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DL | USS Campbeltown | "Preparations, Pt. 4"

Posted on Fri Feb 5th, 2021 @ 9:56pm by Commander James Stacker

Mission: A Distant Thunder
Location: Unknown Location
Timeline: SD 242102.05

The star system was the perfect candidate. In the grand scheme of galactic affairs, it was a youngster at barely a half-million years. It had never been fought over, squabbled over, nor raised by statesmen over interstellar communications nor discussed over conference tables. Intergalactic atlases held no special prominence or view towards the place. It was just another dot of light on the star charts.

Its permanent residents constituted the eclectic collection that one might expect to find in such an unremarkable place. Two titans in the form of gas giants that stood like sentinels over the system. A collection of moons dragged into their orbits. A scorching-hot ball of rock that was being forever baked by the sun. A comet that liked to periodically visit the inner planets before streaking back into the outer system, as if scalded and suddenly reminded why it disdained the inner system.

The only world of note was a frozen ball of ice that hid liquid oceans beneath. A brief stir, in the scientific community, had occurred regarding it over 60 years before. This had been a consequence (perhaps predictable) of the discovery of microbial life clustered in proximity to geothermal vents in deep oceanic regions. Scientists aboard an orbiting ship had determined that in another half-million years - assuming no eventful disturbances to the course of evolution - this might even amount to something.

The architects of the discovery had also been among the last visitors to the system. Their means of arrival had been a ship from the then-distant United Federation of Planets, whose borders nominally stopped somewhere short of the Cheydinhall Sector. The vessel that brought them here had been an Excelsior-class ship still considered youthful by the standards of the era. In her later years, she would go on to play a minor, if ignominious, role in an attempted coup d’etat by a Federation flag officer.

But sixty years ago, relegated to unheralded and rather routine survey and charting duties, the ship had been dispatched to far-flung systems in search of suitable locations for a possible new fueling station. It was debatable whether such a station might be established. When the orders had been drafted and sent, there were several contenders for the location and an equal amount of debate over where the need even existed.

In later years it would be agreed that yes, such a need existed. Number six on the list of suitable locations would eventually become the selection.

After the lady in question had completed her duties, she had left in the manner customary to most departing starships: a flare of light from warp engines and a streak of light, followed by a larger eruption of light where the vessel crossed the warp threshold. Therein had ended a visit of fifteen days. The star system didn’t care, though: it was a star system. Radiation and orbital mechanics went on.

The system’s second artificial visitor was far more interesting than the first. She arrived sixty-three years, seven months, and twenty-one days after departure of the first.

Had the system cared a whit about the visitor it might have bent a more critical eye upon the interloper, for this one was far different from the first. She was younger than her predecessor and designed in a different style. The older ship - now long since retired - had been curves, and majestic grace, and visibility. This newcomer had a harder edge. Gone were the curves, replaced with straight edges and angular corners. Low-observability plating along her hull soaked up all light that encountered it.

Even her engines were different. Whereas the older ship had displayed proper amounts of blues and reds, the newcomer barely showed anything at all. Only muted glows of reds accompanied the blinking of automated running lights, soon extinguished. Even her mere arrival had been different. One moment she hadn’t been there. The next a series of stars had found their view occluded by a ship in the way of stellar light. They had promptly taken to expressing their displeasure through beating on shields and armor.

The newcomer had a different style and method, too. Where her predecessor had immediately moved and swept into a new course that headed for the closest astronomical body of note, the newcomer sat still and quiet like a huntress. Electronic emissions - already of exceptionally low variety, even measured against the standards of other starships - diminished yet further even as she reached out. A trio of high-resolution passive sensors turned their gaze onto the inner system, in search of anything denoting another artificial presence. A ship. A colony. Warning buoys. There was all manner of possible things to consider, and not all of them were welcome.

This inspection was not just limited to the trio. More sensor pallets lined her flanks, bow, and stern, and they too joined in this detailed and methodical grid search. Everything was charted. Mapped. Compared to past notes of scientists and officers both living and long dead. Electronic data files were ripped open and perused by the computers, then closed and packed away again.

It took time to complete this due to the exceptionally high level of fidelity demanded. Had the ship been gifted with speech it might have even protested at the way the detection gain levels were repeatedly increased on the sensors. To the point that even stray space dust was being analyzed.

The system is uninhabited and unoccupied the weary ship was finally able to report to those in the best position to make use of this information. A pause occurred while this information was digested. In the time measured by the computers it took an eternity for a new commandment to be handed down. In the span of life as measured by carbon-based lifeforms it did not take long at all.

Forward came the command. The ship obliged, although there were only two ways to know this from the perspective of the system. The first was the subtle increase in light from the impulse engines. The second was the disappearance of stars behind the bulk of the intruder, even as old stars popped back into sight.

Slowly the nose of the ship turned to the mad sentinel looming like a guardian over this quadrant of the system. Like an ancient being, fallen to madness, it pierced the void with wordless and electronic howling and shrieking that dominated all frequencies known to the ship. Angry storms churned the clouds and screaming winds ripped at and roiled the skies.

Yet approach the ship did, like the old knight closing to do battle with the monster. Where the man on foot with clanking armor would have thrown up a shield out of prudence and caution, his 25th century counterpart deployed her own shield. Wary sensors were closed down to protect them. Others, more resilient, took their place from shrouded compartments, studying the beast. Silently measuring its intensity and gauging the threat.

In the end the ship did not go where others feared to tread. Slowly the titan fell off the bow, slipping to one side as the nose of the ship turned in a different direction, slipping past the ancient mad god in search of something more palatable. This work was, once more, carried out by sensors who listened but did not look. To radiate was to broadcast one’s presence. And this ship did not want to advertise its presence.

The Second Search did not last the length of the first. From out behind the giant popped an asteroid that had seen better days. One side was shrouded in perpetual darkness, and the other lit brilliantly with light from the distant sun. Towering mountains and low valleys ran across its surface in testament to the tens of thousands of years of being a target for every two-bit asteroid and comet fragment that had come scouring across its surface as if part of a galactic shooting range.

A deep canyon that scarred the landscape would do nicely, it was decided. The ship swept in low, lower, steaming over the mountain range as her approach changed from the meteoric hurtling of powerful engines to the steady and progressive nature of a lady in her prime. Spotlights flicked on to probe the canyon’s depths, exposing rocks normally darkened to the skies and kept hidden away from the heavens.

The shining lights moved quickly and efficiently, then snapped off as the ship lowered herself and turned sideways before sliding out of sight. Landing gear untucked from hidden compartments and extended on struts in the moments leading up to contact, as one might expect. In the aftermath came the shifting of struts and hydraulic assemblies that flexed under sudden weight, before re-extending. And then the ship was at rest.

One piece had arrived. One more was yet to come.

=/\= End Log =/\=

USS Campbeltown
Location Unknown


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