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Posted on Mar 24, 2021 @ 6:31am by Captain Michael Turlogh Kane

Mission: Black Sun Rising


(Continued from "Hierarchies of Command")


Space. The final frontier.

The white dwarf star - designated Idium by Federation astronomers - has entered the final stage of its life cycle. In a little over four millennia, the last of its fuel will be spent, and Idium will die, collapsing inward upon itself like a sandcastle buffeted by the surf. But what comes after - well, that is what has brought the starship Phoenix here.

Her arrival in the Idium system is heralded by a silent explosion of white light - a portal between realspace and the warp field generated by her mighty engines - and then, suddenly, she is here, her gunmetal grey superstructure glinting in the star's faraway light, her violent nacelles glinting with menace. Her running lights flare, illuminating that forward saucer section whereon her name and registry number are painted, and within her hull, over eight hundred people subconsciously feel that almost-imperceptible shift as the ship decelerates to impulse power.

Idium is barren. A small gas world orbits the dying star, its surface an unremarkable swirl of hydrogen and helium. The gas world has a moon - an inert lump of rock that used to be a rogue meteor until it became caught in the gas world's gravity well millions of years ago. Back then, Idium was much brighter and much bigger.

When Idium finally dies, the collapse of its own gravity well will destroy the gas world and the little moon. But there is a chance - just a chance - that something amazing will happen. The Idium star, with no more radiation or heat to emit, might pass into a theoretical stellar remnant known as a black dwarf star. This black dwarf would be so cold and dark that, although it would be hanging in space, it would no longer be visible to the Human eye, and might even blend in to the background cosmic radiation of the universe.

The problem, with all scientific theory, is that there are no black dwarf stars anywhere in the known galaxy. The time is takes for them to form must, therefore, be older than the age of the observable universe. If this is true, then a black dwarf star might be proof of the ultimate heat death of the universe, when every particle of matter in existence has moved so far away from every other particle of matter that thermodynamic energy is no longer possible, and everything.



The scans of the starship Phoenix will, it is hoped, add to the black dwarf theory of Federation astronomers and astrophysicists. Everyone aboard her will be long dead by the time Idium breathes its last - in fact, by the time her scans can be used the United Federation of Planets itself will be ancient history. It is the way of all things, inexorably moving toward entropy. Nobody living then will remember the starship Phoenix, and the lives now being played out aboard her will be ground into dust.



Location: USS Phoenix, just arrived
Stardate: [2.21]0328.2230
Scene: Main Bridge - deck 1, saucer section

Michael Turlogh Kane cast a disinterested nod to Lieutenant Byte. The android had reported the ship's arrival in the Idium system, and the various ship's departments who had a stake in the upcoming scientific mission were beginning their predictable clamour for more and more data.

He felt old. Looking out into a dying star system seemed to consecrate the cynicism in his own soul - this was to be the Phoenix's final journey, her last shakedown cruise to confirm that the HCARS system was working properly. Then, like a doomed old dog on its way to the vet, she would head back to Starbase 56, there to be shorn of her ablative armour and her weapons systems, to have her superstructure melted and remoulded into a bland, inoffensive shadow of what she was. A new crew would be assigned, a new name would be given to the old shell, and she would be put to work in a pasture somewhere. No need for a big gun in a time of small threats, it seemed.

Jake Crichton was already gone. So was Jasmine Yu, Iphie Bonviva, and several other people who had been part of the furniture on the ship for years. Others - Eve Dalziel and Kassandra Thytos - were being promoted, kicked upstairs to get them out of the way. Everyone else was going to get reassigned somewhere else. Kane himself was destined for a professorship at Starfleet Academy. All these decisions had been taken months ago by those in higher authority, and there was no changing their minds. It was Game Over.

All good things, he mused to himself. There came a time when life passed you by, when people younger, stronger, and fitter had surpassed you when you weren't looking, and all you had to look forward to was a nice, easy decline into senescence.

"Well, Captain," said Ethan Dobbs to his right, "the sooner we get started, the sooner we can all go home, right?"

That, thought Kane, was exactly what he had been thinking about. Ethan Dobbs was the Phoenix's new Executive Officer - a clipped, efficient Starfleet commander on the way up. There was something that Kane didn't like about him, but couldn't quite put his finger on it - this was Dobbs' first assignment as an ExO, and he got the Phoenix? Did he have friends in high places? - and anyway, Dobbs was as professional as they came. On the voyage here, Dobbs' performance had been exemplary - he had intercepted and resolved several minor inter-departmental issues before Kane had even heard about them, and had also liaised with Ops, Engineering, and Science to draw up timetables and work schedules that would allow the ship's complement to simultaneously test the HCARS system while conducting scientific scans of the Idium star. He had been just the right amount of friendly with everyone around him while retaining an air of authority that the ExO needed, and while Kane knew that this was a necessary front, it would be a lie to say that Dobbs had made any enemies in the past few weeks.

Still, Dobbs' statement could be construed as rhetorical, and Kane didn't respond to it. The next few weeks stretched out ahead of him like a freezing winter - they would be long, boring, and with no payoff at the end of it.

Dobbs got to his feet, and crossed the bridge to Byte's shoulder. "Initiate day one schedule, Lieutenant."

{{Yes, Commander.}}

Dobbs folded his arms and looked out at the vista beyond. The main viewer showed the distant white Idium star off to the left, with the mustard-coloured gas world and its small moon off to the right, tumbling slowly over and over in its Newtonian spiral. The Phoenix was making for a point mid-way between the two, a point where it could sit passively in space conducting its scans while the planet continued on its jaded orbital journey.

Kane decided to get up and go read some reports. There was plenty happening aboard the ship - Lynette Ryan was gearing up to apologise to Malin-Argo, and Kassandra Thytos' surgery to upgrade her sensor network was imminent - but he wasn't in the mood for any of it.


Scene: Medical conference room - deck 12, saucer section

Kassandra Thytos watched her medical team take their seats at the oval table and knew immediately that she was out of her depth. These four people - Sidney Bartlett, Aerdan Jos, Tulla Keiku, and Dr. Pauli - collectively represented almost a century-and-a-half of medical experience. It was strange to think that they would all be gathered around, looming over her while she was unconscious on the table, with Pauli's students clumped around behind them. So many people, all coming together to 'upgrade' her. She'd have been lying to herself if she wasn't apprehensive, but then again, all this medical brainpower was kind of comforting in its own way.

No way in hell she knew the intricacies of what they were on about, though. Pauli, as the cyberneticist, was clearly in charge, but the others were each as important. Bartlett was the general practitioner, Keiku was the anaesthesiologist, and Aerdan was the neurologist.

Pauli was a new Borg, not one of the old robot zombies of the last century. He was tall and pale, with a somewhat saturnine face, but the most striking thing about him was the various cybernetic prosthetics mounted on his body. At first glance, Kass could see that both his eyes were cybernetic, that his ears had been replaced by what looked like circuit boards, and that there was some kind of neural connection port embedded in his right temple. There was a faint whirring sound when he walked across the floor, and as Kass looked closer, she could see that Pauli's shoulders were thickly proportioned and square-shaped, making her think that the Borg was also carrying some kind of skeletal enhancement under his sky-blue laboratory coat.

"How y'all doin'?" Kass ventured. "Y'all're gonna gimme the final pep talk, huh?"

Dr. Pauli smiled. He pushed a PADD across the table to her. "Indeed, Major. This contains all the details you need to know about the surgery you will be undergoing."

"That word's kinda scary." Kass activated the PADD. "Y'all gonna cut me up?"

"Heavens, no!" chuckled Pauli. "An entire suite of cybernetic implants will replace your current outdated network. This involves careful neurological work as well as software writing. As a whole, we will remove all of your existing sensor network and replace it with a newer, more stable, sensory package. This will be accomplished with delicate internal work, but you will not be scarred, nor will you be caused any internal damage."

"We all swore an oath to do no harm," said Bartlett, smiling at her like a kindly grandfather. "We will do no harm to you."

Kass glanced at Tulla's wolfish smile and swallowed. "Alright."

Pauli indicated the PADD. "For example, we have written a new software package that will allow your sensor network to wirelessly connect and interact with HCARS, feeding the holographic data directly into your brain, from where it will be disseminated to your senses - sight and sound - as applicable."

Aerdan took over. "An observer would see you manipulate thin air with your hands, but in reality you would be interacting with HCARS controls that only you can see. Furthermore, we are nowadays able to incorporate much more data into a software package - isolinear microchips have come a long way in the past couple of decades - so much so that, with your approval, we are planning to integrate a visual processor component to your software that may, over time, actually re-train your brain to allow you to see in three dimensions and colour. In your next upgrade, we hope to be in a position to allow complete neural control over the HCARS system, but that technology will require some years of development and experimentation."

Kass frowned. "Ya sayin' Ah kin git normal vision back?"

"It would not be 'normal' vision," said Pauli. "Your brain would be interpreting the software data, not your eyes. And, as I said, it could take many years."

"That's in the future," said Tulla. "Concentrate on the immediate obstacle. With our help, you will wake up a new woman, and, with Doctor Bartlett and I to watch over you, you'll be receiving the best possible after-care."

Kass nodded. She could hardly back out at this stage. "Here's hopin'."


Scene: Counselor Dalziel's office - deck 12, saucer section

Eve Dalziel replicated a cup of lavender tea and sat down at her desk. She still had a few minutes before Ensign Ryan dropped by for her appointment - a motivation session where Lynette would hopefully acknowledge her error of judgement in punching Malin-Argo in the mouth - and wanted to use the opportunity to centre herself.

There was a lot going on in her life right now. The Vulgar Tribble was still open, but without Iphie behind the bar it wasn't really anything more than a lounge with a dead atmosphere. She seemed to have several new patients who had heard about the Phoenix's ultimate fate and were worried about their careers. There was this thing with Lynette. And Starfleet's offer of a promotion and transfer to become the new ExO of the starship Repulse still lay unanswered on her desktop terminal. She wasn't breaking any rules by holding off on accepting the offer, but some day soon an administrative computer in San Francisco was going to pick up on the fact that she hadn't answer, and that was when the follow-up messages would begin - did you receive our message? Why have you not answered? Is there a problem?

She cleared the desktop screen and called up the security footage of Lynette's fracas with Malin-Argo. Sipping her tea, she watched as the new HCARS system generated two three-dimensional six-inch likenesses of the two engineers right there on top of her desk. She saw the angry Grazerite stomp up to Lynette, brusquely ordering the young woman back to work. She saw Lynette's rage erupt like a volcano, saw her throw one punch, then another, at the Chief Engineer's face. A moment later, the footage cut off with the arrival of Virgo Silsby's Security team.

Eve could see the dilemma that she was about to have to muddle through. Lynette would be hoping that someone - her counselor - would validate her feelings of being disrespected by Malin-Argo. If that happened, then Eve ran the risk of tacitly being supportive of Lynette's actions that day - it would be a hell of a lot easier for Lynette to suck up whatever punishment that Captain Kane wanted to dish out if she knew that, even secretly, her counselor thought she was in the right. On the other hand, taking Malin-Argo's side risked arousing Lynette's ire again - the young woman needed just as much support as admonishment, needed to know that there was a way to speak her truth to power, and that any slight against her could be dealt with by a higher authority. It was going to be a tightrope, that was for sure.

No sooner had the thought been born then it died, drowned out by the door chime. Eve took a hefty mouthful of her drink, willing the lavender to do its calming work quickly. "Come in," she said.

The door to her office opened and Lynette came in.


Scene: Main Bridge - deck 1, saucer section

Kane was one step away from his ready room.

{{Captain,}} said Byte.

Kane stopped dead. He turned around slowly, realising how much the makeup of the bridge crew had changed. Jake was gone, condemned to a brig somewhere. Jasmine Yu wasn't at Tactical anymore. Russ BaShen and Thomas Varn were dead. James Barton was on the run. New faces, some familiar and some strange, stared back at him, including Ethan Dobbs, standing at Byte's shoulder.

"Captain," repeated Dobbs, indicating Byte's data feed with a nod of his head. "It's the gas giant's moon. We've found something."


NRPG: Welcome back, everyone! This is kind of a downbeat post, but the Phoenix's ultimate fate is kinda downbeat. All of your characters have something to do. You can write JPs with one another or collab on posts. Kass' surgery is about to happen, as is Lynette's appointment with Eve (and later, Malin-Argo). There's also something important happening on the bridge, but you won't find out what until after these two subplots (i) cyborg marine (ii) angry engineer are underway. Would you believe me if I told you that this story could have big big BIG repercussions for the game world?

Jerome McKee
the Soul of Captain Michael Turlogh Kane
Commanding Officer

"He speaks an infinite deal of nothing!"
- Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice", Act 1, Scene 1.117



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