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USS Caelestis
88 Years Earlier
Beta Quadrant, Milky Way Galaxy

Marshall Abrahamson allowed himself to sag against the wall of the turbolift, utterly exhausted. He’d used his command override to ensure there would be no other stops on the way to the bridge, for fear of another crewmember finding him slouching against the side of the ‘lift like a petulant school boy.

The persistent nightmares had recurred last night, waking him repeatedly to the point he doubted if he’d got much more than an hour and a half of actual sleep. Precious little of the rest he did get was of the critical REM-sleep variety.

Neither the somnetic-inducer nor the sedatives Dr. Müller had prescribed him had worked to any significant degree, and it almost seemed the night-terrors had increased in vividness to counter the use of these sleep aids.

He straightened and tugged at his uniform jacket to straighten it, determined to put on his best face, even if that face included puffy, darkened saddlebags under his bloodshot eyes.

The doors parted and Abrahamson stepped onto the bridge. Despite his own fatigue, it was impossible to miss the lethargy evidenced by the crew, most especially his senior staff. He knew from Dr. Müller that dozens of others among Caelestis’ compliment had complained of similar symptoms. Officers and enlisted personnel stared listlessly at their stations, with more than one even doing the occasional head-bob of someone repeatedly dozing off at their post.

Lt. Commander Corata, his Deltan Executive Officer, rose slowly from the command chair, handing over a padd containing updates on the events of Gamma Watch. Her typically bright and bubbly disposition was clouded with… something. Not weariness, precisely, but she did not seem her usual buoyant self.

“More of that sporadic subspace radio traffic, Captain,” Corata advised, surrendering the chair to the ship’s master.

Abrahamson remained standing, scrolling through the overnight activity log as he nodded soberly. “Any more luck with the UT?”

“None yet, sir. Lieutenant Fakhoury advises that we’ll need substantially more unbroken comms activity from the source before the translation-matrix will be able to begin formulating a vocabulary pattern.”

Abrahamson glanced around for a brief moment and then gestured with the padd to the doors of his ready room, a welcome addition of the ship’s latest refit.

Once inside, Abrahamson fixed a concerned expression on Corata. “I had another bad night, Commander, and unless I miss my guess, most of the senior staff is in the same condition.”

“Yes, sir,” she affirmed. “It’s bad. As your people are fond of saying, there’s no sense in sugar-coating it.”

“No,” he murmured listlessly. “I suppose not.”

“Captain, have we given any thought to the possibility that it’s something to do with this region of space? Starfleet has seen such things before. There’s precedent for energy fields generated by all manner of phenomena that can interfere with humanoid brain activity.”

Abrahamson shrugged in response, tossing the padd onto his desk top with a clatter. “Mister Satel has been running scans for the past four days on anything and everything that may appear out of the ordinary from an emissions perspective. Thus far, he’s not found a damn thing. Meanwhile, Dr. Müller has been monitoring the neurotransmitter levels in the effected crew, and reports that it doesn’t appear as if we’re under the influence of any kind of detectable telepathic activity.”

Corata’s shoulders slumped and she appeared crestfallen. “Regardless, sir, perhaps it might be for the best if we turn around and head back the way we came?”

He moved around the desk and sank into his chair with all the grace of an anchor settling into mud. “We’re on the cusp of a First Contact here, Corata. We’re only eight weeks out of Frontier Station Laramie, the first manned vessel into this region. How will it look if we turn around now and head home with our tail between our legs because we were having ‘bad dreams?’ How’s that going to play with Commodore ʻŌpūnui? She’s already got it out for me after that dust-up with the Orions at Urat-Fal, and she’d just love an excuse to put me in hack!”

”That wasn’t our fault,” Corata argued. “They were running an arms smuggling operation under the guise of a diplomatic mission. How can ʻŌpūnui censure you for that?”

“You know that, and I know that. Hell, even the commodore knows that. Nonetheless, the Orion attaché whined to the Federation Council, who snapped at the Security Council, who barked at the C-I-C, who badgered Starfleet Command, which in turn rolled a dung-ball downhill onto ʻŌpūnui. Legitimate or not, our actions created a diplomatic incident and made her look bad.”

Corata made a graceful gesture with her hands, one Abrahamson long ago had come to accept as the Deltan version of a non-verbal sigh. “I understand, Captain. However, as XO, it’s my responsibility to notify you that whatever it is that’s infected the crew’s dreams, it’s now become problematic to the point that it’s affecting our readiness, and therefore the safety of the ship and crew.”

“Your advisement has been heard, Commander, on the record,” Abrahamson replied stolidly.

“My duty log will reflect that, sir,” she informed him.

“I have no doubt of that, Commander,” he answered tersely, still edgy from lack of sleep. “You are dismissed.”

“Aye, sir,” Corata acknowledged, her eyes lingering on Abrahamson for just a moment longer. From behind those Deltan eyes, Liana Ramirez drank in the experience of being a Starfleet officer once again, unencumbered by the sins of her past. She knew this wasn’t a dream, but whatever it was, it was certainly better than being restricted to guest quarters aboard Valhalla.

* * *​
Valhalla’s saucer-section remained outside the nebula with Izawa aboard, while the stardrive-section under Cybel’s command had entered the nebula to oversee the efforts to retrieve Caelestis’ crew from the clutches of nullspace.

The saucer had continued to monitor the ship’s dwindling network of comms-relays as they began dropping offline one by one, doubtless falling victim to scavengers desperate for whatever refined metals they could locate.

On the bridge, Raffaele glanced over his shoulder from the Ops station as an alert beeped at his console. “Commodore, we’re picking up a low-power subspace signal on a repeating cycle. It matches nothing in our admittedly limited LMC database, but it sounds like a distress call to me.”

“Let’s hear it, Lieutenant,” Izawa ordered.

The warbling cry sounded over the comms, a plaintive harmonic wail, distorted and nearly washed out at times by interference from a nearby pulsar.

“Source?” the commodore asked.

“Hard to pinpoint, sir, but it looks to be coming from somewhere in a star system some six-point-three light-years from our present location.”

Izawa considered this, then weighed the safety of his detached crew against a cry for help from the unknown. Ultimately, it was no contest. They were Starfleet.

“Ops, launch a message buoy to intercept the stardrive-section and inform them that we’re moving to investigate this distress call. We’ll also need a method of alerting them should we require assistance when we get there.”

From the engineering station, the engineer replied, “I could fashion a low profile stealth buoy that can remain on station here. Should we send it a call for help, it would move into the nebula to the stardrive-section’s coordinates and deliver our message.”

“Perfect, Chief, thank you.” Izawa looked to the ensign taking Beresha’s place at flight control. “Mister Silva, ETA to the source of that signal?”

“Two days, three hours and eight minutes at the saucer’s maximum speed of warp eight, sir.”

The Mark II Galaxy-class saucer section had warp nacelles built into the hull near the impulse engines, compact streamlined affairs that mirrored those of the Defiant-class. Due to their condensed nature, their top rated speed was only warp eight with no transwarp capability, but it remained a significant improvement on being limited to sub-light speeds.

“Very well, we should get underway then. Make all necessary preparations and then execute a course to that system.”

As the officers acknowledged their orders, Izawa stood slowly with the aid of his cane and moved with stately deliberation to his ready room. Once inside, he lowered himself gently into his chair behind the desk and called out, “York, please bring Captain Abrahamson to my ready room.”

Moments later his door chimed, and after he’d granted admission, Cybel walked in leading Abrahamson. The captain was now wearing a contemporary Starfleet uniform, though it was apparent he still wasn’t completely comfortable with the new look.

Izawa invited him to take a seat, then acknowledged Cybel with a nod. “Any updates, Commander?”

“Captain Ramirez has passed muster with both our Vulcan and Betazoid specialists, sir.”

Abrahamson quirked a curious eyebrow. “How many captains do you have aboard, Commodore?”

“It’s a growing collection to be sure, but at the moment you’re one of only two,” Izawa responded with good humor. To Cybel he said, “Let’s upgrade her accommodations to guest quarters with strict controls on her computer access and security personnel posted.”

“Aye, sir.”

Abrahamson’s curiosity was piqued, but this was not his ship and the matter was none of his concern.

“Thank you, York. That will be all.”

The holographic Cybel vanished, causing Abrahamson to start.

Izawa winced with sudden realization. “My apologies, Captain. That version of Commander Cybel is a holographic simulacrum. Her avatar is presently commanding the stardrive-section and overseeing our efforts to revive your crew.”

“Her… avatar?” Abrahamson was clearly lost.

“Has no one explained this?” Izawa was surprised, and a bit embarrassed. However, he realized that all this had become the norm for his crew, and as such, had likely slipped their minds.

“Cybel is an artificial life form. She exists both as the computer core of this ship, and also as a self-contained android.”

Abrahamson’s eyes widened as he drank this in. “Your exec is the ship’s computer, and an android?”


“Is this standard practice now?”

“No,” Izawa said with a smile. “This is the first time it has been allowed. The same restrictions that were in place in your day still exist to prevent something like the M-5 disaster from recurring. Cybel is a very special case, one worthy of bending those restrictions.”

Abrahamson nodded distractedly, seeming preoccupied by another matter. “Sir, speaking of my own time, if you’re able to free my crew and Caelestis, will we be given the opportunity to return to the 23rd century after we've arrived back in the Milky Way?”

The question caught Izawa off guard. “I’m not— how would you even go about that, Captain?”

“It’s been done before, sir. Warp-assisted slingshot around a medium-sized star. With precise enough calculations, we could return at nearly the instant we left.”

Izawa’s expression grew tight with empathy and regret in equal measures. “I’m so very sorry, Captain, but during the intervening decades the Federation has adopted a Temporal Prime Directive that prevents us from interfering with our timeline. Caelestis’ disappearance is an established historical fact, one that must remain so. Were you to return, you would now have knowledge of the future that could alter our history. In fact, your return to the past would create an entirely new timeline, sending ripples throughout history that could have significant unforeseen consequences.” He steepled his hands atop his desk, directing his most sympathetic expression towards the other man. “I’m afraid you and your people will have to make new lives for yourselves in the 24th century.”

“I… I see, sir.” Abrahamson struggled to maintain his composure, all the while twisting his wedding band on his finger in an unconscious gesture that was impossible for Izawa to miss.

“You’ve been meeting with our ship’s counselor, Captain?”

“Yes,” Abrahamson murmured thickly, his eyes glistening.

“I would like you to continue doing so. Such services will also be afforded your crew, should we prove able to revive them as well. I cannot imagine what this must be like for you, and you have my every sympathy. That said, it’s important that you know such events have happened before, other starships that have been temporally displaced. We have protocols for such eventualities, and I’m happy to report those personnel have gone on to lead active, productive lives in this century, many of them choosing to return to Starfleet service.”

“That’s good to hear,” Abrahamson answered numbly, staring off into space somewhere over Izawa’s shoulder for a long moment before pulling himself back from his reverie. “I’m sorry, Commodore. It’s just that it wasn’t real to me until this moment. I’d been holding out hope that we might return to the 23rd, and now that potential is beyond reach, I realize that I’ll never see my wife or children again.”

Izawa nodded somberly. “You have full access to our historical records, Captain. You can research what happened to your family after your disappearance. There is every possibility that your children may yet live. I myself was born only a year after Caelestis vanished. Perhaps that might give you some solace.”

“Yes, thank you, sir.” Abrahamson answered. He seemed on the cusp of saying something further, but appeared to change his mind. “If there’s nothing further, Commodore?”

“No, Captain. Thank you for meeting with me.”

* * *​

A little over two days later, Vallhalla’s saucer-section dropped out of warp at the far edge of the system where the distress call was believed to have originated.

The ship stood to yellow alert as the senior staff set about scanning the system for the source of the transmission.

Raffaele studied the sensor returns as he advised, “It’s an attack on a colony site from an orbiting vessel. I see signs of an orbital bombardment that wiped out the colony’s primary weapons array, and now it appears there’s a surface attack underway. Assault craft are debarking soldiers that are advancing on the colony’s outskirts.”

“Colony population?” Izawa asked.

“A little over fifty-seven thousand, sir,” Raffaele replied coolly.

“Are the aggressors and defenders of the same species?” Izawa inquired, ticking the well-worn boxes in his mental Prime Directive checklist.

“Negative, sir. The colonists are a quadrupedal species, roughly analogous to Terran horses with arm-like appenda—“

“Centaurs?” the ensign at flight control blurted, his amazement briefly short-circuiting his attendance to protocol. “They’re basically centaurs?”

Raffaele chuckled in response. “Yes, I suppose in a way they are.”

Izawa silenced Ensign Fournier with a withering look before turning his attention back to Raffele. Fournier apologized meekly as he blushed fiercely.

Picking up where he’d left off, Raffale offered, “The aggressors are a quasi-insectoid species, which come in assorted sizes. They have roughly humanoid-sized versions, and then larger ones, something like armored beetles the size of shuttlepods. With all their portable weaponry, the big ones are acting more like biological tanks than foot soldiers. Thankfully, their size seems to be limiting the number of troops they’re able to bring down on each transport sortie.”

“Has there been any detectable response to the colony’s distress signal?”

“No, sir. However, there are several satellites at the edge of the system that are consistent with the constituent materials of the aggressor warship. The satellites are generating a communications scrambling field that may be preventing the colony’s signal getting out to the coreward-relative sectors beyond here.”

“So they’re jamming the colony’s call for help in the most likely direction that help might come from?”

“Precisely, sir,” Raffaele confirmed.

“And yet they were unconcerned with the distress call broadcasting in our direction,” Izawa mused. “Any records of or references to either species in our LMC database?”

“No, sir.”

Izawa turned towards Ressessk. “Lieutenant, have Captain Ramirez escorted to the bridge, and get me a tactical workup on the aggressor ship.” He turned back to look at the science station along the starboard ramp leading to the upper level of the bridge. “Have the aggressors detected us yet?”

Lieutenant Chen-Oo-Vuu, a graceful cephalopodan Tel’ukian stood in for Maddox at the science station. Its tentacles, encased within a fluid filled environment sleeve danced across the console interface. Its translator module issued, “Negative, sir. We’ve approached with the Tarantula Nebula behind us. Its electromagnetic emissions are screening us from detection, as is the accretion disk at the system’s edge.”

“Very good,” Izawa assessed, limping back to sit in the command chair. “Helm, take us in at one-half impulse speed. Tactical, start warming up the weapons and defensive systems, but no formal activation until I give the order.”

“Asssesssment complete, sssir,” Ressessk alerted the commodore. “They are armed with low yield torpedoesss, much like the firssst generation photonic warheadsss we fielded in the 22nd sssentury. However, they are alssso armed with what looksss to be poorly copied Romulan disssruptor banksss. Their ssshieldsss are comparatively low powered. Given our defensssive capabilitiesss, the warssship is little threat to usss.”

Izawa stroked his closely cropped beard thoughtfully. “Again with the Romulan weapons systems. Their people appear to have made quite the impact on the LMC, at least from an armaments perspective.”

“It would seem Romulan guns are all the rage, sir,” Raffaele agreed enthusiastically.

Ramirez stepped onto the bridge, escorted by Cybel’s holographic form. The captain was dressed in a nondescript jumpsuit, bereft of rank insignia. Cybel led her down into the command area, offering her the smaller jump-seat off to the left-hand side of the captain’s chair as she took her place in the XO’s seat to his right.

“Ops, show us the aggressor warship,” Izawa instructed. An image of the angular, dark-colored vessel appeared on the viewer, bristling with weapons ports and drop-ship berths. The commodore gestured to the screen as he turned to Ramirez. “Do you recognize the vessel, Captain?”

Ramirez frowned in response, nodding slowly. “Yes. They’re Kan-Uut slavers. Something akin to this region’s version of 23rd century Orions. They typically attack lightly defended outlying settlements and take the inhabitants as forced laborers. Some they sell to other species, some they keep as their own slave labor force. They implant them with ‘motivator-rigs’, devices that override a being’s free will should they refuse to work as commanded.”

Izawa’s skin crawled with the injustice of the brazen attack, but he was far too experienced to lose his detached, professional composure. “Lieutenant Ressessk, begin preparing your security personnel for surface deployment. If they won’t leave at our request, we will attempt to incapacitate the Kan-Uut soldiers from orbit after disabling their ship. However, if there are any stragglers in too close a proximity to the colonists, we’ll need to intervene with ‘boots on the ground.’”

Cybel leaned in to whisper, “Sir, the saucer-section lacks the offensive capabilities of the full ship. I’d recommend recalling the stardrive by subspace. Once they’re clear of the nebula, they can be here in minutes via transwarp. “

Izawa turned to regard her. “That’s assuming their position within the nebula hasn’t changed. If the comms-buoy has difficulty locating the stardrive, we could be waiting hours or longer. Every minute we delay more of those colonists are killed or captured.”

“Technically, sir,” Cybel answered calmly, “this could be considered a Prime Directive situation. We’d be interfering in a pre-existing relationship between these two species.”

“Not applicable,” he countered. “They’re both warp capable space-faring peoples, and the colonists put out a distress call. They’re asking for help, and I can’t abide slavers.”

Cybel shrugged lightly, gracing him with a smile. “Devil’s advocate, sir. I’m as eager as you to put a stop to this.”

“Helm, increase speed to full impulse. Set an intercept course for the… “ he looked to Ramirez.

“Kan-Uut,” she provided helpfully.

“Thank you,” Izawa acknowledged. “Set an intercept course for the Kan-Uut ship and engage at full impulse. Red alert, shields up, activate phasers and torpedo systems.”

The alert klaxons wailed briefly as the status indicators shifted to pulsing red.

“Ops, hail them and tie in the Universal Translator.”

Raffaele made some adjustments on his console. “We’re patched in, Commodore, but I have no idea how complete our interpretation will be. Even with Commander Cybel’s new dedicated translation core, we’re still hit-and-miss with the LMC’s exotic linguistics.”

“If the translation is incomplete,” Izawa announced, “I’ll find other methods of communicating our intent.”

“Channel open, sir.”

“Kan-Uut vessel, this is the Federation starship Valhalla. You will immediately cease your attack on the inhabitants of the planet, or we will take steps to intervene.”

“That got their attention,” Raffaele noted. “They’ve increased sensor intensity and are actively scanning, looking for us.”

“I don’t intend to hide. Engage active targeting, Mister Ressessk.”

“Aye, sssir.”

“Kan-Uut vessel is now coming about to meet us head on, sir,” Raffaele advised. “They’re diverting power to their weapons and shields.”

“How long until we’re within their weapons range?”

“Seven minutes, Commodore.”

Izawa toggled the comms channel open from his armrest interface. “Kan-Uut vessel, we do not wish to engage in hostilities, but we will not allow you to prey on the colonists on the surface. Withdraw your ground forces and leave this system and we will allow you to depart in peace.”

Cybel cast an appraising glance at her mentor, having rarely seen him to be spoiling for a fight. He was the quintessential explorer-diplomat, a man utterly dedicated to upholding the Prime Directive. She leaned in towards him again, “Sir, is this about the capture of Ulysses and your internment on Stroellehm II?”

His nod was so slight anyone else might have missed it. In a quiet voice, tinged with an undercurrent of steel, Izawa replied, “Just so. Twenty months in that hell hole, watching friends and colleagues tortured and worked to death.”

“That was nearly fifty years ago, sir.”

“And I can recall every sight, smell, and sound like it were yesterday. I can still feel the weight of Gul Iseol’s boot on my neck.”

Cybel shifted into machine-time for a moment, so brief a time in the eyes of the humanoid crew that her inattention went unnoticed. She collated all the information from Europa and Caelestis’ logs, as well as in-depth interviews with Abrahamson conducted after his revival. “Sir, have you been dreaming about the camp on Stroellehm II recently?”

“Yes,” Izawa murmured.

“Commodore,” she continued in her hushed tone. “Do you think that those dreams may be affecting your reaction to this situation?

“Almost certainly,” he replied with icy conviction.

“Doesn’t that present a problem for you, sir?”

“Not at this moment, no.” He turned a serene gaze on her. “York, you know of my love of the Federation’s ideals and for the tenants of the Prime Directive. I’m sworn to uphold the honor of both. By our own laws and regulations, this situation allows us the latitude to intervene. I will not sit idly by while innocents are crushed under the slavers’ yolk.”

“Yes, sir,” she answered, falling silent.

"Say," Ramirez chirped from Izawa's left as she settled back into her seat, "I don't suppose you have any popcorn? I love a good fight."

* * *​  


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