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The Heart of the Oasis

Posted on Mon Jul 24th, 2023 @ 6:23pm by Captain Björn Kodak & Lieutenant Commander Victoria Cross & Lieutenant Charles Bridgeport & Lieutenant Margarar & Lieutenant JG Gwenwyn Marwol & Ensign Mei Ratthi & Lieutenant Timmoz & Lieutenant Arianna Durand & Lieutenant JG Irynya
Edited on on Thu Sep 14th, 2023 @ 9:20pm

Mission: Stardust and Sin
Location: The Bridge
Timeline: Mission Day 2 at 1621

[The Bridge]
[USS Sojourner]
[MD 2: 1621 Hours]

The Starbirth Oasis: even the name sounded mysterious. But now, having dropped out of warp at a safe distance from the swirling haze of blazing purple and gold, the Sojourner hung in space primed to penetrate the stellar nursery and plumb its depths to solve a mystery. Having picked up the signal from Kaldri's combadge -- thanks to some ingenuity from Ensign Balsam and the hard work of his programming and manufacturing team -- the Sojourner had traced the signal back to this particular nebula, a likely location where Kaldri might hide from First Maje Subrek and his ship, the Kordra-Lisrit. Was she, even now, taking advantage of the nebula's masking effects to attend to her rather serious wounds while making repairs to her shuttle? Answers, it was hoped, would soon be forthcoming.

"Yellow alert," Captain Kodak ordered, looking at t'Nai's chair and wishing, not for the first time, that it was she who occupied it rather than Doctor Marwol, who was sitting there as an observer. Not that the captain disliked the doctor -- he barely knew him, so had yet to form an opinion, congenial or not -- but t'Nai was his right hand in all things. While it had been he, himself, who'd encouraged his first officer to rest up until there was a firm reason to come to the bridge, Kodak found himself wishing he'd asked her to stay on shift instead. But that was selfish and she needed the rest, so the captain had invited Marwol up to be on hand for their arrival and monitor the crew for any affects from the nebula's radiation.

"Doctor," he nodded to the man filling in for Xex, who was on hand in Sickbay in case of emergency, "I need to know the instant this nebula starts affecting our people. Assuming it does, of course." Kodak conceded the possibility that -- in line with their long-range scans -- the Sojo's shields had been projected to protect them at this distance, though who knew what might happen once they tried to enter the stellar nursery. "Thank you for being here," he added, acknowledging that Marwol's presence wouldn't normally be customary.

"Any sign of Subrek?" the Chameloid asked then, rising from his chair and looking to his right. The question had been to Lieutenant Bridgeport at tactical, born of fear that the First Maje and his ship -- as powerful as the Sojo herself -- might be lying in wait for them when they dropped out of warp. "Ops," Kodak shifted his gaze to Lieutenant Cross at his right, who was filling in for their missing Gorn, "be ready to shunt power to shields and weapons on a dime if we need to, alright?"

Bridgeport was scanning the anomaly. “No sign of that ship as of yet, but for a second there seemed to be something on the periphery of the anomaly but whatever it was is now gone or just not visible on my scans of the area.” Replied The Security Chief.

"Helm," Kodak turned to Timmoz, the green-skinned pilot at the fore of the bridge, "what do you make of the Oasis now that we're up close? Think you can find us a safe way in?" This was all the Orion's show, though Irynya -- his Risian back up -- was on-hand nearby, just in case some extra help was desired by Timmoz given the nebula's volatile nature. Having Irynya there to take over if the nebula's effects somehow took Timmoz out of the equation was also a benefit, the captain decided.

As Kodak waited for his officers to respond, he looked around the command center of his ship. Lieutenant Durand had been tasked with studying the nebula up close upon arrival. Ensign Ratthi had been called up to the bridge as well, stationed at an auxiliary console to help the Chief Science Officer sort through the data the Sojo's sensors were pulling in. It wasn't exactly in Mei's wheelhouse but sometimes a science officer had to help with the grunt work of data sifting, regardless of specialized background. Besides, her help with the Shaddam IVa dust situation had been -- according to Doctor Wang -- invaluable, and Kodak was happy to see the young woman's talents being utilized even in ways she might not expect.

At the rear of the Bridge, Kodak looked at Margarar, their Antican, acting-Chief Engineer. The woman was brusque and reportedly difficult, though as Captain, he'd been isolated from seeing much of that himself. He admired the dedication she showed to her duty, though, stepping up to fill in for Chief Oliveria and ensure the ship was ready for embarking into the stellar nursery hanging before them. "What do you think, Lieutenant?" he asked her. "Are we ready to push in?"

Bridgeport had been a bit aloof lately as he was still puzzled by the previous away mission, he was on top of his duties today. “Still scanning the Nebula sir and weapons at the ready!” He exclaimed

Lieutenant Cross turned away from a readout, giving the Captain a nod to his order. "Aye, sir." She returned to her terminal and prepared action routines for quick power transfers between systems. Her motions were quick and precise, juggling various real time readings of the ship's engines, shields, weapons, sensors, and deflector.

"Thank you, Lieutenant," the Captain nodded to Cross. Kodak appreciated the woman's deft application of her skill set and was glad she was manning things while Gar'rath was gone.

The green one's face was fixed in an uncharacteristic scowl of concentration. He was slightly twisted at his station, his movements favoring the extreme right of his console. "That's depends," he said finally with a head bob. His usual nest of hair was tied back. "Are you familiar with Nausicaan Foundry?" He asked, only momentarily turning his head over his shoulder before his scowling concentration returned to his work. "It's a game. Or what passes as a game on Nausicaa."

"I can't say that I am," the Chameloid admitted, moving down into the helm well so that Timmoz wouldn't have to look over his shoulder to talk to him. He could see the look of intense concentration on the Orion's face and knew the task that lay ahead of Timmoz -- and Irynya, should her help be needed -- wasn't an easy one. "But if it's anything like Nausicaan darts, I might be afraid to ask," Kodak admitted with a chuckle. Humor was his stress response and the exchange was bleeding some of his anxiety away.

"Picture a gauntlet relay," Timmoz began, "With molten balls of glass rolled in ruts that could hit the runners at any time. The problem is," Timmoz frowned again at the data. "It's not usually the balls that get you. It's the heat. This cloud of," he shook his head and grunted, "Stellar afterbirtth is similar. Protostars with intense stellar winds, ionizing radiation and gravimetric shear. Can I avoid the balls? Yes. The rest before we get cooked? We'll see. Durand? Matthi?"

"We'll see?" Kodak asked, mock-disbelief clouding his face. Truth be told, Timmoz was one of the best pilots the Captain had ever encountered. If anyone could get them through, it would be the Orion. And while the situation was definitely a serious one, the Chameloid enjoyed the flare of slight humor coloring his exchange with the man. "Do your best, Lieutenant. I've no doubt it will be enough and more," he stressed, giving the pilot an encouraging nod.

"I've been scanning the gravitational distortions since we came in range, Lieutenant," Ratthi said, glancing up at Timmoz for a moment before turning back to her console, her hands light on the controls as she worked. "I'm compiling a report of the tidal patterns we'll encounter. That should be ready in the next thirty seconds, and it will continue updating every few seconds as more information comes. I'll send the results over to you as soon as I have them."

At the Science station, Lieutenant Durand appeared to be engrossed in the multiple displays of sensor data that streamed across her console. Her fingers swept and pinched at the data, segregating, organising and categorising it. As though learning from her input, the incoming data appeared increasingly pre-organised and a small smile of satisfaction showed on her lips. It was only on hearing Ensign Ratthi speak up that she realised they were still waiting on her input.

“We’re experiencing a lot of sensor interference from the nebula,” she began. “I’ve modified the heuristics to reflect our specific situation and that’s filtering out the data we just can’t rely on. Unfortunately, that only allows us to to create a somewhat short-range map of our surroundings. Whilst Ensign Ratthi keeps tabs on the gravimetric landscape, I’ll add the molecular cloud density and ion streams.” She allowed her eyes to leave the data so that she could turn and make eye contact with the Captain. “It’s a rapidly changing environment, Sir. I recommend alerting the crew to be ready to evacuate whatever section of the ship they may be in. Crossing one of these ion streams would be like taking a continual hit from an energy weapon. Whatever we do to resist it will only buy us time to get out of the way.”

"Understood," Kodak nodded to Durand, appreciative of the woman's report and recommendations. "Ops, please communicate that out. Let's not get caught off guard in the event we do need to evacuate certain sections of the hull," the Captain said.

Cross sent a warning to the crew, stressing the yellow alert was due to the presence of heavy ionizing radiation bands. She signalled a 'Be Ready To Evacuate Your Section' notice to the non-essential sections of the vessel, while she did her best to shore up extra shield power towards softening incoming blows.

"Sir, I've sent a warning for choppy seas, but I'm a operations officer, not a miracle worker, though I can see the confusion. If we get hit square on, crew in affected regions will only have until the shields fail to get to the stronger hulled regions of the ship." She sent the Captain a map showing her safety suggestion - If a radiation storm swept, non-essentials will flee to the Saucer, while the ship section is protected in key sectors, namely engineering.

Kodak reviewed the map and nodded. "Good plan, Lieutenant," he said to the Operations officer, appreciative of her proactivity.

Are we ready to push in? Margarar thought to herself. Do you want me to tell you the hundreds of ways that this ship could be atomized, vaporized, exploded, or imploded? Of course not. And nor does Starfleet. Good thing that most of the nebula and space is well, space.... Barring an obvious and clear and present danger, our job is to explore. I do wish that I was not placed in this position. Being in control is difficult. If I could just follow Lieutenant Oliviera's instructions, life would be easier. Well, it would be easier if my roommates were not kissing Noah's hind quarters all the time. It makes life more difficult. Why did I want to do this again? I could have found a husband and had a litter of pups by now. Despite all of these thoughts running through her head, Margarar merely responded, "Sojourner is ready when you are, Captain. She'll pull us through" Or she won't, in which case, neither of us will have to worry about this conversation.

Were t'Nai on the bridge, the First Officer might have been able to alert Kodak to the Antican's shifting and complex emotional response. Without her aid, though, the Captain had to settle for his own ability to read facial expressions and body language. He sensed there was more that Margarar might have wanted to say but did not press the issue, choosing instead to accept her report at face value. "Thank you, Lieutenant," Kodak offered to the assistant Chief Engineer.

From her perch at another of the auxiliary stations positioned aft of the Captain's chair Irynya murmured something that sounded half like, "Never avoided balls before," to Timmoz's comment. It was, admittedly, a mildly inappropriate response, but like many on the bridge she, too, was nervous. Even in a back-up position she knew that having her hands directly in the flight sensor data might make the difference between entering an unexpected heat well and keeping to the safest path afforded them. As if doing so might soothe some of her nerves she called up a diagnostic and set it to run on the flight sensors again. She'd done this three times already, but perhaps... the fourth time... would reassure her.

"You and me both," Kodak smirked at the Risian. It was, perhaps, a touch unprofessional to engage like that on the Bridge but nerves were nerves: a little playfulness could only help. The Captain watched Irynya dial up another diagnostic, able to recognize the function amidst the glowing lines of the readout floating above her auxiliary console. Her hand movements almost seemed fidgety: he could definitely empathize.

Gwenwyn was at the edge of the XO's seat, it was different to be on the planet, watching where they were going instead of being in sickbay and a patient telling you. "Thank you for having me Captain," Gweywn said with a smile trying to be polite, he reached over to the command screen which was in between Gwenwyn and Kodak, from which Gwenwyn could monitor reports filed from sickbay.

"It's a pleasure to have you up here, Doctor," Kodak dipped his head to Marwol as he retook his seat. "Well," he said, making his voice heard by all on the Bridge, his voice full of finality, "I'd say it's now or never. Helm, take us in, please," the Captain intoned towards Timmoz. "As steady as possible would be great, but we'll accept mild turbulence if needed," he chuckled softly. "Let's go find Kaldri," the Chameloid said, determination creeping into his tone. He hoped the Kazon woman would be found alive and well in her stellar hidey hole.

Timmoz chuckled, and with a brow rose he looked back at the Captain, "Just checking if you have anything to drink Tahedrin." His fingers splayed out, laced and he cracked them. "Bridgeport. Keep up," he noted to Tactical. "We'll rotate shield vectors to keep the wear even." Timmoz's brow perked again, "Or as even as possible."

With a chirpy keystroke, Timmoz thrummed the impulse drives to life. He kept his fingers poised over the maneuvering thrusters. The stars as background and the yawn of the stellar nursery began to speed in. The dance began. Timmoz's panel would chirp. Then his fingers would speed. The ship less glided as swam. The fixed points on the main screen began to sway and spin- as the Sojourner itself turned and spun on its long axis- first buffeting a stellar ion disturbance against the ventral shields, and then again but this time against the dorsal. The wash of ionized color was beautiful as it careened over the shields.

The fourth scan, like the three before it, showed no issues and Irynya sighed, feeling only the tiniest loosening of the nervousness that sat tight in her chest. For the briefest of moments she closed her eyes breathing out slow and then, as she opened them turned so that she was watching the viewscreen.

The colors. A bit more loosening, like unraveling, gave the Risian space to breath more deeply as she took in the overwhelming beauty of the colors that shifted as Timmoz expertly navigated them through. Her eyes dropped to her friend and superior officer a moment, watching the catlike grace and ease as he maneuvered. Someone who didn't know Timmoz well might mistake his ease at the helm as boredom, but she knew well enough to see the signs of his focus, the expertise with which he flew the Rhode Island class vessel as if their entry into the nebula was more dance than strategy.

They're both. She thought to herself, recognizing a statement he might have made to her if he had been privy to her observations.

The rest of the knot came loose all at once and once again Irynya drew a deep breath, then tore her eyes from the viewscreen and set about evaluating readings on the flight sensors once again.

Margarar shifted uncomfortably on the bridge. She felt something was bound to go wrong. Did not everything go to hell when everything seemed calm? She looked on at the colors on the viewscreen from outside the ship, hoping that her sinking feeling was wrong.

On the viewscreen, Kodak watched the shifting colors washing over the Sojo as it passed through the outer edge of the nebula and slipped into the nursery's womb. The view inside was stunning; completely and utterly just jaw-dropping in every way. Stars in various states of development burned with the hottest of primordial gases, burgeoning into life inside halos of stardust. But it was the two stars in close orbit at the heart of the nebula that caught the Chameloid's gaze most. There, hanging amidst the blossoms of violet, orchid, and canary cream, was the centerpiece of this stellar phenomenon: a celestial twin-birth.

"It's beautiful," the Captain commented, stating the obvious but unable to help himself. "That formation in the center must be what Baxter's star charts referred to as the 'Twinfire,'" he said, thinking back to his review of the maps the day prior, while en route to this stellar oasis. "Any sign of Kaldri?" he asked, remembering their mission suddenly and knowing his officers were already busy scanning. "This would absolutely be a perfect place to hide from Subrek," the Chameloid nodded to himself, admiring Kaldri's thinking in coming here.

"It's hard to tell, being honest," Bridgeport reported from the tactical station. "We've got a generalized area it's coming from but nothing specific: sending that to you now," he said, transmitting the sensor feed readout to Kodak's chair. "I--" He'd been about to say more when a beeping on his panel stole his attention. "That's...odd," he said, brow furrowing. "Could have sworn I picked up another ship out there for just a second...but it's gone now," Bridgeport said. "I don't think it was Kaldri, though: wrong direction and bearing."

"Keep an eye out for it," Kodak replied. "If there is another ship out here with us, it could be Subrek."

Past the threshold into range of the stellar nursery, Victoria's console registered an alarm. "Captain, we're being bombarded with a constant heavy band of an ionizing radiation that's affecting our shields. I'm redirecting power from tertiary systems to shore up the defenses. The starbirth is a chaotic maelstrom, as beautiful as it is, and the last thing we need is our DNA matching the scenery."

Margarar called out, "The sensors will soon start blinking in and out. It is a known side effect of nebula." True to her word, the view screen started to flicker in and out. "Best I can do to assist is to get some extra probes with sensors out there Captain, but I'm not certain how much they would help. I would recommend locating that beacon as quickly as possible and getting us back out of here."

"Agreed," Kodak nodded to Cross, "I'd very much like to keep my DNA the way it is." Watching the viewscreen spfitz with static around the edges, the Chameloid turned to regard the engineer. "We need to see where we're going but I wouldn't count on a quick exit. We could be in here for some time. Launch the probes," he said to the Antican before turning back forward to face Timmoz. The pilot seemed entrenched in the work and with good reason: this nebula apparently wanted to fight them every step of the way. He'd been about to offer a word of encouragement when a beeping from the arm of his chair pulled his attention away.

"Looks like Kaldri's combadge signal is coming from the Twinfire," Kodak explained, having kept an eye on the sensors himself while everyone else was busy with other tasks. "In all this stellar soup, though, the signal is fairly generalized," he commented, the sensors -- as per Margarar's warning -- suffering from degradation while operating from within the nebula. "Helm, take us within a safe distance but close enough to get a better read."

"So flirtatiously but pretending to be coy about it," Timmoz murmured in Cluros back at the Captain. "Yes, Tahedrin," he said even as the ship began to bank toward the double orbs of glowing light.

"Exactly," Kodak smirked back at the Orion, appreciative of the man's ability to joke even under so much pressure.

As the Sojourner flew deeper into the nebula, the torsional stresses increased at an alarming rate. The two pilots had to coordinate their efforts to find the best way forward, though "best" didn't exactly equate to "smooth." At several points along the way to the Twinfire, the ship was unavoidably buffeted and jostled, the shields -- even as power-rerouted as they were -- taking hard hits from the massive waves of stellar matter and energy washing off of the twin-birthed stars ahead of them. But like following a string tied to something unseen underwater, the Sojo followed the weak signal from Kaldri's combadge back to its apparent source.

The signal was coming directly from the area where the two stars formed a gravitic fulcrum in their shared orbits. Only, at least according the to sensor readout Kodak was looking at, there didn't seem to be a ship or anything parked there for the signal to be coming from. "The combadge's generalized location is somewhere in the gravity well between those stars...but I'm not seeing what it could be coming from," the Chameloid commented questioningly. He began to rise into a standing position when the ship shook violently, twin coronal waves washing off the stars ahead and slamming into the Sojo. The sudden pitching of the deck sent Kodak back into his seat, though he landed wrong as he tried to brace himself with his left arm and cried out in pain.

"Science," Kodak growled around the discomfort in his arm, "I want deep scans of the area between those stars. There has to be something there. Find it," he urged before again looking to Timmoz and Irynya. "I realize all this," he gestured haplessly with his uninjured arm at the "oasis" on the viewscreen, "is a total mess to navigate through. But we need to get closer," Kodak stressed. "What are the chances you two might be able to find a way down into that gravity well?"

The sound of pain close by made Gwenwyn look up from the shared console, noticing the injured Captain Gwenwyn easily lent over and elevated his arm, hand touching his right shoulder, while his eyes were searching for any black and purple discolouration, a sign of sprain and bruising, thankfully there wasn't. "Keep it elevated," Gwenwyn commanded to his CO. "I'll look for a medkit with a triangle bandage."

Kodak allowed the doctor to give his arm the once over and then held it up at an awkward angle as instructed. "Thank you, Doctor," he said quietly to Marwol, not wanting to draw his officers' attention away from their efforts out of potential concern for him: they had quite enough to worry about already. "I'll try not to move it until then," the Chameloid confirmed.

"Yes, captain." Mei took a steadying breath, tapped her fingers twice, and focused on the gravimetric readings in front of her, searching for the best path through the flood of tidal forces surrounding them. She also kept an eye on the readout at the top of her screen showing the stresses on the ship's hull- in a mostly safe range for now, but that could change quickly. With all those unpredictable new stars, the masses of collecting dust, and whatever else might be lurking inside the nebula, there were plenty of shifting gravity wells to contend with. But as more information rolled in, Mei thought she was detecting a pathway that could be safe, provided nothing changed too quickly. She sent the update to the helm, then focused on the gravimetric readings again, fully prepared to send new information to Timmoz whenever she had it.

Mei's update flashed across the consoles of the two pilots, feeding the science sensor data into their calculations. "Ratthi." Iry called as the data flowed in. With a flick of her fingers she tied the flight sensors and scientific sensors together, sending the whole doubled cascade of data back over to Mei. "I can help refine with the flight sensors," she commented at a look from the other woman and then, without waiting, went back to the minute adjustments needed to complement the work Mei was doing.

"That works great," Mei said, flashing Iry a quick smile before returning to her work. The refinements had indeed helped. She was getting a clearer picture of what was going on inside the gravity well she'd been scanning, and every second that passed made that image even better. Except for one reading. "Captain, there's something inside the main gravity well that seems to be sort of hanging there between those two stars. There must be some sort of sweet spot that's keeping it suspended. I can't tell what it is, exactly, though. It keeps flickering in and out of my readings, but whatever it is, it's big. We'd have to get closer to really see it."

"Confirmed," Timmoz said. "Something in the stars' mutual L1 LaGrange points. Where the stars' mutual effects are canceled out. The hard part is getting to it."

"I don't want to rush anyone, but the interference causing the flickering is from an erratic stream of plasma that's passing between us and that LaGrange point," Durand added. "It's not much of a problem at the moment, but I traced it back to the origin star and I believe it's building towards a coronal mass ejection. I'm reading shear accumulation in the coronal magnetic field." She tapped a few buttons, updating the shared situational data. "This is the point where it crosses our planned path. If we haven't passed this point in the next twenty minutes, the probability of getting caught in an ejection rises above fifty percent."

Dr Marwol came back, a med kit with him. Placing it down on the former Dr turned First Officer seat, he opened the metallic casing and withdrew the bandage he spoke of. Taking the Captain's arm he pulled it across his chest "Keep it rigid sir & support your arm please." He commanded, He slid the triangular bandage underneath the injured arm, elbow to his fingers then folded the lower end of the bandage up over the forearm to meet the top of the bandage at the shoulder of the injured side. Tieing the ends together in a basic knot, finally he slid the Captain's arm into place, where it could lay comfortable without causing anymore pain.

"I appreciate the care," Kodak nodded to Marwol, taking the order to keep his arm stiff and supported seriously. As the bandage was wrapped and positioned, he could feel some relief long as he didn't move the arm, of course. "Thank you, Doctor," he said appreciatively to the surgeon.

Kodak then peered at the holographic display emanating from the arm of his chair. A glowing, canary-yellow line traced through the air, leading directly into the sweet spot Mei and Timmoz had identified between the twin, wireframe stars hanging before him. "If it weren't for the combadge leading us here," he commented with a bit of wonder, "I doubt we'd have ever detected whatever that is out there." Based on what his officers were telling him, Kodak knew delving into the gravity well would be risky. Even with brief windows of the stellar matter and energy waves letting up, the ride would be rough and the Sojo would be battered. Was catching up to the Kazon woman really worth all the trouble they were going to? We're committed now, Kodak thought to himself.

"Mr. Timmoz, if you please," the Captain intoned, dipping his head toward the Orion as he gave the order to take gravity's plunge. "Lieutenant Irynya," he said then, looking toward the Risian, "while our resident fly boy is maneuvering in real time, I want you to model the stars' effects and predict course corrections: feed them to Timmoz as quickly as you can." He watched with satisfaction as both pilots did what they did best, their focus intense.

The Sojo angled into a thirty degree pitch, slowly slipping into a less turbulent -- but still battering -- fold of energy and matter waves as it began to descend into the gravity well. On the viewscreen, wisps and washes of violet and orange color blooms parted before them, the stars on either side of the Sojo's prow growing wider and wider apart as they moved further into the space between them. The going was rough but more or less tolerable if people allowed their bodies to rock with the motion and vibration of the ship.

For a few long moments, Kodak thought perhaps they'd make it to the center safety zone without incident. The sudden wailing of an alarm, however, ended that particular fancy. The alert signaled an incoming barrage from an unpredictable wave of star-wash that was fast approaching and entirely unavoidable.

"People may want to hold on," Timmoz said at the last moment. "Impact in 3... 2..." Timmoz too then grasped his console, momentarily having to requinish his strictly focused attention. Yellow Alert shifted to red, the ambient lighting of the Bridge dropping a scale and shifting into a scarlet-hue as the Sojo violently rocked and was tossed.

"That could have been a lot worse. Just so you know," Timmoz said, looking back to see Kodak, injured. "Oh. Booksa..."

"Not your fault, Lieutenant," Kodak responded, having ridden out the stomach-lurching hit with an uncomfortable hiss due to his arm. "Better than I could do, that's for sure," he complimented the Orion. The Captain focused his attention then on the ship's systems as Timmoz continued taking the Sojo down into the well. "Cross, Margarar," the Chameloid said, needing new information, "status reports, please." A grim look clouded his face as the slow-strobing, crimson accent lights lit his features in the darkened state of the Bridge.

The dread, and then the impact. Cross leaned forward with the disturbance, and after regaining her composure, she read immediate messages from across the ship, before the shipwide systems analysis. Her brows furrowed, and she mouthed a readout under her breath.

"Minor injuries in Deck 6, sir, and the deflector needs time for me to reroute power before we take another hit like that."

Margarar could hardly believe what was happening. Perhaps her thought that the discussion would not matter would come true. Well, she certainly would not have to debate her career versus life choices much longer. She reported, "We have lost our aft shields. This could be due to ionized gas from the nebula or from the impact. Running further diagnostics on that." The environmental lights started to blink in and out. "Enviornmental systems are having power fluctuations. I will need a team to find the cause. There is a slight drain. And, as Cross indicated, the deflector system requires power to be rerouted to it. We can scaresly afford any other drains on the ship, but maybe we can perform a miracle. I probably should get down to engineering, rather than being up here, sir."

"Understood," Kodak offered to Cross in acknowledgment, eyes flicking to Timmoz. "We'll do what we can on that front," he commented, seeing that the Orion was already doing his best to avoid another big hit. To Margarar, the Captain turned and nodded. "Go, Lieutenant, and keep us informed," he ordered. "Steady as we go then," Kodak said.

[Several minutes later...]

They'd done it. It'd taken some time but, eventually, they'd found a cyclical gap in the stellar matter and gases that allowed their way safely down into the gravity well between the Twinfire stars. Following the combadge signal had taken the Sojourner deep into the stellar muck but, at last, the source of the beacon was displayed on the viewscreen ahead. Eyes moved from individual console displays to take in the vastness of the space station that hung before them; the station and the myriad of small ships buzzing around it, a hidden hornet nest expertly obscured within the Oasis. If someone didn't want to be found, this was clearly the place to go. Unless one knew the station was tucked away within the stellar nursery, chances were no one would ever chance onto its existence here.

Whatever this place was called, it was massive. The exterior of the station was a patchwork of battered hulls and makeshift extensions, the station apparently assembled in piecemeal by cutting up derelict starship hulks and welding them together. Docking arms and bays appeared to be slapped onto the exterior as if in afterthought, the outer shell of the station bearing the scars of the predecessor ships used in its construction: there was no end of gouged hull plates and carbon-scored surfaces. Many patches had apparently been welded into place over the years, sealing holes and shoring up structural integrity where possible. Just looking at the station sparked the desire for a tetanus shot for anyone who might consider spending time onboard, however.

"So that's where Kaldri got to," Kodak commented wryly.

"We're being hailed," came the sudden voice of Bridgeport from the tactical console. "Audio only, sir," he nodded to Kodak.

"Put it on, please," the Captain nodded back, eyes still tracing every detail of the station on the viewscreen.

The transmission came over the comm then, the voice on the line gruff and direct, completely to the point:

"You are welcomed to Hukatuse Tagumik. As your ship does not match the profile of any that has visited prior, we recognize you as a first time visitor. You should know that this is a neutral place, free from the fetters of any external governments or foreign powers. That includes Starfleet and the Federation. No authority is recognized here save Governor Dendrak's." The speaker could be heard sucking in a breath and then expelling it drolly. Clearly, they were aware of where the Sojourner came from.

"We are uploading information about this station to you now. Should you wish to dock, there is a list of material we will accept in trade for your berthing fees. If you require repairs, we can assist you, though also for a price. All are welcome aboard as long as our rules are followed without fail. Ignorance of our policies is no excuse for breaking them. We have set aside a docking slip for your vessel. Contact us when you are ready to dock and we will guide you in." And with that, the line went silent.

Kodak pulled up the information packet that had been sent to the Sojo. It contained a lot of information about the station, including maps, directory listings, and a general description about the station and its function. Apparently, Hukatuse Tagumik -- or just "Hukatuse," as it was called for short -- served as a haven for smugglers and refugees: a hidden place where the laws outside of the stellar nursery did not apply. With starship repair facilities, a well-stocked infirmary, a thriving market place for trading, and ample short- or long-term housing, Hukatuse was the perfect place for Kaldri to regroup and plan her next moves. And that, Kodak thought to himself, means we're going there, too.

"Bridgeport, stand down red alert. Mr. Timmoz, prepare for docking," the Captain ordered the Orion in his customary rasp. "Bring us into the assigned docking berth and then power down the engines. Cross," he looked to the Operations officer, "reference the list of trading materials they sent over and put together our docking fees. Have them loaded up and waiting at whichever airlock Mr. Timmoz sidles us up to."

"We're going over there," Kodak announced then to the Bridge at large, increasing the volume of his voice to be heard by all. "Kaldri is there somewhere and we're going to find her," he said with determination in his eyes. "I'll coordinate with t'Nai, who will assign an away team. Be ready just in case you're selected." Kodak winced then at Doctor Marwol as his arm throbbed, "Let's go to Sickbay and get this arm sorted, Doctor. You have the Bridge, Mr. Timmoz. Try to park us gently," he cracked a smile for the Orion.

And with that, the Captain and Doctor left the Bridge. Further orders would no doubt be forthcoming but, for now, the Sojourner would approach Hukatuse and dock with the dilapidated station. All silvery and sleek, the Sojo stood very out of place compared to the other vessels coming and going from the station. Kodak just hoped no one would try to steal the ship out from under them while they tried to find Kaldri.

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

Captain Björn Kodak
Commanding Officer

Lieutenant Victoria Cross
Chief Operations Officer

Lieutenant Charles Bridgeport
Chief Tactical Officer

Lieutenant Margarar
Acting Chief Engineer

Lieutenant JG Marwol
Acting Chief Medical Officer

Ensign Mei Ratthi
Science Officer

Lieutenant Timmoz
Chief Flight Control Officer

Lieutenant Arianna Durand
Chief Science Officer

Lieutenant Irynya
Assistant Chief Flight Controller


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