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Mercury Falling IV: Unaccompanied Minors

Posted on Sat Sep 15th, 2018 @ 9:50pm by Lieutenant Commander Nolan Marc & Commander Jonathan Mantell

Mission: A Misguiding Hand
Location: Shuttle Rubicon
Timeline: MD01

Twenty-seven particles of space dust per cubic meter.

Ambient particulate matter tended to be ionized hydrogen or neon, though there was a variety of volatile compounds that were present. Radiation levels were consistent with a main-sequence star.

In other words, the star system contained all of the right elements for the formation of terrestrial planets, with a frost line boundary far enough afield as to create a habitation zone compatible with most xenoform biological development. Not much to write home about, nothing about this star system would get him so much as a side column in an issue of the Vulcan Science Monitor but it was at least worth noting in a report back to Starfleet Science Division.

From the back of the runabout, the Okinawa boy was sorting through the data. With the sensors in passive collection mode, he couldn't control much of the data input. The sensor palettes observed what they observed based on radiation, direct or indirect. The study of the alien vessel was one of isolation. By getting a baseline on the system's general characteristics, Nolan would be able to measure the variance once they passed by the alien ship.

What would he see? Probably not a whole lot. Unless the alien ship was radiating energy, then it would just be a hunk of duranium floating in space.

So he was surprised when the spectrometer detected a spike in the lower EM band.

And by lower, he meant substantially low. But it radiated along a different part of the spectrum from any of the surrounding objects, so that made the alien ship the only source for the transmissions.

"Hey, Jack, I think I've got something," Nolan offered, as he started looking over the data. Frequency. Wavelength. Bandwidth...

...why did it look familiar?

"The ship is definitely radiating toward the planet. It's very low powered, but I'm definitely picking something up along the electromagnetic spectrum," Nolan remarked, even as his mind worked to try and decipher the purpose or form. When he finally recognized it, he realized he'd been living in the 24th Century for too long. "Radio waves," he discerned finally. "They're transmitting radio waves toward the planet."

"Wait, what?" The blond-haired kid looked up from the console at the front of the shuttle, where he had occupied his time playing asteroid on the controls. No, not the old game of Asteroids but a literal game of asteroid, an attempt to make the shuttle appear look like nothing more than a floating piece of detritus —space junk— to avoid alerting the observing ship's sensors. It was more difficult than it sounded, planning orbits and playing only with short bursts of thrusters when some impeding object was between the shuttle and the alien's line of sight.

Despite his alarming tone of voice as the child engineer pushed back from the console, spinning his chair once around before kicking out a leg to halt it facing the other boy, Jack really was grateful for the respite. There was a reason he hadn't gone into flight control at any point in his Starfleet career. He could recall a dozen different configurations for an impulse manifold, but he struggled to understand just one astrometric chart.

"Really?" The boy piped up again, "Radio? That's so cool!" Jack hadn't heard of anyone using radio in decades. At one point, he recalled some proposed detection methods for Romulan warbirds involved radio, but at such limited range it really wasn't practical. In orbital ranges though, it made perfect sense, the lag time would only be on the order of seconds at most. Hopping up from his chair, the boy moved to join Nolan at the rear of the craft, peering over the shorter Miran's shoulder. "Can you show me?"

The boy gave a nod as he started shuffling through the data. On a small monitor on the console, a display illustrated a series of intersecting waveforms. "We're inside the interplanetary magnetic field, so there's a lot of electromagnetic activity from the interaction of the heliospheric current with the planetary magnetosphere," Nolan began, even as he began highlighting and removing several waveforms from the visual illustration. "But none of that explains this," the boy added, as there remained only a single wave on the screen.

"It appears to be a frequency modulated wave with a bandwidth of fifteen kiloHertz," Nolan explained, even as he highlighted a faint second string with a contrasting color. "And there's at least one more, a different waveform radiating along fifty kiloHertz."

Jack looked at the display for a few seconds, taking in the readouts. He used to look at data like this every day, but that had been half a century ago during the Cardassian War. Now it took the boy some time to parse the readout in his head, working through the wider implications of what the raw output displayed. He frowned, muttering mostly to himself, "Wait." Leaning over Nolan's shoulder, he tapped a few buttons on the console, bringing up a simulation program. Importing the data from the previous output and the known values of the alien planet below, the screen soon portrayed a depiction of the signal strength through the planet's atmosphere.

"They're talking to someone on the ground," the blond-haired engineer said, stepping back as if to add distance between his thoughts and the reality of them. Jack was hardly the most disciplined adherent to the Federation's principles and values, he'd heard them repeated ad nauseam by members of Starfleet who used them as excuses for their actions rather than motivations. It gave him a rather jaded view of concepts like the Prime Directive. But here was a race blatantly violating those ideals, and it somehow struck the Miran boy as wrong. "They're not mere observers, they're interfering."

Pulling his legs up into the chair, the other Miran tapped the side of his face and thought about that for a moment. They were definitely communicating with the planet. But, all they knew was that. "We've put anthropologists on pre-warp planets plenty of times," Nolan remarked, posing the alternative view. "Maybe they're just communicating with..."

He was going to say an away team, except the panel in front of him starting lighting up. Springing forward, the child sat on the edge of the seat as he started looking at the read-out. "Major energy bloom," Nolan chirped, a note of concern rising in his voice as he added, "Their orbital axis is also changing."

"What does that—" was about all Jack could get out before warning klaxons sounded inside the tiny craft. The distance to from the rear of the shuttle to the pilot's chair never looked so long. It was easy to see as he passed the consoles ringing forward arc of the shuttle's cockpit that the alien ship was posturing for something, and it didn't seem friendly. "I think we've been detected," the boy mentioned offhand as he slipped into the pilot's chair again, "And it doesn't seem like they're happy about it."

Fingers darting along the console in front of him, the Okinawa boy was bringing up the communications console. "Preparing to transmit logs to Vesta," Nolan remarked.

Should Nolan have instead been trying to bring the shields on-line? Perhaps, but the shuttle had pretty much been drifting on inertia and the micro-reactor was effectively still in cold iron status as a result. It would take about a minute to raise power levels up to where the shield emitters could come on-line. In contrast, the available battery power was sufficient for getting a transmission out to the Vesta.

"You'll want to buckle.." the words were lost as the shuttle lurched violently, throwing Jack from his seat. He didn't have time to consider the irony of that as he scrambled back into his chair, frantically looking over the console to assess the situation and respond. The shuttle was spinning, he had turned off the automatic control thrusters to avoid any course corrections that would alert the aliens to their presence, but that was now the same system he needed re-enabled. As Jack brought up the panel to do that very thing, he grimaced and let out an audible groan as it flashed a red OFFLINE warning to him. Meaning destroyed, or at least damaged.

It was times like these that reminded Jack why he went into engineering in the first place. He was far more comfortable in an engine room than he was at the helm. He'd declined a pilot for this mission because he thought they would only be making a wide swing around the aliens and heading back to the Vesta. Not that the shuttle would suddenly be knocked onto a quickly decaying orbit and headed for a certain crash on the planet below. On a more pleasant note, however, the boy was pretty sure that whatever damage they had just suffered, he could fix it pretty easily. If they survived.

"Almost..." Nolan remarked, holding fast to the console with one hand as he tried to finish the message to Vesta.

"Hang on to something," Jack said, trying to bring the small craft under as much control as he could. "It's going to get really hot, then really bumpy, and then really crashy."

The computer console was flickering as the power supply shifted from reserves to battery. Another keystroke and there was a muted, whirling chirp. "Transmitted," Nolan declared, right before the lighting in the shuttle blacked out.


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