Episode II: Part V - Down the Celestial Rabbit Hole
Stardate: Nov. 27/28, 2096
“Go ahead doctor,” Foxwell responded from the command chair, adjusting the volume on the chair’s comm panel. Still tired after leaving Beta’s quarters and managing only a few hours sleep, he arrived late morning on the bridge. Beta had relieved the on duty conning officer upon arrival two hours earlier; she exited the command chair and provided the Captain with a brief status before returning to her science station. Foxwell glanced at the small digital clock on the chair’s armrest; it was approaching noon.
“I have some information for you, Captain,” Dr. Rivera began.
“Hopefully good,” the Captain yawned.
Dr. Rivera was exhausted. He had not slept since accompanying the Captain to Leia’s quarters several hours earlier. “Can I trouble you to drop by the medical department? There are more particulars to go over than is appropriate over the intercom.”
“On my way,” Foxwell replied. The Captain rose from his chair. “Navigator, what is our current time of arrival to Luyten b?”
“8 hours, 14 minutes, Captain.”
“Very well. Maintain present course and speed.”
Foxwell turned and began to walk toward the turbo elevator, recessed into the bulkhead between the science and communication stations. “Beta, please accompany me to medical. Xuriya, you have the bridge.”
“Sickbay,” Foxwell voiced into the elevator comm panel, the turbo lift beginning its descent toward the medical department. The captain turned and gazed at his first officer. “What’s our engineering status, Beta?”
“Chief Engineer O’Donnell reports the loss of several additional circuit boards in the light speed drive assembly control panels; boards are being replaced as they fail; there are sufficient spares to get us to the exoplanet. Bridge and engineering monitors continue to reflect the instability of the defective boards, with no current danger to the fusion drive or life support. We should be in orbit around Luyten b in approximately 8 hours.”
“Leia has regained consciousness,” Dr. Rivera informed the Captain and Beta. She’s weak, but sleeping comfortably in a private cubicle in the general patient ward.”
“What have you been able to find out?” Foxwell asked.
“Rilidium poisoning - both Leia and her father,” the Chief Medical Officer replied.
The Captain exchanged glances with his science officer. “Did we hear you say, ‘rilidium poisoning’?” the Captain asked, parroting Rivera’s answer.
“Her father’s autopsy and laboratory tests confirm enough rilidium in his system to kill five adults,” Dr. Rivera replied. Fortunately, all starship medical departments carry the standard protocol medical kits to counter the effects of her level of absorbed radiation dose. She’s receiving treatment intravenously and is showing signs of improvement. The, ‘how or why it occurred’ part of it is unknown at this time. I’ll provide an update this evening. She’s not in any condition to be questioned presently.”
“She’s very fortunate,” Beta affirmed. “The same or even lesser dose would have proven fatal, regardless of treatment. I find it interesting that whoever caused the death of her father failed to sufficiently dose Leia.”
Rivera looked at Beta, a condescending smile appearing on the doctor’s face. “You talk as if you’re disappointed she didn’t die," he voiced sarcastically. Perhaps that neutronic reasoning brain of yours can shed some light on the mindset of the perpetrator?”
Beta furrowed her eyebrows. It was obvious Rivera was irritated by the dispassionate observations of the Stargazer’s science officer. “I only meant to suggest that a non-fatal dose was purposely administered, doctor. The ‘how or why it occurred’ part of it, as you earlier stated, is currently unavailable pending the results of a joint investigation involving —”
“Well,” Dr. Rivera interrupted, “something we finally agree on. You know, Beta, perhaps you —“
“Ladies, gentlemen,” Foxwell snickered. He threw his hands in the air, waving them back and forth. “We’ll never get anywhere arguing over what we already know. Foxwell pivoted in the direction of his Chief Medical Officer. “Doctor, let me know when Leia is well enough to be questioned.”
Before Dr. Rivera could acknowledge the Captain’s request, a medical assistant appeared. “Captain, Chief Engineer O’Donovan is hailing you; said it’s urgent. Foxwell walked several feet to the closet comm panel and tapped the engineering key. “Foxwell here.”
“Captain, I ordered the assistant chief engineer to relieve Xuriya on the bridge; she's here with me in engineering. The circuit board logistics review you ordered previously has been completed. We both agree a meeting with you and Beta should take place — as soon as possible,” urgency permeating every word.
The Chief Engineer’s message registered. Foxwell turned and locked eyes with his first officer before turning back to the comm panel. “So, you’re telling me you and Xuriya have solved this circuit board logistics mystery?”
The Chief Engineer and Xuriya exchanged a quick glance. We’ve completed the review as ordered, Captain. We’d like to review those findings with you and Beta,” he replied, avoiding the question.
A pause. “We’re on our way.”
Standing behind the seated Chief Engineer and Communication’s Officer, Foxwell and Beta observed as O’Donovan and Xuriya focused on the oversized monitor. They began by retracing the original shipping route for the circuit boards requested for the Stargazer.
“The original shipment of two hundred and forty new rilidium circuit boards were received while in space dock, following battle with the Vorcians," the Chief Engineer began. "It's the result of a requisition I previously submitted to Galactic Fleet Logistical Support. The boards were delivered a day later by shuttle courier. Ensign Beth McCollough was the logistical support shuttle pilot. She traveled solo.”
Foxwell nodded as the Chief Engineer spoke. Beta remained motionless, listening, staring at the monitor, her arms crossed.
Xuriya craned her neck and continued. “Upon arrival, Ensign McCullough was escorted by security to engineering. She exchanged the new boards for the previously extracted and spare boards with Engineer Technician Roberts. She was escorted back to the shuttle and returned to Galactic Fleet Logistics Center.”
“I can confirm that,” O’Donovan chimed in. “I was present and observed the exchange. Ensign Roberts and the Assistant Chief Engineer installed the new boards into both control panels. The remaining boards were tagged as spares and left in their mylar pouches, then placed into storage.”
“Cyber Boards, Inc., is the circuit board manufacturer,” Xuriya added. “They have an exclusive contract with Galactic Fleet Command to manufacture all Starship Rilidium Circuit Boards.”
“O’Donovan swiveled his chair around. “It’s standard procedure for Galactic Fleet Logistics to send a courier to the manufacturer to pick-up boards ordered or exchanged for use by the fleet. The boards are then delivered to the recipient Starship aboard a logistics shuttlecraft if the starship is in earth orbit. Larger, heavier freight is transported via freighter while in earth orbit; all shipments are transported by freighter beyond earth orbit, then delivered to Starships via shuttle transfer.”
Foxwell nodded again, then glanced at his first officer. “Anything you would like to add, Beta?”
“The standard requisition protocol as explained is correct,” Beta confirmed, “to include our request for and delivery of the Stargazer’s replacement rilidium boards.”
“Understood,” Foxwell responded while nodding his head. He turned back to O’Donovan and Xuriya. However, that doesn’t solve the mystery as to why our boards are malfunctioning.”
“Aye, Captain,” O’Donovan answered. “Following normal requisition protocol,” the Chief Engineer continued, “there’s nothing egregious in the requisition and delivery procedure itself that would result in the transmutation of these boards. Something else caused that to happen.”
Xuriya pushed her chair back slightly, then pulled the retractable keyboard out from under the Chief Engineer’s desk. “Captain, I have the security video which reveals a member of Galactic Fleet Logistics departing the facility with our requisitioned boards. Using her index finger she moved the cursor over the Cyber Board, Inc., video icon and tapped the touchpad, repeating the process a second time for the main door security camera, then tapped the play arrow icon.
Beta unfolded her arms. She and Foxwell leaned closer to the monitor, viewing the video footage recorded during the time frame it occurred; date and time embedded in the video at activation was 11-11-96 Wed 14:20:01 hours.
“Xuriya and I agreed it would be prudent to check security camera footage on the day the boards left the facility,” O’Donovan whispered.
Less than ten minutes into the playback, the Stargazer’s science officer stood erect. “PAUSE the video,” Beta shouted.
Xuriya immediately moved the cursor over the pause icon and tapped the touchpad.
Beta leaned forward again. “Rewind to timeline 14:20:01 and bookmark.”
Foxwell pivoted. “What is it?”
Beta moved back a step. “The boards ordered by Chief O’Donovan were not picked-up by anyone from Galactic Fleet Logistics.”
The Captain exchanged glances with O’Donovan and Xuriya, then gazed at his first officer. “Explain.”
Beta nodded. “Pay close attention to the monitor. Xuriya, play the timeline bookmarked, and pause the video when I say so.”
Xuriya moved the cursor as directed and tapped the touchpad. The video replay confirmed movement of several personnel in and out of the circuit board facility, most of whom were assumed to be employees. The video continued until an unknown party outfitted in a Galactic Fleet Logistics uniform exited the facility’s main door. The unidentified party was pulling a small dolly with two identical sized boxes secured on the nose plate.
“Pause,” Beta directed. “Enhance 189 to 221..... move in..... stop..... track left and up..... stop..... enhance.... stop.” The video paused on the shipment tag attached to the top box. The image was now enlarged and sharpened, identifying the content of the boxes to be rilidium circuit boards bound for the Stargazer.
Foxwell and turned and locked eyes with Beta. “Okay, so it’s a Logistics crew member exiting the facility with our shipment of rilidium circuit boards. Where are you going with this?”
“Down the proverbial rabbit hole, Captain, to borrow the well coined phrase. May I continue?”
Foxwell sighed. “Please do,” he smirked, throwing his hands out in unison with a facial gesture.
Beta focused again on the monitor. “Resume the video.”
Xuriya tapped the touchpad, the video playback resumed for several seconds.
“Pause," Beta uttered again. “Track right..... stop..... track up..... stop..... center and stop..... pan right and pullback..... stop..... enhance 241 to 244..... stop.” The video paused, centered directly over the enhanced face of the alleged logistics crew member.
O’Donovan and Xuriya exchanged a startled glance. Both stood and stepped away from the desk. A bewildered Foxwell leaned forward, repositioning O’Donovan’s desk chair, his eyes glued to the monitor as he slowly lowered himself into the chair, pulling himself closer to the desk.
A pause. “How did you know, Beta?” the Captain asked. He continued to stare at the monitor, his disheartened tone of voice mirroring the expression on his face.
“My cybernetic eye, Captain, replaced after my long ago shuttle accident. I can initiate a thought command which instructs the bionic eye to further enhance and sharpen video, prints, negatives, etc.., simultaneously streaming those images to my neutronic brain. Identity was obvious the moment that particular figure became visible in the camera lens entering the facility, but only to me, which is why I instructed Xuriya to isolate and enhance the exiting frame.”
Captain Foxwell nodded. He looked up, his gaze strolling over Beta’s face.
“This is the ‘rabbit hole’ I referred to earlier,” Beta said, echoing the previous metaphor.
Foxwell pushed the chair back and stood. He took a deep breath, then sighed heavily. “It’s her….., it’s Leia. Her father is deceased, she barely survived, and the Stargazer’s propulsion support system is failing.” He paused again before finally adding, “I believe we have discovered the common denominator."
“That would be a reasonable conclusion,” Beta acknowledged.