Mission Day 58
USS Atlantis – Conference Room
“With Camargo’s assistance, we have finished mapping their planetary satellite network,” Rrr’mmm’bal’rrr rumbled along, the words starting clearly at his core and moving with a steady near-tectonic pace, brining with them a reassuring depth. “We have not identified any outward facing camera satellites. Our probes are in higher orbits then anything they have and were stealth coated before launch. All of their drives have fuel remaining to assist in collection when ready to depart.”
Nodding in understanding, Tikva then turned to face Lieutenant Gabrielle Camargo without a word. She had to mentally slap herself once again, as she did most times whenever she looked at Gabrielle.
No! She’s part of your crew. A junior part of your crew!
Yes, but she’s gorgeous. Just look at her.
No! Be professional.
She just hoped that the poker face she had worked on so hard at the Academy and at Captain Denevan’s poker table still held true. Giving mixed signals to her crew would not be helpful out here, nearly two months removed from the rest of Starfleet, let alone the Federation.
“Oh, right, my turn,” Gabrielle Camargo started, her voice a velvety contralto. Tucking a stray strand of auburn hair behind an ear, she picked up her padd, jabbed a quick command and then stood as the main display in the briefing room came to life with her quick presentation. “It’s true all of our probes are above their satellites, but it looks like someone down there has greater aspirations.”
The display image shifted from the planet and it’s smattering of artificial satellites and instead focused on the larger, closer of the natural satellites, three objects in orbit of it being highlighted. One object was in a polar orbit around the natural body, the other two objects much lower and nearly identical in their orbits save for a closing divergence.
“One of these objects is showing life signs, but both are powered. Initial scan indicates this one,” she said, pointing at the object in the lead, “to be a reusable lander of some description. Big sucker too. I’m guessing enough fuel on board for four or five descents and ascents. The other object looks like a simple space capsule and service body.”
“They’re going to land on their moon,” Tikva said, as she stood and approached the screen, looking over the telemetry that was scrolling down the sides, then just straight at the image. “What is their tech level like?”
“Pre-Eugenics War Earth ma’am.”
“That’s a big window there Gab,” MacIntyre spoke up. “We talking Apollo or STS? These guys just getting to their moon or we likely to see their version of the Botany Bay go floating past us?”
“I..uh…” Gabrielle paused, clearly unprepared for the question of specifics that had just been thrown at her. Her cheeks started to flush and she went for her padd to review the data it contained, hoping for a quick answer.
“Something a bit better than Apollo,” came an answering voice. Tarush Velan was busy stroking his moustache and beard with one hand, the other manipulating a padd on the conference room table in front of him. “More like late Apollo. That lander looks heavy and would have been a pain to launch, but it’s reusable locally. I’d bet they have a plan for refuelling every once and awhile. Saves them launching a lander each time they want to visit.”
“Yes…late Apollo,” Gabrielle agreed, rather forcefully to try and refocus attention back to her and her presentation. “But these people aren’t the only visitors.” The screen shifted, spinning the celestial body around and identifying a spot on the surface that would be bathed in sunlight and situated near the middle of a rather large crater. “Looks like an outpost here. Scans show three life signs. Probe 3 was able to grab visuals for us. This outpost and the orbiting space craft look like they belong to different nation states.”
Tikva let out a deep breath as she walked towards the conference room window and looked out across the forward expanse of her ship’s hull. She had always been used to looking out backwards in a conference room, this experience was still novel to her. “Well, we won’t be able to do indepth surveys of their planet, or that moon. When are they expected to land?”
“Communications indicate another day or so,” Rrr’mmm’bal’rrr intoned. “Likely time to dock and do systems checks before crew transfer to the lander for their excursion.”
“Okay,” Tikva turned around and sat herself down on the window sill, back against the thick reinforced window. “Continue the surveys of the outer planets for now. We’ll keep grabbing all the communication and broadcast information we can for xenoanthropology to dig over. I want to listen and watch this landing.”
“Kindred spirits ma’am?” Gantzmann said, her first words this whole meeting.
“Most certainly! Throwing themselves into the void just to go turn over rocks and see what’s out there. And these people are making early steps. Its kinda heartening to know maybe in a hundred years or so these folks will be out exploring the cosmos themselves.”
She looked over her senior officers and then smiled. “Right, get out of here. Go do some work.” As they filed out, Tikva waved lightly to get Gabrielle’s attention and waved her over. “Camargo, a moment please.”
As the others filed out, she could watch as Gabrielle deflated, then stood up straight and regathered herself as the door closed. “Ma’am,” she said, her voice laced with a slight tremble.
“Good presentation, very impressed.”
“Ma’am?” came the confused follow up. Gabrielle had clearly been mentally preparing for some sort of tear down and to get a compliment set her off guard.
“Good presentation, very impressed. You were still taking scans up until about five minutes before we started right?” Tika pushed off from the window sill and walked over to the replicator in the room. “Two peppermint teas, one teaspoon of sugar, eighty degrees,” she ordered of the device, returning momentarily to offer one cup to her senior science officer.
“Thank you ma’am, but I wasn’t prepared for Commander MacIntryre’s question. I should have been.” The taller, dark skinned woman accepted the cup and sipped at it experimentally, finding the temperature just right for slightly larger sips then what pipping hot tea would allow.
“Nonsense. Mac was curious, but I don’t expect my people to have all the answers all the time. Especially when I call a snap briefing with barely any prep time. Word of advice though,” she paused long enough to take a sip of her own tea, “if you don’t know, say so. Tell me you’ll get me an answer and then keep going.”
“I…thank you ma’am.”
“First deep space assignment, right?”
“Yes ma’am. I was previously junior science officer on the USS Marbeck.” Another sip of tea. “I saw the posting for the Atlantis and applied, if just to have the interview experience.”
“Well Gabrielle, we’ll try and keep things interesting, but not to interesting. In the meantime, I want you to finish that cup of tea, take a few moments to catch your breath and then return to your post. Understood?”
“Yes ma’am,” Gabrielle said, back straightening with a bit more confidence.
“Very good,” Tikva said, offering a smile, a gentle salute with her own cup and then headed for the door.
Mission Day 07
In orbit of the moon Telrin, approaching URAF Lander Trudger 01
“Peranon, Melwin, we are approaching Trudger, 2 meters per second.”
“Understood Peranon, we confirm 2 meters per second.”
“Melwin, Peranon actual here. Grent says he can see an object outside of window one. Unable to tell distance but can see a glint of light. Are we expecting any visitors from the Monarchy?”
“Roger that sighting Peranon. We’re confirming with tracking if they’re seeing anything, but we don’t think so. One moment…Linrin, I’ve got an Air Force General here confirming there shouldn’t be any Monarchy vessels in your vicinity at the moment. In fact, they’ve got nothing in space at all.”
An almighty clang filled the radio channels momentarily.
“Contact with Trudger. Soft seal confirmed.”
“Hard seal confirmed…and locked. Melwin, we have confirmed hard dock with Trudger. We’ll reconfirm all indicators and proceed with hatch opening.”
“Understood Peranon. We’re reviewing all your telemetry data right now gentlemen and now we’ve got Trudger we’ll review its systems as well. We’ll check in for go, no go at 1630. “
“Melwin, Grent here, can we get another confirmation on this object I’m seeing. Linrin and Helpt have both seen it now. It’s pretty radiant, sitting just above the ecliptic I’d wager and I’m looking at it just over the limb of Telrin but I can’t tell how far away. I’ve aimed Peranon’s tracking radar at it but I’m getting no response.”
“Must be a problem with your tracking radar Grent. I’ll get the boys from Grwen Engineering on it straight away. They built it, they can fix it.”
“Negative Melwin. Tracking radar is working just fine. Was working all the way up till we docked with Trudger and I haven’t turned it off. Could you perhaps see if the URAF Deep Space Array could do a sweep around Telrin? That array is orders more powerful than our dinky little get up.”
“I’ll talk with the boys in green Grent. I’ll let you know when we talk again for go no go.”
“Roger that Melwin. Peranon out.”
Mission Day 58
USS Atlantis – Bridge
“Were they talking about us?” Tikva asked from her chair, looking over in the direction of Camargo and Rrr’mmm’bal’rrr who were both collaborating at the Science officer’s station. She didn’t like the way the conversation they had been spying on had developed there at the end of it.
“Can’t be us,” MacIntryre responded. “Rrr’mmm’bal’rrr retuned the shields to absorb radar and we should be to far away for them to spot us.” He looked just as confused as his captain did as they considered what was going on.
“Actually,” Camargo finally spoke up after a couple of head nods between her and Rrr’mmm’bal’rrr and whispered words finally agreeing with each other. “I think we forgot that we’re painted the next best thing to white. T’Val, could you please put the visual sensor from probe six on the main viewer?”
As the main view shifted from the tracking diagram to a visual input, it revealed a sliver of a moon on one side and a single bright blip near the celestial body, moving slowly out of frame. But right there in the middle of the frame was a single white luminous dot, only slightly brighter than the background stars but still enough to stand out.
“And if I do this,” Camargo announced, inputting a command, “we can clearly see,” she continued as the image zoomed in three steps, the multiplier in the bottom right corner, “what looks like a Federation Argonaut class starship.”
“Well damn…” Tikva said, trailing off as she sank back into her chair. “Guess that means we’ve worn out our welcome then.”
“Bug out?” Mac asked beside her.
“Yah, or at least it is for Atlantis. Camargo, work with Rrr’mmm’bal’rrr and revise the flight plans for the probes. I want them all on system escape trajectories. You can use them and play with them until their fuel levels hit that requirement, then launch them away. We’ll collect them later, but we need them away from the planet at end of life.”
“T’Val, start backing us off slowly and take us back to the fourth planet. I want us to just slowly fade away visually. We’ll be an interesting little quirk and scientific mystery for the ages. Nothing to fancy or fast, understood.”
“Understood ma’am,” the Vulcan said as she started her calculations and executing manoeuvres.
“Mac, can I see you in my ready room?” Tikva asked as she stood and headed for her personal office. She waited just long enough for her XO to step inside and the door to close before she sighed. “Seriously, we both forgot the ship has a high albedo?”
Mac shrugged and was actually smiling as he stepped through the office for the pitcher of water that sat near permanently on a plinth and poured both of them a glass of water. “Hey, not just us, but everyone. I bet Velan didn’t forget, just didn’t think of it. Seriously, these Tarelites are just as much using their sensors as their own eyeballs for space travel at the moment. No one on this ship has been in a society actually dependant on looking out a window for target identification what…centuries?”
“Geez…our own technological frame of reference just gave us away,” she said, accepting the water with a slight salute of the glass and a sip.
“Yah, I’d think so. Starfleet is so used to running into warp capable civilisations or those far more primitive then the Tarelites out there. We caught these people in that wonderful post-Industrial, pre-warp era. Most civilizations tend to only last a few centuries in this window so our experience is…not often enough to ingrain a culture of awareness.”
“Ingrain a culture of awareness?” Tikva asked as she circled her desk and sat down. “You really have been reading those command course work guides haven’t you.”
“I’m seven years your senior and a rank below you Cap. If I want a promotion and my own ship, I better get a move on. No offense ma’am, but I do want my own command and you’ve broken me out of that unhelpful cycle I was in.”
“Good!” she said setting aside the glass. “Then you can manage expediating our retreat and relocation. We’ll keep watching the locals for awhile with the probes. I’m not going to authorise a second wave, so you can also break the news to Camargo and Rrr’mmm’bal’rrr.”
“They’ll be gutted.”
“I know. So am I really, but I don’t think we can risk it. One accident and we’ve handed over Federation technology and then either we walk away or definitely give the game up in trying to recover our tech.”
“Right you are Cap. I’ll let them know. Think I’ll get T’Val to park us in the umbra as well and manage our aspect ratio on the way out to minimise our light signature.”
“Nice. Hadn’t though of that. Right, be about it Mac and I’ll come out in few minutes. I’ll get started on the inevitable report about this brush with the Prime Directive for Command.”
“Don’t envy that report,” he said, setting the glass into the replicator for cleansing and then exited back out on the bridge.
“Computer,” she said, turning her chair to look out the window in her ready room, “being recording for distribution list Fantastic Four.” She waited for the confirmation chirp and then continued. “Hey guys, Tikva here again. Heard from all of you and so glad to hear everyone’s doing good. Rachel, babe, I am so jealous of your new assignment. XO on an Odyessey class…Wellington is a lucky ship to have you! And about time you got such a posting as well! So, reason I’m writing…we’re out here in the DQ and we’ve been watching a pre-warp civilization for about a day and we’ve already underestimated them…”
Mission Day 58
USS Atlantis – Main Bridge
“Captain to the bridge” was the preceding refrain, followed shortly by the classic response of “Report!”
“Minor trouble from the natives ma’am,” Adelinde said as she rose from the center seat and stepped aside. “One group started sweeping with high end radar and it apparently caught the attention of the otherside. We’ve detected three large scale planetary radar sources and the outpost on the moon has also swept our general vicinity until the moon’s rotation took the base over the horizon.”
“We figured that would happen,” Tikva said, approaching her Security chief, but not taking the centre seat, instead allowing the woman to explain. Perhaps, just perhaps she’d be able to return to her office and continue with this report with minimal interruption.
Dear Command, we kinda dented the Prime Directive. Turns out all our ships are painted a highly reflective colour in space. Perhaps we should add that to the First Contact refresher courses. Yours, Tikva.
Well, it’s was a bit more then that, but that was a decent enough summary.
“Yes ma’am. We didn’t however count on two of the satellites in orbit having some sort of gyro spin system we didn’t account for. We’re pretty sure both of the space capable nation-states have seen us as their ground-based radar is sweeping us pretty constantly now.”
“Still absorbing radar ma’am. They can see us visually, but radar is telling them we’re not here.”
Both of Tikva’s hands came up to cup her face, fingers rubbed at her brow for a couple of moments and then she swept her hands back, brushing any stray hair back behind her ears. “Right. T’Val, set course for the fourth planet, one quarter impulse and engage when ready. I was hoping we could just back off and fade away but if they’ve seen us, we need to get away before they get a good look at us. Oh and bring up all the navigation lights on the hull. Maximum brightness. We’ll flood their cameras and just be a bright blob of light hopefully. Once we’re a light minute or so away from the planet kill all external lights. Should be to far for them to spot anything useful.”
“Aye ma’am. What about our probes?” Adelinde asked.
“Camargo?” Tikva asked instead, looking to her Science Chief and essentially passing the question on.
“None of them have reported any radar sweeps so far. So far no one has spotted them. Likely due to their size and the stealth coatings on them.”
“Okay. Keep the probes in place for now Gabrielle. I want you to monitor military and space communications. I want to know what they know or think they know. We’ll get an idea of how bad we’ve upset the apple cart here and then recall our probes and vacate the system I think.”
“Aya ma’am,” Adelinde responded.
“Right, carry on all,” Tikva offered once more and headed back for her ready room.
What was supposed to be an afternoon of watching space pioneers undertaking a moon landing was turning into a nightmare. She’d inadvertently taken the ship to close and been spotted by a single eagle eyed astronaut and now it seemed everyone on the planet who could was busy looking for UFOs
Hey, don’t worry, you’re not the first captain to do this and you won’t be the last.
Yah, not helping.
You’re on the frontier, these things happen. Besides, you see Adelinde? Those strong arms…
As the door to her ready room closed behind her she sighed. “I need a couple of days off…”