be coming down with something.”
Raye nodded. “I think it’s just this.” She flailed her arms toward the viewscreen.
“I understand,” Ranma replied. “Take the rest of the day off. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Raye smiled and walked off the bridge and into the lift.
Once the door slid closed Ranma walked over to Mina.
“She’s your friend. You know her better than I or anyone else here would. Check on her after your shift please.”
Mina nodded. “Her and Darien – “ Mina cut herself off for a second and then continued.
“Darien was the man we saw on the bridge. They were close.”
Ranma nodded. He assumed that from how she reacted to seeing him.
Mina looked back to Ranma who was returning to his seat. “Captain?”
Ranma turned to her.
“He and Serena were even closer. It’d be in her best interest that for now, we didn’t mention this to her.”
Ranma made one quick nod with his head as Mina turned back to her station and resumed her scanning of the border.
Ranma turned to Shampoo who was playing some sort of computer game.
“Where did you get that?” Ranma queried.
Shampoo, unsure of whether or not she was in trouble, sheepishly shrugged. “I think Ranma father put it on here.”
Ranma just shrugged and turned back to the almost hypnotic motion of the stars at warp. He wanted a game to play.