Episode 4: Whispers In the Dark
Timeline: MD100, 0800 Hours
Tara fingered the PADD in her hand nervously as she rode the lift to the Bridge. She had been called away because of some uptick in comm chatter, but what she learned had not been good; a child was missing, as if vanished into the aether, and the whole sector was buzzing with the search. The lift came to a stop and Tara stepped out; the Bridge was calm, as it should be considering the mission, and though Tara appeared to be calm, inside she was anything but.
"Captain, a word please," Tara said discreetly to her fellow Trill seated comfortably in the Command chair, then she nodded her head towards the Ready Room.
Nilani looked at the Strategic Operations officer and nodded slowly, a quick gesture to Lieutenant Thawn indicating the Bajoran was in command until the Captain returned. Azulas silently made her way into the Ready Room and perched on the edge of her desk.
Neprem had come a long way in the short time she had been on the Nogura and the Captain was warming to her more with each passing day, but she still had some way to go before the Captain trusted her explicitly in the same way she trusted Audrid.
“Okay, what’s wrong?” The Captain quizzed once the doors to the Ready Room shut.
"That comm chatter that pulled me away from the Bridge, turns out there's a missing child," Tara reported, handing over the PADD with the particulars, unpon which Tara briefed the Captain for expedience. "JP Hart, 8 years old, family unknown. He was in the care of a Federation escort on a transport from Earth, to be turned over to Master Chief Petty Officer Carter upon her return to Deep Space 11 following the Nogura's shakedown. But he never made it to Deep Space 11." The boy's parentage may have been unknown on paper, but one good look at the PADD and the picture containing the boy with a shock of red hair and there was to be no doubt as to who his mother was. "At the moment, there's no information as to how he came to be missing, though admittedly I am still a bit new to this job, but I assure you I have my whole department working on this."
Nilani glanced over the data PADD and looked at the picture of the boy. One didn’t need to be an intelligence officer to make the clear link between him and the Master Chief. “I’m assuming she doesn’t know anything?” The Trill Captain queried as she stood up and turned to her desk, moving the console on her desk and activating it.
"I didn't feel that it was my place to inform her," Tara stated. "And so far no one from DS11 has tried to contact her yet, so one can assume she is still in the dark about this development."
“Any idea where the ship was when they logged the child as missing?” the Captain questioned as dozens of thoughts raced through her mind. Perhaps they could assist in finding the child? Carter was, after all, one of their own for the time being.
"The boy was not noticed to be missing until the ship docked at Deep Space 11; when the passenger manifest was checked upon disembarkation, neither he nor his caretaker could be found. The last sighting of them was in the ship's mess hall while they were still in the Alpha Quadrant, several hours out from the wormhole, and after which they returned to their quarters. Their belongings were discovered in their room, it appeared they were in the midst gathering their things, and there was no apparent sign of a struggle, but the local investigation is ongoing," Tara reported grimly. "I have little else to report at this time. With your permission, I'd like to return to my department to get an update and continue our own investigations."
"Well find out everything you can," the Captain requested as she perched on the edge of her desk again and folded her arms across her chest. "I want as much information as possible before I speak with the Master Chief," she instructed with a slow nod.
"Yes ma'am," Tara replied with a nod. "Please, just keep in mind that we are at the mercy of DS11 to conduct their investigation. But I will do everything I can to help speed things along. Should I intercept any attempts at communication between DS11 and the Master Chief?"
"Definitely. We need to handle this sensitively. Last thing we need is a crazy parent on board," the Captain nodded in agreement. "Keep this strictly between you and I," the Trill instructed, the tension she was feeling probably visible in her eyes.
"As you wish." The tension Nilani felt was likely reflected in Tara's eyes as well as she departed the Ready Room to return to Strategic Operations; having missing personnel was bad enough, even worse to find such a glaring oversight in Security to allow it to happen without any warning, but what really wrenched the knot in Tara's gut was the thought of a child lost and possibly even in grave danger.
An hour after Tara left, the console in the Captain's office pinged with an alert, an update to the investigation thus far. Where earlier there had been no apparent signs of a struggle on the transport ship, evidence was later found; a single hypospray that had fallen under the edge of one of the beds, the vial empty but with residue of a heavy sedative. The serial number on the hypo traced back to a batch reported missing (among other supplies) from a Science vessel that had once been under Consortium influence. Said vessel was engaged in a deep-space study for well over a week, so they were beyond suspicion in the matter of the missing child, but were still being questioned about their missing supplies. Furthermore, there was evidence of transporter trace patterns in the lodgings of the transport where the boy and his guardian went missing, but diagnostics of the on board transporters showed no evidence of use or tampering, suggesting another ship in play. DS11 had begun coordinating with DS9 to track down all vessels that may have crossed paths with the transport on both sides of the wormhole, but there were no new leads on that front. The guardian was also investigated, at Tara's insistence, though the investigation bore little fruit; the man seemed clean, he had a few gambling debts on Risa but not enough to suggest that he could be bought off, and he otherwise showed no indication of consorting with unsavory folk.
With her head lowered, the Captain let out a frustrated sigh. It was progress, but it was slow progress and it wasn’t anything remotely helpful at this stage. There were no names, no identified ships, no clues as to who or why the boy had been taken. She had nothing to really tell the Master Chief at this time, other than someone had taken her child.
Something suddenly dawned on the Captain as she lifted her head and stared at the screen. “Computer, access the transporter trace signal data,” she ordered. With a beep, the computer revealed the data obtained about the trace. “Bingo,” she revealed after a few minutes of tapping and further analysis. “=/\=Azulas to Neprem,” the Captain called out after tapping her commbadge, still tapping away and analysing the data further.
=/\="Neprem here," Tara answered. "We're starting to get a list of ships who came across the transport, Captain, but without a timeline, it could take days to track down the offending ship. But my people are running down each and every one of them." Meanwhile, Tara herself was investigating JP Hart and his connection to Andrea Carter, wondering why this boy would be a target to the Consortium, if such a tenuous connection to the hypospray was to be believed.
“=/\=That’s where I come in Commander,” the Captain spoke, sounding positively jovial compared to their previous conversation. “A transporter trace pattern such as this has a shelf life, a rate of decay. You just have to know to look for it. It depends on the transporter system used, but I have the computer analysing the pattern now. It should give us a pretty good indication of when the transport occurred,” the Captain revealed. She loved having an opportunity to use her engineering skills once again; once an engineer, always an engineer. There was a beep and the computer completed its analysis. “According to the analysis, the transport took place less than three hours before the ship docked at Deep Space 11.”
Through the comms, Nilani could hear a soft sigh. =/\="Forgive me, Captain, I am still accustomed to working with Cardassian tech, and their transporters have a much longer delay in their pattern decay, making it less useful, so I discounted this as an option; this was my mistake, I will not let it happen again," Tara stated as she sifted through the list of ships that fit this new timeline. "Okay, I have two ships, one of which is currently docked at Deep Space 11. I am updating the station now to refocus their search. The other ship... Looks like they departed the station, listing their destination in the Alpha quadrant, but there was no record of the wormhole opening when they should have passed through. The ship registered for docking as the Carpathia, Federation civilian smallcraft, but... the station has just scanned for the Carpathia's signal, and they are no longer within sensor range, so now they're attempting to isolate the ship's warp trail to get an idea of their trajectory, but there is a lot of traffic in this area masking the warp signature. And looking at this transponder code, I've seen this kind of falsification out of DS12; if there really is a Federation smallcraft named the Carpathia, I doubt this was it." And at the back of her mind, a suspicious notion itched at her conscience...
"According to the logs, the other ship is the Thesis," Nilani mused as she sat back in her chair. The Intrepid-class ship had been in the Quadrant for a few months and was under the command of an old acquaintance of hers. "I want you to contact Captain th'Zorati on the Thesis, see if they know anything about the situation and if they came across the 'Carpathia'," the Captain instructed over the commline. "I think it's time I spoke to the Master Chief."
=/\="Already on it," Tara replied. "Captain th'Zorati is in a briefing, but as soon as he's free I will have the station Commander put us in contact. In the meantime, would you like for me to find the Master Chief and have her report to your office?" That itch at the back of her mind would not go away, but she wanted to investigate this theory further before she gave it voice...
"Yes please Commander. I think you should probably join us when you can. She'll want to know everything we have," the Captain told.
=/\="When I can, Captain, Neprem out," Tara affirmed in a solemn tone, then shut off the comms, only to open it once more for another call.