Previous Next

Building the Web

Posted on Mon Jun 26th, 2023 @ 10:29pm by Ensign Sheldon Parsons & Lieutenant Margarar & Ensign Noah Balsam & Lieutenant JG Irynya

Mission: On the Road Again
Location: Aft Torpedo Bay Storage; Deck 7
Timeline: Mission Day 2 at 1300

[Aft Torpedo Bay Storage]
[Deck 7]
[1300 Hours; after "Ramifications"]

Noah bit into his lower lip, causing it to bulge at one corner. The problem was: this was just not a Galaxy-class starship. As archaic as they might have been, they held the full variety of probe types- from Type I subwarp atmospheric surveyors, to warp capable, multi-mission Type X's. They needed them for the multimission profiles- and they had the room to house them. Nova-class refits were not so blessed in breadth of profile, or space. Narrower profiles, more preliminary deep space surveys meant the ship leaned heavily into the generalized probes.

And that was, in a way, a problem. But one with a silver lining.

The mid-morning staff duty review in Engineering had been interesting. One of the problems out of the ordinary- brought down from above- was how could they extend the sensors far enough to find a commbadge, while fine tuning it so obscenely as to actually pick it up? Noah had sparked a weird idea. And now, assigned the task with the Assistant Chief and Ensign Parsons, Noah found himself in the probe storage area in the very rear, most ventral part of the ship.

Noah sighed through his nose, his lanky legs pacing. In his hand was an oversized drafter-style PADD. He flicked his fingers over its transparent surface, the lettering in the title area stating, "TYPE IX PROBE - BASE UNMODIFIED" His skinny fingers swiped, a furrow growing on his brow. "Ok maybe..." he muttered to himself. His hand wavered, uncertain, to himself. He finger-flicked back to the classic Type X Probe. And again he vacillated: they had the same torpedo casing design, same amount of space. But ultimately, they had the same communications suite- a minimal one.

Noah dropped his head and lifted his head from his geek-necking posture. He rubbed the tense muscles there, casting eyes around the relatively small room. It was austere in the most secondary hull sense: conduits ran overhead, the walls were the industrial level of bulkhead similar to a cargo bay- as was the door. Before him were the racks of twenty probes: Class VIII through Class X.

"Not exactly the best selection, hmm?" came a voice from the side. It was Ensign Parsons, who'd silently slipped into the room while Noah had been reviewing the available probes. "I'm sure we can come up with something...the idea is sound," he complimented his friend, "but it's going to take a lot of modifications to make work. I hope this Kazon woman is worth all the effort," Sheldon grumbled, coming to stand beside Noah and inspect the probes himself. "What I wouldn't give for the probe selection we had back on the Adelphi," he lamented.

"Y-yeah," Noah agreed, his bobbing head vehement. "We have three options. They have the farthest range. Um. G-great. But they are also the uh..." Noah squinted an eye, "Uh the stupidest probes. When it comes to sophistication. Um. In their programming and AI kernel." Noah breathed out and ran fingers through his head. "I-I need a haircut," he muttered. He looked at Sheldon. "Do you like music?"

Parsons had been about to reply when motion from the side caught his eye. Turning, he spied a very familiar Antican coming their way. He offered a nod to her in greeting but promptly clammed up.

The Assistant Chief Engineer strutted into Engineering just in time to hear Noah say that he needed a haircut. "You need more than a haircut," Margarar grumbled at the midshipman, giving him a toothy grin. "So," she started looking at her motley crew, switching to an all business persona, "we, in engineering, have been tasked with completing the impossible again and it is our job to deliver." She sighed. "We have to figure out a way to find a proverbial needle in a haystack, as Terrans would call it - find a commbadge in the vastness of space. We might have as much chance of finding a kitten's whisker but the kitten does not transmit data. A commbadge does. So, if it sends a signal, there has to be a way of finding it, even at long range. Thoughts?" She looked over at Parsons.

Noah's fingers drummed on his drafter's PADD, his jaw cocked in a chew of his lip. He'd been about to call up some music to help think. But with the Assistant Chief present, he decided that window had closed. "Even with the most recent upgrades to our sensor puh-palette, we can't possibly detect something that small which only has a range of a few, uh, stuh-standard AU. Our sensors just aren't designed to do that. At least n-not without closing the ability to navigate the ship, or see anything other than a sensor line."

Noah looked down at his notes, "S-so what we need is a G-AI. A Gestalt Ar-artificial Intelligence. Small devices that work tuh-tuh-" Noah squinted to concentrate on forming the word as his mind raced past his ability to form them. Margarar always made him so nervous. "Tuh-together. As a whole. Probes have sensor ranges de-depending on their class type. And we have class eight, nine and ten probes. Good for distance but bad for reh-resolution." Noah drew in his lower lip and blinked again at his notes. Breathe. You promised you wouldn't let her scare you.

Parsons -- who was conscious that Margarar was looking to him for thoughts -- redirected the conversation a bit onto Noah, the mastermind behind the proposed plan. "I think Mr. Balsam's idea could work. If we could send out several probes and form a web of interlinked sensor packages," he explained, "then getting a ping off the Kazon woman's combadge should be possible. Assuming, of course," he noted nasally, "she hasn't destroyed the thing or traveled far beyond the stars of this part of space." Looking to Noah, the slightly older engineer nodded. "We have short range probes with great resolution and we have far traveling probes with crap resolution. Could we maybe cobble something together that maximizes on both?"

The Antican turned to face Noah and scowled, "Couldn't wait for me, could you?" She then turned back to look between them. "Everything does depend on the commbadge being operable and her still wearing it or having it on her to find the Kazon woman. But if we are to achieve the impossible, we must hope that universe also works in our favor a little. So, we have to work on that assumption." She considered the matter for a few moments. "Space is infinitely large and life would be easier if we had a better direction in which to start searching for a non-moving target. Not to mention that we have to figure out a way to avoid non-friendly Kazon detection. So, while a web would be the best way to try collect signals, if any one of those devices gets pinged by a Kazon, we have an even bigger problem on our hands. So, I would suggest that first we work on the web and create a distortion field around it so that any signals coming in from the Kazon will not detect it."

Without looking at the Antican, Noah inclined his chin some, "My-my job is to come up with ideas and options before you get here. It's yours to decide wuh-what works best. So Chief Oliveria can sign off on it and the Bridge cuh-can use it." Noah looked at Sheldon for a moment of re-composure. "S-so we need to know how fast the typical Kazon shuttle is. How far they could have covered in-in a day or so. Then we have to, uh, to choose a probe that can go faster than that. So if the shuttle crosses our web, we'll detect it. And the probes can tail it until we can m-make contact."

Noah drummed fingers again, "The problem is maximizing it with the space we have. And with-with some extra parts." Noah looked at Margarar, doing his best to hide his personal feelings- and to hide his reactions to her distaste for him. "If you want to explore ways to make the probes invisible to the Kazon, we-we can add it to our work list. But tha-that's outside my specialty. I'm in systems, not materials."

Useless, Margarar thought to herself. "We can make the greatest web for detecting a commbadge in the universe but if it doesn't survive Kazon space, then it will be useless." She looked over at Parsons and asked, "Do you have any ideas?"

Sheldon could sense the terse interplay happening in front of him. He counted himself lucky not to be the subject of Margarar's condescension but felt bad that it was his friend who received it instead. "Possibly," the older-than-Noah engineer replied. "A distortion field could work but I'm a little worried about the power requirements for both that," he gestured with one hand, "and the sensor and engine power we'll need. We could maybe rig the probes with some sensor deadening mesh instead? They'd show up like blank spots on a sensor sweep but you'd have to look pretty close to notice them."

To Noah, Sheldon nodded. "We could maybe partner with Lieutenants Timmoz or Irynya? They should be able to come up with a reasonable range for Kaldri's shuttle. We can send the probes to the outskirting border to take up station and watch?"

"A deadening mesh might work," Margarar agreed. "That's a really good idea. That should give us some extra power to boost the sensors on this web and bringing in Timmoz sounds like it could be helpful, as well."

Here, Noah was out of his depth and listened. It seemed like a cool idea. There were signal absorbing materials that prevented scans into the interior of a ship. Noah vaguely remembered Professor Gosht bin Lorev talking about its prolific use on pirate vessels, Orion craft and by groups that couldn't acquire a full cloaking device. But it wasn't a standard Federation practice. "We-we don't have a lot of fabrication facilities aboard," Noah added with one eye winced.

"But maybe Chief Oliveria, uh, can g-get the industrial replicator turned over to-to us for a few hours. But we m-might need to sweet talk the materials teams. They-they are still doing damage control. I think. With the um." He gestured with a swaying finger about them- the damage that the Sojourner had taken in the battle with Subrek. He looked between them.

"If need be, we will have to bring it to the Captain," Margarar insisted. "If the Captain believes it is a priority to find our Kazon, then the Captain is going to have to give us all the assistance we can get. I do not like leaving the ship vulnerable, but it is a matter of priorities."

"I think Sheila can probably help there," Sheldon replied to Noah. "Err, Ensign Mulhern," he clarified for Margarar. "She's got an in with the team." He left it at that, not deigning to say more about said "in." Instead, he picked up his PADD, composed a quick message to the other engineer, and sent it off. "If that doesn't get us as far as we need to go, I'm sure the Captain will help...given that he's the one who ordered us to do all that in the first place," he nodded to the Antican.

Noah had, meanwhile, tapped his commbadge. "Balsam to Lieutenant Irynya." He stated in his gentle tones. His eyes were cast down, his look a pensive one. "I-I know Timmoz is probably on the Bridge. I was w-wondering if you could help me- us- with something. We-we are in the torpedo bay. Uh, the aft one."

Iry's voice came back across Noah's commbadge, her usual appreciation at hearing from her friend clear in her tone. "Sure," the Risian's voice agreed. "I can be there in three."

"Th-thanks. Balsam out," Noah said before he tapped his commbadge off. He rejoined the pair. "Lieutenant Irynya is on-on her way down."

"Great," Parsons said, lighting up. Seeing their roommate midday outside of their shared quarters was always a treat, though his memory flitted back to that time when Iry had called Margarar out for being so mean to Noah in his own home, even if it was shared with the Antican. "Lieutenant," he turned to the woman in question, "I know we all live together but have you worked with Irynya in an official capacity before?"

"I have not," Margarar simply replied. The Antican had hoped for a better relationship with Irynya but since Irynya immediately jumped to Noah's defense without even listening or considering Margarar's point of view in matters, the Antican had been avoiding her, as well as all the other roommates. Quarters was for sleeping, but not much else. "I see the cadet more than any of you."

"Ah," Parson replied, his mouth exaggerating the shape of the word. He didn't really know what else to say: it seemed like trying to make small talk with Margarar was futile.

The cadet. Innocuous sounding enough. But Noah knew he wasn't a person to Margarar, just a thing with a vague rank even when present- something that was expected to function or be discarded. Noah- while he was tired of this over and over dehumanization, chose not to rise to it. Instead Noah squatted down and touched at his PADD. With a nibble of a lip, he made the most logical choice to him- the classic Type X. It had a micro-warp drive and a rudimentary "brain" enough to follow multimission and multi-stop parameters. Turning his squat into sitting cross legged like a pretzel, Noah settled the PADD in his lap.

With a keystroke and a hiss, an assistant arm came down while simultaneously there was a decoupling sound. The arm gripped Type X probe E-6-AX, lifted it, and gently turned to lay it on the conveyor table that would eventually lead to the launch. Three other Type X probes joined it. Noah meanwhile went into quick brainstorm: his fingers moved at almost oddly-fast speed.

He started slotting hypothetical sensor enhancements, a more sophisticated kernel, bio-neural gels, comm transceivers... it all had to go in there somewhere. His PADD flashed red several times at the bezel and he'd frown. It meant either power requirements were too high, heat diffusion was critically low, parallel processing power was too low for synergistic function, or that certain modules were incompatible with other interfaces.

"I should begin fabrication of the mesh," Sheldon said then, nodding in approval at the choice of probes Noah had made. The task would require he step away a bit to talk to Mulhern over the comm and begin replicating some of the smaller materials they would need: still within hearing range, though it would make it harder to follow the conversation. He felt very protective of Noah in that moment, not wanting to leave him alone with the Antican. "Are you, um...ok here for a few?" he asked of the cadet, sounding like he was talking about the tasks Noah was focused on, though in reality he meant dealing with the Assistant Chief. "Need anything, ma'am?" he asked of Margarar.

Noah looked up like a contented- almost- child in front of their favorite game console. "Y-yeah," Noah said. His eyes didn't shift to Margarar. "For a bit, I am. Whether or not he as following Sheldon's intent was hard to tell. But he did feel that anticipated swim that he was about to be alone with the Assistant Chief. He hoped she'd find something more interesting than him.

Noah went from pretzel to raised knees, laying the PADD against them. "Index," Noah stated. The androgynous, hairless being with a white suit appeared, their hands behind the back. He flicked the information on his PADD toward the infolife whose hands shifted as if they were holding before them a schematic. "Ah-analyze power consumption ratios and predict power plant half life assumption continuous aw-operation."

Index raised a hairless brow in a Vulcanesque way. "Total time to power plant failure: 11.54 days."

Noah whistled, keeping lips pursed and puckered as he looked back to his data. "Not good enough Balsam. Try again. Power plant distribution efficiency?" Noah winced and eye and looked at Index.


"Well shit. Shoot." Noah frowned, leaning toward his data. He ruffled the back of his hair with a perplexed look.

Margarar answered Sheldon simply, "I need nothing. Thank you." Looking at Noah, she said, "Reduce the power. The signal will be weaker but it may be easier to disguise. Also, with a longer wavelength, it might be able to search more space. Certainly less accurate, but also less detectable."

"We-we need the signal strength to fine tune the sensors. We're looking for something the size of a-a.. well... a commbadge. Not a shuttle." Again Noah ran fingers through his bangs and ruffled them. "And with the a-additional of signal masking material, we definitely need the signal strength." He frowned and scanned the data. "Even with optimizations, I-I think we'll be topped out on thirteen or fourteen days. We're making a-alot m-more heavy demands on the power system than this probe is used to."

As the Antican and the stick bug exchanged ideas, Parsons moved over to the -- albeit small -- industrial replicator. As torpedoes and probes were oft modified, the unit was necessary for replicating the needed parts and materials doing so entailed. In this case, Sheldon was bringing up the specs for the parts needed to mount the mesh they would be using. Those he could replicate on his own but, for the large quantities of mesh they would need, the fabrication team would need to get involved. With a tap of his combadge, Sheldon had reached out to Ensign Mulhern.

"Hey Shelly Belly," came a smokey voice over the commline. "What's going on?"

"Hey Sheila," Parsons addressed the air, envisioning the face of his longtime friend. Her nickname for him rankled as usual but that was, of course, why she used it. "We're going to be outfitting a number of probes with some sensor deadening mesh. Far too much and too big for the replicator down here to provide. Was wondering if you might be able to sweet talk your friend in Fabrication into helping us out? The job's a high priority for the Captain," he explained.

"Sure thing," Sheila replied, her good humored tone bright and airy. "But don't make her work too late, huh? We uh...kind of have a date," the other engineer's beam could practically be felt over the line.

"A what?!" Sheldon asked, suddenly excited. He'd been about to grill Sheila for details when he spied Margarar scowling at Noah and put the notion aside. There'd be time for that when the Assistant Chief wasn't eyeing the cadet like an offensive stain on her shirt. "You'll have to tell me all about it! Hope it goes well," he smiled softly, happy for his friend. "I'm sending over the details for the mesh fabrication now. If you could forward those on, that would be great."

"Can do, Shelly," Sheila affirmed both counts. "I'll have her contact you when she's done. Mulhern out," she said with finality as the channel closed.

Sheldon looked down at the brackets and other parts he'd begun replicating while talking to Sheila and nodded. Ushering what had materialized so far -- the rest would be auto-transported into a holding area as they came out of the replicator -- into his arms, the engineer returned to Margarar and Noah. "Ma'am, I'm ready to start installing the mesh connection points on the first probe. Fabrication will begin working on replicating all the mesh in short order," he reported to Margarar. "Am I going to be in your way, Noah?" he asked then, setting his part pile down on the floor and opening an engineering toolkit to get to work on the first install.

Without a word, the Antican started to connect the mesh points to the probe. She methodically looked at the connection points and installed the proper connectors to the probe. After each connection was made, she looked over at Noah to see if he was doing his job and wondered whether it would be to her satisfaction.

The hunched over his data Stick Bug arched his back up and swiveled back to look at Sheldon. He smiled. He had that tired look of someone who was overly focusing on their data. "N-no not yet, Shelly. I'm still in the cramming phase. Do, uh, we know what the main material for the sensor sheath will be?"

"I'm thinking cortenide," Sheldon replied, his thoughts in motion. "Pretty lightweight, which is key. But the shielding should be good enough, I'd say," he nodded to Noah before looking back to the connection point he was working on.

The soft swish of doors opening announced Irynya's arrival, but it didn't seem, at first, as if anyone noticed her entrance. The three engineers seemed heavily focused on their conversation and the various and sundry bits and bobs they were working with. For what might be the millionth time in her short life the Risian was thankful to have friends who were engineers such that she didn't need to know all of the names of all of the individual parts.

"Hey," she said, approaching Noah since he had been the one to call her. Her eyes swept the holographic data and the pieces that Sheldon had been replicating before acknowledging Sheldon with a nod and a smile and then another, more sober, nod to Margarar. "You said you needed my help with something?"

Margarar responded, "Yes, we do. We're creating warp capable probes to create a web of sensors to relay information back to us. There a few problems. First, the better probes that we have have a limited range. The opposite is true with the other probes. So we have to determine how to optimize the probes. Second, if this is going into Kazon space, we do not want it detected. So we're going to need assistance in making sure that a warp signature and the seeking sensors are not detected. We have sent to fabrication for a deadening mesh. But we could use any other input and assistance that you can offer."

Sheldon, for his part, had tossed Iry a wave but didn't dare interrupt Margarar's explanation with an audible hello to the Risian. He waited until the Antican had finished before adding, "I, uh, don't think this part of space is Kazon in particular? I got the sense that this Subrek guy is operating far from the other sects. But who knows," he admitted, "who else might be watching? Definitely don't want them detecting our probes and picking them up to salvage our technology."

"Fair enough," Margarar replied, not minding the correction. "As you said, nobody wants our probes falling into anyone else's hands, so they have to operate quickly, efficiently, quietly, and undetectably. That's all."

The expression on Irynya's face as Margarar rattled off the list of problems was that of polite professional detachment. Similar to the what-is-ours-is-yours body language that Risians were known for, the pilot had learned early in her career that the default modality of her people could easily be repurposed for professional means. So she listened, politely and attentively, with her feet shoulder width apart and her hands clasped behind her back, careful to keep her body language open and receptive.

The issues that the ACEO raised, though, seemed entirely like engineering problems to her and she wondered, briefly, if Noah had gone rogue when he called her so that she could help with some genius idea he had come up with that was being blatantly disregarded. She wracked her brain, but failed to see exact how a pilot's skills were helpful here. Perhaps if she was needed to pilot the probes remotely? She'd done something like that when the Adelphi had been trapped within a nebula by the Vidiians. Only that had been a shuttle with an explosive payload attached.

Finally she gave in and asked the most obvious question she could think of without sounding confused. "What, exactly, are the probes needing to detect? Something stationary or is the information we need possibly moving?"

"I-I just..." Noah finally interjected, "Need to know the last known um, course and maybe, uh," he looked at Irynya and Sheldon, "How fast we know Kazon shuttles can go. We're trying to find, uh, Doctor Xex's commbadge. In case it's still on that Kazon woman."

"So whatever information you have on either of those subjects would be helpful in knowing what parameters we need to design this contraption," Margarar offered.

"It's only been a couple of days. Less, actually," Sheldon said, adjusting his sense of the time in his head given their nighttime arrival back on the Sojo that first day. "How far could she have gotten given the flight data we downloaded from her first shuttle?" he wondered, looking up at Irynya while tightening a bolt. The result was that his hand slipped and he clipped his thumb on the boxy mesh harness he and Margarar were installing on the probe's casing. "Ow," he said absently, sticking the offending thumb in his mouth, as if that would somehow fix it.

The Risian pilot, for her part, listened to each of them carefully, acknowledging each in turn and giving Sheldon a sympathetic look as his thumb found its way to his mouth. "Ok," she said, mind moving swiftly to the problem at hand. "Assuming Kaldri hasn't ditched the shuttle she stole to leave the moon and assuming that the Kazon haven't significantly upgraded their shuttle's warp capabilities since the last time someone in Starfleet got a good look at one, she should have a max warp capacity of warp 5 or 6."

Here the woman moved over to a console, activating it and tapping her fingers quickly across the interface to raise a holo display of a Kazon shuttle. The holo image was a near-match to the ones they had seen on Shaddam IVa, but not to the shuttle that Kaldri, herself, had crashed. Hers had only had enough space and tech to sustain a single passenger where the Kazon they had encountered had come in larger groups.

She tapped on the holo, making it spin until she was facing the rear of the vessel and then enlarged the image so that she was focused on its rear. "To be safe I would up your range to warp 7. I gather that the ship that attacked the Sojourner was kitted out more than we would have expected. There's plenty of reason to believe that her shuttles would have also been enhanced."

More finger tapping, but this time it was an absent gesture as she ran down the calculations in her head. "With the moon as the central point and a day's head start you'll want..." more finger twitching and then, as if this kind of mathematical calculation was an everyday occurrence, the Risian spouted off a number. She paused then, as if coming back to the moment, and added, "from the moon outward in all directions. Start with that and I'll see if our sensors have any indication of her last known coordinates. It's hard to say what got captured when we were in the midst of a fire fight."

"My guess is not much. But doesn't hurt to look," Sheldon said, speaking around his thumb until, realizing his voice was all distorted, he pulled the appendage out. His facial expression became distant as he started doing some math in his head. "Assuming warp 7," the wheels in his head swiftly moved, "I'd say she could have gotten about, what? Three point five lightyears away at most? Maybe four if she really pushed those engines?" What was asked as questions were really assertions for Sheldon. He looked to Noah then, "What would the top speed of our probes be with the modifications we're making?"

Noah clutched his PADD to his chest, "Ah-at best, warp 8.4. And that will burn through our anti-deuterium on board in about two weeks. A little l-less. We'll be able to cover at most... about 45 light-years in any direction. Each probe will have a stable subspace link with the other within ten light-years. S-so we need to aim the cannon pretty well."

"We actually should be able to get a bit more than 45 light years just with inertia but I would not count on that too much," Margarar agreed.

Only half listening from the nearby console that she had co-opted to review sensor logs, Irynya chimed in. "And..." She drew the word out as if still formulating the sentence even as she began it. "...if you only have to cover space going outward from one half of the planet?" She frowned as if annoyed at the console before adding almost to herself, "I mean... assuming no fancy flying on her part and that she didn't swing back around when she was far enough out to try to get someone to lose her trail. That's what I'd do anyway."

As conversation continued and ideas flowed, the group sunk into a productive dynamic and began nailing down the details needed to make the web of probes a reality. There was a lot of work to be done but the team was confident the probes could be launched and functioning as an expanding web within a day. The question, of course, was how soon Kaldri's combadge would tug at the strands of that web, signalling a location so that the Sojourner might follow. They would simply have to wait and see.

=/\= A joint-post by... =/\=

Cadet Noah Balsam
Engineering Officer

Ensign Sheldon Parsons
Engineering Officer

Lieutenant Margarar
Assistant Chief Engineer

Lieutenant JG Irynya
Assist Chief Flight Controller


Previous Next