The Assessor Gambit, Part I

Epis­ode Num­ber: 2×11

Writ­ten by: Jim Johnson

Dir­ec­ted by: Jon Crew

Trans­mis­sion: 22nd April 2023

Guest Stars:

  • Doc­tor Helena Talia­ferro: The Betazoid civil­ian head of the Shack­leton Expanse Research Programme.
  • Com­mand­er K’Qir: Gen­er­al Kar­gan’s adjutant.
  • Lieu­ten­ant Com­mand­er Sar Doveli: Star­base 364’s Zak­dorn joint head of security.
  • Lieu­ten­ant Kah­bel: Doveli’s Klin­gon counterpart.
  • A tall being of unknown origin.

We’ve been recalled to Nar­en­dra Sta­tion, where Admir­al Hebert and Gen­er­al Kar­gan have called my seni­or staff and I in for a major sci­entif­ic brief­ing. The fact the oth­er cap­tains and staffs assigned to the Expanse are here too doesn’t bode well. I sus­pect someone has figured out how to put togeth­er some of the puzzle pieces we’ve found over the last sev­er­al months. I’m deeply curi­ous to see what the pic­ture looks like, though I admit to a cer­tain level of dread­ful anti­cip­a­tion as well.

Cap­tain’s Log: Stard­ate, 48942.6

Plot: Cap­tain Kon­in and his seni­or officers attend a brief­ing con­cern­ing the dis­cov­er­ies made so far with­in the Shack­leton Expanse, before being sent to take a closer look at a poten­tial archae­olo­gic­al site close to the Romu­lan border. 

The ‘A’ Plot: Admir­al Hebert sum­mons all her seni­or staff to a brief­ing at Star­base 364, along with their Klin­gon coun­ter­parts and a num­ber of civil­ian sci­ent­ists. Cap­tain Kon­in and his seni­or officers attend as part of the Star­fleet con­tin­gent, and study the live data streams on the main dis­play with some curi­os­ity, as they seem to be com­ing from remote sensor probes. Once every­one is present, Hebert intro­duces Doc­tor Helena Talia­ferro, who pro­ceeds to sum­mar­ise what has been dis­covered in the Expanse so far, identi­fy­ing Lex­ing­ton as the source of much of the data.

Con­clud­ing her main brief­ing, she pos­tu­lates that a highly-advanced civil­isa­tion, which she has pro­vi­sion­ally des­ig­nated the “Ancients”, once spanned the near part of the region, using tech­no­logy that could manip­u­late sub­space and phys­ic­ally move plan­ets. She bases this on data from five star sys­tems that she has labelled “Can­did­ates”. Four of them have already been vis­ited by the Lex­ing­ton crew, while Can­did­ate Three has only been sur­veyed at long range by Bellero­phon.

Then she pro­poses that a star­ship needs to vis­it Can­did­ate Three to gath­er more data, which causes a bit of a stir. Hebert protests that the sys­tem is far too close to Romu­lan ter­rit­ory to risk a star­ship without know­ing what is at stake. To every­one’s sur­prise, Gen­er­al Kar­gan agrees, point­ing out that the Star Navy heav­ily out­guns allied ves­sels in this region, and that dying glor­i­ously for no gain would be foolish.

Hebert turns to the gathered per­son­nel, ask­ing them to dis­cuss the situ­ation amongst them­selves and come up with pro­pos­als. Quinn approaches the gen­er­al to dis­cuss the pos­sib­il­it­ies of extend­ing star­ship cloak­ing devices to oth­er ves­sels: sadly it seems it is not pos­sible. Zepht gets involved in a detailed dis­cus­sion with the oth­er sci­ent­ists over the data; it seems he’s regarded as a bit of an expert, espe­cially since Talia­ferro cred­ited him with help­ing crack the Ancients’ writ­ten script. Kon­in talks to the doc­tor, inform­ing her of the tele­path­ic “voices” he heard at Alpha Tory­ui; she says this data did not make it to the reports she received, prob­ably because of med­ic­al pri­vacy rules, so he agrees to release it to her. She is not famil­i­ar with the word or name “Tilikaal”.

Then Talia­ferro notices a change in the data streams com­ing in from the probes, which are loc­ated in the Can­did­ate Three sys­tem. She rushes over to double-check the data, and the room goes quiet as a vast green star­ship shim­mers into view in front of one probe. Moments later, the data streams go dark, as all of the probes are des­troyed with dis­ruptor fire.

Hebert reacts imme­di­ately, clear­ing the room of civil­ians and any­one else not part of Star­fleet or the Klin­gon Defence Force, although Talia­ferro remains. Once the doors are closed, a heated dis­cus­sion begins as to what to do about this blatantly hos­tile act. At length, Hebert is per­suaded that they need to know what the Romu­lans are up to, and orders Kon­in to Can­did­ate Three to find out. He has two tasks: find out why the Romu­lans attacked the probes in neut­ral space (prefer­ably by ask­ing), and to col­lect as much data as pos­sible about the sys­tem. The lat­ter aim is why she selec­ted Lex­ing­ton with her enhanced sensor sys­tems. Kar­gan imme­di­ately volun­teers Mup­wI’ to escort them and help reduce the risk of the Romu­lans respond­ing with plasma torpedoes.

The two ships are on their way with­in an hour. Whilst en route, Kon­in orders tac­tic­al drills to ensure the crew is ready, and to make con­tin­gency plans for a Romu­lan attack. Zepht stud­ies the data col­lec­ted about their des­tin­a­tion: Can­did­ate Three is heav­ily affected by the same kind of sub­space and elec­tro­mag­net­ic anom­alies com­monly encountered else­where in the Expanse.

Zepht scans for Romu­lan ves­sels as the ships emerge from warp, but between the con­di­tions in the sys­tem and the likely use of cloak­ing devices by any such ships, he finds noth­ing con­clus­ive. Akul con­tacts Kon­in to let him know he’s going hunt­ing before Mup­wI’ peels off and cloaks as Lex­ing­ton heads on toward the largest of the sys­tem’s three class‑M planets.

Des­pite Quin­n’s best efforts, the ship hits one of the sub­space anom­alies on her approach, dam­aging the shields. Azon­an imme­di­ately gets to work to restore them, but a dam­aged emit­ter fails, requir­ing more intric­ate repairs. Arriv­ing in orbit, Zepht iden­ti­fies a sig­ni­fic­ant energy expendit­ure in one tower on the sur­face, with a cor­res­pond­ing power source deep below.

The cap­tain organ­ises a land­ing party to take a closer look, includ­ing Azon­an, Zepht, Boone and a Caitian med­ic­al crew­man named Ser­valan. He also author­ises phaser rifles, due to the pos­sib­il­ity of encoun­ter­ing hos­tile Romu­lans. As they arrive, they note that they are sur­roun­ded by ruined build­ings of a some­what famil­i­ar design: pentagon­al door­ways and lin­ear grooves in the walls resem­bling cir­cuitry. Scans show the power source over a kilo­met­er below the sur­face, and faint energy cur­rents run­ning through con­duits delin­eated by the grooves in the walls.

Azon­an con­tin­ues to exam­ine the power cur­rents with his tri­cord­er as they head towards the tower Zepht spot­ted earli­er. He real­ises they con­sist of dense energy plasma, not unlike that used in Star­fleet’s EPS con­duits, and are flow­ing towards the tower, pos­sibly from outly­ing col­lect­ors focus­sing the power from below. He iden­ti­fies a nearby build­ing as con­tain­ing a junc­tion point, and the group levers up the door, so he can enter. Able to take more detailed read­ings from this pos­i­tion, he con­firms the plasma hypo­thes­is and notes that the build­ing acts as a sub­sta­tion, com­bin­ing and amp­li­fy­ing plasma cur­rents before redir­ect­ing them towards the tower.

As they cau­tiously approach a large columned build­ing at the foot of the tower, Kon­in scouts ahead. He comes across a sig­ni­fic­ant group of Romu­lan sol­diers, who appear to be search­ing the area for some­thing. As he watches them, he iden­ti­fies anoth­er group gathered around an officer and a very tall humanoid of an unknown spe­cies. Sud­denly, a very clear tele­path­ic mes­sage reaches him, wel­com­ing his party and offer­ing the hope that they will be more amen­able than the others.

The ‘B’ Plot: With Selvek suf­fer­ing the Vul­can equi­val­ent of a crisis of con­fid­ence after the tele­path­ic onslaught at Alpha Tory­ui, Kon­in requests that Lt Cdr Azon­an takes over the role of Lex­ing­ton’s chief engin­eer, with his pre­de­cessor act­ing as his assist­ant. He over­sees the latest round of repairs, tak­ing the oppor­tun­ity to retune the entire warp drive system.

The Arc: Wor­ries that the Romu­lans may also be research­ing the Ancients force Hebert and Kar­gan into more urgent action.

Obser­va­tions: Dr Helena Talia­ferro is an intel­li­gent, but some­what arrog­ant, civil­ian sci­ent­ist, hail­ing from Betazed. Kon­in is bemused when he can­not read her tele­path­ic­ally, as if she is either incap­able of tele­path­ic con­tact, or is block­ing it for some reason.

The Can­did­ate sys­tems are:

The Amar­gosa sys­tem would also have been included, but its primary star exploded on stard­ate 48632, about three months ago.

The Can­did­ate Three sys­tem is very close to Romu­lan space. It has three class M worlds, des­ig­nated II, III and IV. Can­did­ate Three II is twice the dia­met­er of Earth, although its grav­ity is only 20% high­er and its sur­face is com­pletely covered in struc­tures, many of great size. Although the con­di­tions are suit­able, there is no life on the sur­face more com­plex than single-celled organ­isms. The oth­er two worlds are both hab­it­able, but III is head­ing towards green­house status and IV is very cold. Talia­ferro is con­vinced neither is nat­ive to the sys­tem, based on the pro­por­tions of iso­topes in their sensor signatures.

The Ancient cul­ture appears to have been cap­able of tre­mend­ous feats of tech­no­logy, includ­ing “plan­et­ary trans­la­tion”. Azon­an points out that this means they could move worlds, and may have been respons­ible for Can­did­ate Three’s intruder planets.

Dia­logue: Cap­tain Akul informs Kon­in of Mup­wI’s unortho­dox enhance­ments: “Between you, me and the viewscreen…”

The tall being is not impressed by the Romu­lans: “May you be more con­geni­al than these people.”

Ref­er­ences: Accord­ing to Talia­ferro, the Ancients were dis­tinct from both the Iconi­ans and the T’kon, both of whom exer­ted con­sid­er­able influ­ence in the Shack­leton Expanse region.

Talia­ferro also notes that some research­ers believe a hid­den cabal has been obscur­ing pre­vi­ous evid­ence of the Ancient culture.

The remote probes are des­troyed by a Romu­lan D’deri­dex-class war­bird.