Down the Rabbit Hole...
Episode One: Back on the Highway to Hell
Location: Bridge, USS Arizona
Timeline: MD 3: 1200 hours
The USS Arizona slipped out of warp within the confines of the Epsilon Iradni Four Seven One star system, well inside the warning beacon perimeter. The ship’s presence had not gone unnoticed by the half-dozen listening posts aimed at the planetary system, though their visit was expected. Had the ship not been scheduled to be in that system in the first place, several vessels placed on permanent patrol in the region would have broken off their other duties and made chase already. Such did not occur. The only thing that greeted the Arizona within the small planetary cluster was the hulking Iconian portal orbiting the massive gas giant that dominated the cluster of worlds.
As the ship slowed to a near stop, Captain Nathan Cowell drummed the arm rest of his chair apprehensively. This would be the fifth time he had travelled through one of the demon made objects. It would be the fifth time he had been forced to allow himself to be spirited away from one part of the galaxy to the other. And it was the fifth time he had tempted fate doing it.
“Put the thing on screen,” Nathan grumbled as he stared at the forward wall that housed the projection matrix for the main view screen.
Paul punched in the command to activate the view screen. The Holographic screen buzzed to life and displayed the ancient Iconian construction.
The monstrous portal looked almost alive. The reflection of the nearby blue-tinted star cast eerie shadows against the sleek metallic surface that covered the massive object. True to his word, the circumference of the aperture was large enough that it was entirely possible to fit an entire Starbase through with very little issue. That, however, wasn’t what made it such an ominous sight. It was the fact that it seemed to writhe and undulate while suspended over the gas giant that made even Nathan’s skin crawl.
“Sunshine, launch one of our portal key probes,” Captain Cowell ordered.
Punching up the probe and readying it for launch, Claire mumbled a little nursery rhyme sort of thing. "Sunshine Sunshine, Ladybugs Awake, Clap your hands, And do a little shake..." As soon as she finished, she pressed the launch button, sending the probe on its way.
Nathan and the rest of the bridge crew watched as the small probe glinted into view, traveling just slightly slower than a standard torpedo would. Long seconds ticked away in silence as everyone on the Bridge watched as events unfolded, an experience that none of them save Nathan had ever had before. When the probe reached the point that the Captain had instructed Toddman to set it for, a near blinding flash of bright blue light flooded the view screen, causing it to blink and distort for several seconds before the image corrected itself.
Capt. Cowell turned to Lt. Cmdr. Adams, who was sitting in the CONN position, “Ms. Adams, take us through, half impulse power please. Mister Toddman, power down all sensors until we’ve cleared the device on the other side.”
Adams nodded at the Conn and began to tap her console. Adjusting position for optimal entry," she commented as the Arizona moved under manoeuvring thrusters until the mighty Sovereign was in position to enter the gateway aperture. "Increasing speed to half impulse," she concluded, the ship gradually picking up speed as it approached the gate.
"Sensors are off line, as a precaution I have also rerouted their power to the structural integrity field" Toddman reported as he watched his console like a hawk stalks it's prey.
The Arizona eased itself forward, closing the gap between itself and the swirling mass of bright blue energy. With the sensors off the main view screen was the only way to tell where they were in their journey. Captain Cowell watched, as did everyone else, as the nose of the ship made contact with the pool of excited energy. Further and further the ship plunged into the vortex of charged particles until finally the view screen couldn’t handle the feed, blacking out again. The long silence persisted until the main viewer blinked back to life. Before them was a haze of reds, oranges, and yellows swirling in a chaotic pattern that looked just as sinister as their Captain had promised it would be.
“Helm, all stop,” Nathan declared, “Mister Toddman, reactivate the sensors and confirm that we are on the other side of the galaxy.”
With a massive grin on the red heads face she tapped at her controls and on the view screen all forward momentum soon ceased. "All stop," the Commander informed.
Paul routed the sensor power back from the structural integrity to the sensor pallets. His console started lighting up with sensor readings.
"All systems nominal, Captain. Not so much as a spilled cup of coffee" Paul reported.
Again, the Captain drummed his fingers before speaking again, “That, ladies and gentlemen, was a picture-perfect crossing… and the easiest part of all this. What we have to do now, is get through the nebula itself.”
Nathan turned to the Science officer manning the rear console, “Ms. DuQuesne, start scanning for a corridor in that nebula wide enough for the ship to get through. Make sure you check to make sure the tunnel you send us into goes all the way out to the other end of this cloud before you relay your entry coordinates to the helm.”
"Aye sir," Alex said, and got right to scanning the nebula for thin patches and tunnels, some were obvious and not so obvious dead ends, like a proverbial maze, she almost found she had to work her way backwards. She did eventually find a corridor large enough for the ship that appeared to traverse the full length of the nebula. "Got it, sending coordinates now."
When the young woman had finally located a suitable passageway, Capt. Cowell turned back toward the fore of the room, “Ms. Adams, take us in. Mr. Toddman, make sure that you keep an eye on shields, last time we went through the nebula, they took a bit of a pounding.”
"Course is plotted Captain," the ships second officer indicated, a running commentary given as she manned her controls to ensure that everyone was informed of the ships progression. "Crossing the threshold of the nebula, half impulse," she continued as the screen at the front of the command centre showed the many beautiful hues and colourful tones of the gaseous nebula that soon surrounded the ship. "I recommend we go no quicker than present speed," she suggested as she glanced towards the Ops Chief.
"The density of the nebula does suggest we can go faster. However, I'm am detecting a lot of fluctuation is energy output and plasma density. I recommend keeping the thrusters warmed up and ready for split second maneuvers," Paul said as he looked through the sensor reports.
Adams turned to the ships Captain for further guidance. Who would he support? What direction would he take?
"Slow and steady," Nathan ordered from his chair, "Last time we tried to go too fast we got caught in a shift in the corridors and lost half of deck three. Don't care to repeat that same mistake."
"Slow and steady. Aye Captain," the red head at the helm nodded as she continued with her strategy, "ETA until we clear the nebula is approximately ten minutes at current speed sir," she revealed.
"Good enough," the Captain nodded at the announcement.
The image on the view screen didn't seem to shift from the violent reds, menacing oranges, and muddled yellows that composed the majority of the nebula. The only noticeable difference was the occasional discharge that resembled atmospheric lightning that danced across the forward view at intervals. At the five minute mark, Nathan began to relax a bit, they hadn't experienced anything that made him feel pessimistic about the whole thing. That, however, proved to be slightly presumptuous as the ship suddenly and violently bucked to the right, sending just about every man and woman on the bridge sideways in rag doll fashion.
Nathan pushed himself upright with a scowl, "What the hell did you hit?"
Toddman was already busy at his console, "Looks like the hull got hit with a plasma discharge. Reading a small breach on Deck 15. The area was empty, no casualties, no injuries. I'll have damage teams..."
"Belay that," the Old Man barked, "Just keep us together until we get free of this damn storm."
"Aye," Paul nodded from his station and set about closing off the area with force fields until they could attend to it properly.
Nathan looked up at the screen expectantly, and saw the dark haze of a star field starting to peak through the swirling hell they were traveling through. As the black became the more dominant color, Captain Cowell sank back in his chair and finally concluded that they'd made it out even before the announcement was made that they had cleared the nebula. The Old Man rubbed his forehead momentarily before letting out a short breath.
"Mister Toddman, send your damage teams to Deck 15," Nathan said before turning to the Tactical station, "Keep us on yellow alert for the time being. Since we don't know the details behind the sudden closing of the Transwarp network, I don't want to run the risk of an ambush."
The Captain once again swiveled around to address the Operations officer, "Once you've dispatched your teams, I want you to start scanning all the Starfleet channels and see what kind of chatter we can pick up. I want everything from emergency bands to Federation mercantile frequencies tapped and spied on. You've got two hours to come to me with a report of your findings."
"On it, Captain," Toddman replied, making adjustments to his console to suit the task.
Nathan pushed himself out of his chair and headed for his Ready Room, "Good work, people."