Chapter 4: Enhancing the Scanners

“It does appear to be th’ case,” Stephanie agreed. It meant that they needed to share the information, though. “Commander Elin needs to know aboot this.”
“Indeed,” P’Lor added. “Commander Elin, report to-“
“Nae! Senior officers are invited, not summoned,” Steffi commanded. “Davis-Muir to Commander Elin. Your presence is requested in Main Engineering at your earliest convenience.” She was not going to have a department that forgot its manners, after all!
After several weeks of team building and efficiency reviews, Briar found her department running smoothly without much need to sit on them. The senior NCOs of the department were highly capable and she found herself content to rely on them. The confidence she lent seemed to bolster their authority and harmonize with their activities fairly well. She found most of the time a simple “what do you think?” reflected back on anyone coming to her with an issue led to decent resolutions.
Aside from the challenges of training some of the younger officers, the regular briefings to prepare and attend, and the execution of her own bridge duties, she was left with more time to ‘ponder and wander’ as her brother had always called it when she’d gone out in the woods surrounding their home for the day. He’d sometimes accused her of being no fun to play with, as she’d tended to fall quiet and lose sense of time and place while he was more interested in his inventive games. But Jerod had taken turns with her, sometimes letting his younger sister lead the way on her secret paths, other times flicking acorns at her until she was upset enough to retaliate.
Today she found herself pondering and wandering in astrometrics, stationed in the background as the specialists in the room were processing and computer modeling. When the request from engineering reached her, she had answered simply that she would be there momentarily and took her leave of astrometrics by logging out of her support station where she’d only been in observation mode.
She didn’t bother with the hurry of the built in internal transporters designed to spirit everyone from one end of the Hiroshima to the other, instead choosing another walking route to the Engine room. Walking gave her head some space, sometimes to think or to just reflect, as she was feeling on that particular stretch.
The atmosphere in engineering was distinctly different from astrometrics. For one, the lighting was bright and the collaboration between crew wasn’t so reverently hushed, contrasting the way a darkened room seemed to demand whispering. Briar spied the Engineer who had summoned her easily enough thanks in part to her head of russet red curls. Seeing as she seemed absorbed in something at the Engineering table, Briar waited a moment and tried to decipher the display before gently clearing her throat so as not to spook anyone unintentionally…
“…No, it isn’t,” Ensign Wilks refuted, hardly aware that their visitor had arrived.
Ensign P’Lor didn’t bother explaining Wilks’ lack of comprehension, as logic would have her utilize her time more effectively. Instead, she lifted an eyebrow even as she deadpanned, clearly informing those present that her colleague was, again, incorrect.
“We’ll table tha’,” Steffi suggested, as she didn’t wish for a row in front of an audience. “Good evening, Commander,” she greeted, even as the best behaved of the three ensigns decided to break protocol.
“Commander! It’s so nice to see you, ma’am,” Ensign “Joe” Park all but exclaimed. He’d made no secret as to who was the most interesting and attractive woman on the ship, and wanted to make an impression. After all, Lieutenant Commander Elin was not often seen in Main Engineering, so he had to seize what few opportunities he could.
“Mr. Park.” Briar took a moment to appreciate how… junior several of their engineers were, not least of all, the woman who had been filling the much needed role as chief. She was becoming accustomed to conferring with Davies-Muir the last few missions and would be loath to see her station ‘properly’ filled. It struck her as possible that the job had remained with Davies-Muir because Evan felt somewhat the same— more interested in letting the young engineer get her chops than insisting on an urgent replacement for her.  With a Vesta class ship under them, she did have to wonder if it was an advantage having young new minds on a new project. Her recent return to Academy to change track and get up to speed had certainly put her through her paces and made her appreciate the younger crop of graduates whom she had studied alongside.
She offered her warmest smile to the Vulcan. She couldn’t help it. With their stoic indifference, they just always looked like they needed to be told to have a nice day. “Ensign P’Lor.” As Briar took up a place alongside them at the display, she reached back in her memory of the Engineering department’s manifest and came up with the other’s name.  “Ensign Wilks.” And then settled her attention back to their department head. “What have you got for me?”
“Well we-“
Steffi gave her besotted Warp Systems Specialist a gentle nudge. “We happened upon a bit of serendipity,” she explained. “As you probably saw in the Daily Status Report,” which she sincerely believed the OPSO had merely browsed, as a bit of electronic noise was hardly a blip on the proverbial radar screen. “We experienced slight amounts of what looked like static in the Quantum Lens.” After all, it would hardly be the first time a new system developed internal noise.
“Hardly anything you can’t account for, I’m sure?” Briar said lightly, but being unsure what part of general background static would be serendipitous, she tilted her head curiously.
P’Lor could not allow her eyes to roll, much as her inner self appeared to want to. LCDR Elin wore gold, but her background was of the imprecise (counseling), and non-technical (medical) fields. By position, she was probably due an explanation, yet the majority would likely go above the woman’s head. It would have been far more logical, and efficient, to bypass Operations, and brief the Captain directly on the matter, with the added benefit of preventing ENS Park’s swooning.
“But I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just noise,” ENS Wilks interjected. Unable to curb his own enthusiasm, he often thought better of such injections when the cat had already leapt out of the bag. Taking a breath, he fiddled, and hoped LTJG Davies-Muir would continue to be understanding.
Not fully understanding others’ need to get credit for their part, Steffi acknowledged, “He did,” but left the self-aggrandizing at that. “And we discovered a periodic nature to the noise spikes.” Which was merely the first step.
“Okay…” Briar’s lips pursed and twisted as she looked at the graph representing the readings on display. Periodic repeated patterns were fairly common in nature- hence why telling the time by star motion was often reliable so far as the accuracy of the stellar model. But looking at the graph of the pattern she felt uncertain it was natural. It reminded her of some complex forms of comms array booster signals. “Don’t we only see this in artificial sources?”
Sensing the door had been opened wide, P’Lor was quick to correct the obvious error. “That is not entirely correct, Commander,” she droned, all the while, her Vulcan discipline fighting the urge to be pleased with herself. “Quantum anomalies exhibit less variability than fine-tuned artificial sources,” which should have been obvious to the woman at the outset.
Briar regarded the vulcan, her brows knit in thought to recall her lessons in quantum physics. “I see.”
Trying to keep from becoming too frustrated with her team, Stephanie stated, “Perhaps it would be best if I provide the summary to the Commander.” Otherwise, this would degrade into a competition to flaunt personal knowledge, and to gain proverbial points in a contest that she wasn’t interested in encouraging. “Unless she directs a specific question.” It was as close to a dressing down as she cared to go, especially when she was already embarrassed.
Grimacing a bit, she was a little encouraged by LCDR Elin’s patient demeanor. Nevertheless, she was a tad flustered, so her accent peeped into her words a bit more than she usually let on. “Any-hoo, th’ chatter is, in fact, due t’ quantum phenomena, consistent with fusion reactions en juvenile stellar activity.”
The Ops Chief crossed her arms as the display cycled through the graphs and models. She might have had limited knowledge on quantum phenomena, but what she did know was how to tune a sensor array. “Well, one thing’s for sure, this data isn’t going to compile any more resolutely without dedicated quantum sensors.”
“Precisely,” Stephanie agreed, hoping that P’Lor would hold her tongue on the matter for just once. Not that any terminology came to mind, but she was certain that the Vulcan had a better way to name and describe what they were discussing. “What I dinnae ken is if th’ ship’s sensors can make heads or tails o’ the data…”
“Not as a science package, but…” Briar brought up the specs on the navigational system and then looked at Davies-Muir, knowing she would see where she was going with this.
“We could translate it! Yes!” David Wilks had reached the end of his forced silence, and was too excited about the possibilities. “I mean, we could simply borrow the code used for the planar arrays… Should be doable.”
“A rather trivial exercise,” P’Lor added, for Wilks was getting a bit too emotional for her tastes.
Briar smiled with affirmation. “Maybe not the intended use, but a happy additional feature allowing for an entirely new spectrum of analysis.”
Nodding, Steffi advised her, “Don’ expect t’ scan th’ whole nursery. Th’ beam is wee… Narrow, I mean t’ say.”
“True. We’ll have to pick what we’d like to scan and direct the navigational sensors accordingly. That is the trade off.” Briar rocked on her heels and looked at the band of engineers, knowing she was about to give them something to keep them up at night at the project board. “Until someone invents another way to align the nav deflector for this application.”
“But think o’ what we might learn,” Stephanie reflected. At the very least, they’d get more insight into how the infantile stars were progressing, and what made them tick in their novice states.
“In the meantime,” Briar said, “I’ll have my teams coordinate with yours on the systems changes necessary to derive the data we can gather via narrow beam quantum lensing.”
Smiling, Steffi assured her, “We’re lookin’ forward tae the opportunity.” At least, she was, so, by extension, the department was. She truly believed in team forming, and was eager to have more chances to make it happen.
Joint Post
LCDR Briar Elin and LTJG Stephanie Davis-Muir (NPC by Hanmore)