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Captain
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 1,138
This is an adaptation of the Spotlight Foundry mission, "Conjoined," by DenizenVI, a mission that had a very special resonance with my Devidian captain, and that I consider canon for him. Alyosha and the Chin'toka's crew are mine, but the mission itself belongs to DenizenVI, who has kindly granted me the permission to write and post an adaptation of his work.

I have taken a few creative liberties with the dialogue, and in one case with the sequence of events, but I hope you will enjoy this unique perspective on an outstanding mission.


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Star Trek: Online
Tales of Alyosha Strannik


"Conjoined"
Foundry Mission by DenizenVI
Adapted with kind permission by gulberat



Personal log of Captain Alexei Ivanovich Strannik, encrypted.


We've been ordered by Admiral Marconi to assist the Gameptians, a Federation member species just barely on our side of the Romulan border, in opening a transwarp conduit to help link them to the rest of the Federation. The trouble is, they've been experiencing attacks on the gateway every time they bring it online for tests, from vessels operating under some sort of cloak. The admiral is concerned there may be Romulan involvement, hence his selecting the
Chin'toka for this mission. We need scientific expertise, and this crew is quite ready to provide that--but we also need our ship's firepower to show the Romulans that when it comes to our member worlds, however far-flung they are, we mean business. If they think they can test experimental equipment in our backyard, I hope for all of our sakes that they reconsider when we bring the Chin'toka onto the scene.



The Chin'toka glides into a distant system with an antiquated starbase...and by antiquated, I mean positively ancient. Its panel-style comm arrays seem more reminiscent of Earth's International Space Station than anything, and I even see what may be remnants of the old station--an actual domed habitat mounted to a carved asteroid, where not as powerful of an artificial gravity generator is needed. This place...Deep Space Fourteen...even appears to pre-date K-7 and Drozana.

We've been told to rendezvous with the USS Aryabhata, a ship that looks only a bit newer than the station itself. Right away a pleasant Gameptian commander hails us...not a full captain; it seems like they're being hit by the same personnel shortage as the rest of Starfleet. She has brown skin, a hairless, mottled scalp, and elongated earlobes. I wonder in that moment why I have not seen Gameptian officers throughout the rest of Starfleet...why this species has been so isolated.

I accept the Aryabhata's hail.

"Welcome to Gameptis, Captain Strannik. It's always a pleasure receiving visitors from the rest of the Federation. No doubt you could use some time to relax after your long journey. Deep Space 14 has plenty of recreational facilities for your crew. I have notified Commander Lesst of your arrival. I hear he is eager to greet you in person." Again a commander, I note--just like when Deep Space Nine was considered to be the rear end of space.

The transporter operator contacting us from the station...is another Gameptian. It's starting to look like integration has been a real problem. How has this been allowed to go on like this for 70 years? I wonder about that all the way to the transporter room.

When we arrive, she politely points us to the reception hall.

To my astonishment, there is a man floating weightless in the turbolift! I could easily simulate that effect myself if I wanted to, but that doesn't make it any less startling for me to see on somebody else. Catching my stunned expression, he explains, "Turbolifts are offline until the gravity plating is repaired."

"Thanks for the warning," I reply. I could use them--alone--in a pinch if necessary, since I could telekinetically brace against impact, but I am in no mood to push my luck. If there's one thing this makes clear, though, it is that the Gameptians have indeed been as resource-deprived as advertised. Things aren't as bad as what I heard many years ago about Deep Space Three, true--one at least gets the idea this station commander is trying--but the situation definitely doesn't look good.

My suspicions are confirmed when I enter the reception hall: while commissioned as Starfleet officers, the entire crew manning the facilities is Gameptian. In fact...it seems they haven't even been issued the replicator patterns for the last three revisions of the uniform code, let alone the sweeping change that allowed fleets and even individual captains, if their fleet admiral permitted, great discretion over the uniforms of his or her command.

I make a mental note: one of the first things I will do when I get back to port is to ask Admiral Marconi some questions about the situation. Even before the transwarp gate, things should never have been allowed to get this far. This is the kind of treatment that encourages separatism. The exact same mentality that eventually led to the Federation casting off the DMZ borderworlds in a political ploy to appease the Cardassians.

Nonetheless, Commander Lesst pipes up with an enthusiastic greeting. "Welcome to Deep Space 14, Captain! We're rather proud of our station here. The Federation recently devoted some significant resources to upgrading beyond our old space habitats. If all goes well, this should be a new hub for exploration in this sector." That Starfleet has finally focused its attention on this station most likely speaks to Commander Lesst's tenacity, I suspect--a credit to him.

"We have work to do," he continues, "but I would be remiss if I didn't allow you the time for an official welcome. The liaisons here can tell you many things about our little planet. So feel free to relax after your long journey and take in a little Gameptian culture."

The cultural liaison briefs us in on the history of their people. It occurs to me the Gameptians were fortunate--in many cases where the species existed in only a confined space, as they had on the continent of Mitlinga, if new territories weren't discovered at a fairly early level of technological development, disease, starvation, or war were quick to decimate...even eradicate...the civilization. Thankfully for the Gameptians, they had located a new continent and the promise of resources and space that went with it.

Perhaps a subconscious--or conscious--understanding of what they had avoided had kept things relatively peaceful even as great cargo airships traversed the space between continents. Spared a Hindenburg-like accident by the selection of helium instead of hydrogen to fill the balloon, Gameptian technology had taken off in a direction only imagined on Earth by the Victorians and their steampunk successors. And more--rather than conquest, they had engaged in ethnography, managing to preserve records of just about every culture and language their species had to offer at the time.

Unfortunately, as populations climbed again and brought pressure on the new continents as well, war finally caught up with the Gameptians--but then they had done something remarkable. Quite unlike Earth, and a number of other worlds, where international rivalries had sparked an anxiety-ridden space race, the Gameptians had managed to come together and focus their efforts on a collaborative space program. By 2310, they had achieved warp--and soon thereafter, the attention of the Federation.

It's no wonder the Gameptians were inducted into the Federation despite the great distance of their world: culturally, they were almost a perfect fit from the beginning.

I thank the liaison. Then she pulls out...a bottle of something. Oh, boy...is she about to do what I think she is?

"This is a type of rum we make on our world. Would you care to try it?"

Exactly what I had dreaded. Thankfully, I've had quite the experiencing in parrying offers of food and drink from those who don't and can't know what I really 'eat.' Time for Excuse #6: Captain Stick-Up-the-Exhaust-Manifold.

"I'm afraid I can't, ma'am. We're on duty." The fact that the two statements, coming from me, are completely unrelated escapes her, as intended. Regardless, the young woman visibly deflates, and I can't leave matters like that. "But if you'd be willing," I temporize, "it would be much appreciated if we transported it to the Chin'toka. Would that be all right?"

"Of course, Mr. Strannik." I give her the contact information for the ship's bartender: best to let him handle it. While they don't realize the full extent of it, the crew is at least aware that their captain abstains from alcohol, and this isn't the first such gift I've arranged for them.

Once I've dealt with that situation, one of the station's junior science officers, an Ensign Tlanixoc, volunteers to demonstrate the Gameptians' interpretive dance, and then invites me to try it for myself. "It's all right, Captain," she almost pleads. "Just relax. No one's going to expect you to master it on the first try."

I'm getting the distinct feeling that I'd better partake in something during this cultural tour lest I appear disrespectful. After a moment's observation, I cast a sidelong grin at Dr. Sei, and join in.

The dance is...awkward, to say the least, especially on the stocky human form I've chosen for myself, so it isn't long before I'm offering to demonstrate a few traditional Cossack dance moves I experimented with growing up. I avoid any sort of cartwheels or tumbling, though--the Devidian body lacks the musculature to pull off moves with such a combination of strength and grace without giving away my need for telekinetic assistance.

The truth is, though, I'm not that much better with those moves that are within my unassisted physical capabilities, except that unlike the Gameptian dance I have at least some prior idea of what I'm supposed to be doing. And at least Cossack dance was originally designed to be performed in full uniform, removing one other reason for awkwardness.

It's with a great sense of relief--both that I'm done making a spectacle of myself, and that I haven't managed to injure myself or anyone else in the process--that I move on to the industrial liaison.

And as I approach his display I begin to feel--lightheaded? 'Queasy' certainly isn't the right word for it, either, for I have no digestive tract. Finding the right Russian or English words for what I feel sometimes is virtually impossible, and this is one of those instances. I prop myself on the table with one hand as I manage a polite greeting to the liaison.

Thraz inclines an antenna at me in concern. Are you all right, Alyosha?

I focus my attention upon my Aenar friend, opening a telepathic connection. I take in his image through photoreceptors on the side of my face, but I do not turn my head. I'm not sure, I honestly reply, doing my best to shield the actual sensation from him lest the alienness of it overwhelm him.

The Gameptian liaison doesn't seem to notice anything unusual. "You want to learn about the major industries of Gameptis?" he inquires.

I smile, not even able to get a word out before the expression tells him all he needs. "Excellent! While Gameptis is far from other Federation worlds, we provide important resources used throughout the Federation."

And here we get to the other reason this sector has suddenly become so important, I think to myself--with wars on so many fronts, getting said resources processed and to the front lines had suddenly become of prime importance. "What sorts of resources?" I ask, remembering that the mission brief...not to mention the Chin'toka's databases...had been rather sparse on the subject.

"Gameptis is rich in onerite, a mineral that interacts over an unusually wide phasic margin."

I do not allow my reaction to manifest itself on my human features. Now I know why I feel 'sick'! I tell Thraz. That rock is making it harder to stay in phase with you. I feel like I'm fighting against it. Knowing what it is helps to make it easier--just a bit--but I still feel its pull against me, sending my natural sense of phase into a spin. Vertigo, I explain as best as I can, shading the word with a sense of vagueness to make it clear to th'Valek that it was an imprecise choice at best. I don't have the same spatial balancing mechanisms as you do--no cochlea, so I don't get that kind of vertigo--but my sense of temporal balance is off, and it is disturbing to say the least.

"While we also have an abundance of rare sulfates and heavy metals, onerite is the mainstay of our planetary interplanetary export industry," the liaison continues. "The large rock you see next to me is how onerite is found naturally. We have refineries that work day and night turning these rocks into industrial-grade material."

I decide to test him. "Phasic margin?"

"Ah, yes. As I'm sure you're aware, all matter operates in a particular phase, much like a wave. Adjusting that phase can affect how that matter interacts with other forms of matter and energy. For example, if your phase was shifted by just .004, normal light would pass right through you, effectively making you invisible."

I feel a distinct chill as he names my species' exact distance from the rest of the galaxy. Is he involved somehow with the research into the Devidians? Does he know about me somehow? "Onerite's unusual crystal structure affects its phasic resonance, allowing it to interact with things both invisible and intangible to our matter."

"What kinds of applications are there for this?"

"Onerite is essential to many kinds of interphasic technology. We build parts for scanners, sensors, industrial fabricators, and EPS regulators. You see, being able to enhance interactions with certain types of radiation and materials has a variety of applications." The more I listen to the industrial liaison, the more I wonder if he, or other Gameptian industrialists and scientists ever corresponded with my foster parents or others at the St. Petersburg Interphasic Research Center.

Had they heard about it when a phased, sentient life form was found on Earth? Despite the realization in 2368 of what that life form was being classified, had the Gameptians put two and two together anyway and figured out there had been a Devidian growing up in Russia years before that awful first contact? My name and human likeness had never been published, thank God, out of respect for the fact that I was then a juvenile. And in publications the SPIRC had even represented my Devidian likeness with a digitally-rendered diagram rather than any actual photos or holos of me, realizing that if it was inappropriate to put the appearance they could relate to best into the public eye, it was also wrong to do so to my true form, regardless of the absence of most humanoid facial features.

But had the Gameptians somehow figured out in spite of all that that I, Alexei Ivanovich Strannik of St. Petersburg, was that being?

Maybe not, I try to reassure myself, if his work is more on the applied end of things rather than the theoretical.

I decide to ask about the uses of onerite in sensors, hoping to gain an indication whether such sensors were currently in use, here in this room. Since I am currently wearing tactical red--as befits the escort I command--he'll have no way of realizing my true level of scientific understanding.

With the enthusiasm I am beginning to get an idea is cultural--at least to this station as Commander Lesst ran it, the Gameptian industrial liaison explains, "Interphasic scanners are standard equipment on Starfleet ships and facilities. In fact, I'm betting there's an engineer on the Chin'toka who's using one now."

You'd also be surprised what functions on said scanner are disabled, I think to myself.

"IP scanners let you see things invisible to normal sensors. A glint of polarized anyons can reveal a microfracture, or a phased neutron peak can indicate subspace buckling. Without IP technology, you might not know there's a problem until something goes very wrong."

A techie, I figure. Probably not someone who would've been involved with interphasic biology research.

One other question, however, does occur to me--especially given some of the ways I've used my abilities on occasion for search-and-rescue work. "Why not cloaking devices?" I ask. In an extreme emergency, if I really need to erase myself from sight and scanner, I can phase back to my native domain instantly. What if an entire starship could accomplish the same feat? In fact...does my species possess starships? Have they done exactly that?

"Years ago," the liaison says, "firms on Gameptis were contracted to build parts for a phase-based cloaking device. In theory, such a device could phase a ship far enough that it could be not just invisible, but pass through normal matter. I'm not sure what became of the project, but there was quite a scandal when Gameptian involvement was made public. It's safe to say we don't do that kind of work anymore. All the associated technology was sealed up in old mine shafts and forgotten."

I do my best not to fix him with a suspicious stare. Have you really forgotten? I think to myself. Sealed up in an old mine shaft, is it? That's what people do when they intend to come back for something. That's what the Devidian vanguard did when they left me in the creche. They intended to come back for me and for all of the infants who didn't make it. Not to mention that thing Franklin Durag--I mean Drake--no, I don't--installed on my ship. Which sure seems like a much less powerful version of the same concept. I am getting the bad feeling that Section 31 has some kind of presence--or at least some sort of contact--with the people here. Just who exactly is driving Starfleet's priorities right now?

I thank the industrial liaison, and he concludes his well-rehearsed presentation. "Gameptis isn't the most well-known planet, but I'm sure you'll agree we have an impact throughout the Federation. Next time you come across an IP coil spanner, pull out your quantum microscope. The onerite core might just be nano-etched with the Gameptian seal."

"Captain Strannik!" With that, Commander Lesst calls me back up to the main platform. "I hope you were able to learn something interesting about our home."

I smile...relieved that I no longer feel in danger of coming unmoored in the space-time continuum. "I did," I can honestly answer. "And I think we also all learned why I don't dance."

Lesst laughs--but then he straightens his tunic and fixes a far more direct gaze upon me. "Now on to the task at hand. We have scheduled a test of the transwarp conduit's field coils for today. If this test is successful, we could have the conduit operating in a little over a week."

"I understand you've been having some difficulties?"

"Each time we've activated the conduit's systems for a test, unknown ships show up and start shooting. We don't know who they are or why they're targeting the transwarp aperture, but they're not using any kind of cloaking technology we're familiar with. They just appear without warning and disappear just as suddenly. The damage they've caused to the conduit hardware has significantly delayed the project. It was set to be completed two and a half years ago. But this isn't just about expediency. If they can target the conduit, they could just as easily strike our habitation domes. This threat needs to be stopped."

I can't agree more. A dangerous question arises in my mind, though--one that, while it risks causing the Gameptians to use their unique sensors on me, is one that I must ask for the sake of my crew: I will not allow them to enter such a situation ignorant of the danger, ever again. "The behavior you're describing almost sounds as though a phased cloaking device were in use. It even makes me wonder if the Devidians could be involved." Well, Devidians besides this one. "There is a lot we don't know about their interstellar capabilities."

"We don't believe so," Lesst replies. "For one, this doesn't seem to fit their usual pattern, which is a lot more covert than that. Secondly, we aren't picking up any signs of triolic radiation in the incursion areas, or anywhere else in the Gameptian system, for that matter. Anything's possible...but I don't think it's that."

"Understood." I nod. "How can we be of service?"

"We've made all of the preparations for the test that we can, but none of our systems have been able to detect any hint of the raiders before they appear. Your ship has newer equipment than the Starfleet hand-me-downs we fly around here. I need you to use all of the technology at your disposal to search for signs of cloaked ships. Hopefully we can catch these attackers before they destroy months of work."

Unspoken is the fact that as small as my ship is, I also have more armaments aboard the Chin'toka than the Aryabhata and Deep Space 14 combined.

"I'll have my crew start the final preparations," I assure Lesst.

"Good. And be careful, Alexei Ivanovich." I smile--very good! Judging from his use of my patronymic, the man certainly seems to have done his homework on my culture to a point that most non-natives, even on Earth itself, usually don't bother with. "These raiders have technologies we can't detect, and they attack without warning. But I have faith that with your help, we can put these incidents behind us."

I turn to my crew. "All right...you heard Commander Lesst. Let's get to the bottom of this."

We head for the transporter room.



I order Ensign Mirrsh to set course first for the starbase's woefully outdated communications array, and Commander th'Valek takes some scans.

"Despite appearances," th'Valek says, simultaneously sending me a telepathic laugh--how he loves that phrase!-- "This array could be useful. I've read some recent research on tachyon interference. A team at Memory Alpha suggests that diffuse waveform tachyon pulses can reveal the presence of cloaked vessels. We won't know where they are, but at least we'll know they're nearby."

"Good thought, Commander. While I have my doubts that this is conventional cloaking, we do know the Romulans are nosing about. It would certainly be in their interests to hinder a tightening of relations between Gameptis and the rest of the Federation." I tap my commbadge. "Strannik to Engineering. Temm, what do you think?"

"Installing several of our latest tachyon emitters and tying them to the array's subspace antennae should do the trick," the Bolian promptly answers. "We'll need to put them near the edges of the array for maximum effect."

"All right," I say. "Send Chief Smeby the coordinates. This is going to take some precision transporting."

"Aye, sir." Temm closes the channel momentarily to confer with Smeby.

"Emitters are calibrated and ready," Temm soon reports. "Initiating interference pulse."

"We're receiving data, sir." Thraz reads his console by detecting the fine electronic variances that comprise the letters on the touchscreen. "The system seems to be working as planned. After filtering out the signatures of the station and all identified ships and orbital objects, the array isn't indicating anything else in the vicinity. I guess we're out of luck here."

I accept the information, and we head next for the outlying satellite arrays. My Andorian tactical officer speaks up. "Recent Starfleet encounters with Romulan vessels have identified a low-energy tetryon signature associated with some cloaking devices. Perhaps we could use these existing sensor satellites to look for this sort of radiation."

"Good idea," I reply. "We should also double check against the Chin'toka's readings to make sure there are no signs of triolic radiation activity in the system."

After a quick upgrade of the satellites' sensor processors, guided by Commander Temm and Chief Smeby, data once again begins streaming in yielding...nothing again. "If the raiders are giving off tetryon emissions," Thraz concludes, "these satellites, nor the Chin'toka's own sensors, are capable of detecting them. No triolic wave emissions, either."

Our last task is to conduct a thorough survey of the nearby asteroid cluster--the remnants of a near-Gameptis object destroyed to protect the planet, perhaps?--to ensure that all gravitic anomalies are accounted for...anything that the raiders might be using to hide their ships.

And again...nothing.

We hail Commander Lesst to notify him of the results. Ever-cheerful, he still congratulates us on our work and notifies us that the test is about ready to begin. In this way, I hope, we will be able to make a difference. I order Mirrsh to set course for the gate.

"Put them on live," I command, and the Gameptian mission controllers' voices pipe in overhead.

"This is conduit control. We are engaging primary subspace coils." A cerulean vortex begins forming within the aperture. "Feeding power to transition horizon. Equalizing baryon pressure. Radiation levels holding steady. Tuning the coils for aperture gate initiation sequence."

"Sir!" Lieutenant ch'Sherrin snaps with no warning whatsoever. "Unknown power signature detected! Unidentified ship is powering up weapons!"

"Hail them!" I call.

"No response!"

Damn, I think. From the sound of it, they've already had hostile relationships with Starfleet--probably tangled with the Aryabhata a number of times already. Still, it has to be tried. "Keep broadcasting the following message on all frequencies: 'This is Captain Alexei Ivanovich Strannik of the United Federation of Planets. You have entered Federation territory and engaged in hostile actions against our facilities on multiple occasions. We are willing to open discussions with you to settle our differences, but you must desist from your attacks at once and power down your weapons or we will be forced to defend our people.'"

There is still no response as we draw closer. And then they open fire--and break ranks. There's not just one of them--there are three!

The ship rocks from each volley. Ch'Sherrin launches an Andorian curse almost immediately as he fires back some warning shots of his own. "Looks like some kind of tetryon-based weapon, though it doesn't match any known energy signatures we've ever seen. Whatever it is, it's tearing right through our shields! We're not talking power on the level of the Borg--but we hardly have any defenses against it!"

"Temm here! They're getting through to the hull. We have breaches on Decks 6 and 7 already!"

"Seal them!" I turn to ch'Sherrin. "Doesn't look like we're going to talk our way through this. They now present a clear and present danger to the station. Unless they power down, you are authorized to do whatever it takes to take them out."

"I can't maintain the shields much longer, Captain!"

"Fine," I growl. I know the Chin'toka is something of a glass cannon, as the cruiser types like to point out, but we're wasting power trying to counter these energy weapons when they're just going to saw right through our shields anyway. "Prepare the subspace field modulator and photonic emitters--then shut the shields down. Divert all shield power to weapons and engines. Outgun and outrun."

"Aye, sir."

The ship lurches violently as another beam rakes straight into our hull. The subspace field modulator kicks in, pushing us a tiny bit closer to my native phase and blunting the impact on the Chin'toka's hull. Once the modulator reached failsafe and shut down, the photonic emitters came online instead, unleashing a trick rarely seen apart from the higher-end science vessels: a photonic fleet. Let's see how they deal with ships out of thin air, I think.

And that finally begins to do the trick: while they don't add that much in terms of damage per second--a useful military term borrowed at the beginning of the age of energy shielding from the world of Net games once warfare became the art of wearing through the enemy's defenses before striking directly at the hull--they tip the balance just enough that we are able to make some real headway against the largest of the three ships and take them out of commission.

Mirrsh zips us out of the way just before the other ship's warp core--or whatever propulsion system they use--blows. Minus the big guns, the hits on the Chin'toka's hull aren't coming as hard or as fast. "Temm, can we try the shields again?"

"Initiating shield generators...got them! Fifteen percent...ten..." I hold my breath, sure the shields will fall again. Then I hear a loud whoop over the comm line. "Thirty--thirty-five and climbing! Sir, we've got them!"

At last the tide of the battle turns, and the other two ships drop quickly.

The final concussion wave rocks the Chin'toka. "Well, that was a productive first contact," I grimly mutter. "Let's check the gate for damage. Temm, your assessment?"

"The aperture assembly has been successfully powered down, with no discernible damage from the attackers. We seem to have dealt with them before they could fire on the conduit."

"Good." At least something went right.

"Sir!" Thraz 'looks' up; I can feel him aiming his uneasiness right at me. "There's some anomalous seismic activity on the surface, localized near a major vein of onerite. The timing of this is too close to be coincidental. The activity began at the exact moment the alien ships appeared. I recommend we beam down and investigate." Though...Captain, you may want to stay back on the ship for this one. I don't think being near all that onerite will be healthy for you.

I'll increase the scattering field on my tricorder, I think back--the field that also keeps sensors on non-Starfleet facilities from detecting my very inhuman biology. But the behavior we saw from those ships...there is still a chance that we have just seen what a Devidian starship looks like. If that's true, then I need to be there. I can see them before anyone else.

It wasn't your fault, Alyosha, Thraz deftly replies telepathically at the same time as aloud he is ordering the other members of the away team to the transporter room.

But it damned well will be my fault if I know the risks and let it happen again.



The instant the transporter beam releases me, that dreadful sense of spinning straight out of my chosen place in the space-time continuum hits me again--an internal compass, if you will, spinning like I've entered the legendary Bermuda Triangle. Are you all right, Alyosha? Thraz asks.

I take a moment to orient myself--at least as much as I can. I'll be fine. I think. With the scattering field, it's not that much worse than before. I can't spend forever down here, though.

And thank God, I see no Devidians. But what I do see...

My simulated gaze is wide-eyed, drinking in everything humanly possible. Beneath my outer appearance, I have activated nearly every photoreceptor on my body all at once, and I am taking in the entirety of my surroundings. They are dim--enclosed, yes--but that doesn't disturb me as it does so many humans; I have never known what it is to fear the dark, and from this it's suspected that Devidians are naturally adapted to at least work effectively in such conditions, even if it is not my species' exclusive habitat.

What keeps this place from being completely dark, however, is truly breathtaking to behold. The incredible wafting fields of energy, just like the auroras...purple...blue...green...they dance like the energy patterns on my own body do when I shed my human form. I turn to Dr. Sei for confirmation. She smiles, needing no telepathy to read the expression I create for her. "It's beautiful, Captain."

"Definitely. Let's take a look," I say. Soon, we're standing two kilometers over the epicenter of the quakes--which thankfully for the moment have paused. The lights are more intense here. I question Commander th'Valek aloud. "Any insights into what's creating those lights? If I had to venture a guess," I say--though to my senses it's far more than a guess, "I'd say they're interphasic in nature."

"They're low-intensity plasma discharges," Thraz replies. "Harmless, but not a usual phenomenon on Gameptis. They seem to be the result of electromagnetic field oscillations emanating from the onerite deposits. We should find a more concentrated vein and make some more detailed observations."

"Thraz..." I nod at him: probably best for me not to approach the mineral veins that closely--not in here, not with it already taxing my senses.

"Fascinating," he says after his scans are complete. "I'm registering intense chroniton fields in and around the deposits. In fact, similar fields are scattered throughout this area. They seem to be stimulating an electromagnetic reaction from the onerite."

I narrow my eyes. "Chronitons...could we be looking at a temporal incursion? Maybe--hopefully--this isn't the Devidians, but we could be seeing something similar here. Is there anything else unusual?"

"There are concentrations of some kind of interphasic bacteria living around the onerite deposits," Dr. Sei contributes. "Normally that would be unusual, but records indicate these bacteria are quite common in Gameptian mines. Interphasic organisms can be dangerous parasites, but these bacteria are reportedly harmless. They just pass through the rock and feed on various chemicals."

Very similar species of extremophiles had been reported on Devidia II, and even been carried with the time-traveling invaders to Earth. Later postulation about the Devidian ecosystem had speculated that with little natural light reaching the inhabited areas of the surface, the food chain had therefore evolved around direct consumption of energy rather than plants harnessing the energy of the sun. The bacteria found were likely the plankton equivalents of that world: the first to synthesize power and nutrients to bring them to other life forms. Perhaps there had been another species on Devidia as well...a humanoid species, and most likely on the normal phase shared by other Federation races, given the fact that my own ability to shift back and forth in temporal phase was biological in nature. Perhaps my species' population had outstripped that of its prey. Maybe they had been hunted--or farmed--to extinction. Maybe that caused the Devidians to turn their predatory lust to the stars.

It quite chills me to see what may be the prerequisites for a similar ecosystem here. "Could these bacteria be related to the energy fields?" I ask.

"Most likely not," Sei answers. "Chroniton fields can be created by phased matter passing through normal matter, but the intensity of the fields means they must have been created by something much larger than a bacterium."

"Sir," Commander Temm adds, "if there are phased objects moving around in here, we're going to need more specialized equipment to see them. The chroniton energy levels we're recording indicate a phase differential far greater than our equipment can detect. The Gameptians use interphasic scanners in their mining operations. Perhaps we could make use of some of the equipment they left behind."

There's that 'left behind' thing again, I think to myself. Either the Gameptian bureaucrats are quite wasteful--or there are still some among them hoping to resume what they started.

I agree to the plan and hunt down the equipment. What we find--well, it makes it clear that sometimes the species of this phase can be just as disturbing as those of my native phase. "This is some very advanced equipment," Temm determines. "Molecular phase inverters, transphasic polarizers, just about everything you'd need to make a phased cloaking device. Just about every power in the quadrant tried to make it work once, but they were just too prone to accidents. These parts must have been gathering dust down here for decades."

"Record everything you see here," I order Temm. "I'll want a full analysis later. Classified."

"Dangerous or not," Lieutenant ch'Sherrin says, "we're going to need to use some of this technology to align our phase with whatever's been causing the chroniton fields. There could even be a phase-cloaked base right here. It would sure explain how the raiders in orbit hid so well."

"I agree," Temm replies. "We're going to have to take some risks, in my opinion." He details the mechanical procedures necessary to configure the equipment to our purpose. "That's not all we'll need, though," he adds. "We'll be phasing so far that we will need to bring our own atmosphere."

All my own experience phasing back and forth--and I'd never even thought of that! How astounding--and unnerving all at once.

"A small force field should be sufficient," my chief engineer continues. "The miners would have had emergency equipment in case of cave-ins."

We work feverishly to install the equipment--me having to do everything in my power not to sail right past my team and back into my own phase...or some other phase, under the influence of the onerite--and it feels as though barely minutes have passed by the time we're finished, though our chronometers reveal it's been a few hours.

"We're ready, sir," Commander Temm says.

"How about you, Captain?" Dr. Sei adds.

I smile. "As much as I can be." Then I turn my head, making sure to let the entire team know I meant this message for them. "Be ready, people. I don't want to charge in with guns blazing, but we may have to defend ourselves. Remember how it felt on Drozana Station to see people materializing around us from thin air." Is it me, or does Lieutenant ch'Sherrin grit his teeth uncomfortably at that description of the Devidians? "That is what we'll be doing to these people, especially if we happen to appear right on top of them. To them, we are the visitors. We are the 'eidolons.' We will not fire first. And we will not fire without trying to communicate. Is that understood?"

A chorus of 'aye sirs' rings around me. I take up a position behind the rest of the team, just in case the phasing process interacts unusually with my Devidian physiology--or even knocks me temporarily out of form. I give the order. "Let's go."

Thraz pushes the button--

--and a thousand songs and hymns of praise vie within me, each clamoring to be sung as the cave environment vanishes around me to reveal the naked sky, littered with stars. I long to sing not just with my chosen human voice, but each part and each instrument in turn: words, vast collaborations of stringed instruments, horns and organ, bells and cymbals...a glorious cacophony of adoration, completely undignified before the men and women with me, but a praise lifted upon high...

I survey everything all at once. The light is strangely dim, compared to what I remembered of the Gameptian primary on our approach. This new world is lit by strange banks of orange clouds and the blue-green-purple emanations of the onerite auroras that have followed us into this place. And there are trees here of a completely new sort--but their leaves suggest to me a breathable atmosphere of some sort. Oxygen? Does oxygen in fact exist here? Or have we moved so far out of phase that the elements themselves are not shared?

Lieutenant ch'Sherrin takes a series of scans--and even my gruff Andorian tactical officer's voice betrays that he too is overcome by the moment. "Amazing, sir! Not a phased base, but a whole ecosystem! Breathable atmosphere, complex life, all out of phase with our own existence." And even with mine. "I'm picking up signs of an advanced civilization. EM signatures 50 kilometers from here. And lifesigns even closer, to the north. We still don't know if these are the attackers. But somehow this is all connected, and we need to learn about whoever lives here."

It is getting to you, I think to myself, offering the imposing Andorian a kind smile. You aren't normally one for such pause. It suits you well in a time like this.

"Stay alert," I remind the team, quite enjoying the reversal of roles. The beauty of this place--it's infectious indeed. But we still could be looking at a threat just like the Devidians.

And there they are, off in the far distance--

"They're humanoid!" I exclaim, stunned, before we approach too close. "I know we can't be sure--but they even look like they're based on the standard Preserver template. This far out of phase--how? Even--" I stop. In my excitement I very nearly blurt, Even I lack the Preserver genome, and I'm much closer to your phase...so close that our phases' ecosystems are intertwined. "Even the Devidians aren't Preserver-descended. It was convergent evolution for them. This is just...how?"

That's when the unknown beings spot us and glower at us with an unmistakable expression of indignation. "Va! Glito'suul vaharash klusta virmitrrol. Kiake mos tlrinn'sa!"

"Standard Preserver-type vocal apparatus," I whisper to Dr. Sei even as Lieutenant ch'Sherrin scouts for a position to fire from if necessary. There's no doubt about it from the tonal quality and the phonemes of the language. There is some kind of relation here, so far out of phase with reality. "Incredible!"

"The Universal Translator is processing," Thraz says. "The grammatical structure is definitely comparable to our phase's languages...one moment..."

The man--the being certainly appears to be male--fixes his uniformly-colored black eyes upon us. I observe more closely. His skin appears almost scaled, his head devoid of visible ears...its armored structure almost chelonoid in nature, and etched with what appear to be tattoos or ritual scarification of some sort. "What are you doing here? Are you responsible for the lights?"

"We're peaceful explorers," I reply. "Who are you?"

"We are geologists, sent by our people to study the lights. Each time they appear, there are tremors and ships disappearing in orbit. Do you know what is causing this?"

A sad smile crosses my simulated human face--one that these beings appear just as capable of relating to as my away team. These are scientists...the people most like us that we could have encountered. But what brings us together here means that whenever their superiors arrive, this tenuous armistice might collapse. "We're investigating them as well." I turn to Commander th'Valek.

"Sir, it sounds like the lights are as unusual here as they are in our phase," he says. "Our worlds must not be close enough to interact most of the time. What could be causing them to phase closer together, close enough to generate the chroniton fields?"

I focus upon the...phased-Gameptian?...scientist. "How often do the lights appear?"

"Usually months apart. But the tremors have gotten worse, and we believe the ore here holds the key. The lights only appear around certain formations of the ore, and we believe these structures are resonating to some unseen wave."

"Sir, I think he's onto something," Temm whispers. "Each time the conduit is opened, it sends out subspace waves. And if it can make the phases shift down here, it could actually be phasing the ships in orbit all the way to our alignment. They may not have been intending to attack after all!"

Something still doesn't sit right. If so, I wonder, then why the refusal to listen to the Aryabhata's warnings? Or the Chin'toka's? We gave them a chance--why didn't they take it, and talk?

Nonetheless, I tell the phased-Gameptian scientists about the conduit, and our theory about its effects.

"You may be right," he says. "I'm no warp physicist, but it would explain a lot. And I'm afraid that with all of the hysteria, a pilot caught in your phase could easily try to defend our world, not knowing that he is the one who has invaded your home."

That certainly made sense...our warnings about encroachment into Federation territory would no doubt have only thrown fuel on the flames.

"You have warp ships?" I ask, searching for further confirmation.

"Yes, many of them. We have explored for light years around, but there are no other planets like ours anywhere within our reach. You are the first aliens we have come across. And to think you were here the entire time!"

Is there no natural life in this phase? Or no natural life that these apparent humanoids would recognize? I speculate. Are these phasic refugees of some sort?

"We come from a Federation of many worlds," I tell him. "You have four of those worlds--and five species--represented before you now. We come from Bolius...Andoria...Trill..." I pause for a second, then place my hand on my chest where a human heart would be. "Earth."

It is true enough. As true as it needs to be for this.

"And you'll meet a whole host of other species as well. But there's one you need to meet as soon as possible. They call themselves Gameptians, and they are the ones who inhabit this world, in our home phase."

"How amazing!" the scientist gushes. "We have some colleagues who would jump at the chance to see your worlds and peoples. Can you take them with you to your phase? They can help you work out this mess with the lights."

I nod. "We have a phasing apparatus that would be enough to take a small delegation with us. Please feel free to contact whatever authorities you need to, to select your delegation."

"Excellent! I will radio our colleagues and tell them to meet you at your platform. My team and I will stay here and tell our people about this. Maybe someone more technically-minded than myself can figure out a way to contact you directly."

Maybe, I think to Thraz, my comm system can be adapted, if they need it. I had a specialized communicator rig in my quarters...and there was another one in Sickbay...that allowed communication between the human and Devidian phases, ensuring I could be reached in an emergency even if asleep and out of phase.

When we arrive in position, I warn them of what awaits. "You're going to be inside a cave when we phase over," I say. "A lot of people find that disturbing, so be ready." And if they are indeed somehow based on the Preserver template, that fear might well be ingrained into them just as it is for most species of that superclade.

Thraz approaches the machinery. I take up the same position I held before, behind everyone, in case I lost form on the way in. Then I give the order. "Set phase alignment for...home."



A week has passed, and now a formal delegation from the other world awaits us aboard the Chin'toka. Beings from another phase, so far away...aboard my ship in peace. It is a thing of extraordinary beauty, worthy of song and praise.

I had returned that day from the Gameptian surface, and I could barely contain myself for the rest of my shift. I'd immediately made for the holodeck, and I had sung a great many songs--one after the other, some chants and canticles of the Church, others secular outbursts of joy, and others simply instrumentals where I delighted in weaving the notes in and out of the symphony.

Commander Lesst greets our team at the door. "I'm glad you've invited us to speak with the aliens on your ship, Alexei Ivanovich. You've made first contact, but we'll have to learn how to coexist with our newfound neighbors. To think we've lived right next to them for eons and didn't realize it! We'll set up a liaison office for them on Deep Space Fourteen as soon as we can.

"But enough of me thinking out loud. I'm sure you'll want to talk with the people you've brought here. Enjoy the moment, Alexei Ivanovich. It's not every day that you find a whole new undiscovered culture."

I head over towards Trielt, one of the Gameptian Starfleet officers. "I've been speaking with our friend Kontovul here, and he's told me about their exploration vessels. He believes their space probe agencies would be very eager to start exploring this sector in our phase, and that we could even stage a joint operation."

"That could go a long way towards developing an understanding of the similarities and differences between our phases," I agree. "Maybe, once things are well established here in your home system, the Federation can help you determine if there's other life in your phase. And maybe we'll gain some sort of understanding of how--or if--the life in both of our phases is connected somehow. The level of commonality is...quite a bit beyond what I suspect either of us would have expected."

"Indeed," the newcomer contributes. He's wearing an armband with a phase-assist device, for unlike me he has no innate ability to shift back and forth in temporal alignment. Even for me, the gap between our worlds would be much too far for me to traverse. "As the...l--lyu...ah...commander says, my name is Kontovul. Your colleagues tell me that your gate is shut down for maintenance and that this should stop the lights and the disappearing ships. This is very good news."

I nod--and his easy understanding of the gesture only further confirms the need to investigate further how it is that his people are so similar yet phased so far away from the Preserver-based species. There's a great deal of irony in this: I am what you would expect from a world so greatly separated from our own. He is the anomaly.

But there is a far more pressing matter that needs to be addressed. "What about the ships that were lost?" I ask. Some of which I destroyed myself. "You have warp...and subspace radio...why didn't they attempt to answer our hails?"

"It is a tragedy that they were destroyed in this misunderstanding," Kontovul replies with a strange placidity, "but my people hold no ill will. The ships just seemed to disappear to us, and the families of those lost will find comfort in knowing that their loved ones died trying to protect us. It's too bad that with all the hysteria over the disappearances, the patrol ships reacted violently like they were in a pirate's trap."

I remember Crewman Karjalainen's eyes, blazing at me like tetryon beams aiming straight for my core. I remember Petty Officer Selk's terror at my revealed nature. I remember, too, every other time that humans or just about any other species have suffered from fear and loss, and the truth that whatever people liked to proclaim about 'evolved sensibilities,' human nature, and the nature of the world had never truly changed from what it has been since ancient days: a world suffering under the weight of its sins, and our souls struggling always with the potential for darkness. Kontovul's forgiveness was...inexplicable, other than by the divine.

But did he truly represent his people as well as he believed he did? If they were so much like us, was that grief and indignation truly as easily quelled as this?

Maybe there was more about his culture--and events in his phase--that I had to understand in order to get a better feel for the situation all our peoples might be facing soon. "What are your problems with pirates?" I ask.

"Our people dreamed of colonizing another world, but there were none suitable within our reach. We create many outposts in our solar system, but they became crowded, and pirates preyed on the chaos. Our patrol vessels are vital for maintaining order, but pirates are known to attack them directly from time to time. Hopefully we can find a planet to colonize in this phase, and perhaps our problems will be eased as we spread out."

"There would be some serious logistical issues in doing that," I advise Kontovul. "To have every one of the colonists tethered to phase-assist armbands...that could be dangerous, especially since we have yet to find out if every world on our side corresponds to a world on your side. Or there may be a correspondence between worlds, but one world may be Minshara-class...that's to say, inhabitable for species like yours and the Gameptians...and the other, in your native phase, may be lethal to you. You're so far apart from this phase we can't guarantee if that's the case. That said, if it turned out to be impractical to settle in our phase, we would still welcome contact with you, and might be able to arrange something to help you find worlds in your own phase that are suitable."

Not to mention that moving into areas with existing territorial claims in our phase might well remind people in this phase enough of the Devidians--or the Undine, even--that they'd react violently even if these people remained as civilized as they'd been thus far. Or if they brought their pirate problems through into our world. And then there were the Romulans, and what they were likely to think of all of this.

Lieutenant Sebrul--another Gameptian--calls out to me from across the room. I politely excuse myself from the company of Trielt and Kontovul, to join him. "We think we have a breakthrough with the transwarp conduit," he informs me. "It will take a while to modify the hardware, but we should be able to make it work without causing the resonance effects you observed. Also, we are working on adapting your phase alignment device to allow for quick transition between our phases. Soon, more representatives will be able to visit both realms of Gameptis."

I make a note to myself to ensure the device was kept under high security, however: that would be just the thing the Devidians would like to use as an incursion point. Or any other interphasic beings with less-than-kind intentions towards us. I say none of this for now, though; I will add that to my report later.

The explorer speaks up with every bit as much excitement as I've been used to hearing from the Gameptians of our phase. "Hello! My name is Prukti. I was just talking to one of your scientists about how they think our world was formed. They believe some transphasic bacteria have been phasing the matter they eat for billions of years, and this has built up around the ore to form our continents. It's an incredible idea, but if you think about how every bit of organic matter has been used and reused for eons, it starts to make sense."

"Tell me about your world!"

"Well, you've seen what it looks like from the ground yourself. Our continents are built around massive foundations of the ore we were investigating. There are mountains, seas, and all sorts of other regions on the land. In between continents, however, is empty air. Our planet's core is a mass of compressed gas. Our physicists had some theories about dark matter to explain why our planet wasn't as dense as our gravity would indicate, but seeing our planet from this phase, it all makes more sense!"

"No wonder your colleague Kontovul was talking about difficulties you were having finding suitable worlds to colonize," I muse, "given how uniquely your own world formed. We'll definitely need to look into how other planets in your phase formed. And maybe with data from our phase about the other types of planets species like yours--and the ones that make up the majority of the Federation, we might be able to find a greater variety of planets that would suit you, or assist in terraforming an unclaimed world in your sector for your use."

"It's a thought," Prukti agrees, cocking her head to the side. I wonder, though, if things will really be as easy as I just made it sound.

That's when Ensign Frizelt asks if she can speak with me. Taking me aside, she says, "The alien I was talking to..." I wonder why they haven't revealed the name of their species, having heard 'alien' so many times now. Is it a religious restriction on their part? Or is it a Gameptian issue somehow? Either way, we have got to learn--or negotiate--more acceptable terminology than that. "She was very interested in the Federation. Prukti says her people are eager to explore new worlds, as they've never found any worth living on. I wouldn't be surprised if they wanted membership for themselves someday.

"But the Federation requires its members to have a single planetary government. So the question is, is Gameptis one world or two? I imagine we'd get an exception at least, since we didn't know the other phase existed until recently, but it's something for the diplomats to figure out."

"Definitely. I'm afraid that's a bit above my pay grade, though." We may not get paid, but the old saying is still one well known to most Starfleet officers. Personally, I suspect Gameptis would be treated as two separate worlds. But the application of the Prime Directive to a whole other phase...that seems like the most difficult matter to contend with.

I want this to go well. Desperately. But the devil, I suspect, will be in the details.

As it is, though...I have finally witnessed something in my lifetime that I never thought I would: two peoples meeting from across phases, without trying to kill each other. To consume each other. If I naturally shed tears, that would be what I'd want in this moment: tears at the magnitude of this incredible, joyous thing--the hope that it will last...the dread that it will not...and the grief that this almost certainly will not heal the terrible rift between what I am and the people who have, mostly unknowingly, adopted me as one of them.

Still, even with the difficulties that surely lie ahead, it is enough that I can't restrain myself from singing softly here in the Chin'toka's conference room, a hymn born while I lay in stasis and humanity first came to know its potential to destroy itself.

"We have ventured worlds undreamed of since the childhood of our race; known the ecstasy of winging through untraveled realms of space...probed the secret of the atom, yielding unimagined power, facing us with life's destruction, or its most triumphant hour..."

May this beauty last and may these two worlds too survive this moment of unimagined power.

---------



The hymn at the end is "God, Who Stretched the Spangled Heavens," a hymn composed in the 60's at the height of the Cold War.
Christian Gaming Community Fleets--Faith, Fun, and Fellowship! See the website and PM me for more. :-)


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Last edited by gulberat; 03-28-2013 at 11:16 PM.