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Chapter Notes: Unable to communicate with Excalibur, the landing party continues to seek answers to the deaths of the Salem colonists. Lt. Commander R'Shraan discovers a possible explanation that defies the laws of the physical universe.

Chapter Nine

Stardate 4796.7 (6 February 2269)
USS Excalibur
Canaris System


Ship’s Log: Stardate 4796.7, First Officer Raul Espinoza recording. It has been over an hour since we lost contact with Captain McAfee and the landing party. At the same time communications went down, we also lost our ability to gain a transporter lock on our people, though sensors show them to be alive and well. I can only postulate that the culprit for these system failures is the vessel that is now approaching us. Per the Captain’s directive I have ordered us to break orbit and intercept that ship. It is my intention to dissuade them from entering Canaris IV’s orbit, by whatever means necessary.

“Time to intercept, Helm?” queried Espinoza.

Lt. Daniel Mobutu, the Kenyan helmsman, checked his instruments before responding. “At our current speed, we should rendezvous with the target vessel in 23 minutes.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant. Ms. Norquist, any luck contacting the landing party?”

“No sir, I’ve run diagnostics twice. The subspace transceiver is operating properly, but somehow, the signal dissipates once it gets past our shield envelope.”

Espinoza frowned. “How is that possible?”

Norquist gave him an apologetic look. “I don’t know sir.”

“Not good enough, Lieutenant. I need answers and I need an open channel to the landing party. Get on it!”

“Aye, sir,” replied the blond communications officer, chastened.

“Ensign T’Nir, what can you tell me about that vessel?”

The young Vulcan woman straightened from peering into the sensor hood. She turned to address the First Officer.

“The vessel does not match any ships in our database. It is 1273.28 meters in length with a draft of 341.09 meters. Our sensors are unable to ascertain its mass or composition, nor can we detect any means of propulsion.”

“What about weapons or defensive capabilities?” pressed Espinoza.

“None are apparent. However, considering the limitations of our sensor sweeps, I would not rule out the presence of offensive or defensive weaponry.” T’Nir hesitated momentarily, as if wanting to add more. Espinoza noticed.

“Go on, Ensign, I need all the data you can provide.”

“Sir . . . I was going to add that there are energy readings that defy plausible explanation. Our universe is governed by Skolian-Newtonian physics, yet these sensor returns are providing data that defy these laws. I can only postulate that our sensors are malfunctioning.”

“Have you run diagnostics?”

“Affirmative. Our sensors are functioning within point zero zero three percent optimum. Logically, our diagnostics system must likewise be malfunctioning.”

Espinoza gazed intently at the young officer. “Ensign, what are the odds that both our sensors and the diagnostic subroutine would fail, considering the triple redundancy in each system?”

T’Nir did not hesitate. “Twelve to the ninth power against,” she replied calmly.

Espinoza turned back to face the viewscreen and the mollusk-shaped vessel that was approaching.

“Then I would suggest you begin to explore the impossible, Ms. T’Nir. We may be up against something that doesn’t play by the rules of our universe.”

* * *

Stardate 4796.8 (6 February 2269)
Salem Colony, Canaris IV


Lt. Commander Heath Forrester and Dr. Chang trotted across the open area that separated the science building from the living quarters as they made their way toward the recreational field. The sun was beginning to set and long shadows played across the ground. Pink stratus clouds crossed the purple sky in corrugated rows. Dr. Chang noticed that the temperature had dropped even as she hurried to keep pace with Forrester.

They began to descend an embankment leading to the open field when Chang’s heel caught on a root and she stumbled forward. With amazingly quick reflexes, Forrester managed to catch the CMO before she took a nasty tumble. She smiled gratefully at him.

“Thanks! These boots weren’t designed for graceful running,” she quipped, while gazing into Forrester’s eyes.

“No problem, Doctor,” Forrester replied, quickly releasing her arms. He averted his gaze as if embarrassed.

“You can call me Kim. All my friends do.”

Forrester hesitated, then gave a curt nod in their direction of travel. “We better get on down there before it gets dark.” He resumed his descent toward the field.

Chang sighed and followed him, being careful to watch her footing. You’re a tough nut, Mr. Forrester, she mused.

* * *

“Here’s another one, Mr. R'Shraan.” Captain McAfee trained her light on the still form of a woman who appeared to be in her mid-thirties. She had apparently fallen from the chair which also lay on the floor.

“And two others here,” replied the Andorian Science Officer. “I believe this is Dr. Rustumzadeh,” he said as his light played across the bearded features of the late Science Director for Canaris IV.

McAfee straightened. “There’s nothing to do be done for them. See if you can retrieve any data from the computer.”

Reshraan nodded. “I will try. But it’s likely whatever caused the power disruption and . . .” he paused gesturing to the bodies, “the casualties, likely corrupted the data as well.”

“As you said, give it a try, Commander. Maybe we’ll get lucky. Speaking of luck, any ideas on getting power back up?”

“I’m not an engineer Captain,” R'Shraan replied curtly.

She could not see the Andorian’s face in the gloom but McAfee did not care at all for his tone.

“Lose the sarcasm, Mister! I will not tolerate it. You are a Starfleet officer, first and foremost. I don’t give a damn if you’re the Science Officer or Morale Officer; I expect you to do your best at any task I assign you. Is that clear?”

“Yes sir,” R'Shraan replied icily.

“That’s more like it,” she replied, her calm tone belying the anger she felt. “I’m going back outside to see if I can raise the ship. Let me know if you make any progress.”

* * *

Dr. Chang felt a stitch in her side as she continued to run after Forrester. She gasped for oxygen in the thin atmosphere.

Forrester noticed that she had fallen behind and stopped. “Doctor? Are you alright?”

“Just . . . having some . . . trouble . . . catching my breath.”

She reached into her med-kit and pulled out a hypo. Inserting an ampule of blue liquid, she pressed the hypo against her forearm. The instrument emitted a slight hiss as the medicine was pressured into her body.

Almost instantly, Chang’s breathing slowed to a more tolerable rate. Forrester gave her a questioning look.

“Tri-ox,” she explained. “I have asthma, and the thin atmosphere was getting to me.” She eyed him curiously. “It certainly doesn’t seem to be bothering you any.”

“I did some mountain climbing in my younger days,” he explained. “The thin air doesn’t bother me so much.”

“Lucky you,” she said, sarcastically. She shivered slightly. “Is it just me, or is it getting colder?”

Commander Forrester looked up at the sky. The purple and pink were gone, replaced by a clear and dark night sky bejeweled with stars.

“Desert areas tend to get cold at night. With no cloud cover, the heat of the day will dissipate quickly. We better hurry and get to the field and fetch Lt. Sharma and Crewman Noles. It will likely get much colder before sunrise.”

It took Forrester and Dr. Chang only two more minutes to arrive at the recreation field. In the twilight, they could just make out Sharma and Noles standing over three small bodies.

Forrester glanced down at the still forms of the children, two boys and a little girl. They looked to be no more than eight or nine years of age. Near the bodies, its head draped across its paws, was a beautiful Golden Retriever that looked as if it were merely asleep.

“They’re so small,” remarked Lt. Sharma, quietly, the distress evident in his voice. Forrester placed a hand on the young officer’s shoulder.

“Nothing to be done for it, Lieutenant” he said. “Doctor?”

Chang was running her Feinberger scanner over the bodies. She straightened, shaking her head.

“Same as the others we found. Their bodies were completely drained of energy.” She glanced at Sharma. “For what it’s worth, I doubt they felt any pain.”

The security officer nodded morosely.

“We need to get back to the main compound,” said Forrester. “There’s no telling how cold it may get.”

“But what about these children?” protested Lt. Sharma. “We can’t just leave them out here!”

“Yes we can, Lieutenant,” replied Forrester, calmly. “They will still be here in the morning.”

“But what about predators?”

“Lieutenant, there’s nothing left alive within scanner range. I’m more concerned about hypothermia than some bloody scavenger. Come along, let’s go.”

* * *

Captain McAfee stared up into the starry night sky, wondering if one of those points of light might be Excalibur. She absently rubbed her arms against the frigid dry air. The continuous low moan of the wind added to the chill and the sense of desolation she felt.

Some first mission, Grace! You’ve managed to end up stranded on a dead planet and you don’t know if your ship and crew are still in one piece. What a great way to begin a five-year command.

She knelt and plucked up a handful of brittle, dry grass. Apparently, whatever had killed the colonists had also killed the plant life; the grass was dry and gray, crumbling easily in her hand as if after a year-long drought.

“Captain.”

Startled, she stood quickly and turned. R'Shraan had managed to walk up within mere meters of her without her hearing him. She was shamed that he had so easily approached without her knowledge. Get your head in the game, Gracie, she chided herself.

“Commander,” she replied evenly. “Any luck with the computers?”

Even though it was nearly dark, she could make out the outline of the Andorian and the stiff posture with which he carried himself. Obviously, he still felt stung by McAfee’s recent dressing-down.

“I managed to download some of the memory files onto my tri-corder. I could not access the computer core itself but the data solids were usable. The data, however, makes little sense.”

McAfee frowned. “Explain.”

“Are you familiar with the concept of anti-energy?”

“Sure, from some of my Academy classes. It’s not supposed to exist in our universe, right?”

“That is correct, based on H’kluraan’s theory. However, one of the scientists here, Dr. Howard, discovered this during one of her sensor sweeps.” He handed her the tri-corder.

McAfee peered at the viewscreen, the blue light giving her features an almost Andorian appearance, and lifted a puzzled eyebrow. One line of data caught her eye:

“The energy value of the designated orbital target is currently at negative three-point-zero-one-three ergs and falling at point-zero-one ergs per hour.”

She glanced back at the Science Officer whose face remained in shadow. “How is that possible?” she murmured.

“It shouldn’t be possible. Yet, according to the logs I down-loaded, the computer and sensors were operating normally. And considering what happened to the colonists and the power sources here, the data fits, as impossible as that may seem.”

A horrible thought struck McAfee. “And I ordered Excalibur to intercept that ship if it returned.”

R'Shraan was quiet for a moment. “Captain, the sensors on Excalibur will provide them the same data. It is likely Commander Espinoza will realize the danger in time.”

Part of McAfee was surprised that the acerbic Science Officer would try to offer her hope. “Let’s hope you’re right, Commander. But even if he does, what can they do? How do you counter a phenomenon that should not exist in our universe?”

This time, R'Shraan had no answer.

To be continued


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