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DL | CIO (CS Theta) | LCDR Stacker | "Snap Count!"

Posted on 241803.13 @ 23:45 by Lieutenant Commander James Stacker

Mission: Lacuna
Location: Intelligence Watchfloor | Deck 678 | Cold Station Theta
Timeline: This takes place immediately after “Handlight in the Dark."

Different people preserved and marked time in different ways. Starfleet was no exception: it too had developed its own sense of marking time. Stardates, holidays, traditions, courtesies, honors. Some good, some bad. Ceremonies marked some, and others passed in relative quiet. Among the many that tended to pass overlooked and without remark - save only for a few choice grumblings - was one that was a strictly grey-collar affair. It transpired at precisely 00:00:01, on the first day of the month, every four months.

On that date and time, the computer devoted a very small subset of coding to the pursuit of words. They were randomized, selected from base English, and eminently ... weird. If used in casual conversation they were innocuous, but might raise eyebrows. "Silver skipperfish" had certainly been such an instance. "Breaker trout" had been another. Apart from their oddity, however (and most officers privy to the phrases agreed that they were unusual), what made them so special was that for four months they were off-limits to any active-duty senior officer in the intelligence department.

Like most words, these had power. Restrictions on their use had been hard-won over the course of many years. In an incident in 2264, the accidental use of one such phrase had led to complete electronic sanitization of all intelligence files at one facility. With their destruction had gone 19 months of work, and two networks spread across five border sectors. True to form for such instances, the "Starbase 311 incident," had been subsequently scrutinized, analyzed, and distilled down into essential lessons for use the training of prospective grey-collared officers.

To be fair, though, there weren't many keywords, for it had also been learned over time that some species (humans, for instance), were notoriously bad at absorbing and re-learning new phrases every four months. One of the easier-to-remember ones on this particular cycle concerned the abduction of senior staff with high-level security clearances. Starfleet Intelligence had had ample time to hone the response to this specific event, thanks to the troubling tendency of officers to find themselves kidnapped or operating under duress.

Yet despite these reasons, it was still a shock when one of the protocols was activated. When Stacker tapped his comm badge and informed the main computer, in a shocked tone that belied the unsteady ground on which he found himself, that protocol 'Snap Count' was in effect, chaos predictably erupted.

The first sign of things amiss came from the wall-mounted panels that signaled a change in readiness condition. They were a comfortable black when unlit: now, however, they began pulsing a steady grey with a red vertical stripe. Intelligence was one of very few locations on the entire starbase where this would happen. It was still jarring to see in action, however. Underscoring the change in alert status, the ambient lighting throughout the entire intelligence section decreased by 25%. Heads by now were looking up. Shrugs were being exchanged. Before a question could be voiced came the next step.

The next step, in a meticulously-choreographed chain of events, was a computer-initiated page of supervisor and officer comm badges. This too only added to the mystery: it was rare to have the computer deliberately seeking out individuals - moreover, because the watchfloor was in the middle of shift change, there were two ensigns and two supervisors present. As each tapped and acknowledged the signal, they heard the single recorded message: "Snap Count. I - I say again. Snap Count!"

A shocked and mystified silence descended on the compartment, in the aftermath of this pronouncement. Everyone had heard the unsteady words, the pain that clawed its way through the comm badges, and the firm resolution that had started to creep into it towards the end before being cut off. Mystified and baffled looks were turned on the supervisors. The supervisors were as baffled as their subordinates - mostly because the computer had flashed up a checklist which neither could recall having seen before. It was legitimate, however. Time-stamped, coded, formatted correctly, and pronouncing ominous punishment upon those who failed to adhere to its steps.

Into this vacuum there was a cough. Followed by another. Finally, one of the junior Bolian analysts spoke up. Sometimes the first to react wasn't necessarily the best-trained, or even the most experienced body in the room. Courage came in all forms and sizes. "Sir, shouldn't we get the others in here?" Her finger was pointing at the first bullet on the checklist.

Her words broke the silence that had fallen. One supervisor pointed a finger at a body standing by the door: the snapping fingers sounded like a gunshot. Whoever-it-was dashed away towards crew quarters.

"Ok people, put all stations on hold," the other supervisor was saying. "All projects, secure them. Any, and I any, non-critical assignments are now a secondary priority. Start querying the main computer for the locations of all senior staff, and get verifiable data! Don't rely on the internal sensors! I want eyes on all senior staff within five minutes. Coordinate with Station security!" Chairs squeaked and the sound of computer keys beeping returned, as the watchstanders turned back to their stations and the new task.

In only another few minutes, the doors began sliding open to admit the incoming off watch, predictably in varying states of dress. Some wore casual civilian clothes ranging from tame to eye-wateringly bad. Others still wore gear from the gym. They found themselves coming into a storm which had, predictably, gathered pace and intensity. One of the supervisors had brought up the emergency protocol checklist on their workstation, and was busy calling out steps.

"- activate cipher set emergency-1."

"Check!"

"Confirm rotation and purge of prior ciphers."

The previously off-going supervisor, all thoughts of a shower and sleep well and truly forgotten, moved to yet another wall-mounted panel and looked - hard - at the screen before replying. "Confirmed!"

"Transport inhibitors?"

Another check, of the same panel. "Coming online, forty seconds to full coverage!"

"FLASH dispatch?"

"Preparing, two minutes to transmission," came a call from elsewhere in the room. The never-before-seen checklist stated they had ten minutes to get an emergency dispatch off to Starfleet Intelligence, reporting the abduction of a senior officer, and they were cutting it close. Precious time had been lost in the initial fumble. What was going out now would be initial notification: a 'for-your-information' report. More details would come later.

"Personnel muster?"

"In progress. Looking for four more people!" This call came from inside the duty office, where a nervous ensign was busy coordinating with a guard post recently established by the berthing area. His palms were sweating so badly that they were leaving wet streaks across the binder's covers. Dammit, I didn't want to be on duty for this...

"Weapons locker?"

"Open!" Starfleet Intelligence, for all its wisdom, hadn't given serious thought to an officer being grabbed for slavery. It was generally assumed that such seizures were intended to facilitate a compromise of Starfleet defenses. Which explained why Type-2 phasers, belts, and holsters were being distributed in such a way that the watchfloor threatened to become a small arms bazaar. The supervisor at the desk took one, and was just standing to put it on when her screen pinged with a critical message.

She sat down, scanning it, eyes zipping across the screen. "Ok, hold it HOLD IT! ... Ok, the missing officer is Commander Valeese. Chief Medical Officer, for the newbies." Most of those present had heard of the Vorta leading the starbase's medical section. There were mixed feelings here, too, but this was a different occasion. The supervisor was busy continuing her narration.

"Signs of a possible struggle and abduction, no confirmation she is on the station -"

"Oh shit," someone breathed.

"The Boss wants a five-deck dragnet expanding outwards. Pull all surveillance feeds from this area," she said, pointing at the main screen as a pair of schematics of the station appeared, one vertical and one horizontal with a blinking red dot on each, "from the last 24 hours. Find her! Let's start scrutiny of all shipping activity in that timeframe. Move!"

=/\= End Log =/\=

Various Intelligence Dept. Personnel
Cold Station Theta, SB-1170

 

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