Trip looked up from the intermix chamber, where he'd been monitoring the composition of the matter-antimatter stream. Engineer Second Class K. P. Ryan -- tall, lanky, usually quiet to the point of reclusive -- stood on the access ladder below him.
"Ryan. What's up?"
"You have a moment? It's about the cell-ship."
Trip -- Commander Charles Tucker III, chief engineer aboard the Starship Enterprise
-- frowned. He had a systems status meeting with the captain in a few minutes, and he was already running behind schedule.
But the cell-ship...
Analyzing the captured Suliban vessel had been a priority for Trip over the last several months. First on his own, then with key members of his department -- including Ryan -- Trip had turned the cell-ship virtually inside out, trying to plumb the secrets of the Suliban's superior technology.
"What about the cell-ship?" Trip asked.
"Their warp drive. The propulsion system." Ryan's eyes gleamed with excitement. He looked more animated than Trip had ever seen him. "I think I've figured it out."
"No, sir." Now Ryan actually smiled. "I'm not."
"Sonuvagun." Trip set down his diagnostic spanner on top of the intermix chamber. "Come on. Show me."
Ryan led him out of engineering and down to Launch Bay Two. The cell-ship sat in the far corner -- looking like nothing so much as a multisided dice cube precariously balanced on one edge, perhaps a third as big as one of Enterprise's
shuttlepods. Its forward hatch was open, and portions of the hull had been removed, exposing layers of exotic-looking circuitry. Cables of varying thickness and color -- most of them supplying power, but some more diagnostic in nature -- ran from various nodes in the circuitry to a diagnostic station nearby. One of those nodes was the warp-drive module -- a rectangular box roughly the size and shape of an old orange crate -- which had been pulled out from the instrument panel and now lay on top of the cockpit console.
Trip hadn't gotten very far in analyzing that module -- but one thing was clear. Unlike Enterprise,
which used a series of controlled matter/antimatter explosions to achieve warp velocity, the Suliban drive depended on an exotic series of reactions between charged particle streams -- the exact composition of which had defied decipherment.
At least until now.
"We've been doing a black-box analysis on the module the last few days," Ryan said. "Feeding different particle streams in, measuring the energy that comes out."
"Yeah," Trip said impatiently. He knew that -- he was the one who'd started the black-box analysis a week ago. The last few days he'd had to spend most of his free time in engineering, though, so he'd handed over that analysis to others. "Go on."
"At approximately" -- Ryan consulted the display screen -- "fifteen hundred hours we input a series of discrete ion streams into the warp module. The power output was negligible -- until I had an idea. Alternate the charge on each succeeding stream -- follow a positive stream with a negative, then another positive, and so on. And if you -- "
"Hold on a minute." Trip felt suddenly light-headed. "Are you trying to tell me the Suliban ship runs off an ion drive?"
Ryan smiled. "Yes, sir. I think so."
Trip kept his gaze neutral.
But inside, his mind -- and his heart -- were racing.
An ion drive.Daedalus.
Ryan was still talking, Trip realized.
"...somehow prevent the streams from crossing until the last possible second -- then all that pent-up energy gets released at once. I think that's what the Suliban drive does -- the ions come together like real streams do, to make a river."
"Cascading," Trip said softly. "The word you're looking for is cascading."
"A cascading ion drive." Ryan nodded. "That sounds about right. Of course, we can't be certain that's exactly what we're dealing with here -- it is a black box, after all, but..."
Ryan continued talking, but Trip no longer heard him. He was hearing another voice in his mind, a voice coming from fourteen years and billions of kilometers in the past.
Victor Brodesser's voice, as the most controversial scientist Earth had produced in a dozen generations stood up from behind his desk and reached forward to shake Trip's hand.
"Welcome to the Daedalus Project, Mister Tucker." Brodesser -- in his early sixties, a broad, barrel-chested man with a massive shock of wild gray hair that made him look every inch the mad scientist his reputation made him out to be -- had a fierce grip. "We're here to make history."
And they had. Just not in the way Brodesser had hoped.
* * *
Trip realized Ryan had asked him a question.
"Sorry, K.P. Say again?"
"With your permission -- I'd like to follow this full-time. If these power curves hold, and we could gather enough data -- maybe we could even reverse-engineer the drive...."
Ryan's voice trailed off. The young engineer looked at Trip, and frowned.
"Is something the matter, sir? I suppose I should have called you down when I started to get results, but -- "
Underneath the ensign's worry, Trip could sense a hint of anger and suddenly realized what was going on. Ryan thought he was jealous of the ensign's discovery.
"Hey, no, no, Ensign. Everything's fine. Just...
preoccupied with something, that's all."
"About the cell-ship?"
"No," Trip answered, wondering if he should tell Ryan about Daedalus.
No. He needed a conversation with the captain first. And -- there was no need to shoulder Ryan with the burdens of the past just now.
"Listen, this is good work, Ensign. Good work. You absolutely deserve to be the one following up on it."
"Thank you, sir."
"Now, full-time...I don't know about that. But for the next few days I'll switch you off the maintenance roster. You'll have to make up those shifts, though...down the line."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
Ryan smiled so broadly his teeth showed.
Trip couldn't help but smile back.
The companel sounded.
"Archer to Tucker. Archer to Commander Tucker."
The smile froze on Trip's face.
The status meeting.
Trip strode quickly to the nearest companel.
"Tucker here, sir. Be there in a minute. Just finishing up a little something in Launch Bay Two."
"The Suliban ship?"
"Good. That's one of the things we'll need to discuss. When you get here."
"On my way, sir."
Trip closed the channel and turned back to Ryan.
"Keep me posted, K.P. Progress reports every day."
Trip would be studying those reports carefully -- and certainly dropping by frequently to check up on Ryan's progress in person.
He'd put his heart and soul into Daedalus.
Even after all this time...it would be nice to see that work -- not to mention Brodesser's belief in the ion drive -- validated. Even if the professor himself was no longer around to see it happen.
Still, as he headed for the turbolift, the ion drive wasn't uppermost in his mind.
Trip was wondering why in the world Captain Archer wanted to talk about the Suliban ship at the status meeting.
The captain, Sub-Commander T'Pol, the ship's armory officer, Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, and -- to Trip's surprise -- ship's physician Doctor Phlox, who almost never attended these status meetings -- were gathered around the situation room table as Trip entered.
T'Pol was in the middle of a heated speech -- heated for her, anyway; after serving with the Vulcan this long Trip had come to recognize the cutting tone her voice took on when she felt particularly strong about making her point -- and Trip waited for her to finish before making his presence known.
"...so my preference remains a continued series of long-range scans, rather than the uncertain -- and potentially catastrophic -- alternative Lieutenant Reed proposes, which would -- "
"Now, hold on a minute, Sub-Commander." Malcolm Reed -- who was also the ship's tactical officer -- frowned. "I grant you that by using the cloaked vessel we take a chance, but catastrophic? Surely that's a bit of an exaggeration -- "
"On the contrary, Lieutenant, catastrophic
describes precisely the consequences almost certain to result should our presence be detected by the inhabitants of -- "
"All right. T'Pol, Malcolm -- please." Archer's own voice had an edge. "I think both of you have made your positions clear on this. Now -- "
Trip cleared his throat. "Excuse me -- Captain?"
Archer looked up at him and smiled. "Ah -- Commander Tucker, isn't it? Join us, please."
Everyone around the table -- everyone except T'Pol, of course -- laughed.
"Sorry about being late, sir. But" -- he looked around the table, from Reed to T'Pol to Doctor Phlox, and then back at the Captain -- "cloaked vessel? I have to guess you mean the cell-ship, but...would someone please fill me in on what else I missed?"
"We are talking about the cell-ship" Archer nodded. "As to what else is going on...T'Pol? If you wouldn't mind bringing Commander Tucker here up to speed..."
"Certainly." T'Pol shifted in her chair and spoke directly to Trip. "As you may or may not be aware, several days ago we entered the K'Pellis Cluster, an aggregation of previously unexplored stellar systems. Almost immediately sensors detected a massive gravitational anomaly within one of those systems. We have been conducting intensive studies of the anomaly since that initial contact -- and have agreed a series of close-up observations are in order."
Trip got it instantly. "And you want to use the cell-ship to do that."
Reed spoke up. "Yes."
"But cloaked -- why?"
"I will show you." T'Pol touched a button on the table in front of her, and the display set in the center of the table came to l...