Points of Departure, Part II

Epis­ode Num­ber: 1×02

Writ­ten by: Jon Crew

Dir­ec­ted by: Jon Crew

Trans­mis­sion: 30th May 2020

Guest Stars:

  • Com­mand­er M’Niri: Caitian Com­mand­ing Officer, Deep Space 3
  • Dr T’len: Vul­can Head Sci­ent­ist, Pro­ject Noir
  • Lieu­ten­ant Com­mand­er Coulson: Human Admin­is­trat­or, Pro­ject Noir (detached from Star­fleet Intelligence)

I wish I could be mak­ing my ini­tial log entry in hap­pi­er cir­cum­stances, but Lyo­n­esse’s maid­en voy­age has not gone as I hoped.

A faulty dilith­i­um crys­tal forced a cata­stroph­ic emer­gency shut­down of the warp core, leav­ing us becalmed in inter­stel­lar space. Lt Valik and his team have per­formed stirl­ing work bring­ing the sys­tem back online, but were I a supersi­tious indi­vidu­al, I would be see­ing this as a wor­ry­ing premonition!

Cap­tain’s Log: Stard­ate 9824.4, supplemental

Plot: Lyo­n­esse’s pro­gress towards the Black Cluster con­tin­ues, as the crew gain more know­ledge of their mission.

The ‘A’ Plot: With her warp core fixed, Lyo­n­esse gets back under­way to Deep Space 3, run­ning nearly a day late. An engin­eer­ing invest­ig­a­tion shows that the cracked crys­tal had a flaw that was almost impossible to detect ahead of time. This kind of thing has happened before, but they are lucky there has been no dam­age to the ship from the sud­den stress.

As they arrive at DS3, they are greeted per­son­ally by the sta­tion com­mand­er, who advises them that Dr T’len of Pro­ject Noir is impa­tient to meet them. Capt Mas­uda beams across with some of her seni­or officers.

Cdr M’Niri skips the usu­al tour of the sta­tion, tak­ing them straight across the trade floor to the main lifts, where they ascend to the con­fer­ence suite. Wait­ing for them are Dr T’len, a severe Vul­can, and the rather more friendly Adri­an Coulson. T’len imme­di­ately com­ments that she is glad they have finally decided to turn up, and leads the way straight into a meet­ing room.

What fol­lows is a very terse brief­ing about Pro­ject Noir and the Lyo­n­esse’s exped­i­tion into the Black Cluster. T’len is obvi­ously irrit­ated by the delays, and appar­ently by Star­fleet in gen­er­al; she strides out after less than twenty minutes, say­ing she has sup­ply meet­ings to attend. Coulson apo­lo­get­ic­ally takes ques­tions and goes into more detail on the pro­ject’s find­ings so far.

Lt Astan real­ises that he knows Coulson from his time at the Academy, where Coulson had taught intel­li­gence pro­ced­ures. He admits that he has been assigned to the pro­ject by Star­fleet Intel­li­gence: it is no secret that they are keen to learn more about the civil­isa­tions in the area.

He also gives them instruc­tions for a sec­ond­ary mis­sion, to determ­ine the fate of the VES Sonak, a Vul­can explor­at­ory ves­sel that entered the neb­ula at the begin­ning of the ori­gin­al pro­ject, but has nev­er returned.

While the ship takes on its last sup­plies and equip­ment, Astan takes the time to learn more about the stra­tegic and secur­ity situ­ations in the sec­tor, while Vale uses her last chance before the Cluster to acquire plants, seeds, and soil for her arbor­etum pro­ject, as well as some med­ic­al sup­plies, from the market.

Finally, Lyo­n­esse departs for the Cluster itself, mak­ing for a recently iden­ti­fied entrance to the interi­or. After a few final checks, the ves­sel heads towards the entrance, although Ensign Kheled nearly aborts the entry to the nar­row pas­sage at the last moment, when he becomes con­vinced it is clos­ing on them.

The pas­sage­way is smal­ler than it seemed and space for manouevre is tight. Fur­ther drama ensues when the prox­im­ity alarms go off, caus­ing the ship to again come to a halt, although there is noth­ing vis­ible on screen. Mas­uda orders a detailed exam­in­a­tion of the sensor logs before they move on, but, oth­er than the mass detect­ors that triggered the alarm, and a brief reac­tion from the shields, there is no record of an object com­ing close. Either the ves­sel has nearly been hit by anoth­er object of about the same size, or it is all a false alarm.

With no evid­ence either way, it is decided to pro­ceed fur­ther into the pas­sage­way, where Com­mu­nic­a­tions is begin­ning to pick up what appears to be a sig­nal from a sub­space relay buoy.

Lyo­n­esse fol­lows the curving tun­nel through the clouds for the next week. Before long it is noticed that although the helm shows them trav­el­ling at around warp 3, their nav­ig­a­tion sys­tems show that they are trav­el­ling much more slowly. Mas­uda orders the speed increased to compensate.

Even­tu­ally they emerge into a huge bubble-like void with­in the clouds, con­tain­ing an entire sol­ar sys­tem, com­plete with an orange star and three plan­ets, all illu­min­ated in a weird green-blue glow from the neb­ula itself. Two gormaganders pass close to the ship, and they loc­ate the buoy in orbit around a rocky plan­et. Then they pick up a dis­tress call…

The ‘B’ Plot: As Lyo­n­esse presses on into the neb­ula, Dr Vale and her team find them­selves deal­ing with an increased num­ber of head­aches, anxi­ety attacks and appar­ent hal­lu­cin­a­tions. The source of these symp­toms remains unclear, but appear to be linked to the Black Cluster itself.

The Arc: The Black Cluster is finally centre stage.

Ref­er­ences: The Black Cluster is a vast neb­ula of gas and dust, stretch­ing more than 20 light years across the tip of the Aquila Reach. Although it con­tains stars, the mater­i­al mak­ing up the neb­ula is opaque and the whole neb­ula appears dark. The mater­i­al also blocks sub­space activ­ity, pre­vent­ing its being probed with stand­ard sensors, and also lim­it­ing warp travel, although nar­row chan­nels between the clouds appear to give access. New­er, more power­ful sensors have giv­en brief glimpses of huge shoals of space­borne life­forms (cos­mo­zoa) with­in these chan­nels and this has gal­van­ised interest from the sci­entif­ic community.

Deep Space 3 is an older Invest­ig­at­or-class sta­tion, sim­il­ar to Reg­ula 1. It is home to Pro­ject Noir, the sci­entif­ic pro­ject to invest­ig­ate the Black Cluster, and in which Star­fleet Intel­li­gence appears to have a keen interest. It also has an extens­ive loc­al trade mar­ket used by pro­spect­ors and tramp freighters.

Poten­tial loc­al threats include two Ori­on gangs (the Black Cluster Syn­dic­ate and the Jaroh Fam­ily), the Kzinti and the mys­ter­i­ous Breen, who con­trol a region of space bey­ond the Cluster.

DS3 already has one star­ship assigned to it, the aging USS Asante, a Sen­tinel-class light cruis­er, sim­il­ar in lay­out to Lyo­n­esse.

Pro­ject Noir is the sci­entif­ic invest­ig­a­tion into the nature of the Black Cluster. Organ­ised by the com­bined efforts of the Daystrom Insti­tute, Star­fleet Academy and the Vul­can Sci­ence Academy, along with a num­ber of pres­ti­gi­ous plantary insti­tutes and uni­ver­sit­ies, it was first foun­ded more than thirty years ago, but was shelved dur­ing the hos­til­it­ies with the Klin­gons. Now, in the wake of the Khitomer Accords, it has been react­iv­ated, fully fun­ded and equipped with the latest sensor equip­ment, which was already show­ing hints of more mys­ter­ies with the neb­ula. Lyo­n­esse is to invest­ig­ate these in person.

VES Sonak was a Suur­ok-class research cruis­er, a design used in the 22nd cen­tury and encountered by the ori­gin­al Enter­prise.

Ques­tions: Is Star­fleet Intel­li­gence’s interest purely because of the poten­tial threat of the Breen as indic­ated by Coulson? Or do they have ulteri­or motives?

What did nearly hit the ship as she entered the Cluster? Why was it so dif­fi­cult to pick up on sensors?