Gymnasium, Lyran CW Doomward, 11 January Y168
Captain Thr'Uule looked at the pool aboard the Doom Star Ship Doomward with distaste. It wasn't that engineering beat his team from navigation at water polo every time so much as the prospect of getting his fur wet that irritated him. Even with the sonic dryer and blowers, his pelt would still feel wet for hours. Lyrans and swimming are not strangers, but Captain Thr'Uule, from Krrm'Ct, had the dislike of any desert native for water hazards. He was still trying to remember why a ship-wide water polo tournament between the various departments seemed to be a good idea when Senior Lieutenant Drrrn'Al proposed it a month ago. Given the engineers' uncanny swimming skills, he suspected ringers. With a toothy grin he made a mental note to place a favorable comment into his file. Such clever foresight should be rewarded.
Two hours later he was sitting at his desk in his office idly combing out his matted underpelt while scowling at the new regulations on inspection and decontamination of Wroon beast carcasses before accepting them as rations. The spirits only knew what mischief required a fleet-wide advisory to be broadcast and him to certify that it had been implemented. When the shipcomm whistled at him on his private line, it was a relief. "Captain, incoming message from sector control. Shall I put it through to you there? It is in code X21 2a. We have decoded it, and the checksums are correct."
"Yes, Ensign," he replied. Maybe this would be something more exciting than patrolling the WYN-Lyran-Klingon border. And a message in such a low-level code with a 2a priority HAD to be interesting.
From: Northern Fleet Area Operations Desk
To: Doom Star Ship Doomward
Re: Scientific Mission, Priority 2a
Doomward is to make best speed to rendezvous with the Foremost Ship Shadow of the Hunter, now en route to Sector 31, to cross-load special mission personnel and equipment. Proceed then at your best cruising speed consistent with prudence to Sector 31 to investigate a spatial anomaly. Be advised the anomaly is not stationary and is presently being monitored by FS Police Ship Thiefbreaker, coordinates last known to be 31: 04-81-61. At your discretion, you may release Thiefbreaker for regular patrol duties. You are authorized to draw fuel and supplies from Shadow of the Hunter under the voucher code supplied.
Doomward is to monitor the region and cooperate fully with Foremost Naval Science and Engineering Special Investigation Team #1 until relieved. They are not allowed to override your command authority, but you are to pay all due regard to their needs and requests. Re-supply as needed to stay on station is authorized; use voucher number CMP-SIUHF32. A fleet supply ship will be dispatched in two weeks unless earlier supply is requested or you cancel resupply. Use operational code denaf. Rules of Engagement Level 3 is in effect.
Be advised, this anomaly is believed to be a spatial rift of the vortex inversion type, so approaches closer than fifty thousand kilometers are only to be made as operational necessity dictates. See file code # LHGFIUSGDIU 23 for further data on probable anomaly type.
Admiral Frn'Nlf, Fleet Operations Commander, Northern Areas
Captain Thr'Uule first looked at his position plot and estimated that he had at least ten hours before he was to be on station. No reason to panic or mess up the rest schedule of his crew. ROE 3 meant that he had discretion to engage at will (even aggressively) to deal with the situation and maintain control. Priority 2a meant he was to consider his ship's survival secondary to the accomplishment of his mission. Hopefully, another ship would be taking over his patrol route.
Thr'Uule hit the Officer of the Deck direct line. "Bridge, this is the captain; take a heading at best sustained speed, with minimum non-emergency reserves, to Sector 31 and get a rendezvous set up with Shadow of the Hunter on operational code denaf. Implement any necessary course change and notify me as soon as we have a route chosen. I want the command team to meet me in my office for a briefing in two hours; give them the message so they are prepared to discuss the mission and propose operational methods. If any of them are asleep, let them have another hour.
"I also want the message I just received reviewed by all officers and petty officers level 4 and above upon starting their watches. Have the science team start reviewing the reference in the message now and be prepared to give a command briefing in two hours. We will have an all-hands briefing in six hours."
"Transmit an advisory to the squadron commodore that we have had our patrol preempted by Northern Area Fleet Operations for an undetermined period. Enclose our current status and intel updates. I will also compose a personal note to him for separate transmittal under squadron code five. Have the quartermaster figure out where we are going to bunk and mess a group of naval science supercargo and their stuff. Oh yes, and reply to the Admiral that we are en route."
"Aye aye, Captain. We are now coming around to 35.6 mark 7 at warp 6.3. Our rough ETA is ten hours and twenty minutes."
Thr'Uule noted that the officer of the deck, Senior Lieutenant Murri'Tra, had presumably read the message (as it was not in the captain's personal code or classified) and planned to execute his probable orders. Exactly as a good subordinate should, she had anticipated his orders and then waited for him to make his decision. Again, he made a mental note for the upcoming officer reports.
Conference Room, Lyran CW Doomward, two hours later
"Captain, we have reviewed the files and these are the pertinent data in summary." Science Senior Lieutenant Grnn'ita was famous aboard ship for her ability to digest the most turgid and dense science reports and explain them to everyone else, usually at great length unless restrained. With her sinuous form, glossy coat, bronze eyes, and immaculate claws, she was also the fantasy of most of the younger males aboard ship. Unfortunately for them, she seemed to be much more attracted to science than the crew. "If the anomaly is of the type proposed, it is a moving vortex of space-time discontinuity. These are fairly uncommon, perhaps one per decade will be observed in the entire Empire. It will be moving along a complex compound nine-dimensional curve at a low warp speed and can be of two types. The first is called a discharge vortex. The second is called a collecting vortex. Both can be very dangerous for a number of reasons, which we will discuss in turn.
"Both types of vortexes will have an entrained ionized dust cloud about two million kilometers in radius from the center of the vortex. Typically this limits ship communications to less than 250,000 kilometers; the actual range communications can be maintained will change as the vortex field mass and energy density changes. We will maintain a data-driven algorithm with the appropriate parameter entries and outputs to optimize science, navigation, and weapons sensor systems. Tracking will also be degraded; our ship's sensors and scanners will only perform at the level of an ordinary freighter if this vortex is typical; again, this can vary continuously.
"The ionization these clouds exhibit has two additional properties of note. The first is that tractor performance will be degraded at least 35% and we may be limited to tractors of less than eight thousand kilometers or so. The second is that personnel on shuttles will die in short order due to the ionizing radiation. This should not be an issue to the ship crew, even if the shields are down, due to our thicker hull plating. The dust in the cloud will act just as a typical dust cloud does, perhaps a bit less, on shields and shuttles. For what it's worth, it would act the same way on drones."
Eyes rolled around the table. Senior Lieutenant Grnn'ita always wanted to buy a few Klingon probe drones to get better information, but a Lyran ship had no means of launching or maintaining them.
"The operational orders usually given when investigating and monitoring a field of this type will have a second ship on station further out to receive communications and data and then move outside the vortex zone for interstellar subspace communications relay. This also can serve as an extended baseline scanning array if the ships coordinate the survey. I will set this up with any attending ships, with your permission.
"A discharge vortex will be emitting matter that is gathered by an associated collecting vortex that is very distant. Matter not protected by a warp field will be reduced elementally and usually no particles larger than 100 micrometers are seen. The largest risk of a discharge vortex is that twice before we and the Klingons have observed unknown ships exiting. Nine years ago, we destroyed an unknown ship that came out of a vortex and acted aggressively, while a few years before that the Klingons engaged a ship tentatively identified as a heavy cruiser equivalent of unknown type before breaking off with heavy damage. The Klingons observed the unknown ship fire a number of what were assumed to be probes into the vortex and then hours later that ship reentered the vortex and was transported or destroyed. It is noteworthy that both of the observed intruders we have good data on are not of any known design, nor did they respond to standard hailing signals. And both were substantially different in design and weaponry from each other. It is presumed that they are from both very far away and from different and unknown empires.
"A collecting vortex may appear very similar, but instead of emitting captured mass from the termini, it will tend to draw into itself all matter within a certain phase boundary. One of our ships, the Hero of the Mountain, entered a vortex in Y96 and never returned. We have a report that a Romulan Warbird, the Crimson Mantle, entered a vortex and returned five weeks later with heavy damage; that was back in Y137. We do not have any further information on this. This collecting effect is known to gather up large amounts of mass and even to destroy planetary bodies. The largest example observed was a moonlet orbiting Gonnici 104, which was pretty much tidally ruptured and about 90% of the mass relocated to locations unknown.
"Finally, these vortexes often invert and change from one state to the other and move several million kilometers in less than a pico-second, so we will not be able to react once an inversion starts. Inversion means a collecting vortex becomes a discharge one and vice versa. I will download to the scanner and sensor team, as well as all science teams, the warning signs of an imminent inversion so we can be prepared. Usually there are warning signs, if you know what to be watching for, before an inversion so you can act before the inversion. The real problem is that when a vortex inverts, there is not necessarily any sign of the change for several minutes, until the flow of mass in the area becomes apparent or you have excellent sensor data already. It is theorized that this is what happened to the Hydran Hunter Hnngbf in Y144. The Hydrans are known, based on captured records, to have been monitoring a discharge vortex when their attending ship returned from a routine message relay and found the frigate gone and the vortex in the collecting phase. The Hnngbf never returned. We have similar, if less detailed, reports from the Federation and even from the Gorns under the scientific exchange protocols. We actually have less information from the Klingons, who consider vortexes to be some kind of military secret." Grnn'ita smiled at Technical Officer Kurq, which apparently made the man somewhat nervous.
"These vortexes have never been known to persist for more than 90 days before they disappeared, although there has to be some adjustment to that figure as no vortex has ever been observed arriving. It appears that they build or lose energy to a certain level and then move an unknown distance to a new location where they can hold boundary effect equilibrium. Since we have never found or had a report of a sequentially moved vortex, as you would expect if they only move a limited distance, it is presumed the movement is on the order of hundreds of parsecs or more."
"Thank you, Senior Lieutenant," said Thr'Uule. "Very well, team, let me have your input. Technical Officer Kurq, you're junior, so you're first."
The squat Klingon exchange officer stood. "I have a list of requirements from the team now aboard Shadow of the Hunter. We can expect 31 supercargo passengers including eighteen enlisted personnel, twelve officers, and a lieutenant commander with a special duty designation."
Thr'Uule emitted a low growl. Special duty officers came with their own set of complications.