Chapter 1: Cold Comfort
ON: Personal Quarters
Evan left the last of the files auto-scrolling, happy to be done with them. The hour was late – late enough for the night shift to be hours into their duties already – but, for the first time in a long while, it wasn’t intel reports, anomalous system feeds or new personnel files he’d been going through, but survey analyses, long-range probe scans and departmental reports. Quiet work, the sort of thing that didn’t trouble your sleep but did keep you up at night with its volume.
They had arrived in the stellar nursery at the heart of sector 12506 most of a week earlier. Basing themselves out of a star system with the uninspiring name “system H-Alpha-V” – he wondered if stellar cartographers ever dreamed about breaking with their naming scheme and tagging something “Shran’s Glacier” or “Dante’s Inferno” – the Hiroshima had been studying this region of space and its unusual properties. Deep space probes had passed through the area in the late 2370s and detected not only dark matter signatures embedded in what would eventually become the core of new stars, but also, and most intriguingly, faint traces of polaric ionisation.
That last had first been suspected to be the result of some sort of residue left behind by a civilisation that had foolishly never deduced that polaric ion energy was a guaranteed death sentence for any planet it was used on – Starfleet Intelligence hadn’t discounted the possibility that one of the signatories to the Polaric Test Ban Treaty trying to skirt around its restrictions by testing devices outside their own space and away from prying eyes – but later investigations had shown that polaric ion energy was naturally occurring in this region. So, a mission had been put together and the Hiroshima had been dispatched to see what could be learned.
It was interesting stuff. Evan wasn’t an astrophysicist, but he knew enough to feel a professional sense of excitement when their scans started throwing up new revelations. And it was a welcome distraction. He didn’t know whether being out here was doing him any good in the long rung, but the vast distance between this nebula and Starfleet did feel like a reprieve, and for that he was thankful.
It was not, however, conducive to getting a good night’s sleep, or keeping a clear head. He felt another headache coming on. He spent a few seconds putting pressure on various spots just above his forehead, then gave it up for useless. He needed sleep, and water.
He was returning from the replicator with a glass when a memory came back to him, of Briar massaging a part of his hand the last time he’d had a bad migraine. Where was it again? With a thumb, he pressed into the flesh between the thumb and index finger of his opposite hand.
He sat back down, this time facing away from his desk, and took in the nebula. It was wondrous. The dominant colour was blue – all shades of it, from near-white in the densest strands of gas to midnight where they touched the black of space. Dotted here and there were pinpricks of light – newborn stars, the oldest barely 100,000 years of age.
The hull impeded part of his view. He stood, happy to make his way closer to the windows and spend the next few minutes doing nothing except staring out at the nebula, when it occurred to him that there was a better option. “Computer, project an overlay of the external view on the wall in front of me,” he said.
The wall vanished. Even his bed, itself a hard light creation, disappeared, followed quickly by the floor, ceiling and side walls until there was nothing between Evan and the nebula. He stayed there for some time, standing quietly in the cold birthplace of stars.
Capt. Evan Yearling