The Orion Heist, Part II

Epis­ode Num­ber: 3×06

Writ­ten by: The authors of the Shack­leton Expanse Cam­paign Guide

Dir­ec­ted by: Jon Crew

Trans­mis­sion: 26th August 2023

Guest Stars:

  • Pal­jara: Ori­on owner/operator of the S.S. Castle Rock and sus­pec­ted Ori­on Syn­dic­ate member
  • Brax­ton: A Human sys­tems hacker

Fol­low­ing the theft of Tilikaal arte­facts from Nar­en­dra Sta­tion, we have found the per­pet­rat­ors’ ves­sel stuck in a gra­vi­met­ric anom­aly. As we pre­pare a com­bin­a­tion res­cue and retriev­al mis­sion, I can­’t help think­ing they did this to themselves.

Cap­tain’s Log: Stard­ate, 49183.3

Plot: Zepht leads a board­ing party on to the dan­ger­ously unstable wreck of the Castle Rock, hop­ing to retrieve the miss­ing artefacts.

The ‘A’ Plot: With no response from the S.S. Castle Rock to hails, Kon­in calls an impromptu con­fer­ence to dis­cuss the situ­ation. Azon­an and Zepht believe they can lim­it the viol­ent move­ments of the stricken ship by using an anti-grav­iton beam from the tract­or emitters.

Their oper­a­tion is suc­cess­ful and Kon­in organ­ises a board­ing party, to include the pair of them, along with Dr Con­ners, Raynor and D’G­hov. Quinn will pilot them across in a shuttle­craft, due to the poten­tial dangers of trans­port­ing into the anom­aly, and before they leave, Con­ners admin­is­ters an anti-naus­ea drug to each of them.

Quinn pilots the craft into the anom­aly’s field of effect with little dif­fi­culty. The ride is rough, but he is able to dock with the side of the Castle Rock, allow­ing the board­ing party to cut their way in. Tri­cord­er read­ings show the anom­aly is centred towards the rear of the primary hull, with­in the main hold.

The interi­or struc­ture is in a bad way, but still intact. They make their way along a badly-twis­ted pas­sage­way, peri­od­ic­ally rocked by tremors rip­pling through the hull. Even­tu­ally they reach a cross-cor­ridor, sur­pris­ing what appears to be a Gorn work­ing on machinery behind an access pan­el. A brief con­ver­sa­tion ensues, before the Gorn agrees to go and find his superior.

Rather than wait, the board­ing party turns into the main cor­ridor of the ship and invest­ig­ates the crew quar­ters. They find an Ori­on crew mem­ber in a cab­in being viol­ently sick, pre­sum­ably as a res­ult of the grav­it­a­tion­al shifts. Con­ners treats him for both the naus­ea and dehyd­ra­tion before tak­ing his weapon for safety’s sake.

They reach the main hold, find­ing that the dis­tor­tions are much worse here. The walls and floor are buckled, with crates and their con­tents scatttered every­where. To make mat­ters worse, the gra­vi­met­ric shifts are com­ing more fre­quently. The tri­cord­er indic­ates that the centre of the effect is behind a wall of crates.

As they advance, a new fluc­tu­ation hurls debris at them, caus­ing bruises and minor cuts. Behind the crates, they find two Ori­ons, a Hupyri­an, and a Fer­engi watch­ing a Human hold­ing a Tilikaal arte­fact. The arte­fact is a grey stone dodeca­hed­ron, with each face present­ing a single glyph pulsing in char­ac­ter­ist­ic blue light as the dis­turb­ances occur. Wires con­nect the object to a box of Ori­on tech­no­logy, which is in turn con­nec­ted to the Human’s skull by a single cable. Six more arte­facts in a crate also light up in uni­son with the first.

The unfor­tu­nate man’s limbs are badly twis­ted and broken, a res­ult of the grav­it­a­tion­al shear, and his eyes are open, but show­ing only the whites. He screams in pain as each dis­turb­ance begins, seem­ingly trig­ger­ing a pro­cess that leads to the next dis­turb­ance. Con­nors imme­di­ately tries to scan him, but finds that her med­ic­al tri­cord­er is being blocked by something.

The Ori­on cap­tain, pre­sum­ably Pal­jara, imme­di­ately requests the help of the team. She explains that Brax­ton, an exper­i­enced user of the neur­al datalink, thought he could dis­cov­er some­thing use­ful about the items by con­nect­ing dir­ectly to them. He almost imme­di­ately reacted as if he’d been pos­sessed by some­thing else. He has been talk­ing in a strange lan­guage, and seems to react to people that aren’t actu­ally present.

Azon­an reaches out to simpy dis­con­nect the cables, but is repulsed by a force field com­pletely sur­round­ing Brax­ton. Zepht attempts to decode the vis­ible sym­bols on the arte­fact from a dis­tance, but is only able to work out that a couple of them mean things like “danger” and “intel­li­gence”.

As they watch, Brax­ton looks up, star­ing in an appar­ently ran­dom dir­ec­tion, and utters an incom­pre­hens­ible phrase. This repeats every minute or so, always in a dif­fer­ent dir­ec­tion, but the uni­ver­sal trans­later is unable to decode the phrase, as it is too short. Des­pite this, Zepht is con­vinced it is Tilikaal. He addresses Brax­ton dir­ectly in Fed­er­a­tion Stand­ard, which res­ults in the hack­er turn­ing to face him, ask­ing “what is your pur­pose?” He does not seem impressed with the answer and returns to his pre­vi­ous actions.

With the dis­rup­tions beo­m­ing more fre­quent, it is imper­at­ive that they shut the device down, so Azon­an begins work­ing out how to pen­et­rate the force-field. A phaser or dis­ruptor beam power­ful enough to pierce it would prob­ably vapor­ise everything inside, so it requires more fin­esse. Gath­er­ing togeth­er a pile of Star­fleet and Ori­on tech­no­logy, he assembles a device to shut it down.

Con­ners imme­di­ately leans in to scan Brax­ton, who is not in a good con­di­tion health-wise. Azon­an opts to simply dis­con­nect the datalink from the arte­fact, which res­ults in the whole assembly shut­ting down. Brax­ton begins to scream in pain, requir­ing that Con­ners sed­ate him.

Pal­jara thanks them for their assist­ance, then informs them that they’ll be leav­ing now. She orders her men to take the board­ing party pris­on­er, but Zepht is ready for a betray­al. He orders a party beam-out, tak­ing Brax­ton and the arte­facts with them. Moments later, the Castle Rock’s per­son­nel are beamed dir­ectly into Lex­ing­ton’s brig as the trans­port explodes.

The Arc: Zepht tracks the vec­tors toward which Brax­ton seems to be dir­ect­ing his atten­tion, and believes they point to the loc­a­tions of Tilikaal sites, most of which are in unex­plored space. Some have already been vis­ited, such as Orgun and Can­did­ate Three, while oth­ers are in Klin­gon, Romu­lan and Fed­er­a­tion space. He the­or­ises that the arte­fact holds an arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence which is attempt­ing to com­mu­nic­ate with oth­er A.I. devices at these sites.

Ref­er­ences: The arte­fact’s tar­get sys­tems in Fed­er­a­tion space are banned under Gen­er­al Order 7, and include Abyss, Bac­chus, Dourap, 51 Pegasi, and Beta Niobe.