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Trip looked up from the intermix chamber, where he'd been monitoring the composition of the matter-antimatter stream. Engineer Second Class K. P. Ryan -- tall, lanky, usually quiet to the point of reclusive -- stood on the access ladder below him.
"Ryan. What's up?"
"You have a moment? It's about the cell-ship."
Trip -- Commander Charles Tucker III, chief engineer aboard the Starship Enterprise -- frowned. He had a systems status meeting with the captain in a few minutes, and he was already running behind schedule.
But the cell-ship...
Analyzing the captured Suliban vessel had been a priority for Trip over the last several months. First on his own, then with key members of his department -- including Ryan -- Trip had turned the cell-ship virtually inside out, trying to plumb the secrets of the Suliban's superior technology.
"What about the cell-ship?" Trip asked.
"Their warp drive. The propulsion system." Ryan's eyes gleamed with excitement. He looked more animated than Trip had ever seen him. "I think I've figured it out."
"No, sir." Now Ryan actually smiled. "I'm not."
"Sonuvagun." Trip set down his diagnostic spanner on top of the intermix chamber. "Come on. Show me."
Ryan led him out of engineering and down to Launch Bay Two. The cell-ship sat in the far corner -- looking like nothing so much as a multisided dice cube precariously balanced on one edge, perhaps a third as big as one of Enterprise's shuttlepods. Its forward hatch was open, and portions of the hull had been removed, exposing layers of exotic-looking circuitry. Cables of varying thickness and color -- most of them supplying power, but some more diagnostic in nature -- ran from various nodes in the circuitry to a diagnostic station nearby. One of those nodes was the warp-drive module -- a rectangular box roughly the size and shape of an old orange crate -- which had been pulled out from the instrument panel and now lay on top of the cockpit console.
Trip hadn't gotten very far in analyzing that module -- but one thing was clear. Unlike Enterprise, which used a series of controlled matter/antimatter explosions to achieve warp velocity, the Suliban drive depended on an exotic series of reactions between charged particle streams -- the exact composition of which had defied decipherment.
At least until now.
"We've been doing a black-box analysis on the module the last few days," Ryan said. "Feeding different particle streams in, measuring the energy that comes out."
"Yeah," Trip said impatiently. He knew that -- he was the one who'd started the black-box analysis a week ago. The last few days he'd had to spend most of his free time in engineering, though, so he'd handed over that analysis to others. "Go on."
"At approximately" -- Ryan consulted the display screen -- "fifteen hundred hours we input a series of discrete ion streams into the warp module. The power output was negligible -- until I had an idea. Alternate the charge on each succeeding stream -- follow a positive stream with a negative, then another positive, and so on. And if you -- "
"Hold on a minute." Trip felt suddenly light-headed. "Are you trying to tell me the Suliban ship runs off an ion drive?"
Ryan smiled. "Yes, sir. I think so."
Trip kept his gaze neutral.
But inside, his mind -- and his heart -- were racing.
An ion drive.
Ryan was still talking, Trip realized.
"...somehow prevent the streams from crossing until the last possible second -- then all that pent-up energy gets released at once. I think that's what the Suliban drive does -- the ions come together like real streams do, to make a river."
"Cascading," Trip said softly. "The word you're looking for is cascading."
"A cascading ion drive." Ryan nodded. "That sounds about right. Of course, we can't be certain that's exactly what we're dealing with here -- it is a black box, after all, but..."
Ryan continued talking, but Trip no longer heard him. He was hearing another voice in his mind, a voice coming from fourteen years and billions of kilometers in the past.
Victor Brodesser's voice, as the most controversial scientist Earth had produced in a dozen generations stood up from behind his desk and reached forward to shake Trip's hand.
"Welcome to the Daedalus Project, Mister Tucker." Brodesser -- in his early sixties, a broad, barrel-chested man with a massive shock of wild gray hair that made him look every inch the mad scientist his reputation made him out to be -- had a fierce grip. "We're here to make history."
And they had. Just not in the way Brodesser had hoped.
* * *
Trip realized Ryan had asked him a question.
"Sorry, K.P. Say again?"
"With your permission -- I'd like to follow this full-time. If these power curves hold, and we could gather enough data -- maybe we could even reverse-engineer the drive...."
Ryan's voice trailed off. The young engineer looked at Trip, and frowned.
"Is something the matter, sir? I suppose I should have called you down when I started to get results, but -- "
Underneath the ensign's worry, Trip could sense a hint of anger and suddenly realized what was going on. Ryan thought he was jealous of the ensign's discovery.
"Hey, no, no, Ensign. Everything's fine. Just...
preoccupied with something, that's all."
"About the cell-ship?"
"No," Trip answered, wondering if he should tell Ryan about Daedalus. No. He needed a conversation with the captain first. And -- there was no need to shoulder Ryan with the burdens of the past just now.
"Listen, this is good work, Ensign. Good work. You absolutely deserve to be the one following up on it."
"Thank you, sir."
"Now, full-time...I don't know about that. But for the next few days I'll switch you off the maintenance roster. You'll have to make up those shifts, though...down the line."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
Ryan smiled so broadly his teeth showed.
Trip couldn't help but smile back.
The companel sounded.
"Archer to Tucker. Archer to Commander Tucker."
The smile froze on Trip's face.
The status meeting.
Trip strode quickly to the nearest companel.
"Tucker here, sir. Be there in a minute. Just finishing up a little something in Launch Bay Two."
"The Suliban ship?"
"Good. That's one of the things we'll need to discuss. When you get here."
"On my way, sir."
Trip closed the channel and turned back to Ryan.
"Keep me posted, K.P. Progress reports every day."
Trip would be studying those reports carefully -- and certainly dropping by frequently to check up on Ryan's progress in person.
He'd put his heart and soul into Daedalus. Even after all this time...it would be nice to see that work -- not to mention Brodesser's belief in the ion drive -- validated. Even if the professor himself was no longer around to see it happen.
Still, as he headed for the turbolift, the ion drive wasn't uppermost in his mind.
Trip was wondering why in the world Captain Archer wanted to talk about the Suliban ship at the status meeting.
The captain, Sub-Commander T'Pol, the ship's armory officer, Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, and -- to Trip's surprise -- ship's physician Doctor Phlox, who almost never attended these status meetings -- were gathered around the situation room table as Trip entered.
T'Pol was in the middle of a heated speech -- heated for her, anyway; after serving with the Vulcan this long Trip had come to recognize the cutting tone her voice took on when she felt particularly strong about making her point -- and Trip waited for her to finish before making his presence known.
"...so my preference remains a continued series of long-range scans, rather than the uncertain -- and potentially catastrophic -- alternative Lieutenant Reed proposes, which would -- "
"Now, hold on a minute, Sub-Commander." Malcolm Reed -- who was also the ship's tactical officer -- frowned. "I grant you that by using the cloaked vessel we take a chance, but catastrophic? Surely that's a bit of an exaggeration -- "
"On the contrary, Lieutenant, catastrophic describes precisely the consequences almost certain to result should our presence be detected by the inhabitants of -- "
"All right. T'Pol, Malcolm -- please." Archer's own voice had an edge. "I think both of you have made your positions clear on this. Now -- "
Trip cleared his throat. "Excuse me -- Captain?"
Archer looked up at him and smiled. "Ah -- Commander Tucker, isn't it? Join us, please."
Everyone around the table -- everyone except T'Pol, of course -- laughed.
"Sorry about being late, sir. But" -- he looked around the table, from Reed to T'Pol to Doctor Phlox, and then back at the Captain -- "cloaked vessel? I have to guess you mean the cell-ship, but...would someone please fill me in on what else I missed?"
"We are talking about the cell-ship" Archer nodded. "As to what else is going on...T'Pol? If you wouldn't mind bringing Commander Tucker here up to speed..."
"Certainly." T'Pol shifted in her chair and spoke directly to Trip. "As you may or may not be aware, several days ago we entered the K'Pellis Cluster, an aggregation of previously unexplored stellar systems. Almost immediately sensors detected a massive gravitational anomaly within one of those systems. We have been conducting intensive studies of the anomaly since that initial contact -- and have agreed a series of close-up observations are in order."
Trip got it instantly. "And you want to use the cell-ship to do that."
Reed spoke up. "Yes."
"But cloaked -- why?"
"I will show you." T'Pol touched a button on the table in front of her, and the display set in the center of the table came to life. From left to right it showed a blinking white oval, a band of much smaller, irregularly shaped objects, and two circles, one much larger than the other.
"This is the Cole One-twenty-eight system -- which the anomaly here" -- she pointed to the blinking oval -- "is located in. The system also contains an extensive asteroid belt" -- she pointed to the band of irregular objects -- "a single Minshara-class planet" -- to the smaller of the two circles -- "and a yellow sun, point-six-hundred-seventy-six on the K'uda luminosity spectrum."
She looked up at Trip.
"The planet is inhabited. A bipedal, humanoid race -- "
"With, I might add, an unusual amount of genotypical similarity to Earth humans," Phlox interjected. "If the preliminary data holds up, in fact, we're looking at an almost ninety-nine point nine percent congruity between these aliens and your species. Which is remarkable, considering the distance between Earth and this world. Wouldn't you agree, Sub-Commander?"
T'Pol raised an eyebrow. "Remarkable is a very strong word, Doctor. I would characterize the preliminary data as 'of interest.'"
"Ah. Remarkable, of interest -- we're talking about the same thing. A -- noteworthy situation, hmm?" Phlox smiled. "Forgive the interruption. Please -- continue."
She did so -- Trip noting that however you wanted to characterize the data, it at least explained Phlox's presence at the situation table.
"This race, Commander Tucker, has minimal space-flight capabilities. Based on intercepted E-M transmissions, they are at least a century away from warp flight capability. Should they detect our presence, it would undoubtedly have far-ranging consequences for the development of their civilization. Potentially" -- she inclined her head in Lieutenant Reed's direction -- "catastrophic in nature."
Reed rolled his eyes.
Archer held up a hand before the lieutenant could start in again.
"Well...hold on a minute," Trip said. "I still don't see why you need the cloaked ship." He pointed to the display. "You've got the asteroid belt between your anomaly here and the planet."
"This civilization has ships in the asteroid belt," T'Pol said. "Most likely performing mining operations."
"Most likely with limited scanning ability," Trip countered. "If we know where those ships are, I'd bet we can get Enterprise in and out without being detected -- and you'd have plenty of time to run your scans...."
His voice trailed off as he noticed Reed shaking his head.
"She needs a week," Malcolm said.
"At minimum. And there are dozens of ships in the belt," T'Pol said. "Too many for us to remain hidden that long."
"Which is why I suggested cloaking the cell-ship," Reed said. "That way -- "
T'Pol shook her head. "If the cloak should malfunction..."
"Trip," Archer asked. "What do you think? Can you get the cloak up and working again -- and guarantee it won't fail?"
Trip let out a long, slow whistle. They'd used the cell-ship's cloak on one previous occasion -- a life-or-death occasion -- and though it had ultimately done what they required of it, its function had been...well, intermittent at best.
Trip had also ended up cloaking his own hand for the better part of a week while working with the cloak. One of the most unsettling experiences of his life -- looking down and seeing your hand gone from the wrist up, made doubly unsettling by the fact that even though he couldn't see the hand, he could still feel it.
"Guarantee is a pretty strong word, Captain. But I tell you what -- I wouldn't mind taking another crack at it. A couple days of solid work and I'll be able to let you know one way or another."
"Commander," T'Pol said. "With all due respect -- one can be certain that the Suliban did not develop their cloaking technology in a 'couple of days.' To think that you will be able to decipher the principles behind it in that span of time -- "
"I don't need to understand the principles," Trip said. "I just need to get it working."
"If we do not understand the principles on which the cloak is built, we cannot be sure of its reliability."
Archer nodded. "A fair point."
Trip frowned. "Well...maybe. But you don't necessarily have to know how something works to use it, Captain. I mean, half the people on this ship couldn't fix the impulse engines, let alone the warp drive. Am I right?"
Archer nodded again, and smiled. "You're right. So is T'Pol. Which is why" -- the captain leaned forward in his chair -- "I'll ask her to assist you in repairing the cloak. That way she can be assured of its reliability before we decide whether or not to undertake the survey."
"Of course, sir," T'Pol said.
"Yes, sir," Trip chimed in, biting down hard on his lip to avoid showing his irritation. He would far prefer to work on the cloak himself, having done a lot of work with that module already, all of which was in his head and only in his head, so he would have to spend a good chunk of time bringing T'Pol up to speed on where he was before moving forward on his analysis.
He looked up and saw Archer smiling at him -- as if the captain could read his thoughts.
"We'll get on it right away," Trip said, returning his commander's grin with as much sincerity as he could muster.
"Good." Archer looked around the table. "Now, if we're all done here -- "
"A moment, Captain." Doctor Phlox, who had remained silent during the entire discussion, spoke up.
"I would like to remind everyone of the unfortunate consequences of Commander Tucker's previous attempts at working with the cloaking device. The 'missing hand' episode, as I have come to think of it."
"You don't have to remind me," Trip said.
"But that is precisely what I wish to do," Phlox said, his voice growing suddenly earnest. Even after all this time serving with the doctor, that was the one thing about him that Trip still had a hard time getting used to -- how Phlox could go from irreverent to dead serious within the space of a single breath. "We found no long-lasting health consequences as a result of that incident, but it seems to me that Sub-Commander T'Pol's point is worth repeating and even amplifying. Playing with technology -- "
"I'm not playing," Trip said forcefully.
Phlox nodded. "An unfortunate choice of words. Forgive me. Experimenting with technology without fully understanding its ramifications is a
situation rife with -- shall we say, catastrophic potential -- especially aboard the cramped confines of a starship. I would urge extreme caution."
"Point well taken, Doctor. Trip, T'Pol..." Archer took them both in with a single glance.
"We'll bear that in mind, Captain," Trip said.
"Yes, sir," T'Pol concurred.
"All right, then. I'll want a progress report tomorrow by eighteen hundred hours -- we should make a decision by that time the following day." Archer looked around the table again, then stood.
But Trip had another matter he wanted to discuss with the captain.
He followed Archer into his ready room.
"Commander Tucker," the captain said as he sat down at his workstation. "Let me guess -- you'd prefer to work on the cloak alone."
Trip smiled. "Sure would. But that's not what I wanted to talk to you about."
"Oh?" Archer activated his monitor and began scrolling through his incoming messages. "What's on your mind?"
"Ryan's made a very interesting discovery -- about the warp drive on the cell-ship."
"Uh-huh. Go on." Archer was half-listening -- as absorbed in scrolling through the information on his monitor as he was in what Trip had to say.
"Captain." Trip leaned over Archer's shoulder. "Preliminary indications are that it's an ion drive."
"Really? An ion drive?" The captain still didn't look up from the screen.
"I think so, sir. Of a type very similar to the one we used in Daedalus."
Archer's fingers, in the middle of keying in a response to one of the on-screen messages, froze in midair.
The captain spun around in his seat to face Trip.
"And this is a functional ion drive?"
"Well...that's what we need to confirm," Trip said. "I told Ryan he could go at it full-tilt over the next few days -- that'll have to wait until we finish up with the cloak now, of course -- but even so, I'd like to get him access to the Daedalus files -- Brodesser's files -- as soon as possible. With your permission of course, sir."
The captain drummed his fingers on his desk.
"Daedalus," he said, wearing a faraway look. Trip knew what the captain was thinking about: Archer had lost friends as well -- good friends -- when Daedalus exploded. "That was a long time ago, Trip...."
"Fourteen years. That long..." Archer shook his head. "You think about what people would be like now...what they might have done."
Trip nodded. He certainly did.
"Brodesser and Duvall -- if the drive had worked, Daedalus would have beat us out here by more than a decade. They would have half the quadrant mapped out by now. Both of them would be as famous as Zephram Cochrane."
The captain was talking in general terms -- "out here" meaning "unexplored space" -- but in point of fact, from what Trip remembered of the mission profile, K'Pellis and the surrounding sector had actually been in Daedalus's initial destination matrix.
"So the drive on the Suliban ship is similar to..." The captain frowned. "What was it called?"
"The cascading ion drive," Trip said. "Cid."
"That's right -- how could I forget? El Cid. Like the story."
Trip looked at the captain.
And once again, he saw Brodesser.
"The cascading ion drive," Brodesser had said that first day Trip had walked into his office. "I've spent the last five years of my life working on it. Here."
Brodesser turned the display on his desk so that Trip could see it.
The monitor was filled with line after line of equations. Trip couldn't make heads or tails out of half of them.
"You'll note" -- Brodesser pointed at one of the last few lines on the screen -- "the maximum speed the drive is capable of achieving."
That line was one of the ones Trip could understand.
"Warp seven-point-six." He blinked just to make sure he'd read it right. "Seven-point-six? The Vulcans aren't even there yet. Don't expect to be there for another hundred years."
"That's right," Brodesser said. "It would be nice to address them from a position of superiority for once -- wouldn't it?"
"Sure would," Trip said.
The two of them shared a smile.
"You'll need to get clearance from Starfleet to open up those old records on Daedalus."
The sound of Archer's voice brought Trip back to the here and now.
The captain had risen from his seat and was now standing by the ready room's sole window, his back to Trip. "Compose a request for me, and I'll forward it on."
Archer turned around then, and shook his head. "Daedalus. An ion drive. It's a small universe, after all."
"That it is, sir."
"It'd be nice to remove some of the clouds hanging over that project."
"Just what I was thinking."
"You'll be careful, though? You'll make sure Ryan's careful?"
"I'll watch him like a hawk."
"All right, then. Dismissed."
Trip headed back down to Launch Bay Two to break the good news -- and the bad -- to Ensign Ryan.
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