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Cassie Granger

Constant Variables

Constant Variables

by Hok and Granger


Spread it on the card table. That’s what they did in the old days, the days of the Diplomatic Security Service and a select group of three who hunkered down in the bowels of Washington D.C. surrounded by stacks of hardcopy files that had been resurrected for their sole enjoyment.


Few agents had seen those files and because those few couldn’t make heads or tails of ‘em, they chose three emerging DSS agents who showed potential for analytics and formed the first counterterrorism unit. Buried in a bunker several floors below ground, they worked tirelessly for years until they got a real office, and then a staff (of sorts), and because the first three actually knew what they were doing and someone in the then-U.S. government realized what they were doing really mattered, their ranks swelled to form one of the most elite counterterrorism groups of their time.


Two centuries later Cass was one with those days in the bunker - minus the choking fog of cigarette smoke and the dank, bone-chilling cold of bare concrete that earned their little slice of DSS the nickname meat locker. As she spread PADDs, papers, maps, diagrams, ship specifications, hostile movements and everything else she’d gathered on the USS Copernicus, the nebula, and the present state of Federation-Klingon relations on the conference table in the MARDET CO’s office, the table’s constricting character was eating her lunch, and thoughts of a brand spanking new Altair Generation 8000 Integrated System were hard to put aside. Unfortunately, she knew all too well how a requisition for that would go over at HQ.


“You want what? For one little ship on the edge of nowhere? Get outta here!”


Well, Challenger wasn’t exactly little, but she was one ship, and given the current budget cuts and the political explosion that giving a non-ship of the line that kind of high priced item wasn’t anything anyone would want to get into….


Her mind had wandered. When she came back to reality she realized she’d been staring at the wall for, oh, five minutes or so. Fresh coffee and she was back on task.


Even with all those piles she didn’t have much more data than when they started. Copernicus was still lost, probably with all hands. Challenger’s sortie had found Nebula CN-423 more deadly than anyone previously realized, so… yeah, Copernicus’ crew was most likely gone. If they’d suffered anything at all like the crew of Challenger did during their stay…. Cass sighed, putting it out of her mind.


They’d found pieces of a fairly new Klingon BoP probe, confirming hostile presence in the nebula, and they’d found pockets of nearly radiation-free space, or at least low enough radiation levels for humanoids to survive. They knew Copernicus’s last location and several projected courses, given their entry vector. Some pointed directly to….


“Damn,” she muttered, her head spinning as she stared at the PADD. Why didn’t she notice that before? Straightening up, she glanced at the chrono - one hour to docking at Starbase 184.


But they still needed more information and she damn sure needed a better workspace.


Requisition… requisition… PADDs, diagrams, and scrawled notes skittered across the table as she plowed through them looking…




A PADD bounced into the air and clattered on the deck as the chime jerked her attention to the door. “Come,” she said, ducking behind the table to corral the escapee.


The trimmed faced Tellarite nodded as he entered the room. “Oh, I believed no one was here Captain.” He stopped and looked at the materials strewn over the room. “Are things alright here?”


Cassie’s head popped up. A puff of air blew her bangs away from her eyes as she leaned on the table, frustrated. “Looking for a requisition. Any idea where I might find one?”


“In all of this,” Ensign Hok asked while spreading his arms wide. “Was it filled out or are you looking for a raw form?”


“Raw,” she growled, not so much at him as at the mess.


“Well, what media is it on?” He picked up some paper, not seeing it used for a while now.


“Media. Right. Good question.” Cass straightened up and ran her hands through her hair, not making one bit of difference in its appearance. “Actually, I’m not sure. What media are they usually on for this ship?”


“It’s a form you pull from the main computer core. If it was on paper, you’d have to transcribe it anyway.” Ensign Hok seemed a bit disturbed by the lack of organization. “Let me look.” He began to shuffle through the documents. “I could fix this mess, but I can imagine I don’t have the clearance for these documents, bridge officer or not.” Despite security he took a seat and picked up a PADD.


His comment shifted her thought pattern to what she really needed: help. Her frustration began to fade.


“Not much clearance needed, Ensign. There’s nothing there you don’t already know. What I do need is a pair of hands, couple extra eyes, and a brain that will help me wrap around this mess, sort it, and see if anything meshes. When we get to 184 I’ll hunt up some brass to get a new Altair Gen 8000-IS installed complete with wall monitors so we can sort it more efficiently. Think you can help ‘til then?”


“Mmm,” the Tellarite motioned to Granger. He now picked up a second PADD and was looking through both at the same time. The files on both screens few by at a brisk pace. Just like listening to different signals in each ear, he could, to a limited degree, do the same with screens. After a moment he stopped looking at one PADD and handed it to her. “This?”


“Good start,” she said, leaving out the how did you do that part, but her expression probably gave it away anyway. “Now we need to take what you’ve done and see if we can piece together what may have happened to Copernicus… starting with…” Cass pointed to the PADD she’d been working before.


Several colored lines snaked from Copernicus’s last known location. The computer had taken into account ion storms, eddies, interference and other variables and plotted possible paths through the nebula toward a possible end point, “... this area right here.” One finger pinned the area where most projections ended. “It’s a pocket of radiation low enough to allow humanoids to survive and…” she pulled up another PADD, “.. in the middle of this one is a planetoid that shows signs of interstellar traffic.”


“We need to construct a timeline, starting from when everything was normal. Maybe even further back. Communications, navigation logs, personal and Captain’s logs. You are right though, at some point we have to check the probabilities. What do we know of the Captain’s past actions? How did he react to any similar incident in his career?” He did not take his eyes off of his PADD, instead slowing down to read a particular passage. “Oh, the interstellar traffic.” Hok looked at her PADD. “Are those decaying warp signatures?”


“I’d say they could be. Given the interference in that area it could be a false reading, but it’s something to keep in mind. But let’s go back to your first idea.” She looked up. “At what point would you consider everything was normal?”


He blinked. “When they left starbase 184. All known communications indicated a typical departure. Orders were to explore, nothing out of the ordinary.”


“And their last transmission showed nothing out of the ordinary either,” added Cass. “Routine position report - that’s it. Not much to go on.”


“You will have that. I’m compiling your documents into one large one. Not sorted yet.” He smiled. “The computer can sort things better than I, or I should say faster.”


“What I’m thinking. Altair Gen8000 6’ monitor table sorts, merges, analyzes - hell, I’d cook dinner if you let it. Few monitors on the wall,” she gestured with a hand, “lets command take a look, manipulate, ask questions, and make a decision.” She paused; an impish grin skewed her face. “I turn on the charm and we can get a 3D holoprojector added to the package.” A quick wink and she was back on task.


“It should allow you to perform tasks without tasking the main computer core when you need. The Academy had a similar setup in one of their many rooms. Believe it or not presentation is a large part of it. Do you require configuration help? Though everyone on Challenger thinks I’m an engineer, I can do a limited amount of setup.” He liked busy work nearly as much as the constant chatter of subspace communications.


“Ensign,” Cass straightened up, arms folded across her chest, head cocked, “I don’t care what you’re supposed to be. Your MOS gets you through the door, gets you a position somewhere. Far as SOP goes, they put you where they need a warm body - no disrespect to command intended here, just the way it is these days when recruiting’s down. All I care about is if you can do the job... and as far as I can see, you can. Think you’re up to it?”


“Yeah, I can get it going for you. I can be a bit picky though...” He let that linger. A bit was being generous. He wagered he lost a potential friend or two to his obsession. “Not having many friends onboard gives me more free time.”


Cass gave a snort. “Sometimes it’s better to not have that many friends. Frees up time for things that really matter and narrows down the possibilities when it comes to leaking information. You got free time, come on down here. I’ll get the necessary clearance and we’ll work this thing out.”


“Sounds good. Speaking of friends. Have you spoken to Morrison?”


The question brought her up short for a second. “Not since 184. Why do you ask?”


“I was curious. A few cues. mostly from him. I think it was more than a professional cue, if I may say so. He seemed like a decent human. Not much for an argument though.” Hok continued to compile Granger’s data.


Cass shrugged as she began to work beside him. “He knows his stuff. Good man.”


“You should look him up when we get there. I don’t believe he left as far as I can tell.” Hok moved onto digitizing the paper notes. “You are right about friends. A few close ones are better.”

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