One sandbox I'd dabbled in years ago was Star Trek, when DC had the license to do the comic book and I wrote a couple of fill-in issues. I was never a major ST fan; I watched the original run of the series in the 1960s and occasional reruns and you can count on two hands the number of episodes of later spin-off series and movies I've seen, and I had no Trek stories I was burning to tell. But my friend Keith DeCandido was editor of, among other things, an ebook series he had co-created with John Ordover for Pocket Books, Star Trek: Starfleet Corps of Engineers, about the engineers and crew of the da Vinci, and mnetioned he was buying. With some help from my friend and ST expert Bob Greenberger (I came up with an idea, he helped me "Trek" it up, pimped my plot Kirk-style, if you will; I myself would have no idea whatsoever what a "Dominion War" is).
What you need to know: the da Vinci is sent to clear some debris from a newly opened sector of space but, as with all things in fiction, even on this routine mission, something goes terribly wrong, but it all starts with a sudden downturn in everybody's luck.
STAR TREK S.C.E.: SARGASSO SECTOR
© Paramount Pictures
Patty hauled herself into the shuttlecraft’s co-pilot seat next to Soloman and, as it conformed itself to her insectoid body, buckled herself in.
“I have completed the checklist on the external sensor arrays,” she said. “Primary and back-up systems are running, all data-streams feeding to the da Vinci’s mainframe.”
“I’m ready here,” Soloman said, keying his communicator. “Shuttlecraft Franklin to shuttle control officer, we’re set for bay doors open.”
“Roger, Franklin,” came the reply. “Doors opening. Have a safe trip.”
Patty clicked and buzzed with excitement as Soloman piloted the shuttle through the force field that held the vacuum of space at bay. “Some of these ships,” she said, “are remarkable. One would need a lifetime to adequately investigate even a few of them.”
“And we have,” Soloman said with a glance at the time on the console, “less than ten hours to make a sweep of the first half dozen before they start blasting them to smithereens.”
The Franklin drifted from the bay and Soloman lit the thrusters. The da Vinci had settled into a stationary position less than a thousand kilometers from the edge of the debris field, a thin layer of wreckage and dismembered parts from countless vessels that swarmed around the conglomeration of derelict ships like the sargassum that covered the surface of the sector’s earthly namesake.
Patty clicked in regret. “Yes, it’s a pity,” she said. “Some will need to be destroyed to clear the way through the sector, but we’ll try to move those we safely can. Either way, we can’t risk doing anything to these ships until we’ve run an analysis on each and every one we propose to tamper with in order to determine the safety of such a move. At any rate, we’ve known from the start that our mission was to be as much about demolition as hard science.”
“I understand,” Soloman said, setting course for the closest of the derelict ships, a massive dark structure of many facets, an ill-defined smudge that blocked the stars. “A convoy of colonization ships are on course to pass right through the Sargasso Sector and the very conditions that hold these ships block any easy alternate route, preventing the convoy from altering course to go around the obstruction. But that doesn’t mean I have to like the situation. These ships are an invaluable scientific and cultural find. To destroy so many without proper study merely to clear the way for navigation...well, it just feels wrong.”
“I’m sure you won’t find any on board or in Starfleet who disagree with you,” Patty said. “But this colony’s been in the planning stages since the end of the Dominion War, almost two years ago. Those cargo ships are good for barely warp four for six or seven hours at a stretch. If they tried going around the Sargasso Sector, it would add nearly a year to the voyage, time their resources and changing conditions in their destination system don’t give them. Like it or not, they will be passing through this system in less than one month and there better be a clear path for them to take.”
The Bynar nodded and said, “Yes. We destroy them reluctantly.” He looked at Patty with sad eyes, “That doesn’t make them any less gone.”
“No,” Patty agreed and the two crewmates traveled several hundred klicks in silence. Finally, in an effort to lighten the mood, the Nasat said, “By the way, I enjoyed your jest on Tev. Last I saw him, his fringe was still ruffled trying to work out your theory on chance.”
“Well,” Soloman said modestly. “Sometimes it’s hard to resist the temptation to throw the stumbling block of confusion in his usually cocksure path.”
“A clever simplification that makes just enough sense to be irrefutable. Sensor arrays are coming on line now,” Patty said suddenly.
The view from the Franklin’s window was blocked by the looming blot of the black ship. Soloman deftly worked the controls. “Holding steady at optimum sensor range,” he said. “Scanning for a computer core. Yes, it is a simplification, but once I said it, I started to wonder if it was in fact nonsense.”
Patty cast Soloman a skeptical look. “I have many more legs than Tev. It is far more difficult to make me stumble.”
“No, I am serious. Take the example of a flat two-faced object, such as a Ferengi betting coin. Chance says that in any given set of tosses, the coin will come up heads or tails in statistically equal numbers. It’s either/or, therefore fifty-fifty.”
Patty said, “But that’s the case only in very simple systems. In the case of a poker game and the drawing of a specific card, there are not two choices involved, there are fifty-two, therefore increasing substantially the odds against drawing the necessary card.”
“Ah, but the choice isn’t between picking the hypothetical ace of diamonds against any other specific card in the deck. In any individual example of drawing a card, it comes down to yes, you will draw the ace, or no, you won’t draw the ace.”
Patty waved four of her eight legs at Soloman and turned her attention to her sensors. “I think you’re playing with me,” she said.
“Believe what you will,” Soloman said, but the Nasat was fairly certain she saw the whisper of a smile on his lips as he said it.
# # #
Commander Mor glasch Tev sat at the tactical station on the da Vinci’s bridge, looking as sharp as a Starfleet recruiting poster. Fabian Stevens wouldn’t swear to it, but from the way the Tellarite was briskly keying his way through the weapons system checklist and snapping out comments and commands to engineering, Tev just might have been having fun. The reason Stevens wouldn’t swear this to be fact was that he didn’t think he had ever seen Tev having fun before and therefore didn’t know that he would recognize the phenomenon were he to actually witness it.
Nonetheless, ten hours before the demo was scheduled to commence the commander was on station, checking systems that Fabian had, in fact, checked an hour earlier when coming on duty. And which would be checked again, later in the day, when the beta shift tact officer relieved him. If that wasn’t a party, what was?
“Everything in order, commander?” Stevens inquired.
“Seems to be,” Tev muttered, distracted by information he was studying on one of the displays. “Has the targeting analysis been completed yet?”
“Yes. We’ve located an isolated pocket of derelicts that appear to be inert where we can start. No life, energy, or radiation signals from any of them,” Stevens said. “Six of the ships were giving off anomalous readings, which is probably some sort of ambient energy signature, but we’ve sent Soloman and Patty aboard the Franklin to take a closer look before we commit.”
Tev nodded. He tapped the keypad, then nodded again at the targeting data scrolling across the screen.
“Odds are,” Stevens said, “they’ll check out just fine.”
Tev’s attention snapped from the console to Fabian. “What did you say, Mr. Stevens?”
Stevens said, “I said I’m sure the ships will check out fine.”
Tev narrowed his eyes. “Mm, yes.” Stevens allowed himself a quick grin as Tev turned his attention back to his work. Got’cha, the crewman thought, pleased with his little dig at the itch Soloman had planted in Tev’s mind.
“Targeting is programmed into the firing system,” Tev announced a few moments later. “I’ll send them to the active buffer as soon as Soloman and Tev clear those last six ships.”
“Do you want me to isolate this console to preserve your settings?” Stevens asked as the commander, his task completed, rose.
Tev pondered the suggestion for a moment. “Yes, why not?”
“Sure,” said Fabian, reclaiming his seat. “Doesn’t pay to take chances, does it?”
Stevens could feel Tev’s stare boring through his skull, heard the little rumble of a question caught deep in the Tellarite’s throat, but pretended as though he was unaware of either and went about his business.
Got’cha again, Fabian Stevens grinned to himself.