“We will enter weapons range of the Prometheus in 60 seconds,” reported Kate Sheridan.
“Raise shields, load torpedo bays and charge phasers,” ordered Lex. “Has there been any response to Spectre’s hails?”
“Negative,” responded James Dulmis, shaking his head.
“What’s the status of the Prometheus?”
“Their shields are raised, but their weapons systems are offline,” replied Elizabeth Lisley at the science station. “I’m reading twenty seven lifesigns aboard, all Romulan.”
“Captain, the Warbirds have opened fire on the Prometheus,” reported Sheridan.
“Why would the Romulans fire on their own people?” asked Arkin.
“Good question,” replied Lex. “Commander, what’s the status of the Prometheus.”
“Their shields are down to 20%,” responded Lisley, “and their weapons are still offline.”
“This doesn’t make any sense,” said Lex to himself.
“They could be playing possum,” suggested Dulmis, but the comment just got blank looks from the rest of the bridge crew. He explained, “You know, pretending to be dead in the way a possum does until the danger has passed.”
“Nice thinking, Lieutenant,” said Lex nodding. He turned to Arkin and then Sheridan, issuing orders to each, “Ensign, attack pattern Lex Alpha on my mark. Commander, target the Prometheus first, then the lead warbird. Target the Prometheus’ engines only; we can’t let them get away with that ship.”
“Aye sir,” replied Arkin and Sheridan in unison.
“Entering weapons range,” reported Lisley.
Lex leaned forward in his seat in anticipation of his next order, “Slow to attack speed and fire.”
Several sets of phased energy bolts erupted from the Defender’s four phaser cannons as the Defiant-class ship accelerated out from under the shadow of the USS Spectre’s catamaran shaped hull. The Akira-class ship hung back as the more manoeuvrable Defender was joined by her sister ship, the USS Alexander, a similar burst of fire from her phaser cannons adding to Defender’s attack. The two ships strafed the Prometheus first, causing her shields to flare, and then moved on to the lead Warbird, before the deadly green beam of the Romulan ship’s disruptors finally caused them to peel off in separate directions.
“Bring us ‘round to heading 179, mark 354,” ordered Lex.
“Aye sir,” replied Arkin as she manipulated the helm controls, sending the Defender in an arc that took the small ship over the top of the other two Warbirds, firing another spread of torpedoes as she went.
“Prometheus has fired a torpedo,” reported Sheridan. “It looks like it’s un-targeted.”
Lex looked at Sheridan, his expression conveying the unasked question of exactly what the hell was going on here. Sheridan in return shrugged to indicate that she had no better idea than he did, before the beeping of her console took her attention back to it.
“Torpedo has locked on to us,” she managed to get out before the ship lurched to starboard thanks to the direct hit of the anti-matter warhead. The sudden movement threw several people out of their seats, including Lex.
“Target the Prometheus’ weapons systems and fire,” he ordered as he picked himself up off the floor.
Arkin brought the ship back down and under the nearest Warbird and, as they emerged on the other side, Sheridan fired the weapons, scoring several direct hits.
“Weapon systems on the Prometheus disabled, Captain,” she reported as the Defender arced away.
“Captain, the Prometheus has activated its separation sequence,” reported Lisley.
“On screen,” responded Lex.
The viewscreen switched to aft view and was immediately filled with aft section of the experimental starship. Lex watched as it gradually receded and, when the whole ship was visible on the screen, split into three separate warp capable sections.
“The three sections are targeting the nearest Warbird,” said Lisley.
“Bring us in behind the Prometheus’ sections and target the same Warbird,” ordered Lex, “and return the view screen to the forward view.”
The viewscreen returned to the view of the stars before the points of light blurred to the right as Arkin swung the ship around to follow the three separated sections of the prototype ship.
“Fire!” Lex ordered.
Defender lashed out again with her phaser cannons as several orange-yellow beams of phased energy erupted from the arrays of the Prometheus. Under the barrage of fire the embattled Warbird’s shields flared and then winked out, exposing the D’deridex-class ship to the lethal energies of the Starfleet vessels’ weapons. Like the shields, the ship’s hull gave little resistance to the phaser barrage and within moments a blinding orange and white explosion had replaced the green Romulan vessel as the sections of the Prometheus and the Defender veered off.
“The two remaining Romulan vessels are in retreat,” reported Lisley, “and Prometheus has begun its reintegration sequence.”
“Commander Sheridan,” said Lex, turning towards the tactical officer, “take a security team and secure the Prometheus.”
“Aye sir,” she responded rising from her seat and leaving the bridge.
Now we’ll see if my sense of foreboding is unfounded or not, thought Lex as he watched her go.
Kate Sheridan materialised in the Prometheus’ main engineering section and was immediately in awe of the huge complex that powered the quartet of nacelles when the ship was in its combined form. The room was about twice the size of Argus’ main engineering and the sound of the dual warp cores pulsed in synchronization, filling the space like two massive beating hearts. Several Romulans lay on the floor or across the consoles they had been working at and Sheridan moved to the closest to check whether they were still alive. Finding a pulse she looked at the other security officers in confusion, but they returned the same look so she tapped her commbadge. “Sheridan to Defender.”
“Lex here, go ahead.”
“Captain, we’ve secured main engineering.”
“That was fast,” responded Lex. “I guess the Romulans didn’t put up much of a fight.”
“That’s the thing, Captain,” she replied, “they’re all unconscious. It looks like they’ve been exposed to anaesthazine gas.”
“Bower to Sheridan,” a second call came over her commbadge.
“Hold on, Captain,” she said before taping the communicator to open the second channel. “Go ahead, Lieutenant.”
“Sir, I’ve secured the bridge,” he responded, “but I think you’d better get up here. There’s something you should see.”
“I’m on my way. Sheridan out,” she responded as she made a beeline for the nearest turbolift, hoping that whatever Bower had discovered on the bridge would shed some light on what the hell going on.
During the turbolift journey she continued to fill the Captain in on what they had so far discovered in Main Engineering, until the turbolift eventually deposited her on the bridge. She signed off with Lex and stepped out to find Bower standing on the lower level with Lieutenant Taylor, looking over the ships helm controls. She was about to ask why he had summoned her here, when she noticed two other people standing near the captain’s chair on the upper deck. One wore Starfleet’s current uniform, while the other was dressed in the one it had recently replaced, and she soon realised that they were both Emergency Medical Holograms. The one in the current uniform she recognised from the briefing as the prototype for the Mark 2 EMH, the other was the currently-in-service EMH Mark 1. Seeing the EMH Mark 1 gave Kate the sudden feeling that her sense of foreboding was finally coming to a head.
“Ah, Commander” said the Mark 1, a smile pasted broadly across his face. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am the EMH from the starship…”
“…Voyager,” completed Sheridan.
“Well you were right about one thing,” said Carol Davis from across the room.
Sara Parker looked up from her console and towards her assistant head of science. “What’s that?”
“The signals are too ordered to be natural. They appear at regular intervals and even when one is missed the next appears where it’s expected,” Davis replied. “Beyond that though there doesn’t seem to be any information in them. They’re just bursts of signal. There’s not even a standard length to them.”
“That doesn’t make much sense,” replied Sara, “but it would explain why they weren’t flagged any higher up by the main computer.”
She walked over to where Davis stood and looked over the data on her screen. It had taken the two of them several hours to analyse the 38 bursts of transmission that the ship had received. However the reason for the transmissions had defied explanation so far. They were EM signals, something that would have been referred to as radio signals before the advent of subspace communication. They had been received at regular intervals of 34.56 seconds during Argus’ approach to Deep Space Six and the first burst had been received 15 minutes and 33 seconds after Argus had dropped out of warp. They were of irregular lengths, although some were of noticeably longer lengths than the others and there were gaps in the pattern, although these were also at irregular intervals. For Sara, there was something very familiar to all this.
“It’s almost as if this signal has been designed to be ignored by a main computer but not by someone looking at it more closely,” Sara said. “There’s too much irregularity to it for the computer to get a recognisable pattern out of it, but just enough for it to flag for further investigation at low priority. If we weren’t docked at Starbase I don’t think that this would have been given a second thought.
“And in that case, I doubt the Starbase’s computer would apply any higher priority to this signal than the Argus’ did,” continued Parker. “They would have even less knowledge about this then we do, but they might have more of the signal.”
“Maybe the signal bursts themselves are the message and we can’t find the pattern because we haven’t received enough of it to find the repetition point yet,” finished Davis, completing Parker’s line of thought.
“Exactly,” replied Sara. “Connect to DS6’s main computer and see if they recorded any more of the signal bursts.”
Davis returned to her console and worked the controls to access the station’s main computer and download the information that they were searching for. After a few moments she stepped back so that Sara could get a look that the screen. “The Starbase has picked up a further three thousand three hundred and twenty eight EM signal bursts since our arrival as well as the thirty eight that we picked up during our approach.”
“They repeat in batches of one hundred and eleven. No wonder we couldn’t see the pattern,” said Sara. She looked at the screen for a moment before deciding to act on a hunch, “Ok, so these signals have to be in some sort of code, so let’s start simple - what if we group the longer signals and the shorter signals together?”
Sara entered the commands into the console and a set of symbols replaced the signals – dots for the shorter ones and dashes for the longer ones.
Davis recognised it immediately. “You’re thinking it might be Morse code?” she said in surprise. “But that hasn’t been used on earth for centuries.”
“Not since the invention of subspace radio,” confirmed Parker as she pointed to the start of the message. “This sequence I recognise.”
“I do too,” said Davis. “It stands for SOS or Save Our Souls – a distress signal. So what does the rest of it say?”
“I don’t know,” said Sara shaking her head. She started inputting commands into the console, “I’ll run it through the computer.”
The computer beeped to acknowledge the commands, which it followed a few moments later by a second beep to indicate its completion. Parker and Davis checked the results.
“That’s the SOS and those are co-ordinates,” said Davis, pointing to part of the screen. When she came to the next bit a frown wrinkling her forehead, “What does that mean?”
“That means…” started Sara, but her confusion at her recognition of the final part of the message caused her to pause. There was only one possible conclusion that could be drawn from this, except she wasn’t sure she quite believed it. She began again, “That means who ever left this message knew Argus would be here, they knew we’d discover the signal and they knew that I’d be the one who discovered its meaning.
“In short, Carol, this message was left for me.”
“And you’re sure about this, Commander?”
Thomas Patel looked questioningly across the ready room desk and both Sara Parker and Carol Davis nodded in response, indicating that they were indeed certain of their findings. Reassured that at least the two science officers sitting on the opposite side of the desk were happy, Patel return his attention back to the waiting image of Admiral Rothschild currently displayed on the desk monitor. “Yes, sir,” he responded. “Lieutenant Parker has triple checked her results and found the same thing each time – a message containing an SOS distress signal, a set of co-ordinates and her Starfleet serial number. The transmission was sent two years ago and directed at our current co-ordinates. It was timed to arrive at DS6 at the same time as we did.”
The Admiral rubbed his forehead, clearly disturbed by the news. “I’ll have to contact Temporal Investigations about this,” he said with a sigh. “In the meantime, I want you to reassemble your remaining crew and investigate this transmission. Do you have a point of origin?”
“Yes,” said Patel with a nod. “We believe it originated somewhere in the Ganoris system.”
“You mean within spitting distance of the Neutral Zone. Even better!” replied Rothschild, obviously even less happy with this revelation than the last. “Tread carefully, Commander.”
“Understood, Admiral,” responded Patel.
“DS6 out,” finished Rothschild, closing the connection.
As the screen went blank and receded back into the desk, Patel returned to the two officers sitting opposite. “Sara, issue a full recall of all Argus personnel. I want to depart in the next thirty minutes.”
Twenty five minutes later Patel stepped out onto the bridge and relieved Parker from her position in the centre seat. “What’s our status,” he asked.
“All Argus personnel, excluding those currently assigned to the Defender, are aboard and we’re just waiting for the few remaining Starbase staff to disembark,” responded Parker as she took her seat in the first officer’s chair to Patel’s right. “Simok was unhappy about the sudden departure, but reports that ship’s systems are working at full capacity, including warp and impulse engines, phasers, torpedo launchers and shields.”
“Good,” Patel responded. “Ensign Mullins, contact Starbase C&C and request permission to depart.”
“Aye, sir,” responded the young man at ops. A few moments later he replayed the reply, “Starbase C&C reports that all Starbase personnel have disembarked and that we are cleared for departure. They’re waiting for access to the helm so that they can guide us out.”
“Ensign Vasquez, transfer helm control to Starbase C&C.”
“Control transferred,” replied the olive skinned woman who occupied the helm.
“Switch to aft view,” said Patel.
The viewscreen changed from the image of the core of the Starbase that ran through the docking area to that of the giant space doors just off Argus’ stern that would allow the starship egress from its docking bay. The doors had begun to open and as the gap between them continued to widen more of the space beyond started showing, until they had completely receded into their housing. The ship shuddered as to the Starbases’ automatic docking systems engaged and started to back it out of the docking bay. Immediately the opening began to enlarge and as the edges disappeared off the sides of the viewscreen Patel ordered its view returned forward. The image switched to the Starbase’s rapidly receding core as the edges of the docking port entrance reappeared on the viewscreen and soon after the ship was completely clear of the Starbase.
“Helm control has been released back to us,” reported Vasquez.
“Plot a course for the Ganoris system, warp six. Engage on my mark.”
“Aye, sir,” she replied. “Course plotted and laid in.”
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