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Captain
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 579
# 22
03-21-2013, 09:59 AM
Personal log: Tylha Shohl, officer commanding USS King Estmere NCC-92984

Sixty hours.

"Any change?" I ask, more for the sake of hearing my own voice than anything else.

"There are no alterations, esteemed commander," Jeroequene replies. "The external vista remains of the deepest fuliginous blackness, and the void is pristine in its emptiness, free from even the slightest traces of matter. Were it not for the omnipresent microwave background radiation, we might fancy ourselves cut off from the universe entire."

She still sounds cheerful, though. Jolciots always do. Jeroequene is female, and doesn't have the imposing beard and keratinous crest of her fiance, Commander Thirethequ, so her mauve face is somewhat easier to read. She still looks cheerful. Clearly, it takes more than being trapped in a lightless, featureless void for two and a half days to put a damper on Jolciot spirits.

Two and a half days. Sixty hours since King Estmere's sensors picked up the faint anomaly, nothing more than a fugitive glint in space... since we turned to investigate and record it... and since that fugitive gleam suddenly flashed into brilliance and was gone - taking all the stars with it.

I stand up. "I'm going to see how they're doing in Main Engineering," I say. "Jeroequene, you have the bridge."

"I shall discharge the responsibility faithfully!" Jeroequene proclaims. "Please, o Admiral, be so kind as to tell my betrothed he is in my thoughts, should you chance to encounter him."

"I'll do that." It's impossible, I find, to get angry at the Jolciots. But I dread the day I have to ask one of them for a concise report.

Then again... it looks like we have nothing but time, just now.

---

Main Engineering is a picture of gloom. My exec, Anthi Vihl, and my chief engineer, Dyssa D'jheph, are hunched over a console, their antennae drooping in exhaustion and despair. I can feel my own starting to do the same. Thirethequ is working busily at another console - another two consoles, in fact, his long arms letting him reach the control crystals on both together. "Commander Jeroequene sends her regards," I tell him. Somewhere between his clattering forehead crest and his bristling beard, his eyes light up. "My gratification knows no bounds!" he exclaims. "And my gratitude, noble leader, at bringing me this word."

"Any progress?" I ask the room in general.

Dyssa snarls. "Getting nowhere," she snaps. "It's the same problem - we can't establish a warp field, not here. Space-time is just too... too flat."

There is no problem, in theory... but breaking the light barrier is never entirely simple. Creating a warp field, the ship's engines work on the structure of the space-time continuum around them - and the structure, in this no-place, is too simple to be of any help. King Estmere is like a man lying on a sheet of ice, unable to gain the traction he needs to get to his feet. In the absence of local stresses, of curved space due to gravity fields - near or far - the energy expenditure required to generate the field rises, exponentially. To a level which even my ship's tremendous engines can't attain.

"You had some ideas," I say to Anthi. She shakes her head.

"Sorry, sir. I was hoping some of the Romulan quantum-singularity tech might help... but, even with that, it looks like we can't generate enough of a gravity gradient to be any use." She hands me a PADD, showing the power requirements. The energy curve looks like a cliff, one we can't climb.

My antennae twitch. "I'm beginning to wonder.... Suppose we concentrated the ship's field and synchronised with, say, one of the shuttles? Could we use King Estmere's engines to... to kick a shuttle out of this?"

Dyssa shakes her head. "A shuttle's structural integrity wouldn't stand it," she says.

"The Cotswold, then?" The Captain's Yacht is a status symbol, and one I hardly ever use - but the tough little craft might just come in useful, here.

"Maybe." Dyssa bites her lip. "But it'd be a one way trip, wouldn't it, sir? And we don't know into what... unless you've got something back from one of the probes?"

It's my turn to shake my head. We launched six Class II probes, one after another, when this first started. Each one left its launch tube, and vanished, tracelessly, as if it had never been, before it was fifty metres from the ship. What happened to them? And what would happen to a shuttlecraft? If I can't answer that question - best not to risk lives.

"It'd be better," Anthi says, "if we had some idea what this... this thing... actually is. All we've got so far is negative. No light, no matter, no gravity -"

"November," I mutter.

"What?"

"It's not important. An old human poem I read once.... I'm going to check in with science division. You're right, we need some answers here."

---

"Commander Zazaru's down on launch pad C," the human science officer tells me at the main lab. Her name's Addie van Benn, and she's new to my crew; small and rather self-effacing, with a pale face framed by long dark hair. Her hair looks tousled, now; the science division has been busy, and with the same infuriating lack of results we've all been getting. "She says she wants to make some direct observations."

"Direct observations? What of?"

"Nothing, I guess. Sir." Addie runs a hand through her hair, tangling it further. "Sorry, sir. It's just -" She shrugs helplessly.

"I know," I tell her, as kindly as I can manage. "Damned hard to theorize in the absence of anything."

"Yeah." She looks miserable. "We've run through what readings we could get from - well, from when this started. But we still don't have any theoretical model - well, no, I guess that's not true. We've got some theories. But we've got no way to test them, when we've got nothing to work on but - nothing."

"My colleague is correct," a gravelly voice says near my ear, and I almost jump. The former Borg drone, whose only name now is Three of Eight, moves with an uncanny quietness sometimes. The expression in his one visible eye is unreadable, as usual. "We have seventeen hypotheses of varying degrees of probability, but we have no effective protocols for verification on any one. If there were some variation in our circumstances, we would be able to evolve further theories. However, none has yet been reported."

"Everyone's watching the sensor arrays like hawks," I say. "A single speck of dust, a flash of light, and alarm bells are going to go off all through the ship.... I'll go find Zazaru, and see what she's looking for."

When I find her, though, my chief science officer is simply sitting on one of the launch rails for the Scorpion fighters, staring through the force field that blocks the launch bay. She has set the field for full transparency, and her dark eyes are fixed on the total blackness beyond. I climb up one of the stanchions and join her, quietly. I can see, above and to the left, the gleaming bulk of King Estmere's forward section, and beyond that... nothing.

"I thought," Zazaru says, after a while, "that I might get some insight by... viewing the outside directly. Rather than working through remotes and sensors - oh, I know I get more information from those, but... possibly not so much understanding."

"I think I know what you mean," I say.

She looks down at the solid metal of the launch rail. "In the end, though," she says, "I just found my thoughts going as blank as all that out there.... I'm sorry, sir, that isn't helping."

"Don't worry," I say, softly. "We'll think of something. We have plenty of time...."

Probably. King Estmere is a Starfleet ship, equipped and provisioned for long voyages into unexplored territory - but she is not a closed system; she depends, eventually, on the fuel supply captured from stray atoms of matter and antimatter in her Bussard collectors, and in this complete absence of anything, she will, eventually, run out of power. There's no immediate need to worry, but there are deadlines in my head, already: the dates when we need to implement economy measures, to impose replicator rationing... and that's without contending with the crushing psychological effects of being stranded in all that endless black. Those worry me more than anything else. If once we lose hope -

I look out at the blackness, and imagine my ship, seen from the outside, a single glowing jewel of light and life in an infinite ocean of darkness. How long before that darkness seeps in and claims us all?

I blink and shake my head. This is exactly what I was worrying about... I'm starting to think of that darkness as a positive force, as an enemy. And it's not... it's nothing like that. All it is, is an absence... a night sky with no stars, no dawn....

"Wait a minute," I say. Zazaru looks up at me. "Something -" I frown as I try to follow the nagging flash of thought.

I stand up. "I've had an idea," I say. "I need to check something out. Let's go to the bridge."

---

Jeroequene salutes formally as we enter the bridge. The gesture always looks odd with those long Jolciot arms. I return the salute, as I head for the command console. "Commander Jeroequene, any change in status?"

"With regret, I can report none, sir."

"What about contents of the surrounding volume? Still nothing?" My fingers close on a control crystal. I'm getting the hang of these crazy Tholian controls, now; it's easy enough to scroll back through the logs, to find what I need to check.

"Space is sadly devoid of all content, down to the humblest and least significant molecule, esteemed Admiral."

"And it shouldn't be," I say, with satisfaction. I call up the log entries I need, point to them. Zazaru frowns, and even Jeroequene looks vaguely perturbed.

"Why is the sky black?" I ask.

Zazaru looks at me and blinks. "Because... there's nothing out there?" she answers slowly.

"It's not a rhetorical question," I say. "It's one people asked at the start of astronomy: why is the night sky black? The answer, basically, is that the light gets out through holes. And there are always holes, no matter how far you go -"

"I see," says Zazaru. "And from that, we developed, in the end, the concept of unbounded space-time, and a continuously expanding cosmos, and the Big Bang. But how does this apply to us?"

"Because it's black out there," I say. "And King Estmere is emitting radiation on half the octaves of the EM spectrum, never mind just the visible one. And that's not all." I point to the log entries on the screen. "We deployed probes, and when we did that, we fired thrusters to compensate for the minute acceleration that gave the ship. So there should be traces, still, of the reaction mass we deployed then. Not much, a few molecules per cubic metre of space, perhaps, but not nothing. For that matter, the ship's not perfectly sealed - there are micro-leaks, there is outgassing from the plating of the hull. But the space around us is perfectly clean. Do you see what that means?"

Zazaru's eyes are wide. "I think so," she says. "The material, the radiation, is leaving and it's not coming back."

"Right," I say. "What about us? When we reached the anomaly, we were travelling at warp speed; we dropped out and matched its velocity in real space. Standard procedure. So, as far as it is concerned, we're at rest. Motionless." I laugh. "And we haven't tried to move, in real space, because we couldn't see anywhere to go."

"We still can't," Zazaru says.

"We don't need to," I say. "All we need to do, right now, is to get out of this. Once we're out, we'll deal with whatever comes next - but the first step is out." My fingers dance on the control panel; my voice echoes over the intercom system. "All hands, this is the captain speaking. Prepare for acceleration. Full impulse in five seconds."

It's just about time for Zazaru to say, "Sir, what if you're wrong?"

"Then we'll deal with that, too," I say, firmly. "But sometimes you just have to take a leap in the dark."

The inertial dampers are running smoothly, there is not even a shudder as King Estmere's impulse drive comes to life. There is only a change on the readouts on my command console, one I hardly notice as I peer intently into the viewscreen -

- and, suddenly, the stars are back.

"Magnificent!" crows Jeroequene. "Inspirational!"

"Position check," I order, firmly. I'm still not a hundred per cent sure where we've come out....

"I'm picking something up," says Zazaru; she has moved to the main science console without my even noticing. "Reading... It's our probes, sir. All six, transmitting as per normal settings."

"We are - exactly where we were, noble Admiral," Jeroequene reports from her console. "All standard astrographic markers confirm this with gratifying exactitude."

I sigh, and switch to reverse angle on the viewer. In the greenish contrails of King Estmere's impulse engines, what I'm looking for isn't easy to see, but it's there; a faint, chatoyant glimmer in space. An anomaly. Things that go in, can't look out. And that's all there is to it.

"We'd better mark that as a navigational hazard," I say, finally. "And as a subject for further study... I'd like to know which of your seventeen hypotheses actually pans out." I grin. "Besides which, I need to give Admiral Semok some reason why we're nearly three days late for our next assignment."