Log Matsiyan 9116-2238

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    Personal Log, Lieutenant-Junior Conrad Matsiyan, TSN Lancer, 4th LD
    Stardate: 9116-2238

    Well that was a close brush with death or a fate worse than.

    No joy yet with getting that shipment of Terran coffee beans. This is getting ridiculous. I’m beginning to wonder if EC has lost a TSN contract. This is a long time to go without a Company ship being in the default system supply runs. I wonder if dad finally trod on the wrong military toes? Mundy’s bribe is running low. Not only do I wonder where she obtained a supply of premium quality Terran coffee beans, but also how she knew the exact type of robust, earthy Sumatran blend I like and just the right depth of roasting. It’s almost as if she could read… Oh. Right. Still, that has prompted me to put more work into recreating the lost mythical espresso recipe 2288. No luck so far. I even tried programming a “genetic evolution” sim from 2287 to see if I could more quickly select among types. I have tried a lot of bad coffee in this grail quest. I have learned a lot about cleaning replicators in the process.

    The last shift in my current tour as Duty Officer started as routine. I turned up in very good time, pulled the current crew assignment roster and tracked who was present. Then it was time for all officers, cadets and civilian observers to report to Briefing Room 1 and “Fleet Captain on Deck!” Twenty-six members of the Division present and accounted for.

    There was a pretty good turnout this shift now that a number of shore leave entitlements have been processed following the return to Promethean command. Hawk and Hunter had full crews and Raven was well endowed too. Phoenix and Hydra needed extra assignments. Rather than dump all the cadets and rotation officers on them I thought it might be more helpful to both the cadets and the ships to put the cadets in settled crews where they can get good examples of smoothly operating well-integrated crews and the ships can at least get experienced crew even if they are not so used to working together. Nobody on Hawk exactly leapt at the chance but after a slight pause several officers offered to help, but Mundy elbowed her way to the front and headed over to Phoenix. I’m sure Mr. Remmick will find his tour aboard Hawk instructional. I felt it was unfair to ask anyone else aboard Lancer to give up their seat and I know our XO is happy to run a board. So with the skipper’s permission I assigned myself to Hydra, which left all ships with balanced crews. Our two civilians, applicants for cadet postings at the Academy who have already signed their NDAs, I put aboard Lancer out of simple pride that they would be most impressed there.

    The briefing indicated that the shift would start with a couple of simulations to settle and sharpen crews for a patrol into Cronus system and that Lancer would be on detached duty during that time. To be absolutely honest, my heart sank at that moment. The thought that I would miss out on an experience unique to the rest of the crew saddened me. It felt like missing out on a family Unification Day get-together. But I had made the call to assign crews in the best interests of The Service. So I shut up and got on with it.

    The first sim was good fun aboard Hydra. Commander Verok knows his vessel well and exhibited cool competency in tactical control. Both of the other permanently assigned Hydra crew were aboard with Lt.Jr. Fulvus on Weapons and freshly promoted Lt.Jr. Quinn at Helm. I wasn’t about to rock the boat in with a new crew so I stuck to Engineering, leaving Ensign Cessna to look after SciCom. Hydra was not tied to formation manoeuvres in the all-out sector defense sim. So I was free to allocate considerable power to warp and manoeuvre, making her much more lively. It was interesting taking beams out of the power distribution equation. In fact, I got a bit gung-ho with that and received a bit of well-deserved disapprobation from the skipper and Weapons early on because I discounted beams so much I starved them of power and we were impacted by a drone. Fortunately I peaked shield energy as it came in and the shields handled it. It took a bit of adjusting to meet Weapons constant need for tubes. The toughest moment was during a High Energy Turn after an Echo run when Weapons had orders to load a new spread. Frankly, I made the call that it was more important to align the ship than load the tubes, but that would not always be the case. Usually Hydra operates well outside beam range and so is not under immediate threat. Also maybe I forgot in the heat of battle that her point defense grid has an almost three-sixty coverage, so she does not have the same need to turn into the attack the way a cruiser does. Tentatively I am replacing the beam priority config with an Echo run config that gives a little fillip to manoeuvreing, a hefty boost to forward shields and a lesser one to rear shields. If I find another use for it, I can go back to manually flipping shield priorities at the point of drop.

    The second sim was a pretty hairy deep strike. This is much less of a nightmare than in the past because with fuel collectors and the high efficiency drive systems, operating away from a base is not so crippling. Again Hydra was not tied to a formation and so could sprint about at need. She made good use of her heavy ordnance in softening up some of the larger enemy fleets defending bases and then responding to the cruisers’ requests to supplement their more limited supply. The sim was aborted because it was clearly within the division’s capabilities to complete taking out the enemy bases but it would require some time. Also ONI had completed preparations for the missions.

    A couple of officers had been called away and for the patrol it had been decided to consolidate full crews onto a smaller number of vessels. Commander Jemel took that opportunity to have the full regular crew of Lancer aboard for the detached mission. I’m pretty sure I left scorch marks on Hydra’s deck on my way to the shuttle. Pretty sure I overlooked the Engineer’s Pledge too. The Jefferies tube may not be properly stocked.

    The shuttle had barely cleared the docking bay after delivering me and picking up applicant Millari when Captain Evans came aboard for a special briefing.
    [Computer – enhanced encryption here forward, Matsiyan code Enigma zero-zero-six-plus-one. Involuntary release only to ONI and psychiatric medical emergency authority.]

    From: Fleet Admiral Banks
    To: 2FLT 4DIV CO’s and XO’s
    Authentication: 5927827SS
    Subject: Unusual Activity
Longrange Sensors and ONI Operatives in the Erebus System have indicated unusual Military activity going on. We request and require you to covertly enter into the Erebus system and collect information on the fleet disposition. Sensor probes have been hidden aboard N’tani cargo pods. Download data from the pods and destroy them. Whilst inside the Erebus system you are are NOT authorized to engage enemy forces, you should attempt to stay as covert as possible. Normal rules of engagement apply in the neutral Cronus System. Use of the Privateer ship is approved, if you so wish.

    Lancer’s crew looked briefly at one another and nodded. The privateer Manticore is a TSN refit of a pirate Arrow class. She would be much less noticeable than the experimental interceptor. But we grinned as we realized why they picked the Lancers for this mission: Manticore’s light shields and heavy gatling-beams make her a closer tactical match to the interceptor than anything else. She just can’t turn. We quickly dragged our duffels into the large cargo shuttle the captain had commandeered to come over without drawing attention and hopped over to Manticore in her nearby unilluminated berth. I barely had time to grab the threedyprinted coffee machine, but at least I was able to toast the success of the mission with some of the last precious grounds from Mundy’s bribe.

    We departed on heading one-eight-zero from Promethean Command to the gate for Cronus and switched IFF before transit to Cronus. TSN now registered as hostile and others as neutral. Immediately after the gate jump we steered clear of a TSN patrol vessel and then as we plunged into a nebula we found a pirate Axe class vessel which I assume was flagged as a known offender. We manoeuvred in the nebula and engaged from behind. With exemplary helm control we held our beam range before they could well respond and hit them with all power diverted to rapidly overheating beams. They surrendered, but the captain ordered the murdering scum be destroyed anyway. Piracy is hard to forgive.

    At this point a confused Mr Tuttle appeared on the bridge and asked if this ship would be docking with the command station any time soon. We had a stowaway! He had boarded the wrong shuttle and strapped into the nearest seat in a different compartment of the shuttle. He thought he was debarking onto the station when he followed us onto Manticore. Stranded when the shuttle left, he hadn’t wanted to interfere with ship’s operations until passing time encouraged him to wonder what was going on. There was no going back now we were in a different system. We checked that he understood his NDA and gave him the choice of honouring it or cleaning the outside airlock hatch entry.

    We transited Cronus sectors I-IV generally on a heading of zero-niner-zero and then one-eight-zero into sector VIII to the gate to Erebus system.

    In Erebus we immediately spotted Arvonians. We quietly went about our business heading gently two-seven-zero at a modest warp speed. We suffered a failure on several consoles simultaneously. Shoddy privateer hardware most likely. They may have some flashy high tech, but they haven’t had time to ramp up the reliability yet. By the time we recovered helm we were in the next sector. We spotted a N’tani cargo pod vessel carrying one of the probes. We quietly paralleled its course until it practically entered the nebula. We approached, triggered the probe download and then attempted to destroy it. Weapons officer reported rather incredulously that we were unable to damage it. The captain was about to order us to leave when I realized we had been in stealth mode and I had beam power reduced to point defense levels. It would have taken all day to damage a ship with a beam limited to take out drones. Seconds later the defenseless robot pod was drifting vapor.

    Then we made a strategic error. We were attempting to stay out of the way of regular system traffic, but our IFF transponder signal was flagged as rogue by the system traffic control. We realized that we had tried to head for a sector boundary which was also the system boundary. Nothing further in that direction for a good many warp-weeks of travel. So either we were not the locals we were pretending to be or we were planning something nefarious. Either way that must have triggered a sensor sweep that detected the cargo pod debris on the edge of the nebula.

    That made reaching the remaining pods much harder as we were clearly persona non-grata. The locals also seemed to have it in for the cargo pods. Probably still upset with the N’Tani for making a deal with the USFP. We could not retrieve the second pod because it was being chased down by a fleet of Kraliens who were already on it by the time we scanned it at the limit of sensor range.

    We managed to grab a second by the barest margin. It was entering a nebula but Arvonians were on an intercept course. We had to pull out all the stops to reach it in time. Fortunately the Arvonian sensor suites were unhappy with the nebula and losing interest in the process. The nearest units did spot us as we closed with the pod. We had to back off under boosted impulse and Morlock picked off numerous drones in rapid succession with Manticore’s heavy gatling beams. In that at least she is like Lancer. She deals a wicked punch, but unlike Lancer, her long, lean shape makes her hard to turn fast. The warp fields are too close and shaped inefficiently to achieve a good lateral thrust under high-energy conditions. As Manticore and the pod drew deeper into the nebula, the bomber wings lost lock on us and veered off back to their carriers. We managed to retrieve a third download from a fourth pod that we found fleeing into another nebula from pursuing Kraliens and Hegemony fighters. We intercepted a good few drones there too.

    That apparently was too much for the local authorities. As we made it to the gate back to Cronus system, we received a broadcast from a Kralien station that the Penwrath Corporation would be receiving a complaint about us. Well, so much for stealth, but it relaxed us to know that our cover was not blown and they thought we were still pirates, either overstepping the bounds of some agreement or gone rogue.

    As soon as we emerged in Cronus we headed swiftly on heading two-seven-zero into the next sector and ducked into the nearest nebula as multiple contact alarms went off. Four significant Hegemony fleets resolved on sensors, two of them already scattered by ongoing engagements with something small, swift and powerful. They were in combat with Caltrons! I was leeching onto the science scan by this point and I noticed at about the same time Roshin Das called that they seemed to be in conflict over a highly energetic artifact in subsector Delta-5. It was then I noticed the sparkling corona of energetic anomalies scattered around the artifact. This thing was so powerful it was distorting local spacetime. Roshin and delPino noticed the same thing and realized that, if handled wrongly, it could initiate a black hole.

    The skipper immediately set us on a circuitous, not to say wily, route through nebulae to approach the Artifact (Yeah. Now it gets a capital.) In the meantime the Arvonians and Caltrons were doing mightily unto each other. By the time were were in striking distance of the artifact from the nearest edge of a friendly cloud of deepspace debris, there were only a couple of dazed Hegemony ships limping off in the direction of one of their unengaged fleets which did not seem to have spotted us.

    The Artifact readings were all confirmed in spades by a closer look. This thing is the size of a space station yet seems to concentrate the power of a star. I could feel our warp core interacting with it as a tone shift and a subtle vibration at the back of my teeth.

    Close up I stole a feed off the forward looking camera from our tethered observation drone. Over the unfamiliar outline of the privateer hull, the Artifact rotated slowly against the nebula-blurred stellar backdrop of distant, hard, bright stars and the nearer brilliance of the anomalies this thing was generating. Its central form was an indistinct greyish mass but surrounded by a heavy, hard-edged icosahedral cage of similar stuff.

    With an apparent lull in hostile movement and attention, the captain called a bridge conference and invited discussion on options for our next move. Commander de Pino was not shy about proposing to destroy it on the basis that a power source like this was far too dangerous to leave in enemy possession and far too dangerous to take back into USFP space since initial analysis indicated that the energy in that thing if channeled properly could make a star go nova. The skipper was inclined to agree on the grounds of the security risk posed to USFP populations. I had to speak up at that point and point out the incalculable loss of knowledge if we were unable to study this. If an enemy had the capability to create this one, could they not create more? And if so how could we defend against it? In my heart of hearts I nursed the tiny, naive flame that knowledge of energy management at this level would enable us to achieve a level of technology that would render the current interspecies squabbles irrelevant. I didn’t trust other civilizations with that knowledge and I have severe doubts about our own wisdom, but at least I thought we were in with a chance. Morlock and Roshin chipped in on the side of retaining it for study, but we all agreed that taking it through to Promethean sector was an unacceptable risk. Personally I have no idea what it might do to a gate and would prefer not to find out mid-jump. Likewise I would prefer not to be aboard the first vessel to open fire on that thing.

    Consensus was reached that we would attempt to engage it with a tractor and tow it to a sector adjacent to the Promethean gate and stash it in the thickest nebula we could find. This we proceeded to do without incident until the very last minute.

    As we emerged from the nebula, a pirate Transport decloaked in front of us, followed in short order a little further off by an Arrow and an Axe class, Without hesitation the skipper had us close on the transport and pummeled it hard with Manticore’s heavy beams. Our resolute action stunned her crew to the point of a swift surrender and we immediately moved on. Aposine brought us up on the Arrow on a vector well clear of the Axe and she went down fast getting only a few shots at us.

    I was able to get shields regenerated as we closed with the Axe. As usual this was a tough engagement even with the TSN uprated systems on our privateer hull. We were making good headway and starting to see damage getting through when our shields finally failed and the hits started coming. Aposine had us in the best possible attitude, facing about 30 degrees off the pirates port bow keeping our drive systems out of harms way, our better shields interposed as long as they lasted and, at that angle, unlikely to lose all of one type of system at once. DamCon teams were held in the waist and the rear of the saucer but I had not explicitly forbidden them to intervene.

    Remembering the last engagement with an Axe, Aposine and Morlock hung in there determined to take her out, encouraged by the target damage readings Roshin was reporting. The captain finally ordered Aposine away but he was either too engrossed to hear or just too convinced that one more good shot would do the job. The captain repeated the order with some urgency and then Lt. Cdr. del Pino leapt up from his science repeater station and flung himself across the bridge at Aposine’s helm station shouting at him to break off. I was already redlining power to warp as helm kicked in the engines. All of us were sweaty and trembling for one reason or another as the Axe disintegrated behind us according to the minimal readings we were getting from from the stuttering sensors. The commanders then proceeded to remind us of the numerous TSN vessels consigned to dry dock or worse by pirate vessels that had detonated their warp core like a mine as they suffered cascading systems failures. That was a new one on me and my face must have looked like a first time cadet’s facing a sparking console.

    I looked fondly at the life pod hatch with its large friendly red handle not two steps from my console. Then I went cold inside and the sweat chilled on my rapidly paling brow. I had been in a pod before, when Hunter was ambushed by another Axe. It isn’t particularly comfortable, and even though I know how well engineered they are, you cannot escape thoughts of mortality as you float, trying to keep down your lunch, in a wafer thin eggshell of technology with limited endurance until someone comes to fetch you, which is always first priority after the immediate safety of the vessel.

    Until someone comes to fetch you.

    But we were alone, under a different name, in a different system, contested by hostiles and infested with pirates who have every reason to hate and fear the TSN. Speaking of which, where is that surrendered transport? Cloaked and snuck off into a nebula most likely.. I wonder if she saw the Artifact?

    Captain Evans was very pleased with our report. Partly because we pulled off our original mission without, quite, blowing our cover, and partly because ONI liked the fact we neither brought a bomb home nor destroyed a valuable technological treasure and partly because we took it away from the Caltrons and the Hegemony.

    I bet the four remaining uninjured DamCon crew were happy we came out of that engagement with an intact hull and even more so the dozen injured. Fortunately Manticore’s burn treatment supplies were fully stocked.

    Crewmen Peter Thuringnanasambandam and Kim-Eoun Fassbender were unconcerned with the state of supplies or the hull.
    [End log.]


    Posted by EAramond at 19:50:
    The Raven is always well endowed.

    Lewis Remmick

    //Thank you. I’ve been dying to know what was happening over there!

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