Captain MacLeod carefully monitored the sensor readings as the computer piloted the small runabout along the course calculated to avoid the subspace ruptures. So far, the map generated by the Sutherland had been pretty accurate but as he neared what he believed to be the source of the problem, they became increasingly difficult to avoid. He’d already had to make several course corrections in order to avoid losing the small warp field surrounding the craft.
Almost an hour had passed before he was approaching the co-ordinates that he’d calculated the Omega to have been and was mildly surprised to find only an asteroid field at that location. The Carron dropped out of warp and sensors confirmed that it wasn’t going to be possible to establish a warp field anywhere between his current location and the asteroids. Struan cursed inwardly as he realised that they were still about two hours away at full impulse speed. No Romulan ships had been detected, so he had that at least.
Could it be possible that Omega would just appear here, in the middle of nowhere, amongst a bunch of asteroids? It didn’t seem possible, yet something had ruptured subspace and it was something near his current position. The largest asteroid blocked line of sight to that location and it’d be another hour before his course would reveal what was behind it.
Unsurprisingly, sensors reported a debris field when that moment came and the alloys detected were consistent with Romulan vessels and technology. His heart sank. Romulans had already gotten their hands on Omega and he was too late. But that didn’t explain what they were doing with it here. The best case was that the destroyed ship discovered it here and was either in the wrong place at the wrong time or interfered with it. The worst case would be a weapons test, the location was certainly out of the way enough to avoid attention. Either way, Starfleet would want to know for sure and there was nothing to prevent him from investigating further.
When he arrived at the wreckage, a closer examination showed that the ship had been hit by disruptor fire and there were Romulan remains amongst it. The ship had been crewed and involved in a battle, but there was only enough debris to account for one ship – a light warbird.
Sensors chirped, drawing Struan’s attention towards the asteroid. It was an energy fluctuation consistent with a Romulan cloaking device. Adrenaline rushed through his body as he brought the weapons systems online.
The asteroid filled the viewscreen but no ship decloaked in front of it. The few seconds of tense silence felt like minutes, interrupted by the same chirp from the sensors. This time he saw it. The cloaking field was on the asteroid itself, concealing some kind of installation. It was difficult to see in the moment that the cloak faultered but it looked like it had taken damage also. He estimated where the emitters would be located and fired a blast from the still-charged phaser array. It was enough to make the field fail completely.
The small asteroid base was now clear to see, and to scan. No life signs, no life support and no main power. A few systems still ran on emergency power but if the faultering cloak was any indication, that may soon be depleted. The base continued further into the asteroid but the mineral composition of it prevented any deeper scans.
With evidence of Omega having been so close, he’d have to investigate in person. He landed the runabout on the surface of the asteroid and located a section of corridor as close as possible to the area he was unable to scan. It took him a few minutes to assemble a pack of tools and charges – power and gravimetric – before donning an environmental suit and beaming into the corridor.
Everything was dark until he activated his wrist mounted flashlight. The corridor extended farther than the light could illuminate and was dotted with bodies clutching masks and gas bottles. Their clothing looked like science garb and the lack of tools around their bodies indicated that it was more likely to be a desperate attempt at evacuation as opposed to a failed attempt at repair. It also meant that it was likely to be research facilities that lay in the depths of the asteroid.
Struan walked briskly down the corridor, attempting to balance urgency with oxygen consumption, and scanning with his tricorder for more information. Eventually, it picked out a moderately sized chamber ahead before locking up and displaying a blue letter omega graphic. His heart skipped a beat. He’d been looking for it, but now he had confirmation that it was here and it was his responsibility. He ran the rest of the way there.
The door hadn’t been secured, presumably due to the scientists who had left in a hurry, and it opened into a spherical chamber. The centerpiece was a containment unit, mirroring the shape of the chamber itself. More bodies dotted the chamber, some at consoles and others holding power cells. Struan set down his pack and grabbed the power cell from the nearest body. Another body near the other side of the containment unit also held a power cell and was slumped in front of an open access panel where the cell was intended to go. He finished the job for the scientists and took a moment to breathe. It was obvious what was being contained and that they were trying to maintain that containment despite what was happening to the base. Once he’d moved the body, the console confirmed that it was Omega and fortunately, it was only a small amount. The gravimetric charges he brought would be enough. The power cells he just inserted had extended containment for a further six hours. He checked his own oxygen levels and had a reserve of about an hour.
There was no immediate pressure, so he set timers on the gravimetric charges for one hour and placed them around the containment unit. With the remaining time, he began copying data from the lab systems. The project files were encrypted but the scientists personal logs and notes weren’t. Those may be enough to put together what was going on here even if the encryption couldn’t be broken.
Struan made it back to the Carron with twenty minutes to spare, or rather time to put some distance between himself and the installation.
He piloted the runabout into the asteroid field, keeping the base in range of its sensors. Focusing on the task at hand had kept him from thinking too much about the risks to himself, but now he realized that if he hadn’t done the job correctly then he could be isolated from his ship and from the Federation for what could be years at sub-light speeds.
There was no dramatic explosion. Sensors detected the distortions caused by charges detonating and then fractures reaching the surface of the asteroid. The fractures widened and the asteroid split into several smaller pieces. The former installation seemed to act as a weak spot and was split between two of the larger pieces. Struan scanned for Omega, and then for further subspace damage. He breathed a sigh of relief when both scans found nothing. He was still alone in Romulan space, but the danger to the region had passed.
Switching to the Conn console, he plotted a course that backtracked his earlier route and then onto the rendezvous he’d arranged with the Sutherland. It would be a few hours before he could go to warp but at least the damage also prevented others from travelling to him at any speed. Still, the more distance he put between himself and the former asteroid, the better he felt.
The few hours of quiet could be used reviewing the data he’d gathered.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the base belonged to the Tal Shiar. The scientists had been ’persuaded’ to work for them after Omega particles were detected near the old listening station. Their words were carefully chosen, but it was clear that they resented being there and the pressure they were being put under for results. Results for what exactly remained a secret, locked behind an encryption the computer was still working on.