Star Trek Section 31 #4: Rogueby Andy Mangels, Michael A. Martin
Shrouded in secrecy, Section 31 is the covert operations division of Starfleet, committed to safeguarding the Federation. Captain Jean-Luc Piccard and the crew of the USS Enterprise encounter an unexpected reunion, and a young officer must choose between the good of the Federation and the ideals for which it stands.See more details below
Shrouded in secrecy, Section 31 is the covert operations division of Starfleet, committed to safeguarding the Federation. Captain Jean-Luc Piccard and the crew of the USS Enterprise encounter an unexpected reunion, and a young officer must choose between the good of the Federation and the ideals for which it stands.
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Rogue: Section 31 (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
By Michael A. Martin Andy Mangels
Star TrekCopyright © 2001 Paramount Pictures
All right reserved.
Chapter OneStardate 50368.0
The coffee cup suffused Captain Karen Blaylock's hands with a cheery warmth as she strode purposefully onto the bridge of her ship, the Excelsior-class starship Slayton. Though the alpha watch wasn't due to begin for another ten minutes, she wasn't at all surprised to see several key bridge officers already hard at work at their consoles, which hummed and beeped agreeably.
Commander Ernst Roget, her executive officer, turned toward her in the command chair and favored her with a reserved smile. "Captain on the bridge," he said, vacating the seat for her.
Heads turned toward Blaylock, distracted momentarily from their vigilance. These were good officers, science and engineering specialists all, and she hated allowing command protocol to interfere with their work, even momentarily. She often envied them their single-minded dedication to discovery. How ironic, she thought, to have allowed her command responsibilities to come between her and the very thing that had brought her out to the galactic hinterlands in the first place: the pursuit of pure knowledge.
Blaylock nodded a silent as you were, and each crewmember quickly returned to the work at hand. She took her seat and sipped her coffee.
Commander Cortin Zweller approached Blaylock from the science station on the bridge's starboard side. His thick shock of white hair was belied by the boyish twinkle in his eye. During the nearly four months he had served as chief science officer, he had proven to be a valuable member of the Slayton team. Though by no means a brilliant researcher, Zweller was well-liked by the other science specialists, an administrator apparently gifted with the good sense not to step on the toes of his better-trained subordinates - unless absolutely necessary.
"The anomaly still seems to be hiding from us," Zweller said. "So far, at least."
Blaylock sighed, disappointed. The Slayton had last made long-range sensor contact with the subspace anomaly eight days previously, but had turned up nothing since. Several weeks before that, the Federation's Argus Array subspace observatory had detected intermittent but extremely powerful waves of subspace distortion that seemed to be coming from the region of space for which the Slayton was now headed. Unfortunately, the phenomenon had neither lasted long enough - nor repeated itself regularly enough - to reveal much else.
How wonderful it would have been, Blaylock reflected, to have discovered an entirely new physical phenomenon while en route to a dreary diplomatic appointment on gods-forsaken Chiaros IV. But Blaylock knew it would be just her luck for the anomaly to return briefly - and then vanish forever - while she and her crew were preoccupied with the tedium of galactic politics.
The captain turned toward Lieutenant Glebuk, the Antedean helmsman. In the year since Glebuk had come aboard, Blaylock had assiduously avoided asking the galley replicators to create sushi, one of her favorite foods. Glebuk, who was essentially a two-meter-tall humanoid fish, was notably edgy about such things.
Like most of her kind, Glebuk would have found the rigors of interstellar travel intolerable but for the effects of the cortical stimulator she wore on her neck. Its constant output of vertigo-nullifying neural impulses kept her from lapsing into a self-protective catatonic state during long space voyages. Despite this handicap - or perhaps because of it - Glebuk was one of the best helm officers Blaylock had ever worked with.
"What's our present ETA at the Chiaros system?" Blaylock asked Glebuk.
The helmsman fixed an unblinking, monocular gaze on the captain and whispered into the tiny universal translator mounted in the collar of her hydration suit. "The Slayton will reach the precise center of the Gulf in approximately fifty-three minutes. We will arrive at the fringes of the Chiaros system some six minutes later."
Blaylock nodded. Almost the precise center of the Geminus Gulf, she thought with a tinge of awe. Three wide, nearly empty sectors. Sixty light-years across, all together. Nearly two weeks travel time at maximum warp. Even after a decade of starship command, she found it hard to wrap her mind around such enormous distances.
During the long voyage into the Gulf, Blaylock had had plenty of time to familiarize herself with the region. More than enough time, actually, since so little was actually known about it, other than its size, location, and strategic significance - or rather its lack thereof. It was well-known, however, that most of its sparse stellar population were not of the spectral types associated with habitable worlds. In the Geminus Gulf, young supergiant "O" type stars predominated - the sort of suns whose huge mass blows them apart only a few hundred million years into their lifespans - rather than the cooler, more stable variety, such as the "G" type star that sired Earth and its immediate planetary neighbors.
But the Geminus Gulf was important in at least one respect; it lay just outside the boundaries of both the Federation and the Romulan Star Empire, and it had yet to come formally into the sphere of influence of either power. Nearly smack in the center of the Gulf's unexplored vastness lay one inhabited world, the fourth planet of the politically nonaligned Chiaros system. Under recently negotiated agreements, neither the Federation nor the Romulans could establish a permanent presence in the Gulf until invited to do so by a spacefaring civilization native to the Gulf. Blaylock was only too aware that her job was to do everything the Prime Directive would allow to obtain that invitation from the Chiarosans, who comprised the only warp-capable culture yet known in the Gulf, and thus were the key to the entire region, and to whatever awaited discovery within its confines.
Never mind that there isn't any there there, Blaylock thought, absurdly reminded of the 20th-century human writer Gertrude Stein's often-mischaracterized description of an empty region on Earth.
Settling back into her chair, Blaylock smiled to herself. She had already reviewed the Chiarosan government's preliminary application for Federation membership. Less than two weeks from now, the planet's general population would formally vote on whether to invite in the Romulans or the Federation. Fortunately, since the pro-Federation position was being staunchly backed by the planet's extremely popular ruling regime, it seemed to Blaylock that her mission was already all but accomplished.
Blaylock therefore felt amply justified in allowing her thoughts to return to the matter of the mysterious subspace distortions - and their possible causes. Now that they had piqued her curiosity, she couldn't bear the thought of leaving the bridge for a diplomatic conference whose results were already foreordained.
"Just how important is the captain's presence at this conference?" Blaylock said, turning toward Roget.
Seated in the chair beside Blaylock's, Roget leaned forward, his mahogany-colored brow wrinkled in evident confusion. "It's crucial, Captain. The natives of Chiaros IV are a warrior people. If you're not there, they're likely to take offense."
Her exec's discomfiture brought a small smile to her lips. "Don't panic, Ernie. I'm not planning on going AWOL. What I mean is, how important is it that the captain be present with the first away team?"
Roget appeared to relax at that. Stroking his jaw, he said, "It's not critical, I suppose. You have to remember, though, that the Chiarosans are very hierarchical and protocol-conscious."
"So I noticed," Blaylock said. "They've planned just about every minute of our itinerary while we're on their planet. And we won't even meet First Protector Ruardh until our third day on the planet. It's all just lower-level functionaries until then."
"'When in Rome,' Captain," Roget said.
"I agree. Therefore I've decided I'm staying aboard the Slayton until you finish up the preliminary business with the first away team. That'll give me at least another full day here on the bridge before I have to join you down on the planet."
Roget smiled knowingly. "You want to keep looking for those subspace distortions yourself."
Blaylock didn't smile back. Roget needed to know that she was deadly serious. "There's more at stake here than my scientific curiosity. We already know that the Romulans will have a delegation on Chiaros."
"That's unavoidable, unfortunately, under the treaties." Roget, too, was no longer smiling.
"Wherever you find Romulan diplomats, you'll probably also find a cloaked Romulan ship nearby - certainly up to no good."
Roget regarded her with a silent scowl. He was giving her the look again. She knew that he had to be thinking, a cloaked Romulan ship that causes intermittent subspace distortions that can be picked up five sectors away? Fortunately, Roget was not one to question her orders in front of the crew.
Until I find out the answer, she told herself, I'll be damned if I'm off this ship one second longer than I absolutely have to be.
At that moment, Zweller rose from his station and faced Blaylock, an eager expression on his face. Though he was in his sixties, his unbridled enthusiasm made him appear much younger.
"Yes, Mr. Zweller?"
"If it's all right with you and Commander Roget, I'd like to be part of the first away team. From what I've read about Chiaros IV, the place could keep a dozen science officers busy for years."
Blaylock looked toward her exec, who nodded his approval. She turned the matter over in her mind for a moment, then rose from her chair and regarded Zweller approvingly. She liked officers who weren't afraid to show a little initiative.
"All right, Mr. Zweller. Assemble a few of the department heads in the shuttlebay at 0800 tomorrow. You and Commander Roget will oversee the opening diplomatic ceremonies."
Zweller thanked Blaylock, then returned to his station to contact his key subordinates. She had no doubt that Chiaros IV would more than justify his scientific curiosity. For a moment, she regretted her decision not to lead the first away team.
But she had a mystery to solve, and a ship to worry about. Needs must, Blaylock thought, when the devil drives.
Or the Romulans.
Sitting beside Roget in the cockpit of the shuttlecraft Archimedes, Zweller finished his portion of the preflight systems checks in less than five minutes. The eight-person craft was ready for takeoff even as the heads of the biomedical science, planetary studies, xenoanthropology, and engineering departments took their seats.
At Roget's command, the triple-layered duranium hangar doors opened, accentuating the faint blue glow of the shuttlebay's atmospheric forcefield. The shuttle rose on its antigravs, moved gently forward, and accelerated into the frigid vastness of space.
The perpetually sunward side of Chiaros IV suddenly loomed above the Archimedes, presenting a dazzling vista of ochers and browns. Gray, vaguely menacing clouds surged over the equatorial mountain ranges. High above the terminator separating eternal night from unending day, Zweller could see the glint of sunlight on metal - Chiaros IV's off-planet communications relay, tethered to the planet's narrow habitable zone by a network of impossibly slender-looking cables. Zweller noticed that the portion of the tether that plunged into the roiling atmosphere was surrounded by transitory flashes of light.
Lightning? he wondered, then looked more closely. No, it's thruster fire. If the Chiarosans didn't compensate somehow for the motions of their turbulent atmosphere, that orbital tether wouldn't last ten minutes.
Zweller took in this vista - the untamable planet as well as the tenacious efforts of the Chiarosans to subdue it - with unfeigned delight.
"Hail the Chiarosans, Mr. Zweller," Roget said, interrupting his reverie. Zweller complied, immediately all business once again. His hail was answered by a voice as deep as a canyon, which cleared the shuttlecraft to begin its descent into the churning atmosphere. The computer received the landing coordinates and projected a neat, elliptical course onto the central navigational display.
"A pity we can't just beam straight down to the capital," Roget said as the Slayton receded into the distance.
Andreas Hearn, the Slayton's chief engineer, spoke up from directly behind Zweller. "Between the radiation output of the Chiarosan sun, the planet's intense magnetosphere, and the clash of hot and cold air masses down there, we can't even get a subspace signal down to the surface - at least not without the orbital tether relay. I wouldn't recommend trying to transport anyone directly through all that atmospheric hash."
"Oh, enough technical talk," said Gomp, the Tellarite chief medical officer, who was seated in the cabin's aftmost section. "I want to know what these people are really like. The only things I've seen so far are their official reports to the Federation. Medically speaking, all I can really say about them is that they're supposed to be triple-jointed and faster than Regulan eel-birds."
"Then I wouldn't recommend challenging them on the hoverball court," Hearn said with a chuckle.
The Archimedes entered the upper atmosphere. On the cockpit viewer, Zweller watched as an aurora reached across the planet's south pole with multicolored, phosphorescent fingers. Lightning split the clouds in the higher latitudes. Atmospheric friction increased, and an ionized plasma envelope began forming around the shuttle's hull.
"Gomp makes a good point," said xenoanthropologist Liz Kurlan, as though this didn't happen very often. "All we know about these people so far is what they want us to know."
"So we'll start filling in those gaps in our knowledge today," Roget said with a good-natured shrug. "That's why we're all here, isn't it?" Sitting in silence, he moved his fingers with deliberate precision over the controls. Then the shuttle hastened its descent toward the rapidly approaching terminator, the demarcation line between the planet's endless frigid night and its ever-agitated, superheated sunward side.
On the Slayton's bridge, Blaylock heard an uncharacteristic urgency enter Glebuk's voice. "Captain! The anomaly has reappeared!"
The bridge crew suddenly began moving in double-time. Blaylock was on her feet in an instant. "Location!"
"Scanning," Glebuk said.
Ensign Burdick, the young man at the forward science station, beat the Antedean to the answer. "A massive subspace distortion wave-front has appeared ... four-point-eight astronomical units south of the planet's orbital plane."
"One-tenth light-speed in all directions. Speed is constant."
"Transfer the coordinates to the helm," Blaylock said.
"Coordinates received," acknowledged Glebuk.
"That's our heading, helmsman. Engage at warp factor two. Take us half an AU from the wave-front, then full stop. Close, but not too close. On my mark, get the hell away at maximum warp."
"Aye," Glebuk said, altering the ship's speed and direction. Blaylock could feel the slight telltale vibration in the deckplates.
"Ensign Burdick, record everything you can about those subspace distortions," Blaylock barked, then whirled toward the tall, dark-tressed woman who was working the aft communications station. "Lieutenant Harding, try to raise the Archimedes."
Precisely sixteen seconds later, the Slayton had come to a full stop at a safe distance from the slowly-expanding subspace effect. On the forward viewer, the starfield rippled slightly, as though attached to a curtain being blown by a strong wind.
"No contact with the Archimedes, Captain," Harding said. "They must have already entered Chiaros IV's atmosphere."
"Captain!" Burdick suddenly cried out from the science station, getting Blaylock's full attention. "The wave-front's speed has just increased almost a hundredfold!"
How can that be? Blaylock thought in the space of a heartbeat. Unless the phenomenon has begun dropping in and out of normal space, gaining velocity from subspace ...
She wasted no time. "Raise shields!" she shouted. "Glebuk, get us out of -"
Excerpted from Rogue: Section 31 (Star Trek: The Next Generation) by Michael A. Martin Andy Mangels Copyright © 2001 by Paramount Pictures. Excerpted by permission.
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