Commander Stephanie Kerrigan was quite concerned. This in itself was not unusual; she was, after all, the acting chief science officer of the U.S.S. Starlight, and thus a person with very important duties, many of which were undoubtedly concerning.
The reason of her concern was directly related to the reason she was acting chief science officer of the U.S.S. Starlight: the absence of Lieutenant Kendall Johnson. Even though the two had started out as bitter enemies when he had been assigned as chief science officer instead of her, the two had finally worked out their differences during the Ividian invasion. Now Kendall was in his quarters and off the active duty roster, and no one, not even Counselor Meyer, would tell her why.
This did have the side effect of giving Stephanie what she had always wanted: command of the science department. It didn’t feel the way she’d always imagined it would, though.
Stephanie’s ruminations were interrupted by a soft chiming on one of the consoles in the main science lab. She crossed quickly to the console. “What is it, Lieutenant?”
Jayla Trinn, normally an engineering officer, had been temporarily assigned during Kendall’s absence as Stephanie’s assistant. “Some sort of sensor ghost in Cluster Kilka-01.” She checked another readout. “Not worthy of mention on the Bridge.”
“Computer, display data readout on Cluster Kilka-01,” ordered Stephanie. Instantly, a report on class-26 comets was replaced by a short dissertation on Cluster Kilka-01. The two women skimmed it briefly. Apparently it was a small amount of nebular gases, only five light-hours in diameter. Most scientists theorized that it was a detached portion of the Alteran Expanse.
“What’s causing the sensor ghost, specifically?” asked Stephanie.
Jayla shrugged. “Some gases are moving in irregular patterns. According to these records, nothing’s ever penetrated Kilka-01 before.”
“Because they couldn’t, or because they didn’t want to?” Stephanie moved to another panel. “I’m going to launch a class five probe.” Her hand began moving across the console.
“I’ll join you.” Jayla quickly made good on her word.
“Hmm… I wish Kendall was here,” muttered Stephanie. “He’s spent the past year-and-a-half studying these gases.”
Jayla quirked an eyebrow. “A year ago, I would have examined my food if I’d heard you say that.”
Stephanie merely shrugged. “Probe ready for launch.”
The chiming stopped.
“What was that?” demanded Stephanie. She hastily returned to the sensor panel that had just gone silent.
An ensign was already there and examining the readings. “The ghost’s disappeared,” he said.
Stephanie pushed him out of her way and ran her own examination. “Confirmed. It just blinked out of existence in the middle of Kilka-01.” She shrugged. “I’ll note in the daily report and take a look at it later.”
“Should I launch the probe anyway?” asked Jayla, calling across the lab. “Might turn something up.”
Stephanie nodded. “Do it.”
Jayla turned back to her console and punched the critical button. “Probe away.”
Lieutenant Bator skimmed through The Tome of Na’zar. He had long since exhausted the book’s notes on his people, and all other races that interested him, for that matter. (Amusingly, humans, who now fancied themselves the most important race that ever traveled the cosmos, had been allocated one sentence in the races of no note section.)
The recent battle at Gildebron III had inspired him to begin a new research project, however. The Starlight had gained a significant—albeit short-lived—edge during the battle via the installation of an Elorg polaron torpedo launcher. Unfortunately, the launcher had been damaged beyond repair or research.
The Phobian was currently searching through The Tome in an effort to find schematics or any other information about the launcher. Such a device would greatly help the Starfleet cause.
He turned his attention to his desktop monitor. “Computer, display Elorg word for ‘polaron torpedo.’”
The monitor chirped in response and displayed a sequence of characters. Bator embedded it in his memory, and then turned his attention to the index page beneath him, attempting to find the word.
At one occasion he thought that he had found it, but soon realized it was the Elorg word for “pasta.”
Stephanie perused several reports from the junior science officers, signing off on each one automatically. Nothing particularly interesting: an analysis of some local comets, the breakdown of the seventh conjugation of the Ka’Tulan language, a commentary on gravimetric shears, and a rehash of an old theory on Berthold radiation.
She wasn’t quite sure why she had wanted command of the science department so much. It was not particularly interesting when one had no time to do one’s own experiments and could only read of others’.
“Ahem.” Jayla was standing at the threshold of the small office that had formerly been Kendall’s.
Stephanie looked up from her reports. “Yes?”
“The class five probe we launched earlier is closing on Kilka-01.”
Stephanie nodded in acknowledgement. “Just a moment.” She wrote a note on the Berthold radiation report, telling Ensign Laley that it was only an unoriginal restatement of Doctor Berthold’s original treatise, and had no chance of publication. She then ordered the computer to transmit it.
Standing up, Stephanie followed Jayla into the main lab. The experiment tank had been set to holographic mode and was showing a mass of swirling oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and dilithium hydroxyls: Cluster Kilka-01.
Stephanie studied the image, noting a small silhouette in one corner. “Computer, magnify Grid R21.” The image zoomed in but was no more distinct. “Jayla, move the probe in closer. Can we get a better scan on that?”
Jayla had already taken up position at the probe control panel. “Moving in,” she replied. “I can’t get a better image; there are large amounts of dilithium hydroxyls interfering with our scans in that area.”
For several tense moments the small probe swooped closer, passing through the outer regions of the gas cluster. Suddenly it exited a large clump of gas, revealing the silhouette for what it truly was: a large manta ray-shaped starship. Stephanie was the first to recognize it.