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Centaur: Tales From the Deep Centaurus Expedition

Started by Planet of Hats, August 04, 2022, 11:35:52 PM

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Planet of Hats

This thread will serve as the master thread for narrative from the Deep Centaurus Expedition and the voyages of Captain Jadrys Itana of USS Copernicus. Its ongoing mission: To explore beyond the farthest human-charted stars of the Local Bubble and push deep into the constellations Centaurus and Lupus, to the Loop I Bubble.

Planet of Hats

STARDATE 99585.8

"It's an unusually broad-ranging subspace transmission," Lieutenant Al-Absi reported from the operations console with a look up. "It's covering standard frequency ranges for linguacode and friendship messages as well as several other non-subspace bands."

"Can we clean up the signal?" Shifting in her command chair, Jadrys Itana crossed one leg over the other and propped her chin on her knuckles.

"I think so." The ops officer tapped his console rapidly. "I've isolated the source. It's a small object about 300 million kilometres ahead, bearing three three one mark three four nine. Mass... no more than two tons."

"On screen."

The viewscreen flickered, the backdrop of the Therionic Drifts zooming in sharply to illuminate a spindly shape against the blue-tinged molecular clouds. A single long mechanical boom and two rectangular sail-like structures radiated out from a long hexagonal body with a trailing thruster assembly, capped by an enormous toroid with a gently pulsing deflector-like lens at its heart.

"A deep space probe," Lieutenant Commander Fox surmised from the science station. "Probably no more than low warp-capable."

"The signal's clearing up," Al-Absi put in.

"Let's hear it," Itana ordered.

With a chirp, the comm system kicked on, and a soft, filtered female voice carried through. "--to share the call of the Prime Mover. You seek it within yourself even without knowing. We are moved through the universe by so many things, but at the heart of our existence is a power that moves us all. The first force. Come, contemplate with us--"

"That is not what I expected when I heard 'linguacode and friendship messages,'" Fox murmured with a blink.

In the seat to Itana's right, Commander Quispe scratched at the edge of the remnant Borg plating below her right eye. "These messages are incomprehensible."

Itana smiled faintly and shook her head. "No, not quite. It's not a friendship probe. It's a preaching probe."

"A preaching probe?"

"Think about it. Someone built this probe specifically to broadcast a wide message of religious significance."

Quispe furrowed her brows subtly. "It seems like an inefficient use of resources."

"Not to the ones who built it," Itana pointed out as she rose from her chair. Stepping towards the viewer, she laid one hand on the back of Fox's chair and the other on the back of Ensign Maksymowicz's at the helm. "Let it broadcast. See if we can pinpoint its system of origin."

As the bridge moved into a ripple of regular activity, Itana looked back to find Quispe squinting at the probe, nonplussed. She smiled lopsidedly to herself.


We left orbit a few hours later. About half the crew had-

The door chime again sliced through Itana's latest effort to make progress into Captain Picard's memoirs. Sighing, she laid the book aside, then tugged the hem of her tank top perfunctorily down to the beltline of her uniform slacks and rose from her couch. "Come in," she called.

With a hiss, the doors admitted the still-uniformed Yma Quispe, crisp as ever and with a PADD in hand. "Captain. I'm sorry to interrupt-"

"No no, you're fine," Itana assured with a wave of one hand. "The report on the probe, I take it?"

"Yes sir." She offered up the PADD; Itana took it and glanced down, though she knew the basics were coming by mouth. Her Number One didn't disappoint. "As suspected, it's a low-warp probe. We rate its maximum speed as roughly warp three. Our age and trajectory estimates confirm what we downloaded from their computer system: Its point of origin is a sector deep inside the Loop 1 Bubble. We haven't been able to pin down a precise star system, but astrometrics is working on it now. We were able to identify the senders as representing something called the Pyscillian Hierocracy."

"A priestly form of government," Itana mused. "Interesting. That explains the probe's mission."

Yma furrowed her brows slightly. "The translation and transmission systems aboard are quite sophisticated. The Pyscillians put a surprising amount of development into delivering this message widely."

Itana smiled mutedly. "And that confuses you, Number One?"

Yma pursed her lips, glanced away, then back. "Permission to speak freely?"

"Of course."

"It seems deeply unreasonable," she admitted with a frown. "I don't understand why anyone would hear the probe's message and be persuaded. Their philosophies make no sense."

Itana stroked the PADD with the edge of her thumb, scrolling through. "I'm not sure they do," she mused, settling to the arm of her couch and crossing a leg over the other. "It sounds like this Prime Mover is a sort of divine personification of the first cause - something they interpret as a source of cosmic order. A lot of what's here is about self-discipline and inner peace. I can see how someone would take interest in that."

"It doesn't seem rational to me." Yma looked to the window, again scratching the edge of her ocular plate. "I'm not sure I see the connection between divinity and the origin of the universe. It's a scientific phenomenon. And even then, the leap to self-discipline and peace seems... odd."

Lowering the PADD to her thigh, Itana tilted her head and paused for a beat. She offered a mellow smile up to the first officer. "Yma," she asked, "did you have much of a religious background? Before--"

"--before I was assimilated," she finished the sentence, lowering her hand self-consciously. "No, I don't think so. We visited a church once or twice, for relatives' sake. But I don't remember my family being religious. It wasn't that important to me."

"For some people it's the most important thing," Itana explained, touching the chain of her own earring. "You don't have to be a person of faith, of course. But for a lot of people it's a source of meaning. Not irrationality, mind you - there are those who carry it too far. But I'm reminded of growing up on Bajor. My family is religious. A lot of Bajorans are."

Yma tilted her head. "That always confuses me."


"You're an accomplished scientist. I would have thought science and faith would be mutually incompatible."

"Not at all. If you boil it down to pure logic, of course the Prophets are just sufficiently advanced aliens living in a wormhole. But that doesn't mean they didn't have a profound impact on Bajor in ways that matter to me." Itana smiled wryly, before letting the expression fade as she leaned forward. "There are dangers to being so lost in faith that it blinds you to reason, of course. But I think there's more than that. Philosophy. Moral guidance, for some. Ethics. Culture. Of course these things can exist without faith, but we all find our way to them differently, and faith can be one of those paths. For a lot of Bajorans, faith has been important for a long time - it was something the Cardassians couldn't take from them during the Occupation. It's as much a symbol of culture and a celebration of history as it is anything else."

The Commander tilted her head, quizzical. In the moment of silence that followed, Itana let her smile return, pensive. "...If you want to understand a little more," she invited, "think a little about the part of Earth you came from. Read about history. You'll find that history and faith are pretty closely linked. Who knows? You might learn a thing or two."

Yma opened her mouth a little as if to protest, but cut off before managing a faint, slightly bemused smile of her own. "...I will try, sir."

"Perfect." She reached for her book again. "Keep me up-to-date on the probe study. Let me know what else you find."

Planet of Hats

"It's a microsingularity," Rena Fox reported from the forward science station, blinking. "The smallest one I've ever heard of."

For all that the gravitational heft of the singularity could be seen in the tracery it cut through the whorl of dense dust rotating around the little white A-type star, the source of the startlingly clean gap had eluded visuals even as the Copernicus drew closer. Only now, with the ship perched above the Herbig-star dust envelope, could the sensors fully illuminate the near-unseen source. Infinitesimally tiny, yet with a bloom of gravitational and neutrino effects rippling around it.

Itana leaned forward in wonder, weaving her hands together as interest bubbled within her. "Do you have a diameter?"

"No more than a millimetre." Rena looked back over her shoulder with a baffled blink. "This shouldn't be able to sustain itself in our plane of existence. A singularity that small ought to have dissipated by now. It just shouldn't have enough mass to exist for more than a short time."

"Confirmed," Lieutenant Telyn Vaxa chirped from one of the rear stations, astrometric displays illuminating her face. "But there's no sign of neutrino decay at all. Not only is it here, it's perfectly stable."

Itana glanced over at Commander Quispe to her right; the other woman frowned faintly, scratching at the edge of her ocular implant. "Can we narrow the sensor resolution further?"

"Not without getting closer," Fox chirped.

"Captain," the voice from Itana's left came. She blinked and shifted in her seat to where Counselor Sudet was sitting intently straight, brows furrowed and head raised as if searching for something.

"Counselor," Itana asked. "What are you feeling?"

The blonde Betazoid pursed her lips, squinting at the viewer a moment as if searching for something. "I'm... I'm not sure," she answered finally, voice quieter. "Only an impulse... like we've been noticed, somehow. But I can't place it."

Itana nodded, enthusiasm giving way to caution. As vague as Elyxia's impulses could be sometimes, her insight hadn't steered her wrong yet. "Something hostile?"

"I don't think so... it's hard to tell, though."

"If anything changes, let me know." The captain nodded slowly before gesturing towards Ensign Maksymowicz at the conn. "Bring us into range for a detailed scan, one quarter impulse. Tactical, be alert for any signs of trouble."

The viewer shifted slowly as the massive Copernicus began to glide forward over the slowly churning disc of debris. Moments passed as the crew buzzed over sensor stations, Itana herself checking a small screen on the arm of her seat. On the monitor, a few whisps of stellar dust breezed past.

The gasp from Elyxia came with little warning. The counselor reeled back in her seat, both hands shooting to her head.

"Counselor," Itana started; behind her, the ensign on tactical station began to boost past the station, reaching for a phaser, while Yma rose from the XO's chair to head for Elyxia's seat.

"It's okay," Elyxia cut in quickly, though the pinched ache in her voice betrayed that it wasn't. Wincing, she rubbed her temples before looking slowly up towards the screen. Her lips pressed tightly together, body tense and shaking subtly. "It just... hit me all at once. There's a very strong presence...."

Itana reached over to touch the arm of the counselor's seat. "From the singularity?"

"Yes... it's like a...." She hesitated before looking towards the screen, expression a mix of confusion and discomfort. "...Like a scream in my mind. Like one unending scream. It's just... frozen like that."

"Well, I should hope it is!" snapped a husky feminine voice Itana had never heard before. A jolt of surprise struck her as she snapped out of her seat. Heads across the bridge jerked up all at once.

Before anyone could so much as ask the obvious question, a flash pulsed through the bridge, concentrated in front of the viewscreen. Within a second the light faded to leave behind a slim feminine figure, apparently human, dark-haired and poured into a glittering black dress - and draped in a lounging posture across the console deck, cheek in her palm.

"Please do not disturb that one," the woman sighed with an indolent wave of her hand. "He's very disagreeable."

The duty officer darted halfway around the console even as Itana stepped forward, composed and with a hand moving to her hip. "Identify yourself," she demanded sharply.

The woman flicked a curl back diffidently and shrugged. "Please.

"You can call me Q."

Planet of Hats

"Dropping out of warp in five," Ensign Maksymowicz began the countdown.

Itana tensed and leaned forward in her seat, chin planted on her fist. Every jump out of warp had been the same in this sector. She drew a small breath and anticipated as the starlines receded from the viewscreen.

Predictably, the lights shifted to red and the red alert klaxon kicked in at the chirp of a sensor board. "Got them. Three inbound at transwarp factor 40," Lieutenant al-Absi clipped from the ops console. "Sending to tactical-"

"-Locked on fold signatures, firing," Lieutenant Cathalc responded almost automatically.

On the viewer, brilliant phaser streaks slashed out into the depths of space. Each shot terminated in a rippling explosion, like a rock hurled into a pond full of stars - first one, then a second, and a third so close that the Copernicus shook subtly. "Damage?" Itana prompted.

Cathalc tapped his panel a couple of times and shook his head. "Turbulence but no damage. That one came close."

"I'm getting sick of this." Itana pinched her nose ridges between thumb and forefinger. "Hail the launch stations and remind them that we are not in fact a proselytization fleet."

Commander Quispe looked over from the second seat, eyebrow arched. "Captain, do we anticipate a response this time?"

"There's always hope." Itana grimaced. Since exiting the Lupus Dark Clouds, Copernicus had been met at every stop with a barrage of two or three interplanetary glide missiles fired at high transwarp from across the sector. The elusive missiles had damaged the ship on the first attack, but they'd learned to spot the signs of their approach and fire quickly. Stopping them was another matter entirely: Trying to make contact with the launch source had prompted a brief dialogue with a computer system, proclaiming the entire region a "primitive society protection zone."

Getting the computer to distinguish the Copernicus as no threat to pre-warp civilizations was apparently too tall an order. So was getting the computer to put them through to a decision-maker. That meant dealing with automated missile attacks every time the ship dropped out of warp.

"Any luck with the traceback?" Itana turned to look back at Al-Absi, who frowned and picked at his console. The viewscreen jumped from a view of space to a grid projection, illuminating the sector.

"I think this one gave us enough data," the ops officer observed. "The missiles have obviously been masking their energy and physical signatures, but I've got a triangulation based on the Cochrane field deformations created by the glide vehicles they're using." Several bright lines blinked into view, forming rays across the map. "They all centre in this subsector. HD 139449, an F-type star system."

"What do we know about that system?"

From the science station, Lieutenant Commander Fox spoke up: "F5-type star. From what we caught from initial long-range scans, there's definitely indication of planetary masses. We didn't get a lot of detail, of course."

Itana knitted her brows before pushing out of her chair with a huff. "Someone in that star system needs a talking-to. Helm, set a course, warp seven." She waved her hand. "And let's see if we can't find some way to come out of warp without triggering another launch. I'm getting tired of playing shootdown."

Planet of Hats

"This is exciting, isn't it, sir?" Lieutenant Kshree chirped from across the transparisteel pane. "We're the first in the Federation to explore an entire pocket of the galaxy! You could fit the Federation in here six or eight times and it still wouldn't even begin to fill it out!"

Lieutenant Commander Rena Fox couldn't help smiling as she watched the astrometric projections come up on the illuminated pane between Cetacean Ops and Astrometrics. She'd had no experience working with cetacean crew before signing on with the Copernicus as Chief Science Officer. It reminded her, not unfondly, of playing with her kid brother back home - the same childlike curiosity, the same energy and creativity.

Not that Andre was a thousand-pound dolphin with flippers who also happened to be an expert astrogator. Maybe the parallel was ridiculous, she reflected.

"There's a lot of space to cover and no way we'll be able to cover it all with one expedition," Rena explained as projections of stars drifted across the panel, mirrored for the astrogation dolphin on the other side. "We have one system we know we need to hit, though." With a tap of a computer panel in front of her, she flagged a single star; it lit up a gentle yellow-orange on the display.

"The Tassh system. There's a lot of interesting space between us and there! It's more than fifty light years out and it looks like there are quite a few systems along the way that could have habitable planets." On the other side of the glass, Kshree rolled over onto his back and floated upside down in the water, tilting his body at a slight angle to fix one eye on the stars. Rena glanced away, all too aware of her involuntary smile.

If she noticed, it was inevitable Kshree would too. "I can float the other way if you'd rather, sir!"

"No no, Lieutenant. It's alright. You do you." It took an act of sheer will for Rena to suppress the smile.

"I actually find it helpful!" From the other side of the glass, the dolphin righted himself again.

"In perceiving space?" Rena surmised.

Kshree bobbed his rostrum briskly. "Everything floats, for lack of a better description. Obviously there's gravity, but the way things move through it is really individualized, you know? Every star finds its own way to float. It's like just riding a current. Some'll ride it faster than others."

Rena crossed her arms with a tilt of her head to the left, a curious smile showing through. "Do you mind if I ask you something, Lieutenant?"

"Oh, not at all, sir."

"Did you always think of space like that? I mean...." She paused a second, grasping for words. "...That is, what made you interested in going to space?"

"Well, I just thought it was pretty at first, sir," conceded the cetacean, bobbing upwards just enough for his blowhole to clear the top of the cetacean ops tank. "I remember always looking up at it when I was sleeping, or when we'd all go out and chase squid and I'd come up and see it. And it was pretty, of course. But I didn't think I could go there until I met people from Starfleet. They were doing marine work and such and we ran into them and we got to playing around and talking. You know, most people don't have a translator when we run into them. Starfleet people always do, so they could actually talk to me. That's kind of when I started thinking about space."

The science chief smiled faintly, fiddling with one of the cuffs of her uniform without fully realizing it. "You're the first dolphin I've talked to, if I'm being honest. If I've been putting my foot in my mouth around you all this time, don't hesitate to tell me."

"I don't think you have. I think most people have been wonderful." The translator couldn't quite parse Kshree bobbing his rostrum slightly and wagging his fins, but Rena took it as something akin to a shrug. "Any time I'm in a department on a ship, there's people who think we're cute or funny. I think that's fine. And I don't mind if people think of me that way. But you also let me help and it's obvious that everyone trusts me. That's the most important thing, right? I mean, you're not the first person who's smiled at me a lot and felt bad about it."

Rena coughed into one hand. "I think you have me at a slight disadvantage, Lieutenant."

"I didn't mean to! I meant it in a good way. What I'm trying to say is you've been very nice to me and you shouldn't worry too much about that stuff. If you enjoy working with me, then I'm glad."

"You're a peach, Lieutenant."

"I'm a dolphin! But thank you, sir."

In spite of herself, the science officer laughed and shook her head. "You're welcome. In any case, this system..."

Planet of Hats


The whisper infiltrated the veil of blessedly empty sightlessness that lay behind consciousness. Overstressed eyes could not open - to see things was too much. But Cassie Huynh could hear it. Feminine. Underlaid with something mechanical


Cassie Huynh could have placed the voice, were she truly conscious. The tiniest, most peripherally aware part of her mind focused on the sound.

On the image beginning to take form. A red spark.


That little sliver of consciousness seized as the red light slashed through her. Illuminated the lines of a face looming over her, the shadows of nightmare and pallor blunting familiarity. The eyes should have been a warm brown, the complexion no different. What she faced was pale, almost dessicated, and laced with the cancerously artificial.

The brilliant red laser of a Borg eyepiece slashed into Chief Engineer Cassie Huyhn's unconscious mind as the drone that should have been Commander Yma Quispe stared through the fog of terror and pain that had seized her. The voices rang out in her mind again. Hers, but in multiplicity.



Against the dark of space, the anomaly pulsed like a great gash, rippling in phantom shades of white and pink and fiery gold and hues that defied the visual spectrum. Shadowed against it like an ornament hung askew from some unseen tree, USS Copernicus floated, only the ovoid of her main deflector lit ever so faintly. The silent vacuum was all too deceiving. The silence of her darkened interior was a lie. Ears could not hear what they heard now.

The ruddy red of pulsing alert klaxons was all that illuminated the unconscious bodies of the crew, slumped where they lay.

All but three. On the bridge, a round-headed shape, hunched over a console. In Sickbay, photons giving shape to a figure monitoring two sets of readings.

And in the darkness of Engineering, a lone woman with three pips on her collar, bowed over a fallen officer - the long-forgotten injectors in the back of her wrist buried in the side of her neck.


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