Bad news is good news. Nope, that wasn't the saying. No news is good news is how the saying should be. Except Maxwell Traenor didn't have no news, he had bad news, even though some of it was good news. Well, less bad news, perhaps. Before he spun the concept around into a Moebius strip of confusion, the commanders needed to know.
Traenor: Well... ::tugging at his collar:: It might not be as good of news as all that. If it walks, talks, and quacks like a black hole, then it must be a black hole. But Stellar Cartography swears it isn't. So we'd have to make a leap of faith and just go in and find out. Either way, it would be a bumpy ride for Helm.
DeBarres: Well, we will end up someplace. ::Dryly as she couldn't tap that down.::
Shayne: Alright, maybe I’m not quite that ready.
Collins: And what makes you think they aren't just going to follow us? They've kept with us this far...
Traenor: What IS good news is that the Sheliak has avoided the area we're looking at like the plague. That is what tipped us off to the hiding spot in the first place.
Collins: Well, it's...not nothing, Captain.
Shayne: Ensign DeBarres, set a course for the anomaly, maximum speed. If our pursuers have given up by the time we reach a position five thousand kilometers from the outer edge of the distortion, you are to hold position there. If they have not given up the pursuit, your orders are to take us in as far as necessary.
Well, Maxwell could never fault Shayne for being decisive. In all the years they had known each other, the last thing he could say was that the man hesitated to act. Maxwell nodded curtly, moved back to his console, and prayed to the fates that he hadn't oversold the idea to their collective detriment (and/or doom).
DeBarres: Uh..Right. Changing course and manual controls are ready.
Shayne: I want this ship fully rigged for manual operation. Commander Traenor, see to it that we can scan this anomaly with whatever sensors work without the main computer. Commander Collins, coordinate all decks and departments, and prepare for the computer shutdown. For lack of a better analogy, in this instance, I envision us operating as an old sailing vessel.
Traenor: That DON'T work without a computer interface? ::incredulous pause:: Aye, sir.
The elder scientist was immediately fixated on the ludicrous notion of an optical telescope pointed out the forward shuttlebay door, with his eye plastered against the eyepiece, calling out sightings minutes after they had already occurred because THEY WERE MOVING AT MULTIPLES of the speed of light! Staving off the jackhammering heartbeat of stress hormones flooding his endocrine system, Maxwell forced his mind to clear and considered more practical options. He could isolate a handful of sensor pallets and tie them to a sub-junction. Simpler sensor arrays would be able to utilize the drastically reduced computational power. And, it wasn't as if the not-a-black hole was especially hard to resolve for even the simplest of sensors.
Shayne: Ensign Caden will act as the voice of the bridge- I will relay orders to her, and she will relay reports back to me. Without any part of the main computer, communications will be disrupted. We must do everything possible to mitigate that.
Nakada: =/\= Nakada to engineering, prepare to send a modulation through the microwave sensor array on my mark. I’m forwarding it to you now. =/\=
Patrick: =/\= Yes, sir. We’re prepared to shut down. =/\=
Maxwell overheard the conversation as he finished up the virtual rerouting of several sensors for manual processing. The microwave sensors were a large part of his sensing plan and he frowned, wondering what Engineering's plans were.
DeBarres: We will reach the location in a minute. No indication that they are slowing.
Traenor: They will. ::willing the theory to become fact:: We just need to get closer.
Nakada: ::turning to Traenor:: Commander, I will need to borrow your microwave sensors briefly to restart the computers.
Maxwell had anticipated such based on the earlier comms Nakada had conducted with his department. Still, the microwave sensors were important, he couldn't afford to have them burnt out or indisposed for too long.
Traenor: I'll need them back ASAP, how long do you need them?
Nakada: Not too long, fifteen seconds or so.
He paused, then nodded curtly to the engineer, releasing the sensors for his use. Stress and circumstances had erased Traenor's trademarked smirk, and it seemed that curt nods was the replacement du jour. It worked, though, and Nakada returned his attention to his own console while Traenor lamented the holes in the data now appearing on his own.
DeBarres: Standing bye.::It was soft but it was heard.::
The atmosphere on the bridge - lights, sounds, even the faintest hint of environmental control change - immediately registered the loss of the main computer. There were redundant nodes that kept the ship from immediately falling out of its warp bubble and turning it and its contents into interstellar dust, but it was an emergency backup and not meant for sustained operations. Traenor fervently hoped that Nakada and his team would be able to get the computer up and running right away.
Shayne: Let’s get this done as fast as possible; Ensign… ::the commander paused, staring at a display outside of Traenor's field of vision:: Gravity distortions. Commander Traenor! Could we use the not-a-black hole to our advantage?
What Shayne had been staring at became immediately obvious as he spoke; Traenor saw the outrageous readings on his own console regarding their pursuer. Ships did not move like that, it had to be the readings that were wonky.
Traenor: Yes... yes! oO What if this was a dichromatic nebula, masquerading as a black hole? Stellar Cartography can figure that out! Oo I have a theory, sir - it's safe to move in even closer, and the gravimetric distortions will mask us even better. I'll have more in a moment.
He fired off a signal to Stellar Cartography, looking for confirmation. No response. He tried again. No response. Was the computer outage to blame?
Shayne: Analysis, Mr. Serinus- advanced tactical maneuvers. The gravitic distortion in there must be incredible. It’s already bent our sensors somewhat. Might it confuse the Sheliak displays if they got any closer?
Serinus: Nothing in our records indicate otherwise, Captain. Even with possibly newly acquired technology.
While Shayne and Serinus were talking, Maxwell hit his commbadge and hailed first Zicv, then Stellar Cartography in general. He received no response again. He looked with concern towards the Engineering console, hoping against hope that whatever the reason he couldn't communicate with his colleagues below decks, it would be resolved soon.
Maxwell looked to Shayne with concern and consternation in his eyes. Perhaps, with their shared history, the look in Traenor's eyes would convey the rambling dialogue of doubt and caution that he dared not speak aloud.
Traenor: I can't get confirmation from Stellar Cartography; no response. But... ::with a shrug:: I would gamble on my hunch.
Shayne: Closer, Ensign DeBarres. Right now we have one effective weapon against the Sheliak- their avoidance of this place. The closer we get, the more they’ll want to stay away, if the pattern continues. I am not in the mood to start an interstellar war today, so if nothing else, this is worth a try. Ensign, take us to the very edge of that anomaly, and place us in orbit of it.
Perhaps the unspoken concerns he had telegraphed to the commanding officer had worked, since Maxwell watched Shayne try to contact the personnel that he had been so far unable to do so.
Shayne: =/\= Shayne to Zicv. =/\=
Shayne: =/\= Ensign, please respond. =/\= ::after a second lack of response:: Mr. Serinus, head down to the Science section and find Ensign Zicv. I want as many experts as I can get here and now.
Serinus: Aye, sir.
Shayne: Well, they seem to be curious enough about us to follow us in. We’ll see how long that lasts, but I’m not enamored with the prospect of staying here an instant longer than necessary. Shooting our way out isn’t an option- there’s no telling what the Sheliak could do to us yet, and I do not intend to enter that anomaly in the center, whatever it is.
Shayne: Ensign Nakada, prepare to divert whatever power you can to the hull integrity fields. Ensign DeBarres, prepare to slingshot us out of here. We’ll use the momentum of the anomaly, and blast past the Sheliak before they can get a tractor lock on us. Time to stop running.
Maxwell moved over to join the conversation.
Traenor: This is the theory I wanted Stellar Cartography to confirm. This anomaly is possibly a dichromatic nebula, perhaps harboring some dark matter asteroids or a comet. *IF* the theory is true, then we could ride out the gravimetric shear of passing near or through the anomaly with no issue. However, if I'm wrong and there's actually some sort of quantum singularity at play, then manual calculation of slingshot speed and trajectory is nearly impossible.
Traenor: ::shrugging:: Until we hear from Security about why we can't talk to my colleagues down below, you'd just have to trust my instincts. I'd be happy to have Commander Collins double-check my calculations.
The former was a big ask of the captain, since their years-long icy relationship stemmed from that very distrust of Traenor's instincts. That's why he threw in the latter. Collins was an eminent scientist with impeccable taste in cartographers, and he had the bend of Shayne's ear as well. Why have a scientist as second in command if you couldn't lean on their expertise once in a while?
Serinus: =/\= Captain. I've found Ensign Zicv unconscious, carrying her to sickbay. The bug has slipped containment. I've ordered a department wide all hands sweep of deck four. Serinus out. =/\=
Well. That explained why he couldn't get a hold of his counterpart. That damned machine that Maxwell had not properly vetted, of which decision was now coming back to bite him in the posterior. It must have had some hand in the strange goings-on around the ship, not to mention why Jana had deserted Stellar Cartography. Traenor felt impotent under this new twist, and desperately wanted to make it up to the captain.
Traenor: Damn. I knew I shouldn't have allowed that thing to stay aboard! Do you want me to go help track it down before we lose more systems to the Sheliak?
Maxwell was more and more convinced, irrational as it was, that the device was somehow tied to the Sheliak. Why, and how, were issues to determine at another time and place, but he felt a responsibility to his compromised colleagues and the ship at large for an issue that originated in his department.