Chapter 1 - Episode 1, Scene 1 - Arrival

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Captain’s Log, LtCmdr Irina Xaiko, Commanding the Midnight Hunt (Special Assignment)

“Lt. Gafer Tarimm and I have been dispatched along with a small crew from the Wabi Sabi aboard the Arrow class runabout, USS Midnight Hunt, and assigned to investigate strange reports concerning a co-operative colony world, Vedme’Ovogo. Or should I say, a strange *lack* of any reports. It seems no communications have been sent or received for some time, prompting an automatic signal in the relay network to investigate for possible distress. As Vedme’Ovogo is a harsh desert planet and home to a monastic-like culture, it has been over five years since any supplies were ordered or received. There’s no telling what may have transpired in that time. It’s entirely likely they’ll ignore our communications when we arrive, but at the very least we can confirm their life signals and put everyone’s minds at ease back at command. If it’s at all possible, I’d prefer to take a landing party and get a more complete assessment. Personally, I think it would be enlightening to observe the present course of the society, as it has been generations since the colony was founded in the 2380’s, by diverse races from within Klingon borders interested in avoiding interstellar warfare, their own worlds being heavily oppressed by Klingon war supply demands. As I understand it, the primary demographics of the settlers at the time were Orion, Flaxian, and Caitian, but there were reports of Gorn defectors as well. The Federation extended settlement rights under sanctuary clause, and agreed not to interfere. It’s been unclear if checking in on them with a starship might be considered interfering, so a runabout might seem a little less intrusive… We can hope.

We will be in orbit shortly.”

Aafer sat in the co-pilot’s seat, while the pilot didn’t need him there but it was the second best seat in the house and so he had pulled rank and taken the station for himself. He had been running scans of their destination trying to get some up to date readings of what could be causing the communications black out. So far he had only managed to discover that there was a lot of interference from some volcanic eruption, the amounts strongly suggested that several large eruptions or maybe a Super Volcano. While he was a Medical Officer his interests were wide, he did check with the away teams science officer, they had agreed with his assessment. Their sensors were state of the art but limited in number and available power thus making it difficult to get a clear picture of what was happening.

He spent a few minutes trying to redirect enough power to the sensors, without Commander Xaiko or the engineer noticing but there just wasn’t enough and drawing any from anywhere else would just compromise those systems. He gave up on that and instead tried to refine the resolution instead. With his tongue between his teeth in concentration he rotated the display dials in an effort to get a better picture; he was getting frustrated with the computer as it kept trying to ‘help’ him and only managed to undo any progress he had managed, he had to spend precious seconds disabling auto correct features before he could get back to work.

However, even after an hour’s work and several light years closer the best he could get was that the likelihood was that only one volcano had erupted and that the atmosphere was indeed highly charged, the result of the rocks particles passage through the air at high speeds.

He sighs very dramatically and leaned back in his chair, hands laced behind his head.

Xaiko watched the front viewer as the pilot, Cadet Zoe Pride brought the Midnight Hunt out of warp and vectored the shuttle towards the planet. She was a first year cadet, and that might have made some nervous, but Zoe had been flying just about everything she could climb into since she was able to see over the control board and began Academy ahead of most of her classmates in her field. Xaiko appreciated the opportunity to train with new Cadets, and selected Zoe for the mission, as it seemed ashame to let her spend her vacation from academy running holodeck drills and following around the craft maintenance crew handing them hydro-spanners. Besides, she was the daughter of the highly decorated Ezekiel Pride, and even though she hadn’t been raised by him, the word was she had it in her blood.

“Any signals, Mr. Tarimm?” Xaiko asked hopefully.

Gaffer spun around, not bothering to sit up and shook his head. “Nope” he said then added “There is a bunch of interference in the upper atmosphere that is making communications damn near impossible, I would say nothing short of a powerful directed signal would get through.”

Xaiko tapped a stylus against her cheek. There was the standard procedure to consider. “Well. Let’s try it anyway. Just to say we did. Hail the surface.”

He guessed this was his job, being as he sat in that chair. He resisted the urge to sigh as he sat up and leaned into try and open communications, he cycled through a few dozen frequencies and pulled power from the sensors to see if he could punch through all that interference.

“All I am getting is the standard response and that coming from the orbital buoy rather than the surface!”

“Is there any active relay from the buoy? Can we check a record of atmospheric conditions? Maybe determine when the interference began.”

“Hum” he muttered. He hadn’t considered that, but then he was a doctor not an engineer. He smiled at the reference. Redirecting power… again he made a firmer connection with the Buoy and probed its computers and database. “Seems there is no active link, but the sensors indicate communications were cut off around the same time the interference started.”

He spun around to face the commander “And that happened due to a massive volcanic eruption, our simulations show that that happened about 5 years ago and is, to some extent still ongoing now. My guess would be that with their technology they would be able to survive such an event but it would be a major adaptation for them and their culture.”

From the science station, Xaiko could already see there wasn’t much chance of cutting through the interference to read any life signs from orbit. Transporting below was clearly not an option either. She turned over her shoulder to the Cadet manning tactical, “Mr. Braedon, please configure the shields to withstand the electrical readings in the atmosphere.”

Xaiko couldn’t be sure but the pilot seemed to sit up straighter and look alive with the idea that she was about to be directed to fly into the storm below.

Cadet Braedon worked as quickly as he could, he made several mistakes but was pleased with himself that he was able to correct them by himself and without needing any help. He had trained on this only last month, meaning that it was all still fresh in his mind. He angled the shields to help with the lift properties of the runabout and then configured them so any lightning strikes would in fact be absorbed and rerouted back into the shields.

“Done Ma’am” he said.

Xaiko looked over the changes as they were made, and although it wasn’t her specific area of focus, she could see that the Cadet had intuited what would be necessary, beyond just setting the shields to manage electrical current and static conditions. “I see you’ve taken not just harmonic properties, but geometric ones into account as well. Very good Mr. Braedon. Lieutenant Tarimm,” Xaiko looked back to the doctor.”Please inform the Wabi Sabi of the situation. Let them know we are going surface side for more information, and that an evacuation may be required.” 

Tarimm nodded and sent the standard package, it included all their most recent sensor readings, position and ships status in a burst transmission. After getting a receipt that said all had gone as expected her turned back “Done”

“Ms. Pride,” Xaiko noticed the Cadet was already selecting an entry vector, perhaps getting a little ahead of herself, but still waiting for the order. It was like a young pilot to be a bit over eager. “Take us into the atmosphere on the outskirts of the original settlement coordinates.”

Zoe banked into the planned vector and leveled off, trimming a decent angle and for the correct heading. Takeoff and landing were notoriously the most involved aspects of flight, and apart from asteroid dodging or battle tactics, most of the rest of the job on more routine runs was often handled by an auto pilot. Seeing the crystal clear stars fade in the planet’s upper atmosphere and trading the serene view for the scene of actively broiling cloudscape below brought a grin to her face. She was hardly phased as the display overlaid all of the information she needed for their altitude and approach, making the obstruction of the view essentially meaningless as long as she had the computer calculations to follow. 

There was a great deal of wind buffeting the Midnight Hunt, although rain itself was fine and mist-like. It was a desert planet after all. There were flashes that lit up the display, forcing the viewer’s automatic photosensitive display to compensate and keep them from being blinded. The ride became rougher fast, the clouds were composed of a great deal of dust and even debris. None of that would make much difference with the shields. Yet,there was a very surprising *thunk* against the starboard side and an obnoxious alarm went up flashing rapidly. 

“What the hell?” Zoe said accusingly, aimed towards her tactical compatriot.

Jeram’s eyes were wide open as he checked his readings. Everything was jumping around as the display failed and flickered. “I” he started to say “I think we were hit by a chunk of rock” he said, “It’s not clear and nothing on my sensors indicates how it got through our shields, as far as i can tell they are still at full strength”

Cadet Lagek’s lisping voice hissed from the back stations “Our ssshields are ssstill working” he said “But sssomething got through them.” He worked through the sensor readings and the feedback data to find an answer. “Ah” he frowned, “It appears our shields are vulnerable to objects with a mass of 7.2kg” he cocked his head, “7.2kilograms and ssstandard gravity at any rate”

aiko frowned as she gripped her armrests during the turbulence.  “That is a very odd quirk of the shielding. Please make a note in the operation log and accommodate to—”

She didn’t get to complete the order before a deafening peel of thunder downed her out, the shading on the viewer outstripped by the wash of lightning that ran through the ship’s shields.

When their retinas adjusted, all the display boards had blacked out.

“Navigations gone!” Zoe exclaimed, pulling and pushing every mechanical back up slide on the top of the board to try to get a response. “Engine control is offline!”

Xaiko snapped quickly snapped her harness on. “Engineering! Get us computers back! Everyone brace!” 

There was no telling how fast the ground was coming at them now.