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Specter in the Nebula

Posted on 17 Oct 2020 @ 2:59am by Captain Harvey Geisler & Lieutenant Commander Camila Di Pasquale & Lieutenant JG Charles McCullen & Kelinor Voseh

Mission: Ghosts
Location: USS Black Hawk, Auxiliary Control
Timeline: MD 4 || 1330 hours

Lieutenant McCullen sighed at his console as he adjusted the thruster output for the twentieth time in the last ten minutes to keep the Black Hawk in position inside the nebula. In normal circumstances the computer would be doing that all by itself, but with the recent anomalies it was hard to trust the damn thing and so he had the helm on manual, doing the drift calculations in his head and working the thrusters by hand to hold the ship in place against the currents and eddies of the nebula's gasses. It was easy enough, but over any length of time it got frustratingly boring.

The helicopter Captain was at it again, this time standing over the engineering station taking a look at the various instruments on the screen. He didn't believe a single one, especially since he'd seen how easily the computer had been manipulated in the last few hours. Something on his ship was very, very wrong, and he was determined to figure out what it was.

Not helping matters was the fact that there was no way to communicate to the Away Team, and still no further information on what was clinging to the warp nacelle. Captain Geisler felt like a hostage aboard his own ship. The feeling was not unfamiliar, but it was certainly unwelcome.

"Mister McCullen," Harvey spoke from across the small room. "Have you been able to detect whether or not that explosive has tapped into the ship's computer, or if it's just on the surface?"

"Uh... honestly, sir, I have no idea." Charlie responded, looking up briefly from the helm and giving the captain an apologetic frown, "the sensors say it's integrated, but I, uh... I wouldn't trust the sensors to tell me that lemons are yellow, at this point, sorry."

"If we can't trust sensors, then we need to find something else to trust," Harvey observed. "I assume you were at the helm of the shuttlecraft you and Commander Djinx took to examine the Shran. Aside from the ship itself, what all did you see out there?"

"Uh..." the young lieutenant mused, "the nebula itself is nothing special, just your standard nebula. Though, uh, the gas currents are a bit stronger than average." Charlie thought for a moment, trying to recall anything that might be of interest to the captain. "The gasses of the nebula and the micro-particles are corrosive, over time... I uh, mean, a fairly long time not right away, but..." the helmsman blinked, pushing his mind back on track, "...anyway they'll break down duranium-alloy. The Shran is showing micro-fractures and abrasion all over her hull. Oh, and uh, she's been drifting for a while, I did a rough calculation of her original position, six hundred thousand kilometres away, give or take a few thousand. It was probably, uh... the last time she had power... but we couldn't take the runabout to go check, the, uh, currents were a bit too rough. I mean, we could have, but it would have been a rough ride and I thought it'd be better to take the 'Hawk over and..." Charlie swallowed the rest of the sentence, cutting the drivel off before it ran away from him. "I uh, I think that's about it, sir."

Crewman Third Class Jed "Dead Eye" Drennings sat at the Tactical console, his back ramrod straight and his hazel eyes never left the display in front of him. He listened to what was going on around him and wondered if he would have any reason to actually fire the Century class ship's weapons.

The Captain nodded, carefully taking in all of the Lieutenant's comments. "It'll definitely be worth a look, as soon as we retrieve the Away Team, and once the bomb has been disarmed. Mister Drennings, can we raise shields around the sensitive areas of the ship and protect them from the nebula?"

"Certainly, Captain," Jed said as he began to manipulate the console and changed the configuration. "We also have the backup independent generators online around the computer core, Engineering and other areas, Sir."

"How independent are they?" Harvey asked the tactical officer.

How does one explain independent to a Captain? Jed wondered for a moment. "Each one is manually activated, Captain and has their own power source for up to six hours."

Harvey nodded. "Dispatch teams to each of the generators and have them standby to activate them. Engineering and Operations teams are still moving in and out of these areas and will need to do so quickly while they try and stabilize the ship."

"Yes, Sir," Jed said and issued the order to the Security department to deploy personnel to each generator to activate them. "And done."

Back to McCullen, the Captain refocused on the younger man's report. "Did you see anything else abnormal? Bombs just don't magically appear on nacelles. No other craft, no other strange debris floating about?"

The helmsman frowned for a moment, picking through his memories to see if there was anything he'd missed. "No sir, aside from the Shran, us and a, uh... a body in the debris field, I didn't see anything that wasn't in the sensor scans."

Harvey shook his head. "Somehow, a bomb got attached to our nacelle, and I'm sure as hell we didn't launch with it." He was convinced now than ever that there was a saboteur aboard his ship. It wasn't the first time it'd happened on his command. "I could use some theories on how it could have gotten there."

"Uh, a cloaked shuttle or a drone, maybe?" Charlie suggested, he had been thinking about the issue on-and-off since returning from the inspection of the Shran, picking it apart and puzzling over it. He felt gratified that he was finally able to vent his theories, "or a transporter of some kind, or, uh, it could have been floating out here like a cloaked mine and clamped on when we entered the nebula?"

Jed was quiet for a moment. "Could a saboteur among the crew have planted it there?" he asked. He had read the reports on the Dolmoqour after he had came aboard during the refit and understood everyone had been zapped and tested and checked and psychoanalyzed for a month although he didn't have access to those files, and he had heard some that some Vulcan counselor had been stirring up the waters among the senior staff.

On the outside of the ship? McCullen puzzled silently to himself, frowning. He couldn't see how that would be possible without triggering a dozen sensors, security alarms and warnings but he kept his thoughts to himself, not wanting to second-guess the man at tactical and guessing that now wasn't the best time for a discussion.

"If a member of this crew did it," Harvey asked, looking at Jed, "how would they pull that off? How can one quietly assemble a bomb on this ship and then plant it without anyone even knowing?"

===[DujlIj Hegh, Bridge]===

"I don't care!" shouted Galar, the Nausicaan Head of Security. "He said to stay in this dense part of the nebula and we wouldn't be spotted! Do you even know what kind of ship that is out there? All we know is that it's Starfleet because that's who Kelinor ran into on that derelict. And those are the last people we need to meet."

"No, I most certainly do not," said Veshku, the pirate ship's Orion First Mate. "Because our sensors are just about as useless in this nebula as there's are," she added. "I'm taking her out to see if we can at least get a visual. Besides, it's been long enough, the bomb should have already attached itself to a warp nacelle by now. We still have the upper hand. Let's go."

"Fine," Galar said. "It's your ass if Kelinor loses it again."

"It always is," she said, sitting down in the center chair. The old Saber-class ship, now dubbed the DujlIj Hegh,, slowly moved out of the dense cloud of gasses and into the open to get a visual. The senior crew had agreed on the name when they'd found her at the Surplus Depot. DujlIj Hegh, Ship of the Dead, an homage to the Barge of the Dead in Klingon myth that carried dishonored souls to Grethor. Because, why not have a pirate ship full of dishonorable souls bound for hell? And they're 'dead' in some form or fashion to the rest of the galaxy.

"Visual range," growled Galar. "You want to see it, here you go." He put the ship on the viewscreen for the rest of the bridge crew to see.

===[Black Hawk, Auxiliary Control]===

"Captain," called out the ensign manning the Operations station. "Sensors are picking up... a void. It looks like a void of sorts."

"A void?" Harvey asked, hovering now over the Operations controls. "Like an opening in the nebula?"

The ensign shook her purple-haired head. "No, sir. It looks like sensor data is being extrapolated from multiple palettes to cover an area. You can tell by here." She pointed at a blob on her screen. "This is a body from a deceased crewman. It just so happens to be a perfect match of this body just a few hundred meters away that is passing through grid GLG-20."

The Captain frowned, despite the fact that he was pleased they were finally getting somewhere. He turned to face Jed once more. "See if you can clear up those sensors and find out what's in that void. Helm, standby for maneuvers."

"Yes, Sir," Jed said as he turned his attention back to his board and began to make a series of adjustments. No matter what he did, the resolution remained stubbornly murky and left him confused. "Captain, what if that murk out there has some materials in it that are hard to penetrate with sensors?"

"Then we penetrate with something else." The Captain turned back to the viewscreen where the void was now displayed. "Fire a class two probe. Let's find out what it can get when it gets up close and personal."

"Class two probe loaded," Jed reported. "Firing." He launched it and sat back to wait for the results.

===[DujlIj Hegh, Bridge]===

"They're scanning the area," said Galar. "Probably trying to see through the ghost. But you know what happens next when they can't? They send a..." He abruptly stopped as a probe was launched from the Starfleet ship. "Yeah, that."

"Just be still," cautioned the Orion. "They're probably just exploring or something. It's what they do. Take readings, launch probes, make log entries...they're so predictable." Still, she sent a message to Kelinor.

A minute later, the doors opened and he walked out to the bridge. "Besides, if they're this close and still have to launch a probe to supplement their sensors, well, maybe that ship's not as advanced as we thought. Even in a nebula." He moved to the center chair as Veshku got up and sat on the padded area to his right.

===[Black Hawk, Auxiliary Control]===

Jennings studied the telemetry readings the probe was sending back. "I'm getting a lot of nebula clutter," he said and named off several things that were interfering, then came to a stop. "Captain, you have to see this. It looks like there's another ship out there, but the readings are vague."

The Captain crossed the bridge to the tactical station to take a look at the probe's telemetry. Just as Jennings suggested, the readings were indeed vague. It seemed that data was duplicating itself again, especially since he could make out the outline of a Saber-Class starship.

"Helm," ordered the Captain, "bring us about, bearing one-one-two, mark zero-three-zero. Tactical, arm phasers and raise shields." The Captain then tapped his combadge and said, "Geisler to Djinx. I hope you all are holding on. The ship will be making some quick maneuvers."

"One-one-two, mark zero-three-zero," McCullen mirrored, bringing the ship around to the bearing the captain had specified. He tried not to think about the bomb attached to the ship's nacelle or the fight that he suspected was coming, choosing to focus instead on his work, holding the ship at station.

"Firing solution four up and ready, Captain," Jed called out as he selected two torpedo launchers and two phaser arrays facing the unknown ship as best as he could target in the nebula.

===[DujlIj Hegh, Bridge]===

"Kelinor," said Galar, "this nebula is still mucking up our sensors, but I think they've raised their shields. And if that's the case, they've most likely armed themselves."

"Typical Starfleet protocol," sighed Kelinor. "Shields up, arm weapons. You'd think Starfleet would have learned from the Farpoint mission and the resulting visit from Q. Let's attack what we don't understand." He tapped the arm of the chair. "But in this case..." He chuckled. "Put the Shran between us and them. Keep up the sensor swap. If they continue to track us, we'll have our answer. And then we can take our next step in this little dance."

===[Black Hawk, Auxiliary Control]===

At helm, Charlie frowned as he held the ship on the heading the captain had asked for, keeping the Black Hawk's bows pointed squarely at the sensor gap they had detected. It showed clearly on his display, an outlined area of odd blankness, exactly... 'What the...'

The helmsman checked his heading and it was exactly as it should be, the Black Hawk wasn't moving, which meant it was the thing that was drifting off to port. "Captain, I think the, uh... hole is moving, sir, five degrees to port and still drifting towards the Shran."

Harvey moved to his chair in the center of the room. Hovering over other personnel would no longer do any good and he needed to focus on the situation at hand. "Adjust our heading according. Keep us nice and slow so we don't shake off Djinx's team as they operate on the nacelle."

===[DujlIj Hegh, Bridge]===

Veshku shook her head. "Looks like they're moving along with us. If we drop the sensor void, we'll have more power to divert to scanning the ship. Maybe find a weakness to exploit." She turned to face Kelinor, who leaned back in the chair.

"We'll wait a few more seconds until we're on the other side of that derelict," Kelinor answered. "I have a plan if we need an escape." He turned to face the Orion woman. "Far as I know, they still have an away team over there. Had to beam out all of a sudden when they threatened to shoot me. Of course, we can confirm that with a quick scan in minute." The old Saber-class, now pirate ship, moved into position behind the derelict...but with a safe distance.

"Dropping sensor void, raising shields, and arming weapons," said Galar. "What am I targeting?" he asked.

"The derelict," said Kelinor.

===[Black Hawk, Auxiliary Control]===

"Sir, sensor readings have cleared up..and whatever is out there has shields and weapons!" Jed called out.

"Are they targeting anything?" Harvey demanded, his eyes locked onto the viewscreen. He could see part of the image of a ship now, and it still looked like a copy of the Shran, though its appearance was quite darker. "Someone confirm whether or not we're looking at an echo!"

"The Shran!," Jed exclaimed. "They're targeting it, Sir!"

Harvey's eyes shot open as his hands gripped the edges of the armrests. Immediately, he thought of the Away Team members still on the derelict vessel, and Harvey had no way of contacting them. Sure, he'd spoken to Djinx a few moments before, but that was because he was close enough to take advantage of internal communications. Ship-to-ship was an entirely different story.

Of all the days to have ship-wide malfunctions... "Target their weapons," Harvey ordered. "Helm, get us between them and the Shran."

"Aye sir," Charlie replied tersely, his hands dancing across the console as he brought the impulse engines up, being careful to be as smooth as possible to protect Djinx and his bomb removal team and set course for the Shran.

"Targeting, but there's still interference from the nebula and the sensor readings," Jed said as he loaded two more photon torpedo bays.

The Shran came up fast and McCullen hit the lateral thrusters and strafed the Black Hawk around the hulk of the dead ship, letting her slip sideways and keeping the bow pointed at the other vessel. He brought her to a stop between the wreck and the unknown vessel.

"Captain!" called out the operations officer behind him. "The subspace transceiver just came back online!"

Perfect timing. Harvey remained seated and ordered, "Flash a message to Commander Walsh and the Away Team to apprise them of what's happening. But first, open a channel to that ship."

The operations officer nodded and opened the channel, allowing the familiar whistle to be heard from the room's speakers.

"Unidentified vessel," Harvey began, "this is Captain Harvey Geisler of the Federation starship Black Hawk. Identify yourself and state your intention."

A quick conversation had taken place on the bridge of the Saber class before the viewscreen came to life. A mad Orion woman in civilian clothes stood up and abruptly took several steps towards the screen.

"How dare you!" she yelled. "How dare you target us with your weapons before you even say hello and find out who we are! We were just trying to defend ourselves against! Just wait until the Rigellian Trade Commission hears about this! And the Ferengi Commerce Authority! Let's not forget how strictly the Liquidators enforce the Trade By-Laws with outside contractors! And now you people...!"

Before she could go any further, the man seated behind her stood up from his slumped, face-palmed position and walked up to her. He put his arm on the small of her back and kissed her cheek. "Honey, please, they're Starfleet. They're just doing their job and following their protocols. That's all. Why don't you go sit down for bit. Maybe get yourself a glass of wine?"

She jerked her head in his direction and glared before going to sit down in the chair he'd just gotten up from.

"I'm so sorry Captain Geisler," said the man. Fortunately, there was no one there from the away team that would recognize him. "She's full of fire. It's why I married that fiery spirit. Anyway, you can call me Etam. We're traders with contracts with the Rigellians and the FCA. We mostly do business for a few select Ferengi in this part of the galaxy. As for our intentions, we've been hiding in this nebula for three days from some raiders that started chasing us. You didn't see anyone when you came in, did you?"

Harvey's eyes narrowed, a visible effect of the massive restraint he was putting on himself in order to mask his confusion. The Captain didn't for one second believe that story, but he had no proof to the contrary. He started to speak on two brief occasions, only to realize just before the first syllable that his reply would not suffice. The third time, he found himself successful.

"There were no raiders lurking outside the nebula when we arrived," Harvey informed them. "But that does not explain why you are targeting a Federation starship, derelict or not. I have an investigation team aboard that vessel, and I'm not going to allow that ship to be destroyed while they're aboard."

"Well thank the gods," said Etam. "Or the prophets. Or whatever you want. That's good news, that raiders are gone. But like she said, we had to try to defend ourselves when you powered up your weapons. I mean, look at us, there's no way we stand a chance against you. We had to do something. But with your investigation team and all, I guess the only thing to do is power down our weapons at the same time and then we'll be on our way. We're already three days late on a run."

"Not quite," Harvey said, raising his left index finger. It was not pointed at the viewscreen or Etam, but at the ceiling above him. "You say you've been here for three days. We've been here for three hours, and we happened to get something stuck on our nacelle. You, uh, you haven't run into any problems like that, have you?"

"As a matter of fact, got a nasty little bio-tech critter of some kind attached to our deflector dish a couple of days ago. Figured it was probably some kind of mutant, Borg-like thing living in the nebula. Took us a little while to get it off," lied the man.

Harvey's eyes remained narrowed. He didn't quite trust what he was being told, but he had no reason to refute it, at least openly. "I don't suppose you're willing to share any tips on how to remove it?"

"We tried a couple of things," he replied. "First we went after the biological side of it, but that seemed to just make it angry or something. Starting sucking more juice from the deflector. Then we after the technological side of it. Or at least we tried. That was a complete failure. We finally decided to sour the milk and use the deflector dish to emit a graviton pulse. We started at a low level until it released. A full force pulse after that caused it to either back off or shut down or something."

Before the Captain could respond, the operations officer called out, "Captain! I'm picking up strange activity on the subspace transceiver, looks like an outgoing message. I'm also picking up fluctuations in the shields!"

"What?" Harvey demanded, looking immediately to the tactical officer for confirmation.

The linebacker sized Security man stared at his console, then shook his head. "Someone is on the ship doing this. Rerouting and sending Security to that location, Sir." He wondered why his Chief didn't think of that one and made a note to suggest it to her. In the meantime, he looked back at the Captain.

"The transmission has already left the transceiver," the operations officer reported. "I'm trying to perform a trace, but it's been bounced around several routing junctions."

"Where did the transmission go?" Harvey asked, looking in the officer's direction.

The Rigelian turned to face the Captain. "The transmission was sent to the ship targeting the Shran, sir."

"Phasers and torpedoes are still locked on, Captain," Jed said while waiting from an update from the Security teams. "Drones have been launched, Sir."

At helm, Charlie was watching the situation unfold and quietly preparing combat maneuvers, evasive patterns and plotting vectors for routes through the nebula's clouds and gasses. He hoped the captain could resolve the situation peacefully, but it didn't appear to be leaning in that direction.

With the open comm channel, Etam heard everything. The Orion woman picked up the PADD near her and brought it to Etam. "Excuse me a moment," he said. He read through it quickly and then entered some information into it before handing it back to her. She took it and returned the seat area, but didn't sit down. She was too busy making some notations herself.

"It sounds like you have a few more problems than something stuck on your nacelle," said Etam. Taking full advantage of the shield fluctuations, "Tell me Harvey, do you know how well your people can hold their balance?" Following through with the instructions sent back on the PADD, the Nausicaan fired phasers and a spread of three photon torpedoes at the Black Hawk's nacelle with the bomb and the team on the hull. "Activate the Reman cloak that we stole and get us out of here," he said to his bridge crew. As the pirate ship cloaked, one last message was sent out. "Harvey, you will always remember this as the day that you almost caught Captain Kelinor Voseh." And with that, the DujlIj Hegh vanished and slipped out out of weapons range at full impulse.

"What the hell!?" Harvey shouted, reeling from the impact from the phaser blast. "Helm, evasive maneuvers! Jennings, get me a target on that vessel and ventral phasers!" He then slapped his badge and shouted, "Geisler to Djinx. Hang onto something!"

“Are you really out of your f******** mind?" came the Trill science officer's voice over the comm.

"I wish I was," Harvey muttered to himself as the crew around him reacted to the chaos and orders.

"Attempting lock, firing," Jed said and watched the first shot miss, then changed the solution and unleashed everything they had on the ventral side and every torpedo. He watched them slip from the Black Hawk and chase after the enemy vessel,

McCullen grimaced as the ship rocked from the impact, holding on to the edge of his console. He was deeply aware of both Djinx and his science crew on the nacelle and the need to protect the away team on the derelict Shran. Charlie took a quarter second to will his crewmen to hang on tight and then the helmsman threw the Black Hawk into a z+ slew, slipping her to starboard and up, while engaging impulse engines at full, aiming for a spot above and to the right of where the enemy vessel had been.

Harvey's eyes remained fixated on the viewscreen. The multiple phaser lances never found a target, disappearing into the far reaches of the nebula. The multiple photon torpedoes scattered across the nebulae cloud, shrinking to pinpricks smaller than stars. A few seconds later, each of them exploded due to the secondary detonation protocol to keep the weapons from falling into the wrong hands.

The Captain was far from pleased. Behind him, the operations ensign sensed this displeasure, and reported anyway, "Captain, I can't find the ship at all on sensors. No ion trails, no cloud dispersals, even though we saw it move away. Best I can figure, it's a perfect cloak. The computer's only matches line up with Reman technology."

"Reman technology," Harvey remarked. "And that was a used Saber-class ship that Etam has, or Kelinor, whatever his name is." The Captain sighed, unhappy and unsettled that he was left with far more questions than answers. "Mister McCullen, contact Commander Walsh, have him report to me as soon as he's aboard. Mister Jennings, find whoever tried to alter those shields and hijacked our transceiver. I want an explantion."

"Aye, Captain, on it," Jed said and send the request through for a full investigation.

"Aye sir," Charlie replied, reaching across with his right hand to open the comm circuit without looking, "McCullen to Walsh, the captain had ordered that the away team return to the Black Hawk immediately. We've had an incident, sir."

Copy that, we're en route came Terry's reply from his helmet. As soon as the shuttle docks, I'll be right there.

The Captain heard the exchange from his chair, and it brought him little comfort. One door had closed, but it seemed at least half a dozen were still open.


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